A Probationary Effect – Lost Chapter 2
prequel to The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest by M.J. Moores
Sunlight flared on the reflective glass of the hidden employee entrance. The door slid to one side as I removed my palm from the reader. A narrow hall of two-way mirrors, one set looking in on the main reception and the other simply reflecting my black blazer and pressed pants-set, echoed my footsteps. At the elevator bank the reader scanned my thumb. I selected level 8 and walked into the fluorescent-let box.
I yanked at the cuffs of my form-fitting jacket and pulled the seat of pants down for what must have been the fiftieth time that day. I longed to shake out every last pin holding my long braid wrapped around the crown of my head, but that would have to wait. I needed a contract.
Working as a concierge at Darzeth Prime’s top business hotel was not my idea of fun. Micromanaging the lives of idiots was not why I joined the CTF. But the Facility had a rule: all graduates must adhere to an individualised probationary period. At eighteen I was the youngest Trainee to graduate, which translated into ‘we don’t know what to do with you.’ The past six month blurred from on desk job to another.
I should stop by Level 3 and train for an hour in the gym.
I pulled at the high tight collar of my blouse, scowling at my distorted reflection in the dull-steel of the elevator. The lift stopped and the door slid open to the Assignment Room.
Banks of view monitors surrounded Niless, the Assignment Liaison and adopted mother of every Trainee. Her work station was the inner core of two arced banks containing five monitors a piece. She was the iris. Her deep green skin tone belied her age as her gold s-shaped coliths accented her best features, giving her the air of an old-time movie star. She glanced up from her view monitor and smiled. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“You knew I wanted to complain, didn’t you? I fully intended to be angry when i walked in here and now I just feel foolish.” Niless grinned at me and tapped the side of her nose.
“I’m not the clairvoyant everyone takes me for, Taya. I just know how to tap into the security cameras.”
I laughed again and flopped down a the view monitor closest to her. I rubbed my hands over my face and anchored my elbows to the table. Peering at her through my long, bronze fingers, I felt the fringe of my bangs tickle my knuckles.
She stuck her tongue out at me and winked. I sat up straight and raised an eyebrow before tapping at the virtual keyboard on the table in front of me.
“Is there anything I can do that doesn’t require me pandering to multiple whims?” I asked, hitting enter after my password.
The screen flashed green and stated: Assessment Satisfied. I shot a loot a Niless. She leaned back in her chair holding her arms wide, still grinning.
Then it dawned on me, “I passed?”
She nodded and clapped her hands together once.
No more probationary assignments! I attacked the glowing keyboard wit a vengeance. Finally, I could accept an assignment that wouldn’t put me to sleep or give me a headache. I scrolled through a completely accessible contracts listing, my eyes gobbling up available assignments:
Banker – 3 weeks; no.
Justice, Darzeth Prime – full time; definitely not. Crime is practically non-existent these days anyway.
Night Club Bouncer – 2 months; maybe – although that could get boring fast, depending on the district.
Architect’s Assistant – approx. 12 months to 1 year; good Zola, no – 18 months on any project would drive me crazy.
“Niless, where’s the good stuff?” I asked, scanning another ten possible positions before taping to the next page.
“Try page three, about half way down.”
I jumped ahead, and there it was. A simple one week assignment, just long enough to try something new, and short enough that I could easily complete the contract without losing my mind – and it started tonight. I entered my ID, tapped ‘accept’ and sent the specs to my portable vis-u-fax. Finally, a real assignment.
* * *
It was dark. Not the dense dark of twilight when only the distant starts fought with the city’s light pollution, but when Gamma dominated the sky unchallenged. The pale, yellow-white light from Xannia’s smallest sun made streetlight unnecessary, except in those parts of town where the buildings blocked out the light from above. I glanced at my watch-communicator. She’s late.
The public transport had dropped me off near the parking lot almost fifteen minutes ago. I didn’t approach the vehicle as instructed – instead, I cased the perimeter of the lot and found a tree-shadowed nook from which to observe. my contract did not include surveillance but a clandestine meeting in the middle of the night suggested its necessity.
A door at the back of the low building swished open and shut. Sharp heels clicked against the pavement as a hot pink skirt suit walked out of the shadows jingling a set of keys. She had to part Jeridan: as the dark of the shadows easily cloaked her face, arms, and legs under the pale sun’s light. The fact that her coliths didn’t glow in compliment to Gamma’s rays meant her mother was of a race bearing darker coliths. She walked to the back of the cube-rider. I moved to join her – my feet silent in their approach.
She did not notice me as she leaned over to press the key, a series of metal rings, into the correct formation on the back of the white cube-rider. I scuffed my work boots as I neared. She raised her head out from the back of the cube and turned to me. She flashed a bold white smile with perfect teeth and extended her arm.
“Hi. I’m Zaith Beji.”
I glanced at the hand I shook: jade green coliths – a Nirian mother. “Jutaya.” I didn’t need to give her my last name; she knew it anyway from the contract. Her gaze was steady and calculating as she assessed her temporary assistant. Oh no. Not this again. But it wasn’t what I expected.
