Whitespace S: A Taste of Champagne
Shady hillside in Okaloosa County, FL

Whitespace S: A Taste of Champagne

Skreyola's White Pages

- Whitespace S -

- A Taste of Champagne -

by Lincoln Sayger

If you'd like to see the date of each posting, click here.

UNIQUE SPIN-OFF ANNOUNCED

by Ira Charles, Staff Writer

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Kirkland American Microtechnology will devote one-third of its assets to starting a new company with the purpose of developing projects that would not normally be developed in a business setting, KAM's CEO said Thursday.

Jill Fitch said she decided on the plan after studying the success of a similar move by Consolidated Automotive. It started its own spin-off four years ago based on a model of independent teams developing ideas in an environment of free thought. That spin-off showed increases in productivity and in the feasibility of new ideas.

Fitch named eccentric shipping tycoon Donnel Cassidy to the position of CEO in the new company.

Cassidy explained, "This corporation will venture forth on bold projects other companies won't attempt. I’ve chosen the name Iunik because this company has a unique foundation. In a sense, we already possess the profits that most companies seek, so we will be freed from that concern and able to focus on a different goal: making a difference rather than making money. Among our projects, we will bring to the marketplace the products that have been needed for decades but haven’t been deemed profitable. We will bring great things to this society."

Kay Hughson, financial analyst for Montrove Money Management Group, said, "Cassidy has brought more than one company from the brink of bankruptcy to the height of its profitability, so no matter what Cassidy claims is Iunik's goal, the likelihood is that it will quickly turn a profit."

Chapter One

The Offer

1-1

The cool wind blew gently through the trees in Milligan, Florida. The alternating hot and cold days of the earlier part of the week had given way to a beautiful day that was comfortable for any length of clothing. Fluffy white clouds shaded the land from the rays of the sun. It was a perfect day to be outside.

Jack Champagne sat on the front porch of his mother's house with a sketch pad and a Bic pen, tracing over the pencil lines he had put on the page. Although he was a young man, 23 years old, living forty miles from the Gulf of Mexico, he was not fond of the beach or the sun. Nonetheless, he enjoyed a warm day when he could sit in the shade and draw. Beside him on the porch sat a glass of cool water and a plate with a few wheat crumbs scattered across its surface. He transferred his pen to the other hand and reached down to take a sip of his water. As he set the glass back down, he heard the phone ring in the house.

After a moment, Jack's mother called from inside. Jack stood up and hurried into the house, where she handed him the phone.

She said, "A Mr. Gabriel."

He put the receiver to his ear and said, "Mr. Gabriel?"

"Mr. Champagne," said the voice on the other end of the line, "My name is Ian Gabriel. I represent Mr. Donnel Cassidy of Iunik."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Gabriel? Did Mr. Cassidy have any questions about the packet I sent him?" Jack asked.

"Yes. In fact, he would like to discuss it with you. Could you spare a few hours this afternoon?"

"He's here in Florida?"

"He is in Pensacola for a meeting today."

"I suppose I could see him this afternoon."

"That would be ideal, Mr. Champagne."

"Do I need to change into something formal?"

"No, Mr. Champagne. Formal attire will not be necessary."

After covering some details, Jack changed into a polo shirt and khaki slacks. He figured, formal requirement or no, meeting an important businessman in a T-shirt.

Two hours later, Jack watched a brand new, long, shiny black 2001 luxury sedan pull onto the utility easement and stop. A man in a black suit and chauffeur's cap stepped out of the car and walked around to the passenger side. Jack raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The chauffeur opened the rear door, and a thin, pale man in his early seventies stepped slowly out.

The old man stopped at the edge of the walkway in front of the porch and said, "Mister Champagne?"

Soon, the car was cruising along the interstate toward Pensacola. Jack closed his eyes and wondered what the CEO might ask him about his plan. Mr. Cassidy was an unconventional man. From the news stories, Jack knew that he liked to be around people who made smart, bold moves, and he bestowed favors on those who impressed him. Not that Jack expected to impress someone like Mr. Cassidy. He was a college student who knew very little about anything, and now Mr. Cassidy had questions about his p[lan he wasn't sure he could answer. Jack began to wonder why he'd agreed to meet with--

"Mister Champagne?" said Mr. Gabriel.

Jack opened his eyes.

"Yes?"

"Must you tap your fingers so?"

Jack looked down and stopped tapping on the armrest.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Gabriel. I didn't realize I was doing it."

After an hour, the sleek black car pulled up in front of a large hotel, and the chauffeur opened the door.

Jack followed Mr. Gabriel into the building. The older man walked to the front desk and said, "Please ring Mr. Cassidy and tell him that Mr. Champagne is on his way up."

"Yes, sir," said the clerk.

"This way," Mr. Gabriel said to Jack.

They stepped onto the elevator and rode up to the mezzanine, where Mr. Gabriel opened the door to a conference room and said, "If you need anything, ask Mr. Cassidy, and I will acquire it for you."

Jack nodded and stepped into the room.

Donnel Cassidy sat on the long side of a conference table sifting through a stack of papers. He was a heavyset man of 58 with thinning hair and Nixonesque jowls. His nose was adorned with a pair of wire frame glasses, and he held a glass of cola in his hand as he used his other hand to move the pages around. Jack stood near the door and cleared his throat politely.

Mr. Cassidy looked up from his papers and said, "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Mr. Champagne. I read your plan with great interest."

"Thank you, sir. Mr. Gabriel said you had some questions regarding the plan. If there is anything I can clarify, I would be glad--"

"Not exactly," Mr. Cassidy interrupted; "My question arises from the submission of your plan, not from any lack of understanding about it. It is my hope that the need for me to understand it fully will not arise."

Jack lowered his head a little and cocked it to the side.

"I don't understand," he said.

"Please sit down. May I call you Jack?"

"Yes, sir," said Jack, sitting.

"Jack, I want you to come work for me."

"How's that?"

"I want to hire you as a manager in my company," Mr. Cassidy said; "I want you to oversee the development of this project."

He held up the cover sheet of the packet Jack had sent him. On it was Jack's colored pencil drawing of a streamlined train floating above a track.

"I'm not sure I'm the right person for that job, sir," Jack said. He thought about leading a team, and he didn't have the first idea of what was involved in the job Mr. Cassidy had just offered him.

"Nonsense. You're exactly the person my company needs. Look at this:" he said, lifting a few of the pages from the stack he had been examining when Jack had come in. He put them back down one at a time, identifying them as he went: "Harvard MBA, Princeton, MIT, another Harvard, Yale-- I had one young man come into my office and plant his diploma on my desk; his actual diploma. I didn't want anyone like him, though."

"I don't have a degree in anything, yet, sir," Jack said. He didn't even have his associate's degree. He was only in his third semester of college.

"That doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that you think outside the box. All of these kids sent me their resumes, bragged about their schools and their education. I may hire them; who knows? But you-- You were different."

Jack looked at his feet while the executive continued: "Instead of sending me a page of big names in an effort to impress me and begging for a job, you sent me a proposal. You sent me a design that had been thought through thoroughly, filled as completely as you were able to fill it, and ready for me to work out the details. Your submission would save any company hundreds of thousands of dollars in design expenses, as well as months of work."

Jack looked up at Mr. Cassidy. He hadn't thought of his idea as anything close to a finished design, as anything developed to any level of unusual value.

"Jack, this design for a magnetic levitation transport system could revolutionize transportation in this country. Instead of asking me for something, you offered me something, and that's why I want to hire you. Instead of asking me for a chance to prove yourself, you went ahead and did it. You took a risk, sent me a nearly complete plan, in spite of the fact that you might have ended up without any compensation for your work, and I like that spirit. That is the spirit which Iunik was founded to exhibit."

Jack swallowed hard. Why was Mr. Cassidy impressed with him?

"Mr. Cassidy, I wasn't applying for a job in your company. I merely thought Iunik could do something with this idea. I'm working to earn my degree, and I don't think I have time to work for you."

Mr. Cassidy frowned and looked at the table. After a long and uncomfortable silence, he looked up and said, "If I could guarantee the continuation of your studies, maybe bring in university professors to teach you on an individual basis, would you reconsider?"

Jack leaned back in his chair and unfocused his eyes as he considered the proposition. It was a tempting accomodation, but he was still confused by the offer. Finally, he said, "Mr. Cassidy, I am going to college mostly for the purpose of learning everything I can. I am working toward a degree, though, since that will allow me access to higher stores of knowledge. Your offer sounds wonderful, but I'm still not sure I'm the right person for this job."

"Jack, I see in you a great potential. I have every confidence that you can obtain anything you set your mind to obtaining."

"I need some time--"

"This is a standing offer, Jack," Cassidy interrupted. "I think you are right for this company."

"Thank you for your offer, Mr. Cassidy," Jack said as he stood up; "I'll get in touch with you when--"

Mr. Cassidy cut him off again, saying, "Don't call me until you're ready to accept my offer. Here is my private office number. It's toll-free, and you can reach me there any time you wish. I will look forward to hearing from you, Jack," he said, handing Jack the card.

"Good bye, Mr. Cassidy."

"Good bye, Jack."

Jack turned and walked out of the room.

1-2

When Jack got home on Wednesday afternoon, he found his mother sitting in one of the five chairs at the birch dining table, balancing her checkbook. She looked up when he came in to the cozy and inviting dining room.

"How did it go?" she asked.

He took a step into the room, running his fingers across the walnut-stained tabletop at the empty place at its head and replied, "He offered me a job."

"He offered you a job? I thought he just had questions about the plan you sent him."

Jack said, "I guess his only question about the plan was whether I'd be in charge of developing it."

"He wants you to be a manager? What did you say?"

Jack sat down. He ran his fingers gently over the leaves of the crab cactus growing in a light blue pot in the middle of the table. What could he have said? No? Yes? Yeah, right?

Finally, he said, "I told him I'd need some time. I need to pray about it."

She glanced over the top of her glasses at him and asked, "Have you?"

"A little. It's a confusing offer. This man is unconventional, but I don't know why he wants me to do this. I don't know anything about being a leader."

"He's also successful," his mother said.

"Of course he is. The man is a genius. Most of what he touches seems to turn to gold."

All the same, Jack wondered if he was making a huge mistake offering a job to a young man who didn't know anything.

His mother said, "Maybe he knows what he's doing."

"Maybe, but the idea scares me. I don't even know anything about the job. I probably should have asked more questions. I don't know how old the people under me would be, how people at Iunik dress, anything about benefits; not even how much he'd pay me. I didn't ask any of these questions. On the other hand, I didn't intend to take the job, and I didn't figure pay was a question that needed to be asked," he said.

His mother looked at him quizzically. Jack looked past her, focusing on the curling vines and white flowers that decorated the friendly, sand-colored wallpaper she had put on all the walls in the room as he thought about how to word his thoughts.

After a moment, he continued, "He said that if he needed to bring in university professors to help me continue my studies, he would. I figured whatever he wanted to pay me would be satisfactory. It is an interesting job offer, especially when I wasn't seeking a job."

"You'd have to relocate?"

Jack shook his head in dismay and said, "I imagine so. Iunik's facilities are in Indiana."

He stood up as he added, "Other than being 800 miles from home, I think this job is the elusive opportunity the world calls 'writing your own ticket.' I wish I knew what to do. I feel I should have asked more questions in order to think about it."

"Let it simmer for a few days and see what you think then," his mother suggested.

"I guess that's what I'll have to do. He said it was a standing offer, and that I shouldn't contact him until I was ready to accept."

"It sounds as though he wants very much for you to work for him."

Jack nodded and said, "Yes, he does, but is this where I should be working?"

She sat looking at him, thoughtful. After a moment, he went to his room.

1-3

On Tuesday morning, Jack hung the phone receiver back on its cradle and sighed. He nudged the spiral cord against the wall as he walked outside to where his mother was weeding in the garden. The soil was turned from the removal of unwanted growth. Heather grew scattered throughout the bed.

Jack settled into one of the rocking chairs on the porch and said, "I've made up my mind."

His mother looked up from weeding, "What have you decided?"

"I've talked to a few people I trust to give me wise counsel, I've prayed about it, I've thought through all the possibilities that I can imagine; My counselors say it's a wise move for me, I have a peace about the job, I sense there may be something great hiding in this strange proposition. It scares me, but I'm going to take the job. I trust that if this is not where God wants me, He'll let me know."

"So, you're going to call him now?"

