The Interview with GTI
Well that was weird. A man walked into my job today. As always I asked if I could help him find anyone. It’s not uncommon to have visitors get lost in the cube farm. Most of the time they politely and authoritatively tell me to shut the hell up, but thanks for caring. Still, part of the job. This guy, grey haired and bearded like a wizard or a wild man.
The look in his eye told of terror and righteous horror. “Impostor!” he cried, pointing a twig-like finger at me, his grey beard shaking as he spoke. “Impostor, I say.” Then he screamed some Latin. I have no idea why. I raised an eyebrow at him as he dashed out the door, as if commies were after him. Still have no idea he got in without a passkey or a visitor’s pass. Those doors lock, you know.
So about my letter from GTI…
I’d like to say the interview went well. I would honestly like to say that. But it was creepier than anything else.
For those who don’t know, the GTI in Bridgeton is a huge complex of office buildings, training forests (commonly known as the Forbidden Forests as no one but GTI employees are allowed in), parking garages, visitor centers, and retail stores, all bearing the distinctive GTI logo. Now, I should clarify, GTI is actually located in Ducklyn but they call themselves GTI Bridgeton to differentiate itself from the headquarters in San Niebla and the dozens of satellite offices around the globe, though few of them take up this much acreage. It has high hills to keep the casual onlooker from seeing inside and a maze of driveways to keep those who might want a better look inside less that direct access. The guard at the gate was more than helpful and directed me to the building listed on my invitation. I was, according to him, expected. He tried to sound official and nonchalant about it but I expected him to cackle like a horror movie harbinger and lightning to crack in the distance, preferably as the sun went into a sudden and unforeseen eclipse. Then again, I might have been projecting.
Parking wasn’t a problem, thankfully. GTI was close enough for me to walk, though in the current weather and wool suit (my interview only suit, every one has one) I didn’t want to show up drenched and smelling like I ran a mile. If I were hired, GTI would provide bicycles and access to the forbidden forest, making my average commute from our current apartment about six minutes. For the record, not my fastest commute. That honor goes to the Prime Tech Credit Union who’s main headquarters was three minutes, thirty five seconds by foot. I know, I timed it. Nice enough office full of backstabbers. I will say no more.
The front entrance was more than just the standard glass doors with walls of busy workers fluttering by. For starters, one of the largest metal Triscales I had ever seen dominated the atrium like Big Brothers version of an office sculpture. Apparently they wanted people to remember where they worked. I saw people in business suits, lab coats, standard meta training uniforms, and several in shorts and T-shirts. The banding of eclectic branding seemed less out of place than one might expect for what was essentially a working office.
I think I made it three steps inside before I heard my name.
“You must be Daniel.” A friendly female voice greeted me. I had to look past the heads of a few dozen workers before I saw her, and I immediately started to wonder why they had sent her, or maybe I shouldn’t have. At first I thought they were a statue and a gag, until I saw the statue smile and offer her hand.
The woman stood over six feet tall and shone as highly polished brushed steel, hair coming down her back and face reminding me of cables or wires, bitmapping a golden “Rachel” hairdo. Her partner stood leaning on the wall behind her in what I thought was a brown and white horse mask that is popular for reasons I have never divined, until he blinked over those huge brown eyes. They both wore the standard jumper of a Triscaler, a one peace supers outfit with the traditional Triscale emblem over the heart and on the shoulder. She also wore a loose fitting t-shirt that had seen better days. Across the chest in two line, it read; “Front: Towards Enemy.”
I looked down at the hand, almost wondering if I should take it, mostly because I didn’t think she was human a moment ago and the cognitive dissonance was taking its sweet time. Before my politeness center had time to slap me about, I took the hand and shook it. “I am.” I said, still amazed my voice didn’t break. Her hand was stunningly soft and smooth.
She smiled again. “I’m Allison Chuckrey and this is...” She motioned for her companion who held out a three fingered hand, each finger massive.
“Doug Wheatley.” He said, his enunciation an obvious Welsh accent that spent hours trying to sound Californian. I shook his hand, a mighty grip he had.
I blinked for a second. “Claymore and Clydesdale?” I wish I knew why I asked other than it seemed the proper thing to do. I think I was more amazed that GTI would send metas to greet me before the thought of who these people were collided in my head. These were 'A' game metas, some of the core of the Triscalers.
