The Earthseed Chronicles Free to read science fiction blogfic

22Aug/112

1-4: Aftermath

When she woke, her head was in a haze. Her body ached all over, and for a while she struggled with the concept of up and down. She could not move her right arm, and somehow there was not enough space for her to stretch her legs. She tried to get up, but couldn't even get her head up. Thanks to the fog in her head she did not panic outright, but tried to get her eyes to focus on something.

It took a few moments before she realized she was upside down, her left cheek bathing in a puddle of her own drool. It was quite dark, but she recognized her favorite shoes stuck below her side, and understood that she was in her closet. The anger that flared then managed to clear the fog away in a flash. Someone had stuffed her in her own shoe cabinet? She stifled an impulse to shout - this was no time for heroics. Whatever was going on, it needed to be analyzed properly. Her left shoulder was so numb she could not move her arm at all. She only had a tiny bit of space to move around in, so she struggled some agonizing moments to turn around and get a peek through the slit between the closet's doors.

She forced herself to observe and listen for what seemed like an eternity before she decided it was safe to crawl out of her hiding place. She would be sore for days, and her neck was already killing her. Her anger flared again, but the adrenaline pumping through her managed to subdue it. She had to clear her thoughts to avoid doing something stupid... "Think, Arcelia, think!" she murmured to herself and cautiously took a peek into all the rooms of her apartment. It was a total mess, it looked as if there had been a fight here that had raged from one end to the other. Her computer had been taken apart, gutted like a pig. When she saw that they had not found her hidden drive she managed a smirk. If the cypher had been cracked, there was a good chance the cracked files would be on there - even if she was unsure if and how that could help her.

She went back into the kitchen and greedily gulped down a glass of tap water, followed by a piece of bread she was able to salvage from the floor and a few canned sausages. To her horror, she discovered some blood spatter on the kitchen wall. It had not just been about thrashing her place, there had been fighting as well. The last thing she recalled was getting to bed, so whoever put her in the closet must have drugged her to be able to put her in there. Regardless of who it was and why they did it, it most likely kept her safe. She was quite sure that staying would be dangerous, as the people who did this may not have gotten what they wanted and would in all likelihood be back. She had to get out of here, and try to make sense of it all.

She went back into the bedroom, which was a mess as well. Her safe was untouched though, which was a relief. She opened it, and took out all the money she had stored as well as her military issue stun gun. These things were illegal to own and even much less to use, but in her predicament it could come in handy. She had just slipped into her utility pants - with enough pockets for everything she needed to carry - when she heard a polite knock on her door. She froze.

"Miss Zoya, are you there?"

It was a woman's voice, and an unfamiliar one. She decided to wait it out, and a few knocks later she heard the woman leave. Curious about this visitor but still quite relieved that she left, she finished packing all her stuff. She carefully crawled over to the ruins of her computer so she would not be seen through one of the windows and extracted her drive from a miniature trapdoor concealed in the wooden floor. She had sown a pocket on the inside of her pants especially for it, so she stashed it away and made ready to go. There was no way to leave the building without being seen if anyone was watching it however, so she decided to wait until dark. She had better chances of slipping out unseen in the dark - even if staying seemed equally dangerous.

She spent the next two hours in her bedroom, making an inventory of her possessions and planning the next few days - who she might contact and how, where to go, where to get supplies, and so on. She was busy looking at a map of France when she heard a noise coming from the kitchen. It had sounded as if someone had stepped onto some of the glass debris on the tiled kitchen floor. She carefully took out the stun gun, and peeked past the door frame. She could see a shadow on the kitchen floor, there was definitely someone there. Her heart started racing, and she gripped the stun gun as if it was her last hope. She cursed herself for staying, and part of her mind reflected on the fact that cursing oneself is really rather counter-productive. She listened, as the stranger suddenly started talking.

"..., secure the building. Her apartment has been ransacked, and I found blood in the kitchen," she said. Arcelia could not see anyone else, so she assumed this was a phone conversation. It was the same voice than earlier, the woman that had knocked on her door. Apparently knocking was not enough anymore.

"No, that won't be necessary. If she is still here, I think it is better if I try to talk to her alone," she said just loud enough for Arcelia to overhear.

"Miss Zoya? My name is Anthea Thorvalds, I am here to help you. If you are still here, please show yourself. I am unarmed," she said, and from her hiding place Arcelia could indeed see no obvious weapons on her. She looked quite out of place even, in her fancy dress.

"My instincts tell me you are here, please tell me I am not talking to shadows."

Arcelia knew she was crazy to even consider it, but at least this strange visitor did not make her neck hair rise like Frank did.

"I do not know what happened here, I assure you my presence is unrelated. Even so it is obvious you need help. I can protect you, but we need to leave soon."

Arcelia stepped into the door frame. "My trust reserves are pretty low right now. What are you offering?"

If anything, the woman seemed genuinely relieved to see her. She did not make any sudden movements and just stood there, which was a plus in Arcelia's eyes.

"Oh good, you are here." Her expression showed genuine relief. "I was worried you might have been harmed. Are you okay?"

