This is a collection of Steve Firebrand's short stories which doesn't form part of a novel.
The FutureVision shop was holding a recruitment meeting in a quiet corner of the factory; Steve was there with his wife Wendy to interview a prospective new member.
'Good Morning Ms Barthollomew,' Steve said, 'I would prefer this to be as casual as possible, please call me Steve.'
'Good morning Steve, and call me Anne,' Anne said, 'I understand that the position is for a casual or part-time assembly. It is not exactly what I was looking for, but my agent insisted that I should apply.'
'To explain the situation my firm is about to undergo a total rebuild and within a year will be reborn as a major factory,' Steve said, 'When I am convinced that you are interested, I will provide further information.'
'Why am I being approached in this manner?' Anne asked.
'I have information that you would be the key member of the new company,' Steve said, 'I propose to initially offer a twenty hour per week placement for the next six months while you complete your honours degree at the University. My company will offer a bursary to assist you during this time.'
'Some of your information is on the eerie side of stalking,' Anne said, 'I didn't include some of that on my resume.'
'Don't be too worried; he is harmless. I am here to make sure that he behaves and doesn't freak you out,' Wendy said, 'For now I ask you to suspend your disbelief and hear Steve out.'
'I was looking for full-time employment, and have advised my supervisor that I needed to defer completion,' Anne said, 'Family commitments have required me to seek full-time work.'
'Humm, I may guess that these commitments are perhaps your partner losing his job,' Steve said, 'This is a little offbeat, but perhaps this partner won't be so committed in six month's time.'
'I had better see some real facts, or I am out of here and trotting over to the cops to lay a complaint,' Anne said.
'One of the facts is your love of science fiction, so if I show you the data for you to read,' Steve said, 'Here is the dossier on my laptop, please feel free to examine the data and the machine.'
Steve passed over the computer and Anne started running the program. As the readout was in code, she spun the face around and asked, 'And what is this supposed to mean?'
'Steve tells me that the R<6 refers to the expected length of your current relationship. S6 is the balance of your current studies, and M is the area of study being management. The five stars indicate the need to secure your employment for the company,' Wendy explained, 'Relationship and book choice is the total personal data accessed.'
'The SF component is the status of the laptop, please access the operating system and view the dates recorded for the copyright and year of manufacture,' Steve said.
Raising her eyebrow, Anne accessed the systems setting and read the text. This data showed a time and Windows status several years beyond the current date.
'Handy trick, how did you do that?' Anne asked.
'I have friends who are living with those dates,' Steve said, 'I can provide further information if the offer is accepted and you have committed to the company. As I envisage that you will be an essential member, I will need to brief you on the technology of our factory.'
'Fascinating so far, I will give a tentative yes until I learn more,' Anne said, 'On a practical side, what is the proposed salary? I need at least 300 dollars a week to meet my living expenses.'
'That is below the starting mark, with a bursary covering all expenses for the Uni,' Steve said, 'The actual job description is optional, one is cadet manager if there is such a thing. The hourly rate is twenty-five dollars an hour to start; with a salary negotiated on completion of studies and becoming full time. The actual title is up to you. The task will be coordinating general manager and assistant to the Chairman,' Thumbing himself with this comment. 'At this stage, I have the experience to run this place but will be out of my depth running a medium sized company.'
'So what will be my duties up till then?' Anne asked.
'Cycling through the departments of procurement, assembly and sales, while looking over my shoulder as I handle the managing,' Steve said, 'As the business expands I will need to free myself from day to day tasks to be able to see the big picture.'
'Sounds a challenge, hypothetically when I assume the Manager position it is my oyster?' Anne asked.
'That is the aim and able to delegate anyone to help,' Wendy said.
'So while you are considering the offer, would you like a tour of our team?' Steve asked, 'Under the usual process of employment negotiations I have surrendered all my advantages.'
'Indeed you have,' Anne said, 'I should see just what I am getting into.'
'Follow me this won't take long for the factory to be viewed,' Steve said, 'I intend to make this the best company to work for, having spent my career under a variety of supervisors. Some of those apparently thought managing meant forcing everyone to work at maximum pace and no slacking.'
'Ah theory X,' Anne said, 'Not a favourite for employees.'
'I have had a few theory Y who understood that mentoring me gained better results,' Steve said, 'Though I admit that being owner/operator lands you with a harsh taskmaster. With my workers, I try to operate as fairly and closer to the Y.'
'Sounds good, so "cherry picking" would describe the recruitment process?' Anne asked.
