Strings of Retaliation – 20a – Opening

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Kim, MerriTech’s Head of Special Projects, readjusted the collar of her jacket. Her stress resonated with my own, and made it that much harder to fight my reflex of sipping coffee every two seconds. I refused to weaken my speech or hint at my deceit. Too much was at stake.
I’d take a literal minefield over a metaphorical one any day.
If I played on her stress, she wouldn’t notice my unease, so I cocked an eyebrow.
“I swear I didn’t know!” she blurted. Now this was a good moment to sip some coffee. Her hand rechecked the fold of the collar.
“You had no idea SP-A03-G7-001 was sent to kill me, and no hand in her breakout from my personal facility?” I made a point of sounding as sweetly menacing as I could. She nodded like one of the antique bubbleheads I collected as a kid before I grew into vintage guns. “You’re either lying or incompetent.”
I could have sipped again, but I chose not to give her a break. I let the full weight of the humiliating statement and my unwavering gaze push her into her last trenches. With any luck, I could kick start her blame-shifting and trust-withering cycle right now.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a new, sharper edge, “but given all the files your father lost, you can’t expect me to know everything.” Her shoulders rolled back and her chin lifted ever so slightly.
Anger. Genuine anger. She wasn’t good enough an actress to have faked the nervous tick with her collar, and drop it now to show her strength. I had insulted the strong, loyal worker she defined herself as, and switched off her ‘everything to befriend the boss’ strategy.
“Well, someone does.” I leaned back in my couch. She leaned forward, ready to attack again. I raised an index to stop her. “Riddle me this: who could have sent her after me and broken her out of the facility I stashed her in? Rhetorical question,” I hammered when she opened her mouth to interrupt me. “Option one: a member of the board knows more than you. Option two: one of your seniors who worked directly on the project is more loyal to a board member than he is to you. Either way, you’ve been played.”
“If these are the options, you have faulty intel too,” she said through clenched teeth. Her bravado explained how she managed to keep one of the most coveted position on the board after inheriting it.
I smiled. “Do I?”
Kim reddened and shifted her weight. My smile nearly disappeared. It had been way too easy to make her doubt her righteousness. After a moment, she scouted to the very edge of her seat, inviting me to do the same with a wave. I conceded three inches.
“Hector asked the board to keep it quiet. To avoid stressing you,” she murmured, all conspirator like. I swallowed a victory laugh. “We think the information was copied before being destroyed.”
I hunched forward. “Someone else is involved.”
“An anti-tech group, a competitor or maybe even a control freak intelligence agency.”
Smiling, I applauded on my way back to the depth of my seat. “I may have use for you yet.”
Her eyes widened. “You knew from the get-go?” She calmed down when I nodded. “You’re identifying your allies.”
Easy to manipulate but smart. I like.
My project tried to kill me.” Each word I spoke drew colors from Kim’s face. “Someone broke her out of my secret facility. My board of directors is keeping crucial information from me. Time for a new pattern.”
Kim gave me one very stiff nod. “I’ll give you invisible access and monitoring privileges to the SP-A03 files, along with a list of people who accessed them in the past two months. I can extend this privilege to any investigator you’d like to bring on board.”
I couldn’t help but be surprised; I thought I would have to force that out of her. Part of the company policy was to keep things from each other. Transparency ruined any attempt at becoming artificially indispensable.
Kim smiled and switched couches to sit by my side. She wrapped her hands around mine. “I have nothing to hide from you. The sooner I can prove that to your satisfaction, the sooner I can help you find who tried to turn us against each other. Merrilyn Technology is my legacy too.”
And scoooore!
“Confirming whether or not it’s an internal coup is top priority. Because if it isn’t…” I took a deep breath. Kim’s hands clutched mine a little tighter. “If it’s terrorists… they may not only be after me.”
Kim’s jaw slackened and a shadow crossed her eyes. She dropped my hands to readjust the collar of her jacket. After a few seconds, the initial shock settled and her stiff back returned. I enjoyed how easy to read she was. Like most board members, she had a good sense of self-preservation which would compound the effects of stress and doubt.
“Okay,” she breathed.
“Good.” I leaned back in a more relaxed position. “For the sake of argument, and this is just between you and me…” It obviously wouldn’t remain so for long which was totally my point. “If it was an internal job, who do you think would be capable of this and have most to gain?”
Using conspiracy to tap into Kim’s natural inclination to gossip generated a well of useless information. Simply put: I couldn’t trust any board member except her.
She would try to prove that because I had encouraged our “special bond”. Every would hate her for it.
That would be just one irritants on the long list I was about to rain on the board of detractors’ bullet-deserving heads.

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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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