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Posts Tagged ‘Cerbecorp’

Day Two Hundred and Seven: Desk Jockey

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Time to do another character sketch, and this time the Randomizer has given us character number 361: Tod Piskel. You might be asking yourself, “Who?” Well, we saw Tod way back on day 13 in the story Star-Crossed, which famously introduced Cerbecorp to the world. So if you don’t remember him, I don’t blame you.

Let’s see what the story tells us about him:

  • He has his own office.
  • He’s working on some kind of power distribution system.
  • He has something of a crush on Justine Sekigawa, a woman who works in Marketing.
  • He has thinning hair.
  • He bites his nails.
  • He went to the company-mandated sexual harassment seminar. He is acutely aware of the dangers of sexual harassment to his career and reputation.
  • He works in R&D as an engineer.

From all that, we can infer a few things. First of all, he must be a Person of Significance if he can have his own office. There’s a cube farm just outside, so it’s likely that Tod is management to some degree, yet he can not only talk confidently about the research they’re doing – he can explain it to a layperson. So Tod has something of a teacher in him, an ability to make information accessible to non-specialists. I think he rose through the ranks at the company, proving his worth and his ability, and has finally landed the management job that he thinks will give him some real chances to make a difference.

He seems like he would be a good manager, actually: he is working in his field, he’s been where his subordinates are, organizationally speaking, and he is acutely aware of the importance of roles and boundaries. It’s pretty clear that he’s attracted to Justine, but he spends most of the story trying to push those feelings away and be the person she came in to talk to – the engineer. That he finally asks her out for dinner is a big step for him. Not just because she’s kind of intimidating, but because asking her out violates the roles that they have agreed to play in the company. She, of course, reinforces the importance of roles, as she says, “I’m in Marketing, Tod. You’re an engineer. It would never work.”

So I think he’s the kind of person who sticks to the role he’s adopted, and isn’t all that comfortable breaking out of it. Truth be told, when I finished that story I thought that his decision to finally ask her out seemed a little too abrupt. It really didn’t seem like something he would do, and to make it more believable I should explore why Justine is so important to him that he would finally make the attempt to change their relationship.

Just as a note, by the way – I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten comments from people saying that the technobabble I put in the story doesn’t make sense. Because really, it doesn’t. I haven’t the first clue what the machine he’s describing does or how it works. I did double-check a few technical terms, but that’s about it. Not quite Star Trek levels of making shit up, but close.

All in all, I think Tod is a good character, but an unfinished one – mainly because I can’t think of a whole lot of storylines to explore with him. The best one I could think of was a story where he was forced to break out of the “manager” character that he’d constructed for himself. And of course there’s always the “low-level manager discovers a horrible secret” option. Like, say, that the head of the company is very nearly dead and has been so for years…

Day One Hundred and Ninety-eight: The Guardian Corporation

December 5, 2011 6 comments

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

At one point, pretty early on in my project, I decided that I needed an Evil Corporation.

Full disclosure: in my brain, that’s almost a tautology. I realize that corporations are important to the modern economy, and that without them our lives would be vastly reduced in both the physical objects we have and the access and comfort those things give us. So you will not see me saying that we have to get rid of them all, or that the only thing they’ve brought us is pain and suffering.

The problem I have with corporations is that with that potential to change the world for the better comes the potential to change it for the worse as well. Since corporate entities generally have more resources and reach than individuals, they have more power. And with great power, as someone once said [1], comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, there is really no good mechanism to hold corporate entities responsible for what they do. For the biggest – and most powerful – governmental fines and lawsuits are a slap on the wrist. A $15 million court settlement is nothing at all when your company is pulling in billions of dollars. They have access to lawmakers and policymakers, they own entire landscapes of media, and are, for all intents and purposes, largely unaccountable for their actions.

I’ll stop myself here out of courtesy to you. Long story short [2], I have an innate distrust of corporate entities, which is probably why they’re such good villains. But when Cerbecorp first appeared, I had no idea how far-reaching it would become. Here are the stories that feature or mention Cerbecorp, and what they say about it:

13: Star-Crossed

  • Cerbecorp is a medium-to-large sized company that makes… something. Tod Piskel, an engineer, is working on some kind of power system.
  • Justine Sekigawa is a high-ranking salesperson.
  • The company had a Mandatory Sexual Harassment Seminar at least once.

21: Delay

  • Cerbecorp exists in the far future (at least past the late 22nd century).
  • It employs time travelers to go into the past and secure patents for the company. Specifically to “three of the most popular home utilities in modern history.”
  • It is not very straightforward about the effects of time travel.

33: Monsters

  • Cerbecorp Security Enterprises pilots a personal security program, donating “donated officers, vehicles and body armor” to the family of Paul Barbeau, who were under almost continuous attack.

44/102: The Devil Went Down to Friday’s (Redux)

  • Lou Hoban is a Cerbecorp engineer.

65: Amanuensis

  • Abraham Jordan is the President of the company. He is in a vegetative state, kept hooked up to machines in the bunker he’d built ten floors under the Cerbecorp headquarters building.
  • Cordell McCandlish is Jordan’s only trusted secretary. When his brain was working, Jordan was borderline paranoid.
  • Jordan’s office in built to withstand nearly any kind of attack. He has guards at his door at all times. McCandlish is admitted through DNA analysis – a blood sample is drawn from one of ten spots on his body, chosen randomly at the time he wants to enter the room.
  • Jordan has a son, Than Jordan, who has squandered the trust his father set up for him. He knows his father isn’t really alive, and he may have to be killed to ensure his silence.
  • Cerbecorp specialized in security: “What Cerbecorp offered, better than anyone else, was security. Whether it was physical security, data security, financial security, it didn’t matter. If you had something you needed to keep safe, Cerbecorp was the first place you went to.”
  • Jordan had been risk-averse before meeting McCandlish, taking few chances with the company. With McCandlish’s help, the company grew quickly into a juggernaut.
  • Cerbecorp attempted to buy Munin Scientific.
  • Cerbecorp has built a subterranean research complex in New Mexico.
  • Barbeau Pharmaceuticals is asking for a “cooperative agreement” with Cerbecorp.

73: Ink

  • Cerbecorp worked with Albeth and Halding to develop nano-particle tattoo ink for unique employee IDs.

127: Last-Ditch

  • Cerbecorp worked with Munin Scientific to build a high-security vault in the Munin headquarters. It’s said to be impenetrable to anything less than a commando team.

