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.
“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. Click here for the next installment...

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