Menlo Park, California
Artemis Hoover leaned forward in his chair at the head of the burnished conference room table, folded his arms, and said, “I’m not shy. I’ll address the elephant in the room.” His eyes bored like two red lasers into Tap, Inc.’s CEO Amy Jameson, who sat at the opposite end of the table next to a television monitor with the social media network’s red T app logo.
She hadn’t even had the opportunity to begin her quarterly earnings update.
“Amy, are you an alien?” came the simple question from Hoover, a heavyset man in his early seventies, today wearing an impeccable charcoal Brooks Brothers suit with a red power tie. A class ring with the same color stone was on the third finger of his right hand, like another evil eye.
Amy had anticipated the question; she still had allies on the board. But she feigned surprise. “I fail to see how that question has any relevance to today’s meeting or any meeting, for that matter,” she replied, returning his lasers with an icy counterpunch.
“I think it has everything to do with this meeting and your presentation,” Hoover went on, clearly struggling to remain collegial. “There are rumors on the street that you’re M’Lon. I don’t think I have to remind you of the embarrassment that such a revelation would do to our stock price, especially for the biggest social media company on this planet. Our brand would immediately fall under the category of subversive.”
M’Lon. The word hung like stench in the closed conference room, even eliciting a quiet “Oooh” from the middle of the table.
The M’Lon galactic voyagers had arrived at Earth some ten years ago in mile-long V-shaped ships, which had first been seen over Phoenix in 1997 to much chagrin for locals with video cameras. As a species, they were exactly like humans, down to the DNA level. But their ungainly conduct, lack of clothing, and severely broken English had immediately made them second-class citizens of a cosmopolitan Earth. Their reputation was quickly exacerbated by the explosion of conversation on Tap and the planet’s few other insignificant social networks, along with cracks on late-night TV. The bastardized word “mollen” had become a racist pejorative.
However, the M’Lon were barred from holding any political or corporate position on Earth for one simple fact: They were ardent, near-fanatical worshippers of their god, a tangible machine the size of a quarter of their home planet, which is approximately two light years from the star Proxima Centauri.
There was a danger in allowing aliens, who may be taking orders from a self-aware machine, to hold positions of power on Earth. Besides, the concept of deity worship had become passé on Earth. Outmoded thinking.
“You know there are no reliable blood tests to determine whether one is human or M’Lon, Art,” Amy said. “So you’ll have to take my word.” Now it was Amy who sat forward in her chair. “I do not have M’Lon blood coursing through my veins,” she said “And with all due respect to you and this board, I resent the implication.”
That was true. Amy Jameson was indeed human. But Artemis Hoover hated liars. He had built his personal brand on his honesty, and as such, had worked to root out falsehood in the organizations he had led. Retired now, that transcended to his board leadership.
“Come on, Amy, you know companies all over Silicon Valley have alien trash working at the highest levels,” he said. “When it comes out, those companies suffer. Stock prices drop, layoffs ensue, and some even die a slow death.”
Now he stood, and his gut sagged over the waistband of his pants. “You see, Amy, it’s all about perception,” he said. “You might be an alien or you might not. I, for one, have my doubts, but regardless, if Tap’s CEO isn’t perceived as a machine worshipper yet, it’s coming; mark my words. That’s why I’m compelled to ask this board for a vote, right now, on terminating Amy Jameson as CEO.”
Amy had anticipated the tenor of this meeting, and as a Dartmouth-educated strategist, she had studied it from every conceivable angle. Thus, she was prepared for her response to a vote.
She paused, a PR trick to command attention. “Do what you must,” she finally said. “I’ll let the results speak for me.” She pressed a button on a console, and the monitor behind her showed a bar graph with the quarterly growth in stock price over the past two years of her tenure. The range was considerable. A 4.2-percent increase in first quarter led all the way to a 12.3-percent jump in the most recent quarter.
The next slide showed another bar graph with similar increases in new users, especially internationally, and for the first time, intergalactically. The final slide was a pie chart that depicted wild growth in advertising revenue.
Artemis Hoover was voted down. It wasn’t even close.
Hours later, Amy Jameson poured a glass of Merlot as her twins raced around the kitchen island. Her life partner, a tall, goateed man with warm eyes named Jeff, leaned against the island with his arms folded.
“So you’re still employed,” he said. “That’s a relief.”
One of the twins did a hard turn around the corner and crashed into an open drawer and started to cry.
“Nouakchott! Ah fenza foopala…!”
“Stop!” Amy implored. “We don’t speak M’Lon around here. Do you want the kiddos to go to school and have everyone think they’re alien?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Jeff said, patting the twin on the booty and encouraging him to go back to play.
“So what else happened today?” she said, pouring another glass.
“I got a transmission from home,” he replied. “God wants you to introduce a new feature on Tap that will turn conversational sentiment toward at least the possibility of a M’Lon presidency. Think you can do that?”
“I can do anything I want,” she said. “I’m the CEO, after all.”