Paranoia (090 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.

Part Five:

Blown: Exposure of personnel, installation (such as a safe house) or other elements of a clandestine activity or organization. A blown agent is one whose identity is known to the opposition.
—Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage


I was screwed.

Kevin Griffin knew I wasn't on the Lucid project back at Wyatt, knew I wasn't any superstar either. He knew the real story. He was probably already back at his cubicle looking me up on the Trion intranet, amazed to see me listed as executive assistant to the president and CEO. How long would it be before he started talking, telling stories, asking around? Five minutes? Five seconds?

How the hell could this have happened, after all the careful planning, the laying of the groundwork by Wyatt's people? How could they have let Trion hire someone who could sabotage the whole scheme?

I looked around, dazed, at the cafeteria's deli counter. Suddenly I didn't have any appetite. I took a ham-and-cheese sandwich anyway, because I needed the protein, and a Diet Pepsi, and went back to my new office.

Jock Goddard was standing in the hall near my office talking to some other executive type. He caught my eye, held up an index finger to let me know he wanted to talk to me, so I stood there awkwardly at a distance while he finished his conversation.

After a couple of minutes Jock put a hand on the other man's shoulder, looking solemn, then led the way into my office.

"You," he said as he sat down in the visitor's chair. The only other place to sit was behind my desk, which felt all wrong—he was the goddamned CEO!—but I had no choice. I sat down, smiled at him hesitantly, didn't know what to expect.

"I'd say you passed with flying colors," Goddard said. "Congratulations."

"Really? I thought I blew it," I said. "I didn't exactly feel comfortable taking someone else's side."

"That's why I hired you. Oh, not to take sides against me. But to speak truth to power, as it were."

"It wasn't truth," I said. "It was just one guy's opinion." Maybe that was going a little too far.

Goddard rubbed his eyes with a stubby hand. "The easiest thing in the world for a CEO—and the most dangerous—is to be out of touch. No one ever really wants to give me the unvarnished truth. They want to spin me. They've all got their own agenda. Do you like history?"

I'd never thought of history as something you could "like." I shrugged. "Some."

"During the Second World War, Winston Churchill set up an office outside of the chain of command whose job was to give him the straight, blunt truth. I think he called it the Statistical Office or something. Anyway, the point was, no one liked to give him bad news, but he knew he had to hear it or he couldn't do his job."

I nodded.

"You start a company, have fortune smile upon you a few times, and you can get to be almost a cult figure among folks who don't know any better," Goddard continued. "But I don't need my, er, ring kissed. I need candor. Now more than ever. There's an axiom in this business that technology companies inevitably outgrow their founders. Happened with Rod Canion at Compaq, Al Shugart at Seagate. Apple Computer even kicked out Steve Jobs, remember, until he came riding back in on his white horse and saved the place. Point is, there are no old, bold founders. My board has always had deep wells of faith in me, but I suspect those wells are starting to run dry."

"Why do you say that, sir?"

"The 'sir' stuff has got to stop," Goddard snapped. "The Journal piece was a shot across the bow. It wouldn't surprise me if it came from disgruntled board members, some of whom think it's time for me to step down, retire to my country house, and tinker with my cars full-time."

"You don't want to do that, do you?"

He scowled. "I'll do whatever's best for Trion. This damned company is my whole life. Anyway, cars are just a hobby—you do a hobby full-time and it's no fun anymore." He handed me a thick manila folder. "There's an Adobe PDF copy of this in your e-mail. Our strategic plan for the next eighteen months—new products, upgrades, the whole kit and caboodle. I want you to give me your blunt, unvarnished take—a presentation, whatever you want to call it, an overview, a helicopter ride."

"When would you like it?"

"Soon as you possibly can. And if there's any particular project you think you'd like to get involved in, as my emissary, be my guest. You'll see there are all kinds of interesting things in the pipeline. Some of which are quite closely held. My God, there's one thing in the works, codenamed Project AURORA, which may reverse our fortunes entirely."

"AURORA?" I said, swallowing hard. "I think you mentioned that in the meeting, right?"

"I've given it to Paul to manage. Truly mind-blowing stuff. A few kinks in the prototype that still need to be ironed out, but it's just about ready to be unveiled."

"Sounds intriguing," I said, trying to sound casual. "I'd love to help out on that."

"Oh, you will, no doubt about that. But all in good time. I don't want to distract you just yet from some of the house-cleaning issues, because once you get caught up in AURORA ... well, I don't want to send you in too many directions at once, spread you too thin." He stood up, clasped his hands together. "Now I've got to head over to the studio to tape the Webcast, which is not something I'm looking forward to, let me tell you."

I smiled sympathetically.

"Anyway," Goddard said, "sorry to plunge you in that way, but I have a feeling you're going to do just fine."

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