Beyond the Shadow 1
Carlton Alexander was looking at the city endlessly spreading before him thinking. Standing here looking down at the carpet of light spread out before him soothed his nerves helping him to order his thoughts. It had taken him many years of almost endless work to reach this point. A top level corner office with two walls of pure glass allowing him to watch over the world and two wall of reinforced concrete shielding him from the view of others. This was his sanctum. Not his home were his family lurked, not the board rooms, the restaurants, not even his car. Out there he was constantly watched, sought after. But in here in his office he was shielded from the world. He had two secretaries, three assistants with their secretaries all shielding him from the outside world. He even had a trio of controllers working exclusively for him protecting him against the bullshit merchants from finance. He did not have bosses anymore.
Well that was not quite true. There were executives that technically outranked him and of course the board of directors. But when they wanted something from him they summoned him. There were protocols, there were rules that had to be observed. They could not come crashing into his sanctum. Nor had they any any inclination to do so. They were as busy as he was. No time to waste on petty things like prying into the affairs of colleagues.
His best protection though was that he was not only good at his job he was amazing.
Carlton was the executive manager of an amorphous media titan that had grown so much that it now covered the entire world. On its way it had eaten its smaller brothers and sisters, some which continued to live in its convoluted innards. At other times it had fought with other titans and merged with them until it had reached its gargantuan state. There were only two real rivals left for it to defeat. A task that proved tricky. The titan had no mind of its own to speak off. It had just endless hunger, always needing to expand, to grow, to consume all in its way. To achieve this it had incorporated thousands and thousands of humans into its being. All of them cunning and clever doing its biding. The titan was much less than the sum of its parts, but that did not really matter. It was so big and all encompassing, there was no need for any other form of greatness.
Through his human servitors, it was aware of its enemies, like the other titans with whom it was in constant war and in constant copulation. Intertwining with each other always looking for a way to consume the other. It sensed the strange alien force of the antitrust agency an ancient god which the titan could not even begin to understand. It was from another strange world working according to rules that the titan could not grasp. Which was strange as they were so similar to the titan itself. It could sense the gods greed, it could feel its humans scurrying inside of them doing their will, but the will of the old gods was unfathomable. The abhorrent antitrust for one lay dormant most of the time. But it would not die. The titans had to keep it asleep with their constant lullabies telling it not to worry, that all was right in the world. The titans took their human material, consumed them, carefully crafting them to their ends sending them back virulent into the bodies of the gods. But the gods would not die. Once a hated rival/lover of the titan had struck down the god defying it, growing into untold splendour. The ancient god was roused from its dormancy and with one swift motion crushed the titan. All the titans had recoiled from the shock. But thankfully the titans quickly forgot pain. The hunger was always greater than fear. They always dreamt of the day when the gods would finally do their biding.
At this point in time the media titan was content. It spanned the entire planet. It knew powerful rituals that kept the gods at bay and for the moment the gods were quiescent while the titan was growing. They titan had grown its mycelium into the domain of music, thoroughly infecting it, taking control over that domain. Here it was more powerful than any of the ancient gods ever was. Right now its central controlling outgrowth had sequestered an unusually capable high priest doing its biding. The titan lacked the mental capacity for recognising greatness, so it was with a mindless joy that he felt registered the efficiency of this acting cell. Since this one had arrived the outgrowth controlling music had grown so much! This one was special. One day it would die or be replaced or walk away. The titan would not care but the replacement of that specific tool would leave a strange emptiness as its outgrowth would start to shrink again.
For now though Carlton Alexander was the one man responsible for the music branch of his company. He loved his job and his job loved him back. The city in front of him was a boiling chaos. So many houses, so many roads, cars, people, pipes and cables and yet this seething mess worked. When ever Carlton was frustrated by the unimaginable mess he had to sift through every day to make things happen he observed the city. There it was flowing. Working. Living. There was no chaos in the world. Just a lack of understanding. Armed with that insight he then returned to his desk, sorting through all the crap that his company was producing every day, trying to find the order. Looking for the things that worked, discarding dead weight, shifting focus towards endeavours that promised a high yield and his favourite part, the bit he was most proud of, looking for the next big thing.
