This story lays the groundwork and link to the future history all the way through the preceding five novels of the Tanya Jones and Mars double Trilogy. It is the story of how following a chance encounter an idea came to fruition and private enterprise went to the moon and beyond. How Sky Lynx, The Universal Cosmic Corporation and all the subsidiary companies came into being and how under the leadership of Harry Broadbent, a private company came to dominate the inner solar system.
Julian Willard was a man with an idea. It would not be his first but this was an idea that he had kept to himself and grown and nurtured over time. Unfortunately, like so many before him he had neither the resources nor the influence to bring that idea to fruition by himself, and Julian was not a man who was going to let someone else profit from his efforts just because they had money in the first place. Certainly not a socialist Julian nevertheless had no time for the established class or the ruthless new moneyed that aspired to that status.
Maybe if he’d done his ‘A’ levels and gone to university it would have been different. Maybe he’d have had a better paying job and could afford a workshop. Maybe if he’d gone to university he’d have some sort of technical reputation or standing and he’d come by the money for a workshop and materials. Maybe hadn’t happened.
Julian saw how these days the kids came out of University with a silver spoon and an attitude. It was a rarity that any of them were more than just full of their own importance or even competent when it came to anything practical, but they all got that step up that he had missed out on. Julian wasn’t bitter about it. Times change and Julian was no fool, he was a grammar school boy with ‘O’ levels from when they still meant something. Leaving school had been a choice dictated by finance rather than capability or conviction, with his father on short time Julian felt the real need to ease his parent’s burden and support himself.
A job as a junior in a small engineering company introduced him to real technical drawing and design long before computers became common. They were there of course, the enormous IBM machines and the BBC-B’s. Admin even had one of the tiny Apple Mac’s, but viable and workable devices for design would be another twenty years away. On paper, real paper, Julian designed brackets for bespoke machine parts and occasionally the parts themselves, but mostly brackets. Maybe he would have some day progressed onto the actual machines but the demise of Dent and Forester Precision Engineering saw an end to that.
British manufacturing was in terminal decline and the small independent companies that supported the larger concerns were closing every week. Julian Willard looked forward to a long term of unemployment should he choose to remain a junior draughtsman.
The Falklands war brought about an increase in military recruitment and it occurred to Julian that he could do worse than try his hand at soldiering. Six years as a vehicle mechanic, not his first choice but where he’d been sent after his interview and basic training Corporal Willard of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers called it quits. It was probably a good choice from the Army’s point of view as Julian was a natural engineering technician but it wasn’t real soldiering and he’d been no further than Germany. Mending trucks in a drab German barracks did not appeal any more than mending trucks in a dreary English garage. He did not object to military disciplines or routines like morning parade but it all seemed a little pointless as the eastern block collapsed and the only times he so much as handled a gun was to collect one from the armoury at the start of a twice yearly exercise then hand it back at the end. Even during those exhausting non-adventures the gun was secured in the mobile workshop vault. Other than that it was on the rare occasion he had been detailed for guard duty and the only time he ever fired one was on his once annual range qualification. It was time to move on.
A tinge of regret surfaced during the first Iraq war but two things helped him over it. First was the certain knowledge that even if he’d been sent he’d have seen no fighting, just had oily hands with desert dust stuck to them. Second was the job he had acquired. At close to thirty years old he had for a short while thought himself already over the hill, all he had been offered were garage jobs as a vehicle technician then an off the cuff opportunity had come up. Described as a maintenance role, the summary was so out of his experience level Julian expected to be turned down but was surprised and pleased to be offered the job. Ensconced in the embryonic mass distribution business he took charge of what he would later describe as a cross between the letter sorting system employed by the post office and an airport baggage handling system. Julian inherited a partly developed conveyor device that took parcels from a warehouse picking station and delivered them to the right truck that then conveyed them to a local distributor. Even in the late nineteen eighties, when it worked, the power of plastic could deliver an item from a telephone order to the customer’s door in three working days. In no small measure Julian was responsible for introducing a step up advance in efficiency. The electro optic eyes of the time were reading the forerunner of bar codes but could only read the code if it were correctly presented to the eye. It was Julian who devised the sorting and alignment mechanism that guaranteed it.
