Soooooo, it’s been a rough couple of days for me NaNoWriMo-wise. I fell way behind on Saturday and Sunday, ’cause I was busy, and so it’s nice to be getting “slightly” on track again. I managed to get a solid stint of writing in this morning, and I think I’ll be able to get back on track pretty soon. In order to be done by November 25th with the minimum requirements, I should have 6000 words by now, so this would make me halfway there. However, if I am to complete the goal I wish to complete, I should haver 12000 words by now, so this would make me a quarter of the way there. ;D Also, allow me a disclaimer. this is NOT a ghost story. I hate those; they’re generally boring. Instead, there is highly plausible pseudo-science behind all of it. 🙂
Samuel Dalus sat in his wheelchair, staring down the eighty-seven stories at the fast moving traffic below. The front wheels of his seat rested precariously on the edge. No safety rail separated him from the empty air involved in a fall of one thousand one hundred and thirty-one feet. He had specifically asked the constructors to build the skyscraper in that manner. Being so near to death held a strange fascination for the brooding billionaire.
The intercom on the wall behind Samuel caused him to turn from his morbid aerie. He wheeled over to it and hit the speaker button.
“What is it?”
“Sir, there’s someone here to see you. Carter Pearson, CIA.”
Samuel sighed. The CIA never ceased meddling in his affairs. He hit the speaker button again.
“Escort him to the meeting room. I’ll be right down.”
The lackey signified his assent, and Samuel turned from the intercom. Glass-ceramic doors slid open as he approached, and closed neatly behind him. He heard a soft swish as the specially crafted lock slid into place. No one, except by smashing through the reinforced door, could enter that forbidden area. Samuel, however, did not head immediately to the elevator. No, that would be a great mistake.
With men of this type, he knew that making them wait was the best thing to do. It got them antsy and fidgety. Of course, he had the excuse, if his unwanted guest brought up his tardiness, of his wheelchair. Sometimes, Samuel mused as the elevator doors closed behind him. Being wheelchair-ridden isn’t so bad at all.
Bradley Fox, CIA operative, currently operating under the alias Carter, sat nervously in the waiting room. Though past his prime, he showed no signs of a sedentary life. He rubbed his stubbled chin. The dispatchers had warned him that Dalus was a devious character, and that he would use any opportunity to play psychological games. Bradley knew from experience to take their words with a grain of salt, but in this case, it would seem that his dispatchers were completely right.
Bradley was a man of action. He used to serve as a soldier, but had moved on from there to the CIA. Wages may not have been everything, but they certainly played a big part. After all, he had more to think about than himself. The operative’s forehead creased as he thought about his daughter. She had been acting– strange of late. Bradley brushed the thought aside as the elevator dinged.
The doors slid open and a tall blonde in a neatly starched office suit smiled as she walked out. Bradley sighed. The suspense was killing him. That was the third false alarm and counting. Another ding sounded from the elevator lobby. He didn’t even bother to look up. When the typical footsteps were absent though, Bradley did look up. Dalus sat in his wheelchair and was slowly rolling towards him.
“Hello, Mr. Pearson,” Samuel said with a warm smile. Always initiate a conversation, the mantra echoed through his mind. It gives you the psychological advantage.
Bradley stood up. “Hello, Mr. Dalus.”
The two eyed each other for a moment. Samuel studied his guest. Mismatched clothes, so he has no partner. Ah, but he has a ring, so he had a partner. Cannot have divorced, because then he would wish to have no memory of her. She must have passed away. At the end of this short study, Samuel politely invited his guest to enter the room at the end of the corridor. Bradley had to break eye contact then. Samuel sighed as he followed the agent down the hallway. The man was playing right into his hands. When would the CIA send a smart operative?
Bradley reached down to push the door open, but Samuel hit a button on his wheelchair and it swung inwards automatically. A little startled, Bradley entered the dark room, which burst into light when the blinds on the far wall opened, allowing sunlight to shine in from the floor-to-ceiling window that looked out on the suburbs below.