"I already did. He told me that I only need to pack what I want to have with me. He said I will be provided with a uniform when I arrive."

"So, you're going to move."

Jack nodded. His mother stood up and came up to his chair. As he stood, she embraced him.

"I didn't think this day would come so soon," she said.

"Neither did I, but we always knew it would come, eh?"

"I guess we did," she responded.

"I'm going to be fine. I am, as I have always been, in God's hands."

"Yes, but I'm," she paused, "sad to think of you, leaving home."

Jack sighed and said, "I know, but I think it could be good for both of us."

1-4

Jack stepped off the small private jet owned by Iunik and onto the tarmac at an airport in Danville, Illinois. Ian Gabriel waited next to a sleek black limousine. Jack nodded to him as he approached and said, "Hello, Mr. Gabriel."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Champagne," Mr. Gabriel said.

The chauffeur opened the door of the limousine, and Jack followed Mr. Gabriel into the back of the car. Mr. Cassidy greeted him as he sat down, "Thank you for joining us, Jack."

"My pleasure, Mr. Cassidy."

Mr. Cassidy held out a four page document and said, "I have your contract here. You'll want to look through it."

"Certainly," said Jack, taking the pages.

When Jack had read the contract, he said, "It looks very generous, sir. Thank you for accommodating my requests."

"They were no problem to accommodate," said Mr. Cassidy affably; "I'm glad you decided to work for me."

Jack pulled a pen from his pocket and signed the contract. Then he asked, "When do I get started?"

"I thought you might be tired after the flight," Mr. Cassidy said, "so I left your schedule open this afternoon, but if you'd like to get started right away, I can get your team together."

Jack nodded. He wasn't very tired, and he thought showing eagerness to get busy earning that generous compensation package would be better than not, so he said, "I should only need about an hour to get settled in my quarters."

"Great!" he said, pausing to consult his pocket watch. He picked up the phone and gave instructions to his secretary. When he set the phone back in its cradle, he said, "We should be there soon, and your luggage will be there soon after that."

"You've gone to a lot of trouble for me. Thank you."

"You're going to a lot more trouble for me."

As the car moved east, Mr. Cassidy talked optimistically about Jack's idea. When they had been on the road for about half an hour, Mr. Cassidy stopped speaking and glanced at their surroundings.

He smiled and said, "The company building will be visible any moment now."

Jack looked out the window and saw a large expanse of asphalt and grass surrounding a small cluster of large buildings. Across the front of the foremost building was a series of windows forming the letters of the company name. Jack started to feel like the company would be a place where he could accomplish great things. Perhaps he was capable of doing this job.

"The building attached by the flying walkways is the dormitory, where you'll be living," Mr. Cassidy said.

Jack looked to the left of the main building and saw two windowed walkways connecting it with a three-story building. The walkways were suspended at the second- and third-floor levels, above a service road. Jack nodded.

"Of course, you could move out if you wanted."

Jack said, "I'd have to get up earlier if I had to commute."

Mr. Cassidy chuckled and asked, "I take it you're not a morning person."

"Correct. I can see benefits to this arrangement, and as you said, I could move out later if I don't like it."

The car pulled into the driveway and past a watchful security guard. After bringing the car to a halt in front of the main entrance, the chauffeur got out and opened the rear door of the car. Mr. Cassidy stepped out, followed by Ian and Jack, and walked to the front door of the main building to open it for them.

Inside, a receptionist greeted Mr. Cassidy and handed him a small stack of messages, which he immediately gave to Mr. Gabriel. Mr. Cassidy walked to the reception desk and said of the woman sitting there, "This is Alexia, who takes all incoming calls and defends our front entrance. Good afternoon, Alexia."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Cassidy," she said with a smile.

"Alexia, this is Jack Champagne, our newest team leader."

Alexia held out her hand to Jack, who shook it. She said, "You can call me Lexi; almost everyone does 'cuz it's shorter."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Alexia," said Jack.

"And this," said Mr. Cassidy, pointing behind Jack to a tall man who had the frame of a linebacker, "is Gregor Burton, our chief of security, here with your access card."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Champagne. This is your access card, which will allow you to access everything you have permission to access. Guard it carefully, because you are responsible for everything accessed with it."

Jack took the plastic card from the security chief and looked at it. It was about the shape and thickness of a credit card, but in addition to the magnetic stripe on the back, it also had a pattern of holes punched through it within a large square depicted on the front. A key ring attached to one corner. He put it in his pocket and thanked Mr. Burton for it.

Mr. Burton said, "If you could step into my office for a moment, I'll make your badge."

Jack followed him into a small room and stood in front of a blue backdrop where Mr. Burton motioned for him to stand. The security chief took his picture with a digital camera and typed some commands into a machine, which spit out a thin badge with Jack's name and photograph on it. The machine had replaced the blue background with a complicated pattern in subtly different hues of purple. He attached a clip to it and handed it to Jack. Jack looked at it for a moment in fascination before clipping it to his shirt.

When Jack returned from the security chief's office, Mr. Cassidy looked at his watch and said, "We'd better see your quarters next. We'll have time to tour the rest of the facilities after the meeting."

Jack nodded and followed Mr. Cassidy across the lobby to a bank of elevators.

Mr. Cassidy said, "You'll be able to go directly from this building to the sleeping quarters through the lower flying walkway."

Jack wondered what the upper flying walkway was for, but before he could ask, a bell chimed once. The doors opened, and the three of them stepped onto the elevator.

"I've sent one of our security binders to your quarters," Mr. Cassidy said.

"I'll be sure to look through it tonight," said Jack.

"You will be in charge of the dress code for employees on your team. Until you get to know them well, you may wish to make the uniform a requirement. Whatever you choose, the backgrounds of their badges will all be purple, which is your team color."

The doors of the elevator opened again, and the three men stepped out. Mr. Cassidy turned to a console next to the elevators and said, "These consoles have been placed at convenient points throughout the grounds. If you don't know how to get to a specified location, slide your card through one of these machines," he said, indicating the motion used, "and type in your destination. A map will appear on this screen showing your route."

"Sharp," Jack commented.

"The idea was developed by Blue Team. We're currently looking for buyers, but even if no one else adopts the system, we've profited from it enormously in terms of time gains. This building can begin to resemble a labyrinth at times. Go ahead, try it out. Type 'quarters', then a colon and your name."

