14 - The Conglomerate

“Well. The M&G conglomerate, eh,” said Archie, generally ignorant of the machinations of public service, or what passed for such in Old Jardinian, “You ever heard of them?”

She had, though they were stuffy government types, not nominally the public service, but certainly adjacent, seeming to occupy the same headspace of citizens, ie. not much. They were not the kind she’d usually associated with in her dealings as the financial comptroller and accountant of Carina Molecular, and reluctant co-star of New Money in Old Jardinian. They would be the type to actually watch the show. On the show, her eye rolls had been a crowd favourite. Her catch-phrase, “We can’t expense that!” had been printed on kitsch staples sold at a discount around Greater Jard; the type of bureaucrats who worked at the M&G cong would have novelty mugs featuring her expressions on their desks. She shuddered at the thought.

The M&G Cong. building sat a kilometre south from the vaulted gates of the Spuria Academy, in the longest-in-toothiest quarter of Old Jardinian. Old Old Jardinian if you will, or OOJ (ooge) for short because full names were a luxury for those with free time. It was a sleepy quarter of Old Jardinian that was certainly older than history, age approaching perhaps even the ancient temple complex above the tremendous waterfall. It was the area, somewhat untouched by new money and industrialist ambitions, that had the thinnest, oldest alleys, lushest overgrowth, and sparsest scattering of C-rail traffic and griddocks at the second-floor level above the sandy stone paths. It was where the lucky civil servants, content to leave the rush behind, avoided the uncertainty of the contract nomad-ship in favour of desk-bound boredom and pensions. Many of the same still lived in old, generational apartments off the main streets of the area, avoiding the peculiarities of boxhome life.

The kilometre between that Archie and Au now travelled to get to the M&G Cong. was the grandest kilometer in Old Jardinian. It was known as the Grand Kilo. The most splendid shops and corporate headquarters sat some distance back from the main thoroughfare, and the pedestrian area was dominated by gardens, fountains and sidewalk. The usual C-rail traffic zoomed by overhead, between the statues that towered above the pedestrian stretch.

Among the statues, there was also an empty pedestal. It was a monument to the great people yet to come, built for the children to look at, and ideally aspire to. Austera had spent hours as a wee one looking at this one in particular, and trying to define what it attribute it was, that with which she could cross the divide between a normal Jard, and these champions of the Jardinian Condition. She, equals with Alden Carnibus throughout the academy days, had stayed on with him at Carina, partly to figure out what comprised this magic spark that made him different from her. She’d found no insight, and as he devolved into degeneracy in the advent of his fame, she’d started to become suspicious that there was no internal spark that set him above.

Anyway, she and Archie strode, powering down the street. At this hour, it was faster to walk than get a lev-taxi, or climb to the second level for a C-rail car. The expansive foot thoroughfare and humming transport far above was packed with shoppers and those out for a promenade after work, anyone who was lucky enough to work in one of the most prestigious offices on the grand kilo.

They passed the statues of the heroes of technology and industry Old Jardinian was proud to claim. What follows are some of the heavy hitters, with Au’s internal commentary. Had Au taken an augmented lens from Alden’s company, as executives and management were eligible to do, it would have give her the ultimate propagandized version. She’d declined off this gift from Carina, and was glad she had - knowing the dirty secrets of many of the subjects personally, she preferred not to be inundated with idealized projects and images of the storied founders.

There was, from fall-ward (north) to rimm-ward (south):

Archie and Au pushed through the crowds of idling tourists, and well-dressed apres-office cafe patrons. Au ducked her head, not wanting to be recognized by the young and hungry corporate initiates who would see her as a delightful networking opportunity. Archie was pulled along, he and his ilk didn’t spend much time here, and he was one to Take It All In. More statues shaded them from the afternoon sun on the grand boulevard.

Further past the end of the grand statued boulevard was the aforementioned old, old quarter. Though the alleys were thin, and the blooming vegetation lush, the buildings were still stately and dignified. Evidently, much of the old, old quarter had been developed in a time of great excess and fervorous optimism.The decorative elements reflected this, fountains, statues giving each mutli-storey building a distinct personality. They had been designed as offices and apartments, so no excessive garden spaces, just a tasteful abundance of accents and arches to delight inhabitants and visitors alike. With following renovations of each block, architects aimed to continue to inspire a sense of awe befitting the great city. It looked now, since Austera’s last visit years ago, that much of the quarter had fallen into a state of needing a general trim and repair. The area had let itself go, a bit. Well, that’s what happens when you put the maintenance workers on government tenure, she thought. She was of the opinion that most people, to do their best work and avoid complacency, they needed the fire of contract uncertainty. Besides herself, of course. The district was mostly empty now, as it was brushing the end of the workday and all civil service employees would be long gone for the day.

The Meteorological & Geological Conglomerate itself was an old survey company that had, almost out of convenience, been amalgamated into the sprawling civil service that had more or less appropriated the area. It was in the same area after all, and the only difference from the rest of the government was the funding source. A generous trust had been set up many hundreds of years before, with regular instalments from anonymous donors keeping the ancient behemoth afloat. This was all public knowledge. Although Austera, as one of the few that actually paid attention to this sort of thing, found it strange that there existed anonymous geography enthusiasts at all. After all, much of the reason an affluent Jard donated anything was for the recognition and kudos.

The Meteorological & Geographical Conglomerate enjoyed the tenancy of an ancient stone building, with absurdly sized, and eminently robust wooden doors and “Fortune lies beyond the borde **r** ” emblazoned above the entrance. Austera theorized the doors must have come as part of a package deal with the leaping goat statue, forever mid-prance over the dry, overgrown fountain in the front. The building itself was three stories, though an outside observer might have been fooled into thinking six. The four black columns squatting on the outside facade very nearly exuded their own gravity. There was a paneled glass dome on top, partially overgrown with the active and healthy flora of the area. At some point, someone had added a modern addition to one of the top corners, a contemporarily styled structure sticking out from the old stonework like an angled glass mushroom. Au shook her head, classic style impotence, likely ordered by some fledgling member of the Old Jardinian elite. She’d seen it’s architecturally apathetic ilk applauded a thousandfold by Alden and his like.

The same golden grinning goat sat on a globe above the door. Au looked up at it as they reached the building. It seemed indeed, a relic of a much more optimistic time.

“Great Goat!” complimented Archie, who as a simple man, was a sucker for a good statue.

The great doors pushed open easily, to a room at least triple the height of the doors, and about six times as tall as any rational person would need, even if they had wanted to land a construction lifter inside. What was shocking was not the proportions, or the grandiosity - no, it was the silence. The type of silence that builds up over years, after the last dribbling reverberations of productivity and conversation have long since faded.

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