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Chapter Five
« On: August 11, 2013, 10:15:32 AM »
Sasha Fischer was alone in the study of his Mayfair home. It had taken him seven years to acquire the freehold possession of the eight differently sized apartments which made up the imposing five-storey Regency town house. Restored, at last, to its former glory, and embellished – of course – with every modern convenience, it had been the headquarters of Sasha's sprawling business empire for the last two years, as well as being his London residence. His latest improvement was the addition to the freehold of the property's original mews, at last providing some secure garaging for his seven cars. The property was mortgaged to the hilt, of course. He was seated at his Louis XIV desk, wearing a HUD eye-glasses set; with his elbows on the inlaid mahogany table he waved and gestured at invisible icons, menus, and keyboards. The tiny motion sensor, skilfully hidden in the base of a Tiffany desk lamp, could also take direct voice commands, but Sasha disliked talking to a machine. His hair was showing silver threads at the temples; his eyes were framed with rays of squint-wrinkles, the sort euphemistically named: laughter lines. His skin was lightly tanned and otherwise blemish free; his forehead in particular was very smooth. There was no artifice behind his appearance; he was prepared to grow old gracefully without nips and tucks, fillers and paralysers; even the tan was real. His smooth forehead was mostly down to the fact that he almost never frowned. He was frowning now, deeply, and three deep creases sprayed out above his nose. For the last hour the frown had grown deeper, his gestures sharper and more urgent, and he was looking very unhappy.

A polished oak oak door set in a wall of well-filled bookshelves opened with a soft click and a tall willowy woman entered. She was around 30, with long dark tousled hair, a fair complexion, and large sensuous green eyes. Immaculately dressed and made up she walked across the carpeted floor, halfway into the large room as though she owned the place.  “Mwai Wanyeki is waiting to see you, Sasha.”

Sasha's frown became thunderous. He tore off his headset and threw it aside. “Who? Tell him to fuck off, Lulu.”

Llewella Roberts had been Sasha's P.A. for two years. She a had masters in business from Harvard, having gained her baccalaureate in economics and political history at Caius College Cambridge. Her salary was generous and benefits included a top of the range BMW, unlimited – as far as she had so far discovered – accounts at a dozen of the best fashion outlets in London, and a daily personal visit from a hairdresser and beautician whenever on business. She was well used to her boss's irascible outbursts; she often thought he did it test her; her predecessor had last all of three months.

“Mr. Wanyeki. He's the Kenyan Secretary of State for Transport and Infrastructure. His appointment has been in your diary for three weeks. I can't exactly tell him to go away.”

“Can't or won't?” Sasha glared at her sharply.

She ignored him. “Tolly's out there too,” her composure almost slipped and she nipped a tiny pinch of bottom lip with her teeth to prevent herself smiling at Sasha's expression.

“Oh Christ! What the fuck does he want? Is he behaving? Don't answer that. Tell Wanky Yeti I've had to rush off on a matter of life and death. See if you can deal with him huh? Earn some of that outrageous fucking money I pay you … nice frock, by the way. Before that send Tolly in here, I might as well see him. Make it look like you're letting use the toilet … don't wanna piss off our African politico, eh? Oh, and make sure Rich is here,  in the next twenty minutes. Now scoot!” He watched her sway out of the room. When the door clicked shut, he stood up and, speaking to himself wearily said, “I need a drink!” He was pouring himself a malt whisky when the door opened and Tolly shambled in.

Tolly Lister's thick black hair was tightly permed into an improbable afro the size of a large beachball. His eyes and lashes were rimed with thick lilac kohl and mascara, which gave his deepset black eyes an almost manic stare. He was wearing a simple taupe linen toga, edged with woven design in gold thread that might have been Celtic or Islamic; his feet were shod with with heavy, dirty, deeply-scuffed engineer boots. His bare skin – where it showed, from mid-thigh to mid-calf, plus his arms – was brightly decorated with exotic designs, some of which were permanent tattoos whilst others were more temporary. He strode into the centre of Sasha' inner sanctum with an affected casual swagger, tracking tiny amounts of dirt across the rug.

“Hey poke. Mine's a J.D. … ice no water.”

“What do you want Tolly? I have … issues and I don't need your agony ….” Sasha turned and raised his tinkling glass and raised it in a mock toast. “Take a seat, poker.”

Tolly turned and looked around. The only chair in the room was the plush kid-leather upholstered chair behind the expensive antique desk. After a few moments surveying the options, Tolly Lister folded into the lotus position, cross-legged, on the Indian silk rug.

