Authors: Andrew Vrana
he knock against the heavy oak door echoed through the high office like a toneless bell, tolling another day’s beginning. Silvan calmly turned from the east-facing window where the city basked in the morning sun, walked over to his desk and pressed the button to remotely open his office doors. He didn’t need to ask who it was; only one person in the world would come to his office without being called up.
“Good morning, Mr.
Silvan,” Monika Leutz said, stepping into the office and walking briskly up the first set of stairs. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading to the top level, where he was; she always stood on a lower level than him when she was worried or anxious about whatever she was about to discuss, as if the height difference offered some kind of shield. Her smart glasses were tucked into her front pocket, and without them she looked old and tired. “I got everything ready to move forward,” she said. “Just in case. The VIPs will begin arriving soon. What’s your decision?”
That’s all they ever wanted from him: decisions.
Such insignificant things, yet so immeasurably important. Sometimes he made them on whims, other times he spent sleepless nights making sure he thought of every possible implication. In either case he had often felt like it really didn’t matter how much he thought about a decision or which option he chose; nothing ever truly changed in the banal stream of workday-long existences, nothing depended on his decisions. But he made them nonetheless because that was his place: to be the head on top of everything. He was a brain in a box on a tower rooted in the fortunes of the human world.
“Has anything changed with the protesters?” he asked.
“If anything it’s worse.” This Monika was like a frightened child version of the real Monika, standing on wobbly stilts and loosely shrouded in her domineering exterior, to poor effect. “They’re persistent,” she said, her voice breaking for a brief moment before she paused to clear her throat. “There’s talk of riots, of…of an organized assault.”
These dreaming kids were proving more threatening than he had anticipated. Had he made the wrong decision in openly fighting back? No, not wrong, there were no wrong decisions—or right decisions; only good decisions and bad decisions. And all a bad decision did was create a slightly different path to the same end, to the goal he would reach regardless. While this path might be longer and bloodier, it would take him right where he wanted to go. He just had to use a slightly different method to get there, one that, fortunately, he had prepared for all along.
“Move Project Unify to the next stage,” he said. “Hold the meeting immediately.”
“Certainly,” Monika said with a trace of relief, and she turned on the spot.
He would never—never—admit it to any living person, but as he watched her hasten down the stairs and out the door he felt something that may very well have been fear.
The self-driving skyway cart went far too slow in Mike’s opinion, but it was better than taking the helicopter to the office. At least he had the cart to himself; there had been only two helicopters making two trips each to Silte headquarters from the Plaza, so eight or nine people had crammed into a space that could seat five comfortably, six if everyone was relatively small. The skyway cart may be slow, but stretching out and breathing fresh, climate-controlled air made it tolerable.
As the cart turned to drive its way through the final building before the long, ascending skyway that led directly into
Silte headquarters, Mike’s microtab beeped, and he pulled it from the pocket of his jacket, unfolding it in routine fashion. The vid-call was from a Silte HR-bot; he hesitated for a moment before tapping the screen to answer.
“A notice to all active
Silte Corporation headquarters employees.” The bot was programmed female, and she glowed with a silvery light. “Please come immediately to Boardroom A upon arrival in the tower. There is a meeting this morning headed by Monika Leutz to discuss the future of the company. Your attendance is appreciated.”
“Okay, thank you,” Mike said, knowing all too well that ‘appreciated’ actually meant ‘ma
ndatory.’ He folded his microtab and stuffed it back in his pocket, wondering what this could be about. He had already received his new day-to-day operations the morning after they forced his family to move to Silte Plaza. Like all of the VIPs still working at the tower, he had to examine the tasks and duties of all the senior or managerial Silte headquarters employees who had been placed on indefinite leave. Using this information he had to designate the essential jobs to one of the personalities in a new batch of virtual secretaries that had been repurposed and altered to perform more specialized business practices; in other words, Silte Corporation was almost exclusively run by artificial personalities now. And for those essential employees whose jobs they were doing…well, their indefinite leave looked like it had turned into a legitimate layoff, and a massive one at that.
The cart started up the final skyway, which rose gradually from the 30
floor of one building to the 50
floor of Silte headquarters, spanning an entire block in between. It was still hard for Mike to believe that most of these bridges connecting the buildings had gone up in just over a week. He looked through the shaded windows at the city below, still so quiet and normal despite the impending sense of danger such a brief time ago.
