The Firm
by Stephen Tsai and Dal Merlin Jeanis


Oliver Reed looked at the information packet for the fourth time today and nodded. There was nothing on paper about Jean-Claude Molet that he disliked. The firm had taken the time to build a dossier on the man and knew that he was the top of his field in cybernetics, robotics and artificial intelligence. They knew that he had suffered a tragic loss of his sweetheart during a failure in safety procedures on a military weapon system and that he was currently single and unattached. His work was considered the top of the field. He was in demand. And it was Reed's job to sign him.

He put the folder away as the sound of the Gulfstream V came to a halt on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport. The door opened and the passengers disembarked. Reed tapped the driver, who pulled the new limousine up to the approach and got out of the car.

The other passenger was unimportant to Reed; an advanced student named Alan Benjamin Kott who seemed to be making minor splashes in a few scientific fields. His dossier was sparse - he had made very little in the way of an impression on his instructors, although several research scientists in robotics and physics had remarked on his encyclopedic grasp of some cutting edge sciences, and more importantly to them, the quality of the questions he asked. Kip Thorne at Cal Tech considered him one of the most promising students he had met, an impressive recommendation given that they had only talked esoterica via telephone.

"Dr. Molet, welcome to New York."

Molet and Switch got off the plane as Molet nodded in acknowledgement. "It is good to be back. She is such a city."

For himself, Switch was here more for curiosity than anything else. When he heard that a firm had made Molet an offer, he didn't think much of it at the time. Molet was always fielding offers for one project or another, generally arriving via friends in Montreal or Santa Fe. But the offer to Kott had been unexpected, and slightly out of magnitude with what this identity should have garnered. Even a showcase laboratory set in New York City shouldn't be offering a near six-digit salary to a boy genius with no publications to his credit.

But then again, Molet's offer had come with tickets on a private jet, limo service and first class suite reservations at the Carnegie-Tower Plaza hotel. It put the minor luxury afforded to the Kott identity back in perspective - he happened to be in the same city as Molet, so he got a ride on the same plane and lesser accommodations at the same hotel. They had probably assumed that he was Molet's protege, rather than colleague and benefactor.

So much the better.

>From his analysis, Prometheus was a company with money to burn, and a desire to impress. A company on the make, trying to overcome its currently nonexistent reputation with a few star players and a lot of cash. Switch grinned to himself. It would be interesting to see what money could buy.

Reed smiled and shook Molet's hand. "I hope the travel arrangements were to your satisfaction."

"They were excellent," Molet nodded. In fact, they were more than that, he thought. Italian leather recliners, well-stocked wet-bar, skillful pilots who kept the plane smooth as glass and very attentive and attractive stewardesses. He turned and looked at the stretch limousine as they all got in and noted the same level of detail to luxury and comfort. Someone really had the lucre to spend here.

"May I offer you a drink Professor?" Reed motioned at the bottles of fine Cognac and Bourbon.

"If you're having one," Molet answered. He watched as Reed pulled out three crystal glasses and filled them with ice and liquor.

"Tell us a little about the company, Mr. Reed," Switch asked as he accepted a glass. "I can't say I've ever heard of Prometheus Technologies."

"Well gentlemen, that's what we're here to show you."

******

The glass and steel tower was located right in the heart of Manhattan and was one of the largest buildings in its neighborhood. Inside, Reed took them up the elevators to the thirty-sixth floor and signed them in with the receptionist. Molet and Kott both looked at the entry foyer with a little awe. Even ignoring the polished granite, mahogany wood paneling and sleek architecture, the real estate costs alone for the gigantic building must have been extreme. For a company with no reputation, it was almost unheard of to have this kind of financial power. As they looked around, Reed led them to the main library where a crowd of twenty gathered to meet them.

"Gentlemen, this is Dr. Jean-Claude Molet and his protege Alan Benjamin Kott. You've all read about them and here they are." Reed put his hand around Molet's shoulder and continued. "They're here and are interested in joining our little family, so let's make them both feel welcome. As you know, Dr. Molet is one of the lead pioneers in the field of artificial intelligence and related cybernetic systems."

Molet tuned the rest of the monologue out as he studied the crowd. They were mostly close to his age, with a few younger interns. They all wore dark gray or navy blue wool suits with a few wearing lab coats over them. Some of them looked familiar; he was fairly certain he recognized some from scientific publications and textbooks. They were clearly well paid from the look of them and quite affluent.

