2296: Terms of Employment

Posted: August 27, 2012 by Kelly in league, stories, the world

Far below her, the mega city was glowing with light pollution. Above her, the heavens were painted in the brilliant colours of an 8 am sunrise in a half-clouded, polluted sky. Irina stood before the huge windows, hands clasped behind her back.

“Please make yourself comfortable. He will be with you soon,” the honey-haired drop dead gorgeous PA had assured her with a bright smile, settling her with coffee in the office of the richest man in the world.

Irina did not touch the coffee. There were usually enough stims to keep her awake and alert any given time of the day, and the adrenaline she was feeling right now did the rest. It would not do to become twitchy now. She wanted to seem relaxed, competent. She really wanted this job.

The endless battles she faced in the Black City had become stale two years ago. The first year after Solchov’s death had brought her challenge. She reveled in being able to bring the financial market – both legal and illegal – to its knees to do her bidding, but the dragging power struggle with the mafia and the crime cartels (not to mention the law) had been starting to chafe pretty soon after that. Burning ambition and a desire to be free had inspired her bid for power, but once she’d had it, she had realised what shackles that same power brought her. She was spending so much time on politics that her true love – information and money management – had fallen by the wayside.

So when Hugh had contacted her with the rough outline what he and Stender – motherfucking /Stender!/ – were planning, she had grabbed that chance with both hands. They’d negotiated mostly though vid meetings, but he had invited her to his office in the Compound to hammer out the last bits of the terms of her employment.

She had no idea how long the meeting would last, but she had booked the day completely free just to make sure. When she arrived to Stender’s offices, it seemed that his PA had even gone so far to arrange lodging for her for that night. It would be a long meeting, then. Perhaps she should take that coffee after all.

She never got to that point, though. The door opened behind her. Irina turned around and found herself face-to-face with Stender; head of the Corporation, richest man in the world. Most eligible bachelor in the whole world, too. Irina understood why. He was a terribly attractive young man and he wasn’t even all that much older than she was. Five years, maybe? Eight? He wore a slate grey tailored suit with the practised ease of someone who practically slept in them and his wavy dark brown hair looked artfully tousled.

And when he smiled at her, it seemed to light up the whole room. “Irina Weisz,” he said warmly, taking her hand in his. His grip while he shook her hand was pleasantly firm. “It’s good to finally meet you at last.”

She nodded back. “Likewise,” she said with all the professionalism she could muster. “I’ve been looking forward to this meeting.” It was true, too. Despite the fact that Irina hated to leave the seclusion of her office in the Black City and preferred to do most of her meetings through vid software, it /was/ better to see someone in the flesh. It added an extra dimension to a person that vids could never hope to create. She did not like to be close enough to anyone to actually touch and smell them, but by God it was useful.

It only took her a second of shaking his hand and looking him directly in his blue eyes before she’d taken the measure of him. In the end, that was enough to seal the deal for her. She knew immediately beyond the shadow of a doubt that the stories and the facts about him didn’t lie. Stender was the kind of man who was used to get what he wanted. He had all the easy charm and good looks of a successful businessman, but there was that edge about him that Irina knew all too well. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he would go to extremes to get it anyway. He was the kind of man you needed on your side, because he was fucking dangerous.

No less than she expected, exactly what she needed and hoped she would find. And she knew all too well how to get him on her side.

They sat down for their meeting. In the beginning they sat on opposite sides of the desk, but as the morning progressed she somehow ended up next to him. They drank coffee together, Stender ordered lunch. They talked Game designs; long-term financial plans; Irina’s experience in handling the betting stations around the illegal fighting league that Solchov had set up in the Black City a years prior to his death; they talked media politics. Stender was more than prepared to do his fair share of work, which is something she had dreaded to ask after. “I’ll be demanding the world of you, probably,” Stender said with that easy trademark grin of his. “But it’s not more than I demand of myself.”

It all sounded fair enough to Irina’s ears. “It will be nice to build something up from the ground. Something that is not built on the bones of something else. I would walk through fire to make such a thing a success,” she said thoughtfully, looking at the plans on Stender’s plasma screen.

“Which is why we want you aboard,” Stender responded with thinly disguised satisfaction in his voice. “I am sure we would make a great team. And your expertise with the betting stations should give us a huge boost.”

“It is a chance of a life time,” Irina agreed. Hugh had heard all her stories why she was done with Solchov’s legacy in the Black City; it was what made him introduce the two of them to each other. Huey and she had been in touch many times before; he was an old contact of Solchov and he had been one of the first to embrace her when she took control over Solchov’s assets. She did not particularly like Hugh, but he did seem to like her an awful lot. Enough to involve her in this business opportunity of Stender’s. She did not doubt that he had told Stender everything. She also didn’t doubt that Stender had digged up every history on her that he could get his hands on.
She wondered if he’d found the histories she had hidden and how much he could fill in the blanks.

