Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 7

As it turned out, they were able to get into their furnished apartment on Sunday, since the manager lived on the site.

"No big deal on only taking one apartment," the middle-aged woman said. "Iíve got a waiting list. I can have it rented with one phone call."

The apartment was small, smaller than either had visualized; it was a studio apartment in a small apartment building, on a second story reached by an outside staircase. It was an end apartment right at the top of the stairs, off a balcony that ran in front of the apartments. It had just a kitchenette and bathroom off of one small main room. There was no bed, per se, but a couch that could be made down into one that wasnít terribly large.

"Itís going to be a little cozy," Tanisha said as they started hauling stuff up from the Monte Carlo. "But itís not like weíre going to be here forever, either."

"Big enough to get everything in from the car," he agreed. "I donít know that we need anything better."

With the car unloaded, they decided to explore a little. Though they had habitually referred to Lambdatron as being in Phoenix, it was actually in Tempe, a suburb, and it was the first place they headed. The first sight was unimpressive; it was located in an industrial park, with a number of low, nondescript concrete block buildings, and only a small sign indicating that it was anything at all. Many of the buildings were located behind a tall chain link fence, and they could see an occupied guard post. "Except for the tornado fence," Jon commented, "It might as well be Hadley-Monroe."

"We know they do a lot of classified stuff," Tanisha commented from the right seat of the Monte Carlo. "My guess is we wonít see much of that."

"Probably not," Jon replied. "Well, I guess we arenít going to find out much more today. At least we know how to find the place. Maybe we ought to find a supermarket, get some food. I donít think we want to try to eat out all the time. That would get expensive."

"Uh, Jon," Tanisha said uncertainly, "That may be a problem. Iím, uh, not much of a cook."

"Didnít you learn how as a kid?" he asked as he continued down the street in the Monte Carlo, looking for a place to turn around.

"Oh, I know a few things," she said. "But most of that was from my mother, before she died. Mostly itís been my sister-in-law doing the cooking since, and we, well, we never got along very well. The kitchen was her area, and I tried to stay out of it."

"Well, hell," Jon said, "Iím not much of a cook, either. I mean, I can open a can and throw the stuff in a microwave and survive on it, but Mom did most of the cooking at home."

"Thatís about what I can do," she shook her head. "I guess a girl is supposed to know that kind of stuff, but Iím afraid I donít. Iím sorry, Jon. I guess itís going to be a lot of sandwiches and canned stuff."

"Iíll help with it," he grinned. Donít let it bother you. Put Crystal or Nanci in a kitchen, and they donít do much better. Oh, give Crystal an open fire or a camp stove and she does all right, or at least thatís what I hear, but in a kitchen she just heads for the microwave like the rest of us."

"You know," she smiled, "I sure hope it works out that someday I can get to know Crystal a little better. I mean, I can see we donít have a lot in common, but sheís got to be quite a character."

"Iíd like that," he said, shaking his head. "Whether itíll ever come off, thatís a good question. Maybe someday, once weíve got some of these things worked out, I could track Randy down and tell him to have her get hold of us."

"I donít want to do that right now," she said. "Right now, Iíd be just as happy if no one knew where we are, at least till things have a chance to settle down."

* * *

Bright and early Monday morning, they were walking into the lobby of the Lambdatron administration building. Wanting to make a good first impression they were dressed fairly nicely; Jon had on a white shirt and a tie, and Tanisha slacks and a blouse. Although she hadnít said anything about it, Jon could tell she was a little nervous; it was hard to figure out how a black woman would be accepted at the company. Oh, Tanisha was sure it would be reasonable on the surface, but it was the little underlying things that had her worried. As far as that went, it concerned Jon, too.

"May I help you?" the middle-aged woman at the reception desk asked.

"Yes," Jon told her, barely able to believe his eyes; the woman was wearing jeans, and a T-shirt that said PLUSH Ė Phoenix Lesbians United to Save Humanity. "Jon Chladek and Tanisha Blythe, weíre here to see Mr. Geletzke."