187: Up, Up, and Away

  • Cerbecorp Tower is located in a major American city. Probably the headquarters.

We have a pretty good picture of the company at this point – it’s a company that focuses on security, and it’s very good at what it does. Not surprising for a company named for the guardian of the gates of Hades – Cerebus.

The company is, like all companies, fundamentally amoral – it doesn’t care about doing the “right” thing, but only doing what is in its interest. It’s always trying to make advances in security and stay ahead of thieves and hackers and terrorists and the like. It hires creative people to come up with new ideas, which has led to things like the encodable nano-particle ink that it provides to Albeth and Halding for their employee ID system. The events in Delay suggest that the company will change its focus somewhat in the long-term future, mucking about with time travel in order to secure patents for itself.

At some point, though, Cerbecorp will have to stop being just the Evil Company lurking in the background. There are stories to be told here, I’m sure.

For example, the founding of the company. Amanuensis hints at a rather shaky beginning, with Abraham Jordan torn between his desire to run a company and his paranoia in dealing with other people. How, then, did McCandlish gain his trust and help him turn Cerbecorp into a giant?

His son is clearly an entitled little brat, whom McCandlish is ready to have killed by now. How did Than Jordan turn out the way he did, and will he be able to survive the machinations of his father’s right hand man? For that matter, what would happen if he did reveal to the world that one of its largest corporations has had a vegetable as the President for years now?

What are they building in New Mexico, and why?

Does Cerbecorp have any rivals? If so, who are they and what are they doing? If not, why not? Where are they buried?

How on earth do they get into time travel, and how does that jive with the apocalyptic future that Barbeau Pharmaceuticals is going to one day unleash?

So many questions that need answering. I also have to figure out where their headquarters are. I want to say they’re in Corsair City, but I can’t be sure yet…

Anyway, I expect that Cerbecorp will come in handy more and more often as I figure out what it does and what it’s capable of.

Anyone want to design a logo for it? I have an idea, but haven’t made a nice clean design yet.

——-

[1] I’m sure it’s in the Bible somewhere.
[2] Too late.

Day One Hundred and Two: The Devil Went Down to Friday’s [REDUX]

August 31, 2011 3 comments

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. I pretty much fell in love with The Devil Went Down to Friday’s (day 44) as soon as I finished it. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Devil as a character, and I’ve signed on with the view that he was something like God’s beta tester. His job was to test things to see if they were well-made, but with humans he took a little too much liberty. Anyway, I went through this, did a little clean-up and added some dialog here and there. Enjoy.

——————————————

Lou was well into his third beer when The Devil sat down on the barstool next to him and ordered a gin and tonic.

He was The Devil. Had to be. His skin was pale red. He had a long nose and full, fleshy lips, all set off by a pointy black goatee. He was dressed way too nice for a bar like this, where guys got off their desk jobs for the day, had a few drinks to become people again before trudging home to face the wife and kids.

And then there were the horns.

The bartender brought him a drink as though there was nothing weird at all going on. The Devil thanked him and left a nice tip. When he noticed Lou staring, he nodded, that kind of silent “Hey” that marked the most basic level of Guy Cordiality.

Lou tried to go back to his beer, but kept sliding his gaze over to get a look at the man. The Devil wasn’t doing anything, really. Not offering deals or trying to corrupt the souls of everyone in here – as if that were still possible. He was just sipping at his drink and watching ESPN on the TV hanging above the bar.

Lou ordered another drink, trying to get drunk enough to make a move and say something. Not often you get a celebrity in here, he thought, and that made him giggle a little. The Devil glanced over, and then ordered another drink of his own.

When the bartender brought it over, and The Devil reached for his wallet, Lou found himself saying, “I got this one,” not fully in control of what his mouth was doing. He handed over a ten and told the bartender to keep the change. A horrible feeling curled up in the pit of his stomach as The Devil took the drink and finally turned around to face him.

“Thanks for the drink,” he said. His voice was pleasant. Smooth, Midwestern – the voice of a late-night talk radio host. He took a sip off the gin and tonic and smacked his lips. “Good stuff,” he said. “Not great, mind you. But good.” He took another sip and let out a long, relaxing sigh. “So. Louis P. Hoban. Cerbecorp engineer, husband, father of two and burgeoning alcoholic.” He tipped an invisible hat. “What can I do for you?”

Lou blinked. “You know my name?”

The Devil raised an eyebrow. “You know who I am, Lou.”

The feeling of dread grew in Lou’s stomach. The Devil, he thought, knows my name. He felt the blood run out of his face and a cold sweat pop out on his upper lip. The Devil’s eyes were a dull orange, the orange of a coal that didn’t seem so hot until you picked it up. The orange of an iron left in the fire. They glowed and shimmered as The Devil stared at him, his eyes seeming to grow and pulse and burn, and Lou started to stammer words that had no meaning.

The Devil erupted in laughter that filled the room, and slapped Lou on the shoulder. “Oh, Lou, you poor, sad man. Oh, that was great.” His laughter started to trail off and he wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh, that was nice. I haven’t done that in way too long…” He giggled a little and then tapped Lou’s glass with his own. “Thanks, Lou. I appreciate that.” He took a drink, put it down again and said, “Seriously, Lou. What’s up?”

For a moment, Lou couldn’t think of anything to say. What do you say when The Devil is sitting next to you, sipping a gin and tonic and making jokes at your expense?

“I know what you’re thinking,” The Devil said. “You’re wondering why I’m here. You’re wondering what I’m planning to do to you.” He raised an eyebrow. “Barter your soul? Send you straight to Hell? Tempt you with all kinds of forbidden pleasures?” He chuckled. “Would you like that, Lou?” he asked.

Lou shook his head.

“I could do that. Easy.” He took a sip of his drink. “Look behind you.” He gestured over Lou’s shoulder. “Go on, look.”

Lou turned, slowly, carefully, to look behind him. There was a boy there, maybe fourteen years old, tanned and dripping wet and wearing only a pair of electric blue swim trunks. He was shockingly blonde, and had a brilliant smile that glowed against his sun-dark skin. He stood on the balls of his feet, ready to run off and do something amazing, and his bright blue eyes were calling for Lou to come with him. He smelled of chlorine and suntan oil. He was gorgeous, he was wonderful, and memories that Lou had buried for thirty years slammed back into his head all at once. His skin, his nose, his tongue all remembered as if it had been only a moment. He cried out once, and turned back to The Devil, tears already spilling out of his eyes.

