Glass Ceiling, Pt. 1 (Chapter 1a)

It’s novel writin’ time again! Here is a novel I am writin’. Enjoy!

Edit: I’m silly and I accidentally used the wrong title. Silly, silly me.

 

1

Monday morning. Deep breaths. You’ve got this.

Jasmine Delaney stood outside the door of the Office, one hand on the knob, eyes firmly locked on that hand, ears listening for footsteps behind her. It’d be awkward and embarrassing if someone saw her little ritual, but she’d hear them coming well before they saw her standing motionless in the hallway. It was a deliberate design choice, she was convinced, to have the acoustics send footsteps echoing for all to her. That way Solvers could hear late Fixers without having to check security footage, without having to look at their login info, without having to do anything at all except for be attentive and aware at all times (which, as Solvers, they were supposed to be anyway.)

She was less worried about someone from inside opening the door and coming face to face with her. Once you walked into the Office, you didn’t walk out again until it was time to leave.

With one last inhale and exhale, she turned the knob and stepped inside, big confident smile on her face, shoulders squared, chest out (but not too far,) hands loose and easy at her side. “Good morning, everyone! What needs Fixing today?”

“You’re late,”said Patrick, the words like a slap across the face. She flinched. She jumped. She kicked herself for showing even a moment’s weakness, even though the son of a bitch had been lying in wait like a snake, even though he was wearing a smug little smirk on his face for having startled her.

Patrick Whitman. Bastard. He even looked like a snake, tall and thin, bony and sharp and prematurely balding, his entire body pale and hairless like a serpent’s belly. She had to look up to look him in the eyes, but she was used to that. Her whole life she’d been looking up to meet people’s eyes, but she’d always met them.

“It’s seven-hundred-thirty. I’m not late.” But just a quick glance past Patrick’s shoulders showed the Office buzzing with activity, Fixers of all Levels listening to Solvers and rushing to enact their orders.

Patrick’s smirk grew into a full-on grin. “Ah. So you didn’t check your mail.”

“I check it at zero-hundred every night,” she said, adding with emphasis, “even on Sundays.”

Patrick gave an exaggerated shrug, his shoulders rising up like he was putting on a performance for children’s theatre. “So you didn’t check it when you woke up, either. Well, Delaney, the boss sent a message at zero-hundred-thirty saying that one of our biggest clients had an emergency and that every Fixer in the department was expected to be in at oh-six-hundred.”

“You mean Omnicorp?” Jasmine’s mind raced, trying to imagine what kind of fires she might have to put out today. Omnicorp literally did everything, so their problem could literally be anything.

And then the full weight of Patrick’s words hit her. Despite herself, Jasmine’s eyes went wide. “I’m an hour and a half late?”

“Oh, good. You’re irresponsible, but you can still read context clues and do basic math. With those skills, you’ll be a Level 3 in no time.”

Jasmine almost muttered, “Fuck you,” under breath, but stopped herself. Patrick could rat her out for being late, but he didn’t set the punishment. If she cursed at him, though, he could accuse her of creating a hostile work environment and play up his emotional distress, and then she’d have to face a Departmental Relations hearing. Better to just keep her cool and stay silent.

Deep breaths. She had this.

Her eyes snapped back to Patrick. He was wearing a Office uniform, she saw, a smart business suit with the logo pin on the lapel: a hammer, a computer, and a gun. He was going out on field work. A small jab, then. Just like in her martial arts classes, a quick attack to test the enemy’s defenses. “So where are you off to? Juan tell you to go get him some coffee?”

Patrick’s eyes narrowed to slits, the grin staying on his face, his expression proud and predatory. Damnit. He had a real task then. If the Solvers had sent him off on something trivial, he would have bristled at her comment.

“I’m off to meet with Miss Omnicorp herself, in fact. Juan’s sending me to serve as a liaison between Omnicorp and the Office during this time of crisis.” He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder (a violation of Office policy) and pushed her aside (a deliberate insult.) “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to be going.” His grin grew wider and his eyes flashed with sadistic glee. “Wouldn’t want to be late, after all.”