Below them, the Compound buzzed with activity while the afternoon sun made its trek to the west through the hazy skies. The office was filled with a copper sunlight when Stender finally made her the offer and sent her the contract. “You don’t have to sign right away,” he said. “I can imagine that you want to think it over first.”

She scanned over the terms of employment in her contract while he continued: “I think the offer is generous enough, at least. If we get this off the ground in the way I want to, you’ll probably be richer than God in about ten years.”

“I’ll answer to you, though,” she said lightly, pleased with all that she saw. Job description, terms of employment, stocks, it was all there. She made the calculations in her head and found that he was right. It looked like a dream. A beautiful dream. Probably too good to be true, but she’d never gotten anywhere without dreaming. She looked up at him with a slight smile. “As major stockholder, if I’ll be richer than God, what will you be?”

“Owner of the universe,” he said in a matching light tone.

She signed her contract that very night.


Her lodgings were extended indefinitely. Stender’s pretty PA (who was called Sybil, Irina learned later) made sure she would have a place to stay if she wanted to work in the Compound and the first month, that was exactly what Irina did. She brought over her wardrobe, toiletries and some personal effects, and set to work pretty much immediately.

The workload was killing, but the job satisfaction was just as intoxicating. Setting up an operation from the ground off was exhilarating. There were many all-nighters, contract negotiations for possible cooperations, redesigning of the Games to fit a more mainstream mold. Financially it all seemed to work out. Stender’s fortune was not limitless, but it was more than enough to set up the first structures of the dream. The rest would come later, with the money they would start making.

Huey and Stender invited her to many brainstorm sessions and listened intently to what she had to say. They disagreed often enough, but they took her expertise seriously.

Somewhere near the end of that first month, she also met the girl Valentina, who Stender introduced to her as his protegée. They met her in the hallway and Irina immediately noticed the girl, since she was the first person she’d met in the past few weeks who was not professionally clothed (she wore jeans and a hooded sweater and was drinking a slurpee in an alarming shade of blue) and because of the way she /moved/. She moved like Gershan. And she was watching Irina curiously and met her eyes boldly. “Hi,” she said, when she saw Irina look at her.

“Hi,” Irina offered.

Stender, who was walking next to her, waved in greeting, until the girl said: “Stender, can I watch Silver Skies in your pad? Your tv is much bigger than mine.”

Her boss paused for a moment. “Sure, whatever. Don’t touch my terminal though, or I’ll..”

She laughed. It was a surprisingly warm sound. “Yeah yeah, you’ll kick my butt. I know. I’d like to see you try.”

Stender chuckled softly. “Valentina, I’d like you to meet my new associate, Irina Weisz.”

“Nice to meet you,” the girl said as they shook hands.

“Irina, this is my protegée, Valentina Marin.”

“Nice to meet you,” Irina echoed. They didn’t have time to talk for long, though, because they were on their way to meet with a representative of Silcom. Any questions she might have had about the relationship between Stender and the girl (Irina assumed that maybe she was family) were pushed to the back of her mind quickly enough, because of work.

At the end of the first month, they had something to celebrate. Irina had survived her first month of trial period and she’d never been happier. She’d also just been single-handedly responsible for the acquisition of Beldine, a company that specialised in state of the art camera equipment. And she wasn’t even supposed to be good at this kind of thing. Still, with Beldine on board they had created their link to the audience that would come soon enough. Beldine gave the audience their eyes; their fly-on-the-wall perspective that would move so naturally, so beautifully, that the viewers at home would feel as if they were in that very arena. The tech was incredible, and Irina had managed to get them on board.

A celebration was definitely in order, so after they ordered dinner, Stender called for champagne. “Welcome to the family, miss Weisz,” he said with satisfaction while he popped the cork. The fizz sparkled in lamplight of his office.

By the time they finished dinner, they were on to their third bottle.

The sun had set over the Compound and below, the twinkling of the lights was distracting Irina from having coherent thoughts. Stender’s presence, so close to her on the designer couch, was even more distracting. It was the whole male presence thing, while talking business, her stims losing their strength with the fall of evening and booze clouding her brain.

Yet even when they was alcohol involved, they kept working. Throughout it all, Stender seemed to hold is alcohol better than she did. He was brilliant. Outlining plans and business proposals. Listening to her opinion, but still pressing his own opinion. He was more gentle than Solchov had ever been. Working with him was a relief; verbal sparring seemed less dangerous. Still, Irina had fallen in those kinds of traps before. Even Alek Solchov, in the best of moods, could still lash out. /I own you…/

“Since we’ve acquired Beldine’s assets, we’ve been much more able to figure out how much of a financial drain the whole new camera feed system will turn out to be,” Stender said. “The regen credits, however, are a wholly different ballpark. The costs of that system alone…”

“You could try to go without regen,” Irina offered. “God knows that they go without in the Black City. Wounded is wounded, dead is dead. Makes things more dynamic.”