“You’re kind of small. Are you sure you can handle the heft requirements I set in the contract?” She let go of my hand and hopped into the back of the cube. “Well, don’t stand there all night – I’m not going to strip for everyone.”
I jumped up into the cube-rider and shut the doors behind me. Various control and operational lights flickered to life bathing the interior green. Zaith shimmied out of her skirt and shrugged off her blazer to exchange the formal attire for tight black pants and a long navy sweater. Buttoning it all the way up to the wide collar, her blush-coloured blouse disappeared. She knotted a matching sash around her curvy waist and kicked other day clothes into the duffel bag at her feet after changing her shoes – all of which took less than a minute to accomplish.
I considered her words about my size carefully. I was average height, but Zaith was easily a half-foot taller than me. I also wore all black and there was little chance she noticed the muscle mass under my clothes.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m stronger than I look.”
“Well, here’s the behemoth I’m stuck with while my View-X is getting repaired. Honestly, I don’t know whay they can’t just buy me one of those Mini-Vs.” Zaith got a far-away look in her eyes. “When I become the number one field agent, then I’ll get my hands on one.” She stepped to one side, stooping slightly due to the low roof.
The Max-View sat on a tripod. Its lens was the size of a melon; the body of the unit was a large as my torso with a shoulder pad on the base. Zaith grabbed a recordable disk from a stack inside a lower cabinet, turned and fed it into the memory slot. This version was so old it was made of metal, and not the fibre-weave poly-composite of modern machinery.
“Do you want to stay here and get cozy with it while I drive?” Zaith asked.
“No. I’m good.”
Zaith clapped me on the back and we exited the cube.
* * *
The traffic-bar attached to the ‘no trespassing’ sign was up as Zaith drove onto the lot of the construction site. No one was around. This was courtesy of the source she told me about on the drive over – an open invitation to a restricted party. I chewed on my lower lip to keep from questioning my new boss. She stopped the cube-rider at the back of the lot away from any sight lines to the street and cut the engine. I didn’t wait to be told twice: I hopped out the cab, rounded to the back of the large transport vehicle, and climbed in the back. Zaith came into view as I jumped down from the cube with the Max-View on one shoulder and the balance-pole over the other. I didn’t make a sound.
Zaith flashed me another grin before disappearing into the gloom case by a nearby industrial waste container. On the far side was a clearing in a designated green-space. I framed a shot with the entire twenty storey building, then Zaith entered for a mid-shot.
“The Greycos building has long been on everyone’s lips, perched at the edge of our minds as we wait to see if the roumours are true. Site Inspectors and Management claim there were never any plans to breach the mandated restrictions of this new office/condominium. The concept of working from home but not being chained to your desk has brought investors racing to claim multiple units, now the site is a veritable ghost town.”
Zaith waved to me off camera, motioning left. I panned slowly, focusing on a tarpaulin dome stretching across what was going the be the rider parking lot.
“What’s under the temporary structure? Unfortunately this door,” she pointed to the padlocked entrance, “is by invitation only. But that door,” she motioned to the back of the main building under construction, “is open.” Zaith walked over.
How does she know it’s open? We just here. I hastened to follow, keeping the max-View steady as I rolled the balance-bar on its caster to track Zaith. I zoomed in as she reached past the ID pad for the grip to manually slide the door open. I held my breath. She paused and looked over her shoulder directly at the lens and stared right into my soul. The door gave way without hesitation. Her source had come through.
I caught the signal to go to black as she deftly sliced the air by her thigh with straight fingers. I stopped recording. The hall went black. I turned on the tracking light above the lens. Zaith motioned with her head for me to follow. Disengaging the Max-View from the balance-bar at the base of the unit, I rested one piece of the equipment on each of my shoulders. The corridor was narrow. The smell of moist plaster fingered my lungs with each breath – it was worse than the smell of fresh paint. Zaith reached a bank of elevators, punched in an access code and the doors whisked open. The emergency floor lights glowed purple as we ascended.
In my mind, I canned every inch of the requested contract I agreed to. There was a clause about discretion, one about confidentiality, and something about a theoretical background in architecture. Nothing seemed anomalous. In fact, the CTF wouldn’t have permitted anything illegal into the database. But we haven’t anything wrong, have we? Yet it still felt like trespassing. The gate was up, the door was open, and Zaith had the access code. Effectively her source invited us in, even though he or she wasn’t there. Still, my flesh prickled and my jaw locked.
* * *
Click the cover image for a free e-copy of the complete Lost Chapter.
M.J. Moores is a high school English teacher turned author, editor and freelance writer. Her love of books stems from being one of the top readers in her class at the age of 7. Her passion for writing ignited at the age of 9 when she learned that both kids and adults enjoyed her adventure stories.
M.J.’s first science fiction novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest will be launched October 1st, 2014. In anticipation of this achievement she is offering readers one free Lost Chapter a month until its release. The Lost Chapters are glimpses into the world of Time’s Tempest looking at scenarios spoken about but not delved into during the course of the main story.