Chapter 22 – Starting up

Before calling into my office, I took a moment to View it. I didn’t expect to see much, considering it was Monday when I had only hired the Gardners the previous Friday. I knew they had dipped into the company accounts they had been given access to, and so I was optimistic that the office space might include some additional furniture.

What my View revealed caused me to think I had somehow espied the wrong office. More than a dozen modern desks were set up in an open style behind a reception desk, which was manned by a young lady with a permanent smile on her face. Three of the other desks were also occupied with young professionals, two speaking to each other as the third typed on a laptop.

None of these people were familiar to me, and I started to move my View outside the building when I saw the front of the reception desk. A large omphalos coin, sleek and gold in the modern European style with ‘Delphic, Inc.’ below it, was emblazoned along it, facing the front entrance.

I couldn’t wait to talk with my personnel manager.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. Matti Gardner came out of her office. She wore a sleeveless top over hip-hugging slacks. The look was more casual than I was used to for office wear; it showed off the glistening iridescent scales along both of her arms.

She briefly knocked on the COO’s door and stalked into the open office area with a demeanor of pure business. The four people sitting there turned to her like flowers following the sun, and whatever she said got them all quickly up and moving toward the opposite end of the space.

As they arranged themselves around a meeting table large enough to seat twelve, I noticed they were all dressed in a semi-casual manner that fit in with Matti’s outfit. The exception came out a moment later; Georgia Gardner wore a suit seemingly identical, other than color, to the one I had seen at the interview. The grounded gloves and boots were in place as well.

It was Matti who grabbed a tablet, turning on a large flat screen and camera resting on a cart at the unoccupied end of the long table. I answered the call as soon as it came through.

“This is Delphic.”

“Good morning, sir. Thank you for joining us.” Georgia’s tone was consummately professional; she had unambiguous control of the space. “I knew you’d want to see us… in person, I guess you could say.” She paused, nodding down the table, and I took stock of who was there.

The one man at the table, in shirtsleeves, had the light tan and almost-shaved head I associated with younger Hispanic men. He and the shorter black woman next to him were each staring down at their smartphones and typing, occasionally glancing at the others’ screen or face.

The other two new faces were turned expectantly toward the screen. The one who had been sitting at the front desk was a tall Asian girl with a lot of makeup and excellent posture. A short-haired bespectacled white girl barely visible over her open laptop rounded out the group.

“Dill and Shauna are brand managers,” Georgia started out. The chatting man and woman looked up at the same time; it somehow seemed natural that they were synchronized. “They’re business students at San Mateo with a marketing focus. Guys?”

“You have excellent optics,” Shauna began as Dill nodded. “Top-half recognition for national supers. Under-twenty-five associations are with technology and intelligence, which is pretty much the sweet spot for positives with that group right now.”

Dill seamlessly jumped in. “Downside is the ‘big brother’ vibe,” he made air quotes with his fingers “a lot more of a negative for the twenties and thirties cohort. We should be able to decouple you from social media…”

I knew public relations was important, and I appreciated the Gardners’ foresight in finding plugged-in millennials to manage it for me. I also found the details to be dishearteningly cynical, and just-plain boring. The two kept up their imbricated descriptions for another five minutes, but I didn’t retain another word of it. From their wandering gaze, I don’t think Matti or the laptop girl did either, although both the receptionist and Georgia kept their full attention on the brand managers.

“Thank you,” Georgia responded about two seconds after the pair fell silent. “Any questions, sir?”

“That was a lot of information to take in,” I sent, hoping this response was broad enough to fit any context I missed. “It sounds like this gives your team a number of items to work on.” That got a double nod. “Is there anything that you need from me?”

The two glanced at each other, and then back my way. “Advanced notice,” Dill answered. “For anything that’s going to get public exposure.”

“So we can help frame it,” Shauna added.

“I see,” said my Delphic voice as I thought about yesterday’s events. The arrest had broken yesterday in Newark area news, and there was no reason to let my team be blindsided by it. Why not tell them?

