A Provisional Office

Palm print scanned, Jenny pushed open the door to the Administrators’ office, ID card gripped between her teeth, bag precariously draped over the wrong shoulder, battered travel mug in her left hand and a fat file squeezed tightly under her left arm. Feeling so disorganised was not the best start to the day but she was determined it would get better. Opportunity had rung her at six that morning, her boss wasn’t going to make it that day, indeed Jenny wasn’t sure exactly when or if her boss would be back, but for today she was asked to step up. Today she was Acting Executive Assistant to the CEO, she had to make it count.
Jenny made it to the desk, cascaded her property onto the surface, dumped the bag on the chair and dug out her laptop. She sank thankfully into the welcoming embrace of her Executive Float Plus ™ chair and toed off her sensible black court shoes to let her feet sink into the deep warmth of the thick pile. She was earlier than expected, she had an hour before the Chief Executive was due, time to go through the fat file she’d been handed on arrival, to check the official communication channels for relevant items and to summarise events and actions for attention. She got to work.
When she reached for her coffee and realised that it was empty, she checked the time. 15 minutes before the Chief Exec would be in, time for a quick review of where she was and to make sure she was presentable. Ten minutes later Jenny stood in the spacious lobby trying not to let slightly sweaty palms mark the file containing her meticulously produced briefing notes. The carpet being even thicker here it tended to muffle all sound, all you could hear was a low background murmur. She glanced at Jo, the receptionist, who had just picked up an internal call, Jo looked up and nodded. The Chief Executive was on her way up.
The gilded lift doors opened with a hum and the Bodyguard walked out, scanning the lobby quickly, then standing aside for the Chief Executive to exit. Jenny took a deep breath and stepped forward.
“Good morning Chief Executive, I have your morning briefing notes”.
“Ah thank you for filling in at short notice Jenny, much appreciated. Anything in there that I should know about straight away?”
“The significant issue is an early warning indicator on primary export figures”.
The Chief Executive’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“That export indicator wasn’t expected, are all the figures there for my review?”
“Yes Chief, pages three to five contain my analysis.”
“Good, that will have to be on the agenda for morning briefing. I’ll see you there in half an hour.”
The Chief Executive swept off down the left-hand corridor, preceded as always by the Bodyguard. The Bodyguard was never named these days. It had turned out too hard to remember the names given the turnover. A brief, semi humorous, attempt at naming them after Fleming’s famous assassin spy codes only served to emphasise how quickly the numbers changed. At 0047 the experiment was ended and now the Chief Executive’s bodyguards were simply called Bodyguard for as long as they did the job.
Jenny headed off to the Boardroom to check the set up for morning briefing. Like Cabinets of old the Board all had their own places at this table, but unlike the old Cabinet meetings the CEO’s place was firmly at the head of the table. Today Jenny would be sat by the Chief Exec’s right hand, opposite the CFO and with the Director of Security to her right. Jenny checked the CEO’s seating arrangements, being shorter than most the Chief Exec preferred to keep her boardroom chair set high, so that she appeared as tall, or taller, than her colleagues round the table, but in order to make this comfortable a discreet foot rest was set under the table by her chair. Jenny checked, the foot rest was in place. She hurried back to her office to type out and run off agendas for the meeting.
Standing by the printer waiting as the documents rolled out, she glanced at the other desk, that of her boss. She hadn’t had time to really think about what had happened, she’d been plunged straight in this morning. David hadn’t seemed ill last night when she left at half six, he’d seemed fine, he’d told her to go ahead and leave, he was just finishing off some research for the CEO, he hadn’t seemed worried or upset. Now Jenny looked again at David’s desk. Odd, she thought. Obviously for security reasons they had a clear desk policy but last thing before he went home David would tear off the day’s notes from his notebook and file or shred as appropriate, then he would lay out the now clean fresh notebook, and his pen on the left of his desk. He did this every night without fail, today, there was no notebook, no pen on the desk.
The paper flowed smoothly out of the printer as Jenny walked round to David’s desk. There was nothing on the surface except the screen and the cables. No notepad, no pen, come to think of it, no mouse, which Jenny was sure he normally left here. She looked at the three drawers that were part of the module, she knew David always had them locked, he kept paperwork in there, and policy documents. She reached out for the top drawer, ready for its lock to deny her access, but the drawer opened smoothly to reveal nothing save an empty, clean interior surface. She checked the others with the same result. Someone had cleared David’s desk and drawers after she left last night and before she arrived this morning.
At that point in her musings Jenny became aware the printer had stopped, she turned and swearing under her breath hurried to clear the almost inevitable paper jam. Over sixty years of office printer technology and it still seemed impossible to get one that actually worked reliably. Resetting the machine and its contents she managed to get the last few copies done and headed into the boardroom.