Claymore herself was casually called one of the most dangerous women on the planet, though I think she is more in the top 20 than top 5. Sure there was the steel hard skin and super strength one might expect, but her flesh generated razor sharp spikes when she felt like it. This was on top of her most consequential ability; she was one of the worlds few detonators. On command she could blow herself up, reforming anywhere from a day to hours later. I was shaking hands with a living time bomb.
Clydesdale was an enforcer, sent to retrieve out of control metas. His speed, durability, and battle stomps made him a formidable opponent, ignoring his enhanced hearing, sheer determination and willingness to bludgeon anything and everything to finish a mission. Now here they both stood like sales associates at an HR firm. I didn’t know if they were going to take me out back and destroy me act as my career agent while only asking for 10% off the top. Either wouldn’t have surprised me much.
They both chuckled, a sound I remember hearing off bikers and ex-marines. “That would be us.” She said.“I guess our reputation precedes us.” I had never seen a horse smile like that before, or ever now that I think about it. Even Mr. Ed needed wires.
“I’m just a geek, what can I say?” I shrugged trying to deflate the situation. Correction: Defuse the situation.
“That’s what the boss wants to talk to you about.” Claymore said, patting me on the back, directing me. “Come on, we will show you around.”
And that’s what they did. Two of the most dangerous people not locked up or hovering above the earth or attempting world domination (officially) gave me a tour of the campus. I have to say it was quiet extensive. Massive outdoor areas with radiant gardens surrounded each and every break area on the ground floor. Exercise rooms that dwarfed my small apartment provided gym the way that the Hindenburg eclipsed a Volkswagen bug. Research laboratories crawling with the words “state of the art.” Meta-training facilities that bordered on paramilitary training institution for the godlike. They even took me on a quick tour of the local ADAM unit construction plant. It was just as I opened the doors to the factory when Clydesdale’s watch started beeping.
“Think you can handle ‘im for a wee bit?” He said before trotting off. “Looks like the Boss Lady wants a word.”
“I got it.” She smiled and ushered me inside.
“Who’s the Boss Lady if I may ask?” I followed her through the doors.
“Jessica Montebank.” She praised. “Chief Operations Officer of Golden Triscale. She was put in charge of the day to day operations of both the company and the Triscaler program. When you are a triscaler only two people are ‘Boss Lady.’ The other is known as ‘Big Boss Lady.’
“You mean Formora?” I asked as we passed industrial vending machines filled with spare parts, adhesives, medical equipment, and, on one occasion, beverages.
“You’re pretty quick.” She actually smiled, not that plastic politeness but something genuine for once. It would like to say that it made me feel at ease. I would really like to say that. “I guess that’s why they got their eye on you. You aren’t a meta, are you? Like super smart or anything? Maybe even a gamma?”
I ignored my memories of Ivory. “Not that I know of, or at least not as much as any geek.”
“Then as a geek of all things meta, you are going to love these.”
She opened a door into an oddly cream colored room with plush couches and armchairs all facing the same wall, draped over by a floor to ceiling curtain. The curtain, besides reflecting the same strange cream color, folded together an image of the corporate logo in what had to be gold fabric, though I don’t know what kind. Around the room stood statues of robots, droids, and other humanoid machinery, some ranging in styles to the old black and white Metropolis movie.
She shouted to the open room. “Begin display!” and the room obeyed. The curtain pulled itself back and the lights dimmed revealing a floor to ceiling window. Behind it, automation. A huge factory floor opened up showcasing the technical prowess of GTI and the many workers they employ. I watched for a moment wondering if a Super-car was about to come out of the assembly line. Instead, from out of the last stage, a paint sealer and dryer I later found out, a robot walked out. About seven feet tall and loaded with reticulated armor plating, the familiar ADAM unit walked up to the final technician and introduced itself. Behind it, another let itself get painted and walked into the dryer. My eyes darted around the floor, there had to be at least 50 of the robots in various states of construction all around the visible area.
“You like ‘em?” Claymore said as she waved her arm, showcasing the assembly line full of robotic parts and industrial machinery. “The Advanced Defense Against Metahuman android, model 201.” I couldn’t tell if she was going to weep in glory or spit at the window as she presented it. “You know we produce 170 of these highly advanced robotics every day? Shipped out all over the world and all over the country. They are like the Chryslers of Metahuman defense. Everyone’s got one or everyone needs one.”