“Nice,” he said and fixed Sasha with cold eyes. “'preciate the hospitality, poker.” He adopted his usual splay-legged pose. His genitals were on display as usual and every bit as unusual as usual.

Sasha took his time in taking his seat behind his desk. He place his heavy lead-crystal glass on the nano-coated antique wooden surface – it would protect the valuable old patina from drinks-related damage – and stared at the man who had been the source of all his wealth and success. “So … what's up, Tolly?”


“Tomorrow …,” Sasha said with a sigh.

“Yeah, poke. Too-frackin-morrow.” Tolly said. “It's a big deal, man!”

“Oh … check. Er … shouldn't you be on a plane to Naro Moru?”

“Flight leaves Heathrow at three this after.” Tolly shrugged. “We're all meeting up there to catch the three A.M. Lift.”

Naro Moru had been a small town on the eastern foot of Mount Kenya until a decade ago. Then Saficorp had arrived with big plans. Sasha wanted a commercial space station; for tourism, commerce, light industry, telecoms, and TV broadcasting. His first meeting with aerospace engineers to discuss his proposal did not go well; they told him the job was impossible unless he had a bottomless purse. He ignored their advice and consulted, instead, a civil engineer, telling him he wanted a suspension bridge with a one kilometre span. No problem, was the answer, where do you want it? Sasha pointed at the sky and mentioned that the bridge would not need any towers to hold up the catenaries. What followed was typical of Sasha's modus operundum. Bribes, accounting chicanery, muddy financial statements, holding companies which held each other's assets … all was fair game. He persuaded the Kenyan government to build an international runway at Naro Moru; he bludgeoned an agreement to permit him to build a launch system up the side of the mountain, all the way to 4,900 metre summit. He signed contracts to buy solid rocket boosters subject to the manufacturer building the plant to refuel SRBs, recovered from the Indian Ocean, in Mombassa. The contract to build passenger shuttles was put out to tender and was won by a consortium of Chinese and Japanese firms. As the project got under way skilled astronauts were hired from the USA, Russia, China, and India. Construction of the space station, which would become known as Scorpio One, began after five years. Within three years it was spun to create gravity and – with seven crew shuttles in service – the fitting out began in earnest. It took three more years before the interior of the main toroid could be pressurised, but after than the final finishing could be done by skilled workmen without astronaut training. Scorpio One had been operational for the last eighteen months, and tomorrow was being heavily promoted as the first ever live television performance of Tolly Lister's Talismania.

“Ah, right,” said Sasha. “So what's creeping you?”

“You know what. Recording, poker. I don't do recording.”

“So … you're calling it off?”

“I didn't say that.”

“It sounds like you are,” Sasha said without emphasis. “Look. Talismania has been the number one act for the last two decades. The number of bootleg recordings of your shows makes a North Korean grocery store look overstocked. You ain't performed for five years, poke. In this brave new world that's an eternity. The live show will regenerate the interest … the fan-base … the goodwill. It was you guys who wanted to tour again, if you remember.”

“Words. Too many. Like always.”

“What the hell do you want from me, Tolly? You want to cancel the show? Fine go ahead. It'll hurt me a lot less than it hurts you. You've been five years out of the game and if you want arses on seats for your new tour you'll need publicity and goodwill. I don't see why you don't get that.”

“Yeah, well …. maybe I'm not that excited about being shot into space ….” Tolly shrugged his shoulders.

Sasha snorted. “Well I guess that depends on how much you want to revitalise you career.”

“Fuck you.”

“And fuck you, too, man,” Sasha said irritably. “I've got some serious problems to deal with here and I don't need this vexing from mere talent.”

“Oh, right. That's all I am, eh? Just the talent?”

“Yes. Frankly. That's all you are, Tolly.” Sasha sat up straighter. “Scorpio One didn't get built on talent; it was built on graft and crooked accounting … you can quote me on that … if you dare. The point is: it doesn't matter. It's there and it matters a lot more than the shit happening down here glued to ground. The U.N. Is on the verge of granting the station sovereign nation status and that gives it and its shareholders some seriously big balls. Do I need to remind you that you, personally, own five percent?”

“I ain't interested in money.”

“Of course you aren't. How many cars have you got in your garage?”

Tolly's answer was a scowl.

“I'll tell you and you tell me if I'm wrong. You've got seven cars, worth 25 million in the garage of your Herts. home, plus another 40 millions worth of vehicles spread between your homes in Portugal, Arizona, and Australia.”

“So what?”

“So you're not as disinterested in money as you want the world to believe.”

“I like cars.”

“You like the kudos and trinkets which money brings.”

Tolly stared at Sasha sullenly.

“Look, poker. Just go up there, do your stuff, eh? I guarantee the day after the shows will be sold out. But only if you can be bothered to perform to the max. You can do that, yeah?”

“You still talk to much.”

“Yeah, yeah, but you'll do it?”

“Don't seem like I have a choice.”

“Of course you have a choice, man.”

Tolly Lister rose to his feet in a fluid movement. “I have a plane to catch.” He left without another word.

Sasha sat at his desk staring at the door through which his financial empire's meal-ticket had departed and sighed softly, The desk communicator flashed; it was Llewella.

“Richard is here, Sasha,” she said.

“Good. Send him in, Lulu.”

Rich Houghton came into the study puffing; it was clear he had come at a run from his own suite of offices a few hundred metres away in nearby Grosvenor Square. He was not particularly prepossessing in appearance. His sandy hair was well cut, but more for tidiness than for style. Of average height and build, he was perfectly dressed for a casual drinks party. His trousers were four seasons out of fashion – lemon canvas slacks with turn-ups and patch pockets. His tee-shirt was a lurid green and bore a cheesy cartoon image of a monster above a slogan that read: OGRE ATE TROLLS! Over the last 20 years, Rich had been Sasha's I.T. Supremo, and he had grown immensely wealthy in his own right on the crest of the SaFi wave. Starting with his solution of the problem of bootleg recording of concerts – a remarkably low-tech expedient involving lockers for every ticket holder combined with well-attended scanning gates – he had helped lead the SaFi family of corporations from obscurity to global prominence with a string of innovative applications culminating in the Sapphire operating system which had captured the leadership in the global market ten years ago. Sapphire had made fortunes both for Rich and for Sasha.

It was Sasha who had proposed the heretical concept that consumers valued newness over life-time cost. In short he identified the fact that consumers wanted the latest technology, and could be parted from their cash to buy in to the latest models by offering the unprecedented bounty of free usage. SaFi sold billions of P-Coms, all running the Sapphire operating system, and then encouraged a market-place for used units in order to promote the sales of second, third, fourth, and so on generations of personal computer/communication devices. Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, and Google came late to the market. They fought back with equally innovative products, but they never recovered the ground lost in the first sprint off the newly defined starting blocks. Rich was the head of SaFi's I.T. Division and, while he was – perhaps – not the most gifted software engineer of his time, he was both loyal to Sasha Fisher and to the various corporations and companies on whose boards he served.

“Hey, Sash!” He said breezily. “What pains thee?”

Sasha flicked angrily at his desk and opened a ghostly window in the air above the polished surface of his desk. “You tell me,” he grunted. “Or do you need a hard screen?”

“Uh … yah, that would be good. I hate these fuzzy-wuzzies.”

Sasha's hand twitched and a sharper version of the ghost image appeared on a wall screen.

Rich stared at the screen for several seconds, frowning intently. Eventually he spoke. “Sash. What the fuck is this?”

“That's what I was hoping you'd tell me!”

“But it's nonsense.”

“Exactly. So why are you mystified and why am I fucked?”

The window displayed a consolidated live feed from the active world market places and it concentrated on showing the current prices of the various SaFi stocks; all the indicators showed the prices were plummeting. The falls were not yet meteoric, nor even disastrous, but it did not take an accountant to know that such a decline had incendiary prospects.

Rich's greatest software contribution, over and above the Sapphire O.S., was the stock-trading application: Trader. Tens of thousands of people had grown rich – millionaires at least – after buying and using Trader. Rich and SaFi's various commercial tentacles had also grown rich … richer, from the sale of the software which was sold as robust and unhackable.

“Shit,” Rich said through a constricted throat. “It looks as though some mad genius has has hacked Trader.”

Sasha swore. “Tell me you can fix it, Rich?”

“Sash, mate. I can fix anything, but this …,” he shrugged staring at his friend and business partner with sad confused eyes. “Trader can't be hacked, I guarantee that. I've always guaranteed that.”

“So, what is going on?”

“It's going take me some time to dig into this, Sash. The best bet is someone has loosed a suite of covert apps into Trader's cloud.”

“But Trader's supposed to spot invasive apps and disable them, isn't it?”

“Yah. That's the gist of it. Trouble is, it was never designed to detect self-assembly suites … especially ones operating externally in the cloud.”

“What!” Sasha's voice was almost shrill with anger. “Why the fuck not?”

“Sorry, mate. We actually spent several weeks during the alpha testing trying to do something very like this, whatever it is. Truth is we failed utterly and concluded that it was impossible.”

