A knock sounded at her door. “Come.”
“I had to mug a couple of techs for their brownies, but they’ll live.” Teresa smiled.
Dakota took a heavily laden tray over to the credenza and motioned to the sofa. She poured two cups of coffee and took one to her assistant, then settled at the opposite end of the sofa with one leg tucked under her.
“I’m not one of these people that can’t get their own coffee, so don’t expect me to ask you for every little thing I need. I’m hoping that I can rely on you to truly assist me, not do my work for me.”
“I do have a few questions though. First, I know someone held this office before me; why are they no longer here and I am?”
Teresa took a sip of coffee as she pondered how best to answer the question. “Simply put, stress forced him to take another, less demanding job.”
“He burned out?”
“Pretty much. Wells Corp. management looks at the people who work on this floor to lead the company on the right path for the future. Product design and sustainability have kept this company going for ten years, and we’ve gained a very good reputation among the public. We are as much a household name as GE has been, or Panasonic, or any other name that holds the public’s attention. Now, we want to be the one people think of when they reach for an item that won’t need replacement next year. Your predecessor ran out of ideas. He started drinking heavily, then self-medicating, and his sporadic ideas just seemed to…dry up.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Nine years. I started sorting mail for the techies, and just moved up through departments until I landed here last year.”
“So you must have a good idea of how things work. Do the assistants do more work here than they get recognized for, like most other places?”
Teresa watched Dakota drink from her cup as she replied. “No, we get fair recognition for all the work we do here. The benefits improve as one moves through the organization, and I’m very happy with the pay scale, the perks and my job in general. What about you? What brought you here?”
“My last job was a designer, but it was fraught with inter-office politics and the good old boys club. I would design something that I thought would be hot on the market, but the item that eventually got developed was so down-graded and changed, that by the time it hit shelves, it was hardly my design anymore. After a while, I dreaded going into the office and found reasons to work at home. When I woke up one day, dreading a meeting I had, I knew it was time for a change. Waking up this morning, in a house that talked back was a change.”
Teresa laughed out loud. “I’ll bet. That’s an interesting quote on the wall. Buddha, wasn’t it?”
“I’m impressed. Not many know that without peering at the bottom of the plaque.”
“You’ll find I’m full of surprises, Miss Anari.”
“Oh please, if we’re going to be working together, we’ll need to get past the formalities. Call me Dakota. Tell you what, you tell me something that no one here at work knows, and I’ll do the same. That should break the ice.”
Her assistant smiled, and took a deep drink of her coffee. “All right, I hold a masters degree in critical thinking, one of my strengths is problem solving, I own a Honda Shadow and my biggest thrill is to go screaming down a straight highway doing 120. Your turn.”
Dakota smiled. “Ok, I failed science three times in grade twelve, I prefer drinking from a mug over china, and I have a fear of heights.”
A devilish grin began to spread on Teresa’s face, but whatever she may have wanted to say was cut short by another knock on the door.
The door swung open and a tall man that Dakota recognized as the president of the company stepped in.
“Dakota, you remember Mr. Wells, don’t you?” Teresa said.
Dakota nodded and shook his hand.
“I have some paperwork that needs signatures, so I’ll excuse myself. Good to see you again, Mr. Wells.”
The company president strolled to the credenza and poured himself a glass of water, then occupied the seat that Teresa had been sitting in. “Settling in alright, Miss Anari?”
“Just fine so far, sir, thank you.”
“I realize that we’ve been somewhat vague with you to this point, and I want to assure you that it has been necessary. In your second interview, you may remember, I told you that Wells Corp. designs and creates cutting edge, domestic technology; much like the so-called “smart house” we’ve provided for you.” Stanton paused to sip from his water glass. “But that doesn’t begin to cover what we do. Your house is one of a kind right now, and I admit that we are using you as a test subject in a way.”
Dakota’s eyes widened, but she held her tongue.
“We wanted the opinion and expertise of someone in your field to give us educated feedback on the house, and its programming. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Once I taught it what hot water was this morning, it was fine, but I’m sure there are a lot of…things about the house that I have yet to discover. If I may ask a question?”
“You were never very clear about your expectations of me with Wells Corp.” Dakota observed.
“We’re looking at you for our ideas for the future. Our future products that will allow our domestic customers to live in ease and comfort.”
“So you said in the interviews, but if you could be a little clearer?”
“Your former employer told me you would be full of questions. Very well, we need someone who can come up with the ideas for products that will put us one step ahead of the competition and give our customers a reason to continue to buy from us ten, fifteen or even twenty years down the road. Your idea for the voice activated reading tutor, for example.”