Calm now, but the storm is coming.
He almost wished something would happen soon; Meredith was growing more and more restless with their new situation, and Natalie was being as patient as could be expected of any nine-year-old. Some chaos in the streets below might convince them they were exactly where they needed to be. He couldn’t blame them, though, for being agitated; they were all prisoners, for no better reason than Silte Corp needed Mike.
It would happen, and soon. There may be no visible rumblings below, but millions of pe
ople had been placed on indefinite leave without pay over a week ago. They had yet to be given a good explanation, and tensions were close to snapping with explosive fury. The Anti-Corp activists had seemingly devolved into disjointed groups committing sloppy, malicious cyberattacks at random; and then there was the ‘mind virus’ outbreak…but Mike didn’t like to think about that.
“Mr. Torres, please verify your identification.”
Mike looked up sharply; he hadn’t realized the cart had stopped just outside the newly-installed heavy metal doors at the end of the skyway. He hastily pulled his microtab back out and let it read his thumbprint then scan his face and sync with the security system. After a second or two the doors slid apart to admit him.
“Thank you,” the virtual security guard said in its droning voice. “You are encouraged to proceed straight to Boardroom A for—”
“Yes, I know, thank you.”
As the cart rolled past the security checkpoint on its way to the elevators, Mike glimpsed the private cop guards staring at him—or at least he thought they were staring at him: their black reflective helmets hid their faces, and he never knew what exac
tly they were looking at. The one nearest Mike nodded as the cart went by, though he kept his assault rifle raised the whole time, pointed just below and a little in front of the exact point in space occupied by Mike. The sight of soldiers still made him uneasy, but more and more it was becoming a part of life.
This was the world he lived in now.
* * *
“Can you all hear me okay?” Halfhearted assent went up along the table. Mike had no pro
blem hearing Monika Leutz; in fact, he was sitting directly to the left of her seat at the head of the long table, close enough to smell her musky perfume.
“Good,” she said. “You’ve all been working hard the last two weeks, and I am happy to say that
Silte Corp headquarters is now entirely autonomous, along with all of our regional locations which are now being controlled from here. But you all know this.”
Leutz’s eyes began their dizzying motion behind her smart glasses and she paused. The boardroom was tense while everyone waited for her to continue. A few people looked around nervously. Mike glanced down the table. Aside from the helicopter rides, he hadn’t seen more than a few of his coworkers in one place at the same time since the relocation. Across and down at the other end Carl Bellowe and Diane Salpollo, the other two people with apartments on his floor at the Plaza, sat together, now and then glancing furtively at each other. Across from Mike was Hamid Farakel, Chief Supervising Manager and next down the ladder from Leutz. Mike wondered briefly why he was seated so close to the two most important people in the room. He was, after all, only senior management; Katherine Polcyk was a Senior VP and she was closer to the other end.
“The reason I’ve brought you all here today,”
Leutz continued, “is to begin the next step of Project Unify. Mr. Silvan and I agree that the brain of Silte Corp—that is to say, us—is ready; now we need to prepare the body. The dregs of the Anti-Corp terrorists have focused their cyberattacks on major subsidiaries in the Silte family. They wisely haven’t attempted anything on Silt Corp proper ever since we moved our servers to the Arizona supercomputer, which they can’t touch. Their attacks, though, are crippling our more independent operations and, as much as I hate saying it, we’re losing our grip on the fringes.”
paused again before turning around and mumbling something. The giant wall screen behind her came to life. As she turned around, the screen showed an aerial view of a perfectly square building that was all dark glass panes, giving the entire thing a sort of indomitable mirror-like quality. Everything around the building became a shadow-form of itself in the reflections on its walls and roof.
Cytech Robotics,” Leutz said. “One of our more profitable ventures and key to our robotics research division.” She flicked her eyes to the side repeatedly, each time bringing up a new view of the building on the screen behind her. Eventually, the images showed the building’s interior, where employees were engaged in normal tasks. “These images are from yesterday. Cytech is active when it should be restricted to essential personnel only. When we tried to call our office there, we got this.”
She flicked her eyes one more time, and a logo came up: the white circle on a black bac
kground the Anti-Corp used as a sort of insignia. But in the center of the circle were the words ‘People Against Corporatocracy’ instead of their usual name.
“I suppose you all know what this means,”
When nobody else spoke, Hamid
Farakel said, “Cytech is lost. The terrorists took it from us and are running it themselves.”