We both stared at the assembly line for a while, long enough I started to suspect that Clydesdale was taking a smoke break, but also to showcase how much raw money, power, and authority, GTI extruded every day. No finer symbol of which came rolling down the production line. I saw these things in action when Grand Master Grav came by. I had seen them dozens of times in San Niebla, mostly as the local government sanctioned them on perpetual patrols of the city. They always reminded me of an intricately crafted robot from an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon. It should be noted that the first stage ADAM’s came with helms patterned after Optimus Prime, in the hopes of some form of brand association from the public and thus acceptance. By the third stage it resembled more of a roman centurion that had a baby with Optimus Prime.
“Would you like for me to tell you more?” One of the production models standing in the room, that I thought was a statues of early prototypes, lowered her glass domed head to address me in a pleasant female voice. The flashing light up head, the cylindrical body and overly articulated arms covered in ridged rubber reminded me of Robbie the Robot from that Sci-fi show in the 60’s
[Edit: I’m told that the robot I’m thinking of is just called Robot. Robbie was from that 50’s space epic based off the Tempest, Forbidden Galaxy. Thanks AXPwrgrl for finding that piece of trivia.]
“This is Sheila.” Claymore waved her hand at the robot in introduction. “One of the prototypes.”
“My creation was one of the major breakthroughs in the development of the ADAM project.” She said.
“Why do you sound like that SNL Actress?” It leapt from my lips before the reasonable part of me could interceded.
“All robotic units use synthesized voices based on actors.” Sheila said. “I was modeled after Jan Hooks.” This also explained why early models sounded like Daleks after an anger management course and later models found more diversity of voice. One more for the trivia buff in me.
Sheila went on about the history of the ADAM units, how Cherub Robotic Productions was acquired by Triscale years before specifically for this production line. She included all of the textured propaganda of corporate culture one might expect on a tour. She responded to basic questions but got flustered very quickly, returning every unknown with “My word, whatever do you mean?”
Claymore sat on one of the overstuffed benches watching the production, letting the robot entertain me for a while. I caught her pushing out spikes from her forearm and retracting them the way other people might fidget with their watches or check their fingernails.
After what was probably 10 minutes, Clydesdale returned, clopping into the room.
“I see you got Sheila to start up again.” He said jovially before bending down to Claymore, whispering, “Are we going to have to break her again to get her to shut up?”
“Jesus, I hope so.” She whispered back.
“That concludes the tour of the ADAM production facility.” Sheila shouted suddenly. “We at Golden Triscale Industries hope you enjoyed the tour and found it educational. Be sure to visit our other facilities in New Haven, California, and August in Texas. With four other regional branches opening soon in……”
Sheila went silent for a moment then she made a shut off noise, but not like a machine, more like a bad actress mimicking power failure, followed by a musical and vocal “end of game” pac-man noise. The whole robot slumped over and let its arms dangle.
"Yeah, that happens sometimes with the older models.” Clydesdale mentioned as he sauntered over and patted Sheila on the shoulder. “Still she’s good for the tour. We will get her right well fixed up.” His accent started to slip again.
“Right then.” He straightened himself up, soldier quick, his light coat following the motion, his mane flapping like a bad romance cover. “I think your meeting is ready to begin. Would you follow me?”
“Of course.” Claymore said playfully. “Yah, Mule! Get along little doggies.”
Clydesdale swung back to start her down, pointing his thick finger at her. “You are so going to get it later.”
Wait…were they rivals or dating? I didn’t want to ask.
I had an appointment with Jessica Montebank. With that realization, I probably soaked my suit in a fine chilling sweat, as the room dropped several degrees to me. This is THE Jessica Montebank! Former CEO, the person who put the Triscalers together after Xander Scope left the company. She was the one who fought against him returning, citing his involvement with the Xeroscape project. She had the ear of presidents and generals. She could buy me and sell me millions of times over and now she wanted to talk to me.
Of course, I had every right to fear. But If I had only known what would happen, I probably would have made a bee line for the closest vehicle and drove as far and as fast as I could.
Making our way to the executive offices, we walked past desk after desk of well-dressed assistants in richly appointed cube farms. I had seen good cubes before but even the scent of cedar and jasmine that permeated the offices left me with a feeling of luxury for these high priced wage slaves. In all my years as an admin, I thought for a moment of what it must be like to work in these conditions and found myself wanting. Was this what they wanted to talk to me about? What else could it be.
After going through three checkpoints, each manned by one human guard and one ADAM unit, we found ourselves in one of the largest office waiting rooms I had ever seen. We didn’t even stay there long enough for my feet to enjoy the plush carpeting and peace lily decorations before a bright, young, and almost insanely handsome man stood behind his desk.
“They are expecting you,” He said, his casually powerful arm pointing towards the massive oak doors. “Go right in.”
The door buzzed and opened automatically. I almost expected trumpets.
“This is it.” Claymore said as she followed me inside.
This was a place where leaders of the free and not so free world came to discuss matters, and it showed. While the luxury and opulence of the room was clear, it wasn’t distracting. Simple trophies and books adorned a wall or two, while behind the desk, a view of Bridgeton shone in the noonday fog. I didn’t remember going up any steps or an elevator, so I had no idea how that view was possible at the time.
The huge oak and gold desk, logo emblazoned on the side facing us, stood massive and imposing. For a moment the idea of performing open heart surgery on multiple people seemed possible on such a huge and solid table. It might even support the surgery if the recipients were unwilling. Behind it, an older woman came to her feet to shake my hand, a white streak in her perfect brown hair. Her suit cost more than my car.
“Jessica Montebank” She said smiling, holding out her hand. “Glad to meet you.”
I hoped she couldn’t feel my palms sweat as I shook her hand. “Thank you, it’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” My mouth said in automatic.
“I get that a lot.” She joked and motioned for me to take a seat in a seat designed to cushion any all rather snugly, like a friendly blanket, while still putting the subject under the eye line of Ms. Montebank. Nice trick really. Still the seat felt amazing, supportive and accommodating.
“You may be wondering why we asked you here today.” She started, sitting down and tenting her fingers before mouth. “And I would say rightly so. GTI is a global economy unto itself and takes job applicants all the time and very few of them make it past the HR office, let alone this one. Well, let us assure you, that this is just a preliminary. We are impressed with your work and really want to see it as an asset for our family and company. We really feel that you can make a noticeable contribution and that is what we would like to talk to you about.”
She leaned back, pivoting on her massive leather chair that might as well have the words “Executive chair, for Executive use only” written at the base. “We have found your resume intriguing and the extracurricular activities show that you have a knack with metas that we would really like to see blossom into something more.”
“Wait,” I said. “I never sent in a resume to GTI.”
“We found your current resume on Joblocker.com.” She waved me off. “Nice formatting by the way. Your lay out?”
“Actually it was an evolution of temp employment agency suggestions.” Why did my heart swell with pride? It was a nice compliment and all but didn’t answer a single overriding anxiety riddle question.
“See, you have the ability to listen and take new data in new directions. That’s just the kind of adaptation we are looking for here at GTI. We pride ourselves on finding the best people for the best jobs and right now, for our research and communications department, I think that you have what we are looking for. We saw writing samples on your blog, so there is that. You have an interesting writing style. We would say it was very snarky but this is Bridgeton, a city built on snark and pastries. We still think it’s worth examining, talking with you, and seeing what can be done. We are willing to accommodate to your schedule and your living situation. You will find that we have the best health plan in the business and our benefit package includes stock options after five years. Is this something you might find interesting?”
“Why are you talking in the plural?” Oh gods, I couldn’t stop it. The question zipped out of my mouth on an errand breath.
She slouched for a second. “Really?” She asked, her mask falling away. “All the questions that come to your mind and that’s the one you ask? You know you have impulse control problems?”
“ADHD.” I said bluntly. “It happens. But you didn’t answer the question.” What the hell was wrong with me? I should be cowering before this woman not asking why she is using a strange affectation utilized by lawyers and queens.
“You have every right to be nervous.” She said, her masking setting itself again. “It’s all perfectly norm. This is a huge company after all.”
“Thank you for this opportunity.” I said, “But I’m worried this isn’t as I think it is and want some specifics.”
“Told you he was smart.” Claymore said behind me. “Pay up.” A quick sound of a bill being pulled form a pocket and placed in another.