"Yeah," she laughed, "He told me to be on the lookout for a couple of kids who looked a little confused. Youíve got to be our new intern associates. Welcome to Lambdatron! I think youíll like it here. Iím Angela. Jimís in a meeting but it should be ending pretty quick. He said to run you through the rigmarole over in personnel, and heíd catch up with you there."

"Youíre going to have to point us in the right direction," Tanisha said, her eyes goggling at the T-shirt. Even at Tech, there werenít that many lesbians who were that up-front about it Ė and in a business office?

"No problem," the woman smiled as she picked up the phone. "Iíll call back and have someone come out and get you."

Tanisha caught Jonís eye, and could see that he was checking out the T-shirt, and was just about as amazed as she was; a little shake of the head and roll of the eyes confirmed it. What was that all about?

In a minute or so, a small blonde girl came out from the depths of the back of the building Ė she was short and slender, with long hair, and reminded Jon a little of Nanci. She was wearing a T-shirt, too Ė it had a big, burly guy on it, a hammer in one hand, a bunch of boards thrown across his shoulder. To build a house, you gotta have studs, it said. Jon and Tanisha traded quizzical glances. "Hi, Iím Molly," the girl said. "Youíre Jon and Tanisha, right? Welcome to Lambdatron! Iíll be your designated driver. You want to come with me?"

They followed her back through the building, to a large office with several people working in it. They were just a little amazed to see that everyone back there was wearing a T-shirt with some outrageous slogan on it: Iím with Stupid. PETA Ė People Eating Tasty Animals. Beer drinkers make better lovers. There were more, but they didnít catch all of them. Tanisha ached to ask what the deal was with the T-shirts and could see that Jon did too, but somehow thought it might not be right to ask. "Weíve got a bunch of paperwork here," Molly said. "Two thirds of it is bullshit, but itís stuff that has to be on file, or at least thatís what the state or the feds say."

There was quite a pile of paperwork, including, to their surprise, some from the FBI Ė obviously to get a security clearance. One of the forms was huge, and basically asked them to certify that theyíd never been a member of one of what must have been thousands of organizations, listed in very small print. "That oneís mostly bullshit, too," Molly said, "But you really should at least scan it. If youíve ever been into radical politics at all, you should read it more carefully."

Jon scanned through the form. "Got me," he said finally. "The only one of these Iíve ever even heard of is the Communist Party of the United States."

"Oh, thereís a few that are still around, I guess," Molly said. "Most of those that didnít go belly up when the Berlin wall fell might have two or three members left."

They were just finishing up the paperwork when a great big black guy walked in. Jon took one look at him and figured quarterbacks were his favorite breakfast food. He looked again, and his jaw dropped: he was wearing a T-shirt that said 1986 Southern 500 Ė Darlington SC Ė The track too tough to tame. It wasnít so much the stock car racing that shocked him as it was the prominently displayed Confederate flag . . .

"Hi, Jim," Molly smiled. "Thatís a good one."

"I donít know," the big black dude laughed. "I think Angela has me beat. PLUSH?" He shook his head. "I take it these are our new kids?"

"Just finishing up," she smiled. "Weíve got the weight of paperwork adding up to equaling their body weight, so we ought to be about done. This is Tanisha Blythe and Jon Chladek."

"Good enough," he smiled again and turned to Jon and Tanisha. "Iím Jim Geletzke. Welcome to Lambdatron."

"Pleased to meet you," Tanisha replied, jaw just a little agape at the T-shirt.

"Glad to see you," Jon smiled, thinking that a middle European name like "Geletzke" was not exactly one heíd have expected to see on a guy that dark. We really are a mixing pot, arenít we?

"So how are things at Tech?" Geletzke asked. "Dr. McDermott is still a pain in the ass, right?"

"You said it, I didnít," Tanisha laughed. "Heís very challenging, stretches your mind."

"Thatís true," the big black guy said. "Are the two of you all settled in and ready to get down to business?"

"Pretty much, Mr. Geletzke," Jon admitted. "We got into town yesterday. Weíre still sort of learning our way around. Itíll probably take a while."