"Okay," said Jack. He pulled out his card, slid it through the machine, and typed "quarters: Jack Champagne" on the keyboard. When he pressed Enter, a map appeared on the screen in dark green lines. Jack studied the map and said, "It says I should turn left out of the elevator and go across the walkway; second door to the right."

Mr. Cassidy nodded and said, "The location you specified is only available to you, myself, and a few of the highest executives, unless you log in to one of these consoles and specify an invitation for someone else."

Mr. Gabriel said, "The process for that is in the procedural manual. You have a copy in your quarters."

"Very sharp," said Jack.

"We use it for convenience," said Mr. Cassidy as they turned and headed toward the flying walkway, "but it has a great impact on security, which may be a benefit the end-user wants."

"I hope you don't mind my asking, but how much debugging have you done on that system?"

"I don't mind. I like the fact that you question things. It helps to eliminate problems before they become problems. That was the first project we began, and it has gone through extensive debug by our Abuse Team. It's also one of the most complex projects we've started, until now, so it isn't being released yet, even if a buyer does surface quickly."

"Good idea," said Jack.

They reached the entrance to the flying walkway, and Jack noticed a heavy door with an access card slot next to it. Making a guess, he inserted his access card lengthwise into the slot. He was rewarded by a series of clicks and the slight whir of a motor as the door opened. Mr. Cassidy smiled and stepped through the open door, turning to face the door again.

He said, "On this side, there is an emergency lever to open the door in case of an emergency, should the escapes in the dormitory building be blocked."

"That's handy," said Jack.

They crossed the flying walkway and came to Jack's quarters. Jack noticed immediately that there was no card slot or slide.

"Ian, please give Jack his key," Mr. Cassidy said.

Mr. Gabriel handed Jack a key. Jack figured that the additional key meant more security. He opened the door.

"Just inside the door, here, is a deadbolt that only opens from the inside, just in case it makes you feel more comfortable," said Mr. Gabriel.

Jack nodded and stepped into the room. His quarters were generously outfitted, and though the rooms were small, space was so efficiently designated that it didn't feel small. A full-sized bed stuck out of the wall to Jack's right, and a desk with two computers stood against the opposite wall. Between the two small windows on the wall opposite the door stood a large bookcase. Jack looked to his right and saw a small entertainment center with a television, a VCR, and a slim stereo system in it. Beyond the bed, he could see a kitchen with a tiny dining table in its center. Next to the computer desk, a door led into what would certainly be a full bath.

"Wow," said Jack; "I'm not sure I need all this."

Mr. Cassidy said, "You may be glad to have it at the end of some days. The outlets for your computers have both internal surge protection and battery back-up comparable to the best modular unit available."

"You've thought of everything."

"I hope so. It would be difficult to change anything now," Mr. Cassidy joked.

Jack laughed.

"I'll leave you to get settled. Your luggage should be here shortly. I'll see you at three forty-five in room 1103-A. Your team will want a briefing. For your convenience, we have scanned your visuals into the computer. There will be a projector available, and you can access anything you prepare here from the computer down there. There's information on that in your computer manual."

He pointed to the slim book next to the computer.

"Thank you, Mr. Cassidy."

Mr. Cassidy smiled and closed the door. Jack picked up the security binder and sat down on the bed to skim through it while he waited for his luggage. He was going to make every effort to be the best manager he could.

1-5

Jack pulled on the purple one-piece and clipped his ID badge to the lapel. He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, slipped his keys and his access card into his pocket, and stepped out of the room. He felt that he looked a bit more like a manager, now. He crossed the flying walkway and found a map console. After sliding his card through the machine, he typed in the room number Mr. Cassidy had given him. The screen showed a small section in dark green, the path to the elevator. Inside the box representing the elevator was the number one in baby blue. Beneath the green lines, more baby blue lines showed the path to room 1103-A. Jack studied the map for a moment. Just as he finished memorizing the route, the elevator arrived at his floor. He stepped away from the console and onto the elevator. He reached out to press the button for the first floor, but since it was already lit, he just waited as the elevator descended. When the doors opened again, he stepped out and followed the route he had memorized.

Room 1103-A was a large conference room, and several people in purple one-piece suits sat around the table, studying the images in copies of Jack's packet. Jack didn't see anyone he recognized, so he walked down the length of the table, glancing at the faces of the people. One of the men glanced up, but he gave no sign he recognized Jack. Jack looked around and tried to decide where to sit.

He picked one of the empty chairs, sat down, and glanced through the packet on the table. Most of it was unchanged except for the addition of the Iunik logo. He noticed that his cover sheet and most of the explanatory material had been omitted from the packet, as well as a few of the pictures, but he guessed that was so that Mr. Cassidy could see how Jack would explain it, or perhaps that Mr. Cassidy wanted the team to look to Jack for that information. Either way, Jack saw no reason for complaint. He hoped his explanation of the material would please Mr. Cassidy. He sat up straight and glanced at the notes the person next to him was writing on a small notepad. They were in some kind of personal shorthand, and he couldn't understand them. Unperturbed, he looked across the table and saw a young woman writing notes on an identical notepad. Her copy of the packet was face down on the table, but she was jotting short notes every few seconds. By sitting up a little straighter, he could see some of the notes. They were things like "KRP-KR4" and "QN-K5." Jack suddenly realized what she was doing and smiled to himself.

He didn't have time to consider this further, because Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Gabriel opened the door at the front of the room and walked to the end of the table. A few of the people at the table fixed their eyes on the door, as though they expected someone else to follow.

Mr. Cassidy said, "Good afternoon, everyone."

There were a few murmured responses, and Mr. Cassidy said to one man who was still eyeing the door: "No one else is coming. We're all here."

The man adopted a sheepish look for a moment, and all eyes turned to Mr. Cassidy after a brief glance around the table as each person tried to decide who the team leader would be.

"Welcome to Purple Team," Mr. Cassidy said; "This team is going to work on a very special project which originated in the outside world. Your project is to develop a magnetic levitation, or maglev, train system. Design a feasible system, decide on a baseline fare schedule, build a prototype, and basically polish all the details to a shine. For those of you who've been on other teams, this project will be a little different. It comes to us from outside, and it has already been given a great deal of thought.