"Dr. Lamar Burton will be giving them the grand tour of our main offices, so you'll have a chance to chat with them. Later, they'll be meeting with the firm directors in our executive dining room for lunch." They shook hands before Reed excused himself back to the bank of elevators.

"Let's start the tour," Burton said with a smile. He was younger than Molet, no older than thirty-five from the look of him. "I've been with the firm for the last six years, so I do know my way around."

"Well, for starters, can I ask you a question about the company?" Molet asked.

"Certainly doctor."

"I didn't know Prometheus was around for that long."

"It wasn't; before last month, the core of the company was known as Hawke-Argent. We were recently reorganized and given a new charter by a large holding company. Prometheus is the combined conglomerate that includes the Rand Corporation and a few other research firms."

Molet nodded. "I see. That explains the money we're seeing."

"Absolutely." Burton gestured to the room they were standing in. "This is our main library. The firm understands that research is the first and most important step to any kind of discovery so we try and make it as painless as possible."

Switch looked at the room with a little awe as Molet glanced at some of the volumes with interest. The room was about twenty feet high; clearly it occupied two floors in the building. The floors and shelves were made of solid walnut and the volumes were in excellent, though used condition. Even as quickly as he could read and memorize material, it would take him weeks to work his way through this room. It was larger than the physical archives at Berkeley or Cal Tech. "It's very impressive," Switch nodded.

"Over 100,000 volumes, along with every information reporting service in the country. In addition, there are four more like it on the twentieth, twenty-fourth, twenty-eighth, and thirty-second floors. We also have extensive files on microfiche, microfilm and computer information sources. We keep two full-time librarians on staff, so if there are any sources you need that you can't find, just ask for them. It's one of the largest private scientific libraries in the country and we're proud of it."

"I can see why," Molet nodded.

Burton led them back to the elevator, and took them up five floors. When they got off, the security personnel nodded and smiled at Burton and his guests. "This is the central computer room," Burton said as he unlocked the door, which led to a room full of servers and racks of storage banks. In addition, a dozen system administrators were working on the various systems, though they all took time to greet the guests. "We have every kind of system going through here from the latest liquid-cooled supercomputers to the racks of workstations and mainframe systems. In addition, there's an off-site hot-backup that maintains integrity in real-time. Two floors up there's the clean-room facility where we are currently working on some of the latest in chip and processor design. That's where I work. My area of specialty is..."

"Organic compound-based CPUs and six-layer transistor design," Kott recited.

"You've heard of my work, I'm flattered."

"What kind of designs are you looking for?" Molet then paused with a little embarrassment. "That is, in general terms."

"Well, as a matter of fact, several of those designs were based on the prototypes you and others have published. It's our hope to push the envelope in terms of designing a self-aware processor and to make that kind of technology available to our customers at a reasonable price."

"That kind of technology can have unforeseen consequences," Molet noted with concern. The last thing he wanted to see was another Think Tank incident.

"Rest assured doctor, we are taking every precaution. None of these systems goes online without a thorough test and at no time do we jeopardize safety. We also hope that by hiring the best, we can avoid the mistakes that were made by others in the past."

Molet nodded as if that were acceptable. The man sounded sincere and until he had reason to believe otherwise, he was willing to let it go at that. But he would examine the protocols closely, and perhaps witness a test, before believing it fully. The proof of the wine is in the tasting.

Molet turned to Kott, who was attempting to conceal his amusement. Molet raised an eyebrow, and Kott finally ventured an opinion. "Or make a better class of mistake."

Momentarily startled, Burton examined the young researcher more closely. Kott was a dark haired, severe-looking Gen X-er with a black goatee. He was dressed in a midnight blue turtleneck and sport coat, not quite the buttoned-down appearance affected by the majority of Prometheus employees. However, the company made a lot of concessions toward hiring the best. Burton chose his next words carefully. "Are you thinking of anything in particular?"

Switch considered how much to say. His knowledge of Burton's work was limited to his latest publications, which would of course be over a year out of date. Perhaps he should just throw the good Doctor a bone. "You might be interested in the works of Dr. Anna Koniezcna."

"I'm not familiar with the name."

"You wouldn't be, unless you can read Polish or Russian. She's a microbiologist, but her works have relevance to your peptide fading problem."