"Took me a while, too," he smiled. "By the way, weíre a little on the informal side here, so everyone is on a first-name basis. Call me Jim. Thereís a couple other Jims around, so ĎGrizí works, too. Iím sure you have about a million questions, so I guess the logical thing to do is to get you in to see Stan before we get down to business. Thatís really the best introduction to Lambdatron you can get."

Stanís office was small, filled with cheap furniture, and was a contender for the "messiest office" category in the Guinness Book of World Records. The walls had several cheap posters, much like could be seen in any college dorm room. On the wall behind the desk was a large poster, of a tall, handsome, older fencer, holding a foil at en garde. "Welcome to Lambdatron," the slender, fortyish white man behind the desk wearing an End Hate Ė Kill Everybody T-shirt said after heíd shaken both Jonís and Tanishaís hands. "Clear some crap off some of the chairs and find a seat. Iím Stan Warshawski Jr., the keeper of this zoo."

Jon shook his head. He had once been in the office of the president of Hadley-Monroe. It was large, neat as a pin, and filled with expensive furniture; the president always wore an expensive Italian suit. Stan and his office were about as different as you could get, to the point of Jonís being nearly speechless. There was a chair about like a kitchen chair that wasnít stacked too badly; Jon carefully picked up the loose stack of papers and looked for a place to put it. Finding no particularly good candidate, he settled for the floor as Tanisha did the same thing.

"Well, Jim," Stan smiled, "Iíd guess that Jon here is our winner of the day."

"Looks like it to me," the big black man smiled. He hadnít bothered to clean off a chair; heíd just found a place on a counter and sat down, right on top of a pile of papers. "A white shirt and tie is about as tasteless as you can get around here."

"Relax, Jon," Stan smiled, "Weíre not really making fun of you, since you donít know the deal on this. I suppose itíd be better if you two hadnít shown up on Tasteless T-shirt Day. Usually, itís on a Thursday, but weíre expecting some Pentagon brass in later today. We wouldnít want to give the wrong impression."

"The wrong impression?" Jon frowned. "The other place I worked, youíd have been thrown out on your butt if you showed up in any kind of a T-shirt at all."

"Makes my point," Stan smiled. "Youíve heard of dress-down days, havenít you? Weíre so casual around here normally that we have to go to extremes. On Tasteless T-shirt Day, the rule is, Ďwear if you dare,í and thereís people wearing T-shirts around here they wouldnít be caught dead wearing on the street."

"I was wondering about that," Tanisha giggled. "I mean, thereís casual and, well . . . "

"Thereís a number of reasons for that," Stan smiled. "The biggest one is itís fun. It helps everybody feel like theyíre a part of the company; itís us against the world. For a number of reasons we tend to be pretty compartmentalized here, to the point where I donít even know everything thatís going on. I never went to anything like a management class, so most business executives think Iím pretty close to crazy. But Iím interested in what works. One time, long ago, I showed up for work at another company Ė well, I was a little spaced out from working all night. I was wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and I hadnít shaved for a couple days. Without warning, I was dumped into giving a presentation to a three-star Air Force general. It went pretty well, and afterwards, he told me, ĎYou look like hell, but you must be pretty damn sharp for them to keep you around looking like that.í I learned something out of that. The bottom line is weíre different, and weíre proud of it."

A vision crossed Jonís mind of his father wearing a T-shirt like Stan was wearing to Hadley-Monroe, and he had to fight back a laugh.

"Iíd offer you some coffee," Stan smiled, "But my idiot doctor says I have to cut down. I donít really like the taste of coffee that much, and decaf sort of misses the point, in my book. But, relax. Iíve looked at your résumés and a few other things, so I know a fair bit about you two already. The two of you know each other, right? Good friends?"

"A little more than that," Tanisha smiled, holding up her left hand to show off the ring.

