by David Banks
Tobias Vaughn raised an eyebrow and smiled his unctuous smile. The photographer framed the shot.
"Groovy," she said, brethy still with nerves in the great man's presence. The shutter clicked. With a push of her thumb she wound the film on and clicked again. "Look out of the window," she commanded, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt.
A knowing grin, almost a leer, lifted the fleshy corners of his mouth. Suavely, he turned to the panoramic view his luxurious high-rise office gave onto: London, sprawling away into the haze of distance.
Isobel threw off her shoes and jumped up onto his deep-cushioned leather chair. her feet sank into its opulent softness. He didn't seem to mind, and now she had a better angle on the view Tobias Vaughn was taking in. She steadied herself and peered through her SLR.
It was a clear blue day outside. Spring had come early this year. The morning sun was painting the detail of the city in yellow and white. Even the muddy Thames threw off a lazy sparkle. And looking down on it all was a man who plainly regarded himself as master of all he surveyed.
"Now, Miss Watkins," he purred. "You will put in a good word about me to your uncle. I have a list as long as your arm of top-class scientists who are wanting to work for me. But I'm interested in him - and his remarkable cerebratron mentor."
Isobel made a non-committal sound. His abslolute self-confidence disturbed her. She was glad she didn't work for him - though she knew her uncle was tempted. He was charming though, was Tobias Vaughn. Too charming. Nice as pie. But there was something else in him, something Machiavellian which repelled her. And though she had no hard evidence, her gut feeling was that he was deeply deranged: clinically megalomanical.
"Hang on a mo."
Leaping from the chair, she spiralled down in front of him and wedged herself along the spacious sill. Very David Hemmings. Very Blow Up. She was conscious that her mini-dress was revealing rather more than it ought. Who gives a damn, she thought defiantly; these were the days of liberation. She was certain, anyway, that Tobias Vaughn was oblivious to her female charms. The vibes were otherwise: power-fiend, yes; but no way sex-fiend.
The great man turned his face to her, mildly distracted by her contortions. His voice was smooth as syrup and just as sickly.
"My, my," he oozed. "Every inch the true professional."
The smugness was overpowering. Male chauvinist pig! Still, he was helping her extend her photographic experience. It was just a sweetener, of course, a come-on to entice her uncle to work for him, but it was nevertheless quite a coup to be snapping away at the managing director of International Electrics - or whatever it called itself. Perhaps she could sell the prints to the papers and make a bomb.
She was sure she had a talent for it - photography - given the chance. Her days as a model were numbered, she knew. Though she was barely twenty she had to think ahead. She didn't want to be on the streets at thirty. That's why she had sunk her funds into buying the latest equipment: camera, developing kit, the works.
There was something on the great man's mind: he was looking through her, not at her, the eyebrow left high and dry admist the swell of thoughts that clamoured for attention.
"To me," she prompted.
He focused on the upturned lens, the unctuous smile returning. She eased the button down. It was the shot she'd waited for. It caught the overweening spirit of the man precisely.
"Far out!" She swung her legs to the floor, slipping her shoes back on and smoothing down her dress. "That's fab, Mr Vaughn. Thanks for your time."
My pleasure entirely." He extended a pudgy hand. "Might I examine your camera."
She passed it over: her latest, most expensive toy.
"Mm, primitive mechanism," she thought he murmured, as he scrutinised her pride and joy.
"Best that money can buy, Mr Vaughn," she put in, in case he had any doubt.
"I'm sure. At the moment, at least. Though I'm bound to tell you my scientists are working on an electronic camera. Years ahead of its time. I predict that International Electromatics will sweep its rivals from the field."
He held out the camera and she took it back, deflated, but damned if she was going to show it.
"Well, thanks again," she managed.
"Not at all. I'll get Parker to show you out." He pressed a button on his desk. "You'll send me the prints?" The honey-toned question was a barely-veiled demand. "My PR chappies are planning a poster campaign. Uniformity. Duplication. IE. The secret of success. Rather clever, don't you think? My face above the slogan. These shots of yours may be just the ticket."
There was a knock on the office door, which opened to reveal an anxious-looking man in black, hand-gun holstered across his chest.
"Ah, Packer. Escort Miss Watkins through computer clearance. Then return to me. We have, erm - a few details to discuss."
"Yes, Mr Vaughn," said Parker stiffly. "This way miss."
"Do remember me to your uncle," said Tobias Vaughn, exuding charm like slime, as Isobel moved towards the door. "He'd be happy working for us, I'm certain of it."
She managed a tight-lipped smile and a nod, before she left the room, shadowed by Parker.
The door closed, Tobias vaughn eased himself into the softness of his chair. Not that he appreciated softness any longer. It was an irrelevance to him since his conversion, or rather, semi-conversion.
It was the subject of conversion that preoccupied him. Should he go all the way? Give up his mind to these extraterrestrials, as he had given up his body and made it hard and everlasting as his own? The answer, of course, was no. No, he should not give up his independence, his humanity, his individual, and very particular, strength of will. Strength of body was one thing: he exulted in his new-found physical prowess; it added to his sense of power. But lose his mind to them? Never! The problem was how to evade their designs on him. It was part of his agreement, signing away his soul.
He began to chuckle at the metaphysical melodrama of it all. He was no Faustus. He still had the ultimate sanction. Without his co-operation they would be nowhere. They could not even land their invasion craft on Earth. They depended on the radio beam that only he could provide.
Uniformity. Duplication. that had been the secret of IE's success. And it was all based on the technology of these cyber creatures from another world. They were so advanced, and yet so gullible. It had been child's play to manipulate them all these years. They would do what he wanted them to do.
And what was that?
Well, they could make him Controller of the world. Yes, that would be amusing.
In any case, it was a start.
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #204