Friday, December 19, 2014

Flash Friday # 125: Company Policy, Part 7

     Alicia expected Theseus to retreat back to the tunnel. However, he gave the opening one look and shook his head as he let the door go closed.

She could see no sign of the door from the outside. Nowhere to escape and the sound of trouble was rushing closer.
"We stay here," Theseus said softly as he pulled her back towards the wall. "If we miss the shuttle, no matter. There will be others. I want to know what the hell happened while we were in the tunnel, though."
She suspected they'd find out soon enough. A rush of people went by their little alcove, shouting and running. Was something worse coming behind them? Was it safe here?
Not safe anywhere as far as she could tell. Not safe with Theseus. Not safe on her own if he was right, and the longer this went on, the more firmly convinced she was that he had told the truth from the moment he spirited her away from the building.
Guards went past. They seemed to be breaking up the trouble. One had a scanner, turned in their direction, and came forward, weapon in hand.
"Show time," Theseus whispered.
"What are you doing here?" the guard demanded.
"Hide, hide," Theseus said, waving his hand, his voice higher. "Loud people, yelling, running --"
"What's going on?" Alicia asked. She didn't have to pretend to be worried and afraid. "My grandmother and I were going to catch the shuttle to the port --"
"All the shuttles are grounded," the man said. He waved them to come out. She wasn't sure she wanted to, but Theseus took hold of her arm and followed his instructions. "And the port is closed besides. You know about the explosion?"
"Some building," she said, a quaver in her voice.
"The terrorists have sent messages that they're going to blow up more. Some damned off-world fanatics. Get clear of this area. We're closing it down."
She nodded and moved along with Theseus, his hand tight on her arm, his step slow but steady. She had the feeling he listened to what the others said. The guards likely had far better information than they would get from the frantic crowd if they caught up with them. Luckily the crowd moved faster and the guards stopped at the edge of the large plaza leading to the Museum District. She and Theseus went on, a slow walk towards the milling people on the street before them. No shuttles, aircar taxis or even ground transportation was in sight.
"What are we going to do?" she dared ask. It sounded like a normal enough question.
"Walk away," he said softly. "We don't dare go back to the cafe, though. Walk. We'll try to join with another group. If I start talking in Greek just nod. If someone asks what I say, I'll translate myself."
She nodded. Alicia was becoming good at nodding. She was, however, starting to look around and try to find answers of her own. Something might happen to Theseus, or she might simply decide it was time to leave his madness behind. She didn't want anything to do with the IWC, and certainly not with Inner Worlds Council Security. She didn't want --
"Careful," he whispered and caught her arm when she started to trip. She glared at him, and he bowed his head, no doubt guessing at her thoughts. "Just careful."
They had moved closer to a group of people who milled around, grumbling and mumbling and looking more bothered than worried. The problems now became more about getting home rather than where bombs might go off. She felt she could deal with those mundane concerns. Theseus even managed to get some of them moving, if only by asking the right questions about where they might find transportation, since there was none here.
She'd almost relaxed when the next explosion went off somewhere across town. Not in the direction of New Worlds for Humanity, either; Whomever had done this one was branching out.
And then another one, this time to the south and far closer.
People panicked. She couldn't blame them. She even tried to pull away from Theseus and run herself, but he held tight and pulled her to the side of a building. But how could he know if this one wasn't go to blow up, too? Not safe --
"This isn't right," he said. She saw the worry in his eyes. "This is far more than simply getting rid of us or framing us for an act of terrorism. What the hell is Brown doing? What could he want?"
"Chaos," she said, kneeling down beside him in the shadows. Focusing on something else helped. "Chaos to cover something else?"
He looked at her, startled. "He's lost all his money in New Worlds for Humanity. If Ross House backed him, and he owes them --"
"He's going to steal something?" she asked.
Theseus looked back towards the museum district and shook his head. "Too obvious. Not something from there."
"Why do this today?" she asked.
He grinned with delight. "You ask all the right questions. I haven't been paying much attention to what's going on in the city. If it were something big and open we'd have heard about it. I need to check things."
They had already, in those few moments, slid away from the violent crowd. Theseus found a spot in a doorway, the building sealed tight, but still safer than standing in the open.
"We don't have much time," he mumbled. "The guards will be along and chase us out."
He pulled out the pocketcomp and his fingers flew over the keys and little screen. She wanted to ask, but he was concentrating so hard that she feared to even breath too loud.
"We are going to need help," he suddenly said. His voice sounded shaken for the first time. "We are going to need a lot of help."
And the ground shook with another explosion.

