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Chapter 2


Chapter 2

Her work computer beeped at her, and Vicky blinked in surprise. It was a video-chat request from Tom.

Vicky glanced at her watch. She still had about ten minutes until she'd be needed elsewhere. Wondering how this would go, she tapped at the keyboard. Tom's face popped up and smiled. "Hey, Vicky."

"Hey, Tom," she said cautiously. "Long time, no hear. How are you doing?"

He looked away for a second, showing a little embarrassment. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that. Things have been crazy over here. I'm doing fine, though. You?"

"For the most part. I just finished a new circuit design that's being tested now. From what I'm told, it could be included in several product lines."

"That's great. Good for you. I knew they would find you valuable over at, uh.."

"Etani Technologies," Vicky finished for him.

"Yeah, Etani." Tom didn't show any signs of chagrin. "I've actually got an announcement of my own to make."

"You mean your upcoming Senate run?"

That did give him pause. "Yeah," he said suspiciously. "How did you know about that?"

Shaking her head, Vicky pulled up the email she'd gotten the other day, and forwarded it to him. "Your mother sent out her own announcement. Actually, I'm surprised I'm still on her mailing list."

"Why is that?" He looked genuinely surprised at the possibility.

Vicky shook her head. How could she explain it to him if he refused to see it for himself? His parents, his staff, his donors, his lawyers, and everyone else surrounding him had been consistently cutting him off from his old friends for years now. They'd fed his ego and showmanship with grand promises that he would be able to effect change on a large scale, all the while grooming him to be their kind of candidate.

"Never mind, it's nothing," she said dejectedly. "So, what happened? Did you get tired of working in Senator Milgram's campaign or with his staff?"

Apparently grateful for the change of subject, Tom shook his head. "No, that was just to gain real-world political experience. Even Kevin himself said it was time for me to run for my own senate seat. It'll be a tight race, though. The primary would be hard enough on its own, but the current incumbent has a lot of support over here in Pennsylvania. But I'm sure you don't want to hear about all of that. I just called to invite you and Amir out to the official announcement next week. It'll be a mostly casual thing: photo op, meeting donors.. and an open bar."

Vicky hid a grimace. She was glad that he felt fulfilled in his new life, but he obviously couldn't see the problems in it. "Sorry, Tom. I won't be available. I doubt Amir will be, either. He's finishing up med school, and will be worked to the bone for another few weeks." She felt a pang of sympathy over that. The last time they'd met had been over a month ago, even though his school was only a few hours away from where she lived. He'd looked exhausted and overworked- much worse than she felt these days. At least he would be done soon.

"I didn't know that," Tom went on softly. "I guess I should have kept a better track of his schedule. I probably shouldn't call him about it, then, at least until he's all done and ready for his internships."

"You should probably avoid calling Tina, Mike, Greg or any of the others, too," Vicky advised reluctantly. "They're all spread out, and probably won't be able to make it. Besides, it's not really their scene." There was no point in telling him that they didn't really think of him as one of them anymore.

Most of the old "Hurricane Thomas" crowd still kept in contact with her and Amir. They still participated in various events akin to what they'd done back in college, although for the moment Amir was unavailable. They'd understood that, but Vicky doubted they would react well to hearing from Tom himself after all this time.

Vicky exchanged pleasantries with Tom for a few more minutes before he signed off, leaving her with just a feeling of sadness in her gut. Tom had always been convinced that he would do a lot of good someday. Vicky hoped that was true, but doubted it. She couldn't judge him for his decisions- or for letting his parents make his decisions in this case- but she definitely didn't feel good about it either. Sighing, she grabbed her latest design papers and headed off to present them to her supervisor.

A few minutes later she got another email, this time from someone she didn't know.

Good afternoon, Miss Brandt, it started off simply.

My name is Andrew Martin, and I work over in Manufacturing. I'm sorry to bother you with this, but I could use your help. I was tasked with testing product BT102, which is based partially on your designs. I examined one of them, but it didn't match up with the schematics I had on file. Clearly, I can't greenlight manufacturing until I'm sure BT102 is up to spec.

I would have asked my supervisor about this, but he's dealing with a family emergency at the moment. I didn't want to fall behind while he's away, so I looked up your name in the company registry. It's an unusual request, I know, but if you could look over the design and just let me know where the manufacturing error occurred, it would save me a lot of time. I'm no designer, obviously.

Hope to hear from you soon,

A. M.

Well, his request was strange, but not unheard of. From what Vicky knew of the manufacturing facility on the north end of town, they were pretty much always overworked up there. Curious, she pulled up the attachment Mr. Martin had sent.