“So for example,” I typed, “if I had been involved in an altercation yesterday involved the deaths of a superhero and a police officer at the hands of a group of powered criminals, followed by their arrests…”

The wide-eyed looks of everyone at the table were gratifying… or, rather, almost everyone, as the girl with the laptop was focused on her screen.

“Yes,” Shauna said as she recovered. “We would definitely want to-”

“Newark,” the laptop girl announced, cutting off Shauna, who made no attempt to regain the floor. “Buzz Kowalczyk, Joe Scartelyk, Joseph and Mikhail Wladiminski. Is that supposed to be a W or V sound? I can never remember.” Two more clicks. “V sound.”

“Correct,” I typed.

Matti was smiling as she gestured to the young woman. “Ozzie is our researcher. We hired her away from UC Berkeley’s medical library.”

The girl put up her hand and wiggled her fingers in a quaint hello. “Hi, Mister Delphic. Nice to meet you; I’m a fan.”

“You’d have to be, to leave Cal,” Shauna put in.

Ozzie shrugged, “Berkeley has cachet, certainly, but this pays a lot better.” She blushed slightly after saying it, and her eyes moved back to the screen.

“While we’re admitting things,” the made-up Asian girl announced in a bright voice with a clear southern California inflection, “I have pretty much no idea who you are.” She said it with a kind smile, and it brought soft laughter from the rest of the table. I liked her immediately.

“Kay is covering the front desk,” Georgia said. “And since that’s everyone, let’s get down to business.”

The presentation was not slickly produced, but Georgia made her points clearly. She had broken down the company’s operations into four pieces: finding new clients, managing existing clients, public image, and support. For each function she had a timeline and benchmarks, but I didn’t care about the details. Georgia was taking to her position admirably, and I was happy to leave her to it.

“… gives us plenty to do over the next few months. And if no one has anything more, I’d like to give our CEO – and, as I explained, really our principal client – the last word. Delphic?”

I looked out on my team of six employees, and they looked in at me (except for Dill and Shauna on their devices). The silence had already stretched for too long by the time I collected my thoughts enough to start typing.

“Thank you all, again, for joining this company. I believe a talented team can accomplish something exceptional, and we have that opportunity here.” This got a solemn nod from Georgia, and no reaction from anyone else. “I decided that I needed this team when I found myself spending more and more of my own time on matters for which I have no special talent, like managing money and seeking out potential projects. Because the number of hours I can be active per day is quite limited, this time was directly reducing the time that I could be spending on support for super teams and investigation of cold cases: matters for which my nature and powers make me a unique asset.”

There were more nods, now; this made sense to the team, and fit well into what Georgia had been saying. I continued, “That is my primary objective for this company, as a resource to leverage my time and talents to better use, both in turning a profit and in helping people. I have every confidence that we will do so.”

After a momentary silence, the table erupted into the rustling sounds of several people getting up from their chairs and gathering their belongings. But before I or Matti could disconnect the call, Shauna reached a hand out for my attention.

“Wait a tick, please,” she said. “We wanted to get some details from you on the Kowal… zick? Kowal-stick?”

“Kowal-chick,” Dill supplied correctly. “The Kowalczyk incident. This was a New York mission, and there was a fatality?”

“There was, although I am not certain that his name has been released yet,” I sent.

The two of them traded a concerned look. “Sir, our job is a lot easier if we learn things before they become public knowledge,” Dill stressed.

“It’s usually easier to get out ahead of a mess,” Shauna added, “than to try to clean up when you’re in the middle of one.”

I knew they had a point, but I was still wary. “I will keep that in mind. Was there anything else?”

Sauna sighed. “You can’t give us any more details than what we can get off the news sites?”

“I would rather not be responsible for releasing any new information. But I appreciate your enthusiasm.”

The two of them stood up together and headed back to their desks without another word, leaving me looking at an empty conference table, so I closed the line. I went ahead and called Matti, since she had informed me the day before that she wanted a private discussion after the ‘general meeting.’ (In retrospect, calling it that should have clued me in that there would be more than just the two of them there, but I had assumed Georgia was just being officious.)

