Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
He reached her and the blue of his eyes blazed. She squirmed in her chair. He smiled slightly and went on. “You are all familiar with digital technology, where the smallest piece of information can be, like a light switch, either on or off. You are also familiar with analog technology, where there is a smooth range of values, like a light dimmer or volume control. The HCC300 Digital‑Analog Logic Encoding chip combines both of these technologies in a single chip
; it thus
has the capabilities of both, and also the added capabilities of the
combination of the two.”
This was all hardware, and Vickie’s company was a software consulting house. Time to nip this in the bud if she could. She cleared her throat. “Could you please explain how we at Fitzwater Software fit in?”
Cliff nodded. “The computers that we build on the DALE chip need programming smart enough to bring out the chip’s capabilities. I’m here to select an innovative software team to design and implement the code which will make this chip run rings around the competition.” He spread his fine hands out, encompassing to the group at the table. “I need a driving, creative force, people who aren’t afraid to take chances, make changes or strike out into completely uncharted territory.”
Heads nodded, there were murmurs of agreement around the table, and even a few shining faces. Pretty soon and they’d be eating out of his hand. Vickie cleared her throat again.
“But I thought the Hawkesclyffe Computer Company already employed the best machine and assembly language people in the world.”
“Don’t be stupid, Vickie.” Mel smiled snidely.
Probably scenting a corporate kill. Rule Number One
never tell a client he doesn’t need you.
Mel went on, “Of course Sir Humphrey employs the best. Which is why he wants us.”
Vickie felt herself growing hot between the intensity of Cliff’s scrutiny and the sly grin on Mel’s face.
“Ms. Johnston,” Cliff said. “While my own people will handle the interface between the brain and the heart of the machine, I want you to write the interface between the machine and the brain and heart of the people who will use it.”
“Just relax, Vickie. Sir Humphrey has everything under control.” Mel’s voice always grated on Vickie, but today it was like a buzz saw. Under his breath he said, “You should stop causing trouble, sweetheart. You’re way out of your league.”
Damn it, Cliff was not out of her league and she was not just causing trouble. She simply never said “yessir” when something didn’t make sense. Out loud, she said, “I still don’t understand. We’re to do the applications programs? Why can’t Hawkesclyffe Computer people do those
Mel jumped in gleefully. “Because Sir Humphrey has chosen our company, Vickie. The rest of us are honored that Sir Humphrey placed his confidence in us.” He smiled sickeningly at Cliff. “We will do our very best to deserve that confidence, sir.”
“We will discuss this later, Ms. Johnston.” Cliff’s eyes were blue agates.
Vickie drew herself up in outrage. Next to her, Mel shot her a triumphant smile. That burned worse.
Cliff took tight rein on the meeting and completely overrode any further comments. He discussed the advantages of the new chip, then pivoted the topic back toward the software. “Since the people who will use this computer will be the best in their fields, the software itself must be the best. The end user is the end reason for our existence.”
“Obviously.” His reply threw her off.
Had he suddenly
“And you, Victoria Lynn Johnston, will be in charge of the entire project, both my people and yours.”
Vickie stared at him. She’d heard the words but they made no sense. Her, in total charge? Sure, she’d managed projects in her time, but nothing close to the million dollar program this one must be.
He must be insulting her to get even with her interrupting. She answered in kind. “Oh, yeah? I’m doing all the work? And what will you be doing?”
“I’ll be managing you. I think that’s work enough.”
She stood. “This joke has gone on just a little too far—”
“Yes, Mr. Hawkesclyffe.” Fitzwater, with a flourish, brought out pages of contract. “Exactly the personnel you ordered—er, ah—requested. Two project leaders, three designers, five senior programmers, ten application programmers, and one top level management—ah, that’s you, Vickie.” He smiled a little weakly at her, which she acidly attributed to the doubled salary he was shelling out.
And then it sank in
knees folded and she sat abruptly. She stared open mouthed at Cliff. He really
meant it. But it made no sense.
Around her people were talking and shaking hands. [MH2] No one saw the total illogic of what Cliff was doing.
As the meeting broke up, she tried talking to her boss Phil about it. “You do realize this means you’ll be working for me, instead of the other way around.”
“Yep,” Phil said calmly. “Hawkesclyffe wants it that way, and he’s been right too many times for me to complain. Look at how the HCC200 chip made tablets a grocery store item. Double the speed and half the price of anything out there.”
Vickie grimaced as Phil turned to speak with a developer. Could he not see how weird this was?
“Congratulations, Vickie.” Her friend Tess stopped on the way out. “It’s about time you got a good assignment.”
“I don’t know how ‘good’ it is. I’ll be responsible for twenty of our people and an unknown number of Hawkesclyffe’s. Please tell me that at least you’ll be there.”
“Yes. But you’ll be working with Mr. Magnificent, not poor little me.” Her eyes lingered on Cliff, who was arguing over several pages of contract with a slightly green Fitzwater.
Not her, too. “Stop drooling
one second and see this objectively please? He controlled every aspect of that
meeting with either honey or a big stick. And look at him haggle with Fitzwater.
I don’t think Hawkesclyffe is the easiest man to work with.”
“No, he looks pretty hard to me.” Tess’s eyebrows rose suggestively.
“Arrgh. Stop that.” Vickie said it both to Tess and her rapidly rising pulse. “Tess, this doesn’t make sense. I’ve never managed a team of more than six people. The biggest budget I’ve had to work with is a hundred K. You can’t tell me that this the same, just bigger. Complexity explodes with the size. A small system, a small problem, a midsize system, a big problem, a big system, fecking impossible. Forget it. I can’t do this, and I’m going to tell Mr. Know‑it‑all over there, just see if I don’t!” She stomped her way to Cliff’s side.
Tess looked mildly at Phil. “Well, she’s talked herself into her own mediocrity again.”
She shot Tess a glare. Mouthed I can hear you.
Tess just gave her a big grin and a thumbs up.
Phil smiled. “I don’t think Sir Humphrey’s going to let her get away with it, though.”
“You think he can get it through her thick skull that she can’t ignore her own talents?”
“If anyone can.” Phil chuckled. “If anyone can.”
Vickie turned pointedly back to where Cliff and Jerry were still hashing out minutia of the contract. It seemed to her Cliff was deliberately ignoring her, his attention completely on Fitzwater, speaking reasonably but firmly, as if to a recalcitrant child.
“I’m sorry, Jerry, but I really must have two Q.A. people for this project.”
George Woo, out of Customer Service, wandered over just then. “Q.A.?” he asked Vickie.
“Quality Assurance,” she snapped back.
George, who was unaccustomed to anything but cheerful politeness from Vickie stepped back to where Mel, scenting corporate blood, came up.
“That’s a good point, though,” said Vickie, seeing her opportunity to get Cliff’s attention. “You should have at least two Q.A. You can substitute my position.”
“Ms. Johnston.” Cliff spoke mildly but his eyes were gleaming in a way that unnerved her. “I said we would discuss this later. We will discuss this later.”
In spite of those searing blue eyes she opened her mouth to argue.
“Not now, Vickie,” Jerry said. Since he was the one who signed her paychecks, her mouth slowly closed. Stupid clients.
[MH1]Oops. Everything belonging to the speaker goes in one paragraph. He paused goes with Cliff's paragraph, not Vickie's.
[MH2]Eliza asked what Mel was doing, and she was absolutely right. There are places where certain characters, based on their individual motivation, will intrude on the scene. I have recently learned to try to imagine a scene from all the POVs of all the characters in it, not just the main character. Then you know if you should add something like this.