Leutz said sardonically, not so much as glancing Farakel’s way. “This is collateral damage. We expected losses like this, but they are happening at a quicker rate than we would like. That is why starting today you will carry on with our autonomy project by moving on to other Silte-owned companies. We’ll start with the largest parent companies: AT&T, Google, Starmine—the big ones with many subsidiaries of their own. You’ll be doing the same thing you’ve been doing here for the past week, only now you have the added task of identifying and flagging nonessential or dangerous current employees for removal.”
“And what about the smaller companies?” asked Chelsea
Yallin, a Senior Manager on Mike’s floor. “By the time we get to them the hackers will have taken them all from us.”
“The Anti-Corp is dying out,”
Leutz said, shooting her icy stare down the table at Chelsea. “In any case, we have taken measures—dependable measures—to stall them for a while, maybe end them altogether. But don’t worry about that right now.” She leaned back, crossed her arms. “Let’s move on.” She turned her gaze from face to face, lingering on each for a few seconds as she trudged ahead. “You’ve all worked hard to get to where you are, but I have to tell you that your titles are meaningless from this point on.” She smiled at the confused looks and quickly-stifled words of dissent all around the table. When the room was silent again, Leutz said, “Today you are all being promoted to Silte Corporation’s inaugural Board of Administrators. As admins, you will help maintain the cohesiveness of autonomous operations in the Silte family; basically, you’re keeping the brain working smoothly so the body doesn’t fall apart. This is effective immediately.”
Everyone began talking at once. Most seemed more confused than anything. Carl
Bellowe stared hollowly at Leutz and, after a while, Mike looked at her as well. “What does this mean?” he asked quietly, taking advantage of his proximity to her. She merely put a hand up, looking as unenthusiastic as ever.
“You can find more about your new duties,” she said, silencing the room, “in the new report which has just gone out to all of you. I think you will find the increased pay and benefits to be quite agreeable.”
Someone blurted out, “But what if we don’t want this? Can’t we—”
“I’ll let you go,”
Leutz cut in, loud and direct, “so you can read the report, which also gives your instructions for the next step of Project Unify. Thank you for your time.” Slowly, hesitantly, people began getting up to go, some still shaking their heads. “One more thing,” Leutz said, and they all froze in place. “Hamid Farakel is moving upstairs with me. He is your Executive Administrator.” No one was surprised. “And Mike Torres,” she said, “is Chief Administrator. The rest of you now report directly to him.” All the eyes in the room turned to Mike, who didn’t know how to react.
Th-thank you,” he said.
Silvan, if you ever see him,” Leutz said without looking at him. She got up and moved swiftly from the room, disappearing through a back door that led to the private elevator.
As Mike cleared the room with the others, a few people shot him dirty looks. He couldn’t blame them: he was fresh blood around here, not seasoned enough to be one of them yet. He had more experience and a better record of success than any of them, but they had all been at headquarters much longer than him. To them, he was just some upstart from lower down the
Silte family tree, not worthy of being over them (even the ones he
been over before all this started).
Out in the hall he found a quiet corner—which wasn’t hard considering how no one seemed to like him much at the moment—and pulled out his tablet to see if anyone had called. To his surprise, there were two messages. The first, from Meredith, made it clear that he should call her immediately, so he did.
“You’re alone, right?” she said as soon as she was on the screen.
“Yeah…” Mike started.
“Good,” she shot back. “I’ve been digging around lately, pulling up financial data from the last few years… Mike, it reeks. Something is way off about Silte Corp, and I think I’m starting to figure out what it is.”
“Like what?” This could be nothing, or it could be the worst possible thing. Knowing Mer
edith, it was probably the latter.
“Making all these acquisitions,” she said, “they’re not spending nearly as much as they should be. And they have numbers coming in that simply can’t be justified, even with their vast holdings and ventures. The money is just—it’s just disappearing. No taxes, no legitimate she
ltering; Silvan’s not taking out more than usual. It doesn’t add up.” Her sharp face was stern, contemplating, her dark hair pulled into a tight ponytail.
“Hmm,” Mike said.
This is bad.
“How did you figure this out?”
She hesitated for several seconds before saying, “I was into some things in college I never told you about. If
Oppmann knew about them when they hired me…well, I think it’s safe to say they didn’t know. I’ll just say I have some capabilities that your boss shouldn’t know about.”