Daniel Princeton stood up from his desk and walked over to the window, looking down forty stories to the streets of St. Louis and wondering how it must have looked back then, from that old three-story brick building that Abraham had purchased almost two hundred years previously. It was still visible from the skyscraper now known as the Integra Building, where Daniel and the other employees of Integra Communications, Inc. He fingered the pin on his lapel that identified him as “Daniel J. Princeton, Assistant Analytics Officer,” and wondered about how much the company had changed from Abraham’s time......
A ringing not unlike the noise produced by telephones of the bygone communication age interrupted Daniel’s thoughts.
“Yes?” he asked aloud.
**Click** “Data Analysis Meeting commencing in—five—minutes.” **Click**
“Thank you,” Daniel replied, and turned to scan the files presented as digital windows on his glass-topped, “smart” desk. He smiled; when it came to being just as equipped as every other company in the nation, Integra was no exception.
The voice alerting him to the meeting was part of an office intercommunication program called “SUMMON-A”, or as the younger employees of Integra referred to the female announcer, “Somona.” All the corporate businesses in America had them; the system was hard-wired into the mainframe of the building, and all of the Chief Officers could send out just such a bulletin to as many employees in their jurisdiction as they chose. The summons would briefly interrupt whatever sound was playing at the time with a pre-programmed announcement over the built-in speakers in the ceiling of every room, and every employee would know when they were required to report to their Chief Officer.
Daniel surveyed the production, marketing, and financial reports he knew came from the offices of his three friends—once neighbors and then hired at the same time he was—Michael Dering, the Project Manager, Harrison Shaw, one of Integra’s Product Managers, and Aaron Jüst, the Software Architect.
Daniel heard a quick knock at the door, and quickly “moved” the file onto a portable glass tablet with a swipe of his hand. He stood and walked straight through the white, filmy door of his office. Michael awaited him in the hallway.
“Dude,” he laughed in a low voice, “didn’t you hear the summons?”
Daniel shrugged, “I guess I’ve gotten used to Somona by now.”
“Did somebody say Jüst to Somona?” Aaron appeared behind the pair.
Daniel and Michael smiled and groaned; with such an uncommon last name, the fun-loving Aaron was always coming up with new jokes and puns on his own name.
Daniel paused briefly to “lock” the door of his office. He punched in a code on the keypad next to it, and the door went into “solid” mode. Now not even Daniel could enter his own door without re-entering the code to cancel the “lock.”
In the 2020’s, a slew of office fires occurred in several major cities across the US. While standard protective measures were often able to contain or put out the blazes, there were too many instances of corporate employees getting locked in their offices, or being unable to escape from the fiftieth story because the fire was in the hallway, and there was no other way out of the room. Scientists from Germany, China, and America all worked together to solve the problem: they created a material called “holoplast.”
Similar to the hologram, the material functioned on a specific frequency to maintain a low density of atoms, but instead of merely functioning with light on a visual frequency, through the development of holoplast the scientists discovered that there was also a range of tactile frequency that could be maintained by a specific combination of sound-waves in a magnetic field. The doorframes were equipped with the audio-magnetic frequency generators, and the holoplast material could then be poured into the frame, where it would remain static and suspended within the barriers.
Holoplast doors could only be entered from one direction, typically the inside; the molecules only shifted away from an obstruction in one direction, much like the hinges on a door. To “enter” the door from the opposite side, a person would simply need to turn a magnet positioned on the doorframe, and the holoplast would be able to bend the other direction. It was then a simple matter of making sure the magnet was positioned correctly before entering the door, and one could avoid smacking into the solid side of the holoplast. “Locking” the door involved placing the audio-magnetic frequency at a high enough volume that the density of the molecules increased, and the door would be as solid as plastic. Walking through a holoplast door almost felt like walking through a dry fog.
The new technology worked so effectively with maintaining privacy while facilitating escape in an emergency (the doors closest to a fire would automatically “unlock”, so that if an employee was threatened by flames, all he would have to do is walk to the nearest fireproof stairwell, and he could make it out of the building in safety, without fear of closed or locked doors between himself and escape), that as of 2030, installation for every business was mandatory across the nation, and by 2100, holoplast was as common a sight in office buildings as potted plants (replaced by holographic-generated images in the late 21st century; the actual silk plants were too labor-intensive for janitorial services to spend time dusting, and the real plants were the source of too many allergic reactions in a small number of employees).
“Ready?” he sighed as he rejoined his friends.
“Yeah man,” Michael beckoned to him, “we’ve been ready; we were just waiting on you!”
“Hey Dan,” Aaron cut in, “did you see the new automation tables me and the guys are putting together? It’s right here.” The amiable redhead pulled out his own tablet and flicked through the data screens till he found the one he wanted. “See? Now you can have real-time streaming data as your tablet wallpaper, so you can have up-to-date information, no matter what screen you’re looking at.”
