ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.
Not many decades ago human beings were so bored talking to the people they lived with that they invented the telephone. Now they could talk to anyone, whenever they wanted — often at great length and at great expense. Families drifted apart as husbands and wives spent more and more time talking to other people — friends, siblings, mothers, lovers — just about the only time they spoke to each other was when they argued over why the phone bill was so large.
Soon vast telecommunications networks sprung up, run by highly paid technologists who were fascinated at how phone calls were delivered but who, generally, lacked the charisma or confidence to have friends of their own to talk to. Making a call for social purposes was something they facilitated, but rarely participated in. Telephone companies grew and grew until, before long, every country had at least one, each employing many thousands of people. These were the original geeks of the world, who enjoyed wearing polo shirts with the corporate logo on the sleeve (and on the back pocket of their standard-issue trousers: trousers that were always pulled up unfashionably high, often not far short of the nipple). As a rule they were pale, overweight and had body odour problems.
As demand for telephones grew, lines were haplessly slung above city streets. They were tied around lamp posts, wrapped around tree branches, knotted together over road intersections — whatever it took to get more wires connected to more homes as quickly and as cheaply as possible. No one cared what it did to the aesthetics of their neighbourhood because, with the phone to talk on, they didn't need to get out that often. They grew oblivious to the visual pollution, perhaps looking up occasionally should a bird dropping land on their shoulder. Birds loved the telephony age. Telephone lines gave them more opportunities to spend their days shitting on humans.
And so it was, underneath one spider's web of unsightly telephone cables that, early one April morning, a pale, spindly man rode his bike through the near-deserted streets of inner-city Sydney. Very few people were up so early, save a few late-night clubbers coming off their Ecstasy high and the occasional high-powered executive who was leaving for work early, fuelled by even more Ecstasy and a drive to earn more than anyone else before keeling over from a heart attack in his mid-40s.
There was a prostitute or two, loitering on the street corner looking for clients. Every so often a ute driver from the western suburbs would pull up by the kerb and, after a brief conversation, drive off with a weathered 60-year-old whose make-up and attire barely concealed the prostitute's true age and gender. Sometimes a government car appeared alongside one of the slightly more attractive girls and the driver would explain that he could offer a substantial sum for one night of passion with a well-known conservative politician. The offer would usually be refused because, even though a girl was a prostitute, she still had standards.