Domesticating Dragons – Snippet 04
My jalopy was the first thing to let me down. I threw myself into the driver’s seat with twenty-two minutes left in my promised hour and jammed the ignition button with my finger.
The engine made a high-pitched whine but refused to turn over.
“Aw, come on.” I waited three seconds and tried it again. This time, the car didn’t so much as whimper. “Shit!”
I bailed out and ran to the bus stop. Nineteen minutes. In a sheer miracle, a bus from the red line pulled up a minute later. I jumped on and grabbed a ceiling loop, swaying in the crowded aisle and sweating as the minutes ticked down. I had fourteen left. Then ten minutes. Reptilian’s shiny building swung into view at last. I hit the bell and jumped off at the next intersection.
Damn, it was stifling outside. Heat rolled off the sidewalk like it was a furnace. I half-walked, half-jogged the two blocks to Reptilian Corporation’s mirrored building.
I checked my phone as I walked into the blessedly cool lobby. One hour and two minutes had passed since I’d hung up with Evelyn. I figured that was within the margin of error.
The same redhead waited at the reception desk. Well, then. Batter up.
“Well, we meet again,” I said.
No flicker of recognition crossed her features. Maybe she was a robot. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Noah Parker.”
She looked back to her screen. “And?”
Her dismissiveness put me off. It was one thing to do that to an interviewee, but I worked here now, damn it! I cleared my throat. “Well, it’s my first day today.”
Her brow furrowed prettily, which almost made up for the total lack of eye contact. “I don’t have anything on the schedule.”
Oh, God. Please tell me it wasn’t a dream. “I just found out an hour ago.”
“Who’s your supervisor?”
“Really?” She actually looked at me, in all my sweat-soaked glory, for more than half a second. “You’re a designer?”
“A trainee, technically,” I could feel the grin on my face.
“How did you pull that off?”
I put my hand on the desk in front of her, palm down. “Bribery.” I lifted my hand away, revealing a tiny pewter figurine.
“Ooh.” She picked it up. “It’s a little dragon! Is it for me?”
“Thank you.” Her voice was an octave higher, too. She gave me a mock-serious side look. “I suppose I should print you an ID card.”
“If it’s not too much trouble,” I said.
The ID printer spit out a plastic badge a second later. She clipped on a magnetic fastener and slid it across. My horrible DMV photo stared up at me, but I loved reading the words right below it.
“You can go straight to the elevators from now on,” she said.
“I don’t know. What if you decide to tackle me?”
A faint smile played across her lips. “I’ll call up and let her know you’re here.”
“I’m Virginia, by the way.”
So, suddenly I did need to know. “Nice to meet you.” I fled to the elevators before I messed things up.
Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
Here’s what was odd about the elevator. I could have sworn I hit the button for the seventh floor, but it stopped at five. The doors opened, revealing a huge guy in a buzz cut and dark suit. And I mean huge. He had to be six and a half feet tall, three hundred pounds. Built like a linebacker.
“Noah Parker?” he asked.
I almost said no. It must have been my survival instincts kicking in. “Uh, yeah. That’s me.”
“I’m Ben Fulton, chief of security.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Do you work for Evelyn?”
“I work for Robert Greaves.” He gestured to the hallway to his left. “Right this way, please.”
I hesitated. “I think I’m supposed to go to seven.”
“Not yet. This is your security interview.”
“Oh. I didn’t know there was one.”
His smile had no warmth to it. “We like it to be a surprise.”
I followed him down a rather plain hallway to an unmarked white door. He wrapped his big hand around the steel handle and held it there a half-second. Soft blue light glowed between his fingers. Then the door emitted a soft click, and he pushed it open.
A hidden biometric scanner. It piqued my curiosity a little. We passed through a room lined with flatscreen monitors showing security feeds from around the complex. There had to be fifteen or twenty screens, and they shifted views every five seconds or so. That made for at least a hundred separate cameras. Two in every hallway, at a minimum.
I followed Fulton took into a tiny, austere room that waited beyond. There was a square wooden table in the middle with chairs on either side. He settled into the larger of these, which left a notably smaller chair for me. It was about the size of a student’s chair in an elementary school. I felt like someone’s pet bird on a perch.
“So, you’re a local boy, huh?” Fulton set down a manila folder with a government seal on the front, and my name on the tab.
A federal background check. Are they for real? “More or less. I grew up in Mesa.”
“And you went to ASU.”
I grinned. “Go Sun Devils.”
“Evelyn Chang went there, didn’t she?”
“For graduate school,” I said. “We had the same thesis advisor. Dr. Sato.” I shouldn’t have I added that. He probably already knew, and if he didn’t, it would sound weird. The last thing I needed was this guy digging into that particular fact. It was true, but also not a coincidence.
“So, what drew you to Reptilian Corporation?” he asked.
“You guys are doing some cutting-edge stuff with genetic engineering.”
He looked up from his folder. “Really?”
I shrugged. “Customizing an organism from the genome up is pretty ambitious. A lot of people didn’t think you could build a successful business out of it.”