"I would like to introduce you now to the man who will lead you in this endeavor. He developed the ideas behind this project, and he offered these ideas to us, but I felt his positive influence could extend beyond that. I felt, and still feel, that he is the right man to lead the development of this project. Jack Champagne, please step forward."

Jack stood up and walked to the front of the room, where he took his place beside Mr. Cassidy.

Mr. Cassidy continued, "I want each of you to stand, give your name and your field of expertise, starting here."

The man to Mr. Cassidy's right stood up and said, "My name is Sam Cordova. I have a bachelor's degree in structural engineering, and I can code in FORTRAN, Pascal, COBOL, and C."

Jack tried to put the name and face into his memory. Cordova sat down, and the man next to him stood and said, "Todd Reinhardt; bachelor's in physics from MIT, master's in visual design."

Jack thought he was a bit brusque, but he repeated the name in his head as he looked at the man. Reinhardt sat down, and the man to his right rose and said, "Hi, I'm Virgil MacMahon. I have a bachelor's degree in public relations, and my other area of knowledge is thermodynamics. I know HTML, Perl, JavaScript, Java, Cold Fusion, Flash, and C++."

Jack nodded and repeated the name silently. MacMahon sat down and looked past an empty chair to the next man, who grasped the edge of the table and pushed himself to his feet.

"My name," he said, "is Cosmo Durant. I have an MBA from Harvard and a bachelor's degree in electronics. I know Pascal and C."

Jack noticed that the man's badge had a teal background. He wondered why that was as he repeated the name and looked at his face. Durant eased himself back into his chair, and the woman next to him, whom Jack recognized as the one who had been recording chess moves, stood up and said, "My name is Melanie Kane. I have a bachelor's degree in complex number theory, with a minor in electronics, and I write programs in Assembly. My forte is circuit design."

She took a breath, as though she intended to say more, but she sat down instead. Jack wondered what she'd meant to say.

The introductions continued: Janice Maslin, who had a degree in chemical engineering; Walter Farnham, who seemed to be skill in various electrical and electronic skills and noted that he'd been asked to be the team's safety officer; Salina Eddings, an expert in synthetic materials, hydraulics, physics, and human-factor engineering, which Jack made a note to look up later so he wouldn't sound stupid for not knowing what it was; Amanda Smith, who said nothing about a degree but expressed interest in chemistry, machine fabricated, and computer-aided manufacturing; Ethan deLacey, who was skilled in carpentry, masonry, product assembly, and technical photography.

A few of the team members, like Jennifer Ashley, a mechanical engineer, gave a little greeting before introducing themselves, but most of them didn't. Several of them explained one or more programming languages they knew. Jack hoped they wouldn't look down on him for not knowing one.

Finally, the last woman stood and said, "Roberta Sinclair. My skills are in electronics and pneumatics. I also know Pascal."

She sat down, and all eyes returned to the front of the room, most of them focused on Jack. Mr. Cassidy said, "Jack, tell your new team about the project." He pointed to a computer on a table set against the front wall and said, "The projector is controlled by this computer."

Jack nodded and moved to the keyboard. When he had accessed his presentation and put the first image on the screen, a high-speed rail train, he said, "Travel by train has been one of the most important backbones of movement in this country. It was once the fastest way to travel, especially over long distances, and it is still one of the most economical forms of transportation. As trains have grown faster, safety has constantly been a problem. On one of these very fast rail trains, for example, a small piece of metal falling out of place can spell disaster."

He advanced to the next image, the wreck of a high-speed train.

"This wreck was caused by a small part from one of the wheels that became dislodged and came into contact with the rail. The small piece of metal damaged a switching block, which caused the derailment of one of the carriages, and the train collided with an overpass support. Since this and other disasters had been caused by the wheels, I imagined that a good way to increase the safety of trains was to remove the wheels altogether. I had heard of magnetic levitation, and so I set about designing a maglev system."

He advanced to the next image, a cross-sectional drawing of a tunnel with a mushroom-shaped train suspended in the middle of it.

"My idea was this: As the train moves along the track, it is suspended by these permanent magnets on either side of the train, which repel the like-charged permanent magnets in the car itself. These electromagnets beneath the car switch back and forth to move the train forward."

He advanced to the next image, a schematic of the sensor inputs and electromagnets.

"As the train travels forward, it triggers successive sensors along the path. Each sensor sends an output to eight chips, the chip directly in 'front' of the sensor and the seven chips 'behind' that one. To each successive chip, the sensor connects to an alternating lead. The first chip receives a 'one' signal at a north signalling lead, the next at a south lead, and so on. Each chip reads the input and sends an output to one of two relays, which in turn activate a loop of wire running in one direction or the other around one of the electromagnets in the track."

He activated a moving image of the train slowly travelling past each sensor, which activated the electromagnets. The front magnet was shown to pull the train forward, with the magnets behind helping to push the train.

"This may not be the fastest switching method. However, my main focus was not speed but safety. I want this system to enjoy the reputation among train travel that a certain Australian carrier enjoys among airlines. The safety factor is furthered because the entire system is controlled by the sensors. The track is divided into blocks one train length long. Each sensor activates an inhibitor circuit that denies power to the blocks behind it, which is the lead marked K in the Motion Control IC which you can find on page 3 of the packet you have. This inhibition prevents the chips from energizing the track behind a train for a distance of two train lengths plus the distance required for the train to coast to a safe impact speed without power. We can try to improve this with active magnetic braking, but I figured the simpler the system, the lower the chance of a safety system failing. I estimate this distance will translate to less time between departures in a station than it takes to load and unload a train in a station, but in case we want to tackle a multiple platform station with a single exit track, I'll tell you that my estimate is one minute."

He advanced the image to a drawing of sleek trains slipping in and out of a tile-lined station.

"The best way to avoid collisions with vehicles, animals, and people, and also make our system immune to the possibility of boats colliding with our bridges, is to build underground. There may be other benefits to this, but we can discuss that later. I originally thought the trains should have small, mostly retracted wheels just in case the car touched the track, but I have since decided that skids would probably be better. Instead, the station itself will have wheels or rollers that will rise to cushion the bottom of the train in the station. I think this will improve departures and will be a more efficient method of braking. I have more ideas, but I want to get your input on everything you've seen so far."

