Jean-Baptiste Perrot enjoys his job.
The perks are fantastic, the big ergonomic chair, the dark oak desk with incredible bandwidth to the corporate servers and the big corner office in The Spire overlooking the vast south and east London skylines with the twinkling lights of skyscrapers glittering in the evening light.
He wishes he could see old Canary Wharf in the distance but it’s too far away and covered by a layer of sky scrapers in the city. If it was dark enough he would have been able to see the tiny lights of the drones racing around. He always dreamt of competing in one of the drone races but there was never enough time between work and family, besides they were run by The Wharf hamlet and it would be frowned upon, someone of his position associating with that kind of people. Not to mention his wife, she wouldn’t be impressed at all.
It had taken a lot to get here, years of hard work, training, corporate social events, meeting the right people, manoeuvring around the wrong ones and showing complete loyalty to the corporate dream as he made slow progression up the corporate ladder until they gave him his rightful seat in the heart of the senior management team.
The responsibilities were equally expansive. The Birchwood dream, alongside most other corporate investment banks, was to invest in, nurture, expand and grow the companies they saw fit to bring into the Birchwood group and he was part of the vast array of business acumen that Birchwood had to offer, specializing in finance and accounting.
If he made the wrong decision it could mean one of the subsidiaries could miss its quarterly targets and eventually collapse, its staff expelled from the corporate campus spanning in every direction beneath The Spire and then they would have to fend for themselves unemployed on the streets of London – not a nice fate for anyone, as he had almost found out himself.
Jean-Baptiste hadn’t always worked for Birchwood, not directly anyway. Originally, after completing the initial finance exams, he was working as a junior book keeper for a small IT company making custom bio-ware implants using some kind of novel synaptic integration technique – or something like that, the technology wasn’t his strong point.
That was the problem working for a small company, everyone had to be an expert in everything and the technology just wasn’t that interesting compared to working with the financial records. At that point he had no idea why it brought him so much joy to work within finance, or why there was so much satisfaction in making sure the staff were paid on time, but he knew it was what he wanted to do.
A short time later his manager, and the only qualified accountant in the company, left the business and Jean-Baptiste stepped into the void, quickly enrolling in the chartered accountancy qualifications to get up to speed as quickly as possible.
No one knew exactly why his manager had left the business, but it was common knowledge a large pay-off had been involved so Jean-Baptiste wanted to make sure everything was in order and nothing had been done off-books which could come back to haunt the company in the future.
He was core to the business at this point and so he was moved quickly into the Birchwood campus, the rest of the staff following over the next few months. The office they had given them was in the heart of the R&D section, one of the most secure area’s of the business and a team of enablers were assigned to the company to make sure the technology was introduced to the market in the most profitable and cost efficient way.
Life was great for a while after that, no more small apartment in Zone 5, no more getting home at 10pm after a long and uncomfortable commute on the London Underground, no more noisy neighbours arguing late into the night.
Based in the centre of the residential area it was a short walk to the best bars and restaurants the campus had to offer, outside of The Spire of course, and a ten minute taxi-pod to his office. Frankly though, with the corporate ‘net being what it was, most staff could work from home if they chose to unless they were one of the lab technicians who needed specialised equipment.
That was where he met his wife, Claire, in a small bistro in Europa Park. The fountains had been dancing to soft classical music and he was working through a series of P&L Spreadsheets when she sat down on the table opposite him.
She’s a wonderful woman who shares his passion for business. Their first anniversary together really sealed the relationship, the finances had an audit the next day and her market analytics company was about to drop a massive targeted advertising campaign. They had worked from their respective offices and he remembered the happy feelings whenever the little icon appeared with a new romantic message from her.
Life cruised along for a while, accounts were filed, taxes were paid, dinner parties with neighbours were organised and eventually conversations about expanding their apartment with a new room for a baby were had.
Then the worst happened, the accounts started to show anomalies that couldn't be reconciled. Quarterly targets started to be missed, and a crisis resolution team was called down from The Spire to help manage things while the problems were investigated.
Conversations about children were put on hold.
Many nights disappeared buried in paperwork, war room sessions and trying to figure out what was the cause of the failing market interest in their product.
Eventually the crisis resolution team handed the company over to the administration team and things were wound down, assets were liquidated, some of the more specialised staff were moved into other businesses, the majority were escorted from the Campus and left to fend for themselves.