“I want the battles to last more than half an hour,” Stender interjected. “I want to keep the viewers bound for longer than that.”

Irina leaned back on the couch and sipped from her drink. If angel piss would have a taste, it would taste like this champagne. “So what would you do about the regen?”

Stender shrugged. The lights from the city outside played on his handsome face. “Whatever it takes. We’re already working to get the technology ourselves. Put our own people on it. Circumvent Silcom’s patents, get our own. Become /better/, take down the competition. The usual.”

“The usual,” Irina echoed. She smiled wryly and finished her drink. “Glad I’m not Silcom.”

He shrugged again. “Cooperation was my preference. I made them an excellent offer. They didn’t accept. So then we’ll go the hard way. It will take some more time, but we’ll succeed anyway.”

Irina nodded and poured herself some more champagne. Perhaps not the smartest move while she was sitting with her boss, but she was Russian, she knew how to hold her liquor. Usually.

“So,” Stender said when the third bottle had been finished. “Your first month has ended, you’re already one of my biggest assets to the organisation. I know that Sybil got you a place to stay. What else can we do to make sure you’re the best you can be?”

She hesitated for a heartbeat, suddenly slightly nervous. An old reaction, ten years of conditioning had drilled it in her. /Asking for favours? Already? Idiot!/ “I had hoped to bring Gershan with me. I know he’s not your man, he’ll be mine… but I want him with me.”

Stender’s eyes searched her face. “Why is that?”

“I trust him with my life,” she blurted out, thinking of a phone call four years ago. About the look on Pjotr’s face when he told her it was done, and the way he held her afterwards. How he had helped her through the realisation that she was finally, utterly free.

“I’m not sure if an assassin has a place in this organisation, Irina,” Stender said gently. “Not with the way we’re going mainstream… legal. Transparent. This won’t be the Black City politics anymore. You don’t need that anymore. What would you have him do for you?”

/Keep me safe,/ was her first knee-jerk response. She didn’t say anything, though. Her throat was choked up with emotion. When had she started caring about her right hand man and sometime bed mate? Was it when Solchov died? When had she stopped sleeping with him to make him do what she wanted, and had it become more of a need to have him close? She suddenly realised that there was no way she wanted to do this without him. “You could keep him off the payroll,” she said, desperately trying to keep her voice level. “It would be the only condition I would ask for.”

“Convince me, why I would let your pet assassin into the Compound. What would you have him do for you?” Stender repeated slowly. He leaned towards her on the couch, close enough to smell and touch. Some of the easy charm she’d gotten used to in the past month had left his face; he became all business like now. More distant. Colder. Calculating.

Her response had left her lips before she knew it. She leaned over and laid her hand between his legs before she even realised what she was doing. She squeezed softly and felt him instantly respond to her touch. It was instinct. Habit. “What would /you/ have me do for you?” she asked, her voice lower, more husky. Present and past blurred together for a moment. This was how she had been most succesful to get what she wanted. Get your boss in a good mood and he would agree to more things. It was how she got Gershan on her team with Solchov to begin with, back then. She would do it all over again. It would be worth it.

At least Stender looked and smelled nicer than Solchov did. She was close enough to kiss, so she did it. He even tasted better. Small favours.

He broke the kiss and pushed her gently away. “Irina… no,” was all he said.

She opened her eyes and was completely unprepared for the look in his blue eyes. Respect. Pity. Even though down /there/ his body seemed to say different. She blinked. “No? Why not?” /Is it the scars?/

“Because I am not Solchov, my dear.”

She blinked again, confusion and rejection battling for supremacy over her champagne-hazy brain. She sucked in a sharp breath between her teeth and looked at him as if it was the first time. Her new boss. “No,” she whispered. “No, you are not. I’m sorry.”

He patted her cheek softly and then drew back from her. “Don’t be. But this will never happen. You don’t have to treat me like /him/. I’d like to think I’m a better boss.”

“Yes,” she said hoarsely. “I guess you are.”

Later that night, she found herself connecting to Pjotr’s contact details. He looked like she just caught him while getting out of bed. He only wore faded jogging pants, which showed his bare chest and abs in all their glory. His messy ash blond hair bound back, his eyes still puffy with sleep, but alert. Awake. Looking at her. “What is it, sweetheart?” he asked. “You look like shit.”

Irina raked a hand through her dark hair and shrugged. The scars on her shoulder and upper back throbbed dully with the exertion. “I thought to take the pod over to the City in a while.” She counted the timezones in her head. “Are you doing anything for lunch?”

“I am now,” he smiled.

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