Paranoia (096 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

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


Breathing shallowly, I pulled the drawer open. I half expected the drawer to be empty, like the AURORA files in HR. But it wasn't. It was jam-packed with folders, all color-coded in some way I didn't understand, each stamped TRION CONFIDENTIAL. This was clearly the good stuff.

From what I could tell, these files were on several small startups—two in Silicon Valley, California, and another couple in Cambridge, Massachusetts—that had recently been acquired by Trion in conditions of strictest secrecy. "Stealth mode," the files said.

I knew this was something big, something important, and my pulse really started pounding. Each page was stamped SECRET or CONFIDENTIAL. Even in these top-secret files kept in the CFO's locked office, the language-was obscure, veiled. There were sentences, phrases, like "Recommend acquire soonest" and "Must be kept below the radar."

So the secret of AURORA was here.

I didn't really get it, much as I pored over the files. One company seemed to have developed a way to combine electronic and optical components in one integrated circuit. I didn't know what this meant. A note said that the company had solved the problem of "the low yield of the wafers."

Another company had figured out a way to mass-produce photonic circuits. Okay, but what did that mean? A couple more were software firms, and I had no idea what they did.

One company called Delphos Inc.—this one actually seemed interesting—had come up with a process for refining and manufacturing some chemical compound called indium phosphide, made of "binary crystals from metallic and nonmetallic elements," whatever that meant. This stuff had "unique optical absorption and transmission properties," its disclosure statement said. Apparently it was used for building a certain kind of laser. From what I could tell, Delphos Inc. had effectively cornered the market on indium phosphide. I was sure that better minds than mine could figure out what massive quantities of indium phosphide were good for. I mean, how many lasers could anyone need?

But here was the interesting part: the Delphos file was stamped acquisition pending. So Trion was in negotiations to buy the company. The file was thick with financials, which were just a blur before my eyes. There was a document of ten or twelve pages, a term sheet for the acquisition of Delphos by Trion. The bottom line seemed to be that Trion was offering five hundred million dollars to buy the company. It looked like the company's officers, a bunch of research scientists from Palo Alto, as well as a venture-capital firm based in London that owned most of the company, had agreed to the terms. Yeah, half a billion dollars sure can grease the skids. They were just dotting the i's. An announcement was tentatively scheduled for a week from now.

But how was I supposed to copy these files? It would take forever—hours of standing at a copy machine. By now it was six o'clock in the morning, and if Jock Goddard got in at seven-thirty, you'd better believe Paul Camilletti got in before that. So I really had to get the hell out of here. I didn't have time to make copies.

I couldn't think of any other way but to take them. Maybe move some files from somewhere else to fill up the empty space, and then ...

And then raise all kinds of alarms the second Camilletti or his assistant tried to access the AURORA files.

No. Bad idea.

Instead, I took a key page or two from each of the eight company files, switched on the copying machine, and photocopied them. In less than five minutes I replaced the pages into the file folders and put the copies into my bag.

I was done, and it was time to get the hell out of here. Lifting a single slat in the front office window blinds, I peered out to make sure no one was coming.

By quarter after six in the morning I was back in my own office. For the rest of the day I was going to have to carry around these top-secret AURORA files, but that was better than leaving them in a desk drawer and risk having Jocelyn discover them. I know it sounds paranoid, but I had to operate on the assumption that she might go through my desk drawers. Maybe she was "my" administrative assistant, but her paycheck came from Trion Systems, not me.

Exactly at seven, Jocelyn arrived. She stuck her head in my office, eyebrows up, and said, "Good morning," with a surprised, meaningful lilt.

"Morning, Jocelyn."

"You're here early."

"Yeah," I grunted.

Then she squinted at me. "You—you been here a while?"

I blew out a lungful of air. "You don't want to know," I said.

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