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Person of Interest

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“You know what would solve all of your problems,” said Li: “locking Tony Stark out of the company. Speaking confidentially, of course.”

“I’m not going to do that and you know it,” Pepper looked up from the report in her hand. Her CFO was sitting comfortably in her guest chair. Five years ago, when SI had rescued him out of crippling student debt, Li had been a mouse of a man, commuting to work on public transit in wrinkled suits and double-strapped schoolbags. Now he was lounging in the CEO’s office and casually bouncing off ideas with Pepper, secure in the fact that SI needed him more than it needed Tony Stark.

“Still,” he said. “A year ago you would have flipped shit if I said that.”

“Professional relations sessions,” Pepper said lightly. “Mandatory for all managerial staff.”

“You went to those?”

“Not this year. I went as Tony for the past three years.”

“You don’t say,” Li said.

“It’s not that big of a deal.” It had been a colossal waste of her time. She should speak to HR, Pepper made a mental note. If her staff did not know how to manage professional relations they didn’t belong in SI. “What else have you got?”

Li sat up straight and looked her in the eyes. “Look, we can’t compete in IT, no matter what the Board says. There’s no fucking room. Plus we can’t hope to match the Asian labour market—most of our manufacturing is stateside, with high level federal clearance. We should make use of them; we paid good money getting those clearance, and getting good people to staff them. That means playing ball with the government.”

Pepper nodded. “So no NFPs? I recall you suggesting the iVegan Society.”

Li grinned. “We all know how much you love veganism.”

Pepper gave him a dry look. “I need to piggyback on Not For Profits, Li,” she said. “The only people that campaign more aggressively than NFPs are dating sites and Bible groups. Not exactly the publicity I’m aiming for.”

“Okay, I know,” Li snapped his fingers: “give them South America.” He stood up and flipped Pepper’s report to the page he wanted. “Here: we’ve got 3 boulders and cement factories in Sao Paulo, and 2 ground sites in Minas Gerais. Worth maybe five million dollars a year, about twenty on the Prospectus.”

“Boulders and cement factories.”

“Yeah, we used to blow that stuff up for quality control, remember? They were complete write-offs in the budget. We can play NFPs with them 20 different ways, just refit them to make plastics and we’re in business. Hell, we can probably keep making cement—if we sell them for cost recovery we’d be making money.”

“I like it,” Pepper circled something on her paper. “That’s one problem solved. That just leaves the gaping hole of what the fuck SI is supposed to be making, if not weapons.”

Li shrugged. ¯\_(シ)_/¯ “I’m telling you, Potts, you’re fucking nuts. This is no way to run a multinational corporate—R&D develops for Marketing, otherwise we end up on the 2am infomercials. What do you, CEO and Chief of Staff, think SI makes? I can do the SWOT analysis with you right here, right now: SI makes weapons. Fuck Tony Stark and his shenanigans. By all rights it should be Potts Industries by now, but you don’t sign the papers. Why not? What is this weird display of loyalty? They explicitly teach you not to have loyalty in MBA school, you know.”

“I’m sure they don’t.”

“They do, I’m telling you, I’ve snuck into a class or two.”

“And it’s called Business School.”

“Who the fuck cares.”

Pepper eyed him sideways, and couldn’t help but chuckle. “Thanks, Li—I appreciate it.”

“I still think you should lock him out. Off the record.”

“I want a full report on the NFPs and South America by the end of the week.”

“You’ll have it tomorrow,” Li waved, already out the door.