Pontius (Ch.15) : Part 2
Ch.15 : Pontius
The meetings were often difficult. The issues involved massive amounts of money. Longwinded, detailed, negotiations had to be carried out. It required great knowledge, patience, determination, concentration and judgement. But he had proved effective in getting a reasonable deal for MIOST, its shareholders, and its workforce, and results which he felt were usually in the best interests of the Empire and the world as a whole. He saw himself as a leader devoted to working out ways of improving the world and its systems. MIOST was devoted to scientific progress and therefore to economic expansion. It was imperative that it be able to negotiate reasonable terms with other interests so that its mission was safeguarded. Along the way methods of achieving goals were perfected and improved. Its relationship with other organisations matured as his term of Directorship continued. Understanding was reached and developed, aiding the path of both MIOST and the world in its progress. Many people said that Progress was inevitable, but Pontius knew by his experience that Progress had to be built and pushed all the way, but he was satisfied with the way MIOST and the world was going. He had played his own part in that and he was proud of it.
His position brought him into contact with other famous personalities too. Film stars, novelists, journalists, musicians, models, politicians, all paid him their respect. There were few really famous personalities he had not met, at least on the continent of Gallanol. They came as VIP visitors on request, and as part of his public relations role it was his job to meet them and to be photographed and filmed meeting them. MIOST paid large sums of money to some of them to appear in advertising and recruitment commercials. Competition with space technology rivals was keen and, if they paid for large amounts of advertising, MIOST must of course do the same. That was all part of the game.
The journalists came to interview him frequently. From his earliest days in the management hierarchy of MIOST Pontius had always attended to public relations, creating an image of himself as capable, efficient and friendly. He had always taken every opportunity to speak to journalists. Those interviews and appearances had made him useful to MIOST. When the highest management saw his effectiveness as a public relations representative, and his ability to talk to high ranking competitor officials they had promoted him and given him tasks which suited him. He had risen quickly after that.
Pontius was flattered by the company of famous film actresses and models, but he had often despised those novelists, musicians and journalists who had sought to question what he and MIOST were doing. These were people who cared nothing for science and progress, the lazy who wallow in their own disenchantment, seeking to destroy everything the builders like himself had achieved. However he was always careful never to let his true feelings show, and always to reply calmly in the face of the opposition. The measured response, more knowledgeable than his questioners, full of facts and figures if possible, sounding reasonable and normal was the one most likely to appeal to viewers and observers. Pontius was famous across the Empire and beyond for his Vidscreen appearances. He was like a politician, but he held more real power than most of them, except the government ministers who he thought of as his equals. Some of them from extremist parties, Nationalist or semi Communalist, he despised for their ridiculous views, but those from the mainstream parties he felt great empathy with and enjoyed their company. They were the builders of society like himself, and he might, in other circumstances, easily have been one of them.
Pontius stepped onto the moving walkway, which ran down the centre of the Long Corridor. He stopped walking because he wished to relish the view of the Central Headquarters Complex. The Corridor was high up, some 20 storeys above the ground level. The pyramid shape of the building he had just left, his own, began to move away behind him. The further distance he travelled the more it began to come into perspective. It was encircled by four tall skyscraping buildings, which reached up symbolically towards space and the future. These were the administrative centre of MIOST, housing many of the accountants, managers, and bureaucrats of the organisation, and the computers which kept the organisation functioning. The Long Corridor headed diagonally out to each of the buildings, and then circled the Central Pyramid, by linking each of the Skyscrapers, which were named Progress, Science, Law, and business, symbolising the central beliefs of the organisation.
Pontius stepped off the moving walkway as he reached his flycar station. This was a twenty storey building, built as a part of the Long Corridor, one third of the distance along it towards Progress. It provided a stage at Corridor Level where he and his staff could reach the flycars quickly without having to descend to Ground Level or up to the Pyramid Apex. 20 flycars at least were parked on the top of the building, belonging to the company, and mostly provided for the personal use of top staff, executives like himself, who needed to travel quickly between engagements.
Personally owned flycars were heavily taxed by the government as a part of its necessary drive to control congestion in the air. 50 or 40 years ago the skies had been filled with them, even in the cities where public transport had been available. People had preferred to travel separately or alone, and the possession of such a vehicle had been a status symbol, which many had enjoyed. The Government had been forced finally, and against its own inclination, to encourage the demise of the flycar industry, and a drastic reduction in their use, when the number of serious accidents from congestion had suddenly risen dramatically, as the sales boom mushroomed. Pollution from their matter conversion engines had begun to make walking outside in Marta City a dangerous occupation as undesirable health effects followed. The Government raised heavy taxes on the vehicles, exempting companies or businesses from most of the tax if they could prove their use of flycars was necessary for the conduct of their business. At the same time the Government had been forced to remerge the Network Lines into a workable system of Public Transport, admitting that free competition in this area was also unsustainable. The transport chaos had thus been resolved, further progress made in society’s development towards a more logical conclusion. Pontius viewed MIOST’s continued existence, guaranteed by national necessity and takeover restrictions as a similar necessary departure from the normal general rules of free competition and flexible market orientation.