Burton wasn't sure how to deal with this information. Generally, everything significant in his own field was published in English (at least eventually). But some obscure biologist might indeed be relevant to that particular gremlin. Most likely Kott was just showing off trivia he had learned while writing a term paper. Burton jotted a note to the librarian into his PDA, getting the proper spelling of her name and her university from Kott. Then he nodded and resumed the tour.

"So do you spend all your time in the labs?"

"Actually we do most of our designs in consultations with our colleagues. Did they talk to you about the patent sharing program?"

Molet's left eyebrow raised slightly. "No..."

******

The top of the skyscraper was seventy-five stories up. It wasn't the tallest building in New York, but it was certainly one of them. The dining room had a row of ten-foot windows that offered a commanding view of the harbor. Lunch was a generous helping of prime rib, steamed vegetables and fresh rolls. Molet and Kott sat at one of the tables along with Reed and Burton.

"The firm believes that success benefits us all," Reed explained. "So, to help and build an esprit de corps, the firm will share the bonus from the patent publication to the entire team that develops them."

"But the firm maintains patent ownership."

"Of course. Show me any company in the world that doesn't."

"That's true," Molet admitted. "So what kind of bonus do you get?"

"Ten percent immediate bonus, along with a one percent to the residuals, both to your salary and your 401K. File a few big patents with us, and you can be set for the rest of your life."

Switch whistled; no large firm he knew had a deal even close to that. If Dr. McLean had had that when he prototyped the Sidewinder back in 1950, he would have been a multi-millionaire.

"So what's in the rest of the tower? Does your company have that many people already?"

"We keep everything in the core headquarters here. Legal, financial, technology, marketing and administrative. We still have quite a bit of empty space, but we are in a hiring mode right now. With the weak economy, we've been fortunate to acquire many of the best and brightest in a wide variety of fields. There are also several other facilities that are under construction as we finish remodeling the tower."

"What about security?" Molet asked. The events of the previous week, and the moderate damage to the World Trade Center towers, had made it an important facilities question, but with his worldwide reputation, in addition there was always the uncomfortable likelihood of kidnapping.

Reed nodded. "We take security very seriously. With what's being researched here, we have to. The building has the best electronic counter-surveillance security that money can buy. In addition, there's a full team of security personnel that keep an eye on things. If there's a problem, they can be anywhere in the building in less than a minute. You also have the same level of security in the residential tower as well."

"Residential tower?" Molet asked with some surprise.

******

The limousine came to a halt in front of another towering building about ten city blocks north of the company's work facilities. The building's stone architecture wasn't quite as imposing as the steel and glass corporate headquarters, but it didn't give up anything in terms of size. Molet and Kott followed their hosts into the lobby where a doorman greeted them. Inside the lobby there were several small stores and delicatessens. A woman hurried out of one store carrying a dry cleaning bag, past the sign that offered free pickup and delivery within the building.

Of greater interest to Switch was the security station where a sizable staff of uniformed guards kept an eye on a large bank of surveillance monitors. Despite their varied sizes and genders and colors, Switch noticed a troubling sameness of expression on the security personnel that spoke of either extensive training or extensive inbreeding. They watched intently as the monitors flicked between various public areas, occasionally showing people in parlors or other intimate settings. "There seem to be an awful lot of cameras."

"Everywhere except personal quarters, Mr. Kott. This isn't 1984," Karen Walters promised. Reed had introduced her in the executive dining room as head of the company's residential real estate division. She was fortyish, with a Barbara Streisand nose, clipped black hair done New York stylish, and painted fingernails that could probably be registered as deadly weapons, although she mostly used them for grand flourishes at the features of the building. Her perfume was something flowery and gently musky. "One of the most difficult things to do is find decent housing here in Manhattan. A related problem is the commuting time that most people have to endure in this part of the country. The firm offers its employees the opportunity to handle both problems here in our residential tower."

"A company apartment complex?" Switch asked with a trace of amusement. "It probably helps you to know where all your employees are. Reminds me of a coal town, all the houses and all the people owned by the company."

"Oh, by no means do we require our employees to live here," Walters promised with a bubbly expression. "Apartment living isn't for everyone, especially for those with children. Most of our people simply choose to live here for the convenience."

"And why is that, besides the easy commute?" Switch asked as the elevator door closed and took them up. Walters winked at him but said nothing for the moment. Her perfume stopped being elusive, but it also stopped short of being obnoxious. Switch inhaled the lily scents and musk undertone deeply but unobtrusively, and laid his bet on Eternity. He would have been wrong, though, it was something called Iceberg Twice.

