Storyteller

This page contains a selected chapter, shown in sequence, from an existing or forthcoming book.
Contact the author by email at terrytumbler@gmail.com if you wish to access previous chapters that have been taken down. Feedback is welcome. Thanks.

THE INLOOKER - FULL LENGTH



Copyright
Copyright © Terry Tumbler

Foreword
This is a ‘black humour’ science fiction story set in the near future, where a man finds that he has a very special talent. It is to take over other people’s souls and thus possess their bodies as if they were his own.
     As he becomes increasingly aware of his abilities, he first uses them to mete out justice to mentally warped criminals, and then to undertake sexual adventures.
     Growing tired of what are, in the scheme of things, trivial pursuits, he embarks on a life of crime intent on accumulating serious amounts of money. Whilst fleecing the wealthy, he comes across an alien hiding amongst us, and is impressed by the seamless transport system on its own planet, so he decides to emulate it on Planet Earth.
     With a colleague recruited from The Lockheed Skunk Works in America, he develops a vehicle based on UFO technology, and uses it as a stepping stone to power. His motivation soon goes beyond his revolutionary and hugely successful transport system, and extends to a serious attempt at population reduction. For this he requires even more prominence on the world stage, as he battles aliens to prevent annihilation of the expanding human race.
     This book charts his progress, as he strives to achieve the impossible. It also monitors the impact on his family life, where he eventually has to decide whether to opt for mortality or immortality.
     If all you want to read about is sexual adventures, and cannot be bothered with the future of mankind, this book is not for you. It is intended for those who like to ponder the value of life as we lead it, and what it could be like if we choose to take up the challenge


§  3: The Inlooker’s Working Life

Undoubtedly, there was one aspect to Thomas’s life that was the most influential in shaping his character.
During a commercial apprenticeship with a major industrial group, he took a senior manager’s advice to change employers every two or three years, purely for the sake of gaining a varied experience and to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
Thereafter, it was a natural progression for him to gravitate towards computing, and he was fortunate to be there almost from the birth of this new profession. Recruited by IBM, he participated in the sales support and maintenance of huge batch-processing computers provided by IBM. In general, only large enterprises could afford to rent them and the rewards were highly lucrative.
One of his biggest regrets was to pass the tests that IBM set for programmers but be denied access by his future line manager, who gloated as he stated, “Thomas, this is the first time that we’ve thwarted them. They’ve always managed to pinch our best candidates in the past!”
In spite of his misgivings about a lost opportunity, Thomas did well and rose to be appointed as head of the emergency supply team, where he became aware of sudden changes in technology; IBM was leapfrogging its rivals with the introduction of revolutionary components that looked unworldly to him.
Within a few more years, the vast data-crunching machines were being superseded, in the second phase of computing, by affordable mini computers. Thomas therefore decided better opportunities lay elsewhere, and chose to apply for work with end-users of them in the London area.
The fact was he didn’t realize that he had already hit pay-dirt with this major employer and afterwards regretted having summarily left.
Be that as it may, he was soon riding the crest of this transition by installing and managing computers in a succession of small to medium-sized companies. These were all in the insurance services sector, where he felt that the rewards offered were greater than those that were available elsewhere.
It was at this stage of his life that Thomas was finally able to satisfy his ambition to learn computer programming. He could at last apply this skill for personal satisfaction, to the benefit of others.
During those early years he became a disciplined well-rounded computer manager, and the majority of his rough edges were lost as he interacted with influential players in the market place. He also learnt to hide his true feelings from others, being aware that his future success depended on portraying a true, professional attitude to whatever task he was currently undertaking at any one time.
There were two things he enjoyed wherever he worked; the first was the satisfaction he gained from achieving other peoples’ ambitions, by providing systems that worked well. The second was the few close friendships he invariably made in each workplace.
Unbeknown to him, he was honing his skills at reading other people’s minds.