Dakota could hardly believe what she was hearing.
“Your former supervisor, Peter Engle, spoke very highly of your creativity, your ambition and your drive. That’s the kind of person we need here. Someone who is not stuck in the past and can see beyond their own needs, someone who knows what is going to be wanted and needed by the public, and someone who can work with people. You answer to me, the vice-president, and to the Board of Directors. Have you been shown around?”
“Good. I have a meeting to get to, but feel free to knock on my door any time. If you have any questions by the end of the day, just let me know.” Stanton stood up, adjusted his tie and shook Dakota’s hand. “Welcome aboard, Miss Anari.”
Dakota stayed on the sofa, more than a little amazed at her day so far. A knock on the door shook her from her thoughts.
Teresa came into the office and smiled. “Still trying to absorb it all?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Afraid so. But don’t worry, it’ll sink in soon. There are some plans you need to go over and approve.”
Dakota went and sat on the corner of her desk. “Anything else?”
“You have a meeting with your advisors at 1 this afternoon, a meeting with the techs at two thirty, and more paperwork after that, I’m afraid. But look at this way, this is the easy day.” Teresa smiled.
“Great.” Dakota almost groaned, but she couldn’t wait to get to work.
Teresa handed over the files and plans Dakota needed and then turned to leave. “I’ll be back with a carafe of coffee in just a few minutes.”
After the third attempt to decipher the tech’s notes in the margin an hour later, Dakota finally understood that most of the prototype’s wiring was needless. She hit the intercom on the phone “Teresa, where would I find a Mr. Berck in the tech department?”
“I can track him down on the phone for you.”
“That would be great, thank you.”
A few minutes later, the intercom buzzed again. “Miss Anari, Mr. Berck on line one.”
Dakota grinned at the phone. “I thought I asked you to call me by my first name? Thank you, Teresa.” Dakota was all business as she punched the button for line one. “Mr. Berck, Dakota Anari here.”
“Yes, Miss Anari, how can I help you? I don’t often get calls from the head of development.”
“I have a question about the interactive clock prototype. It seems a lot of these wires aren’t needed.”
“That’s true. My notes recommended eliminating most of them, and installing a small battery operated fan, as a cooling unit for the computer chips. If we ignore the heat that those chips and circuits are going to put out, we’ll have product burn-out in as little as two years.”
“I see. If we follow your recommendations, how long do you think it will last?”
“It could last up to ten years with proper care, I believe.”
“Thank you, Mr. Berck, I appreciate your candour.”
Dakota opened a new message window in the company email program, and wrote her first email to Stanton.
‘With regards to the prototype interactive clock currently in development, I believe this may be something worth pursuing. I have spoken to the lead tech, and we agree on a significant change that could increase the product’s lifetime by a number of years. This could be a solid sales tool to market the clock. I will meet with my team later this afternoon, and give you a further update thereafter.’
Dakota then opened up a link to the internet, went to her favourite search engine and began to type.
An hour later, a knock on her door jolted her from her reading.
“Dakota? I’ve just come back from the dining room and I brought you some hot chocolate.”
“Thanks, Teresa. I wanted to ask you something. Have a seat.”
Teresa handed Dakota her mug and settled on the leather sofa.
“What do you know about nanotechnology?”
“Wow, you don’t ask easy questions, do you?” Teresa ran a hand through her short hair and thought for a minute. “I know that nanotechnology is a science dealing with the control of atoms and molecules. I’ve heard the term bandied about a lot in the last two years, but it’s still very much a mystery to most people. Why do you ask?”
“This clock we’re creating…the prototype is too large and heavy for my liking and after my conversation with Mr. Berck, I got to thinking about the possible inclusion of nanotechnology to see if we could replace some of those wires. It turns out that it may be possible, in theory at least, to eliminate some of them by adding Fullerenes to the liquid crystals.”
“What will that do, and what’s a Fullerene?”
“I’m hoping that it will eliminate the need for some of the wires leading to the display screens. A Fullerene is a molecule comprised of carbon, and they can be shaped like spheres, ellipsoids, or tubes. Not too long ago Fullerenes were thought to have potential in binding antibiotics to resistant bacteria, or even deliver cancer-treating drugs in a more reliable way. Unfortunately, a study showed that largemouth bass suffered brain cell damage and liver inflammation when subjected to water with fullerenes present at 0.5 parts per million. After that, the Fullerenes were deemed as not being stable enough for organic purposes. But I’m wondering if we can use their non-organic potential in our work.”
“What are you thinking?”
