Friday 9 April 2010

Election Fatique - A Short Story Instead


Grunge, nominally Gerry Murphy, but in full Marmaduke Llewellyn Gerald Iain Smith-Jones-Murphy-Mactavish, the 14th Earl of Gorbals, was sitting in his cubicle trying to restore the family fortunes by banging away at a computer keyboard. There was a decision to make, and he paused. He was sure that the coding he preferred was good and much better than the alternative. Grunge had created it and knew it was sound. But the management operating software development committee had decided categorically that the one invented by the Managing Director's auntie had to be used, or else. Apparently it was based it on a well-known knitting pattern that she used to solve all her problems by concentrating her empathies. The methodology had already had great success in dealing with weaknesses in the date and time setting on her personal computer.

Grunge would have liked to enjoy other ways of earning his money or living, but the family land and fortunes had been dissipated by a series of unlucky decisions by his immediate forefathers. They had been foolish enough to combine a social conscience and a reliance on Trust lawyers together with a quaint belief in the Scottish system of justice. The money had all gone and none at all knew where or how it had happened. Generations of ruthless ambition, measured violence, abuse of law, and absurd risk taking had been abandoned to seeking advice from the incompetent, small minded, and very seriously bent. In the 1990’s there was only one thing for it, software engineering, and in this Grunge had made an even bigger mistake. Grunge had chosen America because it had cheap food and big women, but the expenses were high and unpredictable. He had come to feel nostalgic for the bite of a real Scottish midge.
So, with a caution that was unknown to his forebear at the Battle of Flodden, who had ridden single handed at the English cannon and disappeared in a mess of blood and flesh, Grunge leaned over his cubicle and asked his supervisor. "OK its now the committee code to go in, will you check me." After a few minutes of enduring the sneers and threats, the routine for holders of a Green Card, Grunge managed to extract an answer. “Hey, ******* ****, you ******* greasy limey, just do as your ******* told and no ******* questions. ******* do it and ******* do it ******* now, and ******** you do ******* not ******* leave until it is ******* checked and by ******* you, ******* personal, OK ******* get me?” His supervisor, recently arrived from Ecuador on a forged American passport, was an avid believer in the study of Hollywood films for the teenage market segment as a means of cultural absorption. So Grunge nodded, proceeded to tap away, and it was done.

Night came and he was on his own, even the Chinese had left, and it was time to run the system to see if everything was as it should be. After a short while there was a loud bang as the local power station blew up. Grunge noticed a bad smell about the office. When the emergency power plant in the basement had kicked in the backup power and the lights returned he found he was looking at a middle sized square built man dressed in loose woollen shirting and skins.

At first Grunge thought he was one of the latest Balkan recruits to the maintenance department, until he noticed the horse. Grunge breathed deeply, which was a mistake, as the man smelled a lot worse than the horse. "Can I help you?" he asked. "Indeed you may, what is this place and why am I here? Am I called before my gods?" The language was a little formal, but it did show that the auto sensing verbal translation function in the operating system was in place.

Grunge told him his name and the company he worked for, but the man seemed at a loss. "I am Attila,” he said, and this is "Villumgates, my horse." "Hi Vill, Hi Attila!" Replied Grunge, "And what brings you here?" "I was standing peacefully outside my yurt thinking of a swift gallop to a well fleshed maiden I saw lifting her skirt, when a swirling purple mist came over me and here I am. Is this heaven or hell?" "More like the latter, we are short on human resource development, but really just an ordinary outfit devoted to making money and apologising for the breakdowns in our software. But where do you live?" "On my horse with my men most of the time, I own the plains beyond the Urals to China, but have recently embarked on a vigorous programme of mergers and acquisitions."

"Hey, are you Attila The Hun?" Grunge realised that Auntie’s time function had properties that were entirely unexpected. The man spat, it made a mess on the screen, Grunge clicked his tongue, it could be organic yoghurt and that was a lot of trouble to remove. "No, no, no, Attila The Fun, those Romish monks, they make a simple error in calligraphic transcription, and all over Europe they get it wrong. Every place we go to with our Great Horse Show we have to explain it all over again. That organisation needs a good takeover, delayering, and shakeout." "But I thought you rushed about fighting, murdering, raping, looting, having sex, and destroying everything in your path?"