Jean-Baptiste worked through it all, making sure liquidation auctions were documented, staff salaries were correctly transferred over to the new subsidiaries and pay-off procedures were followed to the letter.
One evening, while he was sitting in an almost empty office making sure the asset inventory was up to date, an email flashed into his inbox.
He was being moved.
Not out of the Campus completely, thankfully, but into a capsule residence on the other side of the residential section in block 16. Only the highest of R&D staff got to live in Jupiter Tower, and his wife’s marketing company didn't count. It was understandable, now the company he worked for was insolvent, the room could be used for the staff working on a viable ground breaking technology, and at least they were still in the Campus, he remembered what it was like to live in non-corporate housing in London while he worked outside, it would be really hard living there on the job hunt – probably involving a stint living in one of the hamlets.
It was strange that they let him stay in the campus with a full employee status instead of as a spouse of his wife. It became clear soon enough.
There wasn’t an abundance of things to do in the apartment while his wife was out at work. Most days were spent laying on the cramped bed reading up on the latest developments in Birchwood practices and regulations from the monthly accounting e-zine, or at his favourite coffee shop doing the same, or re-working their family finance spreadsheet to make sure they could survive on one salary alone.
If anything, the commission his wife brought in was slightly more than his old salary so they were still doing OK for money.
He was just tweaking some of the weekly disposable income calculations when an email arrived, marked urgent, from the Corporate Indoctrination group.
This was strange, the Corporate Indoctrination group was in charge of identifying and training potential candidates for direct employment by Birchwood, why they would be contacting an ex-employee of an insolvent company was beyond him.
But they were, and thus began six months of intensive training, indoctrination into the deeper meanings of the Birchwood institution and medical, security and psychological profiling sessions, for both him and his wife.
He loved it all, the long seminars on the philosophy behind the Birchwood dream, the practical workshops on corporate risk and game theory and the Birchwood financial specialisations which massively extended the standard practices taught in the Chartered Accountancy Courses with topics like ‘Optimising Taxation’, ‘Reducing Fiscal Risk’, ‘Controlled Due Diligence’ and ‘Revisiting Ethics’.
They were training him to become part of the life-blood of London, one of the honoured few who would guide businesses to success and thrive under the Birchwood banner.
He absorbed it all and after six months he completed the course, got indoctrinated into the Core Corporate Group as a novice and he and his wife were moved up into an executive apartment in The Spire.
There was a moment of doubt when it came to signing away their future children’s inheritance rights, but his wife had been first to put her digital signature on the document and he quickly followed.
Now, Jean-Baptiste is at the top of the Birchwood finance group, as one of the senior advisors he has the honour of looking after their most precious companies, working with their own accountants to make sure their books operate in the most efficient way possible, weaving transactions through the corporate grids of financial instruments keeping things watertight.
You see, the Birchwood finances are a little different to things outside the campus enclosure – both physical and digital.
The Bank’s Campuses are almost nation states themselves. Country governments would do anything to have the economic powerhouses that are the Tier-1 Investment Banks build a campus in their countries, and the Investment Banks like Birchwood used this to their advantage, making deals with host nations to isolate the buildings from unnecessary burdens like tax, laws and regulation.
Of course, if a transaction leaves the network of Investment Banks spread out across the globe then it gets a heavy tax penalty applied to it, and it’s Jean-Baptiste’s job to weave the accounts through the spider’s web to make sure they never touch a sovereign state.
To make things easier, after a few years of overly complex accounting the Investment Banks decided the only sensible thing to do would be to create a currency between them which could only be used within the Tier-1 campuses and would save a whole lot of tricky accounting practices to track and convert money as it flew across the globe. That way if a transaction stayed within their own currency you could skip the whole sordid affair.
And so, the Investment Universal Monetary Credit was created, or UMC on the currency exchanges, for business transactions within the multitude of Investment Banks.
Now you can buy a hamburger in one of the Campus restaurants and it would only set you back 3 and a half credits.
Jean-Baptiste is so good at his job, making sure transactions stay within the UMC infrastructure, he has to look up the exchange rate with the British Pound on the rare occasion he uses it.
He spins in his chair and looks out across the London skyline, checking his watch as the chair smoothly rotates him around, 12.30pm, near enough lunch time. There are people who gave up the traditional mechanical watch for the integrated clock always available with a glance to the lower right of their vision, but a watch is the mark of a man and his proudly puts out a powerful statement.
