COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
I had a bad feeling about Nora. She was the type who'd put cement boots on me, bundle me into the trunk of a Cadillac, and throw me in the East River. Sink or swim, tell me about it.
She left me at my new cube to finish reading orientation stuff, learn code names for all the projects. Every high-tech company gives their products code names; Trion's were types of storms—Tornado, Typhoon, Tsunami, and so on. Maestro was codenamed Vortex. It was confusing, all the different names, and on top of it I was trying to get the lay of the land for Wyatt. Around noon, when I was starting to get really hungry, a stocky guy in his forties, graying black hair in a ponytail, wearing a vintage Hawaiian shirt and round black heavy-framed glasses, appeared at my cube.
"You must be the latest victim," he said. "The fresh meat hurled into the lion cage."
"And you all seem so friendly," I said. "I'm Adam Cassidy."
"I know. I'm Noah Mordden. Trion Distinguished Engineer. It's your first day, you don't know who to trust, who to align yourself with. Who wants to play with you, and who wants you to fall flat on your face. Well, I'm here to answer all your questions. How would you like to grab some lunch in the subsidized employee cafeteria?"
Strange guy, but I was intrigued. As we walked to the elevator, he said, "So, they gave you the job no one else wanted, huh?"
"That right?" Oh, great.
"Nora wanted to fill the slot internally, but no one qualified wanted to work for her. Alana, the woman whose job you're filling, actually begged to get out from under her thumb, so they moved her somewhere else in-house. Word on the street is, Maestro's on the bubble." I could barely hear him; he was muttering quietly as he strode toward the elevator bank. "They're always quick to pull the plug when something's failing. Around here, you catch a cold and they're measuring you for a coffin."
I nodded. "The product's redundant."
"A piece of crap. Also doomed. Trion's also coming out with an all-in-one cell phone that has the exact same wireless text-messaging packet, so what's the point? Put the thing out of its misery. Plus, it doesn't help that Nora's a bitch on wheels."
"If you didn't figure that out within ten seconds of meeting her, you're not as bright as your advance billing. But do not underestimate her: she's got a black belt in corporate politics, and she has her lieutenants, so beware."
"Goddard's into classic American cars, so she's into them too. Owns a couple of restored muscle cars, though I've never seen her drive any of them. I think the point is for Jock Goddard to know she's cut from the same cloth. She's slick, that Nora."
The elevator was crowded with other employees going down to the third-floor cafeteria. A lot of them wore Trion-logo golf or polo shirts. The elevator stopped on every floor. Someone behind me joked, "Looks like we got the local." I think someone cracks that joke in every single corporate elevator around the world every single day.
The cafeteria, or employee dining room as it was called, was immense, buzzing with the electricity of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Trion employees. It was like a food court in a fancy shopping mall—a sushi bar, with two sushi chefs; a gourmet choose-your-own-topping pizza counter; a burrito bar; Chinese food; steaks and burgers; an amazing salad bar; even a vegetarian/vegan counter.
"Jesus," I said.
"Give the people bread and circuses," Noah said. "Juvenal. Keep the peasants well fed and they won't notice their enslavement."
"Contented cows give better milk."
"Whatever works," I said, looking around. "So much for frugality, huh?"
"Ah. Take a look at the vending machines in the break rooms—twenty-five cents for peanut satay chicken, but a buck for a Klondike bar. Fluids and caffeinated substances are free. Last year the CFO, a man named Paul Camilletti, tried to eliminate the weekly beer bashes, but then managers started spending their own pocket money to buy beer, and someone circulated an e-mail that set out a business case for keeping the beer bashes. Beer costs X per year, whereas it costs Y to hire and train new employees, so given the morale-boosting and employee-retaining costs, the return on investment, ya de ya de ya, you get it. Camilletti, who's all about making the numbers, gave in. Still, his frugality campaign rules the day."
"Same way at Wyatt," I said.
"Even on overseas flights, employees are required to fly economy. Camilletti himself stays at Motel 6 when he travels in the U.S. Trion doesn't have a corporate jet—I mean, let's be clear, Jock Goddard's wife bought one for him for his birthday, so we don't have to feel sorry for him."