To Be Continued

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Flash Friday # 124: Company Policy, Part 6

    Had they been set up for this? She tried to sort through the last few days, before this rush from one disaster to another. Had she seen a sign that this was coming?
There had been . . . an oddness with her immediate supervisor the last week. Hamilton had been nervous around her . She'd also found him going through her desk yesterday --

"Hamilton is in on it," she said, despite herself. She still didn't want to believe.

Theseus looked at her, eyes narrowed.

"If you don't trust what I'm saying, why are you dragging me along?"

"Good point. Why the sudden change?"

"If it is true that we're being called terrorists, then I think any protest on my part would be pretty stupid."

"We'll have the proof here soon," he said with a wave to the door. "If you trust what we provide."

"There's no good reason for you to do this just to drag me into your plans," she replied softly. "Besides, I knew bad things were happening at New Worlds for Humanity. I didn't know about the station. I had looked into some supplies that were supposedly heading to them and the trace came to a dead end. I thought the files were corrupted."

"You'll need to start making notes of everything you can think of like that." Theseus looked less troubled, though she couldn't guess why. The situation wasn't looking any better as far as she could tell. They hadn't mentioned it, but she wondered who else might have been killed in the explosion. Who else did Brown and his people want to get rid of?

"Why now?" she asked.

He nodded, understanding the question. "We believe someone in Earth Government has started looking into New Worlds. He didn't want their attention."

"You don't know?"

"Earth Government doesn't generally report to Inner Worlds Council Security," he said with a quick smile. "Word had gotten out, though, including to Brown. He needs to shut down and lose information -- and the people who could produce that information for him. Earth was his last refuge."

"Is this going to help him?"

"I don't know yet. Honestly, I'm not sure I care. Right now I'm more concerned with the two of us getting out of here. What happens afterwards . . . we'll see."

She found that reassuring. She wanted him focused on their escape.

The cook brought them information. She watched a vid that showed her and Theseus apparently planting explosives. The shock still made her ill.

In the next hour they were both transformed; her to someone slightly heavier with dark hair and eyes. When Theseus came back, she saw that no only did he look and move like an older woman, he even bore enough resembles to her to make the family relationship obvious.

"I never played dress-up as a child," she admitted.

"Now you get to see what you missed," Theseus replied. He looked less harried.

The cook held out a lovely set of jewelry: necklace, earrings, bracelet and rings. The gems looked real and she glanced up at him with a little trepidation.

"Each piece holds a blocker," Tom explained. "So even if you lose one or two, you'll be fine. You need only get on the jumper to Greece. By the time you're out of the port, you'll be out range. Stay in character until you can get clear of everyone. Then I suggest you head for the London port. We're going to plant information that makes it look as though you are heading to the Western Wildlands or maybe the China port."

"Thanks Tom," Theseus said with a hand on his arm.

"You know I'd do the best I could for you Theseus. You are one of my best customers."

"Which means you work on Earth often," Alicia said with a little frown.

"Too often," he mumbled. "And I don't like it."

Tom lead them along the hall away from the cafe. At the far wall he glanced back behind them, as though making certain there was no one around. Then he tapped at the wall in a couple spots and it slid aside, showing a far longer corridor.

"Go all the way to the end. You'll come out in the Museum District. Here are stubs showing where you've been; people save them for souvenirs. This chit will feed in touristy pictures and records of your trip. Just feed it into one of the comps first and then the other -- it won't copy exact pictures, so you should be safe. In two hours there will be a shuttle to the port. Don't go anywhere near the off-world section."

"Yeah, I can handle it," Theseus said. "Thanks."

"Drop the chit in the hall before you leave. Good luck."

He all but pushed them through the door and it closed behind them. Theseus looked back for a moment, his face showing worry.

"What's wrong?"

"He's afraid they're going to be raided," he said. "He wanted to make certain we're safe. Damn. I hate leaving people to protect my back while I run."

He took out the comp and shoved the chit in, saying nothing as they walked. It was a long ways down the corridor, and they passed other doors. Theseus clearly wondered where they led, but he didn't stop until they reached a set of stairs leading up to the last door.

"Show time," he said and straightened his hair and hat.

"What if we're scanned. They'll know you aren't female."

He held up a ring of his own. "Got it covered. As long as we don't face anyone who knows us personally, we can pull this off."

He sounded assured. Alicia realized she had gone from scared to numb. Numb was better. Her heart hardly missed a beat as Theseus pushed the door open . . . and they stepped out into a world filled with yells and the sound of anger.

"Something wrong," he said softly.

She wasn't surprised. 