The light illuminated a rather spacious lounge. An electronic fireplace took precedence on one wall, while a bookcase neatly filled with books on economics lined another. The furniture was laid out with surgical precision. Two easy chairs faced a small coffee table, on which a vase of tulips, following the rule of thirds to a tee, sat. A television, its screen dark, hung from a corner, its controls sitting directly below it. The floor was a glaring, hospital white, and a faint mint sent lingered in the air.
As Samuel entered, the door closed and locked behind him. Bradley knew that if it came to physical contact, he would have a major advantage over Samuel, but the mental effect of it was not lost. He was inside Samuel’s domain, and here, Samuel, and Samuel alone ruled.
“Please sit.” The esoteric CEO gestured at one of the armchairs.
The ex-soldier eased himself into the seat awkwardly. He kept his gnarled hands in his lap, as if afraid to somehow dirty the armrests by touching them. Samuel rolled up to the coffee table, forming the missing third spoke of the now triangular arrangement. He kept silent for a moment, allowing Bradley’s gaze to wander around the room, then spoke sharply.
“So, Mr. Fox,” Samuel said, clearly enunciating each word.
Bradley jumped in his chair.
“Please.” Samuel waved his hand dismissively. “Did you really think that the most advanced computer research corporation in the world would not be able to detect a simple identity fraud? Really, you underestimate us. After all, it is our technology that your security systems run on.”
“Right,” Bradley said, as Samuel brushed an imaginary speck of dust from his impeccable pinstriped jacket. “As you can guess, we need your assistance with a computer related issue.”
Samuel smiled genially. “What can I help out with? I’m certain it is not a problem with my computer systems?”
Bradley shifted awkwardly in the chair. He clenched and unclenched his fists, obviously uncomfortable with the situation. Samuel smiled smugly inside. Of course it was a problem with his system. He had introduced it himself. This meeting was one that the scheming businessman had planned for some time. Like the worried patron, he “interpreted” Bradley’s obvious discomfiture.
“It is my computers isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Bradley shrugged apologetically. “Apparently there’s a bug in it that’s been denying access to lower level security members.”
Samuel’s forehead creased for a moment. He was genuinely confused. That did not sound like the virus he had introduced. He pondered the possibilities for a moment, then he smiled internally. This was going to be easier than he had planned.
“Surely it is a simple bug that your tech assistants could fix?” asked Samuel, raising an eyebrow.
Bradley adjusted his weight and the chair groaned. The agent was far from overweight, but the slabs of muscle he had accumulated in his younger years did not lighten his well-built figure. Samuel politely ignored the sound. Instead, he waited for Bradley to answer.
“Well, here’s the thing, we don’t exactly know where the problem is coming from.”
Samuel remained silent.
“A–and well, we thought that you might be able to get your team to fix it.”
The thin ploy by the CIA to monitor his activities amused Samuel slightly, but he showed no sign. Instead he steepled his fingers in front of his face and stared at Bradley around them.
“I’ll do it,” Samuel finally said.
“You’ll what?” Bradley asked, surprise clearly shown on his honest features.
“I’ll do it,” Samuel said. “It is my system, I feel responsible for making sure it works correctly.”
Bradley seemed extremely relieved. He got up from the chair, made a stiff military salute, then walked towards the door which unlocked as he approached it. Samuel sat silently studying his guest as he left.
A sense of relief washed over Bradley as he walked down the corridor to the elevator lobby. That hadn’t been so bad had it? Then he grimaced. It had. He straightened his shirt as he waited for elevator to arrive. The same tall blonde stepped up beside him, a bundle of folders wrapped up securely in her arms. Bradley studied her out of the corner of his eye.
She wore a modest skirt with a matching jacket, and her hair was done up in a professional bun. He judged her to be about twenty-three or somewhere thereabouts. She tapped her toe impatiently and occasionally glanced at her watch when the elevator paused on the fifty-sixth story. Bradley finally came to the conclusion that she was most likely an intern. Then a thought snuck into his head.
