Welcome to Rockett Spacemotive!
Frank Rockett, brought back from death to try and save his firm from bankruptcy and the lead of an idiotic board of administrators, comes to terms with his better untold past, and even does some good.
It’s a Sci-Fi novelette of about 11,000 words.
Aaron Bowen lifted his head from the report charts lying on the table in front of him and glowered at the board of directors. He slammed the palms of his hands on the polished wood, making them jump.
“This is the most abysmal quarter since the big Martian Depression!” he cried. “Rockett Spacemotive won’t survive another semester if we keep going on like this! We must do something about it and we must do it now, before it is too late!”
Bowen studied the department directors. From the expensive, sleek and well-ironed clothes they wore, it was clear the financial patch the firm had run into hadn’t touched them in the least. They were all over fifty, well fed, well rested and sported the reassured look of those who have invested all their money in a different stock.
Bowen sighed in dismay. He had to admit to himself that, despite the noteworthy position of chairman he had been occupying since the demise of the former owner of the firm, he was a man better at noticing little details, like a pair well-manicured hands or a good scent, than figuring out register numbers and general matters. All the same, he thought he had done his best to make up for what God saw fit not to give him.
Bowen shook his head and chewed his lips. He wondered how things could have gone that bad in such a little lapse of time. In spite of his efforts, he couldn’t find a satisfying answer. Maybe it wasn’t his fault, maybe he should look at someone else. How could he be held the only person responsible for such a macroscopic failure? What about the directors? Where were they all the time?
He pointed his finger to a man sitting to his far right, sporting a thin, long mustache and decidedly a much too haughty air for Bowen’s taste.
“Raffles! What has the sales department to say?”
The mustached man took a deep breath, exhaled mournfully and dropped his head.
“The sales are abysmal. Even the extra advertising campaign gave us no result. The market is dead.”
“Only for us, I’m afraid,” Bowen said, waving the Morning Financial Report sitting at his side.
“Ogden Aeronautics, Escape Speed Ltd. and Mars & Martins are doing great! Why can’t we keep up with the competition anymore? What the heck is going on?”
“Nowadays, everybody and their mother is in space automotive, Aaron,” Raffles explained. “Even the big space corporations have a family model in their catalog now. Not to forget the quality of our products has decreased constantly. It’s no wonder we had the leakage trouble on Model-T, we should’ve expected that. People want just the best, even if they’re paying it a pittance.”
Bowen groaned, dissatisfied with Raffles’s answer. He turned to a broad-shouldered man, wearing a pair of old-fashioned glasses. How much more he liked Wright’s perfectly starched collar and neatly combed hair than Raffles’s abominable mustache.
“You heard Raffles,” he said to Wright. “He’s drawing in your department. What about quality?”
Wright adjusted his glasses and wrinkled his nose, as if a whiff of rotten eggs had just reached it.
“I won’t beat around the bush,” he said. “With our budget, we can’t afford quality materials. We are forced to buy cheap, and that means we put out a substandard product people aren’t happy with. But I don’t think our main concern should be with quality. The problem is we haven’t produced a new model in well over a year. If people think we’re not keeping up with the market, we’re done for. I think we should have another model out as soon as possible…”
Bowen nodded his head. Wright was perfectly right, he thought. The problem wasn’t quality, the problem was visibility—a new model would do the trick. A new model would have brought in more money, and that would’ve solved the troubles of the departments. He racked his brain—if he remembered correctly, there was a new model, waiting to be greenlit, somewhere.
Bowen glanced at a bald man doodling restlessly in the corner of his letterhead block.
“Dixon? What about the plans of the X-15?”
Dixon peeked up and rolled his eyes, annoyed that Bowen should look at him, as if the design department had anything to do with bad sales.
“We sent the blueprints over to Taylor last month.”
