Tags: career, cartel, IT, miniaturisation, molecular tracking device, nanotechnology, Net interface module, remuneration, research, speculative fiction
[I'VE BEEN TOLD ON GOOD AUTHORITY THAT THIS CHAPTER IS TOO EXPOSITORY. I WILL FIX THIS PROBLEM. 'SHOW, DON'T TELL', AND ALL THAT! ANYWAY, SEE WHAT YOU RECKON. PH]
Neville Major glanced at his watch, flicked a mote from his sleeve and reviewed his notes one more time. Compared to the complexity of miniaturisation, MTD production and distribution would be a walk in the park. He picked up his briefcase and locked his office door.
Time was against him. As Hilton Diep had predicted, ETAT Members were assuming key global roles with growing frequency. Each addition increased the possibility of public challenge. While most citizens didn’t give a damn, there were some who reviled democratic apathy.
ETAT had to consolidate power the moment it exceeded the forces arrayed against it. Modelling put this at less than five years away, by which time MTDs had to be on the ground and among the people.
The conference room buzzed with holiday stories. Mobiles circulated with footage of fun times in sunny sectors. The Diep Centre team was in high spirits and keen to begin the next phase. Jessica was tired, having received a larger bonus but less leave. Disgusted at Major’s reckless betrayal, she’d refused his calls during her time off.
Major arrived and circulated, contriving to run out of time before reaching her. At 09:00 he moved to the head of the table and bade everyone to be seated.
‘Welcome back! I see you enjoyed your holidays. You certainly deserved them, as I’m sure you saw from my email.’ Beams of pride crisscrossed the table. ‘You all did a marvellous job. What a shame I came within a hair’s breadth of ruining our entire project.’
Smiles froze. Jessica stared at Major, ignoring puzzled looks.
Major sighed heavily. ‘Yes, you heard correctly. During the demonstration I committed Jessica to a test which was doomed to failure. I ignored her legitimate protests and almost sank the MTD with my arrogance.’ He regarded Jessica for the first time. ‘Would you be kind enough to tell the team what happened? I want them to hear it from you.’
Jessica blushed; this was the last thing she’d expected. ‘I… er… I think I’d rather… pass on that one, actually.’
Major nodded. ‘Very well. But be sure to keep me accurate, won’t you?’
‘Don’t you worry about that.’
Major confessed his fear of failure before his peers, his panic during Jason Hillyer’s challenge and his disrespectful treatment of Jessica. The team was patently angry, which made Jessica feel less isolated. When Major opened himself to questions, there were many. A few people really let fly.
Their anger vented, Major pleaded for forgiveness, maintaining that he’d never respected a team so much as to admit a mistake of this magnitude. He begged them to consider his prior performance and to look into their hearts for compassion.
Most of the team had been in awe of their austere commander since Day One. Seeing him so contrite was unsettling, like a tearful parent. Some respected his candour; others reasoned that everyone was fallible. Most were simply anxious that he resume his former status, caring far more about his patronage than any public gaffe.
Even Jessica found herself reluctantly swaying. On describing the altercation to her mother the previous week, she’d been stung by Lee’s response, which had included several annoyingly accurate observations.
‘I can’t believe such an intelligent woman as you could be so childish. Neville’s got an incredible responsibility. Yet it seems he’s pretty much let you have everything your way till now. So what if he forced your hand at a difficult moment? All his colleagues were watching; you can’t imagine the pressure he must have been under.’
‘It’s not even your money, Jessie. You’re an employee, and a phenomenally well-paid one at that. It sounds to me like you might have been miffed at being upstaged. You’ve always been a bit of a show off. All things considered, don’t you think your behaviour was just a little unreasonable?’
The clarity of the memory was testament to its validity and Jessica squirmed under Major’s entreating gaze. Yes, yes; of course she could forgive. But she’d be damned if she would ever forget. A break helped dissipate the mood of embarrassment following the mea culpa.
When the session resumed, Major reclaimed some of his authority, but was careful to retain a chastened air. He took up a pointer.
‘Our new priority is miniaturisation, on which most of you will focus. We need to get from this,’ he indicated a blueprint of the prototype, ‘to this.’ The conference screen illustrated a greatly streamlined unit.
‘Is that drawing to scale?’
‘No.’ Major tapped a command. ‘Here are the relative sizes.’
The team drew a sharp, collective breath. The new unit was a mere shadow of the prototype. Two colleagues at the back of the room exchanged whispers.
‘Three years, at least.’
‘And the mother of all flings if we ever manage it.’
Major heard them. ‘I agree this is a difficult task, but my peers have been impressed by your work. They believe you can achieve the size reduction in twelve months.’
There came a louder gasp, followed by mutters of incredulity.
‘By what means did your peers acquire their confidence?’ Jessica inquired tartly.
Major chuckled. ‘Not from me; I wasn’t game to make any more rash predictions that day. Suffice to say some of them are au fait with the technology. They proposed the time frame.’
‘And they actually believe in it?’ a technician ventured.
Major’s tone hardened slightly. ‘Yes, as do I. You’re the best team I’ve worked with. Your results have been outstanding; now the crossbar has been raised. We have been granted formidable resources. Some attention has also been given to incentives.’
Ears pricked and one of the men at the back spoke for many. ‘Could you perhaps expand a little on that, Mr Major? Just so we have all the facts.’
‘Certainly, Mr Vogels. ETAT is grateful for your efforts thus far and recognises that this next phase will demand even more of your energies. Your target is a one-tenth miniaturisation of the prototype. If you achieve it on time, your bonus will be ten times what it was for completing Phase One — more, if warranted.’ Jaws dropped; this was over five years’ pay. ‘Furthermore, if you should decide to leave the project after Phase Two, ETAT will help you secure your role of choice, regardless of industry or location.’
‘Jesus!’ said Kit Vogels, more loudly than he’d intended.
‘How do the rest of you feel?’ Major turned to Jessica. ‘It’s crucial we embrace this challenge together.’
‘Who’ll run the show?’
‘You, of course. It couldn’t work any other way.’
‘And will I design and run the next demonstration?’
‘Definitely. I’ll introduce it and you’ll do the rest. Those events were never really my cup of tea anyway.’
‘And what about the other team members? You said most of us would be on this.’
‘They’ll do preliminary work on a second-generation unit. We’ll ask for volunteers.’
Jessica faced the team. ‘What do you guys think? Can we do it?’
‘Only if you lead us,’ replied one. The others agreed vociferously.
‘Alright then,’ said Jessica. ‘Let’s go. Neville, would you recall that blueprint?’
Major obeyed and she took the pointer.
‘We’ll start with the Net interface module. It’ll be easiest and we’ll learn a truckload. Then we’ll move onto power. Malcolm, you’re our best in that area. We’ll need to…’ and so on.
That Jessica had no respect for Major didn’t matter. Her father’s dream was on track and she was at the controls. Major had revealed that he did need her after all. She watched him dutifully working the PC and found it very satisfying. ‘Alright,’ she said to herself. ‘Alright.’
Read Chapter 09.
Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.
Pic by EMSL.