To Be Continued

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Flash Friday # 123: Company Policy, Part 5

     So Alicia found herself caught up in the midst of something she would rather have read about. She sat forward, looking at Theseus who had his eyes closed, his face pale. When he opened his eyes and found her staring, she felt of wave of embarrassment.
"The people who run this place are freelance," he said, as though they'd been discussing something. He shifted, winced, and then set up straighter. "For all I know, they may have someone the IWC has been hunting squirreled away in the room across the hall. If such a person walked into this room, there would be nothing I could do about it, unless I wanted to throw away an important resource. What I am saying is that even though these people are not working for Inner Worlds Council Security, they can still be trusted."
"Why would you think I'd trust IWCS more?" she asked.
He gave a grunt of agreement. "Well, you're right there. Damn, I hate working on earth. I suspect Brown located all his assets here simply to make it harder for the IWCS to move."
"But you are moving,"she said. "So far, I only have your word on what he's done --"
"You have far more than my word: you have experience of working at the office. You know there's problems."
"I saw one aspect --" She stopped and shook her head. She couldn't lie to herself. "Yes, you're right. But I don't know that they actually abandoned the station. I only have your word on that one. And about killing others. For all I know, you're a charm --" She caught herself with a cough. "You're a psychopath with enough enemies who want to kill you that we need not even consider New Worlds for Humanity in the mix."
His eyes went large before he laughed. "Oh, you are right. I do have enemies enough. My psych reports say I'm no more of a psychopath than any other IWCS agent, but that's probably not saying much. And I can be charming."
She blushed despite herself. "What is going on?"
"Everything I've told you is true. At first we thought Brown had simply gotten in over his head and we might have to help him out -- but now. . . ."
"He can't have killed people," she said. "Someone would have noticed."
"We did."
He had a point there.
"We won't be here for long. Whether we go on together from here is entirely up to you. I can still get you off on a nice vacation somewhere you won't be found for a while. I might have everything cleared up by then. I have the suspicion this matter is going to clear up fast."
"Even without my help?"
"Your help would expedite matters and lend credence to what we know and what we suspect."
"That he's abandoned the people out there."
"And, perhaps worse, that he sold them to Ross House. Or perhaps he's always worked for Ross House; at this point we're not certain."
"Ross House?"
"They used to be located on earth, but they were moved off to Caine's Hold. They mostly deal in illegal cloning and slavery these days."
She'd heard of Caine's Hold and knew about the Families in general, but had never expected to find herself --
Theseus took a few limping steps around the room. The sudden change worried her and she felt as though time had suddenly caught up with them. "I wish I had more time to explain to you. We --"
She heard an odd thump, as though something big had been dropped on the ceiling. Everything trembled for a moment and then stopped.
Theseus stood still for several breaths. Then he looked at her and shook his head, new worries slipping in around the old.
"That wasn't an earthquake. It was either a very close explosion, or a very distant, very strong one."
"What do we do?"
"Wait," he said and sat down. "It won't be long."
The cook showed up with tea a few minutes later. He shoved the door closed with his foot and went to take one of the chairs, looking worn and bothered.
"There are conflicting reports. Even I can't get the full answer," he said. "The most prevalent rumor so far is a terrorist attack and a rumor of a man and a woman involved."
"Not us," Alicia said, panic starting to spread through her so fast she almost couldn't hold her hands still. "They can't be blaming us --"
"What blew up?"
"Part of the New Worlds for Humanity complex," he said. "So yes, they could have plenty of vid resources of the two of you to put together whatever they want."
"What are we going to do?" she asked. This couldn't be real.
"I've got my people working on the vid records from here," Cook said. "People will remember the two of you, but the vid will show a couple with enough differences that I won't be under watch for long. We'll work on getting you out of the city. Any preferences?"
"Elderly grandmother and granddaughter," Theseus said. "That will help cover any limp. Greek, heading back to the isles after a funeral."
"I don't speak Greek," she said, still confused.
"I do," Theseus replied. Cook nodded. "And you'll be one of those modern girls, you know. Didn't bother to learn a dead language."
"I'll get you both in the system and work up the funeral," Cook said. "And come back and do the makeover myself."
"Thank you."
"The IWCS pays well to keep you people safe," he said and stood. "Besides, I don't like the feel of this one at all."
Theseus nodded, grim faced as Cook left.
"Am I supposed to trust you people?" she finally asked. "This is insane! This morning I had a perfectly fine job --"
"They fired us. Within a couple hours, they'd set off an explosion which sent more than their own people against us. I have the feeling we were already set up, Alicia." 

