Manguy paused as he entered the train carriage. He’d been in a hurry as he needed to be almost late for the train, but not so late that he actually missed it, in order to be sure that the others all realised that he was very busy and very important. So he’d had his driver drive around the station sixteen times, irritating both the legitimate traffic, the taxi queue, and the little men whose job it was to run up to cars and help the occupants get out with all of their luggage. When he’d finally pulled up, his phone affixed to his ear listening to a conference call between Margoyle (in her role as Head of Soft Furnishing and Cushioned Power) and a major manufacturer of industrial chemicals who were seeking new ways to dispose of waste products they’d all pointedly ignored him and left him to manage his own luggage out of the car.
Even that wasn’t going to make him dangerously late, but then he discovered that he was actually in a queue of people all of whom worked for Data Analytic Marketetic Normalisations, all of whom had been thinking the same way that he was. None of whom were due on the train that he was now going to be late for. With some careful nudging, a sharp elbow, and in one case a quiet word about the inadvisability of not letting him go first, he’d managed to get through the gates with three minutes to spare, and so he’d not paid much attention to the train as he boarded it. Now in the carriage though, his jaw dropped, albeit minutely.
The carriage had a panoramic view; the entire two walls of the carriage seemed to be windows. They reached down as far as the floor and terminated perhaps only an inch before the curve of the ceiling started. The carpet was moss green, and the chairs were green and brown, looking vaguely organic and tree-like. The whole effect was like walking into a secret garden in the station, and right on cue he smelled honeysuckle. He dismissed it as being piped through the air-conditioning, and stored his luggage in the rack by the door, taking the opportunity to marvel at the window-wall again. He longed to reach out and touch it, find out how solid it really felt.
“Manguy,” said Jeremy Diseased-Rat with a broad smile. He was sitting at the far end of the carriage, and his chair had swivelled to face the others. Although the carriage could probably have seated thirty people with the usual density of seating, here there were only twelve chairs, each slightly apart from one another, offering a degree of privacy he expected on first-class aeroplane flights. “You’re very nearly late. You know I wouldn’t have had the train held for you.”
“I was overseeing the Stockholm problem,” he said, checking out who else were in seats here. Jeronica, obviously, and there was Stephanotte next to her. Daresh was flicking disinterestedly through the train company’s glossy magazine, and the other five people he half-recognised but dismissed as being drones.
“Margoyle is managing that,” said Jeronica. She was semi-reclined, the seats had footrests it would seem. “She was in conference with them this afternoon.”
“As was I,” said Manguy, now on his guard. This felt like a set-up. “I was delayed leaving my car as I wanted to make sure that the call concluded satisfactorily.”
“Dangerous,” said Jeremy. “You never know when there’s going to be an expected queue, or an exploded suitcase to hold you up.”
Ah, definitely a set-up then, thought Manguy. This is why there were so many Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations people at the gate. “Fortunately I’m here,” he said. The train started moving without even a slight jerk. “Are we missing anyone?”
“No,” said Jeremy. “This is all of us. And we are on this train as it’s firstly something that we’ve been indirectly sponsoring for the last three years and I wanted us to see what the future of high-speed trains is going to be, and secondly because this is the only way I can sure that no-one is tampering with the atmosphere, the environment, or the food supplies. None of which I disapprove of, by the way, but I need to be away from those distractions.
Gentlemen and Ladies, we are gathered here today to conduct your annual reviews. This will be a competitive process and you will need to earn the willingness of your peers to support you, if not actually coerce them. There are pay-rises available for only four of you, and a single promotion opportunity. I do hope you’re all feeling at the top of your game!”