Melanie Kane stood up and said, "I'm glad to be a part of this team. I like this idea. I have some suggestions about your circuits. I think the Motion Control Board could be about half the size you have with a simple change in the pattern. A smaller board will save money and resources, as well as replacement delays."

Jack felt good knowing that someone on the team was on board with the idea. He hadn't known whether to expect enthusiasm or reluctance. He smiled and said, "Thank you. I appreciate your idea."

"I'll have the new design on your desk in the morning," she said as she sat down.

"That will be great. Thank you. Anything else?"

Walter Farnham stood up and said, "I noticed you didn't say anything about the power grid. I realize you probably want to wait and discuss that a little later, but I have some ideas for harnessing and harvesting power within the system and from the outside."

"I look forward to seeing those," said Jack as Walter sat down. In truth, he hadn't given power much thought.

After a long pause, Jack said, "Are there any other comments?"

He leaned close to Mr. Cassidy and asked, "Where should I have them assemble?"

"Your team meets in 1375. Your lab is room 3253."

Jack thanked him, straightened, and said, "I'll see you all tomorrow at 8:15 in room 1375. Thank you."

The team members collected their things and filed out of the conference room. Jack sat down across from Mr. Cassidy and said, "How do you think it went?"

"It went very well, Jack. Did you get everything unpacked?"

"No, sir. My baggage has not yet arrived."

"We'll check with Alexia after our tour."

Mr. Cassidy led Jack out the rear of Building One. Immediately, Jack noticed the massive, three-tiered building with strangely shaped struts emanating from its platforms, which held the team labs. He stared at the graceful diagonal lines and floating balconies for a long moment.

Mr. Cassidy said, "This building is an engineering marvel. It was made from special materials and was designed by a student of the great Frank Lloyd Wright. It employs cantilever supports, allowing us to eliminate the interruption of columns. I think you'll be pleased."

As they stepped into Purple Team's lab, Jack said, "Wow! This room is enormous."

He looked around the room, noting the abundance of electrical outlets in both the floor and ceiling and the length and width of unbroken space. After a few moments, he turned to Mr. Cassidy and said, "What else do you have hiding on the grounds?"

"We have a complete machinist's shop, a chemistry lab, and five three-story rooms, among other things. Every roof surface is covered with fixed or movable photovoltaic cells so that we can harvest much of our own power. We have a bank of batteries that fills an entire room beneath Building One to store electricity to reduce our power bills." Mr. Cassidy stopped and smiled. He said, "Forgive me. I am bragging, now."

Jack said, "In short, you have everything I could want to access in the development of this project, eh?"

"Anything we don't have, I can get for you."

"That is a comforting thought."

"Jack, my boy, it is getting late. Are you hungry?"

Jack said, "Yes, sir, I am."

"Let me show you our cafeteria."

"Mr. Cassidy, that is something I would love to see right now."

1-6

Jack rolled his suitcases off the elevator and down the hall to the flying walkway. After pushing his card into the slot and waiting for the door to open, he walked across, looking out the windows as he went. He turned the key in his lock and hauled his luggage through.

He set one of the suitcases on the bed and opened it. Carefully, he pulled out a painting wrapped in cloth, removed the cloth, and held it against the wall over his computers. The ocean scene had been a gift from his father a few years before he moved out, and though Jack was a little irritated whenever he thought of the painting's path to him, he liked the image and its calming effect on him. On this occasion, he did not think about his father but about the calmness of the day by the sea depicted on the canvas. After a moment, he set it against the wall next to the desk.

"I'll have to get some hangers on this wall," he said to himself.

He returned to his suitcase and removed a small stack of paperback books. These he put on the top shelf of the bookcase between the windows. He pulled a leather-bound Bible from his suitcase and set it gently on the bedside table. He needed it handy for his nightly reading habits. He pulled a framed cartoon out and set it against the wall behind the larger painting. The cartoon was not particularly poignant, but it made him smile now and then, so he'd brought it with him. A lithograph he set against the wall on the other side of the bathroom door. He pulled out a stack of compact discs, which he placed on the entertainment center. Finally, he removed a small box. He opened it carefully and gingerly removed the contents. He unwrapped the small porcelain church and affixed the slender steeple to the top. He placed it on top of the entertainment center and said, "Tomorrow afternoon, I need to find a congregation."

The little knick-knack reminded him of home. He glanced at his watch, picked up the phone, and dialed his mother's number.

"Hey, Mom. I arrived okay. It's been a busy first day. The dorm here is amazing. I met my team's members. A lot of them are older than me, but Mr. Cassidy has a lot of confidence in me. I'm going to do well, here."

Chapter Two

2-1

Jack stepped into room 1375 at 8:10 and looked around. It was a conference room like the one he had been in the previous day, except for four differences: it was larger, accommodating the small desks lining the outer walls; all of the walls were lined with white boards; there was a small copier in one corner; and it opened at the inner end into a glass office with another desk. The walls were painted the indistinct color that lined the hallways all over the building, and the desks were stained wood, but the steel supports in the windowed wall of the inner office and the edges of the white boards were purple. The stapler, rulers, and pencil holders on the desk were also trimmed with purple.

Janice Maslin was seated at one of the peripheral desks with her feet on its empty top, reading a book. Walter Farnham, Melanie Kane, and Salina Eddings were gathered around a cluster of papers on the conference table, discussing the contents vigorously.

Salina said, "Look, we can't expect a man with an idea to change his mind this easily. He probably did it that way for a reason."

Walter replied, "He may have, but I still think that after I tell him how much weight diagonal magnets will save, he'll change his plan."

"I agree with him, Salina," said Melanie; "Mr. Champagne seems like a very reasonable person; he welcomed my suggestion yesterday."

Salina persisted: "I say we shouldn't ask him to change it. We can make up the weight with material choice."

Jack said, "Why not do both?"

Salina whirled on him and tried to quickly remove the panicked expression from her face. Walter said, "Good morning, boss."

Jack wanted to be approachable, and the idea of titles made him feel unready, so he said, "Call me Jack, please."

Walter nodded.

Melanie said, "That circuit design you asked me to put together is on your desk."

"Thank you," said Jack; "I didn't expect anyone to be here this early."

Janice said, "I figured it would be more peaceful up here than at my apartment."

Jack glanced at her, but she didn't look up from her book. He thought her tone implied that she felt she'd made a mistake in that assumption. He said, "I appreciate everyone's enthusiasm." And then, unsure what a good boss would say, he added uncertainly, "Go back to what you were doing, I guess, until everyone gets here. I'll be in my office."