“If there is a way that we can use nanotechnology to program functions on that clock, without the heat of a computer processor, no matter how small, then we can add reliability and life expectancy to our product, right?”
“If we can go one step further and add a day planner feature to that clock, allowing the consumer to have even more control over their day, then the product is even more desirable. Correct?”
“You’d think so, yes. But if I may play devil’s advocate for a moment…”
“What would the cost of this technology be to the end user?”
Dakota chuckled. “Good question. I’m not even sure if it’s possible. I’m meeting with the brainiacs in just a few minutes. I’ll ask them. Assuming of course that I can find …”
“The board room? I can show you the way whenever you’re ready.”
Dakota retrieved a notebook from her desk, as well as the plans and notes for the prototype clock. “I’m ready.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen..” Dakota held a hand up.
The shouting continued and rose in pitch.
“It’s not possible!”
“Who the hell are you to tell me that my design is over-inflated?”
“You’re not creating any repeat market for the clock like this!”
“You have no right changing a design that took us months…”
“I want to see your credentials!”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Dakota slammed her leather bound notebook on the table, and there was a crack mightier than any thunderclap
The room was as silent as an empty church.
“You want to see my credentials? Fine! I’ll email each of you a copy!” A vein throbbed at her right temple as she pinned one of the developers with a murderous glare. “You want to know what gives me the right to change your design, I’ll tell you. The fact that I, not you, am now head of this department! Mr. Wells hired ME to head it because he wanted fresh ideas, not someone who was going to offer up excuses why something couldn’t be done! Now get your heads out of your asses and give me REAL obstacles to my idea or get out!”
Dakota waited with her hands on her hips in stony silence, staring down each man in turn until she came to one in particular. “Judging by that look on your face, I’d say you have a problem with me. Spit it out.”
“I’m not answering to you.”
“You do and you will, Mr. Tukis.”
“I’ve never worked under a woman, and certainly not one of your kind, and I refuse to start now.”
“My kind? What kind would that be?”
“I won’t work under a lesbian.” He spat the words out.
Dakota was shocked for only a moment. “Trust me, Mr. Tukis, the last place I’d expect to see you is under a woman. I’d be surprised if any woman, no matter what her orientation, would have as hateful a creature as you.” She waited for her words to sink in before continuing in a quieter voice. “What I do expect to see however, is you walking out that door.” Dakota pressed a button on the phone. “Teresa, call Len and have him come to the board room, please.”
“You can’t do that to me!” Tukis was on his feet in outrage.
“I can and I will! This is supposed to be a team environment, and you obviously have no interest in being part of a team.”
“I have been here since the company’s inception; I’ll go to the top! Hell! I’ll have your job!”
The door opened and two security guards entered the room. “You asked for me, Miss Anari?” Len said.
“Thank you for coming, Len. Mr. Tukis here will be leaving Wells Corp immeadiately. He is not to return unless the invitation comes straight from Mr. Wells or myself. I will have someone pack his belongings.”
Len and his associate stood by Tukis’ chair. The developer headed for the door, but turned at the last moment. “I’ll have your job for this!” he repeated.
“The dark ages are over, Mr. Tukis. The good old-boys-club is gone, and if the president of this company says you’ll answer to a lesbian, than that’s what you’ll do. But I don’t have to work with anyone as narrow-minded, sexist and ignorant as you are. You think you’ll have my job?” Dakota smiled at her adversary. “I don’t think so. In fact, I think you’ll find your credentials antiquated, your theories out of date and your morals no longer the norm. Good luck finding any job, let alone getting mine.”
When the door had closed behind the men, Dakota turned back to the others and said, “Does anyone else have a problem answering to me?”
No one spoke up.
“Good. Now, I was hoping that I might get some productive brainstorming going here. All of you have experience that I do not, so what I’m looking for are reasons why my idea cannot work.”
One man who had not made a sound through the ruckus cleared his throat.
“Mr. Holland, isn’t it?”
“Miss Anari, I must admit, I’m a little surprised.”
“By what, exactly? My credentials, my sex, or my orientation?”
“That you would seize the reins so firmly and so quickly; actually. I’m also a little surprised that you would ask us to point out obstacles.”
“Well, Mr. Holland, I’m a big believer in getting problems out of the way quickly; both with personnel and from a design perspective. Do you have any thoughts on the prototype?”
“I do, actually. If I may borrow the schematics…”
When they all emerged three hours later, Dakota returned to her office famished and tired. Teresa’s desk was unoccupied, but in the middle of Dakota’s desk was a brownie covered in warm fudge icing, and a note. ‘Congratulations, you sounded great.’