“There's nothing you can do?” He stared at a large physical display, frowning. “Look, Saficorp shares are down ten points, Sapphire's down 15, Fischer Media … down 22, SFGTO down 33. The rest of the market is gaining at our expense. If we can't fix this fast, this dip will become a slide followed by a crash. You have to do something, Rich. For God's sake, tell me you can do something.”

“Sasha. I can't discount the possibility of this being an insider attack. That said. I can't unleash our in-house geek team on the problem … I can only think about working on it on my own with maybe one or two of the most trustworthy code-jockeys. Frankly, mate, I'm not too sure who those exalted people actually are. So that track is entirely screwed. Yeah?” He flipped rapidly through a series of charts and sheets, frowning and pursing his lips. “There is only option open to us, I'm afraid.”

“Yes?” Sasha said. “And that is …?”

“Trader has a kill switch. I can shut it down and stop all trading.”


Rich uttered a bark of sardonic laughter. “It's a temporary expedient, Sash.”

“Eh? How temporary?”

“Well, the best guess is that it'll take the markets about twelve hours to pick up to normal trading rates. After that the market will run out of all control. In other words it'll restart trading on the basis that SaFi stock is toxic. Turning trader off buys us twelve hours … if we're lucky.”

“And you're telling me you don't believe you can solve the problem in that time?”

“Sorry, mate. That's it, exactly.”

“Damn.” Sasha paced back and forth across the room in long angry strides. “Well, you might as well kill Trader anyway. At least we have 12 hours.”

If we're lucky, Sash.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say.” He stopped pacing abruptly and swung around to face his friend and colleague. “Chop-chop! Get moving, man. The clock's ticking. Keep me informed, huh? Hourly updates at least.” Rich left without another word, his brow was deeply furrowed as his mind sifted the options open to him.

Alone, Sasha scowled at the wall display before walking over to the tall multi-paned Regency window. He rested his knees against the sill and leaned forward pressing his forehead to the glass and gazing blankly into the street below. Hi did not hear Llewella enter quietly behind him. She cleared her throat. “Yes?” His tone was snappish.

“I'm about to order my lunch. Will you be needing anything?”

“Eh?” He exhaled sharply, fogging the glass and briefly hiding the view of the street. “No.... No. Nothing for me, Lulu.” The glass cleared and he saw a pair of flyboys swagger-sauntering along the opposite side of the road. “Wait! Call security and tell them to watch out front. Then come back and we'll discuss lunch.”

“Right away.” The door closed softly behind her.

Across the street the garishly dressed youths, as out of place in Mayfair as penguins in Iceland, had been spotted by a business type exiting from building which housed a number of small offices. Sasha grinned savagely as the man spun on the spot and trot back up the steps and press the bell push for readmission. Even from 80 metres away, the man could seen to jabbing the button with urgency, his head was barely turned in the direction of the approaching gangsters, and Sasha guessed that the poor guys eyes must be squeezed farther over than they had even been before. Eventually the door opened and the man practically fell over the threshold before disappearing and slamming the door.

Llewella was back in the room. She stood waiting  patiently for her employer to acknowledge her return. Sasha turned away from the window. “Ah …. Now then, lunch, eh? I just realised I'm bloody starving … skipped breakfast. I also feel like a proper meal, and don't wanna leave here while … well, while issues are in the air. So, would you like to  join me for brunch? Did I say, that I don't really wanna eat alone, either?”

She pursed her lips very slightly, and stared at her boss for a second or two. Was this sudden invitation a calculated pass, one designed to get her through the study's other door, the access to his private accommodation … where his bedroom was …? Sasha suspected the reason for her hesitation and he smiled softly chuckling behind closed lips. “Strictly on the level. Besides … I can't afford to misbehave. The Bitch is desperate to obtain grounds for a divorce.”

The Bitch was Mrs. Sasha Fischer. Her name was never mentioned; Sasha always referred to her as The Bitch, everyone else used Mrs. Fischer. The marriage was eleven years old, although it had been dead after barely six months. Unfortunately Sasha had a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up and signed by both parties which now held them in a precarious limbo. If Sasha committed adultery, his wife would get billions in compensation. If she deserted him, or gave grounds by adultery of her own, she would get nothing. Because he had become tired and bored with her waspish nature and wanton extravagance, he thrown her own and set her up in their country mansion, deep in the heart of rural Suffolk; a loophole in the pre-nup had enabled him to do that without giving The Bitch economically attractive grounds for filing a divorce petition. The result was that both were trapped in a complex game of subterfuge and espionage of each other's love-lives more appropriate to the early days of the 20th century.

Her face broke into an unexpectedly coy expression. “Well, in that case I cannot think of a reason why I should refuse.”