The Devil was smiling. “Evan MacPherson.” He shook his head. “Those two weeks of summer camp were probably the only time in your life you were ever truly happy, Lou.” He shook his head. “Amazing, the things teenagers will do when they don’t know any better. You and Evan were perfect for each other, you know that?” He chuckled and closed those burning eyes. “Yes. Of course you did.”

He snapped. Lou spun around and cried out again. The boy was gone. Just a small puddle of water on the floor by the bar and the faintest smell of a musty cabin in the woods. “Pity it didn’t work out,” the Devil said. “I’m sure your wife and kids are grateful, though.”

Lou took a few deep breaths and asked, “How?”

The Devil reached up and flicked one of his horns. It made a dull thumping noise. Lou nodded, and settled back into his barstool. He took his beer, finished it in one gulp, and gestured for the bartender for one more. They sat in silence until the next drink came, and this time The Devil paid for it.

“You know, Lou,” he said, “I want to thank you for that. It’s so seldom I find someone who has a hurt that big that they haven’t admitted to anyone. Or put up on YouTube. Or publicly crowed about on a TV talk show.” He sighed. “It used to be all like that, you know? Personalized service – one poor, miserable bastard at a time.” The Devil shook his head. “Now…” He shrugged.

Lou licked his lips. “Now… what?” he asked.

“Honestly, Lou, I don’t really have all that much to do anymore. I’ve pretty much put myself out of a job. Occasionally I run into someone like you, and I treasure that, I really do.”

“Why?” It came out as a whisper.

The Devil sat in silence for a moment. “You gave me a secret, Lou,” he said. “I’ll let you in on one in return. Okay?” Lou nodded, and there was another long silence.

“The fact that you can be hurt so deeply, Lou, means that you’re still alive in there. Somewhere.” He poked Lou’s belly, bigger, softer than that summer when he was fourteen. “There’s an innocent part of you that the world hasn’t been able to destroy yet. Not that it hasn’t tried, of course.” He spread his hands in mock helplessness. “You people are so much better at hurting each other than I am. And so much more open to being hurt. Honestly, I find it a little bit shocking.”

The Devil reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one. There was a law against it, but the bartender didn’t say anything. It smelled like a campfire at night in the middle of August. “When I found you people, you were animals. Barely able to bang rocks together. And against Someone’s better judgment,” he said, glancing upwards, “I gave you… let’s call it a ‘boost.’ Intelligence. Empathy. Morality. The whole package.”

He exhaled, and the smoke drifted across the bar in a lazy spiral. “The knowledge of Good and Evil.” He tapped the ash out into a cut-glass ashtray that couldn’t have been there before.

“Problem is, you were still monkeys underneath. Still are, really. Knowing the difference between good and evil doesn’t mean you’ll actually do good and avoid evil.” He looked up at the TV and blinked. The picture changed to a news feed. A murder had been done. Protests against a military funeral. Scenes from a war. Trial of a child molester. A man being executed. He blinked, and the horrors of mankind flickered across the screen. Lou stared into the TV and saw them all – the bullies, the liars and the cheaters. The powerful who stepped on the necks of the powerless, who turned around and stood on the necks of those lower than they.

“I gave you the knowledge of good and evil, the intelligence with which to use it, and put it on top of a screaming, hateful primate brain.” He shrugged, and stubbed out the cigarette.

“Why?” Lou asked again.

The Devil seemed to think about that for a long moment. “Seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said. “Besides, I was bored, and you were something to keep me occupied. Entertaining, sure. But in the long term, not the best idea.”

They sat for a long moment, the Devil watching atrocities play on TV and Lou trying to figure out what to say next. What could you say to something like that? He opened his mouth, and the Devil glanced over at him, one eyebrow raised. “We’re…” Lou swallowed hard. “We’re not all that bad,” he said, and even he didn’t believe himself.

The Devil dropped the raised eyebrow. “Really,” he said, his voice flat with disbelief.

He waved, and the TVs went black. The lights went out all through the bar. The Devil lit another cigarette, and the flame was all Lou could see. Around him, people were yelling – afraid at first, then angry. Then crazy. The sound of breaking glass and breaking furniture was all around him in the darkness, but he couldn’t see any of it. In the light of The Devil’s cigarette, there was just the two of them.

“You people know how to hurt each other so much better than I do,” he said. “You know your weaknesses inside and out. You know what you’re willing to do and where you’ll draw the line, and then one of you crazy bastards goes on and oversteps that line.” He smiled, and Lou felt sick. There was a scream and a wet snap from somewhere behind him. “It’s admirable, in its own way.”

Lou could hear something breathing behind him, feel the breath on his neck. The Devil’s eyes never moved, didn’t flicker up to see who it was. They stayed on Lou, and he didn’t look around. There was something wet dripping on his skin, something warm and slick running down the back of his shirt that smelled of rotting fish at low tide. The breathing was beginning to sound like words that he could almost understand.

“You people live in a world of perpetual terror, danger, and pain,” The Devil said. Something rough and cold touched Lou’s neck, and dragged itself up towards his ear. “You live in a world that’s already trying to kill you in a million different ways and you spend so much of your time making it just that much worse.” Something heavy rested itself on Lou’s shoulders and his head, and it started bending his head back. He kept his eyes on The Devil’s, but it was becoming harder and harder to do, and sooner or later he’d see the thing behind him, and it would surely drive him mad.

“You people have put me out of a job, Lou,” The Devil said. “You’re your own keepers now.” He stubbed out the cigarette and the world went black. There were fingers on Lou’s face – rough-skinned and sharp, and he could feel the nails come to rest right under his eyes. They smelled like autumn leaves and dogshit and Lou tried to scream.

“Good luck with that.”

The lights came on. The bartender put down another beer in front of Lou. “On the house,” he said, and smiled.

Lou’s heart was racing. His neck hurt and he could still feel something running down his neck. He spun around to look at the bar – everything was normal. There was an office party going on, some couples enjoying their dinner, a few guys in suits at the bar. The TVs were showing football, but no one was watching.

The Devil was gone.

Where he had been sitting there was a folded piece of paper with Lou’s name on it.

His hand shaking, Lou picked it up and unfolded it once. It read, “You’re a good listener, Lou. Thanks.” There was a symbol drawn underneath – a happy face with horns and a goatee. Lou exhaled sharply, something between a laugh and a cry.