As his lather shoes squeak across the thick office carpet a little notification pops up in the corner of his eye, a new email from Mike, the Chief Operating Officer of Birchwood.
They had shared a few dinners together over the years, but Mike was in another league of Birchwood employee all together, he was on The Board.
The email is a summons to the Birchwood Temple this afternoon, he wonders what it could be about, but The Temple grounds are lovely this time of year and it’s always a treat to visit.
He hopes it isn’t anything bad, after all he is really good at his job, but a nervous thought lingers at the back of his mind.
The ultra-secure Temple Gardens sit at the very top of The Spire. They are so high on most days the cloud cover that hovers over London obscures the view down to the ground, only the very tops of sky scrapers visible peaking above the thick blanket of grey.
Some people say it’s thick smog caused by the pollution kicked out by modern day life but they banned most cars in the city years ago, aside from the iconic black taxis and red buses, and the air quality improved considerably so it must be that the weather is genuinely just miserable in the UK.
Still, once you get above the clouds the sun shines down brightly on most days and the Temple Gardens are covered in lush green grass and trees, nature enjoying the easy access to sunlight and a regular supply of rain supplied by little sprinklers poking out from the roof above.
As the glass doors of the autopod sigh open Jean-Baptiste places his black Oxford shoes and cotton socks into one of the cleaning receptacles and steps barefoot onto the green grass, the soft nature beneath his feet feeling fantastic after a long morning sitting in his office.
One of the suited executives nearby looks up from her walking meditation and beckons him over, a big smile on her face.
“Jean!” She says quietly, it’s not appropriate to talk loudly in the Temple Gardens as many new executives quickly find out after being summoned to Temple for answering a conference call and breaking the peaceful atmosphere.
“Katya, how are things in corporate security?”
He really wants to ask her about some suspicious expense claims he had sent her way a week ago but it is generally considered bad manners to bring up specific work problems in the gardens, where executives went to reflect on the decisions they would have to make in the day.
It was always a good place to find someone if you were looking for them (although a quick message over the ‘net was better of course) as there were always important decisions to make in the day, so there was always executives here meditating on them.
“Very good thank you Jean, only a handful of category one investigations going on, relativity quiet for the time of year really. There is one particular thing going on, but it’s wrapped up right in the upper sections of the department, has a special team on it and everything. Still, can’t complain.”
Category one security investigations were generally the highest of security investigations, usually involving corporate espionage from one of the competing Investment Banks.
The Investment Banks had created the large corporate campuses to allow their global enterprises to avoid the unnecessary pettiness of national governments like war, surveillance, borders and taxes.
They had assumed these were devices of nationalism but they were in-fact just human nature and they had swiftly been replaced with their own corporate version of espionage, information security policies, departmental boundaries and return on investment.
“That’s good to hear,” Jean-Baptiste says cheerfully, “I’m glad we have you doing the Corporate Work and keeping our businesses safe.”
“And what brings you to the gardens Jean?”
“I have a meeting in The Temple this afternoon, I thought I would get here a little early to calm my mind beforehand and visit my icon.”
Katya stares at him thoughtfully for a while.
“You were summoned today?”
“Yes, I got an email from Mike this morning, probably just some accounts need quietly reviewing or something.”
“Odd it’s in Temple though isn’t it? Wouldn’t a request like that normally come over the ‘net?”
“Oh yes, but sometimes when its really sensitive Mike will ask me in person, keep it off the airwaves as it were.”
Katya is visibly concerned and it is starting to really worry him.
“And he would summon you to Temple for that?”
“Well no, he would usually come to my office, or we would go out to dinner. You’re starting to worry me Katya”
“Oh!” She brightens, but only slightly, “I’m sure it’s nothing Jean. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
He smiles at her, not sure what to say next and they walk in silence for a while, across the lush gardens being mindful of their steps. They pass a little gurgling stream, fish swimming as the water pools around little rocks covered in moss.
“Jean,” Katya looks up from the ground were they had both been watching how their feet move on the little path, “do you come here in the evenings? When it rains?”
“I can’t say I do, I try to get home in the evening to see Claire so we can work over dinner together.”
“That’s romantic Jean! You see her every day? I hardly see Michael these days, probably for the best for both our selves health.”