'As are all my employees, I hope that they all meet the predictions and become team leaders,' Steve said, 'Morning Jenny, please meet Anne who I hope will be joining us.' Steve had stopped and addressed a young woman in a wheelchair.
'Hi Anne, I should warn you that "Simon Legree" demands his pound of flesh,' Jenny said with a grin belying the label.
'Building the Pyramid requires a little persuasion,' Steve said, 'If you weren't my best worker I would be offended.'
Jenny just laughed and returned to concentrating on the assembly of a tiny gadget.
'That is half of the product we make,' Steve said, 'It is a defence shield which replaces body armour for Police and Military. When we get to the testing bench, I will show you just how effective.'
'Intriguing, and the other half?' Anne asked, 'From your brochures, it is a stun gun.'
'A harmless put to sleep,' Steve said, 'Though "drop-em-in their-tracks" sells better. Just don't have your target standing on a roof edge.'
'Here is that assembly bench,' Steve said, 'The pistol is made out of Orange plastic weighted to simulate a revolver to assist aim. A palm-size works just as effectively.'
'Looks innocuous,' Anne said.
The tour moved through the material in and the dispatch lines where workers packed the pairs of gadgets in suitcase batches.
'The deliveries are obviously high security and suitably covered people hand deliver to the buyers,' Steve said, 'Training is provided at the same time. Currently, it is only police and security customers.'
'Here is the demonstration area, we don't have a licence to use firearms, so a bow is used,' Steve said, 'If that doesn't impress my customers, I visit a pistol range and invite them to use up their ammo. We have laboratory rats to demonstrate the sleep gun.'
Entering a shed where a couple of targets were available, Steve said, 'The left one has a shield, and the right doesn't.'
Selecting an arrow Steve shot the right target, then aimed at the left and let fly, with the arrow coming to a soft landing short of the target.
Turning to Anne with a smile, 'Want to have a go?' Steve asked.
'Been a while but I should be able to shoot one,' Anne said picking up the bow and selecting an arrow; then she duplicated Steve's efforts with the same results. Walking forward to the targets, picking up and examining the dropped shafts which were identical to the embedded ones.
'And the same for firearms? You have sold me,' Anne said, 'Where do I sign up?'
'Nothing too formal just fill in all the relevant data and welcome to the madhouse,' Steve said as he directed her back to his office. 'Here is your joining kit which includes a certificate for a thousand shares, uniform and boots for when you are in the shop. Hours are between six am to six pm, and you can select the twenty weekly hours to suit yourself. Burn your week off in two days or spread it out over five.'
'I am surprised that there wasn't a lineup a mile long on the way,' Anne said.
'I advertised for a counter assistant for my TV repair shop and had thousands apply from as far as Townsville,' Steve said, 'Another reason that I cherry pick my people.'
'How would you like to meet yourself?' Steve asked after a pause.
'What?' Anne asked puzzled.
'Wendy, would you like to come?' Steve asked.
'Always a treat,' Wendy said.
'Follow me,' Steve said, 'Do you like amusement rides?'
'As long as they don't go for too long,' Anne said.
'The sensation is short, you will experience disorientation as you step through this door,' Steve said, 'I will go first.'
Anne followed Steve into what looked like a lift car, then Steve operated a keyboard, then another door opened, he stepped through into a more open area. As Anne followed, she first saw a reception desk with a woman busy behind it. This woman looked up, and it was like looking in a mirror.
'Hi Steve, blooding the next victim are you?' The new Anne asked, 'How much warning did you give "me"?'
'None, part of the throw them in the deep end policy,' Steve said, 'Is Senior in?'
'I will give him a bell,' Anne 2 said, 'So Anne enjoying the madhouse?'
'The first day, ink still wet on the paper,' Anne 1 said, 'Many more surprises?'
'Enough to keep you busy though from now, it will part of your job to have the fun,' Anne 2 said, 'Some stuff you need to learn at the normal pace but the oldest "me" is still having heaps of fun.'
'How much can I ask about?' Anne 1 asked.
'Everything that doesn't include personal data or it distorts the continuum if you are tempted to change the inevitable,' Anne 2 said, 'I will give thumbs down if it is a best not knowing.'
'So Bert is on the skids?' Anne 1 asked and received her first thumbs-down, 'So Steve was right.'
'When you come to the point it will be clear, enjoy him while you can,' Anne 2 said, 'Most questions to do with the factory are safe just don't wander outside or ask too many questions from the workers. While the two Steves have a chat, I can take you for the grand tour and show you the sights.'