He unfolded the paper the rest of the way. In the middle of the page, in simple block letters, was written Evan MacPherson. And a phone number. Local.

Lou crumpled the paper in his hands, and this time he did cry. Quietly, manfully, but he cried.

The bartender came over, carrying a tray of empty glasses. “You okay, sir?” he asked. “Need to call someone to pick you up?”

Lou took a few deep breaths and wiped his eyes. He flattened out the piece of paper on his leg. “No,” he said. “Yeah.” He nodded slowly. “Give me the phone.”

———————————————

Day Seventy-three: Ink

August 2, 2011 1 comment

“Is this going to hurt?” Lila asked, craning her neck to try and look behind her.

“That depends,” Shavenne said. “You good with pain?”

“No, not really.”

“Then yeah, it’s gonna hurt.” She flipped a switch and the needle started its high-pitched whine. “As far as I know, though, I haven’t killed anyone yet. So just lay forward and relax.”

Lila winced in anticipation of the needle hitting her skin, and bit back a yelp when it first stung her. Shavenne chuckled quietly behind her and kept working.

The tattoo parlor didn’t look anything like what Lila thought of when she thought of a tattoo parlor. There were no giant, hairy, sweaty men in leather jackets. There were no cement floors and drunk teenagers and dim lighting. There was no haze of cigarette smoke and overflowing ashtrays. Instead, Violet Nights looked like someone’s living room. A large window let in plenty of light, the walls were decorated with small pieces of artwork. Shavenne said that some of it was hers, others by some friends. There was a deep, beautiful Persian carpet on the hardwood floor that was relaxing just to walk across, and soft instrumental music was playing, rather than the speed metal or rap that Lila had expected.

In her defense, though, all of her expectations had come from tv and movies, which rarely portrayed getting a tattoo a something you do in a casual drawing-room, so Lila didn’t have a lot to go on. If it were up to her, she would never have come to get a tattoo in the first place. But it wasn’t up to her, really.

“So how long have you been working for Albeth and Halding?” Shavenne asked.

“Only six – nnng – six months now,” Lila said through clenched teeth. “My probation ended last week.”

Shavenne made a nodding noise. “So you’re in, what, accounting?”

“Yeah. It’s not what I really thought I’d do with my life, but – OW!”

“Sorry.” Shavenne wiped away a little spot of blood and continued inking. “But what?”

“Well…” Lila trailed off as she thought about it. “Well, I guess it’s because that’s what I’m good at. Numbers and things.”

Shavenne switched off the needle as she changed colors. “You think you’ll keep doing that?”

Lila shrugged, which stung a bit. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe. I mean, in this economy you don’t want to risk it, right?” Shavenne made another nodding noise, switched the needle back on, and went to work.

The noise of the tattoo needle and the soft classical music merged nicely, and after a few minutes, Lila didn’t notice the stinging quite as much. She thought about her job, and the question of what she wanted to do with her life. She always thought that question was kind of unfair, asking someone to make a commitment like that for a whole future, sight unseen. But that was what she was doing, wasn’t it? She’d applied to Albeth and Halding, one of hundreds of college grads looking to fill ten positions, and she’d gotten in. She still felt like she didn’t know why – even though she did. Her grades were fantastic, she really did have an aptitude for “creative math,” as it was called by her friends, and her advisor had worked for A&H years ago, before he went into academia. She had the talent, and she had the support.

So why did she feel like she was the only kid in the adult’s party? It seemed like everyone at A&H was throwing around terms she’d never heard of, dropping names that she’d never met, and referencing figures that she’d only ever seen in textbook exercises. Millions of dollars were flowing through that bank every hour, billions every day, and she had no idea where it was coming from or going. All she knew was the tiny portion that her probation supervisor gave her. Small hedge funds, retirement accounts, mortgages, that sort of thing. Basic bookkeeping. The kind of thing they taught housewives in night school

But they wanted her. Mr. Kubik had called her into his office Friday afternoon and said, “We’re very pleased with your performance here over the last six months, Lila.” He looked like someone who stepped out of a financial services brochure, with his perfect hair and whiter-than-white teeth and a tailored suit. And for some reason, she wanted to stay away from him, out of his reach. “We think you’ll make a fine addition to our family,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder. She didn’t flinch, and was both proud of that and ashamed that she’d wanted to. He took a fat envelope off his desk and gestured for her to sit down. “There are a few details that need to be hammered out first, some technicalities, standard contracts, that sort of thing.”

So for the next hour and a half, Lila went through benefit packages and pension schemes, pay grades and bonus requirements, terms and conditions in that tiny, lawyerly language that she dared not overlook. And somewhere in the middle of that, when her head was spinning from one official document to the next, Kubik handed her a business card and said, “There is one more thing, Lila. It’s a little… unorthodox, but it’s a tradition here at A&H.”

The card was simple and discreet. Violet Nights Body Art, Shavenne Horio, Proprietor.

Lila looked at the card then back to Kubik. “What is this?” she asked.

Kubik put on his best Concerned Face. “You understand that in a business like ours, security is very important, right?” Lila nodded and felt like she was twelve years old. “We need to to everything we can to assure our clients that their money is safe with us, and that their trust isn’t misplaced. That means making sure we can trust everyone who works in the Albeth and Halding family. From the lowliest of the janitors to the CEO himself.” He took off his jacket, loosened his tie and started to unbutton his shirt as he talked. Lila shifted her grip on her pen. If she had to, she’d stab him with it. But it would probably cost her the job.

“We used to give everyone ID cards, and that was fine for a while. But those can be lost, or stolen, or cloned. And biometrics is fine, for what it does. He took off his crisp white collared shirt and walked over to her. Lila gripped the pen. “A few years ago, we worked with Cerbecorp to develop the best, most secure system we could.” He lifted the sleeve of his undershirt and showed her the mark on his shoulder.

It was a tattoo, done in jet-black ink. It was beautiful, really. A complicated fractal design, all arcs and squares and circles, and embedded in the middle of it, barely visible, was the Albeth and Halding logo. “Like it?” he asked. Lila nodded. “I designed it myself. You don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to – there are plenty of pre-done designs to choose from.” He lowered his sleeve and sat on the edge of his desk. “That tattoo is embedded with nanoparticles, which can be read by the building’s security systems. They’re unique to me, so they act as a kind of permanent ID, letting me into the parts of the building I need to be, and out of those parts I don’t need to be in.” He smiled. “They can’t be lost, can’t be copied, and they work on any A&H property.” He stood up and started putting his shirt back on. “And if, god forbid, I should leave the company, well… They’ll be deactivated and I’ll have a nice souvenir of my time here.”

