This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 817 words.
Before Roger could say anything, or even open his briefcase to show the report, Furlong launched into him.
“So, just to summarise. Your company goes to a government office with a plan, and a device to make that plan happen. For some reason unfathomable to me, the idiot you see thinks it’s a great idea, and gives you the go-ahead to implement it, along with enough funding to build a new hospital, which I am sure you will agree would have been a far better use of the wasted millions. Your crazy idea is some kind of beam that can alter the brainwaves of those exposed to it, making them feel younger, invigorated, and convinced they can do almost anything. Am I right so far?”
Feeling himself shrinking in the chair, Roger nodded, almost imperceptibly. Furlong was shaking his head as he continued.
“Stop me if I am getting this wrong, but your plan was that this would encourage older people to either stay on in their jobs, or go back to seeking work following retirement. In your addled brain, you somehow thought this would save money on pensions, as the pension age could be increased with no protest from the suddenly lively old folks. It would also compensate for the loss of the available labour market following Brexit, and provide a huge potential workforce of grey-haired people keen to work for a lot less than they might have earned before they retired”.
Roger finally got the briefcase open, but only managed one word before he was interrupted.
The director carried on, ignoring his ‘but’.
“A test sample was authorised, with surveillance run from GCHQ at great expense. This was because your only evidence that it would work was based on laboratory apes that appeared to act much younger after exposure to the beam concealed in the blue light. But now we had to have cameras and microphones in houses, teams to follow and report on individuals, and stump up a great deal of money for your stealth drones that hovered silently above the houses to project the blue light. I also note that the tests with the apes lasted a matter of seconds, but you wanted to expose humans for between ten and fifteen minutes.”
Nodding fiercely, Roger attempted to read from his lengthy report, but he gave up when he was interrupted again.
“I cannot even imagine why you thought this would work. From what I have read about the experiment, the beam mostly induced an abnormal sex drive, with the strange effect of making those exposed to it more attractive to the opposite sex. It also increased temper and anger in most subjects, and as I understand it, not one of them felt a desire to continue working into old age, or look for a job post-retirement. Your test sample was small, and your subject choices ill-advised. Anyway, go ahead, read your report.”
It took Roger over an hour to carefully read the report, finally adding his own conclusions, and admitting some liability. He had to be very careful, as he had committed his company resources totally to the failed project, and he knew that if this interview went bad, the whole company would close down overnight. And he might never secure another government contract. In fact, there was no might about it. He would be bankrupt.
Furlong sat quietly, listening to the report. When Roger finished, he was unimpressed.
“Excuses don’t cut it, I’m afraid. One of these days, a junior minister is going to have to account for the extravagant expenditure to a parliamentary committee. And they are going to roast him alive, believe me. If you want your company to survive, you are going to have to do better than that pile of shit you have just read out to me”.
There seemed to be no way out. Roger had banked everything on the report, and the truths and half truths. He knew he had no definitive answer for Furlong, but tried his best to counter the facts.
“There are some genuine positives to take from the project, William. Some of them might even have a military application, think of that”. Inside, he knew he was clutching at straws, and Furlong’s response felt like the first nails in the coffin of his company.
“Roger, we have booked you into a hotel in Walsall tonight. I suggest you take the time to re-think what you have said this afternoon. The driver is waiting to take you to the hotel. Go and have a bath, a nice meal, and spend the rest of the time thinking about how you can possibly justify this nonsense to me tomorrow. The car will collect you just after nine, so have a good breakfast. And come prepared.”
Walking back to the car, Roger did not have a clue what he was going to say the following morning.