tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 31

No Future Ch. 31


Britain Means Business

It wasn't often that the chief shareholders of Reuters-Fox UK ever chose to address the senior staff, but the celebration following the landslide General Election victory for the Conservatives was a special occasion. It clearly deserved the attendance of those whose wealth financed the loss-making news media empire and whose influence and opinions guided its editorial policies.

Alex was probably the most junior of all the staff in attendance. Although his promotion through the ranks had been relatively rapid thanks to his tireless self-promotion and willingness to do unpaid overtime, he hadn't risen to the rarefied heights of management where he would normally expect to meet people like Eden St John-Easton. The young tycoon wasn't the only shareholder addressing the massed ranks, but although he was by far both the youngest and the shortest he was also the most prominent.

The meeting was called to congratulate the editorial staff of Reuters-Fox UK for their focused effort towards enabling a landmark victory that could only bode well for Britain and British business. It also highlighted the work that still needed to be done to broadcast the message that what was good for business was good for Britain and that low taxation inevitably led to improved international competitiveness. The only sour note raised was when one of the principal shareholders remarked that Reuters-Fox UK might also need to communicate its green credentials in an age where fuel prices were astronomically high and localised flooding was constantly in the news. "We need to be seen to be green," he asserted while other shareholders including Eden St. John-Easton almost visibly rolled their eyes, "but we also need to be genuine. Green is good for business as much as it is good for the environment. If we lower our costs on non-renewables and energy waste, we shall also improve our long term profitability."

After the conference was over, Alex was rather taken aback when Ian Anderson, the London Senior Editor, took him to one side. "Look lively, son," said his boss who was as much Alex's senior in years as he was in status. "Mr St. John-Easton wants to talk to you. God knows what interests he has in online media, but make sure you check back with me with whatever he has to say."

"Of course, Ian," said Alex, who couldn't help wondering whether this meeting had anything to do with his occasional late-night meetings with Zara. They were infrequent, unannounced and, thankfully, never resolved in a way that Isobel could use as evidence for divorce. As Alex's face was the only one Zara recognised in the office, he was her natural point of call whenever she was in the area and wanted a drink.

Was Alex now for the chop?

"Alan is it?" said Eden while Alex did his best to disguise how much taller he was than the great man. "My wife has mentioned you to me."

"She has, sir?" said Alex who wondered whether Eden's rather bland smile was disguising rather more diabolical intentions.

"Not in a bad way, mind you," continued Eden. "You're an old friend of hers from way back, I believe?"

"Yes," said Alex with almost visible relief. What had Zara said about him? "A long way back."

"Well, I don't need to know the details," said Eden, "though you are somewhat older than my wife. She says that you have some good ideas on to how to extend the online news service. Is that so?"

Alex wondered what the hell Eden was talking about. During the few meetings he'd had with Zara there'd been virtually no mention of Alex's job and certainly none about his non-existent good ideas. Was this part of an elaborate cover-up by Zara to disguise the fact that she'd been meeting him for nothing more than a drink in the Zenith? Would Eden suspect that Alex and she were having an affair? What was going on?

"Yes," Alex lied as convincingly as he could. "I do believe that with the rapid growth of the virtual world, such as Virtual Reality, Social Networking and... erm... so on, there should be a much greater news presence. There's a lot more money that can be made from advertising there."

"Hmmm," said Eden, who already looked bored. "Advertising revenue isn't really a big deal, is it? I don't expect to make much money out of Reuters-Fox anyway. Its costs are hardly covered by advertising revenue, but if you think there's money to be made from advertising then have a word with Marketing. I'm sure they'll be all ears. No, I was wondering more about influence rather than revenue. What influence do you think Reuters-Fox UK could have on the VR community? How do you think we can get a part of the action?"

Shit! What had Zara got Alex into? This was his one chance to impress the big man (or small one, in truth) and he had nothing to offer. How could he bluff his way out of this?

"I think we should have a visible presence in the Virtual world," said Alex with as much conviction he could muster for his totally improvised thoughts. "There are plenty of models we can use as examples though they are focused on the needs of gamers and social networkers. We don't need to be just a passive news outlet in the Virtual World. We can be much more active."

"And if we were more active, could we then have more influence?" asked Eden.

This was clearly what Eden wanted to believe, so Alex decided to reinforce this view. "Yes, of course," said Alex. "It's a way of getting out the message that the interests of business and Britain are one and the same thing. It's a way of ensuring that everyone sees the benefits of business-friendly government policy."

"And how would we do that?" wondered Eden. "I don't see too many people playing computer games whose purpose is to lower taxes. What would be the attraction of that? Would you feature a bunch of greens and pinkos as evil forces getting in the way of our online hero on his mission to reduce taxation?"

A joke, thought Alex with relief, as he laughed appreciatively in the way he'd been schooled in his years of interminable meetings. "There are more subtle ways of doing it than that," he said with a grin. "But effectively it would be exactly what you suggest."

