Nestor Lynch // Novel // WIP
Updated: Mar 26
// Updated: 2021/01/29 First Draft
// Updated: 2021/02/21 Added Chapter Three: Legacy
// Updated: 2021/03/05 Added Chapter Four: Efficiency Savings
// Updated: 2021/03/10 Nestor returns to London to find new friends and old enemies
// Updated: 2021/03/15 Nestor discovers his parent's adversary has him in their sights
// Updated: 2021/03/22 A new project which may yet save Lynch Industries
// Updated: 2021/03/24 The Skunkworks is founded!
2017 AD, Atlas Residence Halls, King's College, London: Nestor Lynch
Light filtered in through the blinds, words followed them, Nestor tried to focus on them. Following them back to their source, he saw a blonde laying beside him in bed. He groaned and slid out of the sheets. Pulling on a shirt, he went downstairs and threw bread into the toaster. Filling the coffee machine, he blinked away the cobwebs of sleep and the remnants of last night's hangover.
"Aren't you going to put on trousers?" She asked, making him jump. She was standing right behind him. He wondered briefly how she got dressed so quickly.
"I'm wearing trousers of the mind." He replied. They stood in silence for a moment until the awkwardness was broken by the toast popping up. He pulled out a slice, spread butter on it and handed it over. "Complimentary breakfast."
She gratefully accepted and started munching. "So, Nestor isn't it? Unusual name."
"My parents decided that people needed one more reason to mock me." He buttered his own slice.
Silence fell again, then she noticed a whirring and looked up to see a small drone hovering in the corner of the kitchen. "What is that?" she asked.
Nestor looked up, then grinned, beaming with pride. "That is Bubo."
She put down her toast. "Is that a camera on it?" She asked.
He foraged in the cupboards and found a plate for her. "Yes, an 8-megapixel camera, speakers and--" He said.
"Is it following you around?" She said, interrupting him ignoring the plate.
"Yes, it is actually tracking this." Nestor held up his wrist, showing off a watch with a flourish. "But it also recognises my image and known associates around me. I made it myself." She didn't seem as impressed as she should have been. He cocked his head confused and disappointed by her reaction. This wasn't going as he had expected.
"Is it filming?" Her volume increased. Pitch and tone slide higher. Nope. This was definitely not going well.
Nestor felt the situation sliding from out of his control. "Always, why?" He started to pick up on the faint glimmerings of rage on her face.
"Was it filming us last night?" She said. Sweat formed on the small of his back. He had an idea where this was going.
He checked for exits and remembered it was his house. He was cornered. "Ah."
"That's illegal." Her voice was pure stone now. Granite.
"It's the future." He said stubbornly.
"It's an invasion of privacy. I want the footage of last night deleted."
"Why?" His voice was becoming shrill.
"Delete it all, or you'll be hearing from my father. He is a solicitor."
"Bubo. Delete DroneCam1. Current day." The drone replied confirming in an unnecessarily cheery voice. Nestor could feel the situation sliding from out of his control. "So anyway, about last night. It was fun, we should--"
"Nestor. Delete last night. Delete any further conversation." She said. "Wait. Do you have an erection?"
He paused trying to think fast. "No, it's the pleats." Fuck he thought.
"The pleats in your mind trousers? I'm angry and upset and you get an erection?"
"I have a thing for strong women. I'm a feminist."
The door slammed behind her and she was gone. Nestor stood slowly digesting the morning's events. Bubo hovered silently, still filming. Nestor looked up. For once, the thought of being constantly monitored had a downside. He considered deleting the morning footage and then shrugged. It could come in handy for Bubos predictive AI. He moved upstairs to his computer and turned it on. Time to write a consent subroutine he supposed. His breakfast sat in
the kitchen counter growing cold as he tapped on the keyboard.
"Bubo. Play heavy metal." Nickleback started playing. He groaned as if his morning couldn't get any worse. "Bubo. Change category for Nickleback to Soft Rock. No, wait. Bubo. Ban Nickelback. Resume." He smiled as the music changed and Led Zeppelin filled his room. As he started typing he ordered Bubo to play BBC News. The TV in the corner of the room flicked on. The news filtered through the background as he focused on his screen. Then with growing realisation, he turned to the screen and watched as reports of a terrorist attack on a MOD conference came in. Numbly he looked at the location. Brighton. His phone started ringing. He looked down. It was his father's chief technical officer Frederick Smythe. As he numbly tapped 'Answer' on his phone a series of unnecessary words floated up to him.
And that was how Nestor Lynch learnt he had been orphaned.
2017 AD, Belfast: Nestor Lynch
In Belfast, the rain and slate grey skies were a constant. Nestor stood in his suit. Someone was holding an umbrella over him as he starred at two coffins. The priest was making a speech. Nestor was sure it was very moving, lots of excellent references about the nobility of his parents, maybe a paragraph or two on God's purpose, but he couldn't listen. His life had just had its bedrocks ripped out, and now he had been left alone. Maybe he would listen to the speech later. Above him, Bubo was flying despite the non-stop rain. The faithful drone was monitoring the event, his true companion. He watched the coffins as they sank into the graves on ropes. Handed a shovel, he numbly threw a spade load of dirt over his father's coffin, then repeated it for his mother. Someone asked him if he would like to say a few words. When he didn't react, they asked him again.
"What is the point?" He said. "They are dead." He turned away. He walked back to where his car was waiting for him.
Frederick followed him. The gaunt man squelched through the mud. "The driver will take you to your family home. Don't worry about Lynch Industries. It is in good hands. I will keep it sailing on its course."
"Thanks," Nestor said numbly. Frederick opened the car door for him. He stepped inside, hearing silence at last. He tapped his watch and held out his hand. Bubo flew in and landed in his palm. He put Bubo on a docking station next to him. A red light flashed as the drone recharged. The car drew away from the grim cemetery. The windscreen wipers screeched over the glass as he looked out of the windows. He felt a disassociation with the world around him. The colours seemed drab, and the sound didn't seem to match what he was seeing. It was like a cheap DVD copy. It all seemed fake. Lifeless.
When the car pulled up at the family home, he got out and trudged to where the door was held open by Ethel Winters, the families housekeeper. He nodded at her and went to walk straight past when a voice like ice cut through his grief.
He looked at her with utter disbelief. She looked back at him through thick plastic rimmed glasses, the joint between the lens bound with tape. Her iron-grey hair framed a face radiating determination.
"I don't care how you are feeling. You'll be feeling a lot worse if you traipse mud through these halls." She said. She pointed at his feet. "Shoes."
He shook his head and kicked off his shoes angrily.
"I've had your things moved into the master bedroom." She began.
"Well, move them again. I won't be sleeping there. Set up a bed in the cellar and get all my tools moved down there." He said, walking to the cellar door. He heard her mutter behind him and ignored her. Ghosts of a family that meant nothing to him haunted these halls. He would be damned if he was going to live surrounded by their shadows. The cellar was full of dusty bottles of wine. He picked one at random and looked for a corkscrew.
"That needs to be aged," Ethel said from behind him. He jumped. "Perhaps you would prefer tea?"
"I don't want tea." Nestor snapped.
"Then you can have a beer," Ethel said. She gestured at two workmen who were bringing down an armchair.
"What is that for?" Nestor growled.
She ignored him, and he sat down on it sullenly. A small table appeared next to it. He stared at the wine racks. A cup of tea appeared next to him, and a plate with a sandwich and crisps. He drank the tea. She had clearly forgotten the beer, he thought darkly. As he sat, boxes appeared around him. Slowly the cellar transformed into a parody of his student digs. He didn't know when he fell asleep, but he awoke to find the tea and his uneaten sandwich removed. He looked down at a blanket that had mysteriously covered him. It had a faded print of Optimus Prime on it. He smiled. He hadn't seen that blanket in a decade. His watch showed thirteen notifications. He flicked through the messages from his friends. He didn't bother replying. His computer was in the corner, and it called to him. He shucked the blanket off and left it on the floor. Moving over to the computer, he started looking at the source code for Bubo and continued his work on the consent subroutines. After an hour, another cup of tea appeared next to him, along with a parcel wrapped in brown paper. He turned to Ethel and said, “what is this? And where is the beer."
"From the solicitors and coming right up." She said.