The product name was unfamiliar to her, but the circuitry definitely rang a bell. It was similar to a design she'd forwarded upstairs a few months ago- an idea she'd had for blocking nerve impulses to deaden pain. She had hoped it would be useful for people who suffered chronic pain. If specific nerve impulses could be deadened and the rest left alone, those people would be able to live normal lives again. The last she'd heard, her idea was nowhere near production.

The BT102 did seem to be designed for that, at least on the surface. It was covered with a polymer that wouldn't interact with blood flow and could be implanted for long periods. It was small enough to be unobtrusive, like most pacemakers. And it had a rechargeable power cell meant to run off a person's own bioelectricity instead of an external source, so it would never need to be removed and recharged.

That's where the similarities ended, though. This thing was also fitted with its own capacitor, right next to the signal receiver. Why would they need that?

Confused, Vicky pulled up her old design and attached it to an email in response.

Dear Mr. Martin,

Sorry to hear about your deadline, and your production delays. I can help with your BT102 problems at least, though. I'm sending along my old designs, and how the circuitry was supposed to be wired at first. Frankly, I have no idea why your product was rewired in that way, but you should be able to fix it with what I send you.

If you have any further questions, I should have a few hours at the end of my shift today. Just let me know if I need to drive up to your neck of the woods.


A. V. Brandt


Vicky didn't hear back from him for the rest of the day, so she assumed he'd been able to fix whatever was wrong on his end. The design he'd sent her stuck in her mind, though.

There was no reason at all to put a capacitor in that kind of implant. It was extraneous, wasteful, and pointless. Granted, almost every company that manufactured products also put in design flaws so that they could 'upgrade' their products later on. That was how they bilked people out of more money. However, in a long term pain management implant? It seemed like a lot of effort on a product that wasn't used by many. By the next day, she'd decided to pay Mr. Martin a visit, and look at the BT102 herself.

Strangely, when she called Manufacturing at the end of her workday, she couldn't get through to him. His supervisor (or at least the man temping for him) told her that Andrew Martin had been fired the day before. That would have been mere hours after emailing her! He wasn't willing to give her Andrew's contact information of course; that was company policy. Vicky thanked him and hung up.

There could be any number of reasons Andrew had been fired, none of which she knew for sure. Something in the back of her mind insisted she find out for sure, though.

Thankfully Vicky knew someone in Human Resources, who she'd helped out a few times over the years. Neha had been new to the country when she'd started working for Etani Tech, and had needed a friend, which Vicky had been happy to be. Vicky called her next, and convinced her to look up Andrew's file.

It was ethically questionable, Vicky knew, but she resolved to delete his phone number the moment she was sure everything was fine. She'd always been a naturally curious person, if not to the same degree as Tina or some of the other reporters she'd known from college. Her conversation with Andrew was brief: he seemed quite distracted, and she could hear at least one baby crying loudly in the background. He did agree to meet her at a café downtown, though.

It was already getting dark by the time they finally met up. Vicky recognized him from the picture in his personnel file and gave him a friendly handshake. He responded in kind, but it was clear he was both distracted and exhausted.

Vicky gestured to the table. "I won't keep you long, I promise. I was just.. concerned, that's all."

"I appreciate that, but I'm fine, really. I got a generous severance package, and I've already told my wife. We'll get through this in no time."

He sounded confident, but there was an edge to his voice as well. Was it fear? Vicky leaned in a bit and lowered her voice. "May I ask why they let you go? The impression I got from your fi- uh, from your co-workers, was that you were a good employee. Reliable, respectful, cooperative."

"I'd rather not talk about it," he said, glancing around them for a moment. "If I were you, I'd stop asking about it, too. I just want to put this behind me and get on with my life."

"Of course," Vicky said abruptly. "I apologize. I don't mean to seem rude. It's just, I designed parts of that product, and if there's a problem with the BT1-"

"Don't say it!" He whispered fiercely, looking around them again.

Vicky was shocked. He looked genuinely frightened now, but he quickly looked down and smoothed his features. "Listen. I am not allowed to talk about this with you or anyone else, you understand? I have to go now. Please never contact me again." He smiled nervously around them to the other customers, nodded at her, and then practically fled the room.

This was starting to make sense, in a scary kind of way. Andrew must have signed a Nondisclosure Agreement when he'd been fired. Most likely in exchange for his severance package. He was a family man and could definitely use the money- it probably hadn't been hard to convince him to keep quiet about whatever BT102 was really used for.

Was she in danger of being fired, too? The emails had been sent on company computers, so there was a record of that. She'd made a call to his department as well, so they'd know about that, too. Unless they'd tapped her phone or Andrew's, they wouldn't know about this meeting, though. Hopefully they didn't know about Neha in Human Resources either. Vicky's best bet was to go back to work tomorrow as if nothing had changed, and do her job as usual.

At least as far as everyone else was concerned.


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