"Really?" said Eden thoughtfully, who was probably more taken by his own attempt at humour than what Alex had to say. "Well, get on with it, Alan. I'll make sure that Tom from Finance gives you the funding you need."

With that he tapped Alex gently on the shoulder and left him standing by himself in a state of paralysed stupefaction. What hole had he just dug for himself?

This was the same question expressed to him later by Ian when he reported back an account of his conversation, only Ian was much less inclined to hold back on his use of expletives.

"Whose fucking idea was it anyway?" Ian asked.

Alex could see the wisdom in grasping the straw proffered to him by Eden with both hands. "In truth," he said, "I can't take any credit for it. It was Mr St. John-Easton who proposed a more active involvement in VR. However, I think it's unlikely he'd want to expose himself to criticism if it should happen to fail."

"Are you saying that our young tycoon suggested to you that he wanted a news agency involved in some unspecified way on the VR internet and he has no fucking idea of what that should be?"

"More or less, Ian."

"What the fuck do you mean? Is it more? Or is it less? What does he want us to fucking do?"

"I guess a lot depends on how much money he wants to apportion to the project."

"I'll remind you that Mr St. John-Easton is no fucking Santa Claus. Any money we spend on some fuckwit project comes from profits made by Fox International. It will have to be approved by the fucking Executive. We've already wasted fucking billions on internet related enterprises that have sunk without a fucking trace. Not even so much sunk as plummeted leaving a pile of fucking shite for us to deal with."

"I'm not sure we're in a position to negotiate with what Mr St. John-Easton wants, Ian."

The Senior Editor considered this. "Any ideas then of what we should do to keep our billionaire friend happy, Alex?"

Alex had an answer for that, which, of course, was no answer at all. "I think it would be very hasty for us to commit ourselves to anything specific before investigating it thoroughly, Ian."

"That's not much of a fucking proposal to put in front of the board."

"I think we need to be seen to be doing something towards building up a more prominent presence in the VR space, Ian. It's just got to look like it satisfies Mr St. John-Easton's requirements."

"What you're saying is that you haven't got a fucking clue, am I right?"

"We could buy something that's already active on the VR scene, Ian," said Alex. "Something that's doing well but needs a bit of nurturing."

"What do you suggest? Not one of those fucking virtual sex sites, I hope. I don't want the Telegraph running stories about Fox International executives getting their cocks greased in all that weird VR paraphernalia."

"They'll run stories like that whatever we do, Ian," said Alex. "That's just one idea. It might even pay off, you never know."

"I guess so," said Ian more reflectively. "You're the fucking expert. I don't know anything about all this Virtual Reality stuff anyway."

"I think Mr St. John-Easton doesn't know even as much as you do, Ian."

"You're probably right there," said Ian thoughtfully. "What do you suggest we do, then?"

"We build up a news department dedicated to the VR realm," said Alex. "We do a bit of investigation and work out what we can buy and what we can develop in-house. We increase its visibility so that Mr St. John-Easton and the whole board are aware of what's happening. We give it a bit of exposure on Fox News UK and try to get the BBC interested. Any success it has we credit to Mr St. John-Easton. Any failures we brush under the carpet."

"It's a plan of sorts," said Ian. "I guess it'll have to be handled by your department, won't it?"

Yes! thought Alex. Yes! Yes! An Executive Board presence and a potentially huge budget. If that wasn't effectively promotion, what could be?

"Someone has to take responsibility for the thing, Ian," said Alex.

"So, Alex," wondered Ian. "How is it that someone like Mr. St. John-Easton—international playboy, business goliath and would-be media tycoon—should happen to get to know about you? Or 'Alan' as he thinks you're called."

"I don't know, Ian," said Alex. "It's a mystery."

"A big fucking mystery. You're not a freemason or something like that, are you?"

"Of course not, Ian."

"You wouldn't say if you were, would you?" said Ian. "Look, I haven't got all day. Present me with a proposal of what you think needs to be done. Make sure that you don't make any reference to our diminu... dashing billionaire anywhere in your proposal. And don't refer to him in any e-mails either. Just keep him out of it."

"Yes, Ian."

"Well, get going then, Alex," said Ian dismissing him with a flick of his hand.

Alex left the Senior Editor's office in huge relief with not just a cloud lifted but the sun shining down on him more brilliantly than it had ever done.

Now what?

First of all, he'd have to get someone to write up a proposal for the Senior Editor. Maybe Igor. He could make a good fist of it once he was briefed. And then he'd have to celebrate. Perhaps he'd join the other managers in the Cat and Mouse after work. A few drinks would be just the right way to end the day.

Should he phone Isobel? That was a difficult call. She probably wouldn't understand the significance of what Alex had just achieved and might even suggest that instead of enjoying himself with his work colleagues he come home early and celebrate with her.

That would be boring.

Better to say nothing, really. She wasn't expecting him to come home early anyway.

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