“Okay,” yawned Justin. “Six PMs have been replaced since construction started and?”
Stacey handed him a coffee and sat down with her own. “Yeah. And it’s not just the PMs. Turnover on everyone from superintendents to laborers is really high.”
Justin picked up the report Stacey had prepared. He flipped to the page he wanted and said, “What I don’t get is the mechanicals. HVAC. Plumbing. Electric. The budget is astronomical.”
Stacey rubbed her eyes. “I’m too tired to think.”
“Go home.” He glanced at his phone. “Shit, it’s late.”
“And we have real work to do tomorrow.”
“Phillipsheads” were the cohort of fans that dominated discussion about Harrison Phillips’ innovations and exploits. Sammy thought the cultish, but they were prolific. They filled the internet with wikis and websites and apps.
Sammy found what he was looking for in the sub-forum of a fringe astronomy community. Buried among the pedantic arguments and conspiracy theories was a link to a website that tracked the Platinum Galactic asteroid live based on data provided by amateurs.
Sammy downloaded the data and began the very long process of comparing it manually to the telemetry data he had smuggled out of the office.
“You owe me, Nate,” Nichelle growled into the phone.
Honor upped the volume until her music drowned out her mother’s work stuff and focused on her own homework.
Suddenly she felt hard tapping on her shoulder, then her earbud was out and mom was yelling, “–you listen?”
“I was doing homework!”
“Don’t take that tone with me!”
“Do you have to be such a bitch?”
“What did you say?”
Honor slammer her notebook shut. “I get it. You’re mad because you had sex with dad.”
Nichelle almost physically staggered. “How–?”
“His apartment is small, mom!”
Nichelle stared. Honor stared back.
“Your wife is quite the bulldog,” said Peter Zavod.
“Ex,” said Justin.
They were meeting in Zavod’s business office: modern, clean, sterile. It made Justin nervous.
Zavod smiled. “I hear that intern of yours–”
“Stacey. She’s my assistant project Manager.”
“Stacey. She is digging up old invoices?”
“Because I told her too.”
Justin leaned forward. “You hired me to make sure your HQ was open within six months. Part of that is figuring out what the last six managers fucked up.” Justin leaned back. “That’s a lot of managers, by the way.”
“Yes it is,” said Zavod.
It happened in what would be Spain, about 430,000 years ago. One early neanderthal picked up a rock and slammed it into the face of another. The victim bleated and swayed, so the attacker brought the hand axe down again. The other collapsed, quivered, and died. The victim ended up at the bottom of a deep natural chimney, to be buried in silt and preserved. What became of the aggressor can never be known, but if history is any guide the answer is likely, “Nothing.”
It probably wasn’t the first murder but It absolutely, certainly was not the last.
Sammy tapped rapidly on the calculator — the one that had gotten him through university — while he scanned the incoming telemetry data. The numbers did not match. Not by much, but it was there. He said so into his mic.
“Rounding error?” asked Chira.
Sammy grunted and calculated again. “No. It’s just not right.”
Omar broke in. “Something is definitely running in the background, but I can’t see what.”
“Hackers?” asked Chira.
“You have to tell Phillips,” said Chira.
“What?” asked Chira.
He couldn’t articulate the squirming feeling in his chest, so he just said, “Nothing. I will.”
“He’s a billionaire. Of course he’s hiding something,” said Bernard.
Nichelle felt her frustration bloom in her face. “No, something specific. Something big.”
“And you know this because he didn’t say anything?”
“He was evasive.” She took a breath. “Look, even Justin thinks–”
She glared. Bernard raised his hands in surrender.
“Justin is managing the construction of Zavod’s new headquarters.”
“Zavod’s company has a hundred employees. This place is like the Chrysler Building. Underground.”
Bernard said, “It’s weird, but it’s not a story, Nichelle. Move on to something else.”
Nichelle left his office fuming.
Jutin pulled into the work site, still feeling Honor’s last goodbye hug. He exhaled and put on his hard hat.
The exterior structure foundation was complete, despite the extraordinary specs. The mechanicals were all hardened with built-in redundancies. The job resembled the Pentagon more than a corporate HQ.
Stacey appeared next to him and handed him a cup of coffee and his tablet.
He asked, “Anything back from the audit?”
She shook her head. “Nope,” then asked, “What did Zavod say?”
“He said he’s too rich to worry about it.”
He added, “Keep digging.”
She beamed. “Yes, sir.”
“I’m telling you, man, there’s no latency problem,” Omar growled.
Sammy felt his own frustration rise. He took a breath then a pull from his beer. “That’s not what I’m seeing on my end,” he said tryings to sound less accusatory.
Chira rolled their eyes audibly, said, “Stop talking shop. Drink.” Then, “I’m going to sing,” and left for the karaoke line.
Omar emptied his beer and signaled for another round. “So it’s your end,” he said thoughtfully. “What would that mean?”
Sammy frowned. “Maybe it’s not a connection problem but a processing one?” His gut knotted. “Virus?”
Peter Zavod said, “Aren’t pre-interviews a producer’s job?”
“I prefer exploring my own leads,” Nichelle replied.
They were sitting on a marble terrace overlooking Zavod’s backyard golf course in the late morning.
Nichelle said, “I am most interested in–”
“The breakup?” laughed Zavod. “Of course. But there are no details that haven’t already been reported.”
“The timing seems significant.”
Zavod sobered. “Oh?”
“It was right before the Platinum Galactic announcement, which drove your stock–”
“Into the stratosphere?” His grin was back.
“You could have made a lot more money.”
Zavod gestured broadly. “Do I look like I need more money?”