“Uh-huh,” I said, wondering if I’d just seen the beginning of a crime.
His smile widened. “You’ve never worked at the high levels of a business—any business, I bet, given your age. Trust me, there are things that are normal in a business that look scary to outsiders. That guy I talked to? He’s not going to go rob somebody. He’d go to jail, right? No, he’s going to think creatively now. That’s part of what being a manager means, knowing what will motivate your people to do their best. He needs a kick in the pants.
“Now before we were interrupted, I’d asked you what you’re interested in professionally. What’s your answer? Remember, there’s no shame in thinking big.”
From there on, it became a completely conventional discussion about career goals. In the background, though, I found myself wondering about the guy. He could say he never intended that a crime should be committed if the guy stole whatever it was they were talking about, but from what I heard he’d encouraged exactly that without ever saying so directly.
The paranoid side of my brain wondered if he’d planned that interruption. It wouldn’t be hard. I’d heard a story about a Silicon Valley startup that made one of their interview questions, “If you could press a button that would give you one million dollars, but would also kill a farmer on the other side of the world, would you if it couldn’t be traced back to you?”
They’d hire the ones that said yes. Hypothetically, he could be trying to vet future employees by how they reacted. Maybe he’d keep the interns that he thought he could bully into silence or corrupt?
If that were true, I wondered if I’d passed.
In the meantime, I kept up the career chatter, telling about how I wanted to be on the edge of whatever technological developments humanity made in this century. If that sounded naive, I was at least being honest. After about a hour, we were done and I walked back to my workstation.
I spent the next three and half hours shadowing the scientists and technicians who were analyzing the materials used in the alien tech and making first steps in the direction of replicating them.
With half an hour left in my day, I found myself working on a summary of what I’d done for Dr. Strazinsky. At least that was part of what I was working on. My implant had a collection of methods for breaking into Abominator technology. I’d set it to try the least risky ones out on the birthing chamber.
As I stared at the screen, the implant notified me that it had made progress. It had access to the archives, making me wonder what was in them.
In answer to my thought, I saw creature after creature, some of them familiar. For example, I saw the Abominators’ standard ground troops—humans that had been given claws, regeneration, inhuman agility and strength—Haley’s ancestors.
Some of the images were more monstrous than that. For example, a tentacled creature that reminded me of a panther except for the eyestalks, mandibles, and exoskeleton—that and the lack of fur.
Sensing my interest in the creature, the implant gave me more information. Called a Tentacled Seeker by the Xiniti, the Abominators had used it to track people down and kill them. The tentacles had poison stingers.
I checked out a few more and went back to the Tentacled Seeker. The entry described its hunting techniques and effectiveness. It also gave statistics for the process of birthing copies of the creature. The birthing chambers could produce an adult within four hours.
The machine had at least twelve chambers from what I could see. So, you could create 24 of the creatures in a night if you wanted to make 24 animal assassins.
I poked around the creatures’ profile a little more before noticing that all profiles had logs of how recently they’d been accessed. Expecting to find that it had been three thousand years or more, I looked over the last few dates. The last two accesses were me, but the third turned out to have been on Saturday afternoon.
The birthing chamber showed a couple more from last week.
I queried the implant to ask if there were anywhere that showed whether or not the creatures had been used. The implant didn’t know. The birthing chambers had a small AI that would have an easier time noticing if we broke into that subsystem.
I stood up in my cubicle, looking over toward Victor and finding him working at his desk. I walked over to him. “Do you know if the linguistics team had any breakthroughs on the birthing chambers’ user interface?”