Glass Ceiling, Pt. 2 (Chapter 1b)

Juan had his back to Jasmine as she approached, his attention firmly locked on the massive screen that made up the wall behind his desk. His posture suggested a million things about his personality all at once. He stood tall, confident, proud, even though he wasn’t quite as tall as Patrick. The angle of his hip and the hand resting upon it suggested a certain irritation and power. The way he rubbed his chin with his other hand in contemplation spoke of his capabilities as a great thinker.

But then, of course he was a great thinker. Juan Ortega wasn’t just a solver. He was one of the best Solvers in the entire Office, and Jasmine was lucky to be working under someone so gifted and driven. He asked a lot of his Fixers, it was true, but he inspired and led them to be the best that they possibly could. To be better than they thought they could.

He was the kind of person that she actually cared about whether or not she disappointed him with her work. She knew that he’d be frustrated that she hadn’t seen the message telling her to come in early, but that he wouldn’t blame her personally. She was already embarrassed at having to face him, but she wouldn’t try and avoid him.

He was the best boss she’d ever had.

Even so, it took her a moment to steel herself, clear her throat and draw his attention. She stood as tall as she could, cracked her knuckles in front of her in a way that she hoped spoke of eagerness and not of uncertainty about what to do with her hands. “Fixer Delaney reporting for duty. Where do you need me?”

Juan turned around, his face a cold and calculating mask that warmed up as soon as he saw Jasmine’s face. He smiled warmly, professionally, gestured around the Office with a wave of his hand. “Morning, Jazz. Things are crazy today.” A pause. “Did you not get the message?”

She swallowed before responding. “No. I’m sorry. I fell asleep before it came in, and I didn’t check my mail when I woke up.”

He sighed. The noise wounded her, but she didn’t let it show on her face. “Well, it happens.” He reached up, tapped the side of his head. “I’ve got my NeuroFace programmed to wake me up whenever urgent messages come in, you know. You should do the same.”

“I don’t have a NeuroFace, actually,” Jasmine replied, feeling embarrassed all over again.

Juan arched a single eyebrow at that. “Really? You should look into getting one. They’re pretty much a necessity for Solvers, you know.”

Jasmine forced a smile to her face. “Oh, I know. I know.” As if she could afford tech that new when she could barely make her went. Living in megacities wasn’t cheap, especially not on a Fixer’s salary. Even a Level Three like Patrick would probably have to think long and hard before dropping the cash on something like a NeuroFace.

Juan shook his head. “Anyway, don’t worry about. I’m glad you’re here. I’ve got a specific task in mind just for you, in fact.”

Jasmine’s smile became genuine at that. “Lay it on me, boss.”

Juan pointed at a corner of the room filled with a bunch of Level Ones that Jasmine had never bothered to learn the name of. They were new blood, interns, students, that sort of thing. They looked like they were literally drowning in paperwork, and as Stacie’s story about the length of the megacity council’s decision came to mind, Jasmine’s heart sank. “I’ve got a bunch of the Level Ones reading through the decision. You’re the strongest programmer we have, so I want you to work with them and figure out how in the Hell the council juked our algorithms and put together a document we couldn’t analyze.”

Well, that wasn’t so bad, at least. Still… “I was hoping for something more along the lines of field work,” she said, instantly kicking herself for her word choice. Saying “I” was a mistake. She was talking about herself, her feelings, her wants and desires, and those had no place in the Office. Better just to have asked, “There’s no field work?”

Juan gave her a sad little half-smile, the kind that said, “I feel for you, I really do, but it just can’t be helped. “Sorry, Jazz. I gave the last field assignment to Patrick just fifteen minutes ago. But trust me, this is important.” He squared himself to her then, relaxed his body language. “We need to know who those bastards hired that outgunned us, and you’re the only Fixer I know that I trust to take care of that.

“I’m counting on you, Jazz.”

Analyzing a five-thousand page document would mean long hours, working at home, little sleep, juggling unreasonable demands. It would be Hell. Absolute Hell.

And the Office was counting on her.

Jasmine gave a single quick nod. “I won’t let you down.”

Word Count: 2,425


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