“Like what?” Jessica asked. “What can I answer?”
“What is it would I be doing here, assuming I take the job?” I asked. I held my armchair a little tighter as my feet told me to run, then reminded me I would never out pace either of the metas behind me.
“Like I said, this is a research and communications position. We need someone with your passion for the meta community to do research for us, orchestrating factoids, and searching through various sources for whatever we need for each meta. Then some communication, advertising, face to face research with metas who have chosen not to join the GTI family. It would be working in our offices, actually a few doors down and working with a staff of four. You would have point over the staff and you would answer to a few bosses in a few departments but everything is arranged through a great administrative program.”
“I see.” I nodded thought fully. “And who would I ultimately report to?”
“GTI of course.” She said it like a commercial salesman explaining why you should never pay more for Brand X when you can have what they are selling at a much cheaper rate.
I sat and I thought about it a moment, so many questions and suspicions crossing my mind. “Why now?”
“I’m sorry?” She blinked but kept her smile.
“Why now? Why talk to me now? I know this is a newer campus and hiring has been escalating as of recent but why now?”
“We have several projects that are meeting their climax and other projects just starting on what we believe to be a long term issue. When there is a situation such as this, we are always looking to expand our workforce of talented people.”
“What’s Sovereign Brain?” Why in the Sam Hill was I bringing it up? I guess part of me wanted to provoke them, get them annoyed enough that something resembling a why might fall out when no one was looking.
“That’s not one of the projects you will be working on.” She said, almost cautiously, her eyebrow slowly raising as she started at me, a deep blue, deeper that sapphires washing over me for a second. “It’s highly doubtful that will be anything you will have anything to do with.”
Suddenly I thought of the Red, the capitol letter and everything, and how certain materials could be wrapped around the medulla oblongata and the spinal cords. Then cackling. My eyes flooded with ultra textured static just behind my retinas as I tried to process. This made no sense. I have had ADHD flare ups in the middle of interviews before, noticing anything around the office that might hold my attention of minutes of a time, or a song that blared through my eardrums through the wrong side of the skull, or a plunging neckline I know I’m not supposed to look at starts screaming at me, but this was bizarre. But I took a breath. I had to focus. I had to be very present, in the moment, or who knows what I would miss. So, off course my brain floods with images of naked breasts and Star Trek episodes.
“He’s resisting.” The voice floated over the room, though more amplified and synthesized than I would have expected from anyone in the room.
“It’s his focus.” Another voice said, female. “It keeps jumping around. Probably ADHD.”
“It’s what his profile said. Don’t you read them?”
“Is this what it’s going to be like with all of them?” Another voice, a soft modulated voice by some male who spoke like he did not have an inside voice and spoke his vowels like an animated pulp-wanna-be dictator. That scared me.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is exactly the reason I suggested this tactic.” This last voice brought all the rest to a quiet halt, even the rambling recitation of a commercial that I saw when I was a kid that popped up in my head. The rumble of climate control soothed me in the white noise and gentle imperceptible vibes. I knew that voice. “Why don’t you show him who he is really looking for.”
I opened my eyes and the view changed utterly. Around the various windows that once showed beautiful woodland scenes and images from a hill overlooking the town, blurring light obfuscated mostly human figures. Of the windows I could see, I now saw well-appointed offices overlayed with pixilated privacy screens, save for the office over the shoulder of Jessica Montebank. The man sat there, in a suit that would cost as much as the gross domestic product of some cities with shoes to match, upon a chair that could have been replaced on half a dozen bridges on just as many science fiction shows while still looking comfortable. He held a glass of dark fluid which he set on his overly technologic desk, right on a strategically placed coaster.
“Jessica.” He said, still not turning towards us, “You are excused. I need you here.”
“Yes, Ma-…Yes, sir.” Jessica stiffened, eyes shooting wide and her face flushing. Shaking her shoulders she walked around the desk. She offered me her hand. “A Pleasure.” She said as I returned the gesture. “I do hope for the best for you.”
Stiffly and swiftly she walked towards the door.
“I got it, boss.” Clydesdale said as he opened the door to his employer.
“Thank you, Doug.” She responded, sighing. “When they are done, see him out would you?”
“Course.” He said as she walked out.
