Chapter Four

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Davis gives not an inch. I could have run into a Market Street lamppost.

Elite's head honcho is broader in person than on Raven's livestream, his chest etching ridges in the yellow polo shirt. A scar pocks one temple and his eyes pulse from black, horn-rimmed glasses. Khakis. Those same high-lacing boots, company-issue apparently, looming over my sandals like thugs cracking their knuckles.

We're a step outside the elevator. He holds out a box. "Your phone."

I say, "Don't bother, I'm not getting service."

Davis explains he doesn't need to make a call. Cellphone use is prohibited during Blackquest 40.

"Oh, okay." I pat my jeans pocket. "I'll keep it in my pants."

He smiles but his left hand is clenching one of those foam stressballs. With his right, he raises the box. "Please, Miss Bollinger."

He knows my name. Interesting. "So what's the thinking on those boots. You guys are, like, commandos? Business commandos?"

"Dress is one tool in the organizational quiver. Used properly, it binds employees together and promotes a culture of discipline."

I find myself straightening up—it feels automatic in this guy's presence. "You recommend brownshirts or blackshirts?"

Missing the reference, or more frighteningly not missing it at all, he says attire is out of scope. The man speaks with this irksome schoolmarm composure—a librarian walking third graders through Dewey Decimal. I've crossed paths with a few of these corporate-training types. They have to act like their product/insight/worldview is unassailably obvious. (Once you've shelled out tens of thousands of bucks to have them explain it.)

"So forty straight hours," I say. "People are going to sleep here? In their cubicles?"

"We have cots."

"Food?"

He nods. "Meals will be catered."

"Gotta take my girlfriend to her doctor appointment at 4:00." I'm actually between relationships. "She's counting on me."

"A protocol exists in cases of essential family duty. Which taxi service is not."

This guy. Unreal.

"How is this legal? Keeping people here almost two full days against their will— if OSHA hears about this, I'm guessing game over."

Davis says each Codewise employee signed an addendum to his contract.

"I never signed anything."

"You did. Electronically, six weeks ago. The new clause acknowledges the unique challenges posed by today's software industry and the employee's assent to a broad range of company actions. We worked closely with your HR department in crafting the language."

This does sound like an email I would scroll through and click away, just to get the ick off my screen. I am actually feeling nauseous now, being subjected to this guy and his rhetoric.

"Well listen I'm enjoying the heck out of this, but I have work."

I try stepping around to the elevator, but Davis blocks me with his box. "Phone surrender is not optional."

The box physically brushes my shoulder. "Number one, you always have options. Number two, this"—I cock an eyebrow at where my shirt got touched—"is stopping immediately. Yesterday. Last week."

He keeps his box stiff. "Why are you on this floor, Miss Bollinger?"

I mumble indistinctly.

"The only room still being utilized on this floor is the server room."

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