'Sounds like fun,' Anne 1 said, and together they made their way through the extensive facilities. By the wear to the floor paint, this was not a new building.
'If you see someone you recognise someone, please don't say anything past greeting,' Anne 2 said, 'You remember Jenny?'
'Like it was only half an hour ago,' Anne 1 said, this Jenny was walking around unaided though seemed to have gained some weight.
'Hi Jenny,' Anne 1 said.
'Hi Annes,' Jenny said, 'A newbie?'
'Yep first day,' Anne 2 said, receiving a nod and mouth zip motion from Jenny.
As they walked out of hearing, Anne1 said, 'In a wheelchair last I saw.'
'New gadget, it will be in your brief before the week is out,' Anne 2 said showing thumbs horizontal to deter further questions.
The tour proceeded, while the company had laid out the factory similar, it was clear that the workforce was more significant, and the extra lines had exotic components.
After completing the tour and returning to the reception desk. Anne 1 asked, 'If as I am offered, you are the general manager why the secretary desk?'
'Takes the heat off, everyone who works here knows what I am. So since I dislike being cooped up, my office is open,' Anne 2 said, 'I have a secretary nearby who answers the phone and does the routine typing. She fills my seat when I am out.'
'I understand the closed in feeling,' Anne 1 said, 'Visitors would ignore you?'
'Their loss,' Anne 2 said, 'Steve does the glad-handing and doesn't interrupt my day.'
The small talk ended when the two Steves came out and asked, 'Enjoy your tour? We should return to the grindstone and put our noses back to work.'
With handshakes all around the visitors returned via the doors to the FutureVision shop.
'Morning tea time, would you like a cuppa?' Steve asked.
They adjourned to the meal room where most of the workers were already busy enjoying their "smoko".
'How do you have it, my shout?' Steve asked.
'Coffee white two sugars please,' Anne said surprised at a boss offering to make a brew.
Noting her look, 'If I am busy, feel free to make a tea, a small drop of milk with no sugar,' Steve said, 'Only if you are not busy of course.'
Having assembled the three cups Steve joined the two ladies at a table, 'Any questions?'
'Just how constrained am I to follow a path or is it set in stone?' Anne asked, 'If I have to follow a script, it won't be fun.'
'Or interesting, you have seen the border, and you will be handed critical pieces. Then it will be up to you to assemble the puzzle filling in the details to get the big picture.' Steve said, 'As you may guess we are part of a multi-verse, the maths are daunting, and it works damn fine. Each is slightly different so what works for one doesn't quite fit another.'
'Just understanding today will take a while to assimilate,' Anne said, 'So it is more like Uni than High School, dish out some facts and it is up to the student to research, assimilate then come up with a new slant to advance knowledge.'
'Exactly, too much spoonfeeding restricts the result,' Steve said, 'I can give you a story written by one of me to frame the background and allow you to resolve your part. It is called Apprentice in Parallel and is close to the process I went through to end up here. I was lost, turned up at a place similar to the factory we just visited, was schooled in the game then returned to my normal life and eventually started this shop.'
'Clear as mud,' Anne said sceptically.
'He sometimes gets worse,' Wendy said receiving a grin for her comment.
'So start when you are ready, I will be recruiting five new people a month for the next year. To provide training and employment for the newbies, I will expand the shop, first with an evening shift with some of the existing teams reforming to bring the new members up to speed,' Steve said, 'Some have indicated that weekend shifts would meet their lifestyles. I always enjoyed having weekdays off to do my shopping and not be crowded or hurried. The extra loading of weekend and evening shifts helps the budget.'
Moving the laptop around so that Anne could view, Steve said, 'Here is an unsolicited Resume with identifying data removed, I asked him in for an interview after verifying the references and finding that it seemed contrary to a caveat from Senior. The letter was excellent, and when I met him he was easy to relate to; in the end, I forwarded this to another firm who were delighted to employ him.'
Anne looked a little closer and turned a bit red, 'This is familiar, it wouldn't be Bertram Hart?' Anne asked, 'I typed one up for him and this looks pretty close.'
It was Steve's turn to be pink as he retrieved the laptop and selected a file, 'Oops, sorry glad I didn't say anything derogative. I hadn't connected the two, and he has left that job?'
'Didn't say much past "bored with it",' Anne said.
'This is the data from Senior, E<12m means he is a wanderer,' Steve said, 'Learns the job then moves to another job. He will go far, academics would classify him as a successful manager.'
'That is a bit harsh he is a nice man,' Anne said, 'Has itchy feet though.'
