Pontius (Ch.15) : Part 3 Flycars
Ch.15 : Pontius : Part 3 Flycars
Pontius was quickly tired of these ordinary workers. There was nothing to be achieved by talking to them further. He would let them get on with their work. He dismissed them, walked to his red flycar. His personal palm print gave him access and the side door opened for him. The engine purred softly as the combined recognition of his voice, and the pressing of a button triggered it. Any other person to whom he might give permission to use the flycar would have had to give a number of pass words and numbers into the car’s security mechanism before entry, and before the engine would start.
Pontius pressed another button. The roof of the hangar began to retract. He pressed it again for the retraction to cease when the roof hole became large enough to allow him egress. He took the flycar up and out through the hole.
He liked flying, partly for the natural joy of it. He could go anywhere he chose; he could be alone, unless, as often did happen, he was interrupted by Vidnetcalls. There was a screen beneath the flying control panels. Behind the controls of the flycar he could feel real freedom. He was in control of his own little world, instead of having to worry about all those little people out there who looked up at him for orders or advice, or every little problem they came up against. The other reason he liked flying was that it proved his important status. Only the top executives, the leaders of business and politicians were licensed to fly within the space of the cities. They were people who because of their position needed to be able to travel fast, faster than the Network.
For the average common men and women, they had to be satisfied with the use of flycars only during their short annual holidays where the leisure complexes were not in regulated urban districts. The accidents which had been saved by the restrictions in the cities often occurred at leisure complexes partly due to congestion, and the fact that the citizens all wanted to practice their flying skills while they had the chance, and partly due to the lack of practice the citizens had of flying. Their ineptitude was often to blame for the accidents.
Pontius rose in the sky and surveyed his little empire below. Beyond Headquarters were miles of training buildings, where students and employees strived to learn the frequently changing sciences of the space industry. To keep in the vanguard of knowledge was no easy thing in this day and age, but Pontius worked hard to keep his organisation from becoming self satisfied and stale. Teaching methods and subjects must constantly change to keep students and the teachers thinking and to keep them up to date. Beyond were many of MIOST’s space construction yards. The buildings over there constantly altered in size and shifted around, depending on the specifications of the space station or rocket parts being built. At the moment the construction yards were very busy. Within the year the attempt would be made to found a colony for the first time, on Sentorius, one of the moons of the planet Catorn. Some of the hardware was still being built. Ahead lay some months of checks and tests to ensure space worthiness. Many of the candidates for colonisation were still being selected. Company policy and fair minded government and space industry tradition dictated that the search for ideal colonists was thorough and fair, strictly by merit. There was of course no shortage of volunteers. Pontius sometimes wondered, in his more cynical moments, why they were all so keen to leave the security of their normal routines and risk all on a venture which was by no means entirely safe or certain. Did they like their pre-existing lives so little?
He knew the volunteers were testimony to the success of MIOST’s training methods. MIOST always attempted to inculcate into students and trainees the desire for collective human progress. The moral stress on living a life for the benefit of the human race, rather than the benefit of self was an important part of the teaching. All MIOST’s pupils wanted to learn as much as their abilities allowed, to progress as far as possible along the career ladder. Only a small few like Pontius could become top executives, but career progress out in space could be quite rapid when compared with remaining in Marta and Gallanol.
Pontius pulled the flycar around the central pyramid of MIOST Headquarters once. It took his fancy to do this. In any one else he would have criticised such an activity as wasteful, but as number one executive he could do what he liked. Nobody could question him, except in theory the shareholders. In practice the only matters the shareholders ever criticised were matters relating to their own dividends. Dividend policy was to continue paying them. Sponsors and other financers, who had a stake in information and technology could always be found to cover the dividends. The company was so huge that no individual shareholders held any personal influence over matters relating to the company. Altogether they held less than a majority of capital.
