Rob Hague

Sol was born on a Monday, into a depressingly normal family. His dad worked in an office, and came home on Friday with fish and chips. His mum left work to look after him was a baby, got a part-time job when he went to play-school, and by the time he moved to the junior school was working full time again. Not that Sol minded, of course; it meant that there was no-one to bother him for a few hours each day after school. Some kids would've used the time to raise hell. Sol, on the other hand, just sat at home and read. Parents would describe this as studiousness, but the truth was he didn't have the courage to do anything more interesting. His was an uneventful childhood.

He went to a middle-of-the-road university, and while on his way to a middle-upper-second class degree had a middling amount of fun. He graduated, promised innumerable people he would keep in touch, and then never quite managed to do so. He moved to the city, and got a job that he enjoyed, in an office that he could tolerate. At first, his parents asked him what he did there, but whenever they did their eyes would glaze over, and soon they stopped bothering.

Although the office was mostly a chore, it did have moments of brilliance; it was there, for example, that he met his wife-to-be. If you'd told him that at the time, he would have stared at you in blank disbelief. When they first met, they barely noticed each other. Then they both, independently, became intrigued by each other, they circled each other like wary planets for what seemed like an age before finally colliding. When they did, they found out that their friends had thought they were together all along.

Life wore on, as life is wont to, and Sol and his wife had a daughter, moved to a bigger house, and grew happily older together. Then, one day, about fifty-four years after that Monday (which isn't long, by modern standards), Sol dropped dead. One minute he was walking out to his car, parked in front of the bigger house, and the next his body was laying on the gravel, it's eyes wide open and staring at the sun. The doctors said it was heart failure, but as doctors often point out when patients aren't around, you rarely see a corpse with a beating heart.

On a different, and entirely unrelated, Monday, Isabelle walked through the aesthetic and yet curiously unmoving landscaping of the business park. She examined the photocopied map, compared it to a sign, and then headed off around the beautiful, nondescript lake towards the squat glass building on the other side.

She was, she reflected, walking in an altogether inappropriate fashion, rolling her hips like a forties movie star. It was the price for wearing these shoes, which were unquestionably the best choice for the situation; not only did they look great, they added about two and a half inches to her height. At least she'd make an impression.

She reached the other side of the lake, pausing to note the generic sandwich shop sitting on stilts near the edge, and walked up to the front door. A polished brass plaque declared that the first floor was owned by Jupiter Inc.. There were spaces for company names for the other two floors, but they were blank, and there were brash To Let signs in the upper windows. This didn't matter, though; Jupiter was where she was going.

A last check of the map, and she strode (wiggled) towards the door, and pushed it open. Inside was a surprisingly small lobby, barely big enough for the receptionist's desk and two easy chairs. No-one was there. Isabelle waited for a couple of minutes, unsure what to do, and then sat down in one of the chairs and started to leaf through the old magazines and newer, glossier brochures.

She still hadn't found anything of interest a few minutes latter, when she was interrupted by a mechanical clunk. A short, thin woman with very straight, very black hair came in through a door next to the receptionist's desk. She dumped the pile of folders she was carrying, and then looked at Isabelle as if a stranger, sitting in the chairs and thumbing the magazines, was a hitherto unheard of experience.

"Oh, I'm sorry; have you been waiting long?"

"Not really; I'm Isabelle..."

"Isabelle Morgan; yes, we're expecting you. Hope you didn't have too much trouble finding us? Good. So, you're starting in Jerry's team? Well, if you just give me a minute to sort these out I'll show you through."

Isabelle simply stayed there, half standing, not sure what to do next, like a mute rabbit caught in verbal headlights. The other woman turned away and stared fixedly at the pile of folders on the desk for a moment or two, and then, apparently satisfied that she's sorted them out, turned back to the door and pushed a card into a slot above the handle (clunk).

"This way."

Behind the tiny lobby was a far more capacious open-plan office. Low fuzzy walls partitioned the space, just high enough so that someone sitting at their desk had to stand up to see across the room. In fact, this was exactly what people were doing.

Cliche compares such curious office-workers to meercats. However, meercats act with some kind of organisation, whereas the various employees at Jupiter were bobbing up and down at random, so much so that Isabelle was reminded more of the whack-a-mole games at the fairground. Her guide zigzagged through the maze, past the water coolers and pot plants, to an office on the back wall, and opened the door, giving a commentary as she went.

