Not able to get any response from the call centre, thousands of angry customers had decided to take matters into their own hands, and descended on the VastTel offices. A police cordon managed to hold off some of the early arrivals, but, as larger crowds gathered, things started to turn ugly. By lunchtime, tens of thousands of people had amassed on the street outside the company, trying to force an entry. The riot squad was helicoptered in to the top of the headquarters, and scaled the outside of the building, firing warning shots over the heads of the crowd, inadvertently shooting one or two of the taller ones. Before long, there was a full-scale public insurrection, the likes of which Australia had never seen before — at least, not since they lost the Ashes.
Mounted police tried to break up the crowds who pelted the officers with their defunct mobile handsets. All the time, the mob pushed for entry through the revolving doors of the VastTel building. Eventually, they managed to break open the emergency exits, and thousands of angry customers spilled in across the concourse as VastTel employees sipping their cafe lattes at the ground-floor cafe dived for cover beneath the tables.
The riot squad helicoptered in and scaled the building, firing shots over the heads of the crowd, inadvertently shooting one or two of the taller ones.
Warning sirens, installed for precisely an occasion such as this, echoed throughout the building. Emergency lights flashed, and key entry doors to the main section of the building automatically bolted shut. The foyer was plunged into darkness, with the marauding crowd falling and treading over each other in an aimless and desperate stampede.
At the far end of the ground-floor lobby, the double doors that led through to the VastTel call centre became the focus of the horde. They pushed hard and fast, intent on bursting the doors open and confronting the customer-service team with the full ferocity of their anger.
'Quick,' yelled out the team leader. 'Everyone, to the panic room!'
The angry customers had started using coffee tables as battering rams, and it seemed unlikely that the outer doors would hold for long.
The call centre team was led down an empty corridor that took them to the depths of the VastTel complex. Few people had been down here before, but they were grateful for the foresight of the building designers. They had envisaged a day when a panic room would be needed, able to withstand a nuclear attack or the full force of a disgruntled customer base. From here, in a massive lead-lined room, protected by heavy steel doors, they could continue their call operations unheeded by contact with the outside world.
The panic room, they soon discovered, was a fully equipped call centre, with the addition of beds, so staff could stay there until it was safe to leave. The team quickly moved to their new desks, which had the same configuration as the room upstairs. They were clearly scared of what would become of them, as well as angry about the prospect of having to stay at work past 5pm.
They could hear the muffled sound of the crowd upstairs, cheering as they broke through the doors into the room where, moments before, they had been answering calls (occasionally) for their entire working life. Seeing an empty call centre seemed to heighten the anger, and the customers began throwing chairs and smashing computer screens.
Downstairs, the call-centre staff hoped and prayed that the panic room was strong enough to protect them. At least down here, the phones were quiet. When the panic room was activated, to protect the staff, the call-centre software was automatically switched to random mode. That reduced the likelihood that any menu options would relate to questions previously asked, increasing the chance that people would be lost inside the menu forever.
But first, he had to save the country — unless she offered the sex first, in which case the country might have to wait a while.
Jones was as concerned as everyone else. Just how long would they be trapped inside the panic room for? Not wanting to dwell on the circumstance, he returned to the Treasury report that he was still clutching tightly.
The more he read, the more disturbing it became. The final section dealt with what must happen if the integrity of the VastTel plan was compromised.
'It is possible,' the report said, 'that such an inefficient organisation, which, by its nature, will deliver substandard service, will come under scrutiny from the public. We must prevent this from happening, because the repercussions are dire for the population. If it becomes politically untenable for VastTel to continue in its current form, it will be necessary to swiftly, and expediently, implement the Redundancy Program.'
As Jones read on, he realised the Redundancy Program had far more sinister overtones than a simple process of mass lay-offs. It was astonishing in its brutality. He couldn't let this happen. He had to get to the press and leak the story before it was too late. And, if he was going to tell anyone, it might as well be Trisha Botherington. As well as being seen as a credible reporter, there was also the possibility that with another meeting she might agree to have sex with him, particularly if he gave her the biggest news story of a lifetime. 'But first,' he thought to himself rather melodramatically, 'I must save the country.' Unless she offered the sex first, in which case the country might have to wait a while. He'd have to wait and see how it played out.
The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.