At this juncture in his life, Thomas had been recruited as an Information Technology (IT) manager in the City of London. He was in his early forties and reasonably fit. Each weekday, he cycled a few uneven miles to and from the railway station linking him by commuter train to his office, where he exercised his brain by providing systems for a management team whose companionship he enjoyed, to an extent.
Part of his life was regularly spent programming, out of enjoyment, and he employed a small team of developers as well as operational staff. Frequently, he lugged a heavy, so-called ‘portable’ computer home, to continue working in his study during the evenings and weekends, but still managing to spend precious time with his wife and two growing girls.
Emotionally, he was well-suited to his role and usually employed cold logic in his decision-making. When he started this demanding full-time job, which proved to be his last of any substance, the few hours he spent each day travelling on the train were devoted to the resolution of practical problems requiring logical solutions.
Later on, he made friends with fellow commuters and they sat together in one compartment chatting and enjoying banter. Inadvertently, he was examining their minds without knowing how remarkably accurate his understanding of them was.
At times, he would come to a conclusion, such as, “Oh dear, it’s only a matter of time before he leaves his family!” or, “He’s likely to lose his job soon, and he’s hiding his fears from everyone!” or, “He hates his work, is bored by it and wants out!
Then he would back off, and the predicted outcomes would happen. It was occurring too often for his liking, and he began to keep his distance regularly, rather than get emotionally involved.
Some of them must have suspected that he possessed this talent for mental ‘eavesdropping’, when he noted that they were beginning to secretly harbour dislikes of him, He needed solitude, before the ‘mind chatter’ became oppressive, and reverted to doing programming during his journeys.

It was probably this preponderance of ‘cold thought’ that brought his talents as ‘The Inlooker’ to the fore. Subconsciously, his algebraic skills at defining rules to solve problems were becoming supreme.
He also had a dream one night that unsettled him; in it, he was standing in front of a long blackboard completing rows of formulae that were extremely complex. To the untrained eye, they were meaningless, but he understood them perfectly, and went back and forth with a chalk crayon, making subtle corrections to the logic; it all made sense to him.
He stood back in an instance, aware of the strange situation, and asked himself, “Who am I, why am I here?” As he did so, he began to awaken, and grew alarmed as his memory of the formulae faded into nothing.
From that moment on, he believed that something was blocking his memory of an academically prominent past life; he also began to question if it was his faith in Christianity that was driving him along his current path. The explanation, if his dream was an actual recollection of a past life, had to involve reincarnation as a recurring event, and that was a possibility denied by the church.
No, he needed to find a faith that was more attuned to his disturbing, credible dream, if only to give moral support in what looked likely to be a lonely passage through life.

To continue the story; it was now in the late 1980’s, and in spite of his self-restraint Thomas’s employers at that time were getting on his nerves. Four year earlier, all had been sweetness and light as he project-managed the installation of their first in-house computer, smoothly replacing a third-party bureau service with a more cost-effective, responsive and dedicated department for which he became entirely responsible.
The rewards were commensurate with their appreciation of his undoubted achievements, but rumblings were afoot within a few years as the senior management structure was ‘adjusted’, largely to cater for the ambitions of a new generation of ‘rising stars’ who were seeking and expecting advancement.
Primarily, this was a fresh intake of privileged ‘wannabee’ underwriters who, in many of their colleagues’ opinions, were privileged popinjays (persons given to vain, pretentious displays and empty chatter).
Thomas watched in abstract amusement as they jostled for attention; that is, until they turned their eager attention to his department. A shrewd onlooker, who was a female ex-barrister, commented to him one day, “You mark my words, they’ll be making your life hell before long!” And so it came to pass.