He swiftly forgot all about the beer as which was just as well as it never appeared. He turned the parcel around, wondering at its secrets. Then tore open he brown paper to find a framed photograph of the family from about six years ago. A bronze plaque said, “Nestor, everything you need is here.” He snorted. If the family was that important, then his father should have spent more time with it instead of being trapped in his office. He put it in a draw and carried on coding. Hunger eventually drew him upstairs, and he followed the rich scent of food to the dining room, where steaming beef stew and soda bread sat waiting for him. The massive table seemed like a continent. A monument to just how alone he was. A beer appeared next to him. Finally, he thought. He drank greedily. The stew was delicious, and warmth spread through him. When he finished, he retreated to his sanctuary in the cellar. Another full cup of tea waited for him, along with a slice of the densest fruit cake he had ever seen. He poked it with his finger. Gingerly he chewed on a bit of it. Shrugging, he returned to work. Bubo hovered around him, playing rock music as he typed.
"The Ship That Launched Herself"
Nestor awoke to a shriek. He tossed off the sheets and threw a dressing gown on. Emerging from the basement, he hurried through the rooms to the dulcet tones of a well spoken Radio Four presenter. Finally, arriving at the kitchen, he found a furious Ethel Winters wielding a brush and dustpan with deadly intent.
"What is the meaning of this?" She asked.
There was an uncomfortable silence where Nestor withered under her gaze. "Meaning of what?"
"This," she waved in the air, "this noise, this light."
Nestor grinned happily. "This is the future. I have brought this pile of bricks into the modern age. When Bubo detects that you have woken up, he turns on the lights as you enter the room and then plays your favourite radio station."
The brush and dustpan waved in his face with all the menace of a barbarian invader. He took a quick step back. "Well, if Bubo tries that again, instead of gathering up the pieces of a shattered bone china cup older than you, Nestor, I'll be sweeping up broken circuit boards." She pointed at the original tiffany fixtures. "I will turn on the lights when I am good and ready. Now, how do I stop this noise?"
Nestor swiftly ordered Bubo to stop the radio. "This is the direction the world is moving in, Ethel. You should embrace the future, not flee from it."
Cocking her head, she said, "If this is how you want to live your life, then do it, but I have my own way of waking up. Now, if you will excuse me, " she moved past him, "breakfast will be at 08:00 as usual. Unless Bubo objects, of course."
Rolling his eyes, Nestor decided not to go back to bed and retreated down to his basement to set the rest of the house to manual. He had a tablet in his hand and was scrolling through all the information he could find on Lynch Industries.
After what appeared to be no time at all, Bubo bleeped and reported "Breakfast", he tore himself from his reading and wandered upstairs still in his dressing gown. It was hard to tell if Ethel was still angry or it was just her default cold exterior manifesting itself. Regardless, he decided to keep a low profile. A boiled egg, half a grapefruit, a pot of Greek yoghurt and some toast soldiers materialised in front of him, along with a fresh pot of tea.
Whilst his cup slowly filled, he made polite conversation, "Did you know that Lynch Industries doesn't make ships anymore?"
A bone china cup was placed in front of him. "The company hasn't had the best of times in recent years." Ethel conceded.
"Bridges." Nestor continued. "We build bridges in our shipyards now at a loss."
"Will you be wanting anything else?" Ethel asked. Nestor shook his head.
He poked at the grapefruit. Then he picked up the strange serrated teaspoon and poked at it a bit more. He sighed. "Ethel, we live in a first world country. Why do I have to do so much physical labour to eat my food." Silence echoed back at him. "Can I not have bacon instead of grapefruit." He gave up. She must have wondered out of earshot. He picked up the offending grapefruit peering at it in disgust before putting it to one side. Eggs will have to do. They are easy.
He had just returned to his basement and started coding when a knock on the door disrupted him. He was still in his dressing gown. He called for Ethel to come in.
The door opened. Ethel placed a fresh cup of tea on the table beside him. "You have a guest Master Lynch. Perhaps some clothes are in order."
Irritation flashed across his face. "Who is it?"
"Frederick Smythe, the acting CEO of Lynch Industries."
"I know who he is. I'll be up in five minutes."
"Very well, he will be in the drawing room." She said. She nodded and then left the room.
Nestor pulled out a fresh t-shirt and jeans from his cupboard and hastily got dressed. He ran his fingers through his hair, tussling it into a vaguely presentable shape and then walked upstairs. Daylight was leaking in through all the windows despite the best effort of the clouds. He walked down the hallway to where he could hear Frederick chatting with Ethel. As he entered the room, he noticed something odd had happened to her face. After a moment, he figured it out. She was smiling. Frederick beamed at him and stood, his teeth bared like gravestones. He shook Fredericks hand before sitting down. Ethel had placed a silver tray with tea and biscuits between them. Nestor exchanged the usual pleasantries with Frederick, before his face switched from paternal uncle to business mode.
"Nestor, an opportunity has come up, and as you are the majority shareholder in Lynch Industries, I wanted to discuss it with you." Nestor nodded warily. "Lynch Industries is up to its eyeballs in debt. I'm sorry, but this isn't what your father intended you to inherit. We've been losing money for decades. We don't even know if the banks are going to renegotiate our debts. Unless something is done and done soon then, the company will be bankrupt."
"I have been reading. Bridges?"
Frederick shrugged. "Your father took what contracts he could to keep the company on life support. With him gone, what little hope we had has also gone. I mean no offence."
"None was taken," Nestor said, "I don't really care for shipbuilding."
"That makes this next bit easier then. The Dragon Consortium, a Chinese company, is looking to purchase Lynch Industries. They have made a very generous offer, and I recommend accepting it. It will allow you to live in comfort for the rest of your life, or you could use the money to build a company that focuses on your strengths."
Without hesitation, Nestor agreed. As he did, he felt as if a millstone had fallen from around his neck. Frederick beamed at him and promised to have the paperwork sent over later on that very day.
He closed his eyes as Ethel escorted Frederick to the door. He hadn't realised just how much the legacy of his parents had preyed on him. He had always been seen as the heir to the Lynch Industries mantle. He had always understood this, but he had expected to take it on much later in his life. This was his opportunity to escape the shadows of his family and be a self-made man. He could sell the house, move back to Central London, back to the city's thrumming buzz, the vibrant culture, the parties, and the music. He opened his eyes. Ethel was standing in front of him, and the scowl was back. Briefly, he revelled in the fact that he wouldn't need Ethel in London and then immediately felt a pang of guilt.
"Did I hear that you are thinking of selling Lynch Industries?" Ethel asked.
Nestor shrugged. "It is either sell it or lose it. We might as well salvage what we can. The company is dead in the water."
"Come with me," Ethel said, turning and walking from the drawing room. She led him upstairs past all the paintings and photos of past Lynch family members. Through a hallway lined with pictures of old ships, all built by his ancestors, until they arrived at his Fathers office.
He still felt trepidation entering the oak panelled room. Even with his Fathers death, he still felt like he was disturbing him. The vast mahogany desk brought back memories of his father surrounded by paperwork and books. Day and night, his father had slaved away only for the company to go bankrupt anyway, he thought bitterly. Ethel pointed at the photos in the office. Eight massive aircraft carriers lined the walls.
"The Vindictive, The Formidable, The Glory, The Eagle, The Warrior, The Magnificent, The Bulwark, The Centaur. In Britain’s darkest hour, those ships kept the enemy out with a wall of steel. Lynch Industries steel. We've made nearly two hundred ships for the Royal Navy over the centuries."
She doesn’t get it. How can I make her understand? He thought. "That was then, Ethel. This company is trading on past glories. Look at the Royal Navy now. Less than eighteen ships in total. The Navy couldn't keep the company afloat if we were the only shipyard in Britain, and we are not. Ethel, it is time to move on." She stood stock-still radiating defiance showing no sign of moving on. He sighed.
"Ok, Nestor. Time for a field trip. You are getting some fresh air." She led him to the porch, where she threw on a jacket and changed her shoes. He picked up a denim jacket himself and wedged his feet into some old trainers. As he walked up to the door, he was garroted by a woollen scarf thrown over his neck with the precision of a KGB hitman. He adjusted it slightly. He turned and, seeing her viewing a selection of woollen caps, decided to leave whilst he still had some control over his image. The massive oaken door swung open, giving him a vision of the outside world. He realised that he hadn't been outside since the funeral. He looked up at the slate grey clouds. They looked like a giant thumb had clumsily smudged the skyline.