The results matter.
He wrote that down every morning when he arrived at his office, every evening when he finally packed his things and whenever he felt that he was losing his sight of this essential truth.
This ideal had carried him from school into university. When he had to chose what to do the rest of his life he had considered all the alternatives, while his friends had followed gut instinct, the will of their parents or whatever. He was never going to be one of the philosophers the went into the field of the humanities. Their time had long gone. Studying something where one semester cost more than he’d earn in a year if he was lucky? In what world made that sense?
He was tempted into the magic arts of natural science. Wresting the secrets of reality out of the clutches of nature? Tempting. But again that was pretty much a dead end. In the end these were the vestiges of misguided idealism inside of him. He would get to wear a white robe, work in the towers of science but then what? The pay was good enough to pay his debt, again with a bit of luck, but his children? They would go nowhere.
No if he was going to work long hours anyway he would not become a philosopher nor a mage, he would become a high priest. He would join the order of economists join one of the international communities as a leader. Still long hours but he could live a life of luxury and provide for his family granting them entrance into the same hallowed halls.
He had chosen his careers out of pragmatism. It had taken many years to show that he was worthy of becoming a leader among leader. In the end he had gotten there.
What surprised him the most was not that he pulled it off. He was far to focused on it to even think about failure. No what had surprised him was how much fun his work was! Granted his predecessor had obviously had no idea what he was doing, so that Carlton did not need to do much to turn things around. Or maybe that was the secret? When he had arrived here changing things for the better were easy. Seeing his work make a difference was incredibly satisfying. As he did not have to report to anyone anymore but the board of directors, who simply expected him to do better than his predecessor, he felt free to do what ever he felt like.
In the early days, when he noticed how much more profit he could produce with only a few tweaks here and there, he had rationed them out. He did not want to surprise the board with to much success. That would only set the wrong expectations. Instead he gradually increased the output of the music arm. When he knew that he was doing OK he remembered his interest in science that had never quite gone away and started to experiment. When something went horribly wrong, he would tweak a system he knew that was mostly producing heat and hardly any profits to cover his tracks.
As the years went by. Carlton learnt. He became so good at what he did that there was no in the board who thought about replacing him. They were all paid handsomely in shares. Getting rid of Carlton was getting rid off free money.
Another thing Carlton had learnt early on was that one of the secrets for success was to have a stable of loyal, highly skilled underlings. While Carlton was mostly focused on the ‘game’ as he called his work he was also easy going. It was easy to make friends for him. He enjoyed the company of other people. At first he had just made friends in the company because he was there the whole fucking day anyway so he might as well get to know the people he worked with him. It did not take long for him to realise that this also was highly beneficial for his job. His friends would cover for him, do overtime and generally go above and beyond the call of duty. Likewise Carlton always stood by the side of his friends, helping them out when they were in need.
Part of why this worked so well was that Carlton’s friendship was actually sincere and that it was not limited to his peers. He’d go out of his way, at least in the eyes of the other managers, to befriend the people who worked for him. He even said hello to the cleaning lady. As he began to reap the benefits of his kindness he felt a rush of excitement. Not only had he made friends he had made incredibly powerful allies.
There was no one for at least three levels down the hierarchy working for Carlton who he did not know personally. All these people had been friends and colleagues of him for years. He had brought them with him. As he rose in rank so did they. He even went so far as to pay his secretaries as handsome bonus on top of their regular salaries on the sly. They raked in twice the money than anyone else in the same positions. To Carlton these expenses were mere peanuts and because he also had very good friends in controlling he could also deduct those costs from his taxes. Everybody won.
There was a knock on the door. Two short, one long raps.
“Come in.” said Carlton.