By briefing time, the Board was seated, waiting for the Chief Exec. She was preceded into the room by the Bodyguard who scanned the room, making brief eye contact with his counterparts standing with their backs to the sides of the room, then moved aside to let her in. She walked in smartly and headed for the seat at the top of the table, the men and women around the table rising as she reached her chair, for a moment she stood, scanning their faces, their postures, their clothes, seeking the remiss, the out of place, the twitch or too fixed expression. Apparently satisfied, she nodded her assent and they all sat back down as she seated herself. Jenny sat ready, on the edge of her seat, notebook and pen in hand.
The Chief Exec glanced at Jenny and frowned slightly, turning back to her Board she started leading them through the agenda, whilst at the same time moving her right hand so it knocked Jenny’s spare pen off the table and on to the floor. Jenny watched it fall, a heartbeat too late to catch it in mid-air. The Chief Exec seemed oblivious. Jenny bent to her left and reached down to pick the pen back up. An unexpected sight stopped her. The footrest that she had checked on earlier was no longer in position, the Chief Executive’s feet, in their four-inch heels were dangling, swinging in mid-air with nowhere to rest them. Jenny felt slightly sick, and looked around under the table to see if the footrest had been knocked out of place, to see if she could subtly restore it. She did see the footrest, but she was not going to be able to get to it. The footrest was tightly tucked between the feet of the CFO. Jenny picked up her pen and sat back straight in her chair. The Chief Exec flickered a slight glance in her direction and Jenny shook her head slightly, at the same time looking over at the CFO who met her stare with a smug Cheshire cat grin.
The Chief Executive moved the agenda smoothly on to the troubling export indicator, looking at James the Director of Operations, she asked.
“What’s the issue? I thought the incentive scheme was working well?”
“According to recruiters there is growing apathy around the incentive scheme, no one is saying anything explicit, but they wonder if, at this point, the sheer numbers mean that everyone knows previous volunteers, and that perhaps some have heard more detailed information about the contract terms.”
“How can that be? I understood that all incoming comms are reviewed and edited where need be.”
“We’re not sure”, James responds, “It’s a question for Georgina”.
The Communications Director was tapping her pen on her notebook, an affectation, she never actually took any notes. She looked up.
“It’s volume, we don’t block the comms, we only monitor and intervene where necessary, we can’t, there’d be riots and no incentive would ever be enough to sign up, but we think that there must be some codes being used, and if they are the type that only mean something to family members, then we’re lost. We can’t tell that a reference to old Uncle Harold who died ten years ago is genuine or actually some kind of alarm bell”.
The Chief Executive sighed.
“I did inquire as to whether the contract terms could be slightly more flexible, some leave seems reasonable, but so far I haven’t encountered any favourable response to this. It does make our job more difficult though.”
She turned to her Director of Resources.
“Kim, can we beef the incentive scheme?”
“Honestly? We’re doing more than we should as it is. We can do something non-financial maybe, giving volunteers’ children preferential access to school places? That’s always a good one.”
The CFO cut in before the Chief Executive could respond.
“As long as no one thinks they’re getting any money to support this, we have to bank the money coming in, not watch it flying out.”
The Chief Executive’s face, had the CFO bothered looking closely, looked markedly blank, poker had never been her game though she had learnt over the years not to express herself too loudly through her face. The Chief Executive pushed back her chair and got to her feet, Jenny caught the wince of discomfort that passed across her face, feet which had been left dangling would have pins and needles. The expression was fleeting and followed by a resetting of the face to strong and determined.
“Thank you for your contributions this morning. Kim, can you action the new incentive please and get it into Communications as soon as possible. Georgina, let’s make a splash with this, perhaps we can even boost volunteer figures. I’d like an update on where we are this time tomorrow. However, we have another matter to deal with before we close the meeting.”
She turns to look down at the CFO.
“CFO, I am not happy with your attitude, concerns have been raised about your loyalty.”
“Chief Executive, Megan, surely my loyalty is without question.”
“Don’t rely on old acquaintance CFO. You play the affable trickster, but you are nothing but a traitor. We know about Andropova.”
“If you want my resignation Chief Executive . . .”
“No, I don’t, that would give you too much opportunity to undermine the governance of this country.” She turned to her Bodyguard, “You have your instructions, carry them out”.
The Bodyguard approached the CFO, half standing now, mouth open and eyes wide. He looked at his own Bodyguard,
“Bodyguard, you’re supposed to protect me.”