Pontius walked up to his own flycar. It was a small bubble of a vehicle, designed for easy manoevreability between buildings and easy access to parking spaces. As he lifted his arm to key in his personal access code he was distracted by the sounds of human conversation. Turning in their direction he realised there were mechanics here. It was unusual. He came here at least twice every day, usually more than that , and he rarely met the mechanics who served the machines. Seriously malfunctioning machines were normally taken away to be repaired. His enquiring mind questioned instantly what the two men were up to. Despite modern security methods and the great success of the fight against crime and sabotage a man in his position could never be too careful. He knew the building was secured by computer controlled doors so that unauthorised personnel were not supposed to be able to enter, but he had been taught to distrust people in such situations when he was alone. At the same time he was stimulated by the presence of employees in the station. He knew that they probably were exactly what they looked like – mechanics. If that were so he was drawn by a desire to make himself known to them. His caution told him to get into his flycar and leave the station, but the desire to demonstrate his self importance was far greater. As he approached he felt slightly aggrieved by their lack of recognition of his presence. They continued talking as they attended to the engine of a vehicle, as if they were completely unaware of his approach. At least that suggested they were only what they seemed.
“You men,” he addressed them. “What are you doing here?” They looked up in surprise at his loud address. Pontius felt the satisfaction he craved as they recognised who he was and stood up hurriedly. Pontius’ face was well known around the whole world, but particularly to MIOST employees, who were taught to revere him as the top man in an organisation which was the whole purpose of their lives. To these men this chance meeting could have great importance for the rest of their lives. If Pontius took exception to them they could be reported to their own managers, demoted or even worse made redundant. All the complex rules, which supposedly protected them from dismissal without grounds, could not save them from unemployment if MIOST chose, and the longwinded job hunting process, which they would have to undergo if they wished to survive in the world. MIOST could be forced to pay them quite handsomely, but that would only be at the end of a very long Tribunal process which could take years and would cost the men a lot of money in the short term. Most sacked employees given the choice did not bother with the legal processes because they did not wish to spend a significant part of their lives chasing lawyers around, filling forms in and appearing in court. It was a process which might provide some remuneration in the event of eventual victory, but would still not save their jobs. Alternatively a chance meeting with Pontius might win them recommendations, a promotion or something. Caught unprepared, and while talking on the job, was something which might not go down too well with the Director, so both men were visibly nervous as he approached.
“We are fixing the engine of this flycar sir,” said the spokesman politely.
Pontius knew the importance these men would place on this meeting, but he could not really know the fear with which they regarded him. After all he knew very well that it was not his way to dismiss or demote men or women for small mistakes. It was not his place to deal with the personnel matters of other departments of MIOST. He might do it in his personal office, and had done on frequent occasions when he felt it was warranted, but he had never involved himself in matters which were someone else’s responsibilities.
Sometimes he noticed the aloofness in his employees which his position seemed to create. He had seen it only minutes earlier in the inability of the lovely Juna to respond to his sociable attempts. He put it down to the natural separation which position brings. That separation is necessary to gain the authority required to manage. It does not do to allow lesser employees to be on familiar terms. They start to question your instructions and seek to influence your decisions in their own interests, if you give them half a chance.
Pontius enjoyed the respect these men gave him. It was for this that he had approached them. This willingness to talk to everyone made him good at his job. It was motivated by a desire for respect from people. Because he was used to receiving respect, he sought and demanded it all the more.
“It is unusual for mechanics to work on the flycars in here,” he stated baldly.
“Yes sir. It is only a small job. Not worth taking to the ground hanger for repair. It won’t fly there on its own. It can be repaired here quite easily,” replied the spokesman defensively. Pontius was mildly impressed. The man seemed to know his job and understood the concept of cost saving, it seemed, except in the matter of talking socially while at work, which he supposed was a relatively minor infringement. He seemed to be able to speak for himself. It was a tribute to the training programmes of MIOST. Even so too many employees today seemed lost for words when spoken to.
“That’s alright then. Thank you,” said Pontius. “Have you been in Flycar Maintenance here at H.Q for long?” he asked conversationally.
“Only for a couple of hours sir,” replied the spokesman. The other one was lost for words.
“No, I meant in this posting …..,” Pontius smiled broadly at the mistake the man had made, and could not avoid displaying the humour which touched him at the man’s expense. It was not a good thing to laugh at the mistakes, however minor, of the staff, but Pontius, being an alert man, constantly found humour in the bumbling disarray of so many of the people in his workforce. He frequently displayed his emotions to the employees, whether the emotion of the moment was anger, derision, humour, or fondness. Pontius had been taught to contain and control his emotions. It was the only way to get to the top, but now he was there he found it was possible to display his feeling more openly at times. There was nothing like a subtle display of sarcasm or recognition of someone’s mistake to put an employee in his or her place, and he found it was often very helpful in encouraging the employee to improve his or her performance.
“Sorry sir,” said the spokesman, quickly realising his mistake, “I thought you meant ….”
“It’s alright man. I know what you thought,” interrupted Pontius, to head off a long winded excuse. He could not stand to listen to long explanations. As an executive he wanted information from his employees. He frequently asked for it, but he could never allow them to start waffling. In this he often betrayed a lack of patience, but it was a quality which he needed to enable him to do his job. He had to be able to cut the unnecessary information out, often quite ruthlessly, in order to view the essence of whatever problem lay before him.