Bowen’s eyes followed Dixon’s trained pencil and arrived at an overweight man, wearing an unbuttoned jacket from under which a sweat-stained shirt could be glimpsed. Taylor puffed hard even if he was just sitting, doing nothing but breathing. Bowen hoped with all his strength Taylor was not having a stroke there, in the meeting room—it would have knocked over their schedule, besides being messy.
“What about it, Avery? What about the new X-15?”
Taylor dabbed at his forehead and hissed like a boiler about to blow.
“The new family model is undergoing the usual tests… After what happened with Model-T, we want to be sure it’s absolutely safe…”
“How long until it goes into production?”
“But—it isn’t due until the end of the year!”
“How long?” Bowen insisted.
“If we had more money for the tests, we could double them—we could be out in six months…”
Six months, Bowen thought. Exactly the time it would take the firm to sink. Maybe the release of the X-15 would have saved them—if only they pushed the pedal on production. Now the problem was to finance it. Bowen spun toward a woman with a long nose, sitting next to him.
“Cecile? You heard them—is there anything we can do to increase the budget for the X-15 and put it out before this summer?”
The woman cleared her throat, perused the registers lying in front of her, then twisted her mouth to one side in a disapproving expression.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that, Mr. Bowen. We can barely pay the actual production, the suppliers, not to forget our employees. We might have the money when the TSA clears us of the charge of negligence in building Model-T. In that case, I’m sure the bank would have no objection to granting us another loan.”
Bowen opened his mouth, about to ask something; Cecile realized what it was and answered the question before he even made it.
“Given our actual assets and our sale prospects, no other bank other than Warren’s wants to touch us.”
Bowen shut his mouth and rubbed his nose.
“Is there anything you would suggest, Cecile?”
“There is something I have thought of… but I’m sure I will make myself unpopular by saying it.”
“Speak on freely, Cecile. We’re all friends here; nothing of what you’ll say is ever going to make you unpopular.”
The woman lifted her eyebrows warily, wondering if Bowen was right; maybe all the directors needed was to face their responsibilities and put something of their own at stake.
“We could use the directors’ bonuses,” she said. “If we stopped handing out extras for, say, four months, we would then have the money for both the testing and the preliminary production of the X-15, as well as to pay for the Model-T recall fixes…”
An awkward silence followed Cecile’s words. Even Bowen seemed to dislike the idea.
“I knew I was going to be unpopular…”
“I promise I’ll take your proposal in due account, Cecile,” Bowen said, “but you have to consider that even the directors and their families have to eat.”
“I’ll be frank with you, Mr. Bowen. The bonuses are extremely generous. More, the directors can already count on a rich wage for their services. If—”
“Thank you, Cecile. I think that will be all.”
Cecile shut her mouth and spoke no more.
“Any other ideas?” Bowen asked.
The directors looked at each other, helplessly, then glanced everywhere but toward the head of the table.
When Bowen shouted, everybody jumped.
“I’ve never seen a bunch of losers like you in my whole life! You’re not a board of directors, you’re a knitting club! You’re always whining and complaining! Never coming up with a decent idea, always waiting for someone else to do the thinking for you! Where’s your excitement? Your enthusiasm? How can we go on like this? Maybe I should fire some of you, for starters!”
Bowen’s tirade caused a rustle of commotion, but only Raffles dared to speak.
“It’s easy for you to throw the blame on us! What about you, Bowen? Where were you when the company was peaking out? What have you done to avoid it? I don’t think you are the refulgent example for us to follow, either!”
Bowen’s face and ears turned red from anger, but he managed to control himself.
“We have all been swinging the lead, Dean. I’m not saying I didn’t, too! We all ate and slept too much!”
One by one, the directors nodded their heads for a minute or so, admitting both their responsibility and their ineptitude.
“If only Frank were back!” Wright cried, at last. “He was a straight-backed man and a hard worker! He had a good nose for business and he always made profits his first goal. It’s he who dug us out from the basement where we started out! If only he were back!”
Here’s the link for my Italian readers, Ristrutturazione Aziendale