Dreaming of the Top
By John Andreula
“Stephen Stewart,” the white speakers overhead buzzed.
“Stephen Stewart, please report to the seventy-third floor immediately.”
Stephen’s eyes pointed upward through his eyebrows. His face remained pointed at the twenty-inch monitor on his desk in front of him. His shoulders sank as he let out a deep exhalation.
“I’ll be right up, Donna,” he spoke into the air.
“Thank you,” the voice replied cooly.
Stephen leaned back in his chair and grabbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Slowly he pulled his hand down his face. His palm covered his cheeks, chin, and finally rested on his neck. He slouched for another few seconds, wishing he was anywhere but here.
What additional shit are they going to pile on my already overfull plate? Triple shifts—on salary, no less—what else? Stephen resigned himself to the fact that when the bosses called him upstairs he had to hop-to.
He stood up, leaned forward over his desk, and logged out of his terminal. After a roll of his shoulders, and then several cracks of his neck, he exited his quaint, windowless office.
He walked past row after row of low-walled cubicles and arrived at the elevator hall. He pressed the dim up arrow between the pair of identical stainless steel double doors. The button illuminated and he let out a deep sigh.
So many techies and scientists were exuberant to be a part of the VIM family. Not Stephen Stuart. He had become jaded by his slow and stalled climb up the corporate ranks.
He knew he should ask for a raise considering the effort and hours he had been investing over the past year. His work anniversary was approaching and the meager raise that would accompany it would be nowhere near what he felt he deserved. VIM Inc. wasn’t known among the technology and sciences communities for its top-tier compensation packages. A sense of pride in being a part of the company, as well as their significant scientific and technological advances drove most to come on-board, and to stay for many years.
The elevator doors to Stephen’s right parted. He stepped into the lift and held up his access card to the screen. Once it accepted his credentials he pressed the button numbered 73. The doors quietly slid closed.
Less than a minute later the elevator came to an effortless halt. The doors opened. The hallway looked the same as the one he had exited moments ago.
Stephen left the elevator hall and entered the executive reception room. A lone bespectacled female sat at the large lone metal desk. Her fingers steadily typed at a wireless keyboard. Her eyes remained locked on her large computer screen. The monitor’s blue light illuminated her pale face.
Without raising her eyes the receptionist spoke. “They will see you now, Mr. Stuart.”
Stephen didn’t voice a reply. The set of glass doors to the woman’s left opened automatically. They led into a foyer with another set of frosted glass doors.
Stephen had only been through these doors once prior. Behind them was the great glass conference room. That time it was at the invitation of his senior vice president. It was for a pep rally held by none other than uber-scientist, inventor, and billionaire, Seth Stanton. The man known as the “Controller” was the owner and executive director of his employer, VIM Incorporated.
Stephen appreciated being included in the event. However, the content of the Controller’s speech seemed just platitudes and rhetoric concerning how fantastic it was to be a part of VIM, and how they would all lead the world into the vast approaching future. He shook off the memory as the first set of glass doors silently shut behind him. The interior set opened into the enormous room beyond.
Despite his uncertainty as to the reason for him being summoned up here, as well as his mounting dispassion toward his company and his position within it, Stephen could not help but be in instantaneous awe of the great conference room upon his entrance.
A colossal round glass table took up the majority of the room. It was surrounded by seventy high-backed black leather chairs. There was a monitor and a a virtual keyboard embedded in the table at each of its seats. Large crystal drinking glasses and pitchers of water were sitting at the five seats closest to him. Three of the seats were already filled by management and executives in his own chain of command. They were engaged in conversation that was just above the level of a whisper. Each wore suits of solid color. Stephen couldn’t help but feel inadequately dressed for this impromptu meeting.
He stood and took in the view from the oblong room’s surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows. It was an unusually clear morning in New Jersey. The New York Bay was in full view to the right. The endless skylines of Newark and Jersey City were to his left. Directly in front of him stood the tallest buildings of New York, New York. Stephen was captivated by the view from up here. For a moment he considered if having regular access to this view was worth becoming one of these stuffy suits in front of him now.
“Stephen, please sit down. Join us.” a familiar voice summoned him back to reality. His direct boss, Todd Redmond was the one that had spoke. Todd was a lifetime middle manager. He wasn’t a bad boss, and he wasn’t a good one either. He was primarily a mouth-piece for the executives above his head.
One of Todd’s bosses, Scott Fruschante, a senior human resources manager, was shuffling papers in a manila file folder to his right. Next to Scott was the very vice president who had summoned Stephen up here to witness the Controller’s pep talk. His name was Ralph Franklin.
