Thursday, March 23, 2017

Microstory 544: Attack on Asexual Headquarters; Amadesins Take Credit


Few things in this world are more complicated than the religious order for Amadesis. This religion is so old that historians are not in agreement as to how it even began. Head Professor of Religious Studies at Langford University in Alberta, Nessa Shannon had this to say about it in her most recent novel: “Amadesis is not a set of ideals. It is not a cult, yet it is not a true religion. It is a vague affiliation of nonconformists whose only commonality is that they hate everyone else. It is an infection; one that can contaminate only individuals born into it, or those otherwise conditioned to believe that they are powerless to stop it.” She goes on to say that Amadesis would not function in a world without opposing systems. It thrives not only on the friction it causes against the outside world, but amongst its own sister sects. Basically the idea is that if everyone believed what any one sect believed, it would fall apart, because there would be no one left for them to fight. And so all sects of Amadesis fight each other, each one hoping to gain dominance over the others, and possibly later over the world. This is happening constantly. The duration of any one sect’s hold on power varies from a couple weeks to several decades.

Few things in this world are more complicated than sexuality. It is common knowledge that sexuality is fluid, and that no two individuals are truly alike. We all have our different tastes; be that as noticeable as a partner’s apparent sex, or as minor as eye color. Preference cannot be quantified, or categorized. Early psychologists attempted to place individuals on some sort of sexual spectrum, but this proved to be difficult. There was no way to account for seemingly inconsequential priorities. Famous author, Collin Angler was once quoted as saying, “I’m very picky when it comes to the men I’m attracted to. Medium build, no body hair, clear skin. I’m not as picky when it comes to women. I have no interest in forming deep bonds with men, and I’m less interested in sexual relationships with women. Where on the spectrum do I fall? Labeling me as bisexual does me no justice.” Still, words are a necessary product of communication. We use words to convey ideas, because demonstrating an idea using abstract wordless concepts is logistically impractical for everyday life. So we do the best we can to come up with the most useful words possible. One of these words is asexual.

Asexuals are defined as individuals who possess little to no sexual drive. As you can see by this definition, it typifies a wide array of conflicting personalities, and to understand any one person who identifies as asexual, one would need information beyond this one word. Despite this, an institution exists in order to positively promote the asexual paradigm as a whole. The Asexual Awareness Project is a relatively new organization led by similar people who wish to be heard. Historically, asexuals have had little voice in their community. They are easily dismissed as apathetic, self-involved, or even sociopathic. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the only thing Amadesins and everyone else can agree on is that they dislike asexuality. Most people have reported feeling no hatred towards asexuals, but they do test at a significant level of ignorance. It is Amadesis who can be violent about it.
Yesterday, the AAP headquarters was attacked. Authorities are still investigating, and details are scarce. But we do know that a series of bombs were placed at strategic locations of the building. The explosion of one bomb would send workers, volunteers, sanctuary-seekers, family members, and visitors towards a second bomb. Once that next bomb went off, they would try to escape again, only to be met with yet another. Two deaths have been reported, with dozens of others injured. As mentioned before, only one sect of Amadesis is in power at any one time, but this changes hands frequently. There are certain sects, however, that remain on the fringe, even from the perspective of other Amadesins. A sect will tend to focus on one particular issue, and the Order of Girard has evidently chosen asexuality as its primary target. They have not yet issued a complete statement, but have taken credit for the attack, claiming that “[they did] not intend to permanently harm anyone in the building, but instead wanted to point out society’s preexisting indifference to the asexual’s ‘plight’ [sic].” Political experts believe this to mean that the outrage found from other terrorist attacks—such as the Spiralshell City Massacre, or the very recent Kalian Train Derailment—will always be considered by the public to be more tragic than one against asexuals. Only time will tell if they are right. Investigators have yet to confirm any members of the Order of Girard as suspects.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Microstory 543: Ashil to Become Site of First Off-world Settlement


