Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Domesticating Dragons: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Friday, November 6, 2020 21:47 EST




    My jalopy was the first thing to let me down. I threw myself into the driver’s seat with twenty-two minutes left in my promised hour and jammed the ignition button with my finger.

    The engine made a high-pitched whine but refused to turn over.

    “Aw, come on.” I waited three seconds and tried it again. This time, the car didn’t so much as whimper. “Shit!”

    I bailed out and ran to the bus stop. Nineteen minutes. In a sheer miracle, a bus from the red line pulled up a minute later. I jumped on and grabbed a ceiling loop, swaying in the crowded aisle and sweating as the minutes ticked down. I had fourteen left. Then ten minutes. Reptilian’s shiny building swung into view at last. I hit the bell and jumped off at the next intersection.

    Damn, it was stifling outside. Heat rolled off the sidewalk like it was a furnace. I half-walked, half-jogged the two blocks to Reptilian Corporation’s mirrored building.

    I checked my phone as I walked into the blessedly cool lobby. One hour and two minutes had passed since I’d hung up with Evelyn. I figured that was within the margin of error.

    The same redhead waited at the reception desk. Well, then. Batter up.

    “Well, we meet again,” I said.

    No flicker of recognition crossed her features. Maybe she was a robot. “Can I help you?”

    “I’m Noah Parker.”

    She looked back to her screen. “And?”

    Her dismissiveness put me off. It was one thing to do that to an interviewee, but I worked here now, damn it! I cleared my throat. “Well, it’s my first day today.”

    Her brow furrowed prettily, which almost made up for the total lack of eye contact. “I don’t have anything on the schedule.”

    Oh, God. Please tell me it wasn’t a dream. “I just found out an hour ago.”

    “Who’s your supervisor?”

    “Evelyn Chang.”

    “Really?” She actually looked at me, in all my sweat-soaked glory, for more than half a second. “You’re a designer?”

    “A trainee, technically,” I could feel the grin on my face.

    “How did you pull that off?”

    I put my hand on the desk in front of her, palm down. “Bribery.” I lifted my hand away, revealing a tiny pewter figurine.

    “Ooh.” She picked it up. “It’s a little dragon! Is it for me?”


    “Thank you.” Her voice was an octave higher, too. She gave me a mock-serious side look. “I suppose I should print you an ID card.”

    “If it’s not too much trouble,” I said.

    The ID printer spit out a plastic badge a second later. She clipped on a magnetic fastener and slid it across. My horrible DMV photo stared up at me, but I loved reading the words right below it.

    Noah Parker


    “You can go straight to the elevators from now on,” she said.

    “I don’t know. What if you decide to tackle me?”

    A faint smile played across her lips. “I’ll call up and let her know you’re here.”


    “I’m Virginia, by the way.”

    So, suddenly I did need to know. “Nice to meet you.” I fled to the elevators before I messed things up.

    Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.



    Here’s what was odd about the elevator. I could have sworn I hit the button for the seventh floor, but it stopped at five. The doors opened, revealing a huge guy in a buzz cut and dark suit. And I mean huge. He had to be six and a half feet tall, three hundred pounds. Built like a linebacker.

    “Noah Parker?” he asked.

    I almost said no. It must have been my survival instincts kicking in. “Uh, yeah. That’s me.”

    “I’m Ben Fulton, chief of security.”

    “Nice to meet you,” I said. “Do you work for Evelyn?”

    “I work for Robert Greaves.” He gestured to the hallway to his left. “Right this way, please.”

    I hesitated. “I think I’m supposed to go to seven.”

    “Not yet. This is your security interview.”

    “Oh. I didn’t know there was one.”

    His smile had no warmth to it. “We like it to be a surprise.”

    I followed him down a rather plain hallway to an unmarked white door. He wrapped his big hand around the steel handle and held it there a half-second. Soft blue light glowed between his fingers. Then the door emitted a soft click, and he pushed it open.

    A hidden biometric scanner. It piqued my curiosity a little. We passed through a room lined with flatscreen monitors showing security feeds from around the complex. There had to be fifteen or twenty screens, and they shifted views every five seconds or so. That made for at least a hundred separate cameras. Two in every hallway, at a minimum.

    I followed Fulton took into a tiny, austere room that waited beyond. There was a square wooden table in the middle with chairs on either side. He settled into the larger of these, which left a notably smaller chair for me. It was about the size of a student’s chair in an elementary school. I felt like someone’s pet bird on a perch.

    “So, you’re a local boy, huh?” Fulton set down a manila folder with a government seal on the front, and my name on the tab.

    A federal background check. Are they for real? “More or less. I grew up in Mesa.”

    “And you went to ASU.”

    I grinned. “Go Sun Devils.”

    “Evelyn Chang went there, didn’t she?”

    “For graduate school,” I said. “We had the same thesis advisor. Dr. Sato.” I shouldn’t have I added that. He probably already knew, and if he didn’t, it would sound weird. The last thing I needed was this guy digging into that particular fact. It was true, but also not a coincidence.

    “So, what drew you to Reptilian Corporation?” he asked.