It was an awkward taxi ride. The Uber driver made some attempts to make small talk, but Ethel's curt responses dampened his enthusiasm. Nestor ignored them both and was reading the latest updates on his phone. It had been fifteen or twenty minutes when they arrived at the Alpine Care Home. When Ethel got out of the cab, he followed bemused. An elderly gentleman in a suit watched them from his wheelchair as he puffed away on a cigarette. Ethel led him into the building and took him to the conservatory. Several of the residents were wheeled up to the glass where they could overlook the scratty, overgrown garden. Ethel gently touched one of the residents on the shoulder, it was a tenderness that seemed alien to this iron lady, and Nestor marvelled at it. The ancient lady turned without recognition until she saw Nestor, and then her face lit up.
"Jack. Am I late for work?" She tried to stand up.
"No, no. Sit down," he said. "I am Nestor. Jack was my father."
Ethel knelt and took up Doris’s thin, blue-veined hand in hers. "Doris. Could you tell my friend about HMS Formidable?"
Doris went silent. Her eyes watered, and she smiled. "I was only fourteen. We all went to see the launch. It was the biggest thing I had ever seen. It lay in the harbour like a city. We waited until dark, and it lit up like a fairy tale palace. They gave my parents free beers, and I had my very first KitKat. A brass band was playing. I sat with my parents for hours just gazing at it. We'd seen nothing like it before." Her voice was thin and reedy but dripped with emotion, "Three years later, I had a job assisting Jack Lynch and watched as he made more of them. But The Formidable was my favourite, my first. 'The Ship That Launched herself.'" Her smile dropped. "Am I late for work?"
"No, it is your day off," Nestor said. Ethel gave him a smile of gratitude. He nodded awkwardly back at her.
Doris closed her eyes, and Ethel patted her gently.
As they left the care room, Nestor asked, "Who was that?" quietly, already suspecting the answer.
"My Mother," Ethel said. They waited for the taxi to arrive. Ethel turned to Nestor. "Lynch Industries is an icon. It means everything to the people who work there. It has achieved so much in its time. You say that it has failed. Well, you have nearly a hundred employees. I can see that you have your father’s brain, but do you have his heart, his loyalty? Find a way to save your company, use that brain for the good of someone else for once."
He sighed. "It sells a product that nobody wants or needs." She doesn't get it.
Ethel gently poked his chest. "Then find a product they do need. Your father managed to keep the company alive. I challenge you to do better."
The taxi arrived, and Nestor climbed in. He looked out the window, deep in thought.
It was getting dark. Nestor was seated in a leather padded armchair in the drawing-room. A cold cup of tea sat unwanted next to him. There was a knock at the door. “Come in,” he said. He kept the uncertainty from his voice with an effort.
Ethel opened the door and gently escorted in Frederick. Smiling, he brandished his briefcase with mechanical precision. He paused, seeing Nestor shake his head. “Something the matter, Nestor?”
“Many things are the matter, but I have decided to face them head-on instead of just selling the company,” Nestor said.
Anger flashed across Fredericks’s face. “This isn’t a game Nestor. Every day you delay the value of the company plummets.”
“I know this isn’t a game. Nor is the reputation of Lynch Industries. I may not have been the Lynch who founded this company, but I will be damned if I am the Lynch who ends it.
Nestor motioned for Frederick to sit. He refused. Eyes locked. “Nestor, we have an all-hands meeting tomorrow where I was hoping to announce the news. The management team has been briefed.”
He shook his head. “Well, that seems a touch premature Frederick, you must have known that I wasn’t certain to sign.”
“Your father would have signed.”
Nestor waved away the statement. “I am not my father.”
“You can still afford redundancy money. Leave it any longer, and you leave yourself and your staff with nothing.”
“I think we are done here, Frederick,” Nestor said, rising from his seat.
Frederick went to leave. At the doorway, he turned. “This isn’t your world Nestor. This is the world of business, of industry. Run back to London.”
Nestor smiled and ignored the comment. Ethel arrived and took Frederick to the front door. He could hear Fredericks steps cracking against the wooden floor like gunfire.
When Ethel returned, Nestor looked up at her. “I’ve been researching. Do you know why The Formidable was called ‘The ship that launched itself.’” She nodded. “It was because when it was being launched, it broke free of the cradle and slid down the slipway, killing one worker and injuring twenty others.”
“She wouldn’t be tamed that one. I hope you kept on reading and saw what she did to Britain’s enemies.” Ethel nodded. “If you need anything else, I’ll be in the kitchen.”
2017 AD, Belfast: Erika Byrne
The conference room at Lynch Industries was bustling with people. High vis clothing mingled with thick jackets and the clomping of work boots. Erika queued to sign in at a cheap plastic table. A selection of biros were scattered across it. Finding her name, she managed on her third pen to find one that worked enough to sign. She looked around for a bin and tossed the failed two. Shuffling along the line, she filled a paper cup with two scoops of instant coffee, two of sugar and topped it up with hot water.
“Oh, look, biscuits.” She turned to see her friend Marlene, a middle-aged woman with a bob cut and dungarees, grab several of the plastic digestive biscuit packets and fill her fleece pockets. “Company can’t be doing all that bad if we have money for these luxuries.” She gasped. “Oh, chocolate hobnobs” and grabbed another packet.
Erika smiled. “Only the best for Lynch Industries. Have you heard anything about Mr. Lynch’s son?”
Marlene looked over at the empty podium looming over the ranks of plastic chairs. She whispered conspiratorially into Erika’s ear. “Some people are saying he is far too young for the role, but don’t worry. I have it on good authority that he is going to go through puberty very soon.” She made herself a tea and then palmed another packet of biscuits.
They made their way to the centre of the chairs, close enough to hear properly but not close enough to look like they were overly keen. The sound of chatter was deafening.
Erika shivered in her paint-stained jogging bottoms. The biscuit budget had obviously taken precedence over the heating budget. She looked at the ceiling to check that it wasn’t snowing on the inside. She wrapped her hands around the steaming cup. It would keep her going until the workers pressed together heated the room up with their bodies. The aroma of the place was already noticeable. Stale deodorant wrestled with the scent of cheap coffee.
As Chief Technical Officer Frederick Smythe entered in a black suit, white shirt and yellow hard hat, the room gradually quietened. Glancing pointedly at a handful of chattering people that hadn’t quite got the hint, Frederick waited until silence filled the room. “Welcome everyone, let’s make a start. Today we wanted to introduce you to your new CEO, Nestor Lynch. He knows that he has some pretty big shoes to fill, but we are confident that he will bring a wave of energy and enthusiasm to Lynch Industries.” He took a step back and stood with his hands clasped behind him, taking up a position at the side of the podium.
Scattered applause rose from the seats of the middle managers. Awkward shuffling was the only sound until someone's phone beeped to indicate a text message. Frederick leapt forward, “all phones on silent, please.” Then resumed his previous position.
Suddenly rock music blared through the hall, the opening bars of The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. A teenager in a black suit and tie with a dark purple shirt bounced across to the podium as the music faded away. Raven black hair spiked up with product, and he was wearing sunglasses indoors. A drone flew above him, blasting out music. When the music died. The drone flew to the back of the room to boom out his words to the people at the back.
Marlene stiffed a giggle. Erika blinked at the surreal scene. Marlene whispered into her ear, “Do you think Bono got lost on his way to the concert?”
"I like his toy," Erika said. "It's kind of cute."
Marlene looked over and sniffed. "You can get them on Amazon for £30. My sister used one to film her wedding."
They fell silent as Frederick cast his eyes over them. He was poised lurking over Nestor's shoulder like a gargoyle.
“Well, I was supposed to read this pre-written speech to you all. But I think you deserve a little more authenticity than that.” Nestor’s voice boomed out. The reedy voice that rolled out from the stage seemed to drop an octave when Bubo echoed it. Theatrically he tossed the cards over his shoulder.
Nestor sounded enthusiastic as he reeled out a speech about embracing change and new opportunities. Erika stopped something catching her attention.
Fredericks, eyes suddenly flashed. He stepped forwards.
“An unfortunate turn of phrase, but no, we are not as a company embracing efficiency savings. A forest of hands shot up, and an angry murmur spread through the crowd. Erika turned over to Marlene. "What happened? What did he say? I glazed over."
Marlene shrugged. "I was checking Facebook. Jennifer has gone and utterly ruined her front garden. Look at that tarmac."
Erika shushed her. Dave stood up. "Did you just say you were introducing efficiency savings? Are people being made redundant?" He said.
Nestor blinked. "Redundancies? Nobody is being made redundant. I said that introducing drones like Bubo into the workforce would allow for efficiency saving."