“That’s neat, Aaron,” Daniel encouraged his friend’s efforts at innovation.
“Hey Harry,” Michael nudged his buddy as his mischievous blue eyes twinkled, “rumor has it you have a new line of personal amps in the works.”
Harry grinned, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” he boasted, holding his curly head high, “Just wait till we’re in the conference room; then I’ll show everybody.”
“Speaking of which,” Daniel’s quick eyes darted ahead of them to the windows of the conference room, “It looks like a full house.”
Aaron frowned, “That’s odd—“
They entered the room. Everyone department manager and above waited around the table. At its head, the Director of Personnel Affairs, Leander Boggs, surveyed the group with a wan expression. Daniel, as his protégé, was especially sensitive to the older man’s mood, and wondered what could have caused it.
Finally, Leander motioned for everyone to have a seat. He waited until the room was silent and he had everyone’s attention. Then he sighed and leaned his arms on the table.
“It’s over, boys and girls,” Leander stated. “You’re all here because I supposedly called you for a meeting; this is not true. There’s no staff meeting today; I’ve called you here to tell you we’re done.”
Harry spoke first. “Are you firing us?” he burst out.
Daniel pressed his lips and watched his mentor’s face. The wrinkles around his eyes sagged more than usual; Daniel saw no displeasure, only the heaviness of resignation and self-imposed guilt.
“No, I don’t mean we’re done with you,” Leander clarified. He looked at each young man in turn. “I mean the company’s done; with all of us…even me.”
He pressed the “share” button on the area of the SmartConference table in front of him, and the same screen he saw duplicated itself around the table in front of each of the managers and directors-in-training.
“Those of you in the financial sectors have glimpsed this; until now, the knowledge was not widespread. You see how our production, clientele, and business have increased, reflecting favorably in the short-term market—“
“But profit has not increased at the same rate,” one young man supplied.
“This means bankruptcy in the long-term,” a female analyst noted.
Leander nodded somberly. “But that’s not the worst of it; we’re not just going bankrupt, you see; we’re in debt.”
“In debt to whom?” Aaron queried in the dead silence following that awful word.
Daniel sighed heavily, now feeling the weight of the situation hanging on him like an iron cape. “To the Byblos Corporation,” he guessed.
Leander confirmed it. “You remember the Business Symposium that Executive Director Hector Maverick attended at the beginning of this year, don’t you, Daniel?”
“I do, sir,” Daniel nodded, “Mr. Maverick thought he could brook a pact with Byblos by taking him on a virtual tour of our facilities. He was confident that even if Mr. King, the Executive Director of Byblos, would not offer any support to a small communications company in Missouri, at least seeing Integra’s wealth of supply and demand would cause potential enemies to become uneasy allies.”
Leander shook his head. “Mr. Maverick kept the hologram on his person the whole time; we never found out the extent of what was on the chip until he returned.”
“What,” a personnel manager raised his hand, “was there more than just the virtual tour?”
“It wasn’t just about our facilities,” Leander snapped, “That fool wanted to tout our finances as well! He practically handed Mr. King the records of all our profits, expenses, and liabilities when he showed him that hologram!”
“Did no one warn him?” Michael asked.
Leander was too overcome to answer at the moment, so Daniel supplied the information. “Upon his return, Mr. Maverick met with the Chief Executive, Justin Mandalord.”
“Somehow Mr. Mandalord learned before anyone else what Hector had done,” Leander had recovered enough to continue, “and he warned the Director that this would be the making of Integra’s downfall.”
“How come we didn’t hear about this till now?” Harry asked.
“Because nothing came of it till now!” Leander pounded his fist on the table. “Hector saw no reason to admit to his guilt because he knew—Justin told him—that Integra would not pay for his mistake until after he resigned!” The elderly man sat back and calmed his nerves with a long sigh. “Sure enough, now that Hector’s successor Jee-Hoy Kim is Executive Director—the truth comes out. Chad King of Byblos calls in his debt.”
“Wait,” Aaron stared at the screens on the table in front of him and tried to make sense of the information he was hearing. “How does Integra go from exposed to in debt so quickly?”
These seemingly unrelated pieces clicked together at an alarming rate in Daniel’s mind. “I’d say that Mr. King took the information from Mr. Maverick, analyzed the weaknesses and the loopholes, and exploited our company from the inside information so freely presented to him.” He “shared” his own screen around the table, so that each one could see the connections as he graphed them out in front of him. “By getting into our investment portfolio, Mr. King could slowly begin to direct cash-flow from all areas, one by one, into Byblos moneybags. Then he goes after our clients, starting with the other shareholders and then our least-monitored patrons, convincing them to channel their business through Byblos instead. Since these clients are not important enough to be constantly monitored by our system, this diversion goes unnoticed until it is too late.”