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Flash Friday # 122: Company Policy, Part 4

      Theseus watched the aircar for a few seconds, then shook his head. "Back to the party. We need company."
Alicia didn't argue. The aircar was landing and they were lucky the street was so narrow that it couldn't find a clear spot very close.
Or was that luck? Theseus had been careful so far. She thought he might have kept them to the narrow road just for this reason.
They hadn't gone far from the crowd, but even so she could hear people running behind them. Theseus cursed and pushed her sightly ahead of him, clearly trying to protect her.
"Run," he said. He reached under his left arm, pulling a laser pistol. She looked at the weapon, startled. "Go!"
"I don't know where!" she replied, truly panicked. The weapon made this real. "Where --"
"Damn. You're right." He kept the laser in hand but stayed with her. "Come on."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she said, almost stumbling, though she was glad that he wasn't staying behind. She didn't want to lose him.
See him killed?
Both of them killed?
This had been like an adventure until now. The threat of those weapons behind them wasn't made any better when the flash of a laser cut into a tree just to her right.
"Oh yeah, they're serious," Theseus said, slightly breathless. "Cut to the right and then back to the left past those trees. Don't run . . . Straight line."
She grunted agreement and darted to the side and back, her head pounding with her heart. When Theseus tripped, she grabbed his arm out of instinct and kept going; it was a few steps before she realized she smelled burnt cloth and that he wasn't fully recovering.
He'd been shot.
"Al -- Almost there," he said, the words a slight gasp. "As soon as we -- we reach people, slow down. Head back to the cafe."
She gave a frightened grunt of agreement, trying to keep her body moving and not look back, even when she thought she could hear people coming closer. The lights were closer ahead, though, and the music louder. She could hear laugher, and then they came around a corner and back into the midst of others.
Alicia didn't feel any safer for it. They were a long ways from the cafe, and what would happen when they got there? They'd be trapped. They couldn't --
Theseus leaned slightly against her but moved at a steady step. He said nothing and he didn't slow. They were among people now, but she feared for their lives if those people began firing again.
"We won't be safe there," she said softly. Panic was starting to overcome everything else and she started to tremble. "They'll know --"
"Safe," he said, repeating the word through clinched teeth. "Friends."
She had to keep control and she had to believe that Theseus knew what he was doing because she had no better ideas. The Cafe was only a couple more blocks away and if they were being followed, at least the growing crowd would slow the others up.
But she was tagged. It wouldn't be safe --
Get him to the cafe, at least. Worry about the rest afterwards. At least she had a destination. When she saw the building's welcome windows she almost cried, but this was not the time to break down. Later. When she really understood what was happening.
They reached the door and she pulled it open. There were a lot of customers inside and every table had been taken, but she saw the way the people who worked there all turned their way.
"Ah, my friend, my friend!" The larger man came out of the back and embraced Theseus. "You come back to teach me a new recipe like you said! Welcome!"
And they were bundled back into the kitchen amidst much laughing --
"What the hell, Theseus? Where are you hurt? You look like hell!"
"Shot -- left thigh. Not bad. But she's tagged, Gregor. Need a safe room."
"Ah. Should have thought. This way."
Gregor had hold of Theseus, but he caught her arm, too and pulled her along. She didn't argue.
They went down some stairs and through a door that wasn't obvious in the wall and into a very nicely appointed room. She stood, there, stunned for a moment.
"Sit down," Theseus said softly. "Just sit. I'll get this cleaned up and something to kill the pain and we'll try something else."
Gregor took him to another room. She stood there for a moment and then collapsed onto the nearest chair. Comfortable. Nice. But she couldn't stop shivering.
Theseus came back out of the room. She had no idea how long he'd been, but he was limping slightly and wore a new pair of pants. He carefully sat on the sofa and leaned back.
"Well, that didn't go as well as I had hoped."
"Tagged," she said. She couldn't quite get that out of her mind. "How?"
"Could have been done any time in the last year or so," he said with a frown. "Though I'm betting it was recent and they simply hadn't gotten to me yet. In fact -- did Arisla ask you to come in for a quick check up because they were worried about the flu?"
"Yes," she said. "She did one hypo to check my blood."
"That's it. I was supposed to, but I got called out to a meeting and it wasn't set up again. Gregor? What can we do?"
"Not going to try and get it out of her," he said and she felt a little wave of relief. "I'll make up a nice necklace with something to counter the tracker. Also, we'll send a dog off with something on the same frequency." He pulled a pocketcomp, waved in in front of her, and nodded. "I'll get right on that one."
He left and the door sealed shut. For all she knew, they were trapped here. Alicia didn't feel any safer.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Flash Fiction # 121 -- Company Policy, Part 3

     "Illegal," Alicia repeated the word and glanced at her odd companion.