"Ah, breaking the paradigm, I see," he smiled. "That speaks well for the both of you. Lambdatron doesnít have a company motto, but if we did have one, itíd be Break the Paradigm. We like to think weíre fairly good at it. The photo on the wall behind me Ė thatís my father, and I learned a lot from him, some positive, some negative. Heís a fencing instructor in Toledo. He was on the Polish Olympic Team in 1952, Bronze medalist, in fact. He was awful damn good, and still is. A year or so after that, he was at an international match in Boston, and he defected, right at the height of the Cold War. He broke a paradigm to have a better life. It worked for him. He had hopes of me taking after him, being a world-class fencer. The best I ever made was E-level, and that was a fluke, so he broke his own paradigm and said, ĎDo what you will, but do your best.í I wound up in engineering, back in the early days of the microprocessor, and figured there were a lot of applications where it could be used. My ideas couldnít break through my supervisorís paradigms, so a couple other crazy people and I started this place. We think entirely too many things are done for the simple reason that itís always been done that way. Weíve learned it may not be the best way, especially as technology changes. Realistically, the best way to do anything at any given time is just a stopgap until the technology improves. The real trick is to know when to abandon the old way and get on with the new."

"I think I understand what youíre saying," Jon smiled. "When my dad was about my age, he was part of a team that developed an interesting application of lasers and computers in machining. It was groundbreaking work at the time, but theyíve clung to the exact same system for years. Even I can see that it could be improved by going back and rethinking the whole thing, considering the advances made with the supporting technology in over twenty years. But, as you said, ĎTheyíve always done it that way.í"

"Right," Stan said. "Iíve done some research on you, I know the application youíre talking about, and youíre dead right. They arenít able to break the paradigm theyíve created for themselves, and itís going to catch up with them sooner or later. Anyway, thatís our job here at Lambdatron Ė breaking paradigms. We break many of them in the way we operate, and itís worked so far. Now, this is a small company. There are less than a hundred people who work here, and that includes the janitors, since some of them have to have Top Secret clearances. I donít want to say Ďemployees,í because we have none. What we have are Associates and Shareholders. The company is employee owned, mostly to keep it from being bait to be merged with some conglomerate. Itís been tried, but the shareholders and I all know that being a part of a major conglomerate would ruin the atmosphere of creativity we have here. While I happen to be the CEO, my title isnít President but Senior Shareholder. There are a number of other unique ways weíre organized, some of which would make corporate management professors blow their cookies, but thatís their paradigm. What we have works for us."

"It is different all right," Tanisha smiled. "I donít know what I was expecting, but this isnít it."

"Thatís good," Stan smiled. "That means youíre not carrying much baggage with you. Youíve broken a few paradigms yourself, just by wanting to get into engineering from your background, and being so tenacious about it. Iíll be honest: when Larry McDermott pointed the two of you out to us, you interested us because of that lack of background in the field, so you donít have as many preconceived notions. We were a little reluctant about Jon because heís already worked elsewhere in the field, but Larry said the two of you made a good team. I saw a copy of that paper the two of you did for him, and I was impressed at the creative thinking. That was both your work, right?"

"Right," Tanisha said. "We both had crucial insights in the process of working it out. Iíd say we contributed about equally."

"Thatís what Larry said," Stan nodded. "He says your mutual work shows up in some other papers of yours. Well, thatís what weíre going to find out. Let me explain what weíre proposing to do. Weíre going to have you working on a number of projects around here. Granted, some of them will be intern level scutwork, but some wonít be. Some of it will be mirroring stuff that weíve done elsewhere, just to get a look at how you think. What we like to do is to bring in undergraduates at about your level, and even younger, so we can have some influence in your education, and maybe take you into some areas that you hadnít considered that would be useful to us in the future. We arenít a large company, but we do need fresh people continually. For a number of reasons, we usually donít consider applications that come in over the desk, but work from recommendations of people we know and trust to give us honest ones, which is why youíre here Ė we want to make sure youíre the right people. If you impress us, weíll probably ask you back for another summer. If you still impress us and want to come to work here full time, youíll probably be asked to come on board as a shareholder. We realize that youíre assessing us as much as weíre assessing you, so if you have questions, ask. Now, we all wear several hats here. I try to work on projects when I can, if for no other reason than to keep up with the madness thatís happening around here, so Iíll be looking over your shoulders on some projects, probably working with you on some of them. Jim will be your day-to-day supervisor, but think of me as your assessor. Think of me as a friend, too. Itís as important that you get as good an assessment of us as we do of you."