Jasmine watched as he opened the door and disappeared into the hallway and the world beyond. It was a mistake, of course. Anyone watching would know that he’d gotten to her, and more than that, she was wasting time when she was already late. No matter how you looked at it, it was a mistake, and good Fixers didn’t make mistakes.

She spun on her heel, resumed her deliberate and confident walk. Deep breaths. She had this, Goddamnit. She had this.

“You’re late,” a woman’s voice said, high and squeaky. Jasmine’s head snapped towards the sound, nostrils flared, mouth twisted into something halfway between a smile and a snarl (but probably closer to the snarl.) A head full of golden curls bobbed next to her. Stacie Jackson.

“Yeah. I heard.”

Stacie had a stack of papers in her hand, was running from desk to desk all over the Office, delivering reports and getting signatures and giving updates. Menial stuff. The kind of work that Level Ones got stuck with. Jasmine’s heart sank a little as she thought about this. Hopefully there was more to do at this point that just Level One drudgery, but since she was an hour and a half late to start her day, there was a distinct possibility that the shit work was the only kind that was left.

She was better than office go-fer crap, damnit. She was a Level Two. Her and Stacie had started at about the same time, but she was already a Level Two while Stacie was still just a Level One. Jasmine was more intelligent, more diligent, and better at the games of office politics than Stacie could ever hope to be. She deserved better than Stacie, and in a meritocracy like the Office, she was going to get it.

Of course, Patrick had started just a month or two before Jasmine and he was already a Level Three, but she wasn’t going to think about that. Fixating on the people above you was a good way to mess up your own performance. Fixers focused on the task at hand, saw it through to completion, and moved on to the next problem as directed by the Solvers. That was how things worked.

The task at hand, then. Figure out what kind of crisis everyone was dealing. Get fresh, reliable, actionable intel. Collect data and act on it. “So what’s the big crisis, Stace?”

“The megacity council denied Omnicorp’s proposal to demolish Albany, and they’re fucking pissed.”

Jasmine arched an eyebrow at that. The megacity council could always be counted on to be a pain in the ass of most everyone who had to deal with them, but that was why the Office was involved. The Solvers knew just what politicians to bribe, which ones to blackmail, which ones could actually be worked with. They ran propaganda campaigns, won hearts and minds, displaced communities, broke apart families. They Solved problems. They Fixed things. They’d Solved Omnicorp’s construction issues and Fixed it so that the council would be sure to see Omnicorp’s way.

“Did they say why?” Jasmine asked.

“Yeah. Well, kind of. They issued a formal decision, but it’s like five-thousand pages long.”

“So it’s long. So what?”

“No, Jazz, it’s like literally five-thousand pages long.”

Jasmine stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn’t afford to waste any more time getting her first assignment, but there was no way she’d heard that right. “What?”

Stacie stopped too and gave a single quick nod, her curls bouncing like springs as she did so. She took off again, weaving around other Fixers rushing to other destinations, forcing Jasmine to keep up with her just to continue the conversation. “Yeah. It’s nuts. Omnicorp’s pissed, the Solvers are pissed, and everyone’s scrambling to try and figure out what to do. We’ve got people making calls, sending messages, out on the streets, everything. And we’ve got people reading the decision, but it’s taking forever.”

“What about the algorithms?”

Stacie shook her head. “First Solution they tried. The language in the decision is weird. The algorithms couldn’t parse it out into anything that made any sense. It’s like the thing was deliberately written just to screw with us.”

Jasmine frowned. The Office had competitors, of course. Other companies that specialized in solutions, or even anti-solutions, but the Office was the best. It hired the best, it did the best work, and it got the best results. For someone to actually get an advantage on them was… not unheard of, but rare. Very rare. And it usually resulted in a round of layoffs in the upper levels of management. Mistakes were unacceptable, but blindness was unforgivable.

Jasmine sighed as she split off from Stacie and made her way over to Juan’s desk to get her assignment. It was a very bad day to be late.

Word Count: 1,588

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