Theseus moved closer, his voice dropping. "I work for the Inner Worlds Council Security."

A spy? An IWC spy and here on Earth? Oh yes, that could be a problem. It was illegal for them to work on Earth without special sanctions.

"Why were you working at the company?"

"We started watching through the other offices until Brown closed them. By then we were really worried. There are too many people dependent on New Worlds for Humanity."

"Not in the Inner Worlds, though," she said. "All the New Worlds for Humanity settlements are in the fringes. You don't have authority --"

"No, we don't." He frowned. "You no longer work for the company. Does that mean you don't care what happens to those people?"

"I care," she admitted.

"We try to help where we can," Theseus said with a shrug. He led her into a small cafe and they took a table along the side; not hiding but not in the open. "We need food. Do you mind if we eat here?"

"Are we safe?" she asked.

"For a while. Better to rest and eat now."

She gave quick nod. The food smelled heavenly and she felt almost lightheaded with a moment of weakness. Emotional drain had taken all her energy, and Alicia still didn't know what was really going on.

And whom should she trust?

They ordered food. Greek dishes; it suited him and it was obvious the people here knew him. The staff gave her some curious and appraising looks which she found amusing.

"We need to get to Mars and the Inner Worlds Council HQ," he said after a few bites. Alicia suspected he had watched and listened to others, making certain of their safety. "That's not going to be easy, though I have a few tricks I can use. First you have to make decisions, though, Alicia. You've been shoved into this mess. I would have liked to prepare better, but Brown moved before I was ready."

"Ready for what?" she asked.

"People have died," he said, pushing aside his plate. "Kant here on earth --"

"But that was an accident!" she protested, even while she began to doubt.

"Kant here on earth, five other top NWFH people on three other worlds. Accidents and suicides, at least officially. If we hadn't already been interested, we might not have noticed."

"You think I would have died -- that I might die -- soon."

"If you aren't careful," he agreed. Then he gave her an unexpected smile. "Even if you don't help, I'll make certain you get to as safe a place as possible. A nice long vacation on a secluded beach?"

"I couldn't afford --"

"Money is not part of the proposition," he replied. He glanced at the door, frowned, but then sighed with relief, reminding her of danger everywhere. "I can get you there, everything paid. I'll arrange for it to look as though you've left world. All that would be easy enough."

"Oh yes, a nice, long vacation on a beach while people on Grey Station 9 are fighting for survival? No," she said.

She could read the approval in his face. She wasn't certain that should count for anything since he seemed to be a madman.

"What now?"

"I'll start working to get us on a ship to Mars," he said. "There are a few leaving every day, so we shouldn't have too much trouble, as long as we don't draw attention. "Then we go to Mars and you tell a few select individuals what you know and what you have heard about the company and the problems. Don't worry; everything will be double-checked. But you are someone with inside info and a good source."

"What about you? You're not good enough?"

"Oh, I can report things, but they can't bring me out in the open, partly because I shouldn't be doing this work." He sipped at his tea and then gave her another serious look. "You have worked for the company since before Brown stepped in. You are reliable."

She winced despite herself and saw Theseus look at her with one eyebrow raised, curiosity unspoken.

"That's what my ex-husband always said; I was reliable. Then he ran off with a couple girls half is age and left world. I like to imagine that being rather unreliable, he isn't as happy with them now."

Theseus grinned agreement. She liked him better for it.

They finished dinner and left the nice little cafe. The street proved to be even more crowded. She'd never been to this end of town before; a bit low end for someone in her position. It was a shame. The food was great, the buskers in fine form, and everyone seemed happy and friendly. She would like to have stayed there, but before long they were heading away from the carnival atmosphere and into darker streets. The sounds drifted away behind them, a whisper of music on the air. She wanted to go back.

Everything echoed oddly here. They walked in the line of grass, a narrow stretch that kept them from the loud sidewalk. Theseus said very little. She began to sense, though, that he was becoming more and more worried.

"That aircar has buzzed us four times now. I think we're found. I don't know how. They never should have been able to track us!"

"Maybe you're wrong," she said, more hope than belief.

The aircar swept around again.

"They're narrowing down on us. But how --"

She saw him look startled, resigned and worried as he drew out his pocket comp and swept the device over himself and then over her.

And it let out a loud chirp.

"Son of a bitch! They have you tagged!"

"Tagged me? That's not legal!" she said, as if that was going to make a difference.

The aircar circled again. This was going to make getting away damned hard.

To Be continued
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