"This is admin; my desk is over there" (messy desk and boxes of folders everywhere) "Over there is accounts. These two run the computers" (they half-rise out of their seats, but Isabelle and her hostess are long gone) "These are the web guys" (one beard and T-shirt, one bottle-blond, one hoodie and combats) "Research, Forecasting, PR, Marketing, Jerry - this is Isabelle"

"Ah, thank-you. Come in..."

Isabelle was still craning her neck, trying to catch everything that had been pointed out to her, that she almost failed to notice her new boss for a second or two.

"So, you've met Heather then?"

Isabelle twisted round, but Heather was already slalomming away on some other errand.

"Yes. Is she always like that?"

"Only on weekdays. Come inside and have a seat."

The vast majority of Jupiter Inc.'s employees had little or no idea what the company actually did. There were branches dotted around the world, and all of them seemed to spend all of their time sending information to the others. It was a safe bet that they didn't manufacture anything; it's hard to miss factories, warehouse, distribution centres and the like. They also weren't traded on any of the stock exchanges, and didn't have anyone on any of the trading floors, though they did seem to be interested in what was happening in various markets. While they had a huge number of IT staff, they weren't in the IT business. Most of the staff started out curious, but soon became too tied up in their work to think about it much.

All of this put Isabelle in a slightly odd position. She wasn't one of the chosen few who knew the big picture, but she was part of the team that had to market it. Her boss, Jerry, didn't know the big picture either, but he did have a fair idea of the bits of it that related to marketing, which allowed him to do his job.

"I'm afraid I'm just about to head off for a client meeting; how about you come along and sit in? Should help you get an idea of how we do things."

Hence, Isabelle ended up in the passenger seat of Jerry's Audi (unlike Jerry himself, it was a sporty and youthful model), heading out into the brownish, flat countryside. For the first twenty miles or so, they'd made pleasant enough small talk, but now the conversation had petered out, and they were driving along in silence, save for the dull growl of the engine. Eventually, something occurred to Isabelle.

"Where are we going?"

"Oh, it's actually the client's house. And his office - he works from home."

"So, who is he?"

"Mr. Sherwood. He's one of our regulars. I'm not quite sure how he started out, but now he owns several quite large businesses."

Isabelle was hoping that this biography would lead in to a explanation of what she was expected to do, but apparently not. Jerry lapsed into silence again, and they drove on.

Eventually, they arrived at Mr. Sherwood's house. It was, almost literally, in the middle of nowhere; uncultured fenland stretched to the horizon in all directions. The house itself was huge; a three-story, boxy affair with an understated portico at the entrance. A large garage - easily enough for three cars (or four, if they were small, but that didn't seem likely) - stood slightly off to one side, it's modern construction conspicuous next to the house. The Audi pulled up to the front of the house, and it's occupants walked to the door and rang the bell. After a minute, the door was answered by a grey-haired man in a suit, who Isabelle took for the butler until Jerry shook his hand and introduced them.

Mr Sherwood lead them in to a large dining room, one wall of which was almost made up of large, tall windows that let in floods of the chilly winter light. The three of them sat at the end of the long dining table. Without any preliminaries, Mr Sherwood and Jerry began to talk shop. Most of it washed over Isabelle like a wave - it was largely to do with previous meetings, and they kept going in to details that Isabelle couldn't follow. She glanced out of the window, but there wasn't anything to look at for miles, so she turned her gaze back to the room and her attention to trying to follow what was going on.

"Well, what do you think?"

They were back in the car; evidently, the meeting had finished, although she couldn't remember quite how.

"It's a little hard to say."


"Well, I'm still not sure what we were doing there. Do marketing usually go out and visit clients? I thought it would be more, you know, advertising, and..."

"Have you ever seen an advert for Jupiter?"

"Well, no."

"It's not worth it; our services are so specialized that only a handful of people would ever want or need them. And those people don't pay a lot of attention to adverts. So, we go and visit them, and pitch the product face to face."

"We're sales reps?" Isabelle was disappointed; this wasn't what she'd hoped for.

"No. Well, sort of. We also design the product literature, have a say in who to sell to, and how to do it."

"I was meaning to ask; what is it that we sell?"

"If you have a look in my case, you'll find a couple of reports - that's it, the one's with the blue covers. Take them and have a read."

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