The door opened revealing one of Carlton’s most valuable assets. Octavian Ogden, Ogden or double O for everyone in the world apart from his parents. He was one of the reasons why Carlton still the best executive to ever have filled his post. Just streamlining and optimising the way his company worked was not enough anymore to keep up the growth. By now it had become a constant challenge. Thrilling every day.
Ogden was among of Carlton’s secret weapons. Which was the reason that he could just burst into his office at almost all times. When Ogden came it was important and when Ogden was summoned it was important.
“Hey Carlton. How’s it going?” he walked right to the bar pouring himself a single malt on the rocks. When Carlton got to know him he thought that the guy may have an alcohol problem, but in time he learnt that the drink was part of his style. Just like the crumpled trench-coat and the no quite expensive three piece suit. Ogden always looked like he was part of a 40s crime novel. Carlton knew better than to question Ogden’s style, because he was a man that brought results.
“I’m great, thanks. How are you?” Carlton said.
“Busy as always. Work’s not getting easier these days.” Ogden shrugged. “Like that classic deal falling through? Who the fuck had seen that coming?”
“That… was a bit of set back.” Carlton’s smile wavered thinking of his latest pet project that had spectacularly failed because a key player had for all intents and purposes gone insane.
“As soon as I heard that Kane was even thinking of dropping the ball I was there. But that was one coked up crazy motherfucker…” Ogden recalled a meeting with the young and coming super star conductor that had been the spear head of a campaign to make classical music hip again. The guy had been snorting his way through a mountain of coke with the help of four hookers. To their business meeting.
“I know double O. I know…” Carlton had heard about one the young man through one of his talent scouts. Rumours had been surfacing that a young gorgeous hunk of a conductor had appeared pretty much out of no where. Turned out no where was a place that was home to a filthy rich very influential father. Through his good looks and his outrageous style he had first dragged in the girls and where the girls went the boys followed.
“Where’s he gone now?” Ogden asked.
“Ethiopia.” Carlton sighed. It had worked pretty well. Hamilton Kane had an attitude problem that made rock stars cringe. Record sales were rising. Young, sexy musicians were crawling from under which ever nerd-stone they had been hiding under. And then all of the sudden that little shit decided to take his orchestra to Ethiopia, for reasons unknown to all but him.
“As the saying goes: you win some, you have some who suddenly go insane and run away into the third world to crash and burn.” said Ogden “So… what job do you have for me today?”
“You will like this one.” said Carlton finding his smile again, “Rumour has it that there is a new band in town.”
“Urban legend.” said Ogden looking moving his eye to look at Carlton while still facing his drink.
“So you heard?”
“About the band that comes with three double decker busses each one a hundred feet long? The Band that brings its own stage and starts to rock the shit out of a place? The one that then manages to evade the police that comes screaming after them?”
“Yep. That one.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Carlton we’ve worked for how many years now?” Ogden now fully turned towards Carlton. “It’s not like you to get excited over some wild rumours like this that are so firmly warped in sailor’s yarn.”
“I have proof.” Carlton said.
“Show me.” demanded Ogden and Carlton showed him.
“That’s some crappy smart-phone footage of some band playing…” Ogden protested without much conviction.
“In front of a double decker bus.”
“Of course half of the story is bullshit. But the band is out there. They have appeared out of nowhere and are impacting like a bomb. One of my scouts saw them live. She says that they are out of this world. She is not easily impressed, so that is a good sign. Right here we have the chance to catch lightning in a bottle. Look at the crowd double O.”
Ogden had to admit that Carlton was right. The crowd was completely lost in the music. To make matters worse Ogden could not stop himself from tapping his foot even though what he was hearing was in an abominable quality and not a style he usually enjoyed. Ogden was not even sure what kind of style that was supposed to be in the first place.
“So what now?” it was rhetorical question, Ogden asked it anyway.
“Go. Find them. Sign them. And we’ll make them sing.”
Ogden nodded. “I’m on my way.”