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.
Trisha Botherington knew she was on to a big story, but she was having difficulty putting all the pieces together. For a start, she found a number of government statistics unbelievable. The population of the country was clearly far greater than anyone was letting on. Australians who had befriended her on online social networks were close to double the number of people living in the country, and they were all males, even the ones who pretended to be otherwise.
Then there was the dubious claim of near-zero unemployment. She never saw anyone in her street heading off to work, although they all seemed to have lots of money. It couldn't all be inherited wealth, surely?
He was sex starved and middle aged, and she was young and beautiful. People normally told her what she needed to know.
Finally, there was VastTel. Even though the company was clearly inept, few people spoke out against it. Botherington wondered about that, until she realised that a surprising proportion of the population seemed to work there. So, who would want to launch an attack on them? She wondered whether the missile itself could provide any clues. The ZX240-G. A browse through government papers showed that a ZX240-G had supposedly been bought by the education department two years ago, but was recorded as a photocopier. She remembered questioning why the government would spend $18 million on a photocopier, and why they had bought it from the Saudi government.
What the hell was going on? She was determined to find out. The best place to start was with Twistie Buffet. If he was going to die, he might be ready to give away some secrets. Besides, he was sex starved and middle aged, and she was young and beautiful. People normally told her what she needed to know. She hadn't a clue how other people managed to be investigative journalists, given that many of them were ugly, overweight men in their 40s.
The doctor in charge at the Prince Edward Private Hospital was particularly pleased to see Botherington, of course, and agreed to let her see Buffet, even though it was in strict violation of hospital policy. In exchange, he got a photograph of the two of them together.
His vital signs were normal, but he had a gaping wound in his stomach, described by a specialist as 'normal for someone who has received a missile in their abdomen'.
Buffet wasn't really in a fit state to see anyone. His condition had only just been downgraded slightly from 'critical' to 'not quite so critical'. The earlier assessment was made based on his vital signs, which were very weak indeed. A subsequent examination of his medical records showed that his vital signs had been very weak for the past 20 years. He seemed to be able to function with extremely low blood pressure, and a heart rate that would be unsustainable for most people. Yet VastTel had the effect of slowing down everyone's metabolism, in line with the speed of the computers they used. In that respect, his vital signs were normal, but he still had a gaping wound in his stomach. The gaping wound had been described by a specialist as a 'normal condition for someone who has received an unexploded missile into their abdomen'. The report concluded that there was every chance that he would pull through, even if he didn't look like it.
For Buffet, the sight of Botherington entering the room — her blonde hair flailing behind her, the light through the doorway displaying her outline through a thin summer dress — all added to the surrealism of the last few days. Had he really sustained a missile attack? Had he really caught it? And was the sexiest woman on the planet now really standing at his bedside? Something might have stirred in his loins, but he wasn't sure he had any loins any more. He would have considered that he had died and gone to heaven if it wasn't for the fact that his overbearing wife had been at his bedside just 10 minutes earlier.
'What can you tell me about the government's involvement in VastTel?' asked Botherington, cutting to the chase.
'I believe the government is behind this missile attack...'
He said nothing, but he did seem a little worried by the question. He feared the perpetrators of the attack might be listening in. Gripped by fear, he possibly went a bit paler, but it was difficult to tell. He was pale to start with, he probably got a bit paler when he was hit by a missile and now maybe a little more; it was all in tiny increments from the base paleness that came from being of English descent.
'I believe the government is behind this missile attack,' she said. Again, Buffet volunteered nothing, but his body did start to tremble a little. The heart monitor started beeping, and within seconds, the young doctor was in the room.
'I'm sorry, miss, you are going to have to leave.'
He was reading the monitor, whilst trying to calm Buffet down. He had started convulsing.
'His heart rate is up to around normal,' he said, going on to explain how what was normal for most people would be an undue strain on a heart that was used to ticking away at a rate marginally above zero.
'You really must leave,' insisted the doctor, his allegiances split between patient care and gawping at the beauty and sexual energy exuding from the young journalist.
His allegiances were split between patient care and gawping at the beauty and sexual energy exuding from the young journalist.
He motioned her out of the room.
OK, I'm going,' she said, as the doctor accompanied her out. Then he took her down the corridor.
'It's alright, I can find my way from here.'
But he didn't want to let her go. How could he? She was just so beautiful.
'What about Mr Buffet; will he be alright?' she asked, minutes later, as they stood together in the taxi queue outside the hospital.
'I don't know,' he confessed, a satisfied smile across his face. It was a look Botherington had seen many times before.
Meanwhile, she noticed a scurry of activity inside the building.
'I do hope I haven't killed him,' she said. But sad though the loss of human life was, she was a journalist, and Buffet's response had told her that she was onto something; the biggest story of her career so far.
Perhaps she could get something out of their new CEO. Young Jimi Jones.
He looks quite dishy, she thought. I might have fun getting him to talk.
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.