Chapter 1

About a year and a half ago, Penelope Lawrence realized she hated her job.

For the last six months, her emotional connection, the glue that held her to sense of loyalty to her employers, to greeting cards, and her mission to provide people with heartwarming sentiments slowly dissolved at a steady and predictable rate. And now it has reached a state where even the slightest sigh would be able to send her careening into the nebulous job market for greeting card artists.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. There was a good year and a half where she loved her job. In fact, she was Imperial Greetings’ whiz kid. Every quarter, one would invariably find her name at the top of her department’s best seller’s list. She had an almost supernatural knack for finding a stranger’s sense of sentimentality and exploiting it for maximum effect. It’s not like the cards had her name of signature plastered on the cards. Customers couldn’t give much of a shit about who wrote the damned thing, they just saw the cards she wrote and knew that this card could bring some smiles to people who really needed them.

After a while of her routine domination of their internal best sellers list, Imperial Greetings began to take notice and keep track. At first, she was their darling, their golden goose. She was on fire. Things could not have been better. The company was making money because of her, yet, at the same time, they became terrified that Penelope Lawrence might one day leave for greener pastures. Making her time at the company worth her while seemed to be the smoothest path to ocontinued prosperity. Penelope loved and savored every benefit, every perk that was thrown her way, and she shared the fruits of her success with her friends. Then, one day, her life fell apart, rapidly.

Two years ago, her mother, Virginia Lawrence, disappeared without warning or trace. Even though she felt intense loathing for her mother, she was surprised by her own devastation when the police showed up at her door, asking her when she last saw or talked to her mother.

Penny couldn’t help but feel intense guilt over her mother’s disappearance. The previous weekend, three days before her mother went missing, she wrote a lengthy email, under the heavy influence of many cheap margaritas (it was Cinco de Mayo at Barry’s Bistro).  It was her final Declaration of Independence from her mother. It was laced with many epithets and an unhealthy load of very creative profanity. Overall, she informed her mother that she was the worst mother in the history of mothers.

No one ever found her, alive or dead. Her mommy was gone. Virginia Lawrence had vanished. After a month of looking for her, a puny memorial service was held for her. Only a few people showed up. Her father was already dead. He died in a car accident ten years ago, which, some say, was the end of her joy for life. A few neighbors showed up to give their condolences to Penelope. Her mother never planned for her own funeral, so there was no coffin. There wouldn’t even be a cenotaph for her mother. Just a polished marble marker in the cemetery, next to her father.

From that point on, she felt a strange mixture of feelings. Even though a sebaceous cyst the size of a middle aged woman had been removed from her life, no one bothered to close up the resulting wound. She healed, but the giant hole remained, covered with so much scar tissue. Even though she no longer had the nagging threat of her mom intruding upon her life at a moment’s notice, Penelope  genuinely missed her.

Her passion for art, sense of design, and storytelling, Penelope knew she got from her father. Her mother, on the other hand, had a surgeon’s skill at playing people. She was a shrewd diplomat and politician when it came to the neighborhood. She knew that Mr. White, a contractor who lived in 3b, took time off from work on a bi-weekly basis, to visit Emily Stone in Terrybrook, just four blocks away while Mrs. White stayed at home and watched Mr. White’s kids from two previous marriages. Virginia was an expert at applying the correct leverage at the right moment. If anything in the house broke, you could guarantee that Mr. White fixed it within a of couple days. Allowing information like this devolve into idle gossip was a sin to this woman. Simply put it to good use to keep the Lawrence household from falling apart. Put good gossip to work and a finger never needs to be lifted. She never gave a thought for professional politician or a public official; she felt that such activities should be left to the boys and men that like to think they were ruling the world. The real work is what one can do on the streets, among the neighbors.

Penelope would often tell her friends that her mother was liberally conservative, which would get her a laugh from time to time. And yet, her father loved her. From what she could remember, he was deeply in love with her. She could not figure out how a man like her father would be capable of even tolerating that woman, much less marrying her. Very little of that rubbed off on her. When Penelope was younger, she concluded that if her mother died, or worse, before Penelope died, there would be no love lost. She was wrong.

Penny, as she introduces herself to everyone, for a time, liked the novelty of writing greeting cards. Even though it wasn’t what she really wanted to do in life, it provided sufficient outlet for her creativity. Delighted in the necessity to be adaptive and flexible against a demanding and constantly changing schedule she found it amusing and comfortable, almost totally charming to produce for Imperial Greetings. She learned she had a poignant line for every occasion within her grasp. She was very good at it, too. Even though her employers allowed her every benefit without issuing her the company, and found a fair amount of amusement with it, she never shook the emptiness that remained after her father died seven years ago.

About seven months ago, while attempting to find the ever shifting human resources department to talk about some missing vacation time, she wandered into the company’s archives. This brief misadventure led her to meet her best friend, who’s now sitting across from her, drinking one martini to Penelope’s four.

I don’t remember if I’ve written it down, yet, but Imperial Greetings, at this point has been bought by Medallion Media in a hostile takeover that has left her without a job. A full review of the Imperial staff was conducted and her latest performance record was found unsuitable for future employment at Medallion Media’s latest wholly owned subsidiary, Imperial Greetings.

What Penny found in the archives were memoranda communicating mostly the usual day-to-day oprations, but every now and then she would find faint allusions to something called Millennium Man, which, whenever mentioned, seemed to set off alarm within the higher ups. She wanted to know more, so steadily, and secretly, she began to sneak all the old memos out of the company archives so she could analyze the memos on her own in the cozy confines of her studio apartment.

Medallion Media, as we know is owned by Constantine Sikander, and over the last few decades has been accuiring companies left and right, and after a few years, turn them around and sell them at a profit. In the mean time, a special staff within the corporation would comb through every piece of information ever stored within the confines of the unfortunate company that gets acquired. Medallion is searching for something. No one knows that. The team searching for that something doesn’t know, they only send the data back to Constantine Sikander.

The Penwickes, founders and owners of Imperial Greetings, had their eye on the activities of Medallion Media for the last couple decades. When they recognized the hostile takeover, they knew it was time to raid the archives. There was just too much possibility to find the very thing they’ve been trying to hide. Only, when they got to Imperial offices, all the records they weere going for were gone. The Medallion people couldn’t have gone in before they were legally allowed to. What happened.

The Penwickes decided to review their security footage of the archives and discovered that Penny had made away with the documents well before the hostile takeover even seemed to be a hint in the air.

As a token of gratitude, they decided to invite Penny over for Thanksgiving.

The Penwickes, in the meantime, begin to learn everything they can about her. They deploy their personal security staff to investigarte every bit of their background , even medical records dating back to her birth, her parents’ history, every antecedant going back as far as records have been kept.