The Bodyguard said nothing, he had his orders and the clear line of authority behind them. He would have protected the CFO with his life unless ordered otherwise by the Chief Executive. He himself took the CFO by the shoulders and sat him firmly back. The Chief Executive’s Bodyguard stepped to the right and with a brief and economical movement drew a bright, sharp knife across the CFO’s neck from ear to ear. There was a moment when there was just a line cut in flesh, then there was blood flowing from the cut. There was a sharp shocked inhalation of breath from the rest of the Board, one or two individuals even involuntarily touched their own necks.
Jenny had watched fascinated, she had never seen an unscheduled execution before, but the sight of the blood made her feel queasy, she adjusted her gaze to the window behind where the CFO’s body slumped. Outside the office the world would tick on. Of all the amazing achievements the change in government structure had brought about, it was the environmental improvement and future planning that had worked the best. Outside in the street there were only electric trams and buses, the very occasional private electric vehicle, but nothing that was not using only renewables. The countryside was strewn with wind turbines, the seas with every conceivable means of sustainable power generation. Even small streams helped power local sub stations these days. The environment here had been saved, and enough was being done in the rest of the world to hold back disaster.
The Chief Executive’s voice recalled her attention to the room. Around her the Board members had gathered their emotions and now wore masks of non-reaction.
“We will be interviewing for a new CFO this afternoon. In the meantime, many thanks for your attendance and we will meet as usual again tomorrow morning. Jenny, my office, two minutes.”
With this the Bodyguard led the Chief Executive out of the room, she walked carefully, clearly still suffering from pins and needles. Once the room was empty apart from the corpse Jenny followed, only pausing to speak to Jo at reception about getting the Disposals team in, before heading down the corridor.
The Chief Executive’s office door stood open. The corner room was spacious, with windows overlooking the acres of green in Hyde Park, well-appointed and comfortable. As well as the large desk with the usual built in comms units, there was a meeting table and chairs by one window and a more relaxed couple of sofas against the other. In the corner the Bodyguard stood at ease, part of the furniture. The Chief Executive looked up from her desk chair as Jenny paused in the doorway.
“Come in and shut the door Jenny, and do sit down, I need to make a call in a minute but want to get your view on the export situation first, do you think the reasons and our solution are credible?”
Jenny sat down at the meeting table.
“It’s possible Chief Exec, its always going to be a hard sell you know and it isn’t like we have the means to motivate the populace into a conscription plan. Perhaps further consideration should be given to cutting communication channels, we could claim technical issues.”
“A possibility Jenny certainly. Our friends in the east are experts on the control of communication, I am sure we could get some further expertise. One other question for you, obviously I have to check with the Head of Administration, but would you be happy to take on the role of my Executive Assistant on a permanent basis?”.
Jenny’s thought was triumphant, but she managed a quiet.
“Thank you, Chief Executive, I would be pleased to serve.”
Only after she responded, she realised, David was gone forever, removed for whatever reason. She would need to ensure that didn’t happen to her.
“Excellent. Right, I need to do this call.”
The Chief Executive pointed a remote control at a console on her desk, in response a screen with built in camera emerged from the unit. She clicked on the remote again. Text appeared on the screen in Chinese characters and in English. The English read,
“London, you are acknowledged by Beijing, evening briefing will commence shortly”.
A minute later the screen flickered to reveal a picture of mostly men seated around a boardroom table listening carefully to the man at the end of the table.
The Chief Executive had already risen from her seat, she stood waiting to be greeted.
“Ah, we are joined by our UK Chief Executive, welcome.”
“Good Evening Honourable Leader, Honourable Board.” Megan said.
“You may sit. We have been discussing volume of workforce on our moon project. We are keen to ensure that our industrial colony there is completed before Russia concludes its own station work. It would be unthinkable that Russia should claim greater efficiency or success in this. With so many of our native work force engaged in North America we look to you to provide a steady stream of resources.”
“As it happens Honourable Leader, we have been discussing new means of incentivisation only this morning.”
“Discussion is not enough, we have given you great leeway in not being clear to your population about the complete terms of our bailout, and we agree that the avoidance of civil disorder is worth the deception. However, let me remind you that UK plc is wholly owned by the Republic of China, and the terms of our generous bail out at time pf purchase were that you would supply 10,000 workers per month at no cost for deployment on our projects, wherever they may be. You are obliged to make that happen. Or you can take the consequences that your predecessor experienced.”
Megan bowed her head in submission.
“Yes, Honourable Leader, that is understood.”
“Good, make it happen. We will speak again tomorrow. Beijing out.”
The screen went blank. For a moment Megan and Jenny locked eyes across the room, then the phone started ringing and the day moved on.

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