Ever since the discovery of faster-than-light plex travel was made public, everyone and their mother wanted to take a ship to a distant star system. Many of these endeavors have been fruitless. Nearly, if not all, stars carry with them daughter planets, but not all planets are at all amenable to life. Some are too small, some are too large. Some are too far away from their parent star, some too close. Some have no life, some have dangerous life. Still, as the mapping of the galaxy is increasingly crowd-sourced, some hidden gems have also been found. One of the first systems to be explored was that of a blue hypergiant not too terribly far from the homeworld (in cosmic scales). Scientists were not expecting to find any life in this system, as blue hypergiants are generally too unstable to support it. They also tend to burn hot and die young, remaining stable over the course of only millions of years, rather than billions. The scientists were shocked to learn that this star was as old as the universe itself, and provided single-cellular life to an eden. They constructed an outpost there to study it in more depth, and named it Old Blue. After that came Lai and Dolinarad, the latter of which was claimed by the infamous Meekas family. Just six years ago, we finally found Ashil. Ashil was no better than Lai in terms of its similarity to the homeworld, nor was it better than Dolinarad. It has, however, been determined to be the site of the first permanent human settlement beyond the homeworld.
Though Lai would like this title, they unfortunately did not in time qualify for certain criteria. To be considered a permanent settlement, a significant number of passengers must have immigrated there. These passengers must have no present intention of leaving, and they must lay down permanent structures for housing, and other basic community needs. An autonomous governing body must be established, along with everything that goes with it; its own currency exchange, public services, etc. Though referred to as a settlement, there must actually be at least two settlements, and these must be geographically separated from each other, in order to count. There are a few other minor details that Lai simply did not achieve, though they are expected to by the end of this year. They are also reportedly working on legal arguments to contest this decision, and attain the honor of first exoplanet colonization themselves.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Microstory 542: Starscapers Hopes to Rival Magnus Immortality


For the last ninety years, Magnus Immortality has been, by most metrics, the most popular broadcast series. It’s an uncomplicated premise, but one that’s always been difficult to execute. Though the titular character has gone by many names, his original birthname has never been spoken, and that’s because no one knows where he comes from, not even himself. Magnus Immortality is genetically human, to be sure. A number of episodes have dealt with him needing to prove this, for one reason or another. He is, however, the only immortal of his kind in an unnamed fictional galaxy. A lot has changed over the course of more than 20,000 episodes, but one thing has remained constant. He cannot die.

He is said to have lived for centuries, and carries degrees in almost every subject. He spends his time saving the worlds from disaster, that is if he can get his homework done. The rules of immortality are inconsistent. Sometimes The Magnus is invulnerable to injury, sometimes he has to die and be resurrected, and sometimes his life force transfers to a new body. Sometimes The Magnus can be played by the same actor, sometimes not. Sometimes an actor leaves for a stint, then comes back in an entirely different incarnation. Sometimes there is an actor change with absolutely no indication that The Magnus has died at all. Sometimes The Magnus is female and sometimes male. About the only thing that hasn’t changed about this show is how much more successful it’s been against all contenders. The creators of a new series, called Starscapers, hopes to change that.

According to the official production company description, “[Starscapers] is about a construction company currently in the business of creating an entire galaxy. They design and build stars, planets, and moons from scratch.” It takes place at a hypothetical end of the universe in the deep, deep, deep future. It is estimated that the universe will ultimately grow so large that all matter decays into its basic atoms. In the series, all remaining intelligent life survives in large generation ships, huddled together, with barely enough room to walk. The First Light Starscaping Corporation competes with other companies to build star systems for people to live in, with the eventual goal of building a whole galaxy, and reigniting the cosmos. The show will focus on an elite team of specialists charged with making some of the galaxy’s more interesting features; nebulas, quasar fields, and bizarre geography. No casting announcements have been made, but fifty-six episodes have been written so far, and the first three years have been fully planned out. Production is set to begin next week, with the premiere scheduled for early next year.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Microstory 541: New Planet Discovered From an Early Exodus