"I sure hope weíll all come out with good assessments," Tanisha said. "A question, though. You said, ĎHave some influence on our education.í Does that include grants, maybe?"

"Maybe," Stan smiled. "It sort of depends. Itís a case-by-case thing. My understanding is that you two donít need a lot in the way of student aid."

"Weíre not sure anymore," Tanisha replied. "Things may have changed. Weíve just started looking into it."

"If you have problems, let me know," Stan smiled. "If by the end of the summer, you look like potential shareholders and you have difficulties, Iíll see what I can work out."

"I think I can speak for Tanisha," Jon said, "In that weíll do our best to make sure that Dr. McDermottís recommendation wonít disappoint you."

"Weíll have to see," Stan said. "We usually try to run several kids through this sort of informal program of ours each summer. Some make it, some donít. The ones who donít make it, as often as not theyíre going to make fine engineers, but we donít think they have the mental flexibility it takes to be one at Lambdatron, so even if it doesnít work out, that doesnít mean youíre failures." He let out a sigh, shook his head, and went on, "Our method of corporate recruitment is a little innovative, but so far itís worked well for us. If we had a motto for this program, Iíd gladly steal it from another tech company, but one that unfortunately is one of the most lock-stepped, corporate-think, salute-and-go-over-the-hill places I can think of, so itís really pretty hypocritical for them. But, itís no less valid: ĎEagles donít flock. You have to find them one at a time.í Now get out there and fly."

"Weíre looking forward to it," Tanisha smiled.

"Good," Stan smiled. "Iíd love to sit here and shoot the shit with you. Iíll get the chance to sooner or later, but Iíve got all this brass coming in from the Pentagon on a program I wonít be able to tell you about this summer, so Iíve got some review to do."

* * *

Jonís head was spinning by the time he got out of Stan Warshawskiís office. It had been the damnedest orientation session heíd ever been a part of . . . he still had no idea of what he was doing, but already he could see it was going to be different from Hadley-Monroe. About as different as he could imagine, in fact.

"Letís get you over to Building Seven," Jim told them. "I need to get you settled in, give you the rest of the orientation, and like that. Stan is pretty cool, isnít he?"

"I havenít exactly met a lot of corporate CEOs," Jon shook his head, "But he isnít like any of them."

"He does tend to talk a lot," Jim smiled. "Itís usually worth listening to what heís saying, though. He has a lot of ideas. All of them will make you think. Most of them are worth thinking about. A few of them arenít, but youíre never quite sure. Iíve heard him come out with some of the absolutely dumbest ideas in creation that turn out to make sense when you stop and think about them, and thatís the point. ĎBreak the Paradigmí really ought to be the company motto, but the trick is to learn when to break it and when not to. Sometimes itís not easy. But, I guess Iím one of those broken paradigms myself."

"Howís that?" Tanisha asked.

"Iím walking proof that you can go through Georgia Tech on an athletic scholarship and actually learn something. I didnít exactly set the world on fire with my grades, partly because I started well behind the field, and partly because I had to waste time on football. But Dr. McDermott realized I was more than what met the eye, and recruited me for this place. Best thing that ever happened to me. I had some NFL scouts snooping around me, but I figured that was just a way to be out on the street in five years with bad knees."

"Hold it," Jon said as the older man opened a door and led them outside. "Grizzly Geletzke?"

"They used to call me that." Jim smiled. "You into football?"

"No," Jon said, shaking his head. Maybe this guy didnít eat quarterbacks for breakfast anymore, but he once did. "My roommate was, and I had to endure a few games on TV. That guy who announces for Tech mentioned you a few times."

