Alan Clarke couldn’t believe his luck when he landed the job with A.A.I. What they were offering him was beyond anything he could ever have imagined. Even the interview had been radically different from anything he had attended before, and he’d been to quite a few.
Instead of the usual panel of dusty scientific minds, that looked down on him as if he was no more than a maggot, he had been shown into a sumptuously appointed office where a tall young woman stood in profile at the window.
Dressed in a black two piece that hugged her figure like a second skin, her long blonde hair flowed across her shoulders in stark contrast to the suit. As she turned to greet him her smile was warm and captivating.
Alan was rooted to the spot as she came across the deep pile carpet.
She held out a slender hand. ‘You must be Alan?’
He stood there slack-jawed while a long moment passed.
She bent slightly to look into his eyes.
Coming quickly out of his trance he blustered. ‘Sorry. Yes. I’m Alan. Alan Clarke.’
He took her outstretched hand, savouring the touch of her smooth skin as her long elegant fingers gently wrapped around his.
‘I’m Kathy Henderson. Please, have a seat.’
Kathy extracted her hand from Alan’s sweaty grip and walked over to a large desk.
Alan sat in a chair while Kathy reached over the desk to an intercom. ‘Would you like something to drink? Tea. Coffee.’
‘No. No thank you.’ Alan placed his hands in his lap and picked nervously at his nails.
She straightened up and sat down, smiling at him. ‘There’s no need to be nervous Alan. I realise you must be used to a more formal setting for interviews, but we like to do things a little different here.’
‘Yes I am. It’s usually a board of scientists.’
‘I read the thesis you published on alternative energy sources and I must say I was very impressed, as was our CEO Mr Bryant.’
Alan, having regained at least some of his composure said. ‘That was two years ago. No one took it seriously then. I was ridiculed over it and I think it’s what’s been stopping me finding a post.’
‘I can assure you that we take it very seriously. Part of our organisation is involved in research and development of alternative energy. Fossil fuels aren’t inexhaustible, if there isn’t something in place when it does run out the world as we know it will end. It’s people like you Alan, with your intelligence and expertise that will find something to take its place. It’s only a matter of time and resources, and our organisation has both of those.’
Alan sat there listening to this adept young woman, she seemed so full of confidence.
‘We’ve had our eye on you for a while now.’
‘Why would you be interested in me? My theory was discounted by some of the leading men in the field.’
‘We believe that given the necessary resources you would be able to prove that your theory works. We know you’ve been having a hard time finding funding. You’ve attended, how many interviews is it now, six? And some of those have been with the major corporations.’
They’ve certainly done their homework, Alan thought.
As if she had read his mind Kathy said. ’We like to profile our prospective employees thoroughly, that way we know for certain, before we make them an offer, that they’ll meet our criteria and fit right in to our ‘family.’ She smiled at this last word.
‘And do I meet your criteria?’
‘Oh I think so. I’ll take you on a tour of our facility. I have to ask that should you decline our offer not to divulge anything you see here.’
Kathy stood up. ‘Shall we go then?’
Alan’s eyes were firmly fixed on her long legs and shapely bottom as he followed her to the door. They walked down a short corridor to the lift lobby.
Once in the lift Kathy turned to him. ‘Your theory on bombarding fissionable material with high powered lasers is fascinating. I really can’t see why you couldn’t get an offer of funding for your research. We thought the major players would have shown an interest in it.’
‘That’s probably because I left out one important detail, the type of fissionable material I would be using. I wrote about the theory in principle, but there was no way I was going to disclose all the details until I got a firm offer of funding on the table. They would have just taken it from me.’
‘I can promise you that won’t happen here. Once you’ve seen our facilities and the offer I’ve been authorised to make you, I think you’ll see that we have each others interest at heart. Only then will we expect to know those details.’
The lift doors opened. Alan followed Kathy out into a lobby. A short corridor led to a large nexus. Brightly lit corridors led off to all points of the compass.
‘How far underground are we?’
‘Six levels down. Ground level is where the agricultural research takes place. Down here is where the real science happens.’
Men and women in white coats were busily going back and forth. A young woman carrying a block of computer printout called out to them.
Kathy turned to her. ‘Hi Susan.’
‘I’ve got the latest figures from lab twenty nine.’
‘I’ll pick them up on my way out, if they’ll keep. Susan, this is Alan. Susan is my right hand. Alan may be joining our team so I’m just giving him the official tour.’
Susan greeted him with a warm smile. ‘Welcome aboard. It’s nice to meet you.’
