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The Incumbent: Chapter 43

It's an intricate web of murder plots, government conspiracies and rampant tanning. Oh, and the future of the entire nation.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

Jimi Jones was now well and truly aware of the government's plan. He realised they had been using VastTel as a giant dumping ground for the terminally unemployable, and, he had to admit, it had been one of their most successful initiatives. Most people earned a moderate wage, didn't get stressed at work and the economy seemed to keep ticking on. Jones wasn't an economist, but it seemed hard to find fault with the plan. In its way, it was brilliant.

In fact, Jones wondered whether he should play along and keep the whole thing secret. If he blew the lid on it, then the entire make-up of the economy could change. All of a sudden, there would be a drive for competition and efficiency. It sounded like hard work. People would become stressed, putting more pressure on the hospitals. There would also be an expectation that workers became smarter, putting greater demand on the education sector. The elongated holidays and spurious working hours of VastTel employees would disappear, creating congestion on the roads and decimating the leisure industries. There was a myriad of painful consequences if the scheme was to falter.

On the doors, the words 'death to you all' had been painted in ox blood.

The more he looked into it, the more he liked the plan. If he had been 10 years older, he probably would have kept quiet; he might have even personally applauded the prime minister. But there was a more immediate concern for a young man of 21: his relentless sexual craving for Trisha Botherington. She was barely away from his thoughts. He had simple needs, and it wasn't unreasonable, he'd thought, for her to satisfy those needs in exchange for the biggest news story in the history of Australia (except for the one where white man invaded and took the place over).

Meanwhile, of course, a lot of angry white men (and women) had taken over the VastTel building. The focus of their rage was now on the exterior doors of the panic room, where call-centre staff sat, praying the doors would hold and that everyone would just go away.

Jones knew they would be stuck there for hours, so he passed the time browsing the internet. He noted that the VastTel website had been hacked and the front page was no longer advertising complicated phone plans that would enable you to get your own PocketFriend 2050 for 10 percent less than the full price just by spending 10 times the cost on phone calls costing twice as much as normal. Instead, a photograph showed the outside of the panic room. On the doors, the words 'death to you all' had been painted in ox blood.

A little unnerved, he distracted himself by researching further, convinced that the more information he supplied, the more grateful Botherington would be. He was now completely convinced that they would soon be enjoying a splendid night of rampant lovemaking. In fact, he was distracted for a while by websites that could help him to finesse his technique in preparation for the event. He spent a little time absorbing as much content as possible — at least, as much as was possible before he was asked to provide credit card details.

'In the event of unforeseen circumstances ... close VastTel ... remove all evidence ... kill staff ... blame virus ... press unlikely to figure it out.'

But he soon grew tired of it. He leaned back in his chair, stretched his arms into the air and took a deep breath. Around him many of the call-centre team were starting to fall asleep. There was little else to do. He turned to the final section of the Treasury document. He wanted to re-read the chapter on the Redundancy Program.

Feeling a little lethargic himself, as if he hadn't slept for days, he opened the last chapter and started to read. It was heavy going, though. He could feel his eyelids getting heavier and heavier, and at best he managed to read every few words.

'In the event of unforeseen circumstances ... close VastTel ... remove all evidence ... kill staff ... blame virus ... press unlikely to figure it out.'

Shocking though it was, Jones was not really absorbing the content. His mind was drifting to more pleasant thoughts; lying in the sunshine, Trisha's head alongside his, both in love, or, even better, in lust, without a care in the world.

But Jones' will to live pushed him out of this state, back into reality. He gazed across the room and saw that now no one was awake. Then he noticed how quiet it was around him. There was no noise, even from outside. The hammering had stopped. The yelling had ceased. Even the air conditioning was silent.

'Oh my god,' said Jones, to nobody in particular. 'That's why we're so tired. There's no air coming in here.' He put two and two together. This wasn't an air-conditioner malfunction, this was all planned. They were all to die in an air-tight room. He realised now this was all part of Holton-Lacey's Redundancy Plan. Was this how the government had intended them all to die? He had to get out.

Was this how the government had intended them all to die?

He dragged himself to the solid steel doors, and, as he did so, he contemplated what lay outside. Why had the crowd gone strangely quiet? Were they waiting? If he got out, could he have survived asphyxiation, but instead find himself lynched by an angry mob?

Whatever the prospect, Jones had no choice. Staying put meant almost certain death. He didn't want to be found dead in the company of 140 clinically obese call-centre workers. It wasn't a good way to go.

He used one last burst of energy to reach up and press a large red button, marked 'emergency open', positioned alongside the entry doors. He waited for the sudden rush of air, but he had no such luck. Instead, a large warning light flashed above the doors and a siren sounded. Then a voice, the same voice that misguided people through the VastTel call menu, said, 'These doors will open in ...,' then an apparently computer-generated voice inserted, '27 minutes.'

Jones collapsed in a heap. He doubted there was enough air to last that long. The thought of killing some of the workers crossed his mind, the ones that were breathing heavily, but he was certain he couldn't do it. He didn't have the energy. Besides, it hardly seemed fair. After all, he'd done his own heavy breathing when he'd been thinking about Trisha Botherington.

Instead, he lay flat on his back, trying to conserve his energy. The room was turning hazy. The voice was nothing more than a light echo, announcing 'these doors will open in ... 25 ... minutes.'

'I can't go like this,' he kept telling himself, as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

Some of the call-centre agents had stopped snoring now. He wondered whether he was the last one alive. Even then, he wasn't sure of his state; everything seemed so muddled. He was losing all concept of time, and several times awoke, trying to remember where he was and what was happening.

'Give me your hand,' he heard a voice say. He opened his eyes and there she was. Trisha Botherington, looking at him with deep concern. Her hand was touching his.

Had the object of his dreams really come to save him?

Was she really there to rescue him?

'Come with me,' she said, in a flowing white gown, her lithe naked tanned body silhouetted beneath it. 'Quick, let me take you, hold my hand.'

Jones tried to reach out. Was she really there? Had the object of his dreams really come to save him?

'Come on, Jimi. I need you,' she said.

He somehow found the energy to reach his other hand into hers.

'I'm here to take you home,' the words were music to his ears, 'so our bodies can be entwined, ensconced together in a riot of joyous sexual ecstasy.'

'Oh, f*** it,' thought Jones. That was it. That was the giveaway. 'I'm making this up. She's just a friggin' dream!'

His breathing was now as fast as ever, as his eyelids closed and he lost consciousness. He, like all in the room, was left, perhaps, to die, but at least he had a smile on his face.

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.

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