“I should hope not,” he was already heading for the door. “I've got a beautiful bottle of Les Clos – a '55, it's supposed to be exactly perfect; I bloody hope so, I paid four grand for the case ….”

Llewella took a breath and followed Sasha through the door into a short corridor which, being windowless, was nevertheless brightly illuminated with a number of Solatubes which delivered natural daylight to the cornices. The walls were panelled with pale, bleached oak. The dark oak floor was partly covered with a runner – a little threadbare – of Persian origin. The walls were hung with prints, sketches, and cartoons by mostly contemporary artists although there a couple of Banksy prints as well what appeared to be an original Warhol. The corridor ended in what had once been the servants' stairwell; the main stairwell of the property now only gave access only to Llewella's offices on one one side, and the former ballroom which now served as boardroom-cum-presentation room on the other. There were five doors leading off the corridor. The door at end, facing the stairwell, led to Sasha's study. Two doors on each side gave access to other private rooms. Sasha led the way to last door on the left. It opened into a large airy kitchen.

The room was almost industrial. The floor was terracotta quarry tiles with charcoal-grey grout. The furniture was stainless steel, the surfaces a mix of granite, steel, and beech wood; they were furnished with a full array of machinery – mixers, blenders, processors, pasta machines, grinders (for meat, spices, coffee, anything …), ice-cream makers, and lastly – Llewella noticed – there was also a state of the art food replicator: a 3-D printer equipped to print a limited array of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and create facsimiles of certain meat and vegetable materials.

“Wow!” She said. She was genuinely impressed.

Sasha had crossed the room to a wall of glass-fronted doors. He opened one and withdrew a bottle whose glass had the merest tinge of green. “You ain't seen nothing yet, Lulu. Now let's get the cork out of this '55 Chablis. Eh?”
"Physics is like sex. Sure it may give you practical results, but that's not why we do it"
R. Feynman


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Re: Chapter Five
« Reply #1 On: August 11, 2013, 02:20:51 PM »
Wow, she said, and me, too.  Where is this empire of Sasha's headed? Can't wait to find out.  :)
Be polite, or I may put you in a book and kill you.

Young at heart, old everywhere else.

Not doing things is my new superpower. I’m not doing an infinite number of things as we speak.


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Re: Chapter Five
« Reply #2 On: August 17, 2013, 06:03:54 AM »
Just thinking about how Sasha's financial risk-taking makes me cringe. I'm a very conservative bean counter. In fact, I've always suspected I'd be a poor choice as a financial officer for any start-up business because taking on debt makes me nervous.  :erm:
Be polite, or I may put you in a book and kill you.

Young at heart, old everywhere else.

Not doing things is my new superpower. I’m not doing an infinite number of things as we speak.


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Re: Chapter Five
« Reply #3 On: August 17, 2013, 08:37:18 AM »
Heh heh. Fiction is always best served by real life ... tweaked to the max.

Sasha is based on a couple of characters from real life. First has be to Richard Branson whose Virgin brand nearly landed him jail before he made his first 10K ... a slight problem with HM Customs concerning unpaid purchase tax on imported LPs ....  :O: (There are other parallels but no matter .....)

Second is a "real" person of my personal acquaintance. For more than a decade after graduating I kept in touch, either directly or via 2nd, 3rd, and 4th hand, with a wide variety of my "class": ie those of my age/year but not necessarily majoring in my subject. Mike was one of those. In my late 20s I first heard (again) about Mike. Mike had vowed to make a million before he was 30. I don't know if was a millionaire in '81 when I heard about his rise to "wealth" (he'd used an Amex card he could not afford to buy a flight to the Middle East to view a ship for sale ... and bought it with even more money he did not have). Six months later General Galtieri invaded the Falklands and HM Govt. needed Brit-flagged cargo vessels to transport material to the South Atlantic. Bonanza! Next time I met him, a few years later he had photos of he and his trophy wife, in S. Korea, launching his newest and largest container vessel. When I started using the internet I searched him out and found an all too familiar story ... and sadly the company's last ditch effort to save itself from being wound up by seeking extra-national protection failed.

In short, I buy into your angst over financial risk. For every Bill Gates, Richard Branson, & Donald Trump, there are dozens -- if not hundreds -- of equally capable businessmen for whom the die did not roll favourably and who, therefore, languish in obscurity; although most -- like, I suspect my old mate, Mike -- escape with enough liquidity to live quietly and comfortably on the margin, having dipped a toe in the water and found it too hot ... or too cold.
"Physics is like sex. Sure it may give you practical results, but that's not why we do it"
R. Feynman