“Yes Katya, nearly every day. Aside from meetings and the such, of course, a lot of time we’re kept in the office. But we chat over the ‘net when that happens.”
“You two are such a lovely couple.”
“What happens when it rains?”
“What?” Katya looks surprised.
“You asked me if I come here when it rains, what happens?”
“Oh! Oh, you would love it. I come here in the evening after a particularly bad day, after an interrogation or something when I need to clear my head. You can sit under one of the pagodas and listen to the rain splashing down, it’s so peaceful and calming. You should bring Claire and meditate together.”
They stop at the treeline surrounding the Birchwood Temple and Jean-Baptiste turns to head onto the path leading through the trees to the lake beyond.
“That sounds wonderful, thank you Katya, I will try that one evening. I do find it hard to settle my mind at the end of the day if I’ve had a lot of stress to deal with, that may be the perfect solution. I can’t believe I’ve never done that before.”
“Your welcome Jean. Good luck with the meeting.”
He says farewell to Katya, and she turns and walks slowly away, her head bowed as she watches how her feet move against the ground. She walks past a businessman, younger, with a very angry expression on his face. Must have a lot to meditate on today.
The cluster of trees is small, shielding the temple from the view of any unwelcome visitors in the exterior gardens and to act as a natural barrier between the meditators outside and the imposing stone towers at its heart.
The Silent Lake itself is an imposing and slightly creepy sight. The sonic barriers in the treeline keep the animals away and the pleasant twittering of birds suddenly fades as he crosses the invisible line, high tech speakers embedded in the trees which cancel out any noise coming from either direction.
The still water spans out ahead, the only breaks in its surface are the shade tree’s gnarled trunks reaching up out of the water, the curve of their dark green umbrella branches lopsided and unstable. Patches of lilly and lotus flowers scatter around their bases.
Jean-Baptiste steps on to the long stone bridge which crosses the lake and ends at a small island in the middle of the water, a quincunxof stone towers towering above him as he bows before the entry arch.
The five pillars of the temple represent the five pillars of Birchwood business. The Entrepreneur, struggling against the demons of distraction and confirmatory. The Eye of Corporate Governance, watching over shareholder interests. The Mill of Investment Returns, churning out more value than put in. The 2 Princes of Management, forever locked in the struggle between staff moral and business productivity. Finally, in the centre, the Pillar of Strategy and Process, tying them all together and producing document-able and profit driven results.
Below the towers, in a maze of small chamber-shrines lay the lessor Icons and he makes his way to his personal one, the Icon of Balance.
The icon itself is a small scale, two little silver cups sitting perfectly level on an ornate wooden arm, decorated with ornate markings and mathematical symbols.
In-front of the Icon sit some small rock formations which people have created from the basket filled with hundreds of rocks in different shapes and sizes.
Jean-Baptiste randomly selects a few and starts building his own little formation, carefully weighing each stone in his hand, finding its centre of balance then stacking it gently on the slowly growing tower below.
After a while he sits back, feeling the same sense of pride as if he had balanced the books of a particularly messy start-up business then gets to his feet.
It’s time to go to the central meeting chamber.
The gardens outside are always kept at a pleasant warm temperature, but in the temple it’s always slightly too cold, assumedly to make sure people don’t stay in meetings here too long, and a chill goes through Jean-Baptiste as he makes his way down the long stone corridor to the two large closed doors at the end, two heavily armed security guards sit at a desk to one side of the doors.
Without saying anything one of the guards sees Jean-Baptiste approaching, interrogates his Profile and gives a slight nod, the large doors slowly swinging inward behind him.
As he steps into the chamber he sees Mike, the COO of Birchwood, sitting at the head of the black conference table, he doesn’t look happy.
On either side of him there are lawyers, executives from corporate governance and a group of forensic accountants, most of whom Jean-Baptiste knows on a professional level.
“Jean-Baptiste, please take a seat.”
He carefully selects a seat which will not upset the balance of people around the table and looks at Mike, the sickening feeling clawing its way up inside of him.
Something is very wrong here.
“Thank you. I convene this meeting to start the disciplinary process of Jean-Baptiste Perrot, accused of corporate espionage against Birchwood Investments. Let the minutes show a fair trial was had and proper due process was followed.”
Jean-Baptiste’s jaw nearly hits the floor.