"Hell, I hoped theyíd forgotten by now," he snorted. "Donít get me wrong, I donít regret my playing football, since it opened the doors for me. But when the time for it was over, I was glad to leave. I donít even follow it myself, anymore. Anyway, the nickel tour. Weíve just been in the ad building. This building in front of us is Building Seven. Itís the newest building on the lot, and itís basically non-classified work. Over the summer, you may see a few things go by with low classifications on them, but that shouldnít be a big deal since weíll have Confidential clearances on you in a few days, we just have to have the feds do a National Agency Check, which checks your birth certificates, fingerprints and some other stuff. The stuff behind the fence is pretty much all classified work. You have to have a higher-level clearance to head out there, and you probably wonít this summer. Not everything out there is government classified, some of the contract work we do for private contractors is kept just about as tight, even though it doesnít have anything to do with the government. Other than the broadest generalities, Iím not even going to talk about what goes on out there, and I donít necessarily know, either."

"In other words, donít ask, right?" Tanisha said.

"Right," Jim nodded as he led them inside Building Seven, and down a long hall. "Iím not going to give you the big security lecture right now, since youíre going to be snowballed today anyway, but youíll get one in the next few days, and youíll get a hell of a big one before you work out back, if you ever do. Occasionally weíll get some little piece of one of the projects from back there kicked up here, but you wonít know what the basic project is all about. We have to take security seriously. Thatís part of the reason for stuff like Tasteless T-shirt Thursday. Itís just to keep people remembering theyíre part of Lambdatron, not just project XYZ-321 or some damn thing. Thereís a lot of other neat company stuff, too. Stan thinks itís important, and Iíve come to agree with him. In general, weíll work the snot out of you, but you should enjoy it, too. Now, you kids are on salary, so that means a forty-hour work week. If you feel you need to, you can push it on out to fifty, but Iím going to draw the line at that, especially if youíre going to take classes at State, too. If you wind up staying with Lambdatron, thereíll be times that you think youíre working fifty-hour days, so donít let yourselves overdo it."

"What are you going to have us doing?" Jon asked as they were led into an office. It was bare, except for four desks with computers, chairs, a chalkboard, and some filing cabinets.

"Odds and ends, like Stan said," Jim shrugged. "Some design, some drafting, some analysis, sort of what comes to mind for a couple of free hands without clearances. If things get slow, I may just hand you some small project that weíve already done, just to see how you handle it. Weíll get our moneyís worth out of you, but you gotta remember our goal for this summer is really to find out what youíve got and whether it will fit in with what we need. In general, Iím not going to breathe down your neck, especially since Iíve got stuff to do out back as well as up here. Now, I do have to warn you. Security isnít tight in Building Seven, and you will know whatís going on in some of the other offices. Donít let someone just walk in and dump a bunch of work on you, or youíll get buried, and Stan and I wonít find out what we want to know. Route everything through me, unless itís something Stan wants. I may assign you to a project temporarily, if they need extra hands for something. Anyway, this is the intern office. You notice how busy and bustling it is."

"Crowded," Jon smiled, noting there were only the three of them in the small room.

"Right," Jim said. "In fact, we were supposed to have two more interns. One got busted up in a car wreck, I donít know if weíll have him out here this summer or what. The other one called Friday, said he wasnít coming. He said a job just opened up at the last minute in his hometown, the money wasnít as good, but he could live at home. Something to do with laser-controlled die cutters, I think."

An interesting possibility crossed Jonís mind. "This home town wouldnít happen to be in the west Chicago area, would it?"

"Could be," Jim nodded. "I donít remember for sure, but Iíd have to look it up. Some place called Glen Ellyn, if memory serves right."

Jon couldnít help himself. He broke out laughing, shaking his head. "Whatís so damn funny?" Jim frowned.

"The poor bastard . . . " Jon shook his head, still laughing. "God, no breaking paradigms for him. . . " he took a couple deep breaths, and tried to get himself under control.

"Whatís this?" Jim grinned, sensing a story.

"I think that was the job I was supposed to have," Jon grinned. "I worked there summers for years. Dad just assumed I was coming back this summer without asking me. God, was he pissed. They had this huge mountain of drafting built up, all AutoCAD, no real engineering. Thatís part of why Iím here." He shook his head again. "The poor, poor bastard," he said. "No Tasteless T-shirt Thursdays either."

"Some people canít break the paradigm," Jim smiled. "Just as well we found out now, I guess. On the subject of tasteless, though, Jon, would you lose that damn tie? Around this place, itís about the most tasteless thing Iíve seen all day."

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