The groundwork for interference was laid when Thomas’s kindly boss, the underwriters’ principal partner, delegated responsibility for the rest of the company, including Information Technology, to his main financial accountant, who he awarded the new title of Group Managing Director.
This main board director was a tall, skinny man with an olive-skinned complexion and unkempt black hair, who devoted most of his time to staring abstractedly at a screen perched high in one corner; he was watching the performance of stocks and shares and the various financial markets in a ticker-tape style of presentation.
Unfortunately, whenever he summoned Thomas to his inner sanctum, he continued devoting most of his attention to these other activities, and was belittling of the IT function. It was an irritant to him, as far as Thomas could see.
In spite of his wariness, Thomas himself was re-titled ‘Managing Director of IT’, which sounded good, but was merely following the city trend of giving staff fancy titles that were supposed to impress outsiders.
“I can’t quarrel with that,” he smiled, as he was rewarded with a handsome pay rise and company car. A week later, at a presentation and buffet lunch organised by a supplier, he met a kindred soul who was IT manager at another underwriting group. This person informed him, “We’re unique, us two! We’re the only ones left who’re still in our jobs; everyone else has had the sack!”
Thomas nodded knowingly, but could hardly credit what he had just been told and did not bother to follow it up. If anyone was secure, it was surely him! He should have known better, because this stranger who had given him the warning was an SAS reservist, a sergeant no less, whose sense of self-preservation had to be acute.
Then the fun started. His new boss arranged monthly meetings with Thomas and his second-in-command, and loftily announced that he too, the group MD, would be accompanied by the lead underwriters’ other partner, who Thomas scarcely knew, and a female secretary who would be recording the minutes.
She was a delight to look at, being tall, smart and blond, with slim legs and big knockers, which were always threatening to burst out of the tight blouse she invariably wore. Her articulation was superb, as was evidenced by Thomas when she confided something to him; apparently his boss had offered her the chance to work for him full-time, if she was prepared to ‘spread her legs and accommodate him’.
“Ugh!” was the expression they both used, and thereafter they both felt that they shared a common enemy.
At each meeting, Thomas was presented with a list of the newly promoted underwriters’ na├»ve suggestions for system improvements. These he would painstakingly analyse, and afterwards explain, in elementary English, why they could not be implemented.
Unfortunately, neither the ex-accountant nor his companion, the obscure founding underwriting partner of the company, had sufficient understanding of computing to appreciate what was being described to them, and would leave shaking their heads in bafflement.
Thomas and his deputy repeatedly asked themselves and others, “Can this be articulated better?” but came to the opinion that their superiors were, in a nutshell, somewhat restricted in mental capacity. This view seemed to be shared by the secretary who also attended the meetings; in confidence, she expressed herself puzzled by the failure of either of the senior managers to comprehend what was obvious to the IT team and herself.

Years before, when Thomas was progressing through the ranks supporting Lloyds’ insurance brokers, he had been advised that, “In a wealthy home containing three sons approaching manhood, the most clever would go into merchant banking, the second most clever was expected to become a stockbroker, and the least intelligent would go into insurance.”
Thomas was beginning to think that he was witnessing this in practise, especially when one of the promoted, fledgling senior underwriters repeatedly failed his Chartered Insurance Institute exams, which were a compulsory requirement for becoming a Lloyd’s underwriter. The young man was a dashing, highly accomplished sportsman, educated at Eton no less! But academically he was a complete airhead, much to the consternation of the main board members, who had no idea how to overcome this serious obstacle to his privileged expectations.
Thomas was worried that his computer would become overwhelmed if they were to implement the various impractical ideas being submitted, and his fears were reinforced when a Nelson-like figure, the lead underwriter who he hero-worshipped, confided in him that he would “be unable to protect Thomas, should the situation continue.” He was not saying that he lacked faith in him, but that his position was becoming untenable.
Later on, his original mentor, the head honcho, became prominent by his sparse attendance of key meetings, and Thomas realised that he, the leading underwriting partner, was making himself scarce; he was essentially a weak person who liked to surround himself with an inner circle of lesser mortals. It was such a disappointment to Thomas that he began to dislike his place of work intensely.
For the first time in his working life, Thomas was floundering. His tried and tested formula for success had run its course, the second phase of computing had become entrenched and he had become settled where he was. Moreover, his age was militating against him.
To increase his misery, his new boss kept dumping unwanted staff on him, for whom he had no use. It was being done to avoid sacking people who had become unsuitable for their existing roles, and Thomas worried that eventually, it would be noted that his department was becoming an excessive burden for the group to support.
He protested at meetings and in writing that, “I don’t need nor want this burden on my payroll. I could manage with no more than five in total, yet here I am with thirteen people! What is the point of it all?”
He could see where this situation would eventually lead, and it did cross his mind that it was deliberate. Nevertheless, the more he looked into matters, the more he came to the conclusion that his bosses were just dim witted rather than malicious.
Unfortunately, Thomas was incapable of saying “Yes” to people who were senior to him and who were behaving so foolishly, and they in turn devised a plan to get rid of him, for his disdainful attitude and rudeness, when he was in emotional turmoil and regularly visiting his dying father at weekends.
Curiously, Thomas never felt deep animosity towards those who were making his life hell, nor had he any desire for revenge, even though his dismissal was sudden, brutal and acrimoniously conducted by his powerful adversaries. As far as he was concerned, they were beneath contempt.
In the wilderness years that followed, spent by Thomas working in a variety of aimless jobs, he was taught by changed circumstances a sense of compassion, and the love between his wife and himself deepened as she became the main source of their mutual support.
On the surface, this might have seemed a selfish motive, but it was a big ‘thank you’ from her, for all the years he had devoted to supporting the family. Money was never short for them, as they had always lived well within their means with no debts to speak of. They were a team through good and bad times.

On the other hand, his previous employers were suffering a series of setbacks that would have gladdened Thomas’s heart, if he had known or cared about them. However, Thomas was also fully aware that he didn’t have to do anything other than wait for things to happen.
In the past, he and others in his immediate circle had noticed that dramatic events occurred whenever he was upset. These were in stark contrast to the normal failures of household electrical appliances, ranging from light bulbs popping to computers, TVs and fridges terminating prematurely, barely out of warranty.
To illustrate this at work; immediately on his departure, discontented staff began to leave in droves and the remainder had to be paid salary increases to coax them to stay. This had caused alarm amongst the senior management, who came under fire from the staff in general for their uncharitable attitude and willingness to succumb to pressure from the newly promoted underwriting board members. This reaction was understandable and could have been anticipated by anyone with an ounce of compassion in their souls.
Next of all, the central computer suffered a series of problems as its capacity was overloaded. The staff throughout the group felt a sense of outrage at the newly promoted underwriters’ politicised manoeuvring, and lost little time in pouring scorn on senior management for their failure to listen to their sacked IT manager. This too was understandable, and his heart would have gone out to the people he liked, if he had been aware of what was happening.
Subsequently, in fits of pique or loss of interest, those underwriters who had caused most of the problems soon left the company for pastures new, an event that was a cause for celebration in many parts of the company, much to the embarrassment of the true, ruling partners. Not many of their subordinates liked this fresh intake, since they had always kept themselves apart from the others and had acted as belligerent outsiders who collected only a few toadies to surround them.
By coincidence (or was it?) every personal computer in the company crashed with a systemic hardware problem, directly causing the manufacturer to go out of business.
Additionally, the company secretary lost contractual support for his accounting system, after he had insisted on going his own way by choosing an unknown supplier, who went bust. This decision was taken out of petulance because he had fallen out with Thomas, who he had blamed for trying unsuccessfully to provide an all-singing and dancing accounting package that the secretary had chosen to buy for the measly sum of £85. That was all this jackass was prepared to fork out.
Longer term, after the inconvenience caused by Thomas’s dismissal and the management failure to find a satisfactorily compliant replacement, the Group Managing Director succeeded in recruiting someone who said “Yes” to every proposal rather than risk being put to the sword himself. This was the cause of much comment and derision in the company, especially when he resigned after a short period of indifferent compliance.

Additionally, not too long after Thomas was dismissed, the insurance industry suffered two significant reversals that impacted nearly all the companies in that sector, and caused his former employer many a sleepless night.
The first reversal was the rising onset of a formidable wave of asbestos related claims, to which the company’s profits were proving vulnerable. It was with gritted teeth that they were being obliged to pay out large sums in compensation to the victims of this scourge, of which no one could claim to have prior knowledge. This was going to hammer their returns.
It was an arduous task for the main underwriter, who was also the company founder, to identify specific threats to the survival of his company. If Thomas had known, he would have been justified in thinking, “Serves him right!
The second reversal was associated with the way in which insurance business was passed between underwriting groups, where others were given the opportunity, as ‘reinsurers’, to share risks initially accepted by the original leading underwriters.
For convenience sake, as the risks were passed on to other willing participants, they would be bundled into a bureaucratic tangle of contracts. Hence, their initial identities became submerged and often altered. Sometimes the nature of the contract itself was changed between reinsurers, and the risks were sub-divided as individuals saw fit. It was an ill-conceived way of processing business.
Anyway, when this house of cards predictably came tumbling down, no one could work their way through the labyrinth of paperwork that every participant had created. Each group of underwriters scrambled to protect their livelihoods by trying to match references on accepted risks to the variations on those identities casually applied by the next layer of reinsurers, as quoted on several types of contracts. What a Gordian’s Knot of a mess it was.
Tommy surmised, not believing that anyone else would be that stupid, “If a system like this is used for financial transactions outside the insurance industry, then the shit will really hit the fan!” Well, that was exactly what happened when the cleverest sons from the wealthiest families allowed contracts to be created to accumulate poor-quality sub-prime mortgages in the USA, and started passing similar contracts electronically around the world, to ‘spread the risk’.
This was Thomas’s short-lived experience in the bowels of the City of London, and he was determined not to continue to work in such an environment ever again. Not that he had much choice in the matter, since his reputation was busily being blackened.

“They’re all as daft as brushes!” he concluded.