Frederick whispered in his ear.
"I mean to say that we probably aren't making any redundancies." Nestor amended.
Frederick gripped him by the shoulders and beamed a grinning rictus. "Thank you, Nestor. Your words were very much appreciated. I will now take questions from the floor."
Nestor looked confused as Frederick directed him towards the exit. Then he suddenly turned and spoke into the microphone. "I don't know why you are all so worried. AI is the future. Small drones are the future. The days of billion-pound destroyers are over. This isn't optional. This is happening." Frederick turned off the microphone and said something to Nestor, who shook his head and left the room.
Watching Frederick Erika had a sense that she was watching a modern-day Marie Antoinette. They were lucky the budget couldn't stretch to a guillotine.
Marlene looked over. "Are we getting a redundancy pay-out then?"
"Not everyone has seventeen years to cash in, Marlene." Erika waved at the podium. "He just said he wants to replace us with robots."
Snorting with derision, "Robots can't do what we can do," Marlene went back to her phone.
Erika missed the question, but the room fell deathly silent. Frederick was smiling so hard she was worried he'd crack a tooth. His lips were pressed shut into a taut grin. "We are, of course, appealing, but yes, HLS Shipping has publicly stated its intent to cancel its order."
Marlene had put down her phone and was now focused with a razor-like intent. "Oh, this isn't good. This isn't good at all. This might not even be redundancies. This could be bankruptcy."
Erika watched as Frederick fended off a cascade of questions all centred on the theme of redundancies. As it concluded, she sat back shellshocked. At nineteen, this was her job, an apprentice electrician, and it was already at risk.
"Pub?" Marlene asked. When Erika went to answer, Marlene interrupted her, "after a meeting like this. Absolutely everyone goes down to the pub. It's where we discuss it without management."
Erika nodded numbly and filtered out with everyone. She wished she'd had the foresight to grab some biscuits too.
Erika joined the queue to clock off. It was just after 17:00. Frederick must have known that nobody would be in the mood for working after the meeting and planned accordingly. Stowing their hard hats in their lockers, Erika pulled out a pair of jeans and a new top. Refreshing her deodorant and reapplying perfume, she looked at herself in the mirror. Shrugging, she turned and faced Marlene, who shook her head.
"Where do you think we are going? The casino?" Grabbing her wrist, she pulled her through the other workers. "Come on, love, let's get spangled."
The street was packed with a thick convoy of workers. People were either whispering or shouting at each other. Normality had gone out the window. Sighting the pub, Marlene grabbed Erika by the sleeve. "There we go. Come along, poppet." Arriving at the bar, they found two pints of Guinness and two whisky chasers waiting for them. "Thanks, Steve. Glad you got the text." Marlene winked at him. Then passed a whisky to Erika, clinked it and downed it instantly. Erika stood holding the glass. Looking up, she saw Marlene and the barman Steve locked eyes with her. Sighing, she sculled the whisky and then started coughing. The stools were all taken, so they stood with their pints.
"I don't do whisky or beer," Erika said. Her eyes misted from the shot. "I'm more of a wine drinker."
"Ah, well, sadly, Downton Abbey was fully booked. So I thought we'd slum it with the burly peasants." She waved over at the bar. "Another round, Steve."
Erika looked to see an empty pint glass in front of Marlene and blinked. "I'm good, thanks."
"Oh, no worries. This is an interval pint for me, squidge."
Her thirst sated at least temporarily.
"So, what do you think will happen?" Erika asked.
Marlene laughed. "Who cares! That is a problem for ‘Tomorrow Marlene’. We are trying to forget that god awful meeting." Two whiskies appeared on the table. "Steve, I am a happily married woman." Steve waved the whiskies. "But of course, we accept your offer of chasers." She raised her glass. "Bottom's up!"
The whisky burned as it hit Erika's stomach. "We should consider karaoke." She pointed at the stage.
"Way ahead of you, bluebell," Marlene waved over at Steve. "Put us down for Alanis Morrisette - the song to be decided," Erika whispered in her ear. "Then Smashmouth love. All-Star. Not my choice." Grabbing Erika's arm, she dragged her to one side. "They look like they are leaving soon, so let's loiter."
"Bit rude, isn't it?" Erika said.
"No, the heavy eye contact is part of the process -- Oh! They are off. Knew it." They both swooped in like red kites on motorway roadkill.
Over at the stage, Brickie Dave had just started up a particularly gravelly rendition of Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On.' They applauded politely as he nodded graciously, returning to his pint.
"Look, Erika, it's Janice. This is a miracle. I've never seen her express an emotion before. This will be good." They watched as Janice started to sing R.E.M 'Everybody Hurts'. "And I guess I still haven't seen it. Amazing. Couldn't predict that outcome."
Erika woke up with the scent of last nights kebab in her mouth. Her alarm was digging into her mind like an ice pick. A grunt from next to her caused her to startle, and she cautiously rolled over to see Brickie Dave. Oh, God. She lay back and slowly waited for the memories to return. As she did, she sensed movement, and a large middle-aged man in just a pair of faded y-fronts walked into her room. What the hell?
He placed down a plate by her bed. "Tea and toast, mate. Thanks for letting us crash. You did us a solid."
She smiled, "No problem," she said in a voice completely lacking in conviction as she leaned forwards the room span. She paused. Then a wave of relief washed over her. She was still fully dressed. She looked over at Brickie Dave, this time noticing the tell-tale straps of a vest. She lumbered out of bed and headed towards the bathroom. The concept of leaving the house was unthinkable. The concept of missing work was impossible.
Arriving at Lynch Industries, she queued up at the lockers to retrieve her hard hat and work clothes. At least she was working outside today. The cold air would be a refreshing balm.
A voice erupted from behind her. "Hello, Butter Bean," she turned to see an unfairly bright and breezy Marlene. She had never wished anyone dead before, so this was a new and exciting development in her life.
"Hey," she managed.
Marlene handed her a large greasy paper bag. "Sausage, bacon, mushrooms and a fried egg." Looking around, she whispered conspiratorially into Erikas ear. "They call it the Grease Bomb, but personally, I think it is a form of medicine that should be available on the NHS."
Erika took the parcel gratefully. "What happened last night? I remember singing Sonny and Cher, then nothing until waking up next to a thankfully clothed Brickie Dave."
Blinking, Marlene peered closely at her. "Brickie Dave went home with you? I wonder what his husband thought about that?" Marlene gave her a stern look. "I will be honest, I supported you in your life choice to sing Nickleback with them, but when you all opted to drink tequila, you chose a dark path, and I had to leave you." She munched on her roll. "I was in Mexico in the '90s. I signed a non-disclosure agreement, or I would tell you a tale that would shake you to the core."
Suddenly more blanks started to populate Erika’s mind. "Ah. Brickie Dave is gay." Oh no. "Marlene, I think I've locked him in my house with his husband."
"Never you mind Teacup, they are tradesmen, they'll get out. Besides, Brickie Dave is off work today. Most people take the day off after an all-hands meeting. They always end up in the same place."
Erika filed that away for future use.
"Right then Petal. Let's go see if we still have jobs." Marlene linked arms with Erika, and they marched off to check the bulletin board.
2017 AD, Belfast: Nestor Lynch
A cold cup of tea rested next to Nestor’s computer as he ran through his father’s emails and looked at the company accounts. Spread across three monitors, it made for depressing reading—too much red and not enough black.
Ordinarily, he would have expressed no interest in corporate affairs. Frederick had let slip that Lynch Industries was currently suing its main client over cancelling the contract for two new oil tankers, so he had decided he needed to read up on it.
They had almost the entirety of their staff working on two ships that nobody wanted. One of them was practically complete. The other was still in the planning stage. He scratched his head. An email came through from Frederick to the management team calling for the suspension of work on the tankers. He picked up his phone and fired off a text to Frederick, telling him to finish the tanker in progress.
His phone immediately started ringing. He winced and picked up.
Frederick went on the attack straight away. He listened politely and let him talk over him.
“Rather than sell the ship for scrap, I would prefer to find us a new client.” He said.
Frederick pointed out the logistical issues involved as each oil tanker is tailor made for the clients and reiterated his call for the floatable structure to be sold for scrap.
He saw the email being recalled and a management meeting scheduled for 14:00. He clicked accepted and went to find a suit. He called up to Ethel to order a car.