"I really think this needs my direct input on this matter.” The voice on the screen said, again ricocheted around the room in speakers.
Seconds later, Jessica, or a woman who looked exactly like her, entered from the office on screen, same dress and everything. It made me wonder as to how far this office was and who this could possibly be.
“No offence.” He said to her. She nodded and took one of the guest chairs. As I watched her, I saw one of the many pieces of corporate art or collectibles on the wall. Most I ignored, keeping the attention to the well-appointed chair and the well-appointed man in it, until I caught the glimpse of a gold, featureless mask hung on the wall, a blue cloth hanging from it and draped like a display.
I knew exactly who this was. Everyone did.
“He figured it out.” Jessica said.
“And spoiled the reveal? Shame.” The man spun around facing me. Dark hair and bright eyes framed his smiling, unnaturally pleasant face that had seen so much screen time he should probably join an actors guild if he didn’t own them. A small gold pin of the Triscale logo hung on his left breast, just in case you missed the face. “It’s so hard to keep a sense of mystery anymore. It just ruins the whole feel of it all. Can’t win them all, I suppose.”
I was talking to the Devil himself. Xander Scope. CEO of Golden Triscale Industries, creator of the Xeroscape device that brought superpowers back into the world that it nearly destroyed. He has shaken hands with government leaders from several planets let along domestic countries and made bargains with each and every one of them. Wealth beyond avarice and rumored to be a meta. While few know what he can do, it allowed him to gain an ally with some of the most notorious and powerful metas on the planet. Power. Pure and simple in almost any sense of the word, this man radiated it, soaked in it, and probably drank it like a fine wine with every meal just in case he wasn’t fortified enough. This was Xander Scope.
And he was talking to me.
I half expected to be force choked by a Darth Vader he had created just for the occasion. Instead he smiled, rather politely and warmly, like an old friend I had never met.
“Welcome, Daniel.” He said so genuinely I thought he might step through the projection and give me a bear hug, a feat I would not write off as impossible. Not here. “I guess you have had a look at the place, at least the Bridgeton Branch. Normally, I would be there myself to greet you, have this little talk face to face but headquarters is expanding right now and needs me in the captain’s chair at the moment. Sorry about that, but I wanted the chance to talk to you so this meeting was arranged. Pay no mind to the other blurred out screens. Those are parts of our board who wanted to get a good look at you as we talked. Nothing to worry about, standard thing. Just think of this as another lame-ass interview.” He pulled an eReader off his desk and examined it for a second. “Like the last, what, ten you had this year alone, and this wasn’t even a busy year.”
He turned his attention back to his pad, his finger following his line of sight. “Looks like you had….forty three last year, of which you nabbed three gigs. Sound about right.”
Too shocked and scared out of my mind, I replied. “I think so.”
He tossed the pad back on the desk with a clatter. “Of course it is, Daniel. This is what you get when you go through normal channels. You have been an admin for what, 15 years? How’s that going for you?”
I didn’t answer. I just stared at him, when it became obvious he wanted some sort of response, I shrugged. “It pays the bills, I guess.” My stock answer for any time I took a craptastic job nowhere near the fields I had been trained in. I got used to it during the recession that never really ended.
“Does it?” He smiled reassuringly. “Sure you had that great gig for what, three years, before you had to move to Bridgeton, if you can call it that. Your blog feed is full of time you hated that place even if they paid you well and treated you nice. But do you know why you hated it?”
“It’s not what I really do?” I knew the answer for that question years ago and hated myself for it, hated the world even more because I had to ask the question in the first place.
“Precisely!” He shouted the word. “Look at you! You aren’t some secretary, putting food on the table by filing and typing letters. You barely have the typing speed to cover most entrance requirements. What are you? Where do your passions lie? You love metas, you love learning weird new trivia, and you love helping people, at least people who come to you for help. So think of us as those people. We need your help and we are willing to help you become…” He put out his hands like a gift giver or a gameshow host. “You. What you have always been, what you always wanted to be.”
I had no idea how to reply to that. At all. I was so dumbfounded I expected 1920’s carnie folk to come spilling out of the walls to call me ‘rube’ at any moment.
“What we are offering is for you to be you. Obsessive compulsive, geeky as hell, and making a name for yourself. You could get rich if you wanted to, travel if you wanted to, do anything as long as the reports keep coming in. In my line of work, we call that a ‘bargain.’”