Stephen didn’t know much about Franklin, but he was aware of his reputation. Franklin was well-known to be able to fast-track the career paths of his favorite employees. He was also known to jettison those he chose to dislike, or stifle the growth and opportunities of those who crossed him.
Stephen sat in the empty seat in between Todd and Fruschante. Todd began speaking, “Thank you for joining us. You have been showing tremendous results on your production and waste reduction metrics. Thanks for your diligence in those areas.”
“Cut the crap, Redmond.” Franklin cut off Stephen’s manager. “Just get to why we called him up here.”
“Uh…Yes, sir.” Todd stammered on, “You see Stephen we have been made aware of some impropriety on your part.”
“Excuse me?” Stephen had no idea what they were referring to.
“You see,” his boss went on, “the NDAs you signed upon accepting your leadership role allow us an additional level of surveillance that I’m certain you are unaware of.”
Stephen didn’t understand his boss was trying to tell him. He kept his face impassive. As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong at work. The only thing he knew blurred the lines was his project at home, locked in his basement workshop.
“Scott, if you will,” Redmond concluded.
Frucshante toggled the screen on the table in front of him. The screen enlarged so it was clearly visible from the prospective of all four men. The video feed was from his home. He was standing at his work table in his locked room in the basement
Frucshante inputted a few more key-strokes and the angle changed to a view from directly behind him. It showed the screen of his computer. The image was stunningly clear. There was none of the lines or distortion typically found on the recorded image of the computer monitor.
His boss’s boss zoomed in further. There was no mistaking what the image displayed. He was busted. There was no way he would have gotten this far without surreptitiously using proprietary company information. Stephen had screwed up. He was about to get fired.
“Well, Stewart, what do you want to tell us about this side proj…,” the V.P.’s voice trailed off as the doors to the room opened. A tall, robust brunette wearing a long black and tall stiletto heals strode into the room. The woman wore black designer eyeglasses. She had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. Despite the look on her face being quite stern, she was striking. She did not acknowledge any of the four men and stepped to the side of the entry.
Behind her was none other than Seth Stanton, the Controller himself. He wore a long gray overcoat and his round wire-framed spectacles. He removed his coat and draped it over the back of the one of the chairs. He had a white long-sleeved button-down shirt on underneath. The shirt’s cuff-links were the same color as his eye-wear. Stephen had never seen any like them.
The four men all stood up from their chairs in deferential solidarity. The Controller greeted the men, “Good morning, gentlemen. May I sit on this meeting?”
Redmond was silent. Fruschante looked to Franklin. Franklin responded in a way that was reminiscent to how Redmond spoke only moments ago, “No, sir. Of course not.” Franklin went on, “Can I get you or…your friend…anything?”
The mysterious woman stood at the windows looking out onto Jersey City. She didn’t respond to the vice president’s gesture. She appeared deep in thought. Stanton replied on her behalf, “This is Allison. She is my assistant. Allison, do you require anything?”
The woman continued gazing out the windows. She walked along the wall of glass toward the opposing view of Manhattan. She ran her finger tips gently across the glass without saying a word. The Controller went on, “Gentlemen, I’m sorry to interrupt. Please, please continue.”
The managers and the vice president had at once become bewildered by their chief executive’s appearance. Franklin broke the silence, “Sir, we, uh…we were just discussing some surveillance footage acquired of Mr. Stewart at home using VIM proprietary information for an unsanctioned experiment. We were just about to discuss the terms of his termination.”
“Well…,” the Controller paused. He seemed to swish his words around in his mouth before speaking. “Proprietary information…unsanctioned…that doesn’t sound good…” He trailed off as his eyes followed the beautiful woman progressing toward the view of the bay. His silence lasted an eternity.
“Stephen Stewart, I am familiar with your work. Are you familiar with my nickname?” the Controller inquired. The question was strange.
“Yes, sir. I did not expect my work would have been of any interest to you.” Stephen knew he had to address the thirty ton elephant in the room. “I had the best intentions for the work I’m doing at home…”
The Controller interrupted, “At home with Janice and—what was it?—little Sierra, am I correct?”
Stephen cut his explanation short. He paused. “My family, sir?”
“How do you think Janice will react to your getting fired today, Stephen?” the Controller looked directly in the man’s eyes as he spoke. His face was devoid of emotion. “Don’t answer that.”
The Controller let out a stiff chuckle. The laugh did not sound natural. It was as if he had rehearsed the laugh in an attempt to appear cordial.