‘You too,’ said Alan
‘I won’t keep you but Kathy, make sure you drop by before you leave. I have some other things I need to discuss with you and I don’t want to have to come up to your office.’
‘It was nice to meet you, Alan. I hope you decide to join us.’
Alan smiled. ‘Nice to meet you.’
Susan turned and walked off into the maze of corridors.
‘Right then, Alan. Let’s give you the official tour.’
They passed down corridors with labs on either side. Most were occupied. Some looked like chemistry labs, others looked like manufacturing workshops. Alan had never seen such a hive of activity, or such expensive looking equipment.
They stopped outside a set of double doors at the far end of corridor H21.
‘It’s like a maze down here,’ said Alan.
‘You’ll soon get used to it.’ Kathy ran a key card down a slot on the wall. The door clicked open. She reached in and flicked on a row of light switches. Fluorescent panels in the ceiling flickered into life, illuminating the room.
‘Your laboratory, if you agree to join us.’
They walked into an empty room. An array of electrical panels almost filled one wall. Kathy walked over to the far corner and pressed a switch on the wall. A whole section slid silently away to reveal a similarly sized room.
‘In case you need more space,’ she smiled. She could see he was impressed.
‘This must be a hundred feet long.’
‘It’s one of the larger laboratories. If you need a larger one we do have two twice this size.’
‘No, this would be great.’
Kathy reached inside her jacket and handed him a slip of paper. ‘Here’s what I’ve been authorised to offer you. It is negotiable if you’re not happy with it.’
Alan looked at the paper. He was lost for words. He leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor.
‘Are you okay?’ Kathy asked, her face showing concern.
From where Alan was sitting the recessed lights in the ceiling bathed her outline in haloed light. He felt light headed and took in a deep breath, sitting against the wall he stared up at her.
‘Is this for real?’ he asked, his voice trembling.
Kathy sat down next to him. ‘We think you have a brilliant mind, Alan, and we’d like to give you the opportunity to put it to good use. Like all of our research scientists here, who work on their own projects, you could be part of a great team. Imagine if you perfected a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Think how that would benefit humanity and the planet. It would mean an end to global warming and the wars that are fought over who controls the oil.’
Not usually an emotional person, Alan was overwhelmed by it all. ‘I’ve never seen so many zeros. I could fund the whole project with this much money.’
Kathy laughed. ‘That’s not for funding. That’s our commitment to you. We provide you with everything you’ll need. If you’re successful and we can market the final product you get a percentage of shares in it.’
‘You mean I get to keep all this and your organisation pays for all the equipment I’ll need? There has to be a catch.’
‘There is just one clause. You have to sign a ten year contract and you have to live on site for the first two years. Apartments are provided on the top three floors of this building, for all the research staff. You’ll have everything you need.’
‘I need to think about it. It all seems so unreal.’
Alan got up and offered his hand to Kathy. She felt as light as a feather as he gently pulled her up.
‘Let me show you where the canteen is. I’ll go and see Susan, save the poor girl from her lift ordeal. I’ll meet you back in the canteen. Please don’t discuss the offer or the nature of your research with anyone.’
As they walked down the corridor Alan was too elated to talk, his mind was in overdrive. He felt as though he was on speed.
Kathy showed him to the canteen. ‘Help yourself to anything you want. I’ll be back in a while.’
Alan watched as Kathy walked down the corridor. She turned and saw him watching her and smiled.
The canteen was a large room filled with tables and chairs. Three men and a woman wearing white lab coats sat at a table talking quietly. Wall fridges filled with food, drinks, hot beverage machines and microwaves lined one wall.
Alan took a Coke from a wall fridge. He sat at a table and pulled the tab; it echoed loudly around the room. The woman sitting across from him looked up and smiled. Alan smiled back.
Feeling elated and scared at the same time; such a conflict of emotions was so alien to him, disappointment was the one he was used to, he stared at the paper in his hand. It was a fortune, but two years confined to labs and an apartment, would that be a problem? He’d always been a loner and never really fitted in anywhere, or had that many friends. There was only mum left and she had her own interests. They hadn’t heard much from Beverly, his only sister, since she’d moved to Canada, so he wouldn’t really be missing much. The thought of being able to bring to reality his research and what he’d dreamed about for so long was sorely tempting. Alan made his decision there and then. Sipping his Coke his mind began planning.
Kathy came into the canteen. She waved at the people sitting at the table. Slipping into the seat opposite, his expression told her that he’d already made his decision.
‘I’ve decided to accept your offer.’
‘That’s great, Alan. I’m so pleased. Shall we go up to my office?’