As he entered the building, the familiar bustle was gone, and everyone was working in silence. The atmosphere was eery. He crossed the floor towards the board room. When he opened the door, the animated conversation stopped, and Frederick relinquished his seat at the head of the table.
“Well, don’t stop on my account. What are we discussing?” Nestor said.
There was an awkward pause.
“We were looking at options for dealing with the oil tanker problem,” Frederick said. His voice grave. “If you have other matters to attend to, this is mere administration.”
Nestor cocked his head. “You said it yourself, Frederick. This isn’t my world. It is time I learnt something about it.” He opened his briefcase. “Bubo, take minutes.” The drone took off and began filming the meeting.
The other managers twitched in their seats as the drone orbited the table. Frederick glanced up at the drone with disdain. “I think the meeting would be more productive if we didn’t film it. Perhaps save the cinematography for more official events?”
On Nester’s tablet, Fredericks words appeared under ‘Unidentified White Middle-Aged Male’. Without thinking, he tapped the label and typed in ‘Frederick Smythe’. The transcript automatically updated. “I disagree. I think having the minutes will allow us to reflect later on the ideas that I am certain you will all come up with.”
“As you wish,” Frederick said. His voice was cold and distant. He pulled up the agenda on the main screen, and they ran through the various options. Nestor put up his hand. Frederick politely smiled and nodded at him to speak.
“I asked for a list of prospective clients to approach to discuss a sale. Why is that not on the board.”
“We have no clients that would be suitable for tankers of this scale. It would be inappropriate to commence cold calling such high-value customers.”
One of the managers Nestor remembered as George chipped in. “Last time this happened, we were able to recoup most of our losses by selling to the Greeks.”
Nestor pointed at him. “Excellent, perhaps they would take an oil tanker off our hands.”
Shrugging George said, “Theo is in London looking after the UK office.”
“I know Theo,” said Nestor. “I will see if I can’t take him out for dinner.”
“Fine,” Frederick said, “but if they don’t take the tanker, then I suggest selling for scrap to Tata. We can recoup some of our losses, no matter how meagre. We also need to discuss the demo for the Naval Exhibition in Portsmouth.”
“What demo?” Nestor asked.
“Somebody send him the presentation and details, please. Janet? Yes, Janet will email you, Nestor.” Frederick confirmed. The meeting continued with what appeared to Nestor to be mundanity. He listened for a while, but after the first forty five minutes, he pulled out this phone, keeping half an ear on the meeting.
2017 AD, London: Nestor Lynch
The train pulled into London Euston station. The hum and excitement of the capital was infectious, and Nestor grinned as he slid through the thick crowds of people towards Soho. He took the underground towards Covent Garden for his first appointment, shucking off his suit jacket as the humid underground started to make him sweat. Leaving the station, he found the streets, even more, packed had to wrestle his way through the crowds until he reached The Ivy. Ducking inside, he was escorted to the table Ethel had booked for him. He settled down and checked his phone. He was nearly twenty minutes early, so he ordered some olives and pulled out his tablet computer. He brought up the latest code branch and began tinkering with a new AI routine for reviewing welding seams and metal stresses. He had already ordered the components for another fifty drones, larger and with a longer lifespan than his personal drone Bubo. He didn’t notice the time fly by until Theos arrived, a contact of his fathers. At thirty, he was a good few years older than Nestor. He was also a foot taller and a foot wider.
“Little Nestor!” He churned up to the table a tide of undulating enthusiasm. Pumping Nestor's hand, he settled down. A menu was brought to them. Theos pulled a face at the options. Chucking a pair of fifties onto the table he thumbed towards the exit. “To Soho, let’s get some real food.”
Nestor followed in the wave of Theos, who happily barged through the teeming crowds. Oblivious to the swearing of the former obstacles, he tossed back anecdotes of his visits to London.
Nestor had to speed up when suddenly Theos hailed a cab and leapt into the back seat. He patted the cushion next to him. “Run, Little Nestor, the finest dolmades you have ever tasted awaits.” Nestor clambered in next to him. The man had an energy that was as bewildering as it was exhausting. He seemed to keep at least three conversations going at once.
The cab driver gave up on trying to join in the conversation and drove in mute awe of the laughing Greek. When they arrived outside a tiny restaurant off Wardour Street, the cab driver was presented with a crisp twenty and sent on his way. Theos led Nestor inside to the applause of the staff. They all came out to greet and kiss the man. Nestor briefly wondered what it would be life if Ethel did the same with him, then shuddered and dismissed the thought.
“Nestor, meet Maria. She is the finest cook in London and second only to my dear Mother in the world.” They were rapidly seated, and dishes of food started piling up around them. Nestor gave up on his attempts to find a menu and focused on the cornucopia rapidly spreading around him.
A glass of retsina appeared in front of him, and the waiter bobbed and stared expectantly. Nestor sipped his drink and then nodded politely at the waiter, who disappeared with a grin on his face.
“So, what I wanted to discuss with you today --” Nestor started.
Theo wafted away his words. His mouth was full of dolmades. “Stop, stop it. Business is for after dinner.” Instead, he switched the conversation to football which Nestor had no idea. He smiled and laughed at what he felt was the appropriate time. Spying a plug socket, he took out Bubo’s charger and fed the hungry drone.
Theo stopped mid-flow. “What is that beautiful toy?”
Suddenly released into a subject matter that he understood, Nestor started to ramble about his custom drone and his experiments with it. Theo drank it up, asking questions at appropriate intervals. Nestor pulled out his tablet and ordered Bubo to map the room. A CAD drawing appeared on the tablet. He then asked Bubo which tables were drinking wine. Almost all the tables glowed red.
Theo peered around at the tables. “That table isn’t drinking wine.”
Nestor had a look, “ah, a false positive. Bubo must have confused the glass bottle of water for wine. He gets more accurate, the more you use him. AI’s like humans need training. He doesn’t get to visit many restaurants.” Bubo, having finished his orders, returned to his cradle to charge.
Applause rose from Theo, and he switched back to football, leading Nestor to groan internally whilst a smile adhered itself to his face.
When the food was cleared away, and Nestor felt like he was going to burst, two Ouzo glasses appeared and another bottle of retsina.
Clinking glasses. Theo indicated that it was time to talk about business.
Nestor laid out his tablet on which a 3D scan of the finished oil tanker began to rotate slowly. Bubo began to orbit them, playing a light orchestral melody. Theo waved at it irritably. Nestor silenced it.
“An oil tanker?” Theo said. “You brought me here for that?”
“Previously, you bought excess ships from us at cost price. I was hoping you might be able to do the same now,” Nestor said.
“In today's climate, when the world is being destroyed by global warming, you want us to buy an oil tanker? Nestor, I thought you were smarter than this. We couldn’t take this off you for free, let alone for money. We are going zero-carbon--” Theo drank his ouzo, Nestor hurriedly followed suit “-- do you have any idea how hard that is for a shipping company?”
There was a long awkward silence. “Is there nothing that would change your mind?” He asked.
“Greenpeace would tear us to pieces. I’m sorry. My family still remembers your grandfather from the war. We have always done good business with you. Now, if you have anything genuinely innovative, we are moving into renewable energy, laying deep-sea cables, tidal or wind generators, anything like that. But fossil fuels? No, no.”
They finished their drinks. He offered to pay, but Theo dismissed that idea. He noticed that Theo also didn’t pay, but the restaurant seemed more than happy, so it was probably ok. Nestor texted a Signal group of his friends from uni to see if any fancied meeting up. The meeting hadn’t gone as planned, but the day need not be a total write off. He had missed his London friends.
Soho was heaving. The streets were packed. The whole area had been pedestrianised, and without the traffic, the streets had been taken over by hordes of tourists. He strode off towards the French House when he was grabbed from behind. He felt a sharp prick in his neck, and then his vision went blurry. As he started to fall, he felt two sets of arms carrying him. He managed to shout out “Bubo, Code 77” before the thick shroud of sleep smothered him.
He awoke in a bed shrouded in white sheets. He was stripped down to his underwear and had a drip attached. A small machine was bleeping next to him. He looked around. Bubo was gone. His phone was gone. He couldn’t find any of his possessions. A wave of anxiety washed over him.
As he sat up, Theo came in along with a serious-looking man in a suit. “Nestor, my friend. You are awake. You gave us quite a scare.” He blinked. The man in a suit shone a light into his eyes and checked his heartbeat.
“What happened?” Nestor grunted. His eyes still felt thick with sleep.
Theo pulled up a chair, his speech impossibly fast. “It was incredible! You left the restaurant, and I was heading off to find a drink elsewhere when your drone started circling and blaring out a siren. It said ‘Assault in progress. Police have been notified. Assault in progress.’ Well, several hundred people and I all turned around to look. You are trending on TikTok!” He pulled out his phone to prove it, but Nestor shook his head. “We saw two chaps drop you. That was when you wet yourself—”
“I wet myself?” Nestor said incredulously.
“Oh, yes! You must have been saving it up for a while. It was very impressive! Then they ran to where a van was up on Frith Street. I led the kitchen staff in a valiant charge—”
“You led the charge?”
Theo scoffed. “I pointed and commanded like Alexander the Great reborn. I am an excellent pointer. I was made to lead, not to do cardio. Anyway, they got away, so we formed a ring of muscle around you until the police arrived a few minutes later. It was all very exciting.”
"They got away?"
Theo checked his forehead. "Oh, this is becoming a real saga now. Yes, it turns out kitchen staff aren't built for speed. Don’t you worry though, I left them with several insults that will truly haunt them. Consider them scarred for life."
Theo popped out for a moment and returned with his phone and Bubo. “This little guy is quite the security measure. You should consider selling them. Better than supporting fossil fuels, no?”
Nestor smiled. He called to Bubo, who took off and flew closer to him. “Bubo, status.” He grimaced as Bubo reported twenty-seven messages. Theo pulled a face in sympathy and withdrew from the room, calling out that the police would be round soon to interview him. He started listening to the messages but must have dozed for a while.
He woke up to find a pair of police officers.
“Nestor Lynch, my name is Detective Vogal, and this is Detective Jefferson. We are here to ask you a few questions,” she said. He was struck immediately by her terrifyingly hatchet-like face. Her colleague Jefferson waved happily; he seemed less intimidating. Nestor gave him a tired wave back.
“Counter Terror Command? So, this was a terrorist attack then?” Nestor said. He slowly pushed himself up in bed.
“We do more than just terrorist attacks despite the name. But yes, we are here to ask you about the incident yesterday.”
Nestor blinked. “Yesterday? How long have I been asleep?”
“You were tranquilised with a heavy dose. You’ve slept for nearly a full day.” It almost sounded like Vogal had an inflexion of pity in her voice. But it was probably just a sore throat.
“Did you catch the people who attacked me?” Nestor asked.
“No, sadly not. We did identify them, though.” Vogal said. She walked over to the bedside table and bent down to take a closer look at Bubo.
Nestor waited for them to elaborate with no success. He prompted them to continue.
“They are known members of the terrorist cell Legion,” Vogal said cautiously, standing up.
“Legion? The people who killed my parents. Why would they try to abduct me?” Nestor tried to get out of bed, but his legs betrayed him. Vogal gently pushed him back down with the palm of her hand.
“We don’t have the answers yet. We are investigating. In the meantime, we were hoping you could liaise with Detective Jefferson. He will be operating close protection on you.”
Nestor looked dubiously at Detective Jefferson. He seemed too nice to be the first line of defence against terrorists. Jefferson winked back at him and then pulled up a chair by the door.
Detective Vogal then grilled him for over twenty minutes, going back to old questions and asking the same thing using different terminology. His head was spinning by the time she snapped her notebook shut. The whole exercise seemed pointless as all he remembered was being grabbed and the injection. “Well, in that case, I’ll leave you with Detective Jefferson. I’m sure he’ll take good care of you,” she said, pulling her lips taut in a grim smile.
Jefferson looked uncertain for a while and then gave Nestor a cheeky grin before getting back to his book.
He threw off his sheets and made to stand when Jefferson sadly shook his head. “Overnight, stay chum.”
“Where am I?”
“Your friend Theo was happy enough to put you up. I’ve been sitting outside your room for most of the day, but don’t worry. My colleague will take over soon.”
Nestor stared at him. “So am I under arrest?”
“Nope, not at all. Free to go. But you’ll make a lot of doctors upset if you don’t wait until the morning. Not to mention my boss would be happier with another fourteen hours to find those Legion abductors before you wander the streets again.”
The battle surrendered. Nestor lay back and replied to texts from Ester and Frederick. Pulling out his tablet, he started to compile reports about Legion from the internet to see if he could find any reason why they would want his parents dead and him captured.
The news was dry for a very public terrorist organisation. The information was all immensely vague. They were very active in Africa, Syria and Afghanistan, but motives beyond the “death to the west” trope were vague. He found a picture of the leader, Zeniqua Blake, formally in the US Marines, dishonourably discharged. She joined Legion and rapidly rose through the ranks in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. She took over last year. But nothing on why she would want to blow up the owners of a shipyard. What he did know was that they had made a mistake in reappearing. He would find a way to avenge his parents.
Nestor reached for a glass of water. The tranquilisers mixed with the ouzo from yesterday were a poor combination, and his head ached. Jefferson pointed at the pedestal before returning to his Kindle. Nestor saw a couple of pills and popped them, then settled back in bed. He asked Jefferson if dinner was forthcoming but only got a shrug in response, followed by the pleasure of watching Jefferson pull out a chocolate bar and consume it in front of him.
He ordered Bubo up and started to train him by having him fly around the room and tag the photos with the names of individual items.
Theo returned and waved at Bubo, who photographed him. Nestor happily ticked “yes” when he saw Theo tagged as Male / Overweight / Middle-Aged / Hair. He should probably add a few styles of hair to Bubo's image recognition code. Theo brought in a pair of lamb gyros. Nestor greedily accepted his and, peeling back the silver foil, bit deeply into the wrap. Lamb juices and garlic mayo dripped down his chin. Theo, watching the animalistic display, applauded with gusto and waved to someone outside of the room demanding two more.
“Nestor, I love your drone. I love him. I want one. Maybe two! Twins!”
Nestor cocked an eyebrow. “He is custom made, a prototype, and isn’t for sale.”
“Isn’t for sale? You try and sell me a rejected oil tanker, and yet when I actually want something, you turn me down. That is just cruel. I welcomed you into my home, Nestor!” Theo feigned hurt, but his grin broke through, and he reached over to shake Nestor’s legs. “So, what are your plans with Bubo? How are you going to monetise him? What can he do?”
Fuelled by fervour, Nestor got into his stride. He detailed all the applications he had added to Bubo and what his plans were for him at Lynch Industries. Theo started off laughing, but it wasn’t long, though before he was making notes on his phone. Nestor felt for once that he had something to offer to Lynch Industries. They paused when the fresh gyros arrived. When Theo left, Nestor pinged an email to Frederick and lay back. It didn’t take long for sleep to cover him in its obsidian shroud. He dreamt dark dreams of footsteps behind him. As they got closer and closer, he felt someone touch his shoulder. He woke in a cold sweat. It was Jefferson, and he looked delightfully proud of himself.
An hour later, they were back at London Euston. Nobody would expect Nestor to get the 07:10 to Glasgow. Nestor agreed with that part of it—he certainly wouldn’t have suspected that level of masochism. He looked around at all the fellow passengers. Drunks and commuters. None looked in any condition to be highly trained assassins. When the train arrived, he clambered on board. His breakfast was an M&S prepackaged sandwich, some crisps and a pork pie. He was delighted to find the grapefruit juice bottled. It hit him that he was leaving civilisation to return once more to the provinces. He gazed outside through the window. He was disappointed to see the brilliant sunshine emerging from the clouds. He was in a more slate grey and drizzle mood. Still, you can’t have everything.
2017 AD, Belfast, Lynch Industries
The board room seemed colder than usual when Nestor flew in, brimming with enthusiasm. Jefferson took up a position outside the door. The Senior management were as still as statues, no, more like golems.
Jefferson smiled and welcomed him to the meeting. “I hope you had a successful trip.”
Nestor grinned. “You could say that. We are applying for a new contract. I have the preliminary prototype.”
Flicking his phone, he paired with the monitor at the end of the room and flicked up a larger version of Bubo.
“Welcome to Project Oleum,” Nestor announced.
“Oil in Latin, how droll,” said Frederick. “We had hoped that you would have sold the tanker. Instead, you want to create a new department. You know this will entail taking on new staff?”
“We can reallocate a lot of staff. We need electricians mainly to assemble the drones. In the beginning, whilst we are still in the application phase, I only need two.” Silence filled the board room. “We can scale up later when the contract is accepted”.
The managers looked around at each other dubiously. “And if it isn’t accepted?” Frederick asked quietly.
