Whatever emotion showed on my face, he took it as disbelief. “Look, you saw us talking. We’ve been talking a lot since she broke up with Sandy.”
I glanced around. While Emmy and Sandy’s relationship might have been an open secret for some people, it was possible that saying it aloud might force someone to take official notice.
The people in line for the door ahead of us weren’t close and no one stood behind us. On the other hand, there were people coming in our direction—Art and Zola. I hadn’t been wrong in thinking that Art was both a good six inches shorter and 20 years older than I was. It did surprise me that he could get away with wearing a “Rick and Morty” t-shirt in an office environment. On the other hand the shirt’s message, “I’m not arguing. I’m explaining why I’m right,” fit Art well enough.
Zola on the other hand stood a little short of my height. Seeing her up close instead of across the room from my desk or from the lense of one of my spybots, my first impression was red lipstick, blond hair and glasses that, if her senses were like Haley’s, were purely decorative. The black denim, button down shirt might have been one button lower than I’d think of as business casual, but it was a casual office.
It made it easier to imagine her going out to a bar with Stephanie and getting drunk.
She put her hand on my shoulder, saying, “I hope we didn’t interrupt your work last Friday. I happened to hear later what you must have been working on. You have no idea how much the company’s invested in that thing. You must be amazingly smart.”
I felt the warmth of a slight blush. Knowing that I’d programmed the reaction into my implant the week before, choosing a subtle blush in the hope that it would be enough, did not make the blush less awkward or embarrassing.
Doing my best to ignore it, I said, “I don’t know. What’s smart? I think I’m better at figuring out technical issues than most people, but bearing in mind the Dunning-Kruger effect, even incompetent people think they’re competent.”
“You’re funny,” she said, and let go of my shoulder.
Touching me might have been meant as a way to make a connection, but I couldn’t help but notice that Art had moved behind me to talk to Victor, making it impossible to see him if he attacked.
Even that thought came without the familiar jolt of fear. Bearing in mind that I was trying to convince the Art and Zola that I didn’t know anything about them, that was probably a good thing. I wasn’t sure that I felt quite right about the idea that my implant could override my natural emotional state, though.
“What do you think about the company so far,” Zola asked. “I worked in the lab for a while myself and made a lot of friends there. I’m sure you know Stephanie. We’ve gone out after work sometimes.”
“She mentioned that,” I said, and we made small talk as we followed the line of people out of the lab and over to the main office where people grabbed anything they might have left and we all walked out into a rainy fall day.
Art and Victor talked together as I left the office. I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant that Victor might be in whatever group of conspirators existed in the company. I didn’t have proof, but it was worth a look. I made a mental note to have Hal watch for times in the surveillance when Victor and Art were talking.
Vaughn and I met near the helipad. He looked around, and seeing no one else nearby, said, “Anything weird happen with Victor?”
“Not so far. He was about to talk to me about Emmy, but we got interrupted—which might be for the best. If he went on too long, I might have been tempted to tell him that Emmy’s got zero interest in him and that might have turned messy.”
Vaughn shook his head. “I wouldn’t say anything about that unless you’re ready to deal with the fallout. I’d figure Emmy should give you the okay at the very least.”
Nodding, I said, “I get that. She was worried about what Victor might do and I can’t say she’s wrong to worry.”
Then I pointed upward toward the grey sky. “Is this all yours?”
Vaughn shook his head. “It’s part me and part normal fall weather.”
When I got back, I sent Hal the newly downloaded recordings and started doing my school assignments.
As I worked in my lab, I had a notification in my implant. It was a message from Hal saying, “I’ve finished converting the most recent recordings as well as the older ones. You may view them anytime you wish.”
I looked over the list, stopping when I saw the name “Russell Hardwick.”