The looked at her while he dressed, waiting for her to say something. She didn’t know what to say. After a few moments, “So… You’re saying I have to get one of those tattoos?”

He nodded as he buttoned up his shirt. “I’m afraid so.” He picked up his tie and started to re-tie it. “But like I said – you can choose the design, it’ll only take an afternoon, and it means you’re officially part of the A&H family.” He picked up the large package of forms and waivers. “Besides, you’ve already signed an agreement. So unless you think this isn’t a job you’d like to hold on to, there are plenty of others who’d be happy to take it off your hands.”

Lila stood up at that point and told Kubik that no, she would be happy to get it done. It was just a little surprising, was all.

The next day, she came to Violet Nights and was taken aback by its dissimilarity to her expectations. She chose a design that looked like a butterfly as Shavenne explained the procedure to her, and – with only a little trepidation and uncertainty, bared her shoulderblade to have the mark of Albeth and Halding applied to her skin.

“Done,” Shavenne said, rousing Lila from her thoughts.

Lila sat up. “Really? That was it?”

Shavenne raised an eyebrow. “We can do more if you want. It’ll be on your tab, though.”

“No, no, I just thought…” She smiled and went to put her shirt back on. “Thank you.”

“Hold on a second,” Shavenne said. She reached behind her and pulled out a small, hand-held scanner. She ran it over Lila’s shoulder and it beeped, followed by a small red light turning green. “Good,” she said. “This should work fine. And if your clearances change, they can do that at your office.” She smiled. “You won’t have to come down here again.” She shrugged. “Unless you want to.”

Lila tried to demur politely, but she was pretty sure Shavenne could see through it. She wasn’t the type of person to get a tattoo before this, and that hadn’t changed anything. Before she was allowed to put her shirt back on, Lila had to read a pamphlet about proper tattoo care and let Shavenne rub a tingling salve over it. She put a light bandage on top, gave it a gentle pat, and then said, “Okay. You’re good to go.”

She put her blouse back on and flexed her shoulder a bit. It was itchy, and a little sore, but that should go away in a few days. In the meantime, it was official. She was now part of the Albeth and Halding Family.

She shook hands with Shavenne, who wished her the best. Then Lila walked out of the tattoo parlor into bright springtime sunshine, hailed a taxi, and broke down sobbing before the driver made it to the highway….

Day Sixty-five: Amanuensis

July 25, 2011 3 comments

Cordell McCandlish slid into the back seat of the limousine, nodded at the black-suited bodyguard who sat across from him, and opened up his briefcase. A uniformed doorman eased the door closed and the driver started the car. The limo pulled out into traffic, flanked by two black SUV’s, each filled with bodyguards and hired security. Cordell started to go through the files he would need for his monthly meeting. He paged back and forth through revenue estimates and earnings reports, patent applications and security statements. Site accidents, hirings, firings, all the daily minutia of the company that they contained. The data was sorted and compiled and arranged so that it formed a cogent picture of how the company was functioning.

All of it utterly useless for his business today.

But protocols had to be followed, for the sake of Cerbecorp. McCandlish would meet with Abraham Jordan, just as he had every month for the last ten years, and he would bring along all the information pertinent to the running of his vast corporate empire. Everyone knew the ritual, thus the armed escort. The information in McCandlish’s briefcase could bring down Cerbecorp, its affiliates, probably even its competitors. Indeed, not five minutes after they started driving, McCandlish heard a small pinging noise come from the outside of the car. The large bodyguard in the seat opposite him put a finger to his ear for a moment. “Just a shooter, Mister McCandlish,” he rumbled. “Nothing to worry about.”

McCandlish nodded and closed the briefcase. They would be there soon enough, ensconced in the bomb-proof fortress that Jordan had erected in the heart of the city. What Cerbecorp offered, better than anyone else, was security. Whether it was physical security, data security, financial security, it didn’t matter. If you had something you needed to keep safe, Cerbecorp was the first place you went to. For all that it had been run for years by a near-paranoid psychopath, that surprised no one.

What did surprise people was how the company thrived. Jordan had spent the first few years of his position as the President of the company utterly hiding – figuratively and literally – from all risk. He made few investments, subjected all new employees to a rigorous inspection and background check, and refused to leave the tower he’d had built downtown. It was not until he’d hired McCandlish as his right-hand man that the company started to take off, and plenty of people were very aware of that. They were also aware that the company had been going in some unexpected directions in the last few years, leading some to wonder if Jordan hadn’t finally snapped. The company’s attempt to buy out Munin Scientific, the building of a new subterranean research complex in New Mexico – these were not the kinds of ventures that Abraham Jordan would have taken.

Analysts attributed the changes to McCandlish’s influence. He wondered if they had any idea how right they were.

The limo came to a stop and McCandlish blinked his mind clear. A bodyguard opened the door for him, and he got out, followed by the large young man who had ridden in with him. The three of them walked to the elevator in silence. The bodyguards each pressed their ID badges to a sensor, and McCandlish stated his name in a loud and clear voice. A green light blinked on above the elevator and the doors slid open.

Jordan’s suite was ten floors underground. The elevator opened into a minimalist lobby, with a simple reception desk, matte white walls and two armed guards in front of a steel door. There were no windows, nor should there be. The whole suite was a concrete and steel box, built to withstand nearly anything from earthquakes to terrorist attacks to – it was said – nuclear bombs. The guards carried large handguns and a variety of other implements of intimidation on their belts. That was normal, and perfectly expected.

What was not expected was the disheveled young man who was sitting slumped in a chair by the reception desk. McCandlish curled a lip at the sight of him. Jordan’s son was everything his father wasn’t – a layabout, reckless, completely undependable. Than Jordan stood up and ran a hand through his uncombed hair. “Cord,” he said. His eyes were red and he hadn’t shaved. McCandlish was sure he could smell alcohol. “Cord, I have to see my father,” he said, reaching out.

One of the bodyguards stepped in between them and blocked Than from getting any closer. He groaned, a noise that was closer to a whine. “C’mon, Cord! I need to see him!”