Thirty-five years after the first man, Dwyn Rinen landed on the moon, a ship with his namesake left the seed of civilization. The Rinen was a sleeper ship, traveling at little over 0.13 percent the speed of light. They were headed towards the homeworld’s nearest neighboring star. It would take them over 1,500 years to arrive at their destination, and by the time they did, the galaxy had transformed. Just decades after their departure, faster-than-light travel was discovered. It would be another century before this information was made public, but once it was, interstellar travel quickly became a part of everyday life. Anyone with enough money to build a capable vessel was doing so, and setting out to colonize space. The government owned several planets, but most of them were under the rule of private citizens; the richest of the rich. That small neighboring star system was of no interest to those early pioneers. They chose to go to the far reaches of the galaxy. Anywhere within a few lightyears of the origin just seemed so...pedestrian. But this was not a sentiment shared by the explorers in the sleeper ship.
When the Rinen’s passengers landed, they were not the same either. They experienced neurological problems as a result of their extended stay in hyper-sleep. Language was particularly difficult for them, often leading to bizarre speech; most notably erroneously repeating nominal terms. This led them to name their new planet Rinen Rinen. They gave their children double names as well, such as Prime President Alsi Alsi Noromo Noromo, or Ambassador Dyne Dyne Pala Pala. A few weeks ago, a small group of postgraduate researchers from Damr decided to take on a massive project. They wanted to map the entire galaxy in great detail, including barren and uninhabited systems. After an initial planning stage, they set out on their journey. Their first stop was Rinen Rinen; a planet belonging to a star that had been long forgotten. Its denizens had been living there for thousands of years, all but unaware of where they had come from, and with no considerable desire to remember. They welcomed the visitors, but mostly because they seem to have a general aversion to conflict or confrontation. Still, both the Astral Military Force, and the Rinen Rinen government, are interested in developing some kind of relationship with each other. A press conference is being held tomorrow at 27:00 Standard Time.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 4, 2119

Click here for the 2017 table of contents.