Hailed as a minor genius Julian was rewarded with shares in the company, a company that was swiftly bought out and then closed down before it became a real competitor with its American owned rivals, the technology transfer to those same rivals completed with the shut down. Embittered but with the sale of his shares Julian was left with enough for a deposit on a semi detached house. A house he needed for a family.
Julian had never been a real ladies man and though he quietly envied those of his acquaintances who seemed to go through girls more often than changing shirts he had not acquired the dispassionate view of the female of the species that allowed them to pick up and drop women without remorse. Over the years he’d summoned the courage to ask a few girls out but nothing serious ever came of the affairs. He’d often wondered if he’d been too much the gentleman, maybe trying it on was what girls wanted. It was irrelevant in the long run. The fling with Barbara had been a short one, a quiet pint in a pub after a long day and this stunning dark haired girl backed into him, spilling his drink down his front. Hugely apologetic her eyes had met his and he was sold. He had known almost from the first time he dated her that for him she was the one. It seemed irrelevant to prolong an engagement and with his fortunes riding high they had married. He had moved from his bedsit into her flat and she into his life, but now Barbara was pregnant and Julian was struggling. Fortunes change with the wind, and although he could not hope to find a situation like he had been in, more and more retailers were switching on to catalogue and telesales. Distribution was in a state of flux with an increasing number of individual rather than mass product deliveries and specialized distribution centres were springing up close to major routes right across the country. It was a situation that was bound to recognize Julian’s credentials sooner or later. Though not at the same level as he had been, to his and Barbara’s satisfaction it was sooner.
By the turn of the millennium computer technology was achieving the same goal at half the cost and twice the complexity in the conveyor system. Another ten years on and the Internet had taken over. University-educated kids were eating computer science for breakfast but nobody could match Julian when it came to actually fixing the system. The kids had a kind of arrogance; if you couldn’t work software you were a nobody. But the reality was that when it came to the practical side there wasn’t a fault Julian hadn’t seen and fixed years before.
Julian (Jules as he had become known to his work colleagues) had become an integral part of the scenery. He’d never risen far, just enough to get a decent wage and just clear of the shop floor. Technically a middle manager Julian never broke the tie. When the line broke down he was the first place people went to. The old mantras, you don’t promote quality off the shop floor and you can take a man out of his place but you’ll never take his place out of a man rang true. Julian thought of himself as a good people person and a man who got things done, and if the truth was told that’s how the rest of the world that knew him thought.
Over time Julian learned to separate his two lives, at home putting the long hours and work frustrations behind him and where he could, indulging himself in family. He’d held down the ‘neither here nor there’ role long enough to make a home and bring up kids. Julian had evolved into the archetypal ‘semi detached suburban Mr. Jones’ and had become resigned to it. Only as he finally drew close to the reward of a long and happy retirement did the bombshell fall. At once his life was shattered, the plans for long holidays in France made pointless. Julian would have walked on hot coals for Barbara and he actually did it once. The once they’d scraped enough together and finally the kids were though the now obligatory but in most cases pointless university, he and Barbara made it to exotic climes. Two weeks in the Caribbean was hardly what anyone in this day and age would have called exotic, but it was the first holiday out of Europe they had taken alone since their honeymoon and the first real break in a dozen years. Sun, sea, rum and relaxation, a taste of what was to come after the ten more years it would take until they both reached a pensionable age.
The A6 has never been a good road and on that cold winter night it had claimed the lives of another four people, Barbara among them. Driving home late after a small time reunion with old friends she entered the Wilhamston roundabout when three kids, the driver newly qualified lost it and took themselves and Barbara upside down into the opposing carriageway. The Fire and Rescue team took fourteen minutes to get to the crash after the call had come in from a following motorist. Mercifully, it would have made no difference to Barbara if they had been there as the crash happened. Despite the horrific injuries her body sustained, the mangled wreck that had been her car was bloody, but not awash with it. The impact had broken her neck, severing her spinal chord and stopping her heart. For all intents and purposes her death was instant.