    “You guys are doing some cutting-edge stuff with genetic engineering.”

    He looked up from his folder. “Really?”

    I shrugged. “Customizing an organism from the genome up is pretty ambitious. A lot of people didn’t think you could build a successful business out of it.”



    “Yeah, well, the jury’s still out on that.”

    That was news to me. From everything I’d read, Reptilian Corporation was killing it in a time when most nascent biotechs had failed. “Still, I like the systems approach to genetics. And I think my simulator could help with things.”

    He frowned. “You’re really here for all the genetic engineering stuff?”

    “Of course.” I paused. “Does that surprise you?”

    “A little bit. Whenever I ask what brought people here, they always talk about the dragons.”

    Oh, crap. I’d forgotten how much people went nuts for them. “Yeah, sure. Dragons are awesome. I assumed I didn’t even have to say it.”

    “But everyone does say that, Parker. They go on and on about dragons until I’m ready to throw up.”

    I tried a smile on him that I didn’t feel. “Then I guess I’m a pleasant surprise.”

    “I don’t like being surprised.”

    No, you like to do the surprising. My palms started sweating. It took a conscious effort not to wipe them on my new dress slacks. I couldn’t do that, because if I lost this job I’d have to return them. “Good to know.”

    “There are plenty of biotechs employing genetic engineers,” Fulton said.

    “Not as many as there used to be.”

    “Still, someone like you probably got interest from both coasts.”

    I said nothing, even though he was spot-on. When my thesis came out, my phone did start to ring. A few of the big pharmas were sniffing around, and some of the rising biotech startups. Several universities sent out feelers, too, though they tended to start with Dr. Sato. That was often how people took the next step in academia, via personal connections. I suppose the same could be said of me, but the step I wanted to take was right in Reptilian’s door.

    Fulton raised his eyebrows at me.

    “I’m sorry, was that a question?” I asked.

    “Did you have interest from other companies?”

    “A little,” I said. “I never called them back.”

    “Then let’s return to my original question. Why do you want to work at Reptilian?”

    “I already said why. Your genetic engineers–” I stammered in my own defense, but he cut me off.

    “Bullshit. Geeks like you can work anywhere, so when you go someplace, it’s personal.”

    More personal than you know. Damn, this guy was good. I had to give him something, because it was kind of obvious that I needed a second reason to come to this company for this job. Clearly, I couldn’t tell him the truth–that I intended to use the company’s resources for my own designs, and probably sabotage a dragon. A flash of inspiration came. “You’re right. There was something else that brought me here.”

    He smirked knowingly. “Spill it.”

    “Simon Redwood.”

    Fulton rolled his eyes. “Oh, hell. You’re one of those.”

    A Redwood fanatic, he meant. “Come on, man,” I said. “You have to admit he’s a genius.”

    “He’s off his rocker.”

    “Well, I think he’s brilliant,” I said. “Been following his moves since I was a kid. And I dreamed about working for one of his companies, so here we are.”

    “Fine.” Fulton set down his tablet with an air of resignation. He almost seemed a little disappointed, too. “Now you get to hear about the house security policy.”

    I covered my heart-thumping relief with sarcasm. “Oh, I can’t wait.”

    “You will wear your security badge at all times. You won’t attempt to access any restricted areas.”

    “Where am I allowed to go?”

    “The seventh floor and the parking garage. That’s about it, unless you’re invited by a superior. Everything else is a restricted area. You’ll have no expectation of privacy while in this building, but everything about your work here is considered a protected trade secret. Do you understand what that means?”

    “No talking about work outside of work,” I said.


    Somehow, even though I’d made it past the tough questions with this guy, I started feeling more intimidated by him. Maybe his sheer size had something to do with it. He occupied at least seventy percent of the room. It occurred to me that with the risks I’d probably be taking, I might want this guy on my good side. So what’s he into? Well, I didn’t know much about him, but I had a guess. “Can I ask a question?”

    “Knock yourself out.”

    “What’s he like?”

    “Who? Redwood?”

    “No.” I waved that off like we’d covered it already. Then I leaned over the table and lowered my voice a little, as if afraid to say it out loud. Truth be told, I almost was. “Robert Greaves.”

    “Oh.” He offered a half-smile, and I could tell I’d won a point. “He’s the smartest man I know. And he operates on a level that most people don’t appreciate.”

    “Is it true that he only wears black?”

    He barked a laugh. “Don’t believe everything you read, kid. He doesn’t waste brainpower on unimportant things, that’s all.”

    “Will I get to meet him?”

    Fulton snorted. “Keyboard monkey like you? Probably not.” He smiled to soften it, though.

    “Ah well, worth a shot.” I sensed the security interview coming to an end, and I wanted to leave on a high note. “Anything else we need to cover?”

    “Officially, no.”

    “All right, what about unofficially?”

    “Just a friendly word of advice. Don’t hit on the help.”

    I started to stammer a response, because I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

    “The redhead in reception,” Fulton said.

    “Oh.” Damn, he really was watching everything. I held up my hands. “Message received.”

    “Good. You can head on up, now.”

    “Thanks,” I said.

    So much for leaving on a high note.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image