"Yes, just a bit sore here and there. Why are you here?"

"I was sent to recruit you to work for my company. I never travel anywhere without a security detail, so I can offer you safe transportation to our headquarters here in Madrid. From there, we would like to offer any further assistance you might require."

Never without her security detail, huh? She marveled at how fast things could go south and get thoroughly weird.

"Please, miss Zoya - I would very much prefer not to linger here for much longer. We have to get you out of here."

It was strange, she seemed so sincere that it disconcerted her. "Okay, lead the way," she said, giving up. She knew this was not the smartest move, but for once her bullshit detector was silent - and even though she seldom listened to it, it was almost always right.

"Do you recruit all your employees this way?"

"If you mean in person, yes. We try not to wreck the apartments of potential candidates though, it only confuses things," she said and turned her head, smiling. "When did this happen?"

Arcelia could scarcely believe it. Moments ago she was fearing for her life, and now she had to use all her social skills to try and interpret this unknown woman's witty talk. She sighed. "Sometime this night."

They had reached the main entrance of the building. Her guide motioned for her to stop.

"Dimitri, we're ready to come out. Is everything clear?" she said, and Arcelia assumed she had an earpiece to keep in contact with her so-called security team like she had done earlier in her apartment.

"Ok, eveything is clear it seems. Follow me."

As they went through the door, a pearl black limousine stopped right in front of them and the woman opened one of the back doors for her. Arcelia looked around, but there was no one around. She wondered where that security detail was hiding.

"After you."

Arcelia got in, and half expected there to be a thug inside with a gun like in the movies. It was comfortingly empty however, save for the driver in front. The woman got in after her and sat down across from her. The car drove off, into what Arcelia pictured as a somewhat muddy future.

"I know it's easy to say, but you can relax, you are in good hands I assure you."

"Listen, you seem nice and all, but I think I'll decide in what kind of hands I am by myself."

"Fair enough. I really hope we will be able to convince you of our goodwill."

"So I am to believe that you had nothing to do with the people that destroyed my apartment?"

"Yes. It was a very unfortunate coincidence, but I agree that it is troubling."

"For argument's sake, let's assume I believe you. You said you wished to recruit me, what for exactly?"

"I think I will let our CEO explain this to you in detail. All I can say is that we are very interested in your mathematical and software development skillsets. We have been searching for someone with your talents for a long time."

"I'm flattered I guess, but you make it sound like I am some kind of genius. Believe me, I'm not."

"Miss Zoya, I -"

"Please don't call me that, Arcelia is fine."

She smiled, and held out her hand. "I'm Anthea. Pleased to meet you."

"Uh, likewise. You're not a typical corporate headhunter."

Anthea laughed. "No. I am the CEO's wife. He knows that he is bad at human relations, so he likes to send me around. I don't mind."

The whole situation was getting more ludicrous by the minute. Who the hell were these people? The CEO's wife driving around with a goddamned security detail, recruiting her personally for her alleged genius-like skills? She realized she was staring at the woman, so she stared out the window instead.

"What does your company do?"

"That's actually not an easy question to answer, I think I'll let my husband tell you as well. To the public we usually tell that we are a 'technology consulting' agency which is vague enough to impress most people."

Something gnawed at her thoughts right then, like an idea slowly forming and waiting to break through and illuminate her from within. She was missing a piece of a puzzle that her subconscious had started to put together, but as frustrating as it was she could not find it.

"I'm sorry Anthea, you told me your name in my apartment, but I can't recall it."

Anthea smiled, as if she anticipated something to happen. "It's Anthea Thorvalds."

Arcelia gaped at her. Thorvalds, as in Thorvalds Technologies. The company that owned half the planet as she had discovered lately. She slowly closed her mouth again. She had now officially been catapulted into another dimension altogether. Anthea was still smiling, obviously waiting for her to say something.

"Finding me was not a coincidence."

"No. We were aware of your inquiries, and were curious to see what you were going to do with your findings. Then we realized we could use someone with your talents. We really did have nothing to do with your apartment ending up in its current state."

"I did not know Thorvalds Technologies had an office here in Madrid."

"Thortech itself has not, it is owned by one of our subsidiaries."

"I see. And your husband, Ragnar, is here as well?"

"No. I was hoping you would agree to come with me to Lyon in France to meet him."

Her instincts made her wary again at the mention of the city. Lyon was also where France's moon customs office was located; where Frank allegedly stole the personnel files he wanted her to crack. The coincidences were piling up at an alarming rate.

"Lyon, eh?" She said. Anthea eyed her curiously, probably sensing the change.

"Yes, our headquarters are in Paris but the Lyon office is where all the real work gets done. This seems to bother you - might I ask why?"

"I can only tell you that the reason my apartment ended up that way was because of something that had to do with Lyon. That's a lot of coincidences for a day."

Anthea frowned. "I'll agree that's suspicious - but you have to believe me, whoever did this does not work for us. We have competitors... no, let's call them enemies, that's a more fitting description of them. It is quite possible that they tried to use you to get to us."

"I'm sorry, I truly wish I could believe you."

