It was shaping up to be a hot summer. In his laboratory at C. & S. Electric Light & Power, Miguel wiped his brow with his forearm, which was bare, the sleeves rolled back to his elbows. The problem was that he had wiped enough sweat from his face that his arm was now just as wet and wiping his brow only served to spread his perspiration more evenly across his forehead. A bead of sweat fell onto the paper on his desk, landing on the letter "m" in the word "magicode," causing the ink to bleed in all directions, like a cactus growing spines in a hurry or a porcupine bracing itself for an attack. Or, Miguel thought, the two conjoined humps of the letter had grown so weary at each other that they bristled.
Miguel rose from his chair and bent backwards in a long stretch, fingers clasped behind his head, elbows pointing to the laboratory door at his left and the window at his right, barely visible through the forest of potted greenery that had colonized the room of late. He bowed the other way, reaching for the floorboards, letting the stress drain from his back muscles that had held him upright at the desk for hours. When his mind got into a gallop, his body fell silent until the gallop stopped, and then it always paid the toll in full afterward. Miguel closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. A few vertebra popped loose.
The door opened, and the muffled business of the factory floor became an articulate cacophony. Miguel emerged.
"Boss, Mr. Baron wants to see you. He's in a mood." His secretary, Jameson, filled the door. The waist of the man's brown trousers circumscribed his spherical white-shirted torso so that he looked like a scoop of ice cream in a cone. The sweat on his face showed that he was melting.
"Well, if he wants to see me, tell him to come and see me," said Miguel shortly.
The anxiety on Jameson's face responded for him. No one in the company was eager to interface with Baron when he was in a mood. Miguel sighed. "I'm sorry. I won't ask you to do that. I'm just tired, that's all." Miguel pushed in his chair. "This . . . newest invention of ours is intractable, and it's wearing on me."
Jameson stepped out of the door onto the mezzanine but bent his neck around the door frame to glance back inside the office. "What is the new technology, anyway? With the battery-powered carriage, you interrupted my duties countless times to show me what you'd already shown me already, but about this one you haven't said a word. And what on earth does it have to do with all those plants?"
"You know I'd love to tell you, Jameson, but this one is different, and secrecy is of the utmost, especially this early on." Miguel closed the laboratory door and pulled from the neck of his shirt a chain with a single key dangling on the end. Instead of taking the chain off his neck, he bent down until the key could reach the door knob and locked the laboratory. Then standing and replacing the key into his shirt, he continued alongside Jameson toward Baron's office.
Below them, a hundred workers stood at one of three tables that stretched the entire length of the massive room. Baron liked to boast that the factory was "a tenth of a mile long" as though it were an impressive geographic phenomenon.
A few of the workers caught sight of movement above them and glanced upward. Miguel gave a wave, and they heartily returned the greeting. One of the workers caught his eye.
"Oh, one moment, Jameson," said Miguel, and he jogged to the spiral staircase and hurried down, reaching into his pocket for a pair of dublon coins.
"Becket," he said, approaching the worker, a lad of twenty-two with thatch hair and bright hazel eyes, half covered by tired eyelids, that looked steadily at the metal casing he was securing onto the base of a light bulb. At the sound of his name, he looked up and on seeing Miguel he perked up.
"Good day, sir."
"Becket, has Molly had the baby yet? She's due any day now, isn't she?"
Pride filled Becket's cheeks, and he said, "Just this morning, Mr. Santos. A girl, plump as a summer strawberry. She came in the wee hours, so I got to be with her a whole hour before starting off for the job. She's a blessed beauty, Mr. Santos."
"That's wonderful news," said Miguel, and discretely handed Becket the two dublons.
Miguel silenced him with a look. "I remember when my sister was born. I was four and not happy that I was no longer alone with mama and dada. Your first girl might like a distracting treat from time to time." He paused, then took a third dublon from his pocket and placed it in Becket's hand with the others.
"Give your ladies my best. You're a lucky man."
"Thank you, sir," Becket whispered. "This is very kind."
But Miguel simply patted him playfully on the arm and hurried back to Jameson, who stood nervously at the top of the staircase.
"I won't tell Baron you just cost our bulb assembly thirty seconds."
"Jameson, see that Becket Sumpry receives an extra half dublon a week for the next, say, three months. He's an honest soul, so inform the wage office that if he claims there is a mistake, they are to say there's no mistake."
"And if Baron finds out again?"
"Then he can scream at me again. He doesn't own my portion of the company."
They arrived at Baron's office and, leaving Jameson alone on the mezzanine, Miguel went in.