In the morning, Mateo threw the three remaining bottles of the water into his bag and headed out. This could be home, but he also had the instinct to explore the rest of the island. Maybe there was something better out there, like a six-star resort, or an ice cream shoppe. He walked for hours. The island was beautiful, full of flora and fauna he had never seen before. Around lunchtime, he took a break to eat on a fruit/vegetable root he had dug out of the ground. Peeking through the tallgrass, he could see Ambrosios desperately running around. He kept stopping, looking around, and running in a different direction. He must have been giving chase to a creature too small for Mateo to see from where he was sitting. Mateo ducked down a little more when it looked like Ambrosios was looking in his general direction. It must not have been enough, because the old immortal started running towards him with the ferocity of a jungle cat.
“Hey, hey, hey, I was trying to stay away from you,” Mateo argued. “You came to me.”
“I came looking for you because I didn’t realize what year it was. You, my new friend, are about to witness The Homecoming.”
“And what would that be?”
“Everyone knows that the Earth orbits the sun.”
“Except maybe Tila Tequila.”
“Who?”
“Never mind.”
“What many people don’t know is that the sun orbits the center of the galaxy. Every two-hundred-some-odd-million years, it arrives in the same place it was before. Except that not really. The inner stars move faster than the outer stars, like runners on a racetrack. And the galaxy itself is hurdling through space.”
“Yeah, I remember Leona telling me about this stuff a little.”
“Well what all this means is that the galaxy never looks in one moment exactly as it does in another. It’s constantly shifting, except for one small example. There’s a reason that Earth and this planet look nearly identical. We were once part of a binary planet system. This was many billions of years ago, but it placed us in something called quantum entanglement. Changes to one planet will have an effect on the other.”
“Whaaat? I’ve never heard of this before, and they definitely would have mentioned it sometime in high school, probably elementary.”
“People don’t know about it. Literally aeons ago, this planet was ejected from the system, and sent flying through space, eventually finding its way to this star system here, but it is still connected to Earth. Once that happened, a cosmic event started happening as well. Like I told you, the Earth is always moving around the center of the galaxy, but this star system does not. I do not know why, I do not know if someone else knows why, but I know that it doesn’t. This star is fixed, so every galactic year, it and sol come within exactly one lightyear of each other. It’s called the Homecoming.”
“This sounds ridiculous. It’s only been a century since I became a salmon, and I haven’t always been on these islands. We would have known. We know things that are going to happen in the future. Hell, I distinctly remember hearing that galaxies are colliding, and that ours will one day be combined with some other.”
“From what I understand, this galactic anniversary coincides with the solar system passing through some kind of interstellar gas? I guess instruments are out of whack, at least for now. Either that, or some choosing one is shielding us from view, possibly this planet’s previous owner. That doesn’t matter, though. This is real, and it’s happening now, and we have a chance.”
Mateo didn’t know what Ambrosios was trying to say. He just waited for further explanation.
“Mateo, we can leave. Not only this island, but this planet. We can both go back to Earth. We need the star puddle, and we need two people.”
“I dunno, dude. You don’t sound like someone I can trust.”
“Yep, that’s fair. The last few years have been rough, but Homecoming has gotten me excited. It’s led me to want to be better. This is important, Mateo. This is life or death. If you help me with this, I’ll give you something in return.”
“You’ll give me what?”
“Most of the ingredients for immortality. I don’t have all I need, but I’ve kept what I have in a safe place.”
“The powers that be aren’t going to let me run around looking for the rest of the ingredients. They’re useless to me.”
“No, they’re of use to you as they are. They won’t make you immortal, but they do help with other things.”
“With what?”
“Well, one of them makes you invulnerable, another keeps you free from disease. One even makes it so that you can’t be killed in your past, so nothing can prevent you from becoming immortal...once you’ve found it in one timeline.”
“Well, fine. I’ll help you.”
“Speaking of water, I didn’t take enough with me to look for you. I severely underestimated how far away you would go. Come, I’ll show you the stream. It magically keeps itself purified.”
“Oh, I have some water.” Mateo reached into his bag and tried to hand him one of the bottles he had found in the car.”
Ambrosios looked shocked. He snatched it out of Mateo’s hand, and inspected the label. “Where did you find this?”
“I came across an old car. It doesn’t start, but it was good enough to keep me out of the elements.”
“Oh my God. I can’t believe you opened that. This is Health. What have you had so far?”
“Well, I mean, I didn’t keep the bottles with me. Here’s what else I have left.”
Ambrosios took the bag from Mateo’s hand and looked at the other two bottles. “Youth and Longevity. Which means you drank Invulnerability, Time, and Body.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying. What did I drink? Were these the ingredients? Did I find your stash?”