"No need to apologize, I understand your position. Would you at least agree to let us do some research into the matter together? If your predicament is indeed tied to us, we need to know about it as much as you do."

"And if I refuse?"

"I really wish you would not. Still, we will not stand in your way."

It was frustrating. She had no clue who to trust, and yet going with Anthea meant that she was at least safe for a short while from Frank and his friends. Or was she?

"I don't understand what makes me so special that you try so desperately to win me over. It makes no sense! I'm nobody!" She looked out the window again. She needed time to think about this - time alone.

Anthea was silent for a while.

"We will be at our office in a few minutes. May I invite you to dinner?"

"That... actually, that would be really nice. Thank you."

Anthea smiled again, a smile so sincere that made Arcelia want to trust her. There were too many unknowns to let herself give her trust to anyone just yet however. The car stopped, and she followed Anthea out. Only now did she notice the second car that had been following right behind them: a group of eight people in dark grey uniforms got out, with markings identifying them as private security. They looked competent enough, but then what did she know? Anthea led her into the luxurious building, which was obviously made to impress. Not only by the tasteful interior design, but also by its daring architecture. They went up a large flight of stairs that wound up in a semi-circle and which led to a massive conference room on the left, and what seemed to be the CEO's office on the right. Anthea took her into the office, not even bothering to knock. There was no one there however.

"Doesn't this company have its own CEO?"

"Yes, Eduardo Di Castillo. He's a very good man, fortunately he's on a business trip for four days so we get to use his office. Mine is a lot less impressive," she said, smiling. "Please, have a seat anywhere you like, I'll order something nice from the kitchen," she said and went back out again.

The office's entire right side was one giant bay window from which you could survey part of the harbor. A very nice place to work, much nicer than her booth back at the tax bureau offices. She wondered for a second what it would be like to work in a place like this, but her other thoughts overwhelmed the idea. She decided she would take a new approach, instead of trying to figure out what she most likely could not with the information she had, she would try to just go with the flow and let her instincts guide her. Until she could find a way to get more information, that is. She turned as the door opened.

"They will bring our dinner right over. What would you like to drink?"

"Something fresh would be great, no alcohol."

"Eduardo should have something in his fridge."

When they both had their drinks served, Arcelia let herself slump onto the left end of the big sofa looking out on the harbor. Anthea walked over to the window and looked out. For the first time since they had met, Arcelia allowed herself to watch her more closely. She held herself upright in a manner that radiated power while at the same time inviting trust. Her light skin indicated she was seldom exposed to direct sunlight, and from what she could glean through those short moments her loose fitting robe brushed a little closer to her body, she was more muscular than one would expect. Her proportions were pretty much perfect, and to crown it all she was strikingly beautiful, with long golden hair. She was sure to drive spanish men crazy with that mix. The funny thing was that she managed to make you forget this with her jovial presence. She managed to make her beauty secondary, which was no small feat - although Arcelia suspected that she could charm just about anyone with her looks if she needed to.

"Where do you come from, originally? Your spanish is flawless, but your skin tone tells otherwise."

"I was born in America."

"Did you plan on owning half the planet?"

She laughed. "No, I did not plan on that. Actually I did not know it was even possible until I met my husband. It's overrated though, it has its perks but it's not as fun as one would think. Besides, we hardly own half the planet as you say."

"That much power should not be in the hands of so few."

"If I did not have the knowledge I have now, I would agree with you. There is much more beyond our regular lives than we can imagine however, and not all of it is good. Sytek was born out of necessity, not greed or lust for power. We do not exert our power directly, we merely steer things to keep everyone on the right track."

"You say it with so much conviction, yet it is gibberish to me. No offense, but you sound like a crazy egomaniac trying to justify her actions with doing good for the world. I don't buy it. If anything, it makes you less credible."

"It is like many of the things in life that you cannot believe as long as you have not felt them for yourself."

"Oh please spare me, I liked you a lot better before you started spilling clichés."

"Don't be so eager to dismiss everything I have to say on behalf of Sytek. It's easy to assume an organization such as ours can only be evil. What if we really did good?"

"Power breeds greed. You don't get where you are with flower power."

"You are too stubborn for mere words to convince you." She put her glass down, and came to kneel on the floor right before Arcelia. Arcelia shrank back a little further into the sofa.

"Uh, that's close enough -" Arcelia said as Anthea's nose practically touched hers. She gently took her hands in hers, and a tingly sensation went up Arcelia's arms. She tried to jerk her hands away, but could not move them an inch. It was not that Anthea held them too tight, they simply would not respond. She wanted to panic, but instead she felt herself relax in a way she had never been able to. Anthea looked straight at her, with incredibly blue eyes. She took her face in her hands and kissed her, found her tongue.

And then the universe exploded.

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  1. Small Update: rewrote the part where Anthea kisses Arcelia, to make it more believable that she simply lets this stranger do that to her. Mere shock is not enough, and it makes sense for Anthea to be able to exert some form of control by touch – that’s what she had to take her hands for.

  2. Rewrote a few bits for consistency. Anthea was definitely not born in Iceland :)


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