Dr. Faustus liked bargain, I thought to myself. See where that lead. But I couldn’t shake it off, his proposal. Like so much in life, like the depressive notions in my head, or like the perspectives of those who have criticized me over the years, what he said had a basis of truth. I wasn’t anything like what I was doing and I knew it. I was stalling at this point, just surviving. I left living along ways back there. And yet, here I sat, listening to this, mesmerized. What else could I say? If it had been anyone else, anyone but GTI, I might have thought that Fairy Godparents were in fact real and somehow just dropped a genie lamp in my hands and wished me luck. But this was GTI, a technocratic megalith asking me to be a pebble. They might as well offered me my heart’s desire and unrolled a suspiciously ancient scroll, filled with more strange and archaic language than an iTunes Licensing agreement with a huge dotted line and a red ‘X’ at the bottom, slapping a huge feather quill pen in my hand that leaked dark red ink. This was just too much. If it had been any other mortal, ok other than the seven or so people I could think of, like Dr. Quantum himself, I would have asked two things: is this too good to be true and…
“What’s the catch?” Oh thank you, merciful gods for letting me get that out.
"Here’s the deal.” He said, still affable and approachable, yet holding his fingers out before him, tenting them like Montgomery Burns right before he fires oceans of workers. “You know people, certain people that either refuse our contact or just shun us all together.”
“Like Watchface.” I hazard a guess if you could call it that.
He leaned back. “Did you ever tell you I met that young man and his sister once, back when they were kids. Knew their mom too, there was a firecracker even after she married one of our employees. Still, he has taken upon himself to avoid our every contact of him. We have left messages on boards, found his addresses, and left things for him in….” He chose his words carefully, “P.O. boxes. What did we get? Nothing. Now you aren’t the only person he has contacted about things in the real world and that weird comic book world he talks about. We have talked to the others into working for us.
“Now I know what you are thinking.” He smiled wickedly at his own joke and motioned at the woman with him. “Actually she does, but I can take a good guess. You are wondering what we are going to threaten you with. I mean, if we are this powerful and we want something that only you can provide surely we can threaten you to get what we want. I mean you have living parents, a wife, and several people you called friends at one point and a few other people you love.”
“I could pay them a visit.” Claymore said over shoulder. “It’s not that hard.”
“Or we could use our vast network connections to make sure you never get more than minimum wage, or spend the rest of your life in a prison that makes the Shawshank redemption look like Acapulco night spot, but you know what happens each and every time that happens?”
Claymore patted me on the shoulder in a measure at being reassuring. It wasn’t. She even squeezed it a little, like a playful massage that could if she so chose burst every blood vessel in the muscle group with so little effort.
“Every last time, he figures out we have someone baited and either they are removed from his contact or they are, in at least one case, removed from the timeline entirely. We don’t know how he does it, just one day he is gone and only birth records are left, usually with the words “Get off” scribbled under ‘attending physician.' So we can’t threaten you. It just doesn’t work.”
Xander stood, looking like he was about to start pacing but he kept his feet. “I know you know about psychology, and I know you learned what I’m about to say, but please, follow me with this. Studies have shown that to correct a measure the worst way to do so is to correct a negative with a negative. All you end up with depression, anxiety, and occasional psychosis. The best way is to reward a positive with a positive. So that’s what is going on today. We are offering you your heart’s desire, a good job working with something you love, a chance at personal and professional advancement, security for yourself and those around you.”
“And you should see the health package.” Claymore said again, almost whispering it in my ear.
“And helping to research metahumans. In exchange, you work for us. You become part of our team. There is no termination date on this contract but this is an at-will state so let me assure you, if you were to walk away, it would be because you wish it. We would find someplace for you that fit around here as long as you are loyal to the brand. That’s it. Keep writing your blog, we know this is going on it. Keep reading your books, going to conventions, and just observing. Talk to people like you have. And that’s it. Enjoy your life. How can you say no to that?”
“Can I say no to that?” I asked, more to myself than to the room.
“I wouldn’t.” Clydesdale said. “But that’s just me. I like my job.” He casually cracked a knuckle.