“Then we’ll have the same amount of contracts as we do right now. None.” Nestor leant on the table, “listen. Project Oleum has to happen. We need something new to drive Lynch Industries forward. Doing the same thing again and again whilst expecting new results is madness.”
Tapping the desk with his pen Frederick pursed his lips. “Ok, Nestor, we can make it work. You’ll get your prototyping department. But for this to work, we will make efficiency savings elsewhere.”
“Yes, I have already sent across a few ideas for using drones to automate some of the quality control roles—”
“Gimmicks won’t suffice here. We will need to cut staff numbers if we are to control costs.” Frederick looked over at the other managers, “We’ll need a list of disposable assets by the end of the day. I want organisation plans for minimum viable departments and recommended departments. Hopefully, we can meet in the middle.” He looked up. “Anything else, Nestor? No other bombshells, I hope.”
Nestor sat quietly, then, picking up his tablet, he went to leave the room. Before he made the door, he stopped. “Work with me, Frederick. We can make Lynch Industries great again.”
“Of course, I exist to temper your ideas with a dose of realism, that is all.”
As Nestor left, Jefferson fell into position behind him. He could feel the eyes of the board on him.
2017 AD, Belfast, Lynch Industries: Erika Byrne
It was a traditional Belfast, slate grey sky as Erika arrived at work. Marlene was already at the bulletin board with a large takeaway coffee. “Interesting times, my little nugget. You’ve been reassigned.”
Erika sped up. She read the memo on the board; she was to join a Skunkworks. Lovely. Then she saw the other memo. Marlene and eleven others had a consolidation meeting at 11:00. She pointed at it, and Marlene just nodded grimly.
“We’ll be seeing you down the pub later then,” Marlene said, “Consolidation, HR, none of those words inspire much confidence.”
Erika agreed and then numbly walked away to find the new workshop.
Before she saw the sign, she could hear the new workshop, a piece of paper with ‘Skunkworks’ drawn in sharpie and what appeared to be a picture of a horse.
The repurposed prefab workshop was booming out heavy metal. Erika couldn’t recognise the band being more of an 80’s pop kind of girl. Opening the door, she saw two other workers with headphones on and the new CEO, surrounded by monitors. Erika saw a man in a suit sat in the corner of the room. Peering at him, she gave him an ocular pat down. He had comfortable shoes, a cheap suit, was alert, had a radio on his belt and a bulge in his jacket that was either the worlds oldest phone or a gun. He gave her a mock salute. Police, he’s got to be. The source of the music became apparent when she saw Bubo flying around Nestor's head. It’s speakers blaring. Boxes of components were stacked along one side of the wall.
She shouted “Music down.”
Nestor looked up as if recognising he wasn’t alone for the first time. His gormless face would have been cute if it wasn’t for the one man rock concert he was hosting. He blinked and then ordered Bubo to turn down the music. She could see the relief on the faces of the others.
“Now then, what am I here for.”
Nestor pointed at the others. “They’ll brief you.”
Wandering over to the others, she introduced herself. She recognised the husband of Brickie Dave. Now identified as being Jeff and thankfully wearing more than just his y-fronts. She watched them assemble a commercial drone, then helped them attach a laser spectroscopy analyser. “What is all this for?”
Jeff thumbed over at Nestor. “His nibs is creating prototypes to apply for a commercial tender to check the Trans Adriatic Pipeline for gas leaks.”
Erika nodded enthusiastically. “Hence the spectrometer. Cool.”
“Reckon you can do one on your own? We need to have five ready for trials tomorrow morning.”
“Yup”, she said. She headed over to the piles of boxes and grabbed several of them, taking them over to her desk.
After an hour of welding, the door opened, and Frederick walked in. He did a tour of the workshop whilst everyone did their best to concentrate on their work and ignore them. She looked over at Jeff, who had just finished his drone as he made a suitable show of polishing the plastic. Frederick said something to Nestor, who tugged at his shirt and twitched on his seat. She couldn’t hear the conversation, but it was short and resulted in Frederik leaving with Nestor giving him a particularly toxic look. No love lost there then, she thought.
When Jeff reported his drone was ready, Nestor handed him a USB key, and they quickly installed the software on it. With all due ceremony, they carried it outside and placed it on a wooden palate. Nestor pulled out his phone and instructed it to check for leaks in a one hundred foot radius. The drone took off and quartered the area, criss crossing and logging the results for Nestor to view on his tablet. Nestor let loose a squeal of excitement that led to them all peering over his shoulder. The drone had located a gas leak, they all raced over to wear it was reported and it was slightly anticlimactic, if understandable to find the drone hovering over the staff toilets. Nestor lowered the sensitivity and then sent the drone out again, this time getting no positive hits. “Excellent, now we need to finish the rest of the drones.”
Erika looked at her watch. “I’m expected down the pub at five.”
“We have to get these done for product testing tomorrow. You can go home early tomorrow to make up for it.” Nestor said, walking back to the workshop.
I don’t have plans tomorrow, Erika thought. She sent a text to Marlene, letting her know she would be late. In response, she received an emoji of a turd. She didn’t disagree. At five, Jeff spoke to Nestor, who had the grace to order pizza for everyone. It was seven thirty in the evening when they finished.
Grabbing her coat and bag, Erika bolted from the workshop and was down the pub in under ten minutes to meet an already drunk Marlene. She received the stink eye for arriving late, but it was mitigated almost immediately with a giant bear hug.
Marlene gestured to Steve, who brought over a pair of Guinnesses with whisky chasers. He loitered at the table until the girls slammed back their whiskies with him. They gathered the glasses and returned to his desk.
“So, been working directly for the boss man I here,” Marlene said.
Taking a large swig of Guinness to cover the taste of the whisky, Erika replied. “Yeah, kind of weird. He doesn’t seem to operate on the same level as everyone else. He is smart, though; he wrote the software for the drone himself.”
“Oh yeah, the drones. Must be easy when you replace all the meatbags with machines of unquestioning loyalty.”
“So, they made you redundant then.” Erika reached on and placed her hand over Marlenes, who shook it off.
She didn’t reply for a minute, staring into her Guinness as if it would hold answers. “That is right, love. We don’t even need to return to the office. Not a bad settlement, though, a weeks pay for every year we’ve worked there. If we shove it into our pension, we get an extra chunk from the government, but I figured I’d use it to pay for food and bills.”
Erika waved at Steve, who started to pour more pints of Guinness with supplementary chasers. “Guinness counts as food then, I guess.”
Nodding, she said. “One of the major food groups, yes. I whole hardily recommend it. I use it for weight loss.”
“That can’t be right. It is full of calories.” Erika protested.
“Yes, but if you drink enough, you just don’t care, which is magnificent. Speaking of—” Marlene was interrupted when Steve arrived with the round. Raising their glasses, they downed their whiskies. Steve gathered up the glasses and went back to the bar.
“I just want to state for the record that I am not doing any more shots and will be heading back in an hour. I have work tomorrow, and it turns out that our new boss is completely indifferent to work life balance.” She paused to consider what she had just said. “Nah, that isn’t true. He did offer to give us a half day tomorrow.”
“Perfect,” Marlene said. She gestured to Steve. Erika protested briefly and then relented when Steve appeared. They downed their whiskies, and this time Erika’s throat didn’t feel like it had been pulled across broken glass. “Home in an hour, not a problem. Of course, you will poppy.”
Erika was vomiting in the toilet, Marlene helped hold back her hair. “This brings back memories. I was down in Southampton about fifteen years ago at a hen do. We were in a strip club and were watching an actor called Atlas Steele performing a surprisingly expressive dance.”
“I don’t care,” an exhausted Erika said, first quietly and then repeated forcefully.
“Well, alright then, the tone is a bit unnecessary, just trying to help.”
“This is exactly what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be hungover in front of the owner of the company tomorrow.”
“You’ll be fine. He isn’t Jesus. You’ve got five hours until you have to be in. Quick shower, a bit of kip and then a Grease Bomb. Bob’s your uncle.”
“You know I genuinely do have an uncle called Bob?”
“Oh, I absolutely don’t care. I am, however, happy that you are happy.”
As Erika’s face recovered some of its colour, Marlene booked her a taxi home.
2017 AD, Belfast: Erika
Erika was thirty minutes late to the office. She was so hungover that one side of her face had gone numb. As she approached the skunkworks, she could see the large drones she assembled yesterday spread out, flying the shipyards' length and breadth. She smiled. They looked beautiful as they danced above her.
Entering the workshop, she took her equipment from her locker. He had assigned a new body of work to her today. She was to create smaller drones the size of a football. She looked over at Bubo. They seemed similar. She had to swap out the video cameras and replace the batteries. Pulling out the appropriate boxes, she flicked open the instructions and began the assembly. An email appeared; orders to create charging cradles for the drones at strategic locations around Lynch Industries. She looked up at Nestor. “Are we still being sent home early?”
It took a couple of tries to attract Nestor’s attention. “Oh, I did say that. Well, yes, it’s optional though—”
“Optional? So, if some go home and some don’t, the ones that do feel guilty?” Annoyance brought colour back to her grey cheeks.
Nestor looked at her for a bit. “Why would you feel guilty? Stay if you enjoy building drones. Go home if you don’t.”
“So what? The people who go home don’t enjoy their jobs?” The combination of a foul hangover and an incredibly dense boss made the normally famously amiable girl incensed.
“Do you want to go home now?” Nestor asked, confused. “Nobody is judging you. I just really enjoy this. Did you see the drones from yesterday? We are getting some excellent data from them.”
Erika grunted and began to assemble the drones. She could feel Nestor watching her. She spared him a glance to see a gormless expression on his face. She went back to ignoring him. Thinking about it, he seemed to be hurt. Then she decided that she wasn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt when he was so clearly ignorant. When she looked again, he had returned to his coding. When she had assembled and upgraded ten of the small drones, she went and got the boxes for the cradles. The drones looked like tiny quadcopters, larger versions of Bubo, who was currently flying around the office on some kind of a patrol.
When Erika went over to collect the operating system USB stick from Nestor, she peered over her shoulder at what Nestor was working on. He had two programming code screens and one email screen, but it was his tablet that caught her attention. She picked it up. It had a picture of her on it tagged Female / Twenties / Angry. Nestor’s eyes flared with panic. “What is this?” She demanded.
“Nothing… I mean, it is Bubo, his AI Recognition software. It has to take lots of photos and have them tagged to learn.” He blustered.
She stabbed at the tablet. “Angry? With a green tick next to it?” She put down the tablet and went to the toilet. She filtered out his explanation.
It wasn’t the first time that she had had a furious wee. But it was the first time her work colleagues at Lynch Industries had triggered it. She was furious at Marlene for getting her in this situation in the first place, and she was furious at Nestor for being so utterly dense. The most annoying thing was he seemed to be clueless as to what he was doing wrong. She finished weeing. She always felt better after a wee. Moving over to the mirror, she confirmed what she suspected. She looked like hell.
Splashing some face on her water, she returned to the workshop. Picking up the first box, she left the drones installing, and whilst she set up cradles across the factory. As she walked outside, the fresh air hit her face, and a faint drizzle cooled her down. At that moment in time, it felt like a trip to the finest spa.
Feeling more human, she strode off to the first location. She was going home at half time regardless of what his nibs thought.
Moving around the factory, she was viewed with curiosity by the other workers. As an additional source of constant annoyance, people kept asking her what the cradles were for. She smiled, nodded and admitted ignorance—testing she assumed. The cradles were much easier to set up than the drones as they were already assembled. They just needed to be secured and powered. She got into a rhythm and surprised herself by ploughing on until she had done them all. At one thirty she returned to report to Nestor only to find he had gone and got his coat. He was standing next to Jeff and chatting. When she entered the room, they all lit up with grins.
“I thought about what you said, and we are all calling it a day,” Nestor said. It took all over her willpower not to breathe a sigh of relief. “We are going for a team building drink at the local.”
Erika froze in horror. “Hurray,” she tried. “That sounds great.” She said with even less authenticity. Nestor didn’t seem to notice. Come to think of it. He didn’t seem to notice anything of import.
She picked up her coat. She was feeling somewhat better. She could probably survive a pint. Dumping her toolbox and hat into a locker, she followed them down to the local. Opening the door, Steve waved at her and asked if she wanted the usual.
“What are you having?” Nestor asked as they clustered around a table.
“A single gin and slimline tonic.” Well, if he was paying, he might as well get a nice drink for a change.
Nestor walked towards the bar. “Singles? What is this? Les Misérables, doubles coming up.” She shuddered.
“Hanging?” Jeff asked. She nodded, he patted her on the shoulder.
As Nestor came back from the bar, his jaunty strut was only inhibited by the need to avoid spilling the drinks. Erika saw Marlene emerge from the lady’s toilets.
Marlene stood and surveyed the situation and then marched over to their tables. “Good afternoon, my little lamb. What is this?” Her smile didn’t quite seem to reach her eyes.
Nestor looked up from depositing the drinks. “Can I get you anything?”
“I’ll have whatever you are all having, a whisky chaser and a job, please,” Marlene said primly, grabbing a seat from another table and joining them, her head held high. Nestor froze and then gratefully left for the bar. “So, this is how we are using all the money we had to save through staff cuts, is it?”
Erika took a long sip to buy time. Then her stomach reminded her that Nestor, in his generosity, had bought doubles. “It isn’t like that. It is a team building exercise for the new Skunkworks project.”
She sniffed the air. “Smells of something, worse than Skunk. Smells of betrayal.” Nestor came back with a tray holding drinks for Marlene and whisky chasers for everyone. “Shots were a great idea,” he enthused.
Erika wanted to facepalm but held back, “the project we are working on is a lifeline for the company. We have been applying to build drones for the Greeks. It could be a huge win for us.” She tried.
“Very good, so to fund this gamble, you laid off a fifth of your staff?” She said to Nestor.
Nestor slammed back his whisky before answering. As a reflex action, Jeff and Marlene immediately joined him. When Erika hesitated, Marlene and Jeff looked at her and waited. It took two attempts, but she managed it.
He held up the empty glass. “This is us. Lynch Industries has no reserves, is up to the hilt in debt, and our primary contract was cancelled. We have tried selling at cost the tanker everyone has been working on, but nobody wants it. At this point, we either sell up like most shipyards in Britain have, or we flip the script and try something new.”
“We are a shipyard, though. That is what our machinery is for. That is what the dry docks are for.” Jeff said. Marlene sat quietly, watching. She waved at Steve for another round. He nodded.
Nestor nodded. “We are a shipyard, and we will continue to make ships, but the fact is that nobody wants the ships we have been building. In WW1, the Dreadnaught made ships of the line redundant. In WW2, aircraft carriers made battleships redundant. Now drones are making aircraft carriers redundant. They still need a platform, so we will still need ships to project drones across the world.”
“Is there a market for this?” Marlene asked.
Nestor smiled. “We are going to make one. But I have plans for that. In the fifties, a quarter of the ships on the planet were made in Britain. It is less than one percent now.”
“And in the meantime, we are the casualties of your ambitions.” She said bitterly.
Steve brought the drinks over. Marlene pointed at Nestor, who handed his card to Steve.
“It was this or sell the company to the Chinese,” Nestor said.
Marlene cocked an eyebrow, “would the Chinese have made us redundant?”
“They would have destroyed our reputation. The last ship they sold to the UK government was the HMS Forth. Its electrical systems barely functioned, and it had snapped bolt heads just glued on. Is that what you want people to remember?” Nestor gulped down the newly arrived whisky. Erika moved hers to the table next to them. Nobody noticed.
Slamming down her empty glass, “I think I am more worried about the electricity bill and the rent than my employer’s reputation.” When Nestor tried to speak, Marlene spoke over him, “have you ever had to worry about not being able to put food on the table? No, will you ever? No.”
“This is a big gamble for me too.” Nestor protested. “I turned down a substantial cheque from the Chinese.”
Marlene clutched at her heart. “Oh, that must have been so difficult for you sat in your mansion.” She stood up. “Well, I think that is enough for me. Today, the drink has a particularly sour taste.” She turned to Erika, “let me know what I owe or if the thirty pieces of silver covers it.” She stormed out of the pub. Jeff, Nestor and Erika sat in silence. Then Marlene returned, picked up her jacket and stormed out again for a second time as they all sat awkwardly.
“Well,” Nestor said.
Erika surprised herself by pitying Nestor. As entitled and ignorant as he was, he did appear to be doing her best. “I’ll see you all at work tomorrow,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for the drinks, Nestor.”
He nodded at her. Jeff made his excuses as well, draining his glass. Nestor texted summoned a taxi on his phone. He was making the right decision. He reminded himself. He absolutely was making the right decision.