They got off the elevator, then Walters unlocked one of the doors and ushered them inside, silencing a shrill whining sound with some beeps from her keychain. Seven hundred square feet, she explained as she pointed out the various features. Switch and Molet occasionally glanced at each other as they examined the view of Central Park, the plush carpet and pristine accommodations. Molet winked at him when she pointed out the prewired T1 connection to the labs.

"And these are free to employees?" Switch wondered out loud.

"Not quite." Walters corrected. "We do charge a small pre-tax fee. This particular room would be offered to our junior level employees and is available for around $450 per month."

"And that is why people choose to live here," Molet remarked sotto voce to Kott. He wasn't an expert in real estate, but even he knew that was a steal for a Manhattan apartment of this size, condition and a view of Central Park. Even in downtown Montreal it would cost more than that.

Kott nodded back at him. "Seems like an accountant somewhere lost a zero on that rate. Could mean trouble at tax time."

Walters looked at the young man and tried to decide if he was pulling her leg. He seemed to be the type who should really get the city. Some people just didn't get it, but she was good with people, and he had the look of someone who could have hung out in PD Greenwich Village. Pre-Disney. "Well, Mr Kott, there is a second way of looking at it."

"Call me Ben."

It was a good thing she had been using his last name - she had thought his first name was Alan. "Only if you call me Karen."

"Deal."

"Well, Ben, there's the official tax accounting way. That is, all employees are required to live here for the convenience of the company. And, because it is for the convenience of the company, all extra amenities provided by the company are deductible by the company and not taxable income to the employee - " she glanced at Molet " - or the director."

Switch got it. Executives made their own benefits free by also giving them to others. Sweet. "Required?"

"But," Walters continued, "we are also required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make reasonable accommodations to the needs of our employees with special needs. Such as, for example, the psychological need of someone, say with children, to have a little more distance or space, such as a place upstate instead. It's just some paperwork with a few check boxes."

Switch whistled. For the company's convenience, living here was mandatory except for anyone who didn't want to. It was the kind of Alice In Wonderland business stuff that his twin brother Jake had often dealt with and only occasionally told him about. He began to wish he had pushed Jake for more detail rather than less. Accordingly, he pressed Walters for more until he was sure he understood it, and then smiled. The directors had a monthly reception for investors and clients, rotating between their suites, thus affording an official business reason for giving them larger accommodations, and for monthly free maid service. After all, that month's director might have to cancel at the last minute. So sweet. He could hardly wait to see what Molet's room would be like.

Walters grinned at the young man. Ben Kott was finally getting into the Promethian spirit. "We also have a few design consultants in the building if you want help with decor and furniture. There's a fee to that as well, but it's quite reasonable. Also, there are quite a number of amenities in the tower, including our health club, jogging track, indoor tennis courts and some fine restaurants."

"With all that, do people even leave their little tower?" Molet asked. His tone was light, but deep down, he didn't want to be in a cage any more than any other man, gilded though it may be. A cage was a rut, and a rut was a grave missing only the ends.

Walters looked up at the angular Canadian. He was attractive in a thin, craggy sort of way, and the word was that he was the most important candidate in weeks. She worked to reassure him. "Of course they do. The firm includes two country club memberships and the concierge downstairs can book you reservations to any restaurant or theater in the city. And if you're a sports fan, the firm owns luxury boxes in Madison Square Garden and Giant's and Yankee Stadiums. If you don't want to deal with New York traffic in your personal car, we do have a scheduled limousine service for our senior researchers, with integrated computer access. Pickups here are on the quarter hour, and there are generally three morning pickups at the Watergate and two at the Westin, subject to traffic of course. The limousines are also available for occasional off-hours use, for travel to and from clubs and shows. If you're interested, you can read the Terms of Use."

Walters pulled a booklet out of her creme colored valise, which exactly matched her shoes. Molet put on his cats-eye glasses and glanced at the glossy booklet. It turned out to be a very short list of limousine scheduling etiquette apparently designed to keep pushy individuals from monopolizing the service. Many researchers indeed had egos larger than their equipment. People who used the limo less than four nights the previous month got priority over those who used it five or more. He flipped through the pages, and then whistled. In the back were similar tips for the company Leer jet. He was beginning to wonder how he could possibly turn them down.