“Why?” Cordell asked. “Run out of money again? Because you’re not getting any more, young man.” McCandlish stepped out from behind the bodyguard and nodded to let the large man know he could stand down. “You asked for full access to the trust fund, and you got it.” He put his hands – and the briefcase – behind his back and watched the young man’s eyes follow it. “You blew it, Than. And that is not my problem, nor is it your father’s.”

Than stood for a moment, his eyes locked on McCandlish. There was an instant where he thought the young man would fall over, or perhaps throw up, so he was especially surprised when Than lunged at him and grabbed his lapels. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot, wide, and mad. “I know what’s going on with you and my father. I haven’t seen him in years, no one has, and if you don’t cut me in, I’ll -” Than squawked as he was pulled away by the bodyguards. They held him with ease as he struggled in their grip.

McCandlish straightened his jacket and looked around the room. The armed guards hadn’t moved. “Bring him upstairs,” McCandlish said to the bodyguards. “I’ll see to him after my meeting with his father.” The bodyguards nodded, tightened their grip, and hauled Than into the waiting elevator. The doors perfectly silenced his angry shouts.

“Well,” McCandlish said to the guards. “That was a change of pace.”

The guards didn’t respond, nor did they move. McCandlish held out his hands. The guard on the left reached into one of his belt pouches and removed a small device – long and thin with a small display on the top side. He pressed a button and a number appeared – 10 – indicating the place where a small blood sample would be taken. McCandlish rolled up his right sleeve to expose the randomly chosen spot inside his elbow. The guard set the device against his skin, there was a small pinprick and a hiss. McCandlish rolled down his sleeve and waited as the guard plugged the small device into a carefully concealed port next to the door.

A moment later, the door unlocked. far quieter than would have been expected. The guards stood aside, and McCandlish nodded to them as he passed into Jordan’s suite.

The room was white. Pure, antiseptic, disorienting white. Only the hospital bed in the center, and the attendant machines that flocked around it, gave him any idea where up and down were. He carefully stepped towards the bed. There would be a nurse here, normally. During their meetings she would leave by a different door. This was a private moment between Jordan and McCandlish, just as it had been for years.

“Hello, Abe,” McCandlish said quietly. “It’s that time again.”

The machines beeped and hissed quietly, but Jordan didn’t say a word. He lay in his bed, slivers of white showing under nearly closed eyelids. A variety of tubes went up his nose and down his throat, needles in both arms, cables and pipes snaking all around the bed. Jordan’s skin was sallow and brittle, his muscles soft and watery. He moved slightly as the implanted rollers in the bed started their massage, but he didn’t react at all. Abraham Jordan was just this side of dead, and had been for some time. But vast wealth and deep paranoia were able to buy a lot of things, not the least of which were far more years than he had any right to.

McCandlish rested the briefcase on the bed, but didn’t open it. “Your son,” he said. “He thinks he knows what’s going on.” He shook his head. “Pity if he does. I don’t think he does.” He shrugged. “But risk is weakness, isn’t that right, Abraham?” He looked at Jordan, who didn’t respond. Who hadn’t responded to a question for the least five years. McCandlish patted his hand. “Don’t worry, Abe,” he said. “It’ll be quick. He’ll never see it coming.”

He sighed and popped open the briefcase. “Shall we begin, then? Barbeau Pharmaceuticals is asking for a cooperative arrangement.” He outlined the deal in quiet, measured tones.

Abraham Jordan respired and metabolized, but did not respond.

Day Forty-four: The Devil Went Down to Friday’s

July 4, 2011 2 comments

Lou was well into his third beer when The Devil sat down on the barstool next to him and ordered a gin and tonic.

He was The Devil. Had to be. His skin was pinker than you’d normally see. He had a long nose and full, fleshy lips, all set off by a pointy black goatee. He was dressed way too nice for a bar like this, where guys got off their desk jobs for the day, had a few drinks to become people again before trudging home to face the wife and kids.

And then there were the horns.

The bartender brought him a drink as though there was nothing weird at all going on. The Devil thanked him and left a nice tip. When he noticed Lou staring, he nodded, that kind of silent “Hey” that marked the most basic level of Guy Cordiality.

Lou tried to go back to his beer, but kept sliding his gaze over to get a look at the man. The Devil wasn’t doing anything, really. Not offering deals or trying to corrupt the souls of everyone in here – as if that were still possible. He was just sipping at his drink and watching ESPN on the TVs hanging above the bar.

This went on for ten minutes. Lou finished his beer and ordered another, trying to get drunk enough to make a move and say something. Not often you get a celebrity in here, he thought, and that made him giggle a little. The Devil glanced over, and then ordered another drink of his own.

When the bartender brought it over, and The Devil reached for his wallet, Lou found himself saying, “I got this one,” not fully in control of what his mouth was doing. He handed over a ten and told the bartender to keep the change. A horrible feeling curled up in the pit of his stomach as The Devil took the drink and finally turned around to face him.

“Thanks for the drink,” he said. His voice was pleasant. Smooth, midwestern – the voice of a late-night radio talk show host. He took a sip off the gin and tonic and smacked his lips. “Good stuff,” he said. “Not great, mind you. But good.” He took another sip and let out a long, relaxing sigh. “So. Louis P. Hoban. Cerbecorp engineer, husband, father of two and burgeoning alcoholic.” He tipped an invisible hat. “What can I do for you?”

Lou blinked. “You know my name?”

The Devil raised an eyebrow. “You know who I am, Lou. You know who I am.”

The feeling of dread grew in Lou’s stomach. The Devil, he thought, knows my name. He felt the blood run out of his face and a cold sweat pop out on his upper lip. The Devil’s eyes were a dull orange, the orange of a coal that didn’t seem so hot until you picked it up. The orange of an iron left in the fire. They glowed and shimmered as The Devil stared at him, his eyes seeming to grow and pulse and burn, and Lou started to stammer words that had no meaning.

The Devil erupted in laughter that filled the room, and slapped Lou on the shoulder. “Oh, Lou, you poor, sad man. Oh, that was great.” His laughter started to trail off and he wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh, that was nice. I haven’t done that in way too long…” He giggled a little and then tapped Lou’s glass with his own. “Thanks, Lou. I appreciate that.” He took a drink, put it down again and said, “Seriously, Lou. What’s up?”

For a moment, Lou couldn’t think of anything to say. What do you say when The Devil is sitting next to you, sipping a gin and tonic and making jokes at your expense?