“Leander, sir,” Harrison looked up as Daniel finished, “When we first began talking, you said that it’s over for us. What did you mean by that? We haven’t completely lost Integra yet, have we?”
Leander sighed. “Integra might as well be lost. See that number in the top right corner of your screens? That’s the amount of debt Mr. King is demanding be paid. In fact, a convoy of Byblos executives are heading this way right now to collect it.”
One of the financial analysts gasped, “That’s the net worth of the entire company!” he gazed at Leander, wide-eyed with the terror that only confusion and fear could bring. “Why wouldn’t Mr. Kim just liquidate the entire company and pay off the debt?”
Leander enfolded all the bright young faces around the room with a sorrowful, wistful glance. “Because the debt is not about the money. Mr. King insists that it be paid in personnel and services.”
“Personnel?” Aaron gasped. “You mean—“
“Yes,” Leander confirmed reluctantly. “That’s what the convoy is for; every person in this building, attached to this company, is now under the management of the Byblos Corporation.” He hung his head, “Our founder, Abraham Mandalord, came away from that place so long ago—“
“Following the guidance of God,” Daniel reminded him soberly.
“So?” Leander returned, “We’ve drifted away from God since then, and now here is our punishment! Don’t you see what’s really going on? It’s not just another, more powerful company calling in a debt; Abraham left that company, he was called out of it—and now we’re going right back there. So many decades of work, more than a century devoted to this company…and we’re no better off than when we started.”
In the shocked silence that followed, every young man and woman in that room heard the roar of autobuses arriving on cue. They all gathered at the windows and looked down. Buses waited, with black-suited security guards pouring out, led by a tall woman with long dark hair slicked back into a plumb-straight ponytail, looking severe even at that distance.
“There are no trucks for moving any sort of furniture or equipment,” Aaron observed soberly.
Somona chimed, “All Integra Personnel report to the atrium in—five—minutes. Repeat, All Integra Personnel must report to the atrium in—five—minutes.”
Leander looked around at the room full of bright, eager young entrepreneurs, skilled in their field, brimming with talent in their respective areas that a corporation such a corporation as Byblos would only exploit rather than cultivate. At least Daniel, perhaps his three friends Aaron, Harrison, and Michael—these four might still achieve their potential. As for the others…
“We have five minutes to pack only what we can carry,” he told them all. “Better hurry; we don’t want to anger our new employers.”
Are they employing us, Daniel thought as he raced back to his office, or enslaving us? He swept as many personal digital effects as he could onto a thumb drive plugged into his desk, and stuffed some books from his office into the duffel with a few changes of clothes he always kept at the office in case of emergency—but never this sort of emergency.
Daniel joined the flow of Integra employees heading for the elevators. He was glad the drop now took a few seconds where a few decades earlier it took elevators more than a minute to cover the same distance. He allowed himself to be smashed with as many employees as wanted to fit in the car, and rode down to the atrium. They were greeted by a security guard in a black uniform bearing the embroidered emblem of the Byblos Corporation. He beckoned them out of the elevator with his gun.
“That way, move it!” he barked.
All the employees obediently filed into the open area at the center. The severe woman stood at the front of the room, watching everyone with cold, calculating eyes. As Daniel stood in the crowd, waiting for the remaining employees to arrive, he watched her. Every feature was flawless: her skin, her nails, her clothing, even her body structure. She stood, straight, slender, and immobile. Byblos security guards stood at every door, but Daniel knew instinctively that those in this room were not all. His instincts proved correct when, after the last group of Integra employees disembarked, another elevator door opened, and a group of Byblos guards exited, confirming with the woman, “They’re all here, Ms. Perez.”
She turned her attention to the cowering crowd before her. Daniel noticed a black box in her right hand, recognizing it as a P-VAS, Personal Voice Amplification System; she spoke into it, and her voice projected enough to fill the whole room.
“Workforce of Integra Communications, Incorporated,” she announced, “Welcome. My name is Ashley Perez, and I am the Director of Personnel Maintenance at Byblos Corporations. Effective immediately, Integra Communications is hereby dissolved, and every last one of you is under my jurisdiction until further notice. When I dismiss you, I want everyone on those buses, and we’ll head back to the Great Campus in Sacramento, California. Are we clear?”
A few people muttered, others nodded, but it wasn’t till a guard bellowed, “Provide verbal confirmation!” that everyone shouted back, “YES!”
Ashley smiled, squinting her eyes with condescension.
“Welcome to Byblos Corporations, employees!”