“Yes, Mateo, that’s what you did. Each ingredient gives you one part of what you need to live forever without dying. You drank Invulnerability, which speaks for itself. You also drank Body, which allows you to experience nonlinear time.”
“That must be what The Cleanser left out when he offered it to me and The Navigator. He said it would break me out of my pattern.”
“That’s right, you basically drank your own kryptonite. But you also drank Time, which is the one that comes from the star puddle. It protects you retroactively, so that a traveler can’t go back in time and prevent you from drinking it.”
“Like The Hundemarke.”
“Yeah, kinda.” He wasn’t furious about Mateo drinking his precious water, likely because he now had a way to get off the island, but he also wasn’t super happy about it. “Unfortunately for you, none of this is going to work. If you had just taken one, that one would have been fine, but they counteract each other unless you first drink Catalyst. And they won’t last very long unless you drink Activator at the end. It’s this whole thing. You can’t go ‘round drinking other people’s shit, Mateo. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
“Man, I didn’t know that car was yours. I found something that was going to help me survive, so I took my opportunity.”
“That isn’t my car. It’s The Superintendent’s. And I turned the battery off because I was saving it for when I got my hands on Existence water. I couldn’t leave the island without it...until now. If I tried, I would be torn out of reality.”
“Like my friends.”
“Like who?”
“Like Xearea.”
“Who?”
Mateo sighed. “Trust me, you met her.”
“Well, it looks like you don’t have to help me. You only took what I was going to give you as payment. I guess I’ll see you around.”
Mateo stopped him. “I don’t know if this is supposed to be a guilt trip, but you have to realize that you don’t know me very well. I’m going to help you; not because I want off this island too, or because you were going to give me something, but because that’s the kind of person I am. The plan is still in place...whatever that plan happens to be.”
“We need to start the plan now, but we can’t complete it until one year from now. It would seem that your jumps, and the galactic year, match up perfectly...and that’s actually better for us. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, or by design. But we need to take advantage of it.”
“Then let’s go.”
And so Mateo and Ambrosios headed off on their adventure together. The water was simple enough. They just filled up a few pouches. The other stops were strange. They found a grove of lionfruit, which Ambrosios had no name for, but he was happy enough with Mateo’s terms. They didn’t take the fruit itself, but instead some of the leaves they were growing with. Not all the leaves were good enough, though. They had to have the right ratio of blue and green. And he required tons of the stuff. Then Ambrosios made Mateo climb up to the top of a cliff and tear out a particular kind of fairly sharp shale rock. He asked for a few pieces, “just in case”. Meanwhile, Ambrosios had retrieved a special sap from a nearby tree.
“What is all this for?” Mateo asked.
“The ritual.”
“Yeah, that was what I thought you would say. Does it hurt?”
“A little bit.” He sealed the coconut-like fruit he had used to gather the sap, and stood back up. “Come. We must go to the star puddle.”
“Very well.”
It took them a few hours to get all the way back. By then, it was nearing sundown, and Mateo still had no idea what was happening. Ambrosios, however, refused to offer any further explanation as he went about his work. He ordered Mateo to dig a pit in the ground while he built a fire, using the leaves as fuel. Mateo watched out of the corner of his eye as Ambrosios held the shale rock over the flames, every once in awhile using a different kind of rock to knock chips off the edge.
Finally, Mateo asked, “is this deep enough?”
Ambrosios looked over. “It’ll do.” He stoked the fire a little bit, and added a handful more of the leaves. “I’ll crouch down.”
“You’re getting in the pit? Am I getting in the pit?”
He laughed. “No, that won’t be necessary.” He took a second to inspect his heated rock, ultimately determining that that part of the job was complete. “It’s not perfect, but I am wasting no more time. We will begin.”
“How is this going to get us back to Earth?”
“What?”
“How will this weird rock-heating get us back home.”
“Oh, it’s not.” He stuck the rock in the ground and poured some of the star puddle water over it. He then started rubbing the tree sap over his whole body. As he did so, he started breathing heavily. It looked like it was burning his skin, like a volatile acid.
“Are you okay?”
“It’s fine, it’s...I need to do this.” He poured the last of it over his head. “This is the best way to get the blood into my system.”
“What blood?”
“Yours.” He picked up the shale rock, and dragged it across Mateo’s neck before Mateo could stop him. It wasn’t pleasant, but it also didn’t hurt that badly. “What?”
Mateo tried to struggle away, but Ambrosios was too strong. “Get the hell off me!”
Ambrosios tried cutting into his neck a few more times, but nothing. It could not break the skin. “Oh, no!” He cried. Then he picked up a heavy stick and tried to bash it over Mateo’s head.
It felt like nothing too.
“No, you drank Catalyst water! When did you do that? What’s going on?”
Ambrosios finally relaxed, and Mateo took his chance to get free. “I have no idea, but I’m gonna go.”