Jack felt a rush of nervousness flow over his body as he thought about the fact that he had an office and people under his authority. He pushed these thoughts aside as he walked through the door and sat down. Melanie's revision of his design placed the traces on both sides of the printed circuit board, with most of the vertical traces on the back and most of the horizontal lines on the front, reducing the size of the board by a little over half. He smiled as he looked at it and then he sat back and looked over his surroundings, trying to decide what he needed in order to feel comfortable. A coaster with a tall glass of water sitting on it might be nice. His computer sat on the left side of his desk. He positioned himself at the keyboard and decided that it was in the right place for him, but he would have preferred a trackball to the mouse that sat beside the machine. On the right side of the desk were a pen cup, a telephone, a cube of lavender note squares, a small tray of paper clips, and a Swingline stapler, all trimmed in shades of the team color. He opened the bottom right drawer. A dark violet binder marked, "Purple Team: Projects" hung from rods, and he removed it, but it was empty. Jack decided it was meant for completed project information. He replaced it in the drawer and pushed the drawer closed. He opened the top drawer and saw that it contained some unruled letterhead and a few steno notebooks. The final drawer contained only an intercom directory with a purple team sticker on it. Everything seemed designed to reinforce the team, but it felt a little bit impersonal to Jack. He needed to add something of his own, but all he'd thought of so far that he wanted here was a glass and coaster.

He closed the drawer and leaned back. The purple hands of the clock on the wall pointed to eight and three, but Jack did not look out at the team members assembled in the team room. Instead, he closed his eyes, clasped his hands together, and prayed.

When he opened his eyes again, the clock read 8:17, and Jack stood up. He left his office and walked to the head of the conference table. The entire team was seated at the table, with two exceptions. Janice had not moved from her desk, and Amanda Smith had not yet arrived.

Jack said, "Almost everyone is here, so let us begin. Now that you've all had a few hours to contemplate the project, I wonder if any of you have any comments. I encourage you all to tell me whatever you are thinking while we are in the privacy of this team room. I am not the world's expert on any of this, so I would appreciate any input you might have which will help to improve this project. Does anyone have anything to say?"

Walter stood up and said, "Your design includes two sets of magnets on each side, one for lift and one to keep the car centered. If you changed the shape of the lower hull of the cars to a diagonal, you could get both lift and stabilization out of one set of magnets, lowering the weight of the train and giving your passengers more room."

Jack said, "Yes, that's a good change. We'll use it."

After a moment, Salina said, "Since you plan to have an enclosed system--which will be more expensive, by the way--there are some things you can do to decrease wind resistance. I'll prepare a report for when we start designing the tunnels."

Jack said, "Thank you. That will help increase the efficiency."

Jack relaxed a little bit. This was going smoothly, and he was starting to feel marginally capable of leading a team.

Suddenly, Amanda burst into the room. She looked around at the team, blushed, and took her seat at the table, right next to where Jack was standing. Jack opened his mouth to speak, but a heavy smell of perfume assaulted him. He cleared his throat, coughed, and took a deep breath. Finally, he was able to blink back the tears enough to say, "Are there any other comments?"

After a long moment, he continued: "Very well. We need to figure out the best materials to use for this project. Salina, I need you to prepare a report of the materials you think might be best for the train. Walter, I need your input on the power system and the magnetic requirements for the curves. Permanent magnets should help the train negotiate the curves, and I have no idea how strong they need to be. The others will help you with the physics, the brute number crunching, I mean, if you need it. Virgil, please make a copy of this circuit board design." He handed Melanie's design to Virgil and added, "Amanda, may I speak to you for a moment in my office?"

She nodded and followed him. The team members he hadn't addressed directly looked a little confused, but Jack didn't notice. He was thinking about the situation with Amanda. He wanted to have a smooth relationship with all of his team, but he felt that he was responsible for making sure people showed up on time and were working. When she had entered and closed the door, he said gently, "You're late."

"Yes, I know. I tried to make it on time, but I didn't make it."

He thought about reasons she might be late that would be unavoidable as he leaned gingerly against the desk, testing his weight against it. Satisfied that it would not slide out from under him, he rested his weight on it and asked, "Did you have car trouble?"

She said, "No. I live in the dormitory."

He wondered what could have caused someone who lived in the dormitory to be late. Perhaps he should be a little firmer. He asked, "Is tardiness going to be a habit?"

She looked at the floor and said, "No."

Perhaps that was too firm, he thought. He didn't even know if there was a good reason, yet. Best to ask directly, he decided. So, he asked, "Why were you so late?"

She looked up at him, then over at a blank wall. She chewed her lower lip for a moment and said, "I had an accident with my perfume."

Jack nodded and, thinking he would show flexibility, said, "Perfume is not required."

"Oh, I know that," she said quickly; "I just--" She left the sentence unfinished. Finally, she asked, "What do you want me to do?"

Jack stood up and opened the door. He took a breath while he collected his thoughts and said, "You're the machine fabrication expert."

"Yes."

"Virgil, may I have those designs? Thank you." Jack placed the original on his desk and handed the copy to Amanda. He couldn't remember if she'd been with Iunik very long. "Do you know where the machines you'll need are?"

She nodded.

Jack said, "I need, oh, ten of these boards, for starters. That means we'll need three hundred twenty of the ICs. Do you have the tools to make the chips?"

"Yes. I can program the fabricating computer to build those."

"Good. Melanie can help you on that, unless you think you can do that on your own."

Amanda looked at him, her face darkening. Seeing her face, he added, "I don't know what all is in your computer aided manufacture training, so help me out. Do you need a second person or not?"

She smiled and said, "No. I can make the chips on my own."

"Good," he said, smiling.

As Amanda left the room, he turned to the rest of his team. Walter was moving back and forth between two pairs, Ashley and Roberta on his left, Melanie and Todd on his right. Jack moved over to Walter and said, "How are you doing?"

Walter stood up straight. "These two are helping me with the power grid, figuring based on a few different materials," he said, pointing to Ashley and Roberta, "and these two are helping me figure out the turning magnets."

"Good. I'll get out of your way," said Jack with a smile.