Wendy and Steve looked a bit puzzled, so Anne said, 'Networks with bosses and shoves own work onto subordinates, then claim credit for the work.'
'Well here is the batch coming in next week, I will have you sit in on a couple of the interviews and with the data in view perhaps you can match the code with reality,' Steve said, 'Yes they are being "cherry picked" and you can see how it works.'
'Sounds like it takes the skill out of selection,' Anne said.
'It is more of a case of forming the list of who we need then convincing them that this is the best job for them,' Steve said, 'I hand them a do and don't list which basically is have fun don't upset anyone. This is easier because being "cherry picked" for compatibility there should be little friction. Of course, some tension is necessary to avoid stagnation and boredom. So we introduce competition to keep them on their toes.'
'The share deal, what is the go?' Anne asked, 'Seems to be a reward for nothing.'
'Part of the incentive program, cruising hurts you as well as you are an owner. When the new factory is built it will contain a gymnasium and child creche to make it as family-friendly as possible,' Steve said, 'Working hours are flexible to allow home duties to be worked out to make life easier. Of course, I field a lot of criticism for wasting money on frivolity. In the long run, it works damn fine. There are some very successful companies that go much further and while some others act like it is their own money paying for it.'
'The shares allotted for employees are they tied to value or do they float,' Anne asked, 'I heard that a "dot com" firm had an advisor awarded ten percent which he swapped for a hundred thousand shares then the next week the company restructured the shares and issued a billion shares and went public. Thus rendering his parcel peanuts, he sued successfully.'
'The awarded share parcel is actually nominated in the company statutes as point zero zero zero five percent so if the face value is reissued by a nine for one the shares you hold is reset to ten thousand shares per parcel to retain the same value,' Steven said, 'Yes I had heard of that story so I have no intention of making lawyers rich by shorting workers.'
'I will read the worker's agreement and give a review if you wish,' Anne said, 'I will see you tomorrow so goodbye for now.'
'Goodbye Anne, you should have no trouble sleeping after reading the data I loaded you with,' Steve said.
'I tried it a couple of times but haven't got past the first pages,' Wendy said, 'But as the rules don't apply to me, I have no incentive.'
'I have several and over the years, I have learnt to stay awake reading the most boring tracts,' Anne said, 'I will take my kit home and see you early tomorrow. Goodbye for now.'
Steve and Wendy wished her well and saw her to her car. 'See you at seven.'
Arriving the next morning Anne joined the small crowd waiting at the door to enter. Greetings all round as they walked in and most spread out to their duties. As Anne made her way to the brew room where she found Steve making his cuppa, 'Grab a brew and we will get you started,' Steve said, 'Any questions while we wake up?'
'Heaps, all the rules seem to boil down to have a good time and the company will look after you,' Anne said.
'Basically yes, as the crew is "cherry picked" there should be no conflicts as they walk through the door they are warned no abuse of any sort is acceptable even if you think it is in fun,' Steve said, 'Once I added a cricket protector to one kit of a potential stirrer to underline the point with the comment that if he tries something silly with one of the girls. He got the point and there have been no dramas.'
Anne looked at Steve, not sure that he was joking. 'For real?' She asked.
'Yep, he took it as a great joke,' Steve said with a grin, 'Seriously, I want to maintain a friendly environment. Forgive me if I sound obliquely sexist, I find that women in control of their destiny a delight to be around. And some of the best workers I have ever supervised.'
Ordinary, average and stocky were the words invented to describe Steven Firebrand, remarkable as he owned a powerhouse industry. Lately, the journalists were asking, what was the latest gadget to turn the world on its ear.
As he walked into his factory to begin his day, his executive secretary waved to him. ‘Good morning Senior, you have a visitor waiting in your office,’ Anne said giving the code name to indicate that Steve had a visit from one of his protégés.
‘Good morning Anne, thanks,’ Steve said as he walked past on his way to work. When he entered his office, he found a familiar face waiting. It was Killa, also known as Steve from the alternate universe fifteen years in Steve’s future, this visit he was wearing an annoyed frown. Apart from a beard, Killa was identical to Steve as were the others who Senior mentored.
‘Hi Senior,’ Killa said, ‘I have a problem.’
‘G'day Killa, what's up?’ Senior asked. The use of this name made life a little simpler.
‘That North Korean idiot, Kim, has threatened to bomb Australia if we don't stop siding with the Yanks,’ Killa said, ‘I feel the need to send a reply.’
‘Let me think, how about this? Beef City Feedlot is just down the road. Perhaps I can borrow a bucket or two of their other product?’ Senior suggested.
