Eating, resting, working out, and texting fills the days until the company needs me again. It may fill out your frame, but your frame is still short and slight. The company recruited me in part because I worked out so hard at the gym, but not Thom, even though he worked just as hard and was literally standing right over there making me look all of twelve years old in comparison.
He has probably never wanted to make his body anything other than what it already is. They rebuilt me from the inside out. Molecular biologists rewrote my DNA. Surgeons cracked then extended most of my bones. They pulled out my shoulders, expanded my rib cage, stretched out my limbs to build me a taller, broader frame.
I spent months of agony enduring metal frames jutting out of me, holding cracked halves of bone apart so they could knit together millimeter by millimeter. I looked like some sort of high tech porcupine. The nanomachinery implanted in me constructed and distributed chemicals through my body that sped my recovery and packed on mass.
Over time, a flat chest began to bulge. Stick-like limbs thickened with sharp curves. While the body was healing, they attached my mind to a virtual reality and taught me to fight. With my skeleton being stretched out, I could barely move in the real world, but, in the virtual world, my body was fluid, agile, and strong. Or it became that. At first, as in actual reality some months later, I spent a lot of time falling on my face. Time in the virtual world patterned my responses.
They trained me in hand-to-hand combat and I lost count of how many weapons. Or at least I hold my own sparring my workmates. I joined the company with the body I was born with but work for the company with the impossible body I was promised. As it turns out, this is not quite the body I want. Despite all the changes, I still feel like me, the scrawny grad student trapped under the bar.
And the changes were drastic. Nothing the company did to build my body was approved for use on humans or even published as research. A quick search of flights says I can fly home, have coffee with Thom, then fly back in time for my next job. I managed Zurich to Boston only because I arranged for my following job to start there. The company covered part of the flight cost. Anyone with a lifestyle where they can fly from Hong Kong to Boston just for the afternoon can afford and can pull the strings to have his body reconstructed. Asking around on the base, I work out some job trades that get me to Boston in a couple days.
The first job in the sequence that will take me back to Boston is innocuous. Change a few of the details and we could be the kidnappers rather than the rescuers. I recognize the sign overhead and the buildings on the grounds. Conversion camps stay around as long as there are parents who want to make their son a Real Man, I guess.
The barracks are cold and dark. It stinks of sweat and urine. The kid is chained to his bed. Welts cover his body. A teammate hands me a set of keys and I snap to. The patches that will keep him in REM sleep fit snugly against his temples. The manacles unlock with a soft click. I move the chains out of the way slowly to avoid making any more noise than I have to.
He is too light. His body is a tree in winter, all thin and angular. I barely feel it across my shoulders. I tell myself that maybe they all have one rich parent who can steal them away from the machinations of the other rich parent. The air is thick and warm. An overstuffed bed sits against one wall. Shelves of books line another. Dance gear litters the floor. Her house has more layers of security should anyone want to steal her son back.
The next job is much more typical. High Powered Executive is extracted from her elegant high-rise condo. High Powered Executive is installed in her discreet but absurdly tasteful hotel suite. When you open the bottle, trapped air from a distant age attacks your senses. Or so I gather. This is either perfect or perfectly awful. The nanomachinery inside me manufactures chemicals that force me awake.
To line up jobs to get you where you need to be when you need to be there, something generally has to give. Thom hugs me when we meet. Somehow, I always manage to let go when he lets go. He orders some drink that takes a minute to describe. The clerk repeats it back to him perfectly. I stare at the drinks board for what feels like a millennium before I give up and order the gigantic herbal ice tea.
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There are already enough stimulants racing inside me. He seems to grow as he takes off his denim jacket. It obscured the way his chest and arms bulge, depriving the world of his perfection. No one is built like you unless they need to be. Like professionally or something. You used to be shorter than me. What are you doing to yourself?
The question punches the air out of my lungs. Half of what they did to me are things no one outside the company know are even possible. He gets up and steps around to check out my legs. He tries to put me into a joint lock. Eventually, he pulls back, his hands still around my shoulders. His gaze narrows. Is whatever it is you really do for a living that important? Practically nobody is you. The rest of us need a little help.
The idea of lying to him makes me sick so I violate my NDA for him and risk some of the truth. Distraction osteogenesis. What they did to me is more involved than that, but close enough. Throughout all of this, Thom just nods. Not anymore.
All-American in college. Just let me do what I want. He puts on his coat. He nods at me, then leaves. I text Thom between jobs. He never answers. Guess not. I know what I have to text him to get him to text me back. I stop texting him instead. Not being able to talk to him tears me to pieces, though, and I can feel my life ebbing out through the wounds. The next few months grind on. I pick people up. I set them back down. I pick up heavy weights. My body is its usual never not sore. I date a guy from work.
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Bad idea. So little in my life has changed but everything is different. Thom is this palpable lack, a void that nothing can fill. The company is assigning me to fewer hotels now and more campsites, hole-in-the-walls, and odd shacks in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, we are chased extracting or installing the client. This one will take literally two dozen of us. In addition to mics and earpieces, we are outfitted with combat armor and a wide variety of weapons.