Attila sat down on Grunge's seat, imposing on it a layer of grease; the horse gently chewed its way through the various handbooks on the desk. Grunge did not mind the horse; he was probably improving their inner meaning. Attila looked at him squarely in the eye for a few moments, Grunge tried to smile, but found it difficult. Attila asked him, "So when you go to a show what do you want to see?" Grunge thought for half a second, "Fighting, murdering, raping, looting, sex and destruction." "Good egg, look, old boy, let me put you in the picture." said Attila. Grunge felt the language function needed some more work. "It's like this, we put on a show, now the peasants." Grunge winced, he hoped the audio surveillance was now off; this was deeply politically incorrect.

In the company mission statement all were equal, except when it came to bonuses, salaries, stock options, medical insurance, and perquisites. "They like lots of bangs, noise, blood, and things that rarely happen down on the farm. Oh, and people getting their clothes off. The church doesn't like it, as our increasing takings have been impacting severely on their own marketing and expansion programme. They have tried to piggy-back our operations by creating alleged saints and martyrs where we have performed. They have a very nice line in horrible and tragic deaths, but we still have the cutting edge in the transcendental experience trade."

Grunge riposted, “Don’t forget they have a good tourist trade based on relics.” As a Free Presbyterian, Grunge felt it odd to be supporting the Church of Rome, but someone had to these days. “Holy cow,” Grunge wondered what Attila was going to come up with, but was wrong, “hocus pocus, that is exactly where we have the client. We do not expect a customer to crawl miles on his or her knees to look at a bit in a box. All spectators get their own personal relic there and then. Our shows are designed to create enough fatal casualties to enable full distribution of a certified item to the paying entry.”

"I see, but that's not the story I've heard" "Well you have heard wrong, then, I have been trying to get our marketing department to get into scrolls and books for the record, but they say that is for the nerds, a bit of polo with a head always gets the crowds in." "So you are getting the better of the Church then?" "Not all the time, we had this prime booking in Rome, but we couldn't get past all the singing nuns who they sat down in the road." "Couldn't you have ridden over them?” "Gadzooks no,” Grunge made a note. "Think of the horses’ fetlocks man, those are prime expensive animals, some bony nun could do a lot of damage." This was getting heavy so Grunge decided to try something, he tapped a few keys, and another power plant in Massachusetts vaporised. There was a momentary glitch in the power and lighting, but Attila and Villumgates had gone.

In the afternoon of the next day the Executive Director for Human Capital and Personal Identification tapped on Grunge's side panel. He was moving from leg to leg which was always a bad sign. "The surveillance tapes from last night, you had an unauthorised visitor, he seemed to be an oddball, we hope you can explain, there were one or two things which breached the guidance for verbal communications instructions, and there are gaps in the tape, so we are assuming substance abuse and all manner of other things on the advice of the legal boys. Oh, and the horse is a problem, allergy risk and liability and all that, any problem we take the money out of your company pension entitlement."

Grunge breathed in hard yet again, it was recommended by his personal trainer, and realised that the Executive Director made heavy use of male fragrances; on the whole Grunge preferred Attila. It was going to be difficult, but a logical and sensible explanation would have been regarded as a sign of guilt. Toughing it out was the sub text of any discussion. So Grunge decided to be more or less frank and open for once, "Our new project seems to have a Time Travel function, thanks entirely to your innovation, or rather the MD's Aunty. That was Attila the Hun, he wasn't totally happy with the situation so I let him go home, I'm sorry he forgot to sign in and out. His visit was entirely involuntary and unplanned, and subject to unforeseen circumstances so of course I deny liability. That rests with the designer of the knitting pattern."

The Executive Director looked very sour, "So, you want to be clever, so show me what you did. "Just the routine checking procedure on the new codes." "OK I'm going to run it, soon, I’ll be back when I’ve had my pills." "Look, are you sure? Last time it was only Attila, the circus entrepreneur, who knows what you will get next?" "Listen you, I do not like bull and baloney, and this time you are going to answer some questions." As his superior pushed his way past to the rest room, Grunge thought it was time to go for late lunch. It was over a year since he had taken time to eat out during the day, the question was where. It needed to be a place as far as possible in the shortest time. He remembered a quiet place high in the White Mountains that might be a safe distance, and he could pick up some of the ball game on TV. If the worst happened he could cross the State line, or run for Canada.