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Magnate (Part IX)

Click here for the first series (Seeing is Becoming).
Click here for the previous installment...

The last thing that Vearden remembered was famous actor Steven Pasquale pushing his wheelchair down the hall of the abandoned whatever it was. He couldn’t tell if he just blacked out, or if The Shepherd simply apported him back to the hotel suite. Honestly, it could go either way. He could remember way back when. When being strapped to a chair that was bolted to the floor of a ship that was hanging over an apocalyptic cliff was the second worst thing that had ever happened to him. Now, the true lobotomy experience might be even worse than losing his best friend, Saga. At least he would soon get her back. His sanity, on the other hand, might never return. That was positively horrific, and he would never be able to forgive the Shepherd for putting him through it. It wasn’t like they were good friends before that, though.u
“I understand how you feel,” the Shepherd said from her chaise.
By now, Vearden was—at least physically—nearly fully recovered. “No, you don’t.”
She became deeply serious. “You don’t know what I’ve been through. You have no idea who I am.”
“No matter what has been done to you, it does not give you the right to violate something like that. That isn’t right in any reality.”
“Fair point.” She waited for a moment. “I had a pretty nasty universe lined up for you next, but I’m going to cancel that one too. Instead, I’m going to give you a break. An easy one.”
“What makes it easy?”
“In your universe, you deal with time travelers. In two others, an airplane emergency, and in one, it was demons. This one is different. Like your last assignment, it takes place in a world resembling the one you lived in before you knew you were a salmon. Unlike that one, there will be no serial killers, or unethical medical procedures. There will be drama, but the most danger you’ll be in is from a paper cut.”
“That...actually kind of sounds nice.”
“It won’t be perfect. There is one catch.”
“What is that?”
“You’ll be staying there for roundabouts five years?”
“Why would I do that?”
“I need you to add to the drama, make things more complicated for the people you’ll be interacting with. Whereas before, there was a single moment where you could make a difference, here it’s more practical if you’re able to stick around for some time.”
“Okay...”
“You could skip it? Well...you could stop, that is.”
“And never see Saga again? No thanks, I’ll take the five years.”
“Very well.” She handed him a folder.
“Here is your forged documentation, complete with an alias, and fabricated history.”
“My alias is Vearden Haywood?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t see the point in changing your name since this is an entirely different universe.”
“Then it’s not an alias.”
“Whatever! Your human words are...whatever!” She clapped her hands in his face violently and yelled, “wake up!”
He blinked, and found himself awkwardly slouched toward his side in the back of a car. He felt groggy, and a little cold.
“Wake up, buddy. We’re here,” said the taxi driver.
“We are? Where’s here.”
“Magnate,” the driver replied. “Apparently it’s your first day? That’s what you said, anyway.”
“I did?” He started rubbing his eyes.
“Better get goin’. Don’t wanna be late.”
“No, wouldn’t want that.” He cleared his throat and climbed out of the cab.
“Hey, buddy!”
“Yeah?”
“Your briefcase?”
“Right.” He took the briefcase that wasn’t his from the seat, and closed the door.
He dodged a couple cars on his way across the street to a skyscraper with the word Magnate on the front. Once inside, he was met with an eerie feeling. It seemed more like a funeral, and less like an office building. Trying to blend in, he kept his head down, and made a beeline to the reception desk.
The security guard receptionist was on the phone at the time, speaking very quietly. He held up one finger to keep Vearden from interrupting. “Okay, I’ll let them know.—Yes, thank you, I’m sure the family appreciates it greatly.—Sorry, I cannot speak on that.—I cannot speak on that either.—Okay, we’ll give you a call back. Thank you.” He took in a deep breath, removed his glasses, and started massaging his eyes. He then finally looked up. “I’m sorry for the wait, sir. It’s just that the death is still fresh in all our minds.”
“It’s fine. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank y—” he stopped to study Vearden’s face. “Your tone. It’s like you’re saying that to a relative.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Do you not know who died.”
“I...” Oh no, he’s been made. He kept his eyes glued to those of the guards, but tried to focus on his peripheral vision for a clue. A large painting was hanging behind the reception desk, with some kind of black ribbon underneath. He also remembered other gravesite and memorial objects; pictures, flowers, candles. He hadn’t given it much thought since he was so confused about just being there, but it was clear what had happened. He gestured towards the painting up above, of a stern and regal man who held himself proudly, and likely made people believe that he was reading their minds. “Of course I do. Sorry. It’s my first day, I didn’t know if you knew him personally, or what.”
“I’m just the security guard.”
“For all I know, you were his first hire?”
He was suspicious, but let it go. He put his glasses back on and prepared to type on his computer. “Name.”
“Vearden Haywood.”
“Oh, you’re the new shadow. Congratulations on your win. I’m sorry it came at such a bad time.”
“Eh...time, right?”
“Rrright.” He was still not sure of Vearden, but had found him in the system, and that was enough for now.
“You’ll be starting in the mailroom, but only be there for a few days. Building services will be next. I can print off your entire tentative work schedule.”
“That would be great, thanks.”
