Nathan found his attention diverted by infinitely more distractions on this level, though he forced it to focus on the three executives he walked behind. They set a rapid pace, clearly accustomed to scenes he was not.
After leaving the plant-furnished area beyond the entry doors, the hallway they took had immediately entered a large, busy working space. Unit after unit filled the areas to his right and left. Their raised screens pulsed and shifted with information. Figures and graphs rose and dragged with data collectors’ finger swipes. A talking reporter described current events, was paused, then resumed.
A growing excitement built inside Nathan at the sight of it all. His mind easily fell back the few short years it had been since he was last immersed in technological industry, during Advancement Studies. Simultaneously, he tasted the bitter regret of his forced, premature removal.
This time, he thought, No one will take it from me. He’d made it on his own, now. He would make it the rest of his life on his own merits.
The suited backs he had been following paused momentarily outside a window wall. A panel moved and they entered. Nathan followed, entering likewise. Four chairs rested around the sides of a hexagonal touchsurface table near the space’s middle. Three of the chairs were closer together, and to those the executives drew.
This side of the window walls was tinted in some fashion. Nathan suspected them to be dimmable, like the natural daylight of the entire complex. These details were noted from his peripheral vision, and he strove to maintain a businesslike composure and not move his attention from his interviewers.
He sat as quickly as he carefully could, across from the triad of black suits. The woman crossed her ankles, folded her hands in her lap, and gave him a critical inspection. The men to her side chose a side-by-side foot position, relaxed hands on thighs, and less-sardonic expressions during their scrutiny.
Nathan waited. His wristwatch chose to beep again, which startled his examiners. They spent a few seconds locating the source, then relaxed once the watch was identified. Man #2 laughed outright. “Why do you have that?” He demanded.
Keeping his face straight, Nathan replied, “To tell time.”
Now was the woman’s turn to laugh. As Nathan suspected, the sound was that of a suddenly freed bird: surprised, uncontrolled, and unnatural. “Ask a stupid question, Pul,” she rudely teased the man who’d first spoken. The left corner of Pul’s mouth pulled downward as his eyes sullenly registered her insult.
“It’s an interesting artifact …like your outfit,” she stated. She gazed at Nathan, challenge in her eyes. He couldn’t tell if she was referring to his skin, the suit, or even his behavior. This woman was tricky. Whether she was fully skinned or no, he bet she could hold that stony exterior in any situation.
Confidence, he told himself. I can play this game. Aloud, he answered, “Thank you.”
He thought he saw surprise cross her face, if briefly. The latest model of skin, then, if present.
“Now that we’ve discussed what a wristwatch is,” the woman continued, “Let’s begin where we traditionally do, with introductions.” She squared her shoulders, sitting up more fully. “I am known as Caill.”
“I am Stone,” Man #1 immediately offered.
“And I’m Pul, as you heard,” Pul ended. His discomfort at Caill’s blatant reprimand was still written in his lips and his glowering eyes.
Mentally, Nathan flexed his muscles. Caill was clearly a difficult one, but he intended to show her he was up for the challenge. He would play her games, and he would win.