Salina sat scribbling numbers and columns of benefits and liabilities. Jack decided not to interrupt her. A commanding voice drew Jack's attention, and he saw Sam Cordova leaning over the edge of the conference table, speaking down to Ethan and Jennifer. He was saying, "You guys need to get busy."

Jack walked over and stood behind Sam.

The older man continued, "I think your first priority should be to design an interface so that I can build a program to control this mess."

Jack didn't know much about project management, but he knew that multiple leaders not working together would rip a team apart. He decided that firmness was definitely required here. He motioned silently for Ethan and Jennifer to move to the peripheral desks. They nodded, stood, and headed toward the desks. Sam turned as though he were going to sit on the table, but the expression of obvious pleasure left his face when he saw Jack.

"I wonder," said Jack, "if you are privy to some information I lack."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked.

Jack waited a moment and urged, "Mr. Champagne."

"What do you mean, Mr. Champagne?" Sam repeated, obviously irked.

"I mean I wonder if perhaps Mr. Cassidy neglected to inform me of a change in the leadership of this team."

Sam looked at the ceiling for a moment before deciding on, "I was trying to help get things going."

"How about reading the map before you move my team? There is no controlling computer program in the plan."

"I don't see much place for me in the plan," said Sam.

"When the time comes, you can write software for the monitoring system."

Sam rolled his eyes, but Jack ignored him and continued, "Until then, are you not a structural engineer?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. We'll need some sort of load specifications for the tunnels and worker space, won't we? How much weight the train will put on the walls and worker spaces, right?"

"Yes, sir. What specifically do you want?"

"You've seen the plan. Get Walter to explain the new shape of the tunnel. I honestly don't know the figures we'll need. Please use your training to figure that out."

Sam nodded and turned away. Jack thought for a moment and realized that if Sam wanted to lead a team, that might be a good incentive with which to guide him. He thought about the leaders he'd known back home. When they'd talked about their early days, they'd all mentioned that obedience had impressed their bosses.

"Mr. Cordova?" said Jack.

The engineer turned back.

"Don't forget that this is not your team to lead. A good leader must know how to follow."

Sam wrinkled his nose and turned back toward Walter. Jack had said what he needed to, but he didn't think it had come out the best way. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then, he stood up and walked to the peripheral desks. He pulled a chair away from the conference table and sat down opposite Cosmo Durant.

"What do you think of the plan?" he asked Cosmo.

"It has potential."

"It lacks something," said Jack.

"Does it?"

"Yes. It needs more structure."

"You just told Mr. Cordova to take care of that."

"No. I mean outline structure. We need to know what order to tackle our problems."

"You mean it lacks organization."

"Exactly."

Cosmo looked around at the activity in the room. Finally, he said, "It looks as though you have organized it rather well."

"Yes, but I need to break up the remaining design. I have five idle workers."

"That could be a problem," Cosmo said with the barest hint of a smile.

"I have the tunnel, the train, the grid, and the station. What am I forgetting?"

Cosmo thought for a moment and said, "Access to the stations?"

Jack nodded. He said, "How would you like to design the stations?"

"If you'd like, we can start putting together some specifications for what a station will need, generally. Each individual station will depend on the specific local conditions. You'll want to hire a separate architechtural firm to do the specific designs for each."

"General specifications, then, or a typical design. How about if you lead Jennifer, Ethan, and Virgil in designing the requirements for stations?"

"I can certainly do that."

"Good. I want to hear your initial ideas this afternoon."

Jack stood up and looked around. Only Janice remained idle, still reading her book. He walked around the table and sat on the edge of her desk. By leaning back as far as he could balance, he could read the title of her book, Angela's Ashes. He leaned forward again and said, "Janice?"

She did not look up but said, "Yes, Jack?"

"Would you be interested in helping me find some parts?"

She closed her book and said, "I might."

"Good. Where shall we start?" he asked, hoping she would connect the things that had been mentioned earlier with materials she could gather.

But she asked, "What do you need?"

"I figure the first thing we'll need will be some iron cores for the electromagnets. Maybe half an inch wide and a quarter inch thick, for the model. Probably some 18 gauge wire for the wrappings, or do you think 16 gauge would be better?"

Janice lifted her feet off the desk and stood up. She said, "Walter would probably be the one to ask about that, but I can find the cores. How long should they be?"

"I guess an inch will do," said Jack; "What do you think?"

"Well, see, that's the thing. You don't know, and neither does anyone else here. We need to build a computer model of the train to see how much it's likely to weigh, which will tell us how much our model should weigh, which will tell us what the magnet requirements will be."

"You're quite right, Janice. Is that something that falls under your abilities?"

"I can get started on it. I can use Sam's skills to help, as long as you don't put him in charge."

Jack nodded and said, "I'll count on you for this part. Talk to Walter about the size of the train, too."

With that, he turned toward the exit.

2-2

In the afternoon, Jack went into Williamsport and found a few prospective churches. He ate supper in a small restaurant in town before going back to his office. There, he sat looking over the day's progress. An hour later, he put the pages of Walter's power design down on the table, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples with the thumb and ring finger of his left hand. Part of Walter's plan made no sense to him, and he felt as though he had stepped into the deep end on this area. On further contemplation, he felt as though he had stepped into the deep end on the whole matter of being a team leader. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his open door.

"May I come in?" Mr. Cassidy asked.

Jack opened his eyes and looked up.

"The room is yours," he said.

"I was just wandering the building," Mr. Cassidy remarked; "I saw your light."

He sat down across from Jack and glanced at the papers between them.

"It's late," he said.

"I know," said Jack.

"How was your first day with your team?"

"I think it went well. Of course, I don't know what was supposed to happen."

"I'm sure it went well," said Mr. Cassidy.

Jack took a deep breath and said, "I must admit, I feel as though I am in a little bit over my head."

Mr. Cassidy made a dismissive gesture with his hand; "Nonsense. I see great potential in you. Besides, you recall what I told you when we first met? I hired you because I like the way you think. That's true, and your team will just have to adjust to your style of leadership."

Jack gave a single nod; "That is probably best. I know I want the world to have this train."

"And I know that you are the right man to give it to the world."

"You honor me, sir, beyond my merit."

"Nonsense," said Mr. Cassidy.

Jack stood up and said, "I think I'll turn in now. Good night."

"Good night. Sleep well," said Mr. Cassidy.

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