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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Friday, November 14, 2014

Flash Fiction # 120 -- Company Policy, Part 2

      They rushed out the back door of the restaurant into a shadowed alley with a half dozen aircars parked along a fence. Alicia looked back as the door snapped shut and locked.

"Don't worry." Theseus sounded assured and not at all like the man who had stuttered his way through every science decision at a meeting. "We don't have far to go."

"What the hell is going on?"

"Brown is getting in way over his head," Theseus mumbled. "We've been worried."


He glanced her way. "This is complicated. From the time Brown bought New Worlds for Humanity --"

She heard shouts inside the building. Theseus caught hold of her arm and moved faster. She didn't ask him to explain. Not yet.

From the time Brown bought. . . .

Alicia thought about those first few months after Brown had bought the company. Everyone had been naive. The Berkshire family had started the company a generation before and there had been passion in the work. The next generation were more interested in the business than the science -- and people -- side. When the company sold, she and others had hoped for a return to the old ways.

Brown had been trouble from the start. Within a year he'd started shutting down the offices on other worlds until all they had left was the headquarters on Earth. A few high level people had made the transition to Earth -- like Theseus -- but everything else had been sold off, from buildings to supplies. She'd assumed the funds went into the business's capital.

Theseus stopped by an older aircar and keyed the door open, hastily helping her into the backseat.

"Get low and stay there until I say so," he said. Then he gave her a bright, quick smile. "Sorry. This is a bit more clandestine than even I like, but please, just stay low."

"The aircar system won't let me sit on the floor if you intend to take off," she said, as though he wouldn't know.

"I have it handled." He got in and grabbed an odd hat with strands of gray hair attached and pulled it on before he settled at the controls.

He'd clearly planned for trouble, which made the shouts all the more ominous. Who knew what Theseus had done? Maybe he was using her as a way to throw attention away from himself. How could she have been so stupid --

The aircar started upwards and she yelped in spite of herself.

"Won't take us long. Pull the box over you when I put down. I'll be out of the aircar for a few minutes, making them think I'm Mrs. Stone. Once they check the aircar, we should be fine. They have limited people. They won't stick around for long."

"They'll know I'm here. Even a pocketcomp sensor --"

"Won't read you in here, under the box." He began pulling something up from his feet. She saw it was clothing of some sort and he expertly drew it up and over his shoulders until he appeared to be dressed in an old-fashioned skirt and sweater, with hair that hung well past his shoulders.

"You were ready for this," she said softly.

He didn't look at her but she sensed worry in the the way he paused for a moment. "Yes. I didn't think I would have anyone with me though. But. . . You were in danger and didn't even realize it. As soon as we get through this part, you can walk away if you like. But I suggest you be very, very careful if you do."

He sounded so serious that she felt a chill. He was setting the aircar down and all Alicia could see was the edges of some dilapidated walls; she had no idea where she might be. Lost and afraid --

"I won't be far. They just have to believe I am the old woman who does some cleaning for the restaurant. Just stay still and quiet. Trust me."

Her breath caught in fear and before she could say anything, he was gone, the door sliding shut.

She pulled the box over her and wondered how long --

Not long at all. An aircar sat down and not too far away. She found herself holding her breath, almost dizzy with fear --

". . . Yeah, this one," someone said close by. Did she know the voice? "Box . . . No reading."

She heard the jumbled sound of a few voices. What were they doing? Checking on Theseus? Did they find out the truth? Would they go off without searching the aircar --

Surely they should have been gone by now. The time crawled. Something was wrong.

The aircar took off.

Theseus didn't return. She felt her muscles start to tremble and an itch on her back took on the form of a major torment. She dared not move. It might be a trap --

The aircar door sprang open. She held her breath, so frightened she might pass out.

"It's me," Theseus said softly. "Can you move? The bastards stayed for too long and they tagged the aircar. We'll have to leave it, but I know where to get another not far away. Ready for a nice walk?"

She peaked her head out from under the box.

"I want answers."

"Yes, good idea." He glanced around quickly. "Let's go. I'll tell you on the way."

He helped her out. He also handed her a lovely long blue coat that helped against the chill of the coming night, along with a pretty scarf. He wore a hat and jacket. Apparently Theseus liked to play dress up.

He took her arm and led her through more dark places and out into a street packed with others who were strolling along. She heard music ahead and caught the scent of food which was heavenly, even under the circumstances.

"So, what is going on?" she finally said.

He met her look and sighed. "Well, first of all -- what I'm doing is illegal."