The doors to the elevator at the far end of the lobby slid open, and both moved to enter it. Bradley, reaching there first, held the door open, and his companion entered with a nod of thanks. Bradley turned to the young woman as the elevator started descending. She shirked eye-contact, and made a pretense of glancing at her watch. The ex-solider exhaled, as if completely worn out.
“Mr. Dalus certainly works you,” he said, casting out a line.
She got hooked immediately. “Yes, he does. He expects an exceptional standard of work.” Then she hastened to append a premeditated thought to the end of her statement, “But he’s a good man. Always has an encouraging word for those who work well.”
“You work as an–” Bradley left the sentence hanging.
“Intern. I’m only twenty-two.” She smiled. “It’s rare that anyone under the age of twenty-five gets a job here, and the average age of people here would be around thirty.”
Off by one year, Bradley shrugged. Not bad. He smiled at her encouragingly. The logically polite next step would be to ask her her name, but they were in an elevator, and in elevators, especially the fast moving ones in skyscrapers, you could only say so much.
“And what is your opinion of your employer?”
She seemed puzzled at the question. “Why, I’m sure he’s just like any other employer. He demands a high level of excellence, but he is rewarding when that is achieved, punishing when it is not.”
“You haven’t felt that he seems to be more than just the head of a computer research firm?”
Her eyes widened, then the elevator halted.
“Sorry, this is my stop,” she murmured, stepping through the portal into the elevator lobby.
Bradley shrugged as the doors slid close and his transport resumed its descent. There was only so much he could have gained from an intern anyway. This assignment did not present itself as a facile task, no doubt there. He shrugged on his leather jacket as the elevator stopped. Nodding to the receptionist as he strode by, Bradley moved towards the twin glass doors at the entrance of the building. They slid apart as he approached, blasting him with a chilly November gust of air.
Samuel sat in front of a computer, typing away furiously at the keyboard. He paused for the occasional sip of coffee, but his eyes never left the screen. His mismatched eyes, shielded by tinted glass, scanned the screen, absorbing giant paragraphs of textual information. A few minutes earlier, Samuel had performed his standard, unprotected background searches, but then he had realized that Bradley was a more interesting character than he appeared to be. He had divided into his own private network and started researching then.
Bradley is an ex-soldier. He has one daughter, and his wife died eleven years ago. They were on good terms up to the point of her demise. I was correct. Samuel allowed a small smile of satisfaction to surface, then he dived back in. He has one daughter, but she is not the biological child of her mother. Our honest operative had an affair maybe? Who exactly is this daughter?
Samuel redirected his searches, and targeted Rose, Bradley’s daughter, instead. A few pictures cropped up along with an extensive biography written by some newspaper when she’d won the something-or-another prize a few months ago. Samuel chuckled internally. Win some prize, and sacrifice your privacy, temporarily of course, but it is lost. Let’s see now, she’s a stellar student in college, a devoted daughter – our friend Bradley seems to have extremely loving relatives, but then again, it is a newspaper article – and a large fan of reading. Well, let’s take a look at the grades of our friend here.
He took a sip of coffee as the computer pulled up the electronic grades stored by Rose’s college. Nodding appreciatively, both of the beverage and the power of technology, Samuel opened the file and scrolled slowly through it. She was an English major, and scored in the mid to high A’s. Then Samuel’s brow creased as for the last three entries in the digital grade card, Rose’s grades dropped uniformly to a low eighty. He checked the date of the first low eighty, then looked at some more of her academic records. A week prior to the grade drop, she had started taking a mathematics course related to inter-dimensionality.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, but judge a reader by what’s read, Samuel thought to himself smugly as he brought on the screen the list of books checked out at the college library by a certain Rose Fox. Up to the date of her added course, she had borrowed only novels and high level English literature. After that point however, the library had started loaning scientific books to her exclusively, all related to alternate dimensions. Samuel’s curiosity was sparked. He did a localized search of the news over that date.