"And what of security?" Molet asked as they all left the apartment and got back into the elevator.

"Every room has both a call button to the security station and a silent and audible alarm system. The doors all have deadbolts and are made of steel-reinforced hardwood. The windows have been retrofitted with bulletproof Lexan, which incidentally saves us quite a bit on utilities. If there's any trouble, a security team can be at any room in under a minute."

The elevator stopped and Walters lead the group into one of the larger hallways. Molet and Kott both noticed that there were fewer doors on this floor, and confirmed their guesses as Walters opened up a luxurious suite and again silenced the security system, this time with both the keychain and the words, "It's Me."

"These rooms are reserved for directors and above. I've been informed that they're saving one of these for you, Dr. Molet. I can sure tell you there are going to be some jealous people at the firm," she said with a mirthful twinkle, glancing at Kott to make sure he wasn't offended. He wasn't.

Molet looked around the suite as Kott examined the wet bar, Jacuzzi bathtubs and walk in closets. The scent told them it was freshly painted and recarpeted, both in a very light color with a hint of peach. A wall of mirrors reflected the entire skyline visible through the tall windows, visually doubling the size of the room. Liberty Park was just visible over the horizon. As promised, he noted the inch-thick heavy pane of glass, which gave a dense thud with a casual tap. A missile or a supervillain could probably get through, but not much else. That would stop perhaps eleven of twelve of his assailants.

"So, what do you think?" Molet asked as he heard Kott come in behind him.

"I think I need a smoke," replied Kott as he struck a match. Molet reflexively pulled out his pack of Players and turned to face him, then suddenly felt a bit out of place. Was it even allowed to smoke here? Kott read his expression and set him at ease. "Relax. You know the saying 'my house is your house'? Well, Karen says treat this as your house. If you burn a hole in the carpet, they'll replace it tomorrow."

Molet relaxed a bit, but he couldn't help but feel that something was slightly wrong. Perhaps it was just the fact that he hadn't had a cigarette in several hours. He lit his on Kott's and looked back out at the distant park. "C'est incroyable."

"I'd say they must want you pretty damned bad," Kott admitted. He handed Molet a colorful brochure that he had obtained from Walters, which listed this suite at $1200 pre-tax a month. Once again, about a zero off from a reasonable figure. For that little amount, they might as well just give it away, if not for the tax effects. The brochure went on to detail the health club, restaurants, shops, jogging track and indoor tennis courts located on the first ten floors.

Molet looked at Ben Kott and sighed. This was quite a change after six months basically hiding out in a Philadelphia brownstone with a basement laboratory. Even though Kott's scientific skills were themselves incredible, and even if Kott could afford to match this, he doubted if it would change his decision. The culture and power of Prometheus was, as it intended to be, overwhelming. He took a second deep drag on the cigarette.

"And, Ben, what will you do?"

Switch looked at his friend across a gulf of his own lies. What would he do? Alan Benjamin Kott would probably cease to exist shortly. He had served a purpose, as a cocoon while Jason Garner went to ground. With all the experiments in Santa Fe completed, and still no government agency knocking down the doors of the trap at his loft, he was tempted to conclude that his brother was, in fact, killed by a stupid accident. And if he accepted that, then what?

Having taken his brother's place, he was stuck with his brother's life. Which meant doing the Oprah circuit, hawking his brother's books, and eventually learning to write novels and pop psychology himself. He had maintained some email correspondence with Beverly Dunn, but that relationship would go nowhere unless he actually showed up in Dallas, which meant being vulnerable to the ERDA. Who, despite having tapped his phones and bugged his house less than a year ago, didn't appear to give a damn about Jake Garner anymore.

It was time to get on with it.

For himself, he was happy that Molet was getting the red carpet treatment. Well, the peach carpet treatment, he grinned. The man was top notch, and had had more than his share of pain. The smiling faces and expensive perks were the least the guy deserved. "I've got some things to do, and a lot to think about." He hesitated. "Doesn't it all seem a little like the Stepford laboratory?"

"Pardon?" The French-Canadian came out in Molet's voice.

"Isn't everyone just a little too friendly?"