The nano-scale chemical factory inside me keeps my mind focused and my heart from pounding through my chest. We go through our obligatory checks then we load into the helicopters. The helicopters have a stealth mode.
Guidelines For Successful Communication With Clients — Smashing Magazine
They whisper towards the compound. High walls surround a two-story building. One helicopter lands just outside. My workmates stream out to secure the perimeter. The other hovers just inside the walls. Ropes drop.
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We slide into courtyard. One after another, we rush out of the way of the one above us as we hit the ground. Explosives blow out a house wall and door. We rush in then fan out through the house, looking for the hostage. Plan A, as always, is to find her and whisk her away before anyone can mount a response. My partner and I sweep room by room down a hall on the second floor.
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The first few rooms are empty. The door to the next is blocked by something on the other side. I step back, aim just below the doorknob, then kick as hard as I can. The door splinters off its hinges. Something skids, thuds then crashes. Screams tear through the air. Except for the noise, that worked much better than I expected. The splintered wreck of a dresser is scattered on the floor. My flashlight sprays the room. Four people huddle on a bed against the far wall. The fear carved into their faces deepens as I step through a mix of wood shards and clothes on the floor. My partner slides past me towards the bed.
We get the signal to leave over our earpieces as we examine the people on the bed. On the way back to the helicopter, the hostage is asleep, wrapped in a blanket. We all load into the helicopters with breathless precision. They take off. Dust bursts in silent plumes from the ground. The client has obtained a bed for the hostage at a military hospital in the States. Again, the rules for the rich are different from the rest of us. We install her then the team breaks up, most of us headed off to the nearest base.
In my case, I change my clothes in the van to the usual jeers and compliments then they drop me off at the bus station. Knocking myself out or taking a little something to just to relax me is always an option. At the bus station, though, the former is a bad idea and I never do the latter. While I wait for the bus, I close my eyes and the job replays in my imagination. Maybe I over-estimated how solid the door was. Or maybe assuming I always need to hit as hard as I can is not a good idea anymore. Mostly, though, my imagination is stuck on the faces of those huddled on the bed.
Well, maybe it is, but do we actually have to wait for the client for every single bit of the project? You know the business, let your client know! Image by Kyle van Horn. This knowledge enables you to assist the client when timelines are slipping by, getting these small things created for them if necessary. Now of course in an ideal world all of these elements would be paid for and carefully crafted by designers, UX teams and copywriters, but this is just not the way it usually works in practice.
For the sake of keeping a project worth thousands on track, and if you are sensing these could be stalling points, go ahead and pre-empt the delay in getting the smaller things on time by preparing some example pieces of microcopy and submitting to the client for approval.
Or how about producing a lovely content template spreadsheet for the client to fill in rather than asking them to work on a blank canvas if you can call MS Word a canvas. Clear it with your boss that by getting a designer or copywriter to work for a couple of hours unbillable will keep a project and cash flow on target — rarely will the request be denied and the client will probably really appreciate you taking the lead on things that, to them and their business plan, are small details.
Often when working for a client, you only interact with one or two persons but they have to report to many more. A common cause for delays in web projects is the time it takes your primary contact to get their superiors to review, provide feedback or approve portions of work and communicate this back to you. The good news is that there are ways to combat this.
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Although this is a bit of a fluffy statement, it sets you up to raise it at a later date if it becomes an issue with regards to timelines and also gives your contact some leverage when pushing their probably very busy bosses for timely feedback. What this means is that regardless of what calibre your primary contact is regarding running things from their side, always try to hit their deadlines , allow them to take credit for your suggestions and ideas within reason and just generally give them the best service you can.
Consequently, they will put more effort into keeping the relationship fruitful by making things smooth for you and ultimately want to keep working with you rather than someone else. Image by Tomasso Meli. But use this approach with massive amounts of caution!
Obviously, it has the potential to permanently damage the relationship you have with the client, including their boss, and while they may begin to provide feedback quicker, some more unscrupulous clients will make sure to cause you stress and grief in other ways as punishment and revenge, and even nice ones will be really annoyed to say the least.
However, this should certainly be the last resort. If you work for a company, you can be certain that somebody senior will be able to strike up a conversation with someone senior on the client side and approach the subject in a much more subtle way than you could, if you can leave that to the silver tongues of the world. But if executed the right way it can have the effect desired with no egos bruised. The truth of the matter is that some clients you literally need to drag into your office and not let them leave until you have all the feedback and decisions you need. More often than not these sessions can be incredibly productive and get a stalled project right back on track.
Another meeting-based solution to help with client and project productivity is to arrange weekly client meetings. Admittedly, not all weekly meetings are good. To avoid getting caught in the hellish, lengthy, counter-productive weekly meetings, start them with a strong statement: encourage all participants to keep focused. Set a specific timeframe for the meetings to make sure that they are not taking too much time: usually 25—40 minutes is more than enough to discuss the most critical things that require clarification.
I must admit that I was wrong. Image by Tommaso Meli.
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