“You are free to say no if you like, I won’t hold it against you.” Xander said. “This is a big decision. I know you are planning to move to…” He turned to the Jessica woman, “where again?”
“Space City.” She reminded him.
“Right.” He turned back to me, blinked, his face falling, then turning back to the woman. “Why there?” He shrugged and turned back to me. “I’m sure you have your reasons. But hey! We have a satellite office down town space city. They work very closely with the Aerospace Administration so you are free to work from there if you like. We can even arrange it for you to work from home if that makes you feel better. You could work anywhere in the world, or travel and work if you like. Don’t worry, we will still pay you.” He chuckled at his own joke. “So what do you say?”
I was still flooded, overwhelmed, and about ready to burst. I had no idea how to say no to him, as if the function was torn from me, the second I came through the door. I was still in such an adrenaline dump all I could hear was his words and my rushing heart rate and the worry that my blood pressure might just explode my chest open. I really needed to get into better shape. His eyes stared into mine as he held out his hand on the screen. He eagerly awaited my answer and that bore into me.
I closed my eyes. Too much, much too much. Not knowing what else to say, I fell on my default response. “Can I take some time to ask my wife about it?”
I couldn’t tell if I was brave or a coward at that moment. I would think brave in the moment, but I knew my reaction the second I got in my car.
He leaned back. “Of course.” He said, expectantly. “Take as much time as you need. I mean it, like a year or so if you need it. If we can’t hire you on, there are others and there will be others. One of you will take the job eventually. I have worry about that at all, but I like where you are coming from and like your zeal, so I thought I would do you the honor of asking you before we continue with others. I even have a counter proposal for you, something to show Kay when you get home.”
He nodded to Claymore who tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned my head, her shiny hands held three business cards, each embossed with the Golden Triscale logo and the words: “Xander Scope, CEO, Personal Wish Card,” and a number. She tucked them in my shirt pocket and patted my chest with her chrome scented sledgehammer hand.
“Call it a good will present.” Xander said. “Each card is a “Make a wish card.” I call them my Three of Cups. Three little wishes. Anything you can ask of me or my company will be respected and granted, however, each card comes with an agreement on the back. Feel free to read it at your leisure. If you want the job, call that number, give them the access code that will appear, and it’s yours, no questions asked. You can even add reasonable riders if you like, but not too much, see the terms of agreement on the back. The other two wishes are yours to use when you like.”
“And I can go?” I asked, wanting to run.
“If you like, but just remember this, Daniel.” He leaned in, filling up the screen with his face, an act that made him look like he grew larger than Formora or any other giant. “There will come a day when you will use those cards. Believe me, there will. It might not be now or even ten years from now, but it will come. When it happens, you will abide by the contract and conditions we allocate. If I were you, I would remember that it is better to have us as friends than enemies when the time comes. Even if you never ask us for a job or anything like that, I think you understand me. We want to be your friend.”
I gulped and nodded.
He retracted, shrinking back into his chair. “I’s always good to have friends, isn’t it? Anyway, I hope you like the place. I hope to hear back from you. If not you, someone else. Have a great day and thanks for your interest in Golden Triscale!”
He saluted the screen whimsically. I think he even put his hand in the Vulcan salute before raising it to his eyebrow.
Then the wall became a wall again. They all did. The gallery of examination became the modestly appointed office again.
“Not too shabby.” Clydesdale said with a clap or clop of his hands. It sounded more like coconuts than I was prepared for. “’ow’s that for a intro speech, eh?”
Claymore patted my shoulder again. “If you have any more questions, we at Golden Triscale are happy to oblige.” She said it like a telemarketer, happy but memorized off a script. “We hope you have enjoyed the tour of our campus and will accept our offer of employment.”
I was being ushered out. I was on my feet shaking hands with the metal woman again. Then the horseman led me to the closest exit. As the massive glass doors opened, he thanked me for my time and gently nudged me out, holding the door for me. I think he also reminded me never to lose those cards, but it might have been a threat. I couldn’t tell. I shook his hand out of automatic instinct and walked out towards another of the massive logo statues.
It took me another ten minutes or so to find my car and drive away, all the while my brain playing the whole event on a loop, though not in the right order. It still felt so foreign to me, like a bad episode of a bad TV show with really bad commercials that refuse to leave my conscious thoughts until I sat down and explained to my own satisfaction.