Grunge ordered a rib-eye steak with eggs benedict and fries to come at the Arnold Memorial Inn and settled down to watch the rest of the game on the giant TV screen that dominated the 18th Century style dining room. After only a short while there was a twitching of the lights and power, then a generator took over, and the TV resumed. At first there was a purple haze on the screen and then when the picture emerged there appeared to be crowd trouble at the Fenway Stadium. A mob was on the park, and strangely for demonstrators, they appeared to be mounted.

Grunge’s first reaction that it was a mounted police undercover unit sent to deal with the players who had threatened a strike over the brand name of the sponsor of their boxer shorts, but then he realised that he had seen the leader before, although it was the horse he recognised first. It was Villumgates. One of the Boston players was unwise enough to begin shaking his bat at Attila, who stood in his stirrups, waved his sword and called the play to his men. They began to put on their show with a will and with a degree of organisation and brutality that surpassed anything the crowd had seen since the World Ladies Wrestling Championships.

It wasn’t long before the coverage was cut and the advertisements began to roll. After a few minutes a man in positive mode apologised for the loss of picture and promised a screening of “Spartacus”. “What the hell?” said the barman, “It was only the second innings.” Grunge thought for a few minutes and decided a lot of beer would go well with the meal, but after he had spent a few minutes on the laptop first. “Could I book in for a couple of nights?” he asked the barman.

The TV coverage of the ball game at the Fenway was the most amazing thing the viewers had ever seen, the little they saw. The trouble was that the sponsors were unable to book a return match, which gave rise to criticism of the programming in the media sections. When Grunge returned to the office he learned that the software project had been discontinued and that a large number of lawyers seemed to have been appointed and were running around looking over the shoulders of staff that Grunge had never seen before.

None seemed to know what they were doing, which made for an air of normality, and Grunge knew he had about a very short time to act. Occupying the cubicle reserved for the Chairman’s niece, a lady not his relation, and who never appeared, but drew a Vice-President’s salary and bonuses, he set to work on a pile of knitting patterns, and scribbled bits of paper littered about by the M.D’s Aunty. He was lucky, just having completed his work, entered the copyright, and established Intellectual Property Rights when he was found.

A posse of personal assistants dragged him to the Conference Room where he was confronted by a team of lawyers. A long speech was made by the most senior, a lady, who had lived almost thirty years, and Grunge learned he was surplus to not just company requirements but potentially the human race were there to be any insuperable difficulties. Blood will out and Grunge lost his temper. He was then made an offer of an unexpected vacancy in Columbia, with immediate effect, apparently new software was need urgently by local exporters who had persistent problems with the documentation for the transport of their goods.

Grunge asked for an absurd package of pay and bonuses, to be followed by a final payoff determined on the most lunatic optimism of the company’s share price. There was a silence. Then, while the lady was telling him that he was a fool, he took out the knitting pattern and began tapping into his laptop. She froze and then agreed.

It had taken time for Grunge to rebuild the good will and popularity of the large luxury hotel in the Scottish Borders with its own fishing rights in the Tweed, extensive riding facilities and paddocks, and small distillery in the old gymnasium. He had bought it for a song at the urging of his bride, Griselda, who he discovered through her web site “Curvaceous of Clackmannan” one of the most popular on the net. An outbreak of e-coli during an Italian Gourmet weekend had ruined the previous owners. Normally, this would not have mattered but the deaths of a Premier League footballer and his television presenter partner had caused some excitement.

As a rich man Grunge could indulge his private interests, and reclaim the use of his title with pride. It all helped trade. As he was told by his advertising agency, the Gorbals title was instantly recognisable and both streetwise and credible. His New Real Nice Person approach to living with the avoidance of damage to immune systems by excessive exercise and the purification and cleansing of the body by large doses of his personalised cask strength single malt whisky, with its high level of iodine traces, drew an appreciative clientele. Additionally, its superb anti-septic properties meant he never had to worry about food poisoning. For the first time in his life he really enjoyed his work, moving smiling about the dining room and exchanging jokes and patter. Sometimes, he was asked the secret of his success. “It came straight from the horse’s mouth” was always the enigmatic reply.

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