So today the troika of mysterious executives - Clarke, Bradbury, and Quentin - wanted me to do an initial presentation of brand image/strategy ideas. (see posts The Ninth Floor, 11/28/04, and Situation: Uncool, 11/30/04
I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off all morning, putting the last touches on my PowerPoint presentation and my display cards. The printer screwed up and got the color wrong on one of my logo placards, so I made my bitch Chad run back down there and have them reprint it -- and to get me a soy mocha, of course. He is my bitch, after all.
At one point during the morning I stop and wonder for a moment if I'm just jumping through hoops for the amusement of my supervillain masters. I mean, the QuantumWorks project is a huge deal - it's a search engine that can somehow find any internet content that has ever been published, ever - and under normal circumstances, a company our size would have a whole team of people working on it. But no, they just have me. Margo says it's because they want to keep the whole thing under wraps until they clear some hurdles with the Justice Department, but I'm not so sure. Maybe Margo is in bed with the supervillain guys, figuratively speaking. Maybe she's in on it. Chad, too. He might be a spy they put in place to keep tabs on me. But then, why would you risk bringing a superhero into your Evil Plan in the first place? I mean, why not just kill me?
I enter the board room twitching with paranoia. Margo is in there, as well as the scholarly Aaron Clarke, the aging jock Ted Bradbury, and the suave and inscrutable John Quentin, who runs the QuantumWorks project. There are a few other suits in there as well.
I won't bore you with details, but the presentation goes well. By the end of the meeting, everybody seems to be leaning towards keeping the QuantumWorks name for the product.
"Nice work, Connor," Quentin says, peering at me from behind steepled fingers. "I can see we've made the right choice in recruiting you."
"Thanks," I say unenthusiastically.
"Something wrong, Mr. Mackenzie?" Aaron Clarke says.
Yeah. You guys are fucking villains, that's what's wrong.
"No... yeah. Yeah. Can I speak to you three in private for a moment?" I say.
It's a major breach of corporate protocol, and everybody seems taken aback. But Quentin nods to the other suits and Margo, who get up and shuffle out. I catch Margo's eye as she walks out. She looks concerned.
The door shuts behind them.
"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Mackenzie?" Clarke says. Bradbury is glaring at me.
"I'd like to step down," I say.
Quentin cocks an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Because I don't know what you guys are doing up here, but I don't like it. All this secrecy shit. The QuantumWorks engine? What's that about? I'm not a tech guy, but I do know this is a big deal. Like, change-the-face-of-modern-information-technology kind of big deal. But you guys have, what? A couple dozen people working on it? And I'm the only brand management guy? It doesn't make sense."
"We're just asking for a little patience and faith, Connor," Quentin says.
"I'm fresh out of both, John," I say. I don't know how smart this is. They probably have hidden death rays trained on me right now.
Bradbury bristles. "I don't think I like your tone of voice, Connor."
"So fire me, Ted."
We all sit in silence for a few seconds, staring at each other.
I stand up. "I'll pack my things."
Quentin holds up a hand. "Just a minute, Connor," he says. "I can appreciate your skepticism, and your raise some good points. But we're on the ground level here of something huge, and I think you'd be a fool to walk away now. Think of the stock options."
"I don't care about the money."
Quentin writes down something on a piece of paper and slides it towards me. "We appreciate the work you've done for us so far and we'd hate to lose you. I understand your reservations; I would have similar concerns were I in your position. I'd like you to accept my assurances that we're not involved in anything unethical. We can't tell you all the details of the project yet - there are some legal and proprietary issues involved. You understand. I would like to keep you working for us for, say, another two months. You will receive a bonus for working for us during that two month period -- I've written the figure down on that card. At the end of the two month period, you're free to resign and keep the bonus, with no hard feelings."
They're all looking at me. I slowly reach for the piece of paper. The shadow of a smile flickers across Clarke's mouth.
I turn the paper over. There's a monetary figure written on it.
It's a lot.
Shit. Superhero or not, it's hard to walk away from cash like that. Then I think to myself, what better way to bring down this supervillain conspiracy than working from the inside? I could use the next two months to poke around on the Ninth Floor and gather evidence. Then I could call in the Storm Riders or the feds. And the beauty of it? These clowns would be paying me handsomely to destroy them.
"Fine," I say. "Fine. Two months."
Margo and the other suits file back in and we continue the meeting. Ted Bradbury can't stop staring at me. He looks like he'd just like to throw me out the Ninth Floor window.
For some reason during the rest of the meeting I keep on thinking of the carnivorous pitcher plant. I have a bad feeling about this.