“I know what you’re thinking,” The Devil said. “You’re wondering why I’m here. You’re wondering what I’m planning to do to you.” He raised an eyebrow. “Barter your soul? Send you straight to Hell? Tempt you with all kinds of forbidden pleasures?” He chuckled. “Would you like that, Lou?” he asked.

Lou shook his head.

“I could do that. Easy.” He took a sip of his drink. “Look behind you.” He gestured over Lou’s shoulder. “Go on, look.”

Lou turned, slowly, carefully, to look behind him. There was a boy there, maybe fourteen years old, dripping wet and wearing only a pair of swim trunks. He was shockingly blonde, and had a brilliant smile that glowed against his tan. He stood on the balls of his feet, ready to run off and do something amazing, and his bright blue eyes were calling for Lou to come with him. He was gorgeous, he was wonderful, and memories that Lou had buried for thirty years slammed back into his head. He cried out once, and turned back to The Devil, tears already spilling out of his eyes.

The Devil was smiling. “Evan MacPherson.” He shook his head. “Those two weeks of summer camp were probably the only time in your life you were ever truly happy, Lou.” He snapped. Lou spun around and cried out. The boy was gone. Just a small puddle of water on the floor by the bar. “Pity it didn’t work out. I’m sure your wife and kids are grateful, though.”

He turned to The Devil again, took a few deep breaths and asked, “How?”

The Devil reached up and flicked one of his horns. It made a dull thumping noise. Lou nodded, and settled back into his barstool. He took his beer, finished it in one gulp, and gestured for the bartender for one more. They sat in silence until the next drink came, and this time The Devil paid for it.

“You know, Lou,” he said, “I want to thank you for that. It’s so seldom I find someone who has a hurt that big that they haven’t admitted to anyone. Or put up on YouTube. Or publicly crowed about on a TV talk show.” He sighed. “It used to be all like that, you know? Personalized service – one poor, miserable bastard at a time.” The Devil shook his head. “Now…” He shrugged.

Lou licked his lips. “Now… what?” he asked.

“Honestly, Lou, I don’t really have all that much to do anymore. I’ve pretty much put myself out of a job. Occasionally I run into someone like you, and I treasure that, I really do.”

“Why?” It came out as a whisper.

The Devil sat in silence for a moment. “You gave me a secret, Lou,” he said. “I’ll let you in on one in return. Okay?” Lou nodded, and there was another long silence.

“The fact that you can be hurt so deeply, Lou, means that you’re still alive in there. Somewhere.” He poked Lou’s belly, bigger, softer than that summer when he was fourteen. “You people are so much better at hurting each other than I am. And so much more open to being hurt. Honestly, I find it a little bit shocking.”

He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one, and it smelled like a campfire at night in the middle of August. There was a law against it, but the bartender didn’t say anything. “When I found you people, you were animals. Barely able to bang rocks together. And against Someone’s better judgement,” he said, glancing upwards, “I gave you… let’s call it a ‘boost.’ Intelligence. Empathy. Morality. The whole package.”

He exhaled, and the smoke drifted across the bar in a lazy spiral. “The knowledge of Good and Evil.” He tapped the ash out into a cut-glass ashtray that couldn’t have been there before.

“Problem is, you were still monkeys underneath. Still are, really. Knowing the difference between good and evil doesn’t mean you’ll actually do good and avoid evil.” He looked up at the TV and blinked. The picture changed to a news feed. A murder had been done. Protests against a military funeral. Scenes from a war. Trial of a child molester. A man being executed. He blinked, and the horrors of mankind flickered across the screen. Lou stared into the TV and saw them all – the bullies, the liars and the cheaters. The powerful who stepped on the necks of the powerless, who turned around and stood on the necks of those lower than they.

“I gave you the knowledge of good and evil, the intelligence with which to use it, and put it on top of a screaming, hateful primate brain.” He shrugged, and stubbed out the cigarette. “Entertaining, sure. But in the long term, not the best idea.”

He waved, and the TVs went black. The lights went out all through the bar. The Devil lit another cigarette, and the flame was all Lou could see. Around him, people were yelling – afraid at first, then angry. Then crazy. The sound of breaking glass and breaking furniture was all around him in the darkness, but he couldn’t see any of it. In the light of The Devil’s cigarette, there was just the two of them.

“You people know how to hurt each other so much better than I do,” he said. “You know your weaknesses inside and out. You know what you’re willing to do and where you’ll draw the line, and then one of you crazy bastards goes on and oversteps that line.” He smiled, and Lou felt sick. There was a scream and a wet snap from somewhere behind him. “It’s admirable, in its own way.”

Lou could hear someone breathing behind him, feel the breath on his neck. The Devil’s eyes never moved, didn’t flicker up to see who it was. They stayed on Lou, and he didn’t look around. There was something wet dripping on his skin, something warm and slick running down the back of his shirt and the breathing was beginning to sound like words that he could almost understand.

“You people live in a world of perpetual terror, greed and pain,” The Devil said. Something rough and cold touched Lou’s neck, and dragged itself up towards his ear. “You live in a world that’s already trying to kill you in a million different ways and you spend so much of your time making it just that much worse.” Something heavy rested itself on Lou’s shoulders and his head, and it started bending his head back. He kept his eyes on The Devil’s, but it was becoming harder and harder to do, and sooner or later he’d see the thing behind him.

“You’ve put me out of a job, Lou,” The Devil said. He stubbed out the cigarette and the world went black. There were fingers on Lou’s face – rough-skinned and sharp, and he could feel the nails come to rest right under his eyes. They smelled like autumn leaves and dogshit and Lou tried to scream.

The lights came on. The bartender came over with another beer for Lou. “On the house,” he said.

Lou’s heart was racing. His neck hurt and he could still feel something running down his neck. He spun around to look at the bar – everything was normal. There was an office party going on, some couples enjoying their dinner, a few guys in suits at the bar. The TVs were showing football, but no one was watching.

The Devil was gone.

Where he had been sitting there was a folded piece of paper with Lou’s name on it.

His hand shaking, Lou picked it up and unfolded it once. It read, “You’re a good listener, Lou. Thanks.” There was a symbol drawn underneath – a happy face with horns and a goatee. Lou exhaled sharply, something between a laugh and a cry.

He unfolded the paper the rest of the way. In the middle of the page, in simple block letters, was written the name of Evan MacPherson, and a phone number. Local.

Lou crumpled the paper in his hands, and this time he did cry. Quietly, manfully, but he cried.