Molet shrugged. Interviews in academia were always much more formal than these, exercises in butt-sniffing and dominance and politics. The military were more structured and close-mouthed. And business generally asked more questions that showed where the money was going to be coming from to pay for the research, and how it intended to profit from the answers the research generated. It was a rule of the advanced researcher, you must always know which pound of flesh you are selling. "Interviews are always a time of pretense. But the documents, you read them carefully before you sign."

Switch grinned back at the older man. So Molet wasn't completely bamboozled by the raw economic power this company was bringing to bear. So much the better. This might give him access to have Molet run some occasional private experiments on the company's multimillion-dollar equipment. Of course, each time he'd have to convince Molet to keep it off the record. Unless...

"Do you think they'd consider a part-timer with a lot of sabbaticals?"

Molet looked at Kott for a moment, considering what he knew of Prometheus. They were after the best, and he had worked with the young man enough to know that he fit the bill. The patents on that fullerene nanofabric alone would pay a thousand times their combined salaries, if it were marketed with sufficient muscle. Which could, in fact, be quite a feather in the cap of a certain new director. "I would think that would depend upon the Prometheus Director of Research for your field. I believe he is called... Molet?"

******

Molet took a moment to look at the aquarium full of exotic fish as he entered Richard Michaels' office located at the top of the corporate building. As expected, the office was plush and spacious with a corner of the building that faced the harbor and the skyline. Molet and Kott had spent the previous night talking about their offers at the Carnegie Plaza Hotel's bar and Kott was even now talking about the specifics with Reed just a few floors down. For himself, he wanted to meet the man holding the purse strings. He wanted to make sure he had a chance to meet the man he would soon be calling "boss" before putting his name on the dotted line.

"Dr. Molet, I hope you had a good night," Michaels asked.

Molet nodded; of course the small talk and good manners were going to continue. It was part of the dance. "It's an excellent hotel."

"We knew you'd like it. Everyone likes the Plaza. And your visit yesterday? Was it to your satisfaction?"

Molet did his best to maintain a neutral expression. No sense tipping what he really felt. "It is an impressive firm for such a new company."

"I like to think of it as having the benefits of both a new company and an established one," Michaels explained. "It's true the Prometheus hasn't been around. But we do incorporate the collective strengths and assets of several successful companies that have been around for years."

"And you didn't even have to lay any staff off," Molet nodded. He had spent the previous night perusing what he could dig up on the Internet about the firm and Mr. Michaels.

"Why drop people who already know how to do their jobs? It's never been my policy to slash and burn perfectly healthy companies. I believe in building an empire and letting the talent do what it does best." He paused and offered Molet a Montecristo cigar.

Molet demurred but brought out a cigarette and allowed Michaels to light it with the gold lighter from his desk. An intimate moment, Molet thought, and perhaps telling.

"Besides, I always remind myself there's more than just one expense in terms of human resources. The profit from my no-layoff policy may be negligible in monetary terms. But in terms of human spirit, it's priceless."

Molet nodded as Michaels finished his speech and slid a packet of documents for him to look at. "The offer is $260,000 per year starting out. There's also a company bonus and pension plan that you will find in the second packet. I'm sure that Ms. Walters went over the personal benefits yesterday, but there's another packet that gives the details in case she left anything out. Relocation is paid for; just save your receipts. You'll be eligible for an annual raise for about 10% a year. The raise and bonuses aren't guaranteed; they're based on your performance."

"Then neither would ten percent be a maximum, no?"

Michaels looked at Molet steadily for a moment, then smiled. "Three weeks vacation to start, four weeks once you've been here for three years. If you need additional time, we can work that out on a case-by-case basis. If you want to use the firm's condo in the Caymans or the chalet in Aspen, book early."

Molet glanced at into the envelope, and for a moment was annoyed. For a research firm, they certainly seemed to have an outrageous number of brochures. Then he remembered that Hawke-Argent's original mission had been marketing, several years ago, before the Internet boom and the acquisitions. He looked at one of the brochures inside the envelope and sure enough there were additional firm facilities listed, including a hunting lodge in the Rockies. Well, he didn't have that much interest in hunting. He had too much empathy for the quarry.

"Medical, dental, vision and orthodontics are all paid for by the firm."

Molet nodded but wasn't impressed. That was pretty standard. It was almost a relief for something to be that standard.

"As a director, you'll also have a responsibility on helping to build our staff, in addition to your research. Our standards are pretty high, but I'm certain that a man in your position will know a few qualified people. We're looking for the best, and if you recommend them, we'll pay what it takes to bring them here.