There was a minor commotion ever since he stepped into the building. It was quieter than other places with this many people, probably because of the recent death of who appeared to be the company’s founder, but still loud enough to notice when it suddenly became silent. Now only one sound could be heard. A woman in her early twenties was briskly walking from the elevators, to the desk. All eyes were on her. She was damn important. “Galen,” she said with a high level of authority.
“Yes, Miss Wallace.”
“Something...” She paused. “Something f—ed up has happened.” She censored herself. She actually pronounced only the beginning, and the ending of the word, and mouthed the letters in the middle. He knew at this moment, that his relationship with the nurse back in the fifteenth century of his home universe, meant next to nothing. Violante, was it? He could barely remember what she looked like. Not now that he had seen the face of this absolutely radiant Miss Wallace. He was already in love.
“What is it?”
“Mister Burke’s legacy is in jeopardy. I just got out of a meeting with his lawyer, and he just sprung this on me. My assistant is sick. Or dead too, who cares? I need someone to take notes for me.”
“Uh, I can take notes.” As soon as he said it, Vearden knew that he shouldn’t have. He was no one, and he should be as invisible as possible. He was pretty good at that, so why not now? Oh, that’s right. Love.
“Who are you?” she asked, somehow both sweet and critical at the same time.
“Um, Miss Wallace, this is Vearden Haywood. He won the contest. He’s our new shadow. He’ll be with us for the next year, moving from department to department.”
She started sizing him up. “So he has no real qualifications? Yeah, no thanks, you can stay in the cafeteria, or wherever you’re going.” She turned back to Galen, who was presumably looking into finding someone more suited for the position.
“I know shorthand.” Yeah, he shouldn’t have said that either. She was not letting him think clearly.
She started studying him again. “Impressive. What type? Pitman? Gregg?”
“Shelton.”
She was taken aback by this, which was a reasonable reaction to meeting a modern-day person being familiar with Shelton short-writing. It was something he picked up back when he was living in the 18th century. He was just glad she had heard of it in this universe. Some things never change, even really innocuous things.
“That’s weird, Vardan.”
“It’s Vearden.”
“Why do you know Shelton?”
“I’m kind of a history buff.” If she only knew what his life was really like, that would be a good joke.
She thought about it for a moment. Vearden could see Galen’s hand hovering over his keyboard, waiting for her to make a decision. “I suppose you would eventually find your way up to the top floor anyway,” she finally said. “Might as well start today. Manus would have hired you in a second, just for knowing tachygraphy. He was the best kind of crazy, and would appreciate us bringing in someone completely random for this situation.”
“Thank you,” Vearden said. “I won’t let you down.”
“We’ll see.” It was only then that she realized everyone had stopped what they were doing when she showed up. She spread her arms out and lowered her head as she looked at them. “Who here works in the lobby?” she asked rhetorically, but still had to wait for them to take the hint. “Get to your workstations,” she ordered.
They did so.
Miss Wallace looked back at Galen as she was leading Vearden away. “He can get his badge later.”
He was having trouble keeping up, but her tendency to walk fast was one of her more attractive qualities. “I want to thank you for this opportunity.”
She ignored him. “I’m going to talk to you like you’re an alien, okay? I have to assume that you know nothing about this company. But as soon as we step in that conference room, you act like you’re the foremost expert in all things Magnate, and Manus Burke, okay? Don’t talk. Don’t even look at anyone, but hold yourself like a seasoned professional. As Manus would say...act like ya been there.
“Got it.”
“Manus Burke was born in 1948. He started this company when he was only nineteen years old. He named it after himself, but combined it with the name of his favorite high school teacher, Nathan Lister, with whom he was rumored to have once been in a relationship. My grandmother needed money, so even though he didn’t need one, he hired her as his assistant. My mother took over when she retired, and I took over right out of college last year.”
“I’m sorry, you were his assistant? And you had an assistant?”
She stopped walking. “Yeah, is that a problem?”
“No, no, of course not.”
“I wasn’t just his assistant. My mother and grandmother practically ran the company with him during their tenure. They were more like partners, but the board of directors would have to vote on that sort of thing, and there were all sorts of legal issues, so it’s more of the company’s worst kept secret.”
“I understand,” Vearden said. That was really the only thing he truly understood about this universe.
“We’re almost there. So I’m just going to prepare you for what’s coming next, at least to the best of my ability.” She had to take a moment to compose herself as the elevator doors were opening. “I am evidently about to meet two women who are reportedly Manus Burke’s estranged daughters. From what I understand, they don’t even know each other, let alone who their father was, but they’re about to be handed a multi-billion dollar global organization.”
“And you think you should take over instead.”
She just placed her hand on the door handle and looked at him.
“I don’t know you, but it sure sounds like you’re the most qualified.”
That might have created a smile, but he couldn’t quite tell.
“I’m Gretchen, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Gretchen Wallace, sir.”
Vearden then spent the next five years working for Magnate, and being married to Gretchen Wallace for two of them.