Strings of Retaliation – 14a – Contract

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I tossed and turned, my usually nightmare-powered insomnia traded for a new kind of annoying. I had grown used to Vexx sleeping at the end of the hall and us arguing over the best way to solve problems. We would have done that when I came back from my meeting with Gabriel. But until I met with the FBI Saturday morning and made Gabriel a hero, I was alone with the unsettling thought that somebody at MerriTech and the FBI wanted me dead. They could be working together.
And there could be more than two.
Between the lack of sleep, the final planning for Saturday and the busy work the board listed for me, Friday went by in a blur. There was on perk of people playing puppeteers with me: the less my head was in the game, the more I met their expectations.
But my head was in the game more than it had been for a long time.
I began scanning my coworkers more intensely. Gail turned from girly to alert when someone moved towards me too abruptly. Ben smiled every time he asked for something he knew pissed me off. Kim coated all her interventions in honey.
Each board member, each assistant, all had their unique tells and reasons to lie, scheme and manipulate. Figuring out which one did it outside of their MerriTech job description would be nearly impossible unless I started chipping off their self-control.
Which was precisely the plan.
Saturday morning, I put on my Alice face and drove to the slums. They knew I was coming and, contrary to most of my visits, only one messenger started free running toward his employer when I passed the security checkpoint. An hour of bumper-to-bumper driving later, I parked in Djeb’s garage.
“Alice,” the black market dealer said in his usual cold voice, extending an over-sized mechanical arm to shake my hand. “Welcome back. Our department of technology has set up communications as per your specifications. The transmitter was successfully delivered to one Gabriel Walker yesterday at 9pm.”
“Impeccable service, as always.” I smiled and nodded. Djeb replied in the same way. “If you’re kind enough to lead the way, I’d like to set up.”
Djeb turned sideways and waved toward the corridor ahead. There was something about him today, a slight elevation of the shoulders, a tension in his face, a less direct look in his eyes.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked after a few silent paces.
Djeb had learned early that he couldn’t afford to pry into his client’s business and it never troubled him. In fact, my question seemed to bother him more.
“We are worried, Alice.” He bowed his head and sighed. “Only a few channels require the communication technology you asked for. And the plane tickets…”
Someone grunted on the right. “Bluntness isn’t your forte, huh Boss?” Greg said, stepping out of the shadows without his usual Cheshire cat smile. “You don’t visit. You call for ‘run for the hills’ plans. What kind of rabbit hole have you fallen into?”
“None I wish to share.”
Greg took a step toward me, but Djeb put a hand on his chest both stopping him and the impending outburst.
“What Greg means to convey is that you are an esteemed member of our community and we would rather not see you go.”
“The monthly supplies will keep coming no matter what happens to me.”
A shadow crossed the two men’s faces and I knew I had spoken too fast.
“Several of us owe their life to your food and medicine deliveries.” Anger modulated Djeb’s usually monotone speech. “We will help if you ask.”
My breath caught in my chest and my heart skipped a beat. They were allies. Not ones I would have to pay or manipulate into helping. Not ones I would have to second guess all the time or save from the FBI’s holding facilities.
Friends.
“I might just do that, Djeb,” I said once my brain rationalized the unexpected emotions. I might need a place to stash Saskia if I managed to orchestrate her escape but not her full recovery.
“Then we are appeased.”
Greg had yet to smile again, but he didn’t utter another word. Djeb opened a door from me. In the small room, a holographic scan, a transmitter with the appropriate anti-tracking tech, and a computer were arranged around a chair.
“I took the liberty of asking my runners to immediately report any government-looking vehicle and men,” Djeb said. “I’ll also have men regularly patrol this corridors.” He didn’t want to draw too much attention to my location, but wouldn’t leave me completely alone either.
I smiled and nodded. Djeb replied in the same way.
Back on known territory.
Djeb left the room. I closed and locked the door behind him. Placing two fingers on the bump behind my ear, I fired up my music chip.
“Now playing Feeling Good, cover by Muse.”
I swayed to the music to calm my nerves and unglued my Alice face. I couldn’t let Djeb and his man find out my true identity, and if the FBI discovered Alice and my contacts in the slums, my best chance at disappearing died.
I had done my greatest work in tighter spots.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life… And I’m feeling good.
At the end of the song, I sat in my chair in front of the holographic scan and hit the “Call” button on the control hologram. Gabriel picked up on the other end. Per my instructions, he had plugged the transmitter into the FBI’s own holographic communications. Gabriel was sitting closer to the scan and around the table were faces I didn’t know and some I recognized, colleagues on equal footing with Gabriel.
“What is the meaning of this?” A fifty-something, round-faced man said.
“In short, my trust: you don’t have it.”
“There’s such a thing as a show of good faith,” the man insisted.
“There’s such a thing as a death trap.” I wasn’t even done closing my mouth, the man was opening his again. I beat him to it. “You would do such a thing and we both know it.”

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

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