"I can think of a few who might be interested." Including a certain part-timer who needed a lot of sabbaticals, he told himself. They had agreed that Kott would not accept an offer before Molet was in place, giving them more control over the specifics. Molet smiled. There were also a small cadre in Santa Fe who might be interested.

"We're building something special here Dr. Molet, and we want you on board." Molet acknowledged the compliment, and returned it in kind. Then he watched carefully as Michaels excused himself to give Molet some privacy. There was something familiar about that one.

Molet read over the paperwork carefully. It backed up the firm's extravagant promises quite solidly. The facilities were excellent, among the best he had ever seen. A staff that was quite credible from the look of them, and he was going to be given the budget to build a team that could support his talents. A top-notch security force would see to his personal protection.

The more he read the paperwork, the more comfortable and certain he became. He sat back and lit a cigarette, looking out at the city. She was every bit as beautiful as the last time he had visited. Such a city.

He looked into the distance and considered.

Molet knew the sociological term for it. In Artificial Intelligence, you must know such things. This company was sticky. Very sticky.

There seemed to be a consistent design to make the company resistant to defections: difficult to leave, both psychologically and financially. The business plan of this Richard Michaels was to become the Microsoft of ultra-tech. And, with the resources they appeared to have, it was possible. Being even a worker on the ground floor of that would be seductive. Being a director...

Tantalizing images of himself sipping rum punch on the white sands of the Cayman's Seven Mile Beach. He tried to look for a downside, but none were obvious. Yes, the firm did have a zeal for security and keeping everyone in their apartment building. But what did that really mean? For himself, merely safety from the annoyance of those who wanted his brain. A man must live somewhere, n'est-ce pas?

He sighed and looked at the paperwork on the huge desk. It was bad form to sign the documents as-is rather than making a counter-offer. The problem, of course, was finding a demand to make that was not already generous beyond outrageous. Then again, when he signed the papers, the dance would end and the politics would begin. Now was the time to assure his first year's funding, his control of his staff, and his place in the pecking order.

He looked one more time at the skyline, made up his mind and picked up the engraved pen to begin amending the contract.

Add forty percent to the salary, sixty percent to the stock options, and fifty percent to the annual budget, including provision for staffing and visiting a permanent laboratory in Santa Fe. It was the heart of his field, and the best researchers might be reluctant to leave. At first, anyway.

An additional stock option benefit whenever patents from Molet's team were "filed". Molet smiled. Let them change that to "approved" in their counter offer.

When they met over half of his demands, the deal would be sealed.

******

"He made two phone calls, both to computer sources," James Maxwell reported. He was head of security and the only senior member of Prometheus that hadn't met the new recruits.

The assembled staff then turned to Electron. "One was to an Internet provider and the other was to a private information service. Both were probes for Prometheus, Hawke-Argent, the Rand Group and Mr. Michaels' personal information. I made sure that our prepared files were returned to him," the Japanese woman reported.

"Apparently it worked," Reed reported. "We negotiated the last few financial details with him just before lunch; nothing serious."

"Building a facility in Santa Fe will require us to establish another surveillance station," Maxwell said.

"Noted. We'll get that started as soon as possible," Michaels nodded. "For now, Dr. Molet has signed on and is even now making arrangements to move into Tower 2. I assume the room is prepped for him?"

Walters nodded. "The room's ready and security's been briefed. They'll be taking special care of him."

"And the other one? Mr. Kott?" Michaels asked.

"He said he would have to think about it and would get back with us soon," Reed answered. "I get the feeling that he was a little overwhelmed by the whole approach. Perhaps he's just not the type that takes well to a hard sell."

"I hope he does come around. It'd be a pity to lose him."

Mindshadow nodded and sighed. She wouldn't be wasting time here, if she weren't tied up with Captain Allah or whatever he called himself. The irony of having to save the World Trade Center from those brainless imbeciles wasn't lost on her. Unfortunately, having to rebuild the WTC and suitably punish those who had killed her useful tools who worked there had wasted several days of her time, so she wasn't here to influence the new recruits.

"I suppose it's no big loss," Mindshadow dismissed. "Molet was the one I really wanted. I can always get Kott later when he's had a chance to mature. You will make sure that he understands that I want that AI chip?" One that she could command directly with her telepathic powers, she knew.

Michaels nodded. "It's only a matter of time."
 

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