The video feed changed to a side view of Matti’s office, which while nowhere near as densely decorated as Georgia’s, at least sported sufficient knick-knacks to appear occupied. My CFO was seated at her modest desk and was facing the researcher, Ozzie, perched in one of her two guest chairs.

“Hello again,” the businesswoman began. When she turned her head, the scales along the rounded top of her head reflected the overhead lighting in a galactic spray of shimmering flecks, even through the webcam. “Ozzie asked if she could bring up something in private, if you don’t mind.”

“I didn’t intend to interrupt. Please, call me back when you are finished.”

Matti’s chuckle had a small wheeze to it. “No, not excluding you. She wanted to call you and express her concerns.”

“All right,” I sent, and waited.

Ozzie had her laptop closed on the front edge of Matti’s desk. She scratched her hands absently on the knees of her pants, returning Matti’s gaze as the silence stretched. Finally she spoke. “I don’t mean any disrespect, to you or to Ms. Gardner-”

“Matti,” the older woman insisted.

“-but I’m concerned as to whether I will really have a role here.” She swallowed compulsively, seemed to be trying to move her hands to her laptop but suppressing the motion. “You talked today about focusing on what you’re best at, sir. But doesn’t that include what I do? Synthesizing raw data from different sources into a usable form is one of the things you’ve been described as doing in several teams’ after-action reports.”

“You’re worried about being redundant?” I probed.

With a sideways glance, she nodded. “Why do you need me to do, in a couple of hours and possibly a trip to the library, what you can do in thirty seconds?”

Her concern was reasonable in light of my persona, but here was where things got tricky. In truth, her two hours of work would likely save me four or five, since I was just a human being with my unique Vision powers and not actually a super-powerful computer intellect. But that was certainly not something I could share with her.

Another lie, then. “Having you available is more of a help then you realize, because there are very few situations where I would attempt to condense hours of complicated analysis into mere minutes,” I explained. “The effort to perform those sorts of calculations is extremely taxing. More so, in fact, than if I had taken two hours and processed the material at normal speed.”

This got a look of interest and curiosity from Matti every bit as sharp as the one from Ozzie, but it was the latter who followed up. “So different functions take different amounts of internal… energy? Effort?”

“Correct. If I pushed myself to my limits constantly, I’d be online for only a few minutes every day.”

“Oh!” Ozzie nodded happily. “Well, in that case, I can understand why you’d rather give an experienced researcher…” she paused a second, blushing, “sorry, I mean, you know I have experience, I’m not trying to brag…”

“It’s not bragging to accurately state your own abilities,” Matti insisted. “False modesty helps no one. State your competencies honestly and directly.” She turned her attention to me. “Ozzie has a PhD in library science and more than four years with the UC library system. She has primary authorship of eight peer reviewed papers, mostly on publication bias and the replication problem.” Matti pinned Ozzie with a proud glare that saw the researcher blushing further. “Any modesty she showed would be false modesty.”

The researcher shook her head rapidly, as though to shake off the effusive praise, but she didn’t contradict what Matti was saying. “Please,” Ozzie said after another short pause, “let me know how I can help. It’s really useful to understand that you have limited internal resources, essentially limited time in which to act. There’s probably quite a bit I can help you with.”

“I am certain there is. Thank you,” I said. She nodded, picked up her laptop, and left, closing Matti’s office door behind her.

“So, what do you think?” Matti asked me once we were alone. “Home runs all around on the team, I think.”

“Can you forward me their CVs, please?” I asked. “I am very impressed by your initiative and the speed at which you are working. I’m not questioning any of your choices.”

“But you’d still like your own opportunity to evaluate their credentials and know what each of them is capable of, right?” Matti interjected.

“I am gratified that you understand.”

She nodded. “Good. Do you have any other questions about our hiring plans before we move on to other issues?”

She certainly could pique my interest. “No, please continue.”

“All right. If you don’t mind, let me start with a simple question.”

I watched as Matti stood and made her way to her office door. She opened it enough to stick her head out and look around, clearly wanting to make sure that no one was even potentially in earshot before she continued.

Returning to her seat, she asked, “Who, exactly, is Hector Donnell?”

6 thoughts on “Chapter 22 – Starting up

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