The bartender came over, draping a dishtowel over his shoulder. “You okay?” he asked. “Need to call someone to pick you up?”

Lou took a few deep breaths and wiped his eyes. He flattened out the piece of paper on his leg. “Yeah,” he said. “Give me the phone.”

Day Thirty-three: Monsters

June 23, 2011 4 comments

It was only twenty seconds after Paul Alexander Barbeau was born that the first murderer appeared.

His mother, Alyssa, had just taken him to her breast. His father, Ollie, was still filming, and babbling with great happiness over the birth of his first child. The doctor was just about to say something about ten fingers and ten toes when a man burst into the room. He was wearing a smoking leather jacket with a blue ideogram embossed on the back, and was waving what was unmistakably a gun.

“NEVER AGAIN!” he bellowed, and leveled the gun at the newborn. He was only stopped because one of the maternity nurses had done a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was quick on her feet.

The man was arrested and brought to trial for attempted murder under the name of John Doe, as he refused to give his name. He had no records, of course, although his fingerprints seemed to match those of Matthew Dixon, a six year-old from Milwaukee whose parents had helpfully enrolled him in a police database in the event that he was ever abducted. The coincidence was dismissed as such, and John Doe was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Paul Alexander Barbeau slept through the whole incident, completely undisturbed.

When interviewed by the police, his parents were understandably shaken and upset. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before, they said. Oliver Barbeau was a junior high school math teacher, and Alyssa had quit her job as a medical secretary to become a stay at home mother. They had never had trouble with the law, never been in a fight, and they had no idea why someone would want to kill their beautiful baby boy.

As the years passed, the Barbeaus began to realize that their son was special. All parents think their child is perfect and brilliant and absolutely better than everyone else’s children. In the Barbeaus’ case, they had reason to be proud. He was speaking in full sentences by the time he was two, was already well on his way to learning his multiplication tables, and only a week before his third birthday party had managed to take apart the television remote. He wasn’t able to put it back together, of course, but he said he did it “to see how it worked.” The Barbeaus were looking into a gifted program for Paul as soon as he was old enough to enter one.

The team that assaulted the birthday party was better prepared than the man who had broken into the delivery room. Three people – two men and a woman – crashed through the front door right before the candles were lit. They held the party hostage for the better part of four hours before the police were able to get a team in to end the standoff. The local evening news led with the story, running the videotape that had been couriered to them only an hour before the standoff began.

On the video, the three – who were dressed in paramilitary outfits, all wearing a blue insignia on an armband – proclaimed that they were saving the world from the future. “As a result of our actions,” the woman said to the camera, “we will appear to be monsters. The terror we lived through, the terror spawned by Paul Barbeau, will never come to pass. We are willing to accept our fate, that we should become monsters, for the good of the world.”

All three were killed during the police assault. Like the man three years earlier, their prints were either not on record or matched children elsewhere, prompting a call for better police computer systems across the state. When interviewed by the police, the Barbeaus said that they didn’t know any of the assailants, though Mr. Barbeau did recognize the insignia they had on their armbands.

“When I was in college,” he said, “a guy tried to mug me on my way to my first date with Alyssa. He jumped out of the bushes in broad daylight, yelling incoherently – and I remember he had the same thing on his arm. Kind of a blue eye-thing, I think. I tried wrestling him to the ground, but he had a knife.” Here, Barbeau lifted his sleeve to show a thin white scar that ran up the inside of his arm. “You know, I was lucky that campus security happened to be nearby, or I would have been killed.”

Unfortunately, this kind of incident became almost commonplace during Paul’s eventful childhood. By the time he was ten, he traveled in an armored car with a security detail whenever he went to the Max Planck Magnet School for Gifted Youth. His parents were among the first to take part in a specialized security service offered by Cerbecorp Security Enterprises, which donated officers, vehicles and body armor to the Barbeaus and their associates.

“It’s nothing new for me, of course,” his mother said after another failed attempt on Paul’s life at a local summer camp – the second in three months. “I’ve been dealing with this since I was a little girl. These crazy Blue-Arms have had it in for me and Ollie since we were both kids in foster care. I mean, I’ve never known why they want to kill us, and it was disturbing at first, but after a while you get used to it. It just becomes part of your life.”

The closest Paul Alexander Barbeau came to death was during the science fair in his senior year of high school, when he was twelve. Adeline Kramer, a biology teacher of fifteen years, allegedly slipped a toxic substance into Paul’s drink. While giving a presentation to a standing room only crowd at the National High School Science Competition on his work in the field of nanocybernetics, Paul collapsed mid-sentence. As his team of bodyguards rushed to his side, Kramer began shouting, “It’s all over! The beast is dead!” At this point, she drew a handgun and fired two shots at Paul.

Two other science competition participants – Treva Vanderburg and Julianne Goodlet – were seriously injured in the shooting. Ms. Kramer died when her neck was broken as she was tackled to the ground by Lee Wrackman, a member of Paul’s security team, in a moment that echoed Wrackman’s first rescue of Paul only moments after the boy was born. Paul was rushed to the hospital where doctors were able to save his life.

In a press conference, Paul Barbeau, with the family lawyers and security standing by, said that he bore no ill-will towards the woman, or towards any of the people who had threatened the lives of himself and his family since before he was born. “There are those who do not see the world as I do. They do not see the future that I see. With my work, I will be able to one day rid the world of the plagues of mankind. I will make a brilliant future for humanity, one which will allow us to become what we always wished we could be.”

The press conference was quickly evacuated when one of the reporters accidentally discovered a large satchel bomb under the stage. The bomb was successfully disarmed by the police, and no one was injured.

The Barbeau family soon left for an unknown destination. For five years, no word could be had of the whereabouts of Paul Barbeau or his family, until his announcement that he had developed a neurocybernetic viral analogue that would safely cure nearly all forms of human disease.

In a remote video feed, he explained the basics of the technology – a hardy, self-replicating nanovirus that could be spread through the air – in a presentation that ended with Paul Barbeau injecting himself with a fluid that allegedly contained his “miracle cure.”

“Starting with me,” he said, “the world will enter a whole new era, unlike any that it has seen before.” His image was replaced with a 3-D rendering of the blue Barbeau Pharmaceuticals logo, with the words, “A New Tomorrow” superimposed underneath.

“Come with me,” Barbeau said in the voiceover. “Together we will make a new world.”