This wasn't going well.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Flash Fiction # 119 -- Company Policy, Part 1

     As they entered the room, Alicia heard Theseus give an almost silent sigh, echoing her own feelings of despair. The five board members didn't have to say anything; they knew there had been no improvement since the last meeting.

New Worlds for Humanity had been on a downward spiral for more than four years since the original owners had been bought out. Alicia hadn't seen the full numbers, but everyone had heard the whispers spreading through the departments.

She hoped to find out how the company intended to fix this mess. She and Theseus headed two of the most important sections: Supply and Science, though he'd been a late hire, barely a year ago.

"Alicia, Theseus, please sit down," Brown said with a nod.

They sat. They listened to the five board members, even though everyone knew Brown made all the decisions. An hour later they were dismissed; literally dismissed from the company and told to clear out their offices before the end of the day.

Theseus had never been friendly, but when he met her at her office door and said they should have a drink, she didn't argue. She felt numb by the suddenness of the news. Unlike him, she'd spent years here, helping the company grow and deserved better. When security checked through her box, she felt a surge of anger. She'd been a loyal, good worker for years before these fools took over --

Theseus tapped her arm. "Drinks," he said softly. "A fond farewell."

Something in his worried look stopped her tirade. Her heart began pounding harder. What was going on?

She followed Theseus out of the building, glancing once at the steel and glass, a place she'd loved. This had been a dream job until Brown and his people took over.

She almost tripped, her legs gone wobbly at the thought of not having a job --

"You don't bring an aircar in, do you?" Theseus asked. She shook her head mutely and hoped tears didn't spring up in her eyes. "Good. We'll take mine. Come on before anyone thinks to try and stop us."

"Stop us?" she asked, startled by the words.

"They haven't thought this through yet. They don't realize how much we know. Just come on. I'll buy you a drink and we can talk for a couple minutes."

She didn't argue. She had nothing better to do.

Theseus took them to a nice place across town, a bit more upscale than she would usually attend. She was dressed for it, at least, in her best work suit.

Damn. Anger began to take over the feeling of shock and betrayal.

"What the hell happened?" she demanded over a glass of red wine.

"The short answer? You know a good part of it in Supply. The Company doesn't have funds to keep supplying the eight colonies with anything new. Good thing they're pretty self-sufficient at this point. Brown overextended his credit when he bought New Worlds for Humanity. He's been trying every 'get rich quick' scheme he could to get the money back. We're part of the new plan. He's fired over a hundred people in the last month, most of them lower level so we didn't notice."

"It's not going to help him."

Theseus agreed with a nod, sipping at his own wine. She would have taken him for a beer person. "There's more, isn't there?"

"I had that feeling."

"Do you know about Grey Station 9?"

"That would be the last station we built, right? Out at the far edges of nowhere."

"Argo Navis Fringe, the farthest from Earth and the Inner Worlds." He sipped again. "The world is Cholchis --"

"Nice tie in with the Argonaut mythology," she said and won a sudden, brilliant smile from him.

"Not many get that reference." He looked impressed before the anger reappeared. "The world was being terra-formed, not a domed colony. For some reason, the computer controls shut down so Brown and his people decided to hold back on finishing the station."


"Except he collected transport fees from people at the other eight New Worlds for Humanity settlements and shipped about four thousand people there."

Her hand gripped the wine glass. "Unfinished station? Planet not ready for settlement?" Alicia couldn't believe that was what he meant. It wasn't possible.

"Yes. And Brown canceled the next scheduled supply ship to the station, too."

"Abandoned? Abandoned them? Son of a bitch. I thought -- but not that!"

"Not a lot of people realize," Theseus said softly. "You and I -- how do you feel about going to the IWC with this?"

"But the Argo Navis fringe is far out of their territory."

"It is. But New Worlds for Humanity, as a company, is not."

She took another sip of wine and thought about how she had reacted to the news; the horror of the thought, the anger that the place she'd trusted would do such a thing.

"What do we do?" she asked.

"Get out of here," he said, looking to the window. She hadn't realized he'd put them somewhere they could see the aircar and now she watched as someone familiar walked around it, left another person as guard there, and headed towards the door.

"Brown's personal guard," Theseus said. He stood and moved towards the back wall, leading her away. "Let's go. I came here for a reason."

They were in danger; she couldn't quite connect with the feeling, even though she knew it was true when she saw the guard heading for the door. Theseus took her arm and hurried her to a hall and then through the kitchen.

"Theseus, how are you -- trouble?"

"Yes," he said to the bigger man who had moved up beside them. "Everything I said. I'll contact you when I can. Don't worry."

"Go. We'll make a distraction for you."

Theseus patted the older man on the arm and they headed out the back door.

What the hell had she gotten herself into?

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