Lumin clicked over the green and white tiles of the factory floor back to the elevator. She hoped to find a moment of peace when she returned to her office. “Can’t we just get a pinch of sanity around here?” she mumbled to herself as she jabbed the up arrow, feeling defeated.
The elevator doors opened revealing Lumin’s assistant, Katerina Andriano. Relief was beaming from her doe eyes. “Lumin, there you are!” she said with a small hop.
“Kat, were you waiting in the elevator for me?” asked Lumin as she stepped in and hit the button.
Katerina nodded with a smile. “I knew you’d be riding it back up eventually.”
“How long have you been waiting in here?” Lumin pressed the button for the top floor and the old elevator doors slowly creaked closed.
“About a half hour. It kind of smells like ammonia and old bologna in here,” said Katerina, straightening her pencil skirt.
The elevator scraped along the shaft, sounding like penny nails grinding on sheet metal. “Why didn’t you just wait for me outside the office?”
Katernia pushed up her glasses. “Well, before you got there I wanted to warn you that the C.O.O. keeps calling.”
“Oh Christ,” said Lumin, knowing Ryan Lumb only called when he was angry. “Why didn’t you try my cell?”
“I did, it’s in your office on your desk.”
“Shit. What does Lumb want?”
Katernia pushed her glasses up again, her constant smile betrayed by the anxiety in her eyes. “I think he wants someone to yell at. He keeps calling…over and over. I couldn’t stand listening to the phone ring anymore, Lumin! I hid in here to wait for you.”
The elevator clunked as it made a jarring stop. “Kat, you can’t just ignore him!” Lumin ran out of the doors hearing the echo of her wailing phone. Her heels clacked over the hardwood as she rushed toward her boxy office, enclosed within the cavernous top floor of the building between dusty crates and old industrial equipment leftover from another era.
Lumin ran past Katerina’s desk and burst into her office. She snatched up her buzzing phone. “Director Lumb? This is Lumin.”
“Where the hell were you? And where did your Office Assistant go? Have her fired,” ordered Lumb.
“I will, Sir,” lied Lumin. “I’m sorry I didn’t have my cell phone on me.”
“I only trust land lines anyway, Mira…you know this,” said Lumb.
“Right. So what can I do for you?” asked Lumin with dread.
“I put you in charge of this project after Stanley Michaels was forced to resign. Do you recall why?”
Lumin didn’t like the tone of Lumb’s voice. “Michaels failed to manage the team properly. No progress was being made.”
“And do you think you’re faring any better?”
“Absolutely! We have the robot’s structural framework ninety percent complete. Our locomotion pipeline is entering alpha and our power routing system is–”
“Then why, Mira, have we lost 90% of our funding as of 1 p.m.? Why has the board of trustees disbanded? Why am I preparing to end this entire project?”
Lumin’s blood went cold. “Sir! You can’t! What are you talking about?”
“The man you fired a few days ago, Armond Tenders…tell me again why you let him go.”
Lumin was still in shock. “Tenders? He was a lost cause. The rest of the engineers and builders may not have warmed up quickly to me, but we eventually came to an understanding. I gave everyone free reign with their assignments, as long as they got them done within the time frames I allotted. Most of the engineers did fine with a longer leash but Tenders hanged himself with his. His projects were late, his deadlines were never met and he was completely unapologetic…so I canned him.”
Lumb sighed. “Tenders sent a package of photographs to each of our top donors. They depict the people on your team engaged in ever-increasing degrees of unprofessionalism. Open the email attachments I sent to your assistant.”
Reluctantly, Lumin walked to Katerina’s desk and logged into her email. She pursed her lips as she opened the jpegs Lumb sent. “Ah, damn it.”
One photo showed Dezzie Lynch setting the top of her desk on fire. Another was of Skip Pantheon running naked through the hall with a paint ball gun, shooting at Darwin Spotswood, who was armed only with a bong. Another featured Bo Dozens looking completely panicked as a massive robot arm with a beachball clutched in its claw smashed through his office wall. Tenders, you piece of shit! thought Lumin.
After a period of silence, Lumin spoke. “Sir, I know it looks bad. Real bad…but there’s a reason Michaels failed here; these people do not respond well to traditional management. They’re all geniuses…and that carries a heavy toll on their personalities. These photos are misleading. I know how to motivate these people so they can get their damn work done. The results speak for themselves! Hell, most of these people are practically living here and frankly, they deserve a bit of R and R at times.”
“Lumin, shut up. I’m not blaming you,” said Lumb.
“You’re not?” asked Lumin. At least Lumb had stopped referring to her by her last name, which always meant he was livid.
“No. I brought you in because I knew these people needed someone like you to get them running as a team. Our problem is that our donors don’t understand your methods. They are used to traditional, button-down work environments with nice, normal people doing nice normal things from nine until five. After seeing these pictures…well, they’ve lost all confidence that we could win a billion dollars for their charities. On the other side of the coin are the benefactors providing the actual prize money for the match. If we lose our funding to finish the build we’ll lose them too.”
“What are we going to do?” Lumin flopped into Katerina’s seat, feeling completely spent. Katerina came up and sat on the desk, looking concerned as she sank deeper into her sweater.
“We have one last chance. An eccentric multi-billionaire named Eldridge Roundstone has agreed to meet with you. If you can wow him with a presentation I believe he’ll fund us–in full. If we can manage to re-secure our development funding the cash prize will no longer be in jeopardy.”
“Really? Full funding? That’s incredible!” said Lumin, perking up. “Wait, where have I heard of this guy?”
“I’ll leave it to you to get acquainted with Roundstone. You’re scheduled to meet with him at his mansion a week from today. He’ll be picking you up from the airstrip in his private jet.”
“Wait, just me? Should I bring–”
“He’s requested you come alone. You have a week to prepare. Impress him.”
Lumin stood up, speechless. She looked at a confused looking Katerina and pushed up her glasses for her.