Out of all the minor incidents, one stood out. Samuel threaded his fingers together, turned the palms outward, and cracked his knuckles contentedly. A power surge at the Fox estate. I wonder what that could have to do with anything. It certainly coincides with the date of Rose’s anomalies and odd activities.
The tiny earpiece in his right ear cut into his thoughts by announcing the time. He glanced out the mono-directional window. It was indeed getting dark outside. The whole room was dark. Samuel eased back from the table and shut his computer. A strict devotee to schedules and assigned time, Samuel would stop whatever he was doing to follow his personal timetable. Besides, Jessie would be waiting in the carpark, and he did not want to keep the staunch butler loitering. That would hardly be the thanks he owed.
Samuel shook his head just thinking about his manservant, once his father’s servant. Jessie Cutter was not young; he had celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday two weeks ago, but he showed no signs of turning bedridden. It really was quite a miracle the way the wiry old man managed to get about. He had lost an eyebrow saving Samuel from the kidnappers who had hamstrung him all those years ago. Samuel winced just thinking about it. Those memories were nightmarish echoes of the past.
He had been only five when he was taken from his parents by loan sharks who used him to blackmail them. Only they didn’t have the money to pay up. Jessie, in the service of his father back then, had rescued Samuel from his abductors, but not before they had permanently disabled Samuel. He still had scars behind his knees. Samuel reached and pulled his pants legs away from the hypersensitive spots. Every time something brushed his legs there, it sent shivers up and down his spine. He couldn’t help it. Doctors said it was because of physical trauma, all he knew was that it did not feel good when something touched him there.
Jessie was waiting faithfully for his charge in the carpark. Samuel’s limousine idled quietly behind the hunched butler. He swung open the door as Samuel approached, and a ramp extended from the car allowing Samuel to roll up into it. The door slid shut behind the billionaire, his chauffeur got into the driver’s seat, and they were off.
“How are my grandparents?” Samuel asked, as they approached his mansion.
Without taking his eyes from the road, Jessie replied that they were as hale as could be expected after the death of their daughter.
Samuel’s face grew cold. “I don’t need to be reminded of my deceased mother.”
“Sorry, sir,” the aged butler said contritely. “I should know that by now.”
Samuel did not reply. They had arrived. He waited patiently as Jessie eased himself out from the driver’s seat and hobbled around to the right side of the car. It would be much easier for Samuel to drive himself to and fro from work in his own specially designed car, but Jessie insisted on his own little formalities, and unwilling to sacrifice the valuable services of his faithful steward, Samuel permitted it. He sighed, it lacked efficiency though.
The door slid open and the ramp extended. Samuel turned his wheelchair and rolled himself slowly out of the car and up the gradual slope specially installed in the middle of the staircase. He sat accommodatingly at the top, waiting for Jessie to make his way up where he swung open the double doors of Dalus Mansion.
Samuel would personally have called the mansion something else, but his father had named it that, and the life-size painting of his parents hanging from the wall facing the front doors was enough to remind him to respect his father’s legacy.
He allowed his gaze to sweep the house, taking in every detail, then he froze, and any vestige of color drained from his face and hands into his heart which started beating rapidly. He just stared, unmoving, at the eighteen or nineteen year old girl, clothed in rags, who stood on the stairs in front of him. She looked at him wordlessly, her face devoid of emotion. She shimmered, phasing in and out of sight.
“Are you alright sir?” Jessie’s voice broke in on Samuel’s trance-like state.
The invalid blinked and the apparition disappeared. “I’m alright, Jessie, just, you know.”
“Another one of those?” the butler asked sympathetically.
Samuel nodded. “I’ll be fine. I’m just going to bed now.”
“Very good, sir. Have good dreams.”
Samuel grimaced. As if that was possible.