‘Your shuttle will be able to deliver it via the portal?’ Killa asked.
‘Yep that I can do, and it would be good practice,’ Senior said, ‘My idiot is cooling his heels in a Hague Lockup. I put him there when he did a deal with the alien Fornoon and with the ET’s help invaded the rest of the world.’
‘I should keep an eye out for that program,’ Killa said, ‘So you reckon a bit of fertiliser on his next parade, and a little on his favourite statues should make his regime think twice about flapping their gums
‘Suddenly dropping the proverbial from the heavens; they will have no one laying claim to the deed. That caper should leave the North Koreans with two puzzles, who and how,’ Senior said, ‘First I will ring and see if the basic product is available.’
Senior picked up the phone and rang the feedlot twenty kilometres down the road. ‘Good morning, Steve from Firebrand Industries, I need a couple of tonnes of manure as a present for a friend of mine,’ Senior said, ‘I would like to spread it over a bit of bare paddock he has; I can deliver it as a crop dusting exercise.’
He listened for a while, and then Senior said, ‘Fine, I will knock up a couple of bins to hold and spread it. I should be ready to pick it up next week, and since it is his birthday soon, he will appreciate the gesture.’
After listening to a little more, Senior said, ‘Fine I will send a cheque over, please keep it on the QT, just so that it remains a surprise. Thanks, I will be in touch.’
After hanging up, Senior said, ‘That was easy, now to put the boys on organising a couple of bins for the shuttle bay. It can carry up to five tonnes, but a couple should spread nicely.’
‘Sounds great. I get to push the button?’ Killa asked grinning.
‘Certainly, it is your Australia that he insulted,’ Senior promised.
‘I also would like a few of your space toys soon to curtail aggression,’ Killa said, ‘While we haven’t had any visitors as yet, I should prepare.’
‘I will be sending plans and specifications through soon,’ Senior said, ‘I have a project in another world. Therefore I need several assembly lines to boost my production. I need to gather a large fleet to forestall a potential alien invasion.’
‘I wondered why you floated that idea at the last conflab,’ Killa said, ‘I am just getting my head around the basic toys. Still, I shouldn’t complain beats taxi driving.’
Senior gave him a grin, then called up his computer and soon calculated that two tonnes of fresh manure would require a tank with a volume of about 3000 litres; giving a tank with the dimensions of two by three and two metres high with another water tank of half that size. Thinking on this, Senior said, ‘That is the size of the fire suppression tank we designed last year.’
After farewelling a cheerful Killa; Senior went to the Engineering Section and began the preliminary designs. The team was enthusiastic and quickly brainstormed a workable setup. The team began by experimenting with the flow and a system to propel it from the central cargo bay. A friendly alien had designed Senior’s shuttle as a tender for his larger spacecraft. The cargo bay was circular and could be lowered to allow freight transfer in space or on the ground. The engineering team proposed that lowering the base would provide an aperture suitable for the task and provide ventilation to evacuate the remaining odour. The tanks took the week as expected, not looking very attractive but time was of an essence to keep the message fresh in their memories.
Senior nipped over to Killa's world and gave him the heads up that the present could be delivered the next morning his time.
Senior flew the shuttle over to the feedlot and loaded the bins with excellent fresh manure. As there was a time difference between the two worlds, Senior was able to pick up Killa before transferring to the service world where there were no inhabited countries between Australia and the target. Having access to alternate worlds where humanity was either sparse or absent was a useful advantage either to traverse or to park unwelcome guests for extended stays.
Because there was no hair to ruffle; Senior sent the shuttle's nose Northwards at supersonic speed arriving quickly to the position of the North Korean capital. Then using his portal monitor was able to drift his ship over the parade route and located the platform where his target would be waving to his adoring crowd. As they were a little early; Senior and Killa had sufficient time to rehearse the task up to the point of actually dropping the present. It was a strange feeling, flying over a wooded area; which on Senior and Killa’s world was a broad concrete thoroughfare.
‘We will start here, commence the run from here and end up over the statues to flush the last bit out,’ Senior said, ‘I have included a water tank to do that job.’
‘Sounds fun, I look forward to having my vessels to help spread the good news,’ Killa said.
‘Now we wait, it seems they are starting the forming up of the troops and vehicles around the corner,’ Senior said, ‘While it isn't as big as the last parade, it will do to deliver your message.’
'Once I get my team assembled to make the toys; I will drop some concrete into their missile caves and seal them,' Killa said.