Pension and life assurance companies, finance companies and banks, insurance companies and many of the larger companies of Marta and Gallanol held shareholdings, but none were allowed to become too large within the shareholding section. When the Martan Government privatised MIOST they had stipulated, unlike most privatised parts of the public sector, that it could never be ‘taken over by any concentrated interests’. The definition of the words ‘concentrated interests’ had been the subject of many pages of legal detail. Even so it had been the subject of court decisions on a number of occasions as ‘competitors’ in the space race, including foreign governments, attempted to find loopholes in the legislation to take undue control or influence over the company. Usually the ‘competitors’ assumed as many separable forms as possible, as institutional pension or insurance companies, as Investment Trusts, as individuals, companies of many types, which could act collectively, their true purpose disguised. Both MIOST and the Martan Government employed investigators, the true number of them unknown, to research the background and behaviour of potential and existing shareholders in an effort to prevent any undue influence. Where they had suspicions legal action was frequently commenced, unless competitors could be persuaded to cancel their attempts to buy shares or other forms of investment which carried influence.
The legal actions had developed the law on space investments to an extent never predicted by the original legislators. The interpretation of ‘concentrated interests’ had been developed to determine ‘related organisations’, ‘individual person relationships’, ‘near familial relationships’ and a host of other complex legal definitions which twisted and often altered with each new decision. Some ‘suspicious’ investors had been successful in resisting government lawyers to some extent. Legal decisions had sometimes gone against the government, but on the whole Government watchfulness and MIOST’s own attempts to prevent the spirit of the legislation being spoiled had succeeded in defying ‘competitors’. None had been able to exercise any real influence on the management of the company. The huge and continuing efforts to protect MIOST had worked. Pontius never involved himself in the legal aspects. To have done so would have made it impossible for him to maintain his main roles in the direction of the company. His job was to make MIOST a success, to keep it reaching for the stars, literally, and to be the public face which encouraged investors and stimulated the international public.
Flycars had been banned, for all but the most important people who needed them for business reasons some centuries before. Congestion had been so bad. Flycars had clogged up the arteries of the city. People had even used them just to get into work from the suburbs, expecting to find parking spaces at their workplaces. Most workplaces of any size, and even many small ones which could afford it, had kept parking spaces in their skyscrapers, or in their basements, or in adjacent multistorey car parks. Business Houses in a block had often cooperated to build or purchase car parks, which they had shared between themselves, carefully allotting the precious parking spaces to each other, and trading them between themselves as the businesses expanded and contracted with the ebb and flow of markets and the economy.
There had been times when no one had got into work, the jams had been so great. Flycars had been banked up in the streets, on top of one another, waiting just to fly around the corner of a building, to descend onto the road in order to gain entrance to a basement park, or to levitate into a skyscraper. When in a jam it was better to descend onto solid ground, because the fuel required to stay aloft could be saved, and the vehicle was more stable. In the airbourne jams there had been accidents. Drivers would fall asleep while waiting for the traffic to move, still exhausted from the previous day’s work, or if they were on their way home, from their long day in the office or wherever. If a driver lost control, and until soon before the flycars were banned there was no automatic airholding facility, his vehicle could plunge into the one below, and if there was a whole bank of them and they were not able to get out of the way in time, the whole bank could plunge into the road below. While the controls of the drivers, awake and alert below would bear the vehicles above and soften their fall to some extent, they could not prevent them all tumbling to the ground. The lower drivers who bore the greatest weight from above were frequently crushed and the higher drivers, who caused these accidents, might be killed or injured.
Despite these dangers, and the chances of it happening were still pretty slim, the workers persisted in wanting the convenience of driving their own cars into work if at all possible. Car parking became so expensive that lesser workers began to be excluded from car parking facilities by their companies, but the demand for flycars and for parking facilities continued to rise.
When the autopilot facilities came into operation flycar driving became much safer. Also the more expensive models of car began to use stronger metals and materials, which would safeguard the driver and passengers in the event of a crash or crush. But for some time many could not afford these luxuries.
After the banning of flycars in the cities, to which there had been great opposition, the Tram Network was upgraded and expanded, with higher lines than ever before and great connection blocks. The citizens found out how easy and quick to use it was, relatively quick, compared with the slow rush hour traffic of previous years. The discontent soon died down. The good sense of this unusually decisive government action soon became obvious. People realised they were saving money, and Time. No longer did they need to purchase or lease, and run, expensive flycars, unless they chose to take them on their rare holidays. Most people soon gave up their cars. They had little time for holidays anyway and they could get to their destinations more quickly using public transport. The savings made them feel wealthier and search around for other things to spend their disposable income on.