“Sir,” Franklin interjected, “We have termination documents prepared. I can assure you that your attention is better directed elsewhere.”
The Controller swung his head on his vice president. Rage flashed in his eyes, but his facial features did not betray him. “Thank you kindly, Ralph. I can assure you that I will determine where my attention is best spent.” He continued to peer through his specs at his senior-most employee in the conference room. The message had been received. “You three, please leave me with Mr. Stewart. I will handle his disciplinary action.”
“Thank you, sir,” Fruschante and Redmond said in unison as they stood. The two appeared elated to be excused from this awkward, possibly career threatening situation.
Franklin hesitated for a moment. He looked at Stephen, then over at the leisurely woman. He eyes wandered to the windows. The man finally looked toward his boss, “Thank you, sir.” He rose slower than the other two. He looked as if he suffered a significant blow to his ego. He followed the others, slumping out of the room.
Stephen Stewart stared down at the enlarged image of himself frozen on the table. He felt exposed and alone in the moment. The Controller watched him for a few long seconds before breaking the silence. “It’s okay, Stephen. Ms. Jeffries, a moment?”
The tall, slender woman finally looked at Stephen. A chill went down his spine. The only look he had seen darker was the one he had just witnessed the Controller shoot at the V.P. “Stephen, please excuse us for a moment.” The Controller rose from his chair and made his way over to the woman standing beside the windows. The sun reflected off her necklace and belt and blinded him. He had to turn his face away.
Stanton spoke in a hushed tone to the woman as she continued to stare at Stephen. She smirked as her employer spoke. There was no relief for him in her smile. Her eyes maintained their coldness, despite her lips turning slightly upward.
The Controller finished telling Allison whatever he had said she exited the room without a word. The great scientist returned to his seat at the conference table. “It’s kind of ludicrous having such a large conference room and only the two of us in it,” the Controller spoke his thought out loud, as if to lighten the mood. “Anyway…Where were we? You’ve shown impressive potential in your work so far, Stephen.”
He paused again for a moment, seeming to gather up what he would say next. “I’m willing to overlook your indiscretion. I want to relieve you of your current position here at VIM.”
Stephen did not understand. Was this man from another planet? It sounded like the Controller was going to give him a pass, but then it sounded like he had just been fired. Confused, Stephen furrowed his brow.
“I can see that did not come out correctly. I want you to continue your home project for me full time. I will keep you on the VIM payroll, but I no longer wish you to be a business analyst.”
Stephen felt relieved. He would not be bringing any bad news home tonight. In fact, he was feeling quite victorious. The Controller continued, “You remind me a lot of me, you know?. You’re creative, you’re willing to take risks, and you appreciate science and technology. I’m going to give you a big bump in pay. I’ve also paid off the mortgage on your town-home. I’ve cleared up the debt with your daughter’s doctors and therapists as well.”
Stephen didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Thank you, sir.”
“Call me Seth, Stephen. I look forward to an ongoing friendship and partnership. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you make of that creation of yours.”
Stephen knew his work wasn’t near completion, but now he would have the time and resources to dedicate to it. “Thanks again, sir…uh…Seth. I cannot begin to thank you enough.”
“It is my pleasure, Stephen.” The Controller then changed the subject, “Tell me, Stephen, what do you know about the Effected?”
A few hours later Stephen had packed up his few belongings from his tiny office. He was actually going to get a shot to do what he really wanted to. It wasn’t going to be on the terms he hadn’t originally hoped for, but it would do for now. He closed the office door for the final time and let out the first sigh of relief he had had in this building for what seemed like years. Stephen Stewart was a man reborn.
The ex-analyst felt fifteen pounds lighter as he made one final pass of the low-walled cubicles. He reached the end of the row as two interns were conversing.
“Did you hear? Ralph Franklin jumped from his window today,” the first intern stated matter-of-factly. Stephen stopped dead in his paces. He had just seen the man.
“What? That’s insane!” commented the second.
“I know,” the first responded, “I guess there’s an opening on the executive floor.”
The second intern rolled his eyes. “See, that’s why I don’t talk to you. You have no filter.”
Stephen couldn’t believe the day he was having.
Dreaming of the Top is part of an ongoing fiction epic called The Dreamer.
Look out for the next chapter on 5280Geek.com on 8-16-19!
The whole story starts here.
Look out for more of The Dreamer coming soon!
John Andreula is a writer and dreamer residing in the foothills of Colorado.
Reach him for commission work or media requests at: