Category Archives: Fiction

fiction

Tower Of Gold

DJClinecom0810

By DJ Cline

Fifty Shades Of Orange

August 10, 2012 Caligula, Ohio

Anita Gromex needed a break from the orange man. She left her sleeping client in the basement and went upstairs and out to sit on the back steps of her house for a smoke.

It was after eight on a hot, humid summer evening. The sun had set but the air conditioner near the back door was still working overtime. The machine was old when she bought the house and at this rate it would have to be replaced.

What she wanted to do was replace the entire house. It was over seventy years old and was a nightmare of lead paint, asbestos insulation, banned pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Of course, the cigarette she held in her hand would probably kill her before the house did.

In a way she had bought the house so she could still smoke. One of the official reasons she left California is that the city of Casa Diablos where she lived, had banned smoking at her job and even in her condo. It was during the housing boom and she could not afford anything else, so she moved to Ohio. She paid one hundred and fifty thousand for it at the peak. The market crashed and now it was only worth half that. She was stuck, chained to the house in a way that even she found ironic.

When she first moved in she thought about remodeling the basement to resemble her old condo’s dungeon. A general contractor took one look and said it was not worth it. The basement remained a collision of asphalt tile from the fifties, wood paneling from the seventies and mold from the nineties. For some reason her clients did not mind the seediness. In fact, they seemed to like it and they paid the bills.

Her clients had actually helped her keep her day job. It was your typical boring office job but she terrorized her coworkers to the point that one of them sued. Not one to change, she did what she had done many times before. She compromised and blackmailed all the lawyers and judges and the case was ruled in her favor. To avoid appeals she worked her way up the dark private corridors of power.

This led inevitably to the orange man in her basement. She had never seen a man drink or cry so much. To seal the deal the orange man said there would be one more client.

She finished her cigarette and picked up her phone to upload the pictures and do a web search. Finding an old station wagon should not be a problem, but where was she going to get a pet carrier big enough to hold a grown man?

The Cornfield

August 13, 2012 Calvary Ohio

Anita Gromex had found the station wagon and the pet carrier, but her client wanted to bring a new friend. He looked like a grown up Eddie Munster and had a creepiness about him that made even her uncomfortable. She agreed but charged twice as much as usual. That air conditioner was not going to fix itself.

She was taking her third cigarette break of the morning outside the building in the suburban office park where she worked. Calvary was a small town that was gobbled up by the urban sprawl of Caligula. So far it had not banned smoking in the workplace, but Anita knew it was only a matter of time. She smoked outside, not out of consideration for her coworkers, but as a chance to get away from them.

As corporate compliance officer, they hated her and the feeling was mutual. The sad characteristics of her night job carried over into her day job. Anybody that was not in compliance with the company standards was let go. Her bosses liked it because it kept turnover high and wages low. Part of the whole scam of janitor or dead peasant insurance was to get lots of life insurance policies on lots of people. No matter how a former employee died, the executives collected the cash and cut her in on the action.

The other employees did not know this, they just thought she was, well, not a very nice person. One young woman figured out the scam. She told Anita that she couldn’t wish her into a cornfield like in an old television show. She tried to sue the company and lost.

Anita heard she had committed suicide, but did not get her usual cut. She thought the executives were mad about the publicity of the trial. They kept her on as an employee to buy her silence, but maybe they were starting to think she was a liability. Maybe the day would come when they would collect on her policy.

She wondered about how she wound up here. It was a series of decisions about her life and the lives of others. When she made the conscious decision to sell out, did she know it would be for so little? It was so hot and humid here. For a second, she wondered if she was cursed. By having the power to wish people into a cornfield, maybe she should have picked a nicer one, because that is where she wound up.

She stared out across the parking lot to a cornfield that had not been developed yet. Out in the summer heat she thought she saw something new. She walked to the edge of the parking lot and saw an old-fashioned scarecrow in the withered field. A red scarf was draped around its neck; similar to the one the dead woman had worn everyday. A raven sat on its right shoulder. She saw something shiny on its right leg as it called out and took flight toward her.

She turned and ducked. Her cigarette fell onto the bone-dry crops and started a fire that she could not put out.

Company Policy

August 13, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia

Billy was not a kid anymore.

Billy Thoreau, the CEO of Netrosonics was looking out the window of his corner office on the top floor of corporate headquarters. He had been listening to a teleconference of a meeting in their Ohio office when the line went dead.

His phone chirped with a news story. A cable news channel reported an explosion in Calvary Ohio. A helicopter provided pictures of a huge fireball over a suburban office park. Apparently a grass fire ignited a gas leak from a nearby fracking operation that spread along a poorly maintained gas pipeline. Due to budget cuts, local fire departments were having trouble containing the blaze.

Billy’s phone made a noise like an old cash register. Ka-ching. It meant the head of Netrosonics Calvary office was still alive and ready to report on dead or injured employees. The Black Flag insurance company would reimburse Netrosonics for the loss of property, but the local manager was going to report on the lesser-known but more lucrative dead peasant insurance. Critics said dead peasant insurance was murder. To Billy it was just company policy.

Black Flag Insurance had moved these policies offshore. They set up a shell corporation on an island off the coast of China to collect on the deaths of workers anywhere. Now all of it could be managed with a few taps on a phone. The money piled up in secret accounts in tax shelters all around the world.

By the size of the disaster in Ohio, he expected lots of dead employees, but something was wrong. His phone was not making any more noise. What he heard was the call of a raven. He turned toward the balcony.

The raven was back.

It was the reason why he did not go out on the balcony anymore. The bird sat on the railing watching him as he moved. He sent a message to building security that said “Angry Birds.” They would come up in a minute to shoo it off. They had tried everything from poison to bullets but they just kept coming. Years ago Netrosonics had bought this land at an incredibly low price. They soon found out why.

A Native American group called the Ravens said the company was on tribal land. His lawyers said the tribe had never been recognized because they never signed a treaty. It was the Raven way. They never surrendered. They were still fighting in a way that was hard to describe. Billy couldn’t actually go to court and say his company was cursed. When the dead peasant insurance money started coming in he thought it was a good thing, but spooky things were happening more often. It was wearying with the Ravens constantly counting coup.

Thoreau was beginning to think there was something to the curse.

He kept checking his phone. What was going on in Ohio?

Flames Of Fortune

August 13, 2012 Calvary Ohio

Anita Gromex was surprised how fast the flames spread. She knew not to go back inside her building. She ran to her vehicle and nervously jammed her key in the ignition and careened out the parking lot and across the highway toward the coffee shop. That was supposed to be the official gathering spot in an emergency. The heat was so intense she could feel it through the windshield when she turned the vehicle around.

A fireball erupted from the cornfield behind the building, setting it on fire and engulfing it in smoke.

Out of a side door, she saw her boss/client Jimmy Jenkins stumble out and wander across honking traffic. She got out and met him as he astoundingly crossed the street but tripped on the curb and fell to the sidewalk.

“Jimmy, are you all right?” She asked.

Jimmy was disoriented. “I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I can hardly see or breathe. I have to report this to headquarters. Can you help me? It’s pretty confidential so don’t tell anybody.”

Jimmy pulled out his phone and handed it to her. She followed his instructions and sent a message to headquarters. He then directed her to an app called Black Flag Insurance and gave her the password. Jimmy then passed out. She started looking through the app and saw the names of her fellow employees with large dollar amounts next to their names. The money was supposed to be directed to various executives’ accounts, including Jimmy’s.

Despite all that was going on around her, she was furious. All these years she had been collecting a mere fraction of what the company had been making off of her. She looked down at her unconscious boss and wanted to kill him. Instead, she looked up how to change the password in the app. She decided she would quickly gain control of these policies and deposit the money in her own offshore accounts. No more sweating in a cornfield. No more house payments. The worst thing that happened to other people would now be the best thing that ever happened to her.

She got back in her vehicle and drove away from the chaos and went on to create her own. She had clawed her way to the middle, now she would kill her way to the top.

Shirking From Home

August 13, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia

Shirley Loman fell asleep in her living room listening to one of her own lectures online. She awoke to the smell of her pipe burning a hole in her sofa. She quickly stamped out the flame with a pillow cushion and checked if her recorded presentation was over. Luckily she still had another five minutes to go. She looked out the back window at another gray morning and the inevitable raven perched outside.

Over the past ten years Shirley had many titles but basically the same job at Netrosonics, to do whatever CEO Billy Thoreau wanted her to do. Sometimes it was customer engagement, where she physically helped close a sale. Lately, it was giving PowerPoint presentations on Digital Information Library Data Access, a software application to make sure all company communications complied with corporate standards. She had given the same webinar so many times that no one noticed when she switched to a recording.

Working from home had its advantages. On the Internet, nobody knew she was under the influence most of the time. The stuff she was using from her West African connection was strong. Stronger than the prescribed stuff she took from her mother’s hospice after she put a pillow over the old hag’s face when the health insurance coverage ran out. She sold most of that to her usual customers during one of her rare visits to the office.

But there were disadvantages with working at home. It was difficult to use her powers of persuasion on co-workers over the phone. It was best done in person with direct eye contact. People did not even know they were pushed until it was too late. Management was aware of her abilities and kept her on the payroll but away from them. They preferred to communicate by text message. They certainly did not want her working for the competition as a sales tool or mule. Occasionally she would be trundled out as a trophy token at a trade show and then put back in her McMansion for cold storage.

Shirley grabbed and put on a clean polo shirt with company logo on it for the computer camera. Pants were optional. Appearance was everything. She could never let on that she thought other people were dupes or marks to be exploited. It was important to appear normal by liking the best selling novels, top ten music, or highest rated television shows, follow popular celebrities online. Create a warm and fuzzy mainstream façade, an act, a big con.

Camoulflage was what her wingnut father had taught her, but did not practice. This particular nut did not fall far from the twisted tree. She never discussed her father and always got nervous when he suddenly would start ranting online about creeping socialism. Sometimes people would ask her if she was any relation and she would deny it, and then send him money to keep quiet.

In fact, Shirley was a mass of extreme contradictions and hypocrisy. A fanatic of Ayn Rand and Sarah Palin, she opposed a woman’s right to choose, even though she had chosen many times. She wanted tough drug laws even when she smuggled drugs on business trips. She thought that marriage was between a man and a woman, except for Log Cabiners like her. She dittoed Rush Limbaugh even though he would definitely not ditto back. She not only bought Ted Nugent’s music, she bought his cookbook. The cognitive dissonance between her personal and public personae was not a conflict but a career. She prided herself in being able to talk her way out of anything, like the drunk driving tickets with her daughter strapped into the backseat. It was all in the spin to her.

As the online lecture ended, she stood in front of her camera. The window on her computer screen that was supposed to show the Ohio office’s conference room was black. She checked the audio but the line appeared to be dead. For a moment she thought her little fraud had been discovered, but her phone had a message about a fire at the Ohio office.

She wondered if her former lover Anita Gromex was involved or maybe even started it.

Ten tears ago they were a team. If an employee needed to be driven to suicide, you could bet that Anita was behind the wheel and Shirley would be in the backseat giving directions. While Shirley was good at manipulating people, Anita was the grand master at making things look like an accident.

Like most people, even Anita had made the mistake of trusting Shirley. A deal went south and Anita was exiled to Ohio while she got promoted to Hooverville. Shirley suspected that Anita knew she had gotten the raw end of the deal and things had been uneasy ever since.

Shirley turned on Fox News to watch a huge fireball in Ohio. A big payout like this would help Shirley’s daughter through college without resorting to her mother’s methods. Shirley would have good news when her daughter returned from her grandfather’s Idaho summer camp to cure troubled teens.

But there was no ka-ching sound on her phone. Just a message from Diana Lemon, the company fixer, saying Code Orange.

Unchained

August 28, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia

Diana Lemon was Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau’s fixer. The moment she heard about the Ohio fire, she pulled a prepared statement for release. It said the employees lost were important to the company and their contributions recognized by their CEO. It did not say the contributions would be in cash to the executives… offshore.

Except the executives did not get the payout. Nobody knew where it went. Security cameras at the Ohio coffee shop showed Anita Gromex taking the phone of her boss and driving off. She didn’t go home. She disappeared. The Black Flag Insurance offshore policy passwords were changed and then moved somewhere else in cyberspace. Whoever held them stood to collect no matter how the victim’s died.

For years the policies had been shared among Netrosonics long-term employees. As a kind of uneasy gentleman’s agreement, no one on the inside went after each other to collect money. Anita Gromex changed all that. Diana knew that Anita was always dangerous, but to co-workers not to management. Now she was unchained as well as un-hinged. They were all targets now. In the past two weeks, Netrosonics employees had been found dead in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. They all looked like accidents or health related incidents. Classic Anita Gromex. The line was moving westward toward Hooverville. Toward them.

Diana wondered how to fix this. You couldn’t call the cops and tell them a corporate supported serial killer had gone rogue and was stealing from you. They couldn’t use lawyers like Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid. This would be a public relations nightmare if it got out.

All this was happening in a close election year. Anita Gromex had stolen a large amount of money that was destined for campaign donations across the country. This was supposed to be the election where they got everything they wanted. All these years of lobbying for privatization of everything and now she could not call the cops when she really needed one. For now she would advise the insiders to beef up their personal security. If Anita could not be stopped, they would have to run for their lives.

Perhaps they could make up the losses by having one last fundraiser on Billy Thoreau’s converted ocean liner, the S.S. Zong. It would be safer, isolated and closed to the press. As for Anita Gromex, Diana would have to call some people she knew to take care of Anita before she took care of them.

If they lost the election, they would have to leave the country. The irony of questioning a president’s citizenship as they prepared to renounce theirs for tax reasons was not entirely lost on her. As she prepared for her own escape, Diana Lemon wished she had sent her useless children to a private school that taught Chinese rather than French.

Bad Day For A Billionaire

July 1, 2012 Point Loess, California

It was a bad day to be a billionaire.

Marsha Colton was three things, a widow, a billionaire and an engineer. The first was tragedy, the second was luck, and the third was choice. She was also the first really nice person in this story. She sat on her yacht and worried about the future. She had not been on it since her husband died last year. They used to go diving off of it on weekends.

Her father was an electrical engineer. Her mother was a math teacher. They encouraged her interest in science and she became a telecommunications engineer. She and her husband developed traffic management algorithms and became Silicon Valley billionaires. They knew that while they had worked hard, they also knew that they still owed the rest of society for creating the framework for their success.

Not all their neighbors felt that way. When the wealthy people in her city of San Diablo voted down the police tax, she had to hire her own security. When they voted down the fire department tax, she had to build her own fire suppression system. When they voted down the hospital tax, she raised money to treat the sick. She gave generous scholarships so children would have the opportunities she had. She did the math and figured it was cheaper to pay the tax than bear the social cost alone. While the wealthy did not want to attend her charity fundraisers, they were always inviting her to their political fundraisers… to pay fewer taxes, making her philanthropic work harder. She used to leave dealing with such people to her husband, but now it was her responsibility alone.

Engineering problems were easier to solve than human ones. She sat on the bridge of her yacht, the Amistad, and looked a mile away toward a ten-meter tower on the shore of Point Loess on the California coast near San Francisco. Her engineering team was about to test a new technology and had rented this old remote US Navy radio post because of the lack of radio interference.

The problem they were trying to solve was bandwidth shortage. There was only so much electromagnetic spectrum for billions of people using their new phones. Marsha had an idea to create a technology that would anticipate where the next available frequency was going to be so a device could tune into it. It was an expensive test. The prototype antenna tower was gold plated because that gave the best signal. Once they proved the concept they would hopefully find something cheaper.

A technician typed in the start sequence. On shore, the antenna seemed to hum at a high pitch even from this distance. Suddenly a blue green sphere about ten meters across appeared around the center of the antenna top.

“Turn it off!” Marsha said nervously.

The humming stopped and the blue green sphere turned out to be seawater that splashed in a concentric wave around the base of the antenna. One of the video cameras showed a man tangled in the cables at the top of the tower. Technicians on the shore quickly drove a cherry picker truck to the tower and extended it to the top, climbing up to free the man. He was wearing a mask and wet suit and seemed to be flailing in great pain.

Marsha’s phone chirped and she got a text that totally freaked her out.

MARSHA COLTON I AM THE MAN ON THE HIGH TOWER. PLEASE HELP IMMEDIATELY. I NEED TO USE THE DECOMPRESSION CHAMBER ON YOUR SHIP.

How did he know her name? How was he communicating to her? How did he know about the ship’s capabilities? She asked her captain to dispatch the helicopter and told him to prepare the decompression chamber. She looked back at her phone and checked whom the message was from. It said Ten Kay.

Depth And Taxes

July 2, 2012 Point Loess, California

Marsha Colton looked through a small porthole at the naked man covered in tattoos sleeping in her yacht’s decompression chamber. The tattoos seemed to move on his skin in a way that reminded her of a screen saver on her phone. Suddenly they stopped moving. He sat up and hit the intercom switch.

TEN KAY: I’m awake.

MARSHA: How are you feeling?

TEN KAY: Better. I get better every time.

MARSHA: Can you tell me what happened?

TEN KAY: I was out in the ocean about ten kilometers offshore. I detected an unusual signal over thirty meters below the surface. I dived down and saw a gold tower. There was some kind of sphere around it. I got sucked in and entangled in the rigging. The next thing I know, I’m on top of the tower, all the water drains away and I’m on the surface. I did not want to get the bends so contacted you.

MARSHA: How did you know to contact me?

TEN KAY: Because I’ve been through this before. A lot. I’ll try to keep this short. You thought you were building a technology that is always looking for open bandwidth. Your software found it… a hundred years from now. You invented a time machine and I’m an early adopter, or a late one, depending on how you look at it.

MARSHA: Why a hundred years from now?

TEN KAY: Because civilization is collapsing and nobody is using much bandwidth anymore. No more blocked calls but nobody to talk to.

MARSHA: What happened? What caused it?

TEN KAY: A case of depth and taxes, but basically greed. There were billions of poor people and a few rich guys. Those guys made sure we  burned every lump of coal, every barrel of oil, every fart of natural gas. It got hotter. Governments did not have the tax revenue to pay an educated workforce to deal with the crisis. A hundred years from now that tower is more than a hundred feet below sea level. That’s why I almost got the bends. Listen, for some reason this time machine thing keeps happening over and over, that’s how I know I’m getting the bends and already know who you are. I also can change things a little bit each time. If you help me I can give you access to technology that will make you rich enough to save the world.

MARSHA: Where is the technology?

TEN KAY: You are looking at it.

His skin turned completely black except for a Colton Technology Corporation logo on his chest.

Factory Fleet

July 2, 2012 Point Loess, California

Marsha Colton and Ten Kay sunned themselves on her yacht’s top deck during lunch. While she was getting a tan, he was recharging.

MARSHA: So how did you get like this?

TEN KAY: Some rich guys did not want to pay taxes. Even when they moved money to accounts in other countries they eventually got caught. They got tired of bribing politicians with campaign contributions. They decided to move all their money into international waters. They took over some drowning Pacific island nation and reflagged all their yachts to it. Then they bought a bunch of used cargo container ships and oil tankers. They turned them into fleets of factory ships. They recruited desperate workers from poor countries and stripped them of their citizenship. They were stateless persons in international waters. They slept in bunks and were worked to death. When they died, the companies collected the insurance. The owners got rich on slave labor.

Meanwhile governments could not get the tax revenue to protect or educate their citizens. They owed all their money to the guys on the yachts. They could not compete against slave labor, so governments collapsed, creating more poor people desperate to work on the boats. The fleets got so big they had their offshore drilling, refining, and fishing operations.

They also had their own navy. They picked me out of one of their rusty buckets as a kid. They trained me to fight but also to salvage wreckage along the rising shorelines of the world. They called us Nano Seals. Basically they loaded the Internet in my head so I could find and recover anything useful like names and addresses. They infected me with nano technology that your company will develop so I could work in all kinds of conditions. That’s why I’m sitting in the sun… to recharge. When I showed up here, I searched the database, identified your ship, that you were the owner, that you were on board and had the authority to act quickly enough to get me in the decompression chamber before I died.

But let’s get back to the horror story. At some point the weather got so bad that even these guys could no longer live in the style to which they were accustomed. There was not enough seafood. The ships broke down or lost in huge storms. The crews and workers finally mutinied. There was anarchy and cannibalism… but hey, at least there were no friggin’ taxes.

MARSHA: Did you mutiny?

TEN KAY: Sort of. I saw it coming and took my team to Sutro Island. It was defensible against the surviving warlords on the mainland and close to the remaining shellfish and seaweed. Then I got your antenna’s signal and I got caught up in this weird zig-zag time thing. Originally, I was hoping the signal was a shipwreck to salvage or at least some food. Only part of me is nano, I still need to eat. Speaking of which, got anymore of that sushi?

MARSHA: Here, have mine. I’m trying to lose weight.

TEN KAY: Not a problem where I come from. So here we are a hundred years ago eating lunch. The world is already well on its way to ending. How do we stop it?

MARSHA: You have a plan?

TEN KAY: I keep modifying it each time I come back. In the short term you can aggressively encourage people to vote. In the midterm I can download all the information I’m carrying around, so start renting some server farms in the cloud. In the long term you can develop it for everyone and not just a few rich guys and super soldiers.

In the real short term we need to stop the offshore yacht guys. They are having a fundraiser in few weeks and they all will be in one place. You will get an invitation. You will accept it for once. I will be your date. Wear something you can swim in.

MARSHA: I don’t like this. Are you going to kill them?

TEN KAY: Oh no. Something much worse. Got any crackers?

Polar Bear With A Gun

Nowah Gye’s Blog

October 1, 2012

The US Coast Guard is still searching for survivors and wreckage from the disappearance of a converted ocean liner called the SS Zong. The yacht belongs to Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau who hosted a political fundraiser this weekend closed to the press.

On the evening of Saturday, September 29th, the Zong left San Francisco’s Pier 101 for a cruise out to international waters, expecting to return late the next day. Before boarding, guests were asked to surrender their phones and cameras. This policy was in force to avoid any embarrassing videos of the event appearing online. Adding to security, most of the fund raising staffers were Netrosonics employees.

At about 9:00PM, a sailing ship called the Berg was sighted less than a mile northwest of the Zong. An anonymous donor from Ohio recently purchased the ship and donated it to a non-profit organization called Save The Icebergs. The ship was covered in organic sailcloth to resemble an iceberg and brilliantly backlit by LEDs. In the rigging, demonstrators were dressed as polar bears carrying large protest signs to be seen by wealthy donors on the Zong. By 9:30PM, sources in the Coast Guard speculate that a gust of wind caused the Berg to ram and tear a large hole near the waterline of the Zong.

Initially, there was no panic. Guests aboard the Zong thought the iceberg was part of the party’s entertainment. This included a closing act by a magician known only as the Great Ten Kay, who promised to make the whole ship disappear. As the ship began to sink, confusion and panic spread. One survivor, who wanted to remain unidentified, said they saw a demonstrator dressed in polar bear costume swing from the Berg to the top deck of the Zong and shoot one of Netrosonics security staff. The demonstrator took off the costume to reveal a wetsuit and then headed toward the ballroom carrying a phone that made a cash register noise.

Inside the ballroom, Billy Thoreau tried to humor the guests by having an online auction for the inadequate number of lifeboats. “Market forces will save us.” Thoreau quipped. Someone then shouted, “Smith and Wesson will.” The room went dark and shots rang out. While security guards had seized all the phones, they had let the guests retain their firearms.

By 10:30 PM the Zong now listed to starboard. The lifeboats were full of wealthy guests covered with gunpowder residue. The Berg remained afloat and rescued many from the other ship. The kitchen staff and Zong’s crew managed to escape using the new Colton Technology NanoJackets ™. Packed to the size of a credit card, a jacket not only inflates but sends out a distress signal. Liberal icon and Colton CEO Marsha Colton happened to be on board and distributed the jackets. Sources said she had planned to give out the prototypes at the event but felt compelled to help those in need. Colton was rescued with the others but unavailable for further comment.

At 11:00 PM survivors in the water saw a flash or ball of light engulf the ship and the Zong disappear. Hundreds of Netrosonics employees are unaccounted for. Witnesses wonder if the Great Ten Kay made the ship disappear after all. His last text said.

“I think it important that people live to see the future they create.”

Coast Guard experts are investigating, but say it may take a hundred years to figure out what happened to the Zong.

The list of survivors and missing are on our web page.

Undecided Boater

October 1, 2012 San Francisco California

When the Zong collided with the Berg, the first thing Shirley Loman had to decide was how to get off this boat.

She was dressed as a waiter delivering drinks to wealthy donors in the ballroom when the collision happened. Netrosonics used its employees this way to avoid leaks. She did not mind the tuxedo; in fact she reminded herself that this was practice for her future reassignment. It would prove to save her life.

After the collision, Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau tried to keep calm by auctioning off spaces in the lifeboats. The seats quickly went for more than a million dollars. Seeing market forces in action, she ducked out of the ballroom to the kitchen.

There she saw Marsha Colton and her date Ten Kay handing out what looked like little orange credit cards to the kitchen staff. She grabbed one as they went around. They were instructed to hold them over their hearts and tap them twice. She felt the card adhere to her shirt and then spread around her body like paint. A collar suddenly inflated around her neck. She looked down and was wearing what looked like inflated feety pajamas. Ten Kay instructed them to jump off the ship and the suits would protect them until they were picked up by the radio beacons built into each suit.

As she followed the kitchen staff outside, she heard a gunshot and thought she saw Anita Gromex in a wet suit with a gun on the front deck heading for the ballroom. Shirley went quickly over the railing and into the water. Other than the water that splashed on her face she remained dry. The crew from the Amistad cruised around in a zodiac boat picking up the kitchen staff and crew of the sinking ship. She was being lifted out of the water when there was a flash from the direction of the Zong. She looked back and saw the ship disappear. After about five minutes on deck, the orange suits turned back into little cards stuck to their chests. By morning they had turned to orange dust.

The next twenty-four hours were a haze as the Amistad brought the survivors back to San Francisco. The Coast Guard and government agents kept asking the same questions over and over. The Netrosonics lawyers showed up and freed them on the condition they never talk about to anyone about this.

Netrosonics Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid witnessed the signing of the confidentiality agreement and then handed back the phone she had surrendered before leaving on the Zong. There was a message from Anita Gromex that left her cold. It said:

“Saving you for last.”

What Gromex did not know was that Loman was planning the ultimate disguise.

Awful But Lawful

October 2, 2012

The plane had not crashed yet.

It was clear to Netrosonics Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid that Anita Gromex was behind the fiasco onboard CEO Billy Thoreau’s yacht, the Zong. In a way, it marked the end of an era. The days of eviscerating America were over. It wasn’t the Occupy demonstrators or the political reforms that were forcing companies to behave. It was the fact that they had picked the carcass of the middle class clean. There was not much left to take.

Netrosonics was finished too. Corporate raider Earl Yukon was placing his friends on the board of directors one by one. Eventually Yukon would find out all the terrible things they had done to people. By then, Freid would be out of reach in his Shanghai penthouse living off the remaining insurance policies and misdirected campaign contributions.

Tonight Freid thought he was safe aboard the company jet far over the Pacific Ocean. His phone rang. The screen said the call was from “Withheld.” Freid followed the advice of his security expert never to answer a call that was listed as unknown, private or withheld. He ignored the call. Then he received an embarrassing picture of himself. He got a second call from “Withheld” and picked it up.

FREID: Hello Anita.

GROMEX: Hello Danny boy. Let’s deal.

FREID: You have nothing I want.

GROMEX: Look outside the left side of the plane.

From behind the jet, an arc of light shot forward across the sky. A missile passed close enough to be seen.

FREID: That must have been expensive to arrange.

GROMEX: Drones are cheap. Turn over the remaining assets of the company. Now.

FREID: What I do may be awful but it is lawful. Let me explain…

GROMEX: Nope. You had your chance to do the right thing. You will live your life looking over your shoulder as everyone who gets close to you dies. The only thing I want to hear from you is the sound of your body hitting the floor.

Suddenly the cockpit door opened. The co-pilot stumbled through the door and fell to the floor. His ears, nose and mouth were bleeding. Freid went forward and saw the pilot in his seat, slumped over the controls.

It was at that point that he wished he had flown commercial.

High Tides Forever

November 4, 2012 Point Loess, California

Marsha Colton and Ten Kay sat in their lounge chairs on her yacht’s top deck during lunch.

MARSHA: Who do you think is going to win the election?

TEN KAY: It’s a coin toss. We did everything we could to blunt the spending of billions of dollars by the bad guys, but it still comes down to ordinary people voting. In many timelines this was the last election. After this, the bad guys solidified their control and created so many barriers that most people could not vote.

If that happens here then my particular future will happen. People will become desperately poor and billions of them will die. The bad guys will then turn on each other like we saw on the Zong as it sank. When the ship arrived in my future, not many people were left and they were pretty useless and very dangerous. For everyone to survive there can be no passengers, only crew.

MARSHA: How do we persuade people to vote?

TEN KAY: Well, they don’t have to zigzag across multiple timelines to see what can happen. They can just watch the news and step outside. We just had a really hot summer. The drought led to a massive crop failure. New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. Miami and Venice are flooded at high tide. Japan is hit by tsunami and causes a nuclear disaster. Icebergs the size of Manhattan are breaking off Greenland and the actual island of Manhattan is flooded by Hurricane Sandy. That should finally get the attention of Wall Street. What more do you need to see?

We need to change and the bad guys are fighting every step. They want a government small enough to drown in a bathtub. First, who the hell thinks up a metaphor like that? Second, a government that can drown in bathtub cannot save you from drowning in a hurricane. Things will still be bad, they just won’t be catastrophic. I have to find a way to get useful information to ordinary people so they have a fighting chance.

MARSHA: I know a guy.

TEN KAY: Great! Who is he?

MARSHA: Nowah Gye.

TEN KAY: You just said that. Who is he?

MARSHA: That’s his name. First name Nowah. Last name Gye. He’s the ultimate ghostwriter. He’s written everything for everybody. He’s very discreet. He wrote my husband’s last book. No matter how the election goes, I think Nowah can help.

Back? Auschmann’s Arizona Adventure

Next? One More Soldier

After that? Recommend Pluribus 1

Copyright 2012 DJCline All rights reserved.

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High Tides Forever

High Tides Forever

By DJ Cline

November 4, 2012 Point Loess, California

Marsha Colton and Ten Kay sat in their lounge chairs on her yacht’s top deck during lunch.

MARSHA: Who do you think is going to win the election?

TEN KAY: It’s a coin toss. We did everything we could to blunt the spending of billions of dollars by the bad guys, but it still comes down to ordinary people voting. In many timelines this was the last election. After this, the bad guys solidified their control and created so many barriers that most people could not vote.

If that happens here then my particular future will happen. People will become desperately poor and billions of them will die. The bad guys will then turn on each other like we saw on the Zong as it sank. When the ship arrived in my future, not many people were left and they were pretty useless and very dangerous. For everyone to survive there can be no passengers, only crew.

MARSHA: How do we persuade people to vote?

TEN KAY: Well, they don’t have zigzag across multiple timelines to see what can happen. They can just watch the news and step outside. We just had a really hot summer. The drought led to a massive crop failure. New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. Miami and Venice are flooded at high tide. Japan is hit by tsunami and causes a nuclear disaster. Icebergs the size of Manhattan are breaking off Greenland and the actual island of Manhattan is flooded by Hurricane Sandy. That should finally get the attention of Wall Street. What more do you need to see?

We need to change and the bad guys are fighting every step. They want a government small enough to drown in a bathtub. First, who the hell thinks up a metaphor like that? Second, a government that can drown in bathtub cannot save you from drowning in a hurricane. I have to find a way to get useful information to ordinary people so they have a fighting chance.

MARSHA: I know a guy.

TEN KAY: Great! Who is he?

MARSHA: Nowah Gye.

TEN KAY: You just said that. Who is he?

MARSHA: That’s his name. First name Nowah. Last name Gye. He’s the ultimate ghostwriter. He’s written everything for everybody. He’s very discreet. He wrote my husband’s last book. No matter how the election goes, I think Nowah can help.

Back? Undecided Boater

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Undecided Boater

Undecided Boater

By DJ Cline

October 1, 2012 San Francisco California

When the Zong collided with the Berg, the first thing Shirley Loman had to decide was how to get off this boat.

She was dressed as a waiter delivering drinks to wealthy donors in the ballroom when the collision happened. Netrosonics used its employees this way to avoid leaks. She did not mind the tuxedo; in fact she reminded herself that this was practice for her future reassignment. It would prove to save her life.

After the collision, Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau tried to keep calm by auctioning off spaces in the lifeboats. The seats quickly went for more than a million dollars. Seeing market forces in action, she ducked out of the ballroom to the kitchen.

There she saw Marsha Colton and her date Ten Kay handing out what looked like little orange credit cards to the kitchen staff. She grabbed one as they went around. They were instructed to hold them over their hearts and tap them twice. She felt the card adhere to her shirt and then spread around her body like paint. A collar suddenly inflated around her neck. She looked down and was wearing what looked like inflated feety pajamas. Ten Kay instructed them to jump off the ship and the suits would protect them until they were picked up by the radio beacons built into each suit.

As she followed the kitchen staff outside, she heard a gunshot and thought she saw Anita Gromex in a wet suit with a gun on the front deck heading for the ballroom. Shirley went quickly over the railing and into the water. Other than the water that splashed on her face she remained dry. The crew from the Amistad cruised around in a zodiac boat picking up the kitchen staff and crew of the sinking ship. She was being lifted out of the water when there was a flash from the direction of the Zong. She looked back and saw the ship disappear. After about five minutes on deck, the orange suits turned back into little cards stuck to their chests. By morning they had turned to orange dust.

The next twenty-four hours were a haze as the Amistad brought the survivors back to San Francisco. The Coast Guard and government agents kept asking the same questions over and over. The Netrosonics lawyers showed up and freed them on the condition they never talk about to anyone about this.

Netrosonics Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid witnessed the signing of the confidentiality agreement and then handed back the phone she had surrendered before leaving on the Zong. There was a message from Anita Gromex that left her cold. It said:

“Saving you for last.”

What Gromex did not know was that Loman was planning the ultimate disguise.

Back? Awful But Lawful

Next: High Tides Forever

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

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Awful But Lawful

Awful But Lawful

By DJ Cline

October 2, 2012

The plane had not crashed yet.

It was clear to Netrosonics Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid that Anita Gromex was behind the fiasco onboard CEO Billy Thoreau’s yacht, the Zong. In a way, it marked the end of an era. The days of eviscerating America were over. It wasn’t the Occupy demonstrators or the political reforms that were forcing companies to behave. It was the fact that they had picked the carcass of the middle class clean. There was not much left to take.

Netrosonics was finished too. Corporate raider Earl Yukon was placing his friends on the board of directors one by one. Eventually Yukon would find out all the terrible things they had done to people. By then, Freid would be out of reach in his Shanghai penthouse living off the remaining insurance policies and misdirected campaign contributions.

Tonight Freid thought he was safe aboard the company jet far over the Pacific Ocean. His phone rang. The screen said the call was from “Withheld.” Freid followed the advice of his security expert never to answer a call that was listed as unknown, private or withheld. He ignored the call. Then he received an embarrassing picture of himself. He got a second call from “Withheld” and picked it up.

FREID: Hello Anita.

GROMEX: Hello Danny boy. Let’s deal.

FREID: You have nothing I want.

GROMEX: Look outside the left side of the plane.

From behind the jet, an arc of light shot forward across the sky. A missile passed close enough to be seen.

FREID: That must have been expensive to arrange.

GROMEX: Drones are cheap. Turn over the remaining assets of the company. Now.

FREID: What I do may be awful but it is lawful. Let me explain…

GROMEX: Nope. You had your chance to do the right thing. You will live your life looking over your shoulder as everyone who gets close to you dies. The only thing I want to hear from you is the sound of your body hitting the floor.

Suddenly the cockpit door opened. The co-pilot stumbled through the door and fell to the floor. His ears, nose and mouth were bleeding. Freid went forward and saw the pilot in his seat, slumped over the controls.

It was at that point that he wished he had flown commercial.

Back? Polar Bear With A Gun

Next: Undecided Boater

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

 

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Polar Bear With A Gun

Polar Bear With A Gun

By DJ Cline

Nowah Gye’s Blog

October 1, 2012

The US Coast Guard is still searching for survivors and wreckage from the disappearance of a converted ocean liner called the SS Zong. The yacht belongs to Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau who hosted a political fundraiser this weekend closed to the press.

On the evening of Saturday, September 29th, the Zong left San Francisco’s Pier 101 for a cruise out to international waters, expecting to return late the next day. Before boarding, guests were asked to surrender their phones and cameras. This policy was in force to avoid any embarrassing videos of the event appearing online. Adding to security, most of the fund raising staffers were Netrosonics employees.

At about 9:00PM, a sailing ship called the Berg was sighted less than a mile northwest of the Zong. An anonymous donor from Ohio recently purchased the ship and donated it to a non-profit organization called Save The Icebergs. The ship was covered in organic sailcloth to resemble an iceberg and brilliantly backlit by LEDs. In the rigging, demonstrators were dressed as polar bears carrying large protest signs to be seen by wealthy donors on the Zong. By 9:30PM, sources in the Coast Guard speculate that a gust of wind caused the Berg to ram and tear a large hole near the waterline of the Zong.

Initially, there was no panic. Guests aboard the Zong thought the iceberg was part of the party’s entertainment. This included a closing act by a magician known only as the Great Ten Kay, who promised to make the whole ship disappear. As the ship began to sink, confusion and panic spread. One survivor, who wanted to remain unidentified, said they saw a demonstrator dressed in polar bear costume swing from the Berg to the top deck of the Zong and shoot one of Netrosonics security staff. The demonstrator took off the costume to reveal a wetsuit and then headed toward the ballroom carrying a phone that made a cash register noise.

Inside the ballroom, Billy Thoreau tried to humor the guests by having an online auction for the inadequate number of lifeboats. “Market forces will save us.” Thoreau quipped. Someone then shouted, “Smith and Wesson will.” The room went dark and shots rang out. While security guards had seized all the phones, they had let the guests retain their firearms.

By 10:30 PM the Zong now listed to starboard. The lifeboats were full of wealthy guests covered with gunpowder residue. The Berg remained afloat and rescued many from the other ship. The kitchen staff and Zong’s crew managed to escape using the new Colton Technology NanoJackets ™. Packed to the size of a credit card, a jacket not only inflates but sends out a distress signal. Liberal icon and Colton CEO Marsha Colton happened to be on board and distributed the jackets. Sources said she had planned to give out the prototypes at the event but felt compelled to help those in need. Colton was rescued with the others but unavailable for further comment.

At 11:00 PM survivors in the water saw a flash or ball of light engulf the ship and the Zong disappear. Hundreds of Netrosonics employees are unaccounted for. Witnesses wonder if the Great Ten Kay made the ship disappear after all. His last text said.

“I think it important that people live to see the future they create.”

Coast Guard experts are investigating, but say it may take a hundred years to figure out what happened to the Zong.

The list of survivors and missing are on our web page.

Back? Factory Fleet

Next: Awful But Lawful

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Factory Fleet

Factory Fleet

By DJ Cline

July 2, 2012 Point Loess, California

Marsha Colton and Ten Kay sunned themselves on her yacht’s top deck during lunch. While she was getting a tan, he was recharging.

MARSHA: So how did you get like this?

TEN KAY: Some rich guys did not want to pay taxes. Even when they moved money to accounts in other countries they eventually got caught. They got tired of bribing politicians with campaign contributions. They decided to move all their money into international waters. They took over some drowning Pacific island nation and reflagged all their yachts to it. Then they bought a bunch of used cargo container ships and oil tankers. They turned them into fleets of factory ships. They recruited desperate workers from poor countries and stripped them of their citizenship. They were stateless persons in international waters. They slept in bunks and were worked to death. When they died, the companies collected the insurance. The owners got rich on slave labor.

Meanwhile governments could not get the tax revenue to protect or educate their citizens. They owed all their money to the guys on the yachts. They could not compete against slave labor, so governments collapsed, creating more poor people desperate to work on the boats. The fleets got so big they had their offshore drilling, refining, and fishing operations.

They also had their own navy. They picked me out of one of their rusty buckets as a kid. They trained me to fight but also to salvage wreckage along the rising shorelines of the world. They called us Nano Seals. Basically they loaded the Internet in my head so I could find and recover anything useful like names and addresses. They infected me with nano technology that your company will develop so I could work in all kinds of conditions. That’s why I’m sitting in the sun… to recharge. When I showed up here, I searched the database, identified your ship, that you were the owner, that you were on board and had the authority to act quickly enough to get me in the decompression chamber before I died.

But let’s get back to the horror story. At some point the weather got so bad that even these guys could no longer live in the style to which they were accustomed. There was not enough seafood. The ships broke down or lost in huge storms. The crews and workers finally mutinied. There was anarchy and cannibalism… but hey, at least there were no friggin’ taxes.

MARSHA: Did you mutiny?

TEN KAY: Sort of. I saw it coming and took my team to Sutro Island. It was defensible against the surviving warlords on the mainland and close to the remaining shellfish and seaweed. Then I got your antenna’s signal and I got caught up in this weird zig-zag time thing. Originally, I was hoping the signal was a shipwreck to salvage or at least some food. Only part of me is nano, I still need to eat. Speaking of which, got anymore of that sushi?

MARSHA: Here, have mine. I’m trying to lose weight.

TEN KAY: Not a problem where I come from. So here we are a hundred years ago eating lunch. The world is already well on its way to ending. How do we stop it?

MARSHA: You have a plan?

TEN KAY: I keep modifying it each time I come back. In the short term you can aggressively encourage people to vote. In the midterm I can download all the information I’m carrying around, so start renting some server farms in the cloud. In the long term you can develop it for everyone and not just a few rich guys and super soldiers.

In the real short term we need to stop the offshore yacht guys. They are having a fundraiser in few weeks and they all will be in one place. You will get an invitation. You will accept it for once. I will be your date. Wear something you can swim in.

MARSHA: I don’t like this. Are you going to kill them?

TEN KAY: Oh no. Something much worse. Got any crackers?

Back? Depth And Taxes

Next: Polar Bear With A Gun

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

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Depth And Taxes

Depth And Taxes

By DJ Cline

July 2, 2012 Point Loess, California

Marsha Colton looked through a small porthole at the naked man covered in tattoos sleeping in her yacht’s decompression chamber. The tattoos seemed to move on his skin in a way that reminded her of a screen saver on her phone. Suddenly they stopped moving. He sat up and hit the intercom switch.

TEN KAY: I’m awake.

MARSHA: How are you feeling?

TEN KAY: Better. I get better every time.

MARSHA: Can you tell me what happened?

TEN KAY: I was out in the ocean about ten kilometers offshore. I detected an unusual signal over thirty meters below the surface. I dived down and saw a gold tower. There was some kind of sphere around it. I got sucked in and entangled in the rigging. The next thing I know, I’m on top of the tower, all the water drains away and I’m on the surface. I did not want to get the bends so contacted you.

MARSHA: How did you know to contact me?

TEN KAY: Because I’ve been through this before. A lot. I’ll try to keep this short. You thought you were building a technology that is always looking for open bandwidth. Your software found it… a hundred years from now. You invented a time machine and I’m an early adopter, or a late one, depending on how you look at it.

MARSHA: Why a hundred years from now?

TEN KAY: Because civilization is collapsing and nobody is using much bandwidth anymore. No more blocked calls but nobody to talk to.

MARSHA: What happened? What caused it?

TEN KAY: A case of depth and taxes, but basically greed. There were billions of poor people and a few rich guys. Those guys made sure we  burned every lump of coal, every barrel of oil, every fart of natural gas. It got hotter. Governments did not have the tax revenue to pay an educated workforce to deal with the crisis. A hundred years from now that tower is more than a hundred feet below sea level. That’s why I almost got the bends. Listen, for some reason this time machine thing keeps happening over and over, that’s how I know I’m getting the bends and already know who you are. I also can change things a little bit each time. If you help me I can give you access to technology that will make you rich enough to save the world.

MARSHA: Where is the technology?

TEN KAY: You are looking at it.

His skin turned completely black except for a Colton Technology Corporation logo on his chest.

Back? Bad Day For A Bilionaire

Next: Factory Fleet

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

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Bad Day For A Billionaire

Bad Day For A Billionaire

By DJ Cline

July 1, 2012 Point Loess, California

It was a bad day to be a billionaire.

Marsha Colton was three things, a widow, a billionaire and an engineer. The first was tragedy, the second was luck, and the third was choice. She was also the first really nice person in this story. She sat on her yacht and worried about the future. She had not been on it since her husband died last year. They used to go diving off of it on weekends.

Her father was an electrical engineer. Her mother was a math teacher. They encouraged her interest in science and she became a telecommunications engineer. She and her husband developed traffic management algorithms and became Silicon Valley billionaires. They knew that while they had worked hard, they also knew that they still owed the rest of society for creating the framework for their success.

Not all their neighbors felt that way. When the wealthy people in her city of San Diablo voted down the police tax, she had to hire her own security. When they voted down the fire department tax, she had to build her own fire suppression system. When they voted down the hospital tax, she raised money to treat the sick. She gave generous scholarships so children would have the opportunities she had. She did the math and figured it was cheaper to pay the tax than bear the social cost alone. While the wealthy did not want to attend her charity fundraisers, they were always inviting her to their political fundraisers… to pay fewer taxes, making her philanthropic work harder. She used to leave dealing with such people to her husband, but now it was her responsibility alone.

Engineering problems were easier to solve than human ones. She sat on the bridge of her yacht, the Amistad, and looked a mile away toward a ten-meter tower on the shore of Point Loess on the California coast near San Francisco. Her engineering team was about to test a new technology and had rented this old remote US Navy radio post because of the lack of radio interference.

The problem they were trying to solve was bandwidth shortage. There was only so much electromagnetic spectrum for billions of people using their new phones. Marsha had an idea to create a technology that would anticipate where the next available frequency was going to be so a device could tune into it. It was an expensive test. The prototype antenna tower was gold plated because that gave the best signal. Once they proved the concept they would hopefully find something cheaper.

A technician typed in the start sequence. On shore, the antenna seemed to hum at a high pitch even from this distance. Suddenly a blue green sphere about ten meters across appeared around the center of the antenna top.

“Turn it off!” Marsha said nervously.

The humming stopped and the blue green sphere turned out to be seawater that splashed in a concentric wave around the base of the antenna. One of the video cameras showed a man tangled in the cables at the top of the tower. Technicians on the shore quickly drove a cherry picker truck to the tower and extended it to the top, climbing up to free the man. He was wearing a mask and wet suit and seemed to be flailing in great pain.

Marsha’s phone chirped and she got a text that totally freaked her out.

MARSHA COLTON I AM THE MAN ON THE HIGH TOWER. PLEASE HELP IMMEDIATELY. I NEED TO USE THE DECOMPRESSION CHAMBER ON YOUR SHIP.

How did he know her name? How was he communicating to her? How did he know about the ship’s capabilities? She asked her captain to dispatch the helicopter and told him to prepare the decompression chamber. She looked back at her phone and checked whom the message was from. It said Ten Kay.

Back? Unchained

Next: Depth And Taxes

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Unchained

Unchained By DJ Cline

August 28, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia

Diana Lemon was Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau’s fixer. The moment she heard about the Ohio fire, she pulled a prepared statement for release. It said the employees lost were important to the company and their contributions recognized by their CEO. It did not say the contributions would be in cash to the executives… offshore.

Except the executives did not get the payout. Nobody knew where it went. Security cameras at the Ohio coffee shop showed Anita Gromex taking the phone of her boss and driving off. She didn’t go home. She disappeared. The Black Flag Insurance offshore policy passwords were changed and then moved somewhere else in cyberspace. Whoever held them stood to collect no matter how the victim’s died.

For years the policies had been shared among Netrosonics long-term employees. As a kind of uneasy gentleman’s agreement, no one on the inside went after each other to collect money. Anita Gromex changed all that. Diana knew that Anita was always dangerous, but to co-workers not to management. Now she was unchained as well as un-hinged. They were all targets now. In the past two weeks, Netrosonics employees had been found dead in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. They all looked like accidents or health related incidents. Classic Anita Gromex. The line was moving westward toward Hooverville. Toward them.

Diana wondered how to fix this. You couldn’t call the cops and tell them a corporate supported serial killer had gone rogue and was stealing from you. They couldn’t use lawyers like Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid. This would be a public relations nightmare if it got out.

All this was happening in a close election year. Anita Gromex had stolen a large amount of money that was destined for campaign donations across the country. This was supposed to be the election where they got everything they wanted. All these years of lobbying for privatization of everything and now she could not call the cops when she really needed one. For now she would advise the insiders to beef up their personal security. If Anita could not be stopped, they would have to run for their lives.

Perhaps they could make up the losses by having one last fundraiser on Billy Thoreau’s converted ocean liner, the S.S. Zong. It would be safer, isolated and closed to the press. As for Anita Gromex, Diana would have to call some people she knew to take care of Anita before she took care of them.

If they lost the election, they would have to leave the country. The irony of questioning a president’s citizenship as they prepared to renounce theirs for tax reasons was not entirely lost on her. As she prepared for her own escape, Diana Lemon wished she had sent her useless children to a private school that taught Chinese rather than French.

Back? Shirking From Home

Next: Bad Day For A Billionaire

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Shirking From Home

Shirking From Home

August 13, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia

Shirley Loman fell asleep in her living room listening to one of her own lectures online. She awoke to the smell of her pipe burning a hole in her sofa. She quickly stamped out the flame with a pillow cushion and checked if her recorded presentation was over. Luckily she still had another five minutes to go. She looked out the back window at another gray morning and the inevitable raven perched outside.

Over the past ten years Shirley had many titles but basically the same job at Netrosonics, to do whatever CEO Billy Thoreau wanted her to do. Sometimes it was customer engagement, where she physically helped close a sale. Lately, it was giving PowerPoint presentations on Digital Information Library Data Access, a software application to make sure all company communications complied with corporate standards. She had given the same webinar so many times that no one noticed when she switched to a recording.

Working from home had its advantages. On the Internet, nobody knew she was under the influence most of the time. The stuff she was using from her West African connection was strong. Stronger than the prescribed stuff she took from her mother’s hospice after she put a pillow over the old hag’s face when the health insurance coverage ran out. She sold most of that to her usual customers during one of her rare visits to the office.

But there were disadvantages with working at home. It was difficult to use her powers of persuasion on co-workers over the phone. It was best done in person with direct eye contact. People did not even know they were pushed until it was too late. Management was aware of her abilities and kept her on the payroll but away from them. They preferred to communicate by text message. They certainly did not want her working for the competition as a sales tool or mule. Occasionally she would be trundled out as a trophy token at a trade show and then put back in her McMansion for cold storage.

Shirley grabbed and put on a clean polo shirt with company logo on it for the computer camera. Pants were optional. Appearance was everything. She could never let on that she thought other people were dupes or marks to be exploited. It was important to appear normal by liking the best selling novels, top ten music, or highest rated television shows, follow popular celebrities online. Create a warm and fuzzy mainstream façade, an act, a big con.

Camoulflage was what her wingnut father had taught her, but did not practice. This particular nut did not fall far from the twisted tree. She never discussed her father and always got nervous when he suddenly would start ranting online about creeping socialism. Sometimes people would ask her if she was any relation and she would deny it, and then send him money to keep quiet.

In fact, Shirley was a mass of extreme contradictions and hypocrisy. A fanatic of Ayn Rand and Sarah Palin, she opposed a woman’s right to choose, even though she had chosen many times. She wanted tough drug laws even when she smuggled drugs on business trips. She thought that marriage was between a man and a woman, except for Log Cabiners like her. She dittoed Rush Limbaugh even though he would definitely not ditto back. She not only bought Ted Nugent’s music, she bought his cookbook. The cognitive dissonance between her personal and public personae was not a conflict but a career. She prided herself in being able to talk her way out of anything, like the drunk driving tickets with her daughter strapped into the backseat. It was all in the spin to her.

As the online lecture ended, she stood in front of her camera. The window on her computer screen that was supposed to show the Ohio office’s conference room was black. She checked the audio but the line appeared to be dead. For a moment she thought her little fraud had been discovered, but her phone had a message about a fire at the Ohio office.

She wondered if her former lover Anita Gromex was involved or maybe even started it.

Ten tears ago they were a team. If an employee needed to be driven to suicide, you could bet that Anita was behind the wheel and Shirley would be in the backseat giving directions. While Shirley was good at manipulating people, Anita was the grand master at making things look like an accident.

Like most people, even Anita had made the mistake of trusting Shirley. A deal went south and Anita was exiled to Ohio while she got promoted to Hooverville. Shirley suspected that Anita knew she had gotten the raw end of the deal and things had been uneasy ever since.

Shirley turned on Fox News to watch a huge fireball in Ohio. A big payout like this would help Shirley’s daughter through college without resorting to her mother’s methods. Shirley would have good news when her daughter returned from her grandfather’s Idaho summer camp to cure troubled teens.

But there was no ka-ching sound on her phone. Just a message from Diana Lemon, the company fixer, saying Code Orange.

Back? Flames Of Fortune

Next: Unchained

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

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Flames Of Fortune

Flames Of Fortune By DJ Cline

August 13, 2012 Calvary Ohio

Anita Gromex was surprised how fast the flames spread. She knew not to go back inside her building. She ran to her vehicle and nervously jammed her key in the ignition and careened out the parking lot and across the highway toward the coffee shop. That was supposed to be the official gathering spot in an emergency. The heat was so intense she could feel it through the windshield when she turned the vehicle around.

A fireball erupted from the cornfield behind the building, setting it on fire and engulfing it in smoke.

Out of a side door, she saw her boss/client Jimmy Jenkins stumble out and wander across honking traffic. She got out and met him as he astoundingly crossed the street but tripped on the curb and fell to the sidewalk.

“Jimmy, are you all right?” She asked.

Jimmy was disoriented. “I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I can hardly see or breathe. I have to report this to headquarters. Can you help me? It’s pretty confidential so don’t tell anybody.”

Jimmy pulled out his phone and handed it to her. She followed his instructions and sent a message to headquarters. He then directed her to an app called Black Flag Insurance and gave her the password. Jimmy then passed out. She started looking through the app and saw the names of her fellow employees with large dollar amounts next to their names. The money was supposed to be directed to various executives’ accounts, including Jimmy’s.

Despite all that was going on around her, she was furious. All these years she had been collecting a mere fraction of what the company had been making off of her. She looked down at her unconscious boss and wanted to kill him. Instead, she looked up how to change the password in the app. She decided she would quickly gain control of these policies and deposit the money in her own offshore accounts. No more sweating in a cornfield. No more house payments. The worst thing that happened to other people would now be the best thing that ever happened to her.

She got back in her vehicle and drove away from the chaos and went on to create her own. She had clawed her way to the middle, now she would kill her way to the top.

Back? Company Policy

Next: Shirking From Home

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Company Policy

Company Policy By DJ Cline

August 13, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia

Billy was not a kid anymore.

Billy Thoreau, the CEO of Netrosonics was looking out the window of his corner office on the top floor of corporate headquarters. He had been listening to a teleconference of a meeting in their Ohio office when the line went dead.

His phone chirped with a news story. A cable news channel reported an explosion in Calvary Ohio. A helicopter provided pictures of a huge fireball over a suburban office park. Apparently a grass fire ignited a gas leak from a nearby fracking operation that spread along a poorly maintained gas pipeline. Due to budget cuts, local fire departments were having trouble containing the blaze.

Billy’s phone made a noise like an old cash register. Ka-ching. It meant the head of Netrosonics Calvary office was still alive and ready to report on dead or injured employees. The Black Flag insurance company would reimburse Netrosonics for the loss of property, but the local manager was going to report on the lesser-known but more lucrative dead peasant insurance. Critics said dead peasant insurance was murder. To Billy it was just company policy.

Black Flag Insurance had moved these policies offshore. They set up a shell corporation on an island off the coast of China to collect on the deaths of workers anywhere. Now all of it could be managed with a few taps on a phone. The money piled up in secret accounts in tax shelters all around the world.

By the size of the disaster in Ohio, he expected lots of dead employees, but something was wrong. His phone was not making any more noise. What he heard was the call of a raven. He turned toward the balcony.

The raven was back.

It was the reason why he did not go out on the balcony anymore. The bird sat on the railing watching him as he moved. He sent a message to building security that said “Angry Birds.” They would come up in a minute to shoo it off. They had tried everything from poison to bullets but they just kept coming. Years ago Netrosonics had bought this land at an incredibly low price. They soon found out why.

A Native American group called the Ravens said the company was on tribal land. His lawyers said the tribe had never been recognized because they never signed a treaty. It was the Raven way. They never surrendered. They were still fighting in a way that was hard to describe. Billy couldn’t actually go to court and say his company was cursed. When the dead peasant insurance money started coming in he thought it was a good thing, but spooky things were happening more often. It was wearying with the Ravens constantly counting coup.

Thoreau was beginning to think there was something to the curse.

He kept checking his phone. What was going on in Ohio?

Back? The Cornfield

Next: Flames Of Fortune

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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The Cornfield

The Cornfield By DJ Cline

August 13, 2012 Calvary Ohio

Anita Gromex had found the station wagon and the pet carrier, but her client wanted to bring a new friend. He looked like a grown up Eddie Munster and had a creepiness about him that made even her uncomfortable. She agreed but charged twice as much as usual. That air conditioner was not going to fix itself.

She was taking her third cigarette break of the morning outside the building in the suburban office park where she worked. Calvary was a small town that was gobbled up by the urban sprawl of Caligula. So far it had not banned smoking in the workplace, but Anita knew it was only a matter of time. She smoked outside, not out of consideration for her coworkers, but as a chance to get away from them.

As corporate compliance officer, they hated her and the feeling was mutual. The sad characteristics of her night job carried over into her day job. Anybody that was not in compliance with the company standards was let go. Her bosses liked it because it kept turnover high and wages low. Part of the whole scam of janitor or dead peasant insurance was to get lots of life insurance policies on lots of people. No matter how a former employee died, the executives collected the cash and cut her in on the action.

The other employees did not know this, they just thought she was, well, not a very nice person. One young woman figured out the scam. She told Anita that she couldn’t wish her into a cornfield like in an old television show. She tried to sue the company and lost.

Anita heard she had committed suicide, but did not get her usual cut. She thought the executives were mad about the publicity of the trial. They kept her on as an employee to buy her silence, but maybe they were starting to think she was a liability. Maybe the day would come when they would collect on her policy.

She wondered about how she wound up here. It was a series of decisions about her life and the lives of others. When she made the conscious decision to sell out, did she know it would be for so little? It was so hot and humid here. For a second, she wondered if she was cursed. By having the power to wish people into a cornfield, maybe she should have picked a nicer one, because that is where she wound up.

She stared out across the parking lot to a cornfield that had not been developed yet. Out in the summer heat she thought she saw something new. She walked to the edge of the parking lot and saw an old-fashioned scarecrow in the withered field. A red scarf was draped around its neck; similar to the one the dead woman had worn everyday. A raven sat on its right shoulder. She saw something shiny on its right leg as it called out and took flight toward her.

She turned and ducked. Her cigarette fell onto the bone-dry crops and started a fire that she could not put out.

Back? Fifty Shades of Orange

Next: Company Policy

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Fifty Shades Of Orange

Fifty Shades Of Orange By DJ Cline

August 10, 2012 Caligula, Ohio

Anita Gromex needed a break from the orange man. She left her sleeping client in the basement and went upstairs and out to sit on the back steps of her house for a smoke.

It was after eight on a hot, humid summer evening. The sun had set but the air conditioner near the back door was still working overtime. The machine was old when she bought the house and at this rate it would have to be replaced.

What she wanted to do was replace the entire house. It was over seventy years old and was a nightmare of lead paint, asbestos insulation, banned pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Of course, the cigarette she held in her hand would probably kill her before the house did.

In a way she had bought the house so she could still smoke. One of the official reasons she left California is that the city of Casa Diablos where she lived, had banned smoking at her job and even in her condo. It was during the housing boom and she could not afford anything else, so she moved to Ohio. She paid one hundred and fifty thousand for it at the peak. The market crashed and now it was only worth half that. She was stuck, chained to the house in a way that even she found ironic.

When she first moved in she thought about remodeling the basement to resemble her old condo’s dungeon. A general contractor took one look and said it was not worth it. The basement remained a collision of asphalt tile from the fifties, wood paneling from the seventies and mold from the nineties. For some reason her clients did not mind the seediness. In fact, they seemed to like it and they paid the bills.

Her clients had actually helped her keep her day job. It was your typical boring office job but she terrorized her coworkers to the point that one of them sued. Not one to change, she did what she had done many times before. She compromised and blackmailed all the lawyers and judges and the case was ruled in her favor. To avoid appeals she worked her way up the dark private corridors of power.

This led inevitably to the orange man in her basement. She had never seen a man drink or cry so much. To seal the deal the orange man said there would be one more client.

She finished her cigarette and picked up her phone to upload the pictures and do a web search. Finding an old station wagon should not be a problem, but where was she going to get a pet carrier big enough to hold a grown man?

Next?

The Cornfield

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Auschmann’s Arizona Adventure

Auschmann’s Arizona Adventure

By DJ Cline

Note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people, places or events is entirely coincidental. So get over yourself.

Nowah’s Aardvark

June 1, 2010 San Francisco

Reporter Nowah Guy was having lunch with the security detail for the Fredonian Ambassador at the Norton Hotel when Sharon Stope, the web manager of Happy Octopus called.

SHARON: Somebody doesn’t like you.

GUY: Excuse me?

SHARON: There’s a guy that’s been stalking you.

GUY: So? Turn it over to my people.

SHARON: He’s sent an e-mail detailing all the things he doesn’t like about your site. He rants for a couple of pages. Big text, little text, bold text, italic text, all caps. He needs not only a good psychiatrist but also a good web designer. It’ s a new loony record and I thought you should know about it. He thinks your site is too personal. Text from DJCline.com

GUY: Duh! It has my name on it.

SHARON: I didn’t say he was very bright. He also says that you are communicating secret messages to him. Oh, and he wants you to make him invisible.

GUY: Invisible?

SHARON: Yeah. Like I said, super crazy. The message is a little confused, but then so is he.

GUY: He could have contacted me directly. Never miss an opportunity to make a friend. Must be a coward too. Has there been a cyber attack?

SHARON: The usual. I think He’s just a nut but I wanted to give you a heads up.  His name is Walnut Sphinchter.

GUY: You’ re kidding right?

SHARON: Nope, That’s his name.

GUY: Thanks Sharon.

Nowah could not stop laughing at the name. Jack Jones, a former Navy SEAL and head of the security detail, wanted to know what was so funny. Nowah gave him the name.

JACK: Oh yeah, That’s quite a name. We’ve crossed paths before. Let me look on my cell phone. Hmm, his website has his face in shadow. With all this social networking he should stay home if he wants to be invisible. He was at the Ruritanian event last month hanging out with some money launderers. He looks like a middle-aged guy, well groomed, goes to the gym, confirmed bachelor type. Bob over their saw him back then and thought he was cute, but he said the fellow went home with two other guys.

BOB: Yeah. He went home with two Ruritanian bankers I had to tail. He lives in a creepy restored Victorian. Here’s a picture of it. Notice anything unusual?

GUY: Is that an actual hearse next to the house? Who does he think he is, Eddie Munster?

JACK: Hey Bob, you better look into this some more. Anybody showing up at a diplomatic event is in our jurisdiction.

GUY: You do what you have to; I’ll do what I want. For something like this I call Aaron Auschmann in Los Angeles.

JACK: Auschmann. Isn’t he dead?

GUY: No, we met last year at some lifetime achievement award. He’s close to a hundred years old now. Born in Germany, escaped before WWII, fought in the Resistance, got caught, escaped again. Went to Hollywood. Got blacklisted. Won awards and tried to retire. Recently Aaron’s wife died and he lost a lot of his money in the crash, so I’m trying to help out.

JACK: Is he, you know, lucid?

GUY: Oh yeah. Still alive, still funny and still working. Writers come to him with comedy problems. This crackpot is right up his alley. After what Auschmann has been though, he’s big on free speech and loves going after bullies.

Nowah dialed Aaron on his phone.

GUY: Aaron? This is Nowah Guy. Can you hear me?

AARON: I’m deaf but I’m not dead. Let me turn this thing up. How can I help you today?

GUY: Well, I’ve got a guy named Walnut Sphinchter and I want a fictional name for him.

AARON: Walnut Sphinchter? My god! How can I top that? Let me think. I used to know a camp commandant named Sphinchter; he was a baron and real bastard. How about Baron Von Aardvark?

GUY: That’s great. I’ll use it. I’ll send you the first draft and you can punch it up for the usual fee. This going to be so much fun!Text from DJCline.com

The Phoenix Papers

June 6, 2010 Phoenix Arizona

Aaron Auschmann lived so far in the future it frightened him.

He was chained to a metal table in a gray windowless interrogation room under the gaze of a camera with an unblinking red light. He was still in street clothes so there was a chance he could talk his way out of this. He knew that until they issue a uniform there is still a chance. Text from DJ Cline.com

It wasn’t his first time in custody. He counted dozens of times and countries where he had been “detained” for questioning. They always said they wanted the truth but that wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted a story they could believe in or at least have others believe. Something that would fit in a report.

Aaron’s life would never fit in a report. A life that takes a hundred years to live takes awhile to explain. He had outlived generations of friends and enemies. His life was outside most people’s frame of reference. So much had changed that it would be hard to explain to someone younger than his wristwatch. He then remembered that nobody wore watches anymore. They carried those damned phones.

They wanted papers. They didn’t know he wanted papers too. It was why he was in Arizona in the first place.

The door buzzed. Showtime. Text from DJCline.com

The Girl From Metropolis

June 1, 2010 West Hollywood California

Never take a date to the end of the world.

Aaron Auschmann was watching a restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis on his new television. While most people watched this 1927 science fiction classic for the special effects or the social relevance, Aaron was looking for someone he knew.

During a crowd scene in the futuristic city he looked for a girl he once dated named Elsa Wagner. A struggling actress, he suspected she dated him just so she could be introduced to someone in the movie business. When a friend hired him as an extra for the big climactic crowd scene, Aaron invited Elsa to come along. She was hired as an extra on the spot.

Years later he thought he saw her face on the screen. He paused the movie. The television was three meters across and had touch screen capability like monitors on a cable news channel. He walked across the living room to the screen and the spot where he thought Elsa was in the crowd. He placed his hands close together on the screen and then spread them apart. The image zoomed in. With his failing eyesight he loved being able to do this.

She was just a face in the crowd but it was the last time they were together. Elsa met another man that day on the set and he never saw her again. He learned a valuable lesson as a young man. Never take a date to the end of the world. He had always wondered what happened to her. It was likely her world had ended a long time ago.

The speaker from the front gate buzzed. The television image switched to a security camera image of a young woman. She was carrying a satchel with a white sign on it that he could not read.

“Mr. Auschmann? I’m Wendy Walmer from the U.S. Census Bureau. We have some questions. Can you come down and talk for few moments?”Text from DJCline.com

Taking Leave Of Your Census

June 1, 2010 West Hollywood California

Wendy Walmer from the U.S. Census Bureau was sweating in her polyester suit by the time she walked up Aaron Auschmann’s driveway. Aaron sat on the porch swing waiting for her to arrive.

WENDY: (catching her breath) May I sit down?

AARON: Of course! It’s nice to have visitors these days. What brings you here today? I thought I filled out the form correctly.

WENDY: You did and that’s what brought me here. The form said you were born in 1910. Is that true?

AARON: Yes, it’s true.

WENDY: Mr. Auschmann, there are over a hundred thousand Americans over hundred years old. If we can verify your age, you will get a certificate signed by the president. Do you have a birth certificate?

AARON: (looking back at the house) Well, I’ll take a look. It would be great to have something from him. Does it have to be a birth certificate?

WENDY: That would be a great start. We would need to verify it with independent sources. I’d like to ask you a few questions and then sign this form. When and where were you born?

AARON: Technically the Holy Roman Empire on January 1, 1910.

WENDY: The what?

AARON: Officially it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They thought the new name would be good for business.

WENDY: What was the name of the town? Was it in Austria?

AARON: It was a village; the name kept changing every time it changed hands. When I was born it was called Burgenstadt in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it’s been part of Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, you name it. They stopped putting up new signs at the city limits because we needed the firewood.

WENDY: Were you born in a hospital?

AARON: I think so. It was part of the orphanage. My mother died giving birth to me.

WENDY: I’m sorry.

AARON: It’s okay. Death was more fashionable back then. Everybody was doing it.

WENDY: Well, I think I’ve got everything I need for now. Please sign this and I’ll give you a copy with our contact information. Let us know when you find your documentation. We will be in touch.

Wendy gathered up her things and huffed on down the driveway. Aaron looked over his shoulder at the house. It had been ages since anyone had asked for his birth certificate. He hoped he hadn’t outlasted it.Text from DJCline.com

The Money Pit

June 2, 2010

Aaron Auschmann searched his house for his birth certificate. He went through his file cabinets from his days as a comedy writer in Hollywood. He found stuff that was still funny after fifty years but nothing that proved he was a hundred years old. He went to the garage and fired up his 1972 red Cadillac convertible and drove downtown to his bank to visit his safety deposit box. Maybe it was in there.

It wasn’t there. There was a large hole in the ground where the WestCoast Bank had been. The building had been torn down. One of the construction workers pointed him down the street to the Tarpit Bank.

Maria Maldonada was the bank manager that day. She saw a very short old man in a very big car try to maneuver into a handicapped parking spot, slam the car door and waddle inside. The car continued to knock and diesel when it finally backfired and came to rest.

AARON: My name is Aaron Auschmann. My bank is a hole in the ground.

MARIA: I think you will agree our bank is better.

AARON: “Our bank is better than a hole in the ground.” Is that a slogan? That’s nothing to brag about. Where is my safety deposit box? What the hell is going on? What happened to WestCoast Bank?

MARIA: It was bought by OffShore Bank, which was bought by Tarpit Bank a subsidiary of Netrosonics.

AARON: So where is my damn box?

MARIA: Let’s find out. May I have some identification?

AARON: Here’s my drivers license and my key number.

MARIA: One moment while check the computer. By the way, your driver’s license is expired. It also looks like you were born back in January of this year.

AARON: I’ve been busy being a hundred. I had a choice, either my drivers license expired or I did. Believe me, I wasn’t born yesterday. Frankly, I need to find my birth certificate and I think it was in my safety deposit box. I’ve got to find it.

MARIA: The computer says you had a perpetually funded box that has been put in our long-term storage facility in Phoenix.

AARON: Arizona! Can they send it back here?

MARIA: No sir. You must go there in person.

AARON: Call them and tell them I’m on my way.

And so Aaron Auschmann drove to Arizona without papers. Text from DJCline.com

Catch 22 (Kafka Remix)

June 3, 2010

The Tarpit Bank’s long-term storage facility was just another office park outside of Phoenix. Aaron could not believe he had to drive two days from Los Angeles for this. He expected Fort Knox and got what looked like an insurance office. Martina Martinez met him in the lobby.

MARTINA: Welcome Mr. Auschmann. How was your trip?

AARON: I won’t complain. Two days in the desert beats forty years. Where’s my box?

MARTINA: I’ll be happy to show you, but first I need three forms of identification.

AARON: Three? Here’s my driver’s license and key.

MARTINA: The key doesn’t count. This driver’s license is expired. Do you have a birth certificate or passport? We need a picture ID.

AARON: Yes but they are in the box.

MARTINA: Perhaps you have something else at home? You can certainly come back.

Aaron decided on his long experience with bureaucracy not to argue. He thanked her and then went back to his car. He did not want to drive all the way back to LA. He decided to call on an old friend who had helped him get papers before… in 1933. Text from DJCline.com

Red Wolf

March 1, 1933

Aaron Auschmann ran through the streets and alleys of Berlin evading the police. He was a wanted man with a price on his head. The Nazis had seized everything in his apartment, including his identity papers. He had to get out of the country fast. There was one man who could help him. They called him the Red Wolf.

Rudolph Wulf was a counterfeiter. His greatest claim to fame was during the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic as a child. He managed to forge the billion and trillion deutschmark notes before they were put in wide circulation. Realizing this was not sustainable, he switched to counterfeiting francs, pounds and dollars as foreign governments had more financial credibility.

Doing business with Wulf was a challenge. How do you pay a counterfeiter? With favors. Rudi said, “I can always make more money. Making friends is better. They appreciate better over time.”

Aaron ran along the back of an abandoned warehouse and knocked on a heavy steel door. A slot in the door opened.

DOOR: What do you want?”

AARON: (catching his breath) The wolf…is at…the door.

DOOR: He always is.

The door opened and Aaron was safe for a while. Text from DJCline.com

Ultimate Copies

June 4, 2010

Aaron Auschmann went to the last known address for Rudi Wulf, a small printer shop called Ultimate Copies in a run down Phoenix strip mall. Bobby Raven was the guy behind the counter, a tall man with long black hair in a ponytail with bits of gray strands running through it.

AARON: I’m looking for Rudi Wulf. I’m an old friend.

BOBBY: He’s not here. Do you want to leave a message?

AARON: Yes, the wolf is at the door.

BOBBY: Please have a seat over here.

At that moment a women wearing a prairie dress, a three cornered hat and nine millimeter strapped to her right side came in waving a bright neon yellow flyer. It was Penny Pinchluff.

PENNY: Do you make copies?

Bobby Raven looked around at all the copier equipment.

BOBBY: Yes. Can we help you?

PENNY: I need 5000 copies of this flyer for the big Guns Gold and God rally down the street tonight.

BOBBY: Tonight?

PENNY: Yes, we have to hurry, they are trying to build a mosque where that old abandoned church used to be. We can’t let foreigners move in and take over. It’s  terrible when people with different religions, laws, weapons, and disease try to force us from our homes and traditional way of life.

BOBBY: (He turned back to a man working at the color copier) Mohammed? Can you handle this? I have to take Mr. Auschmann to Mr. Wulf.

AARON: Bobby, can I stay and enjoy watching this awkward conversation? I cherish these moments.

BOBBY: You can, but if you want to talk to Mr. Wulf, we should hurry.

Three Escapes From One Dungeon

June 4, 2010

Aaron Auschmann led Bobby Raven to his Cadillac convertible in the parking lot at Ultimate Copies. They drove slowly down the highway.

BOBBY: So how long have you known Rudi Wulf?

AARON: We grew up in the same dungeon.

BOBBY: Dungeon? How old are you?

AARON: It was left over from the old days. Most of time we were in the orphanage, it just happened to be in a castle. Every castle has a dungeon. If you misbehaved the monks put you in there. They didn’t put you in irons. They just slammed the door and walked away.

BOBBY: It sounds terrible.

AARON: We didn’t know any better, I know the monks didn’t. Nowadays you’d call it child labor. They trained us on how to create illuminated manuscripts and copies of paintings.

BOBBY: That doesn’t sound like a useful skill.

AARON: It made money. The monks would sell the documents as originals to rich people. Rudi was very good. He could forge anything. Me? I made a joke and they put me alone in the dungeon.

BOBBY: What was the joke?

AARON: When I was ten, I was working on a pastoral painting and I put a shepherd a little too close to a sheep. The shepherd looked like one of our monks. All the other kids thought it was hilarious. I think it was my first big break in comedy. Of course they put me in the dungeon for a week.

One night there was a terrible storm. I was listening to the roar of the water as it ran under the drain in the floor. I was kind of worried that water might flood the room so I looked down at the drain. At that moment, lightning flashed and I saw something in the stones I had never seen before. Someone had carved little arrows in a circular direction around the grate.

There was a legend that the men who built the castle did not trust the king, so they built their own secret escape routes. When the castle was finished and the builders wanted to be paid, the king threw them in the dungeon. The men disappeared and then the king died soon after. The surviving family thought the castle was too spooky and so they gave it to the monks.

I tugged at the grate in that clockwise direction and it turned. I opened the grate like a rusty pickle jar lid. The lightning flashed again. As I looked down the drain I could see bits of lightning flash on the water. It must have flowed down to the river not more than a few meters away. I could escape like the Count of Monte Christo. I climbed down the hole, braced my feet on some well-placed stones, pulled the grate over my head, and screwed it back into place. I dropped into the water and wound up in the river where I almost drowned.

BOBBY: That’s quite a story.

AARON: It gets better. Before I left, I used my penknife to scratch “I’ll be back.” in the wall next to the window. It was just a message to throw them off, my flair for comedy. Rudi was left behind and said it spooked the hell out of everybody. I had no idea how true that statement would be.

BOBBY: There’s more?

AARON: Oh yeah, there’s always more. I had to escape from there two more times, this time with Rudi. Text from DJCline.com

Drag’em To The Dungeon

June 4, 2010

Aaron Auschmann and Bobby Raven traveled slowly down the highway in Aaron’s Cadillac convertible.

BOBBY: You escaped from the dungeon and got caught down the river?

AARON: Nope. I escaped the orphanage and had many adventures, including going to Hollywood. The war started and I wound up in the OSS because I spoke several languages and traveled extensively in Europe. I was working with various resistance groups in the area I grew up in. Rudi  never left Europe, he did a booming business in forged documents. The Nazis finally caught him and guess where they held him?

BOBBY: The same damn castle?

AARON: You guessed it. An SS officer named Baron Von Aardvark discovered the sweet setup the monks had and turned it into an art factory. He put Rudi in charge of creating fakes that were pawned off to wealthy bad guys. He took the originals and hid them some place. Rudi could not help putting a joke in one of the paintings and got thrown in the dungeon. This was toward the end of the war and sometimes prisoners were killed by the Germans before they could be liberated. I got word where he was, got myself captured and put in the same dungeon. We escaped through the drain and decided to make our way toward the advancing Russian front that was only a few kilometers away.

The Russian officer didn’t know what to do with us. So when his regiment retook the town a few days later, he thought the safest place to put us was… the dungeon. Late that night we escaped again, this time we headed toward the American front.

BOBBY: I don’t believe a word of this.

AARON: It happened. Rudi will back me up. Exactly where is Rudi?

BOBBY: Take the next exit. Text from DJCline.com

The Red Wolf Casino And Hospice

June 4, 2010

Aaron Auschmann and Bobby Raven turned off the highway in their Cadillac convertible, passing a sign that said “Welcome to the Red Wolf Casino And Hospice”

AARON: So Rudi is running a casino?

BOBBY: No, but he was a major investor. The Raven tribe runs it and the hospice. We had a growing problem and Rudi had an idea. People from places like Connecticut kept retiring to Arizona and when they died their families either buried them or scattered their ashes on what we considered our sacred land. Imagine if my grandmother died and I went to some church in Iowa and dumped her body on some altar. Not very respectful. More radical members of our tribe wanted to desecrate, spiritually cleanse or even curse such burial sites. Rudi had a solution where people who were going to scatter the ashes would do it with our blessing.

AARON: That’s quite a combo. Gamble to till you die. I take it Rudi is in the hospice.

BOBBY: He’s very frail but his mind is still sharp.

Bobby took Aaron straight to Rudi’s room. He was lying in hospital bed with a small oxygen mask over his nose.

RUDI: My god, Aaron, how are you?

AARON: I’ve been better. How about you?

RUDI: I can’t complain. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t in trouble. What’s up?

AARON: I’ll make it short. I turned a hundred. I want a certificate from the President. I need some of your ‘identity papers’ so I can get my real papers out of a safety deposit box here in Phoenix.

RUDI: (laughing) This is funny on so many levels! Bobby, let’s get back to the copy shop and get this man some ID. Everything. Driver’s license, birth certificate, you name it.

AARON: Rudi, shouldn’t you stay in bed?

RUDI: I have more fun out of bed these days. I love a good caper. Let’s go!

When A Good Plan Backfires

June 5, 2010

It was a good plan. Rudi Wulf and Bobby Raven pulled together the needed identification for Aaron Auschmann, including an updated California driver’s license. Bobby would drive Aaron’s 1972 red Cadillac convertible to the Tarpit Bank’s long-term storage facility in an office park outside of Phoenix. Rudi would ride along and wait in the car.

Martina Martinez met him in the lobby again. She approved his IDs and gave him access to his safety deposit box. Although it was in a completely new vault, it was the same old metal box. Everything was still there, including the his birth certificate. He packed all of it into a rolling briefcase and headed for the door.

As Aaron came of the building he saw Bobby trying to start the car. It had trouble turning over and belched blue smoke. Aaron put the suitcase in the front passenger seat and the got in the back with Rudi. They were laughing at the whole affair as they drove out of the parking lot when they heard sirens. Netrosonics Security Officer Gordo Loco pulled them over.

LOCO: Your vehicle does not seem safe.

AARON: It is my vehicle officer. We are on our way to have it fixed.

LOCO: (he turned back to Bobby) May I see a valid drivers license?

BOBBY: Excuse me, but you are not a policeman.

LOCO: But you are on private property. I can notify the police if you like. I need to see all your identification. According to Arizona law, I need to see your papers.

Rudi put his left hand up to his ear.

RUDI: What did you say?

LOCO: (in a loud voice) I NEED TO SEE YOUR PAPERS, OLD MAN!

The stress and memory of someone demanding to see his papers was too great. Rudi grimaced in pain he reached into his suit jacket to grab his chest. At that moment, the Cadillac, which had been dieseling and knocking, suddenly backfired loudly. Gordon Loco reflexively pulled out his gun… Text from DJCline.com

Squeezing The Lemon

June 6, 2010

Diana Lemon was a horrible person who did horrible things to people and was now worried that someone was about to do something horrible to her. She looked down at the video in her cell phone and saw something that frightened her, and that was hard to do.

Lemon was in a Phoenix hotel when she got the message from her Netrosonic’s long-term storage facility security staff. She was delivering cash to the God Guns And Gold Party, GGAG for short. Among her constantly shifting titles and responsibilities, she was a bagman for Netrosonics, delivering laundered money to intermediaries who used it to fund Astroturf grassroots organizations that furthered the interests of her employer. A recent Supreme Court decision allowed corporations to do whatever they want in complete secrecy, including campaign contributions. Lemon thought this was a moment of final victory for her line of work. Nothing could stop them now… until something like this happened.

They say you never hear the bullet that kills you. Lemon knew they were wrong. Her unhallowed career of creating a private world of private jets, private schools, private security guards, private hospitals where no one else had privacy was about to come undone. She looked at the video and knew this was a public relations nightmare from which there was no recovery. After years of sacrificing other people for the sake of expediency, it would be her turn.

The video ended with a little old man chained to a table in an interrogation room in one of their company’s private prisons. She knew that her encounter with this man would not end well for her.

Lemon would have no leverage with Aaron Auschmann. She had nothing he wanted. He would win because he had nothing to lose. Text from DJCline.com

The Hole In The Plot

June 6, 2010

LEMON: “You shot his birth certificate?”

Diana Lemon was with security officer Gordo Loco and lab technician Jason Chung in the CSI lab of Netrosonics long term storage facility outside of Phoenix. Chung held up Aaron Auschmann’s birth certificate, sealed in a plastic evidence bag but clearly showing a nine-millimeter hole in the center of it.

CHUNG: It’s a clean shot. Excellent marksmanship, if that’s what you were aiming for. Did the document make any sudden moves?

LOCO: Shut up!

CHUNG: You should shut up Loco. You could wind up in one of our own prisons, on the wrong side.

LEMON: Enough! We are lucky that Mr. Wulf is in our ICU down the hall and not our morgue. You damn near gave us all a heart attack. What can you tell me about this document?

CHUNG: It’s made of vellum. A real sheepskin at least a hundred years old. The calligraphy and language are consistent with illuminated documents in central or eastern Europe. Beautiful work. The end of an era actually. Most birth certificates from that period were beginning to be printed by governments and not by local churches. From what I can tell it’s authentic. It would be hard to repair.

LEMON: What about the other documents from the safety deposit box?

CHUNG: Let’s see. German passport from the 1930s is good but fake, it is consistent with what people used to get out of the country. I’m not sure about the Screen Writer’s Guild card because I’ve never seen one, but it is from about the same period. The US passport from 1940 is real.  So are the US Army WWII discharge papers. It looks like he was in the OSS. There is a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee that is very real. So is this appeal to the State Department fighting deportation and the subsequent rejection by the Soviet Union. Why would you want a kick out a decorated war veteran? The Oscar and Emmy certificates are real but in poor shape. They are faded probably from hanging on a wall. This last document is a denied travel visa for wanting to visit a jailed dissident writer in China. I don’t know if this guy has a problem with authority, but it looks like authority usually has a problem with him.

Now the identification he was carrying were good fake IDs. The kind that most immigrants buy on the black market. I’m not sure you can charge someone with identity theft for trying to get their own documents. Do you want me to store all this?

LEMON: No. Put it all back the way it was except the birth certificate. Leave it in the plastic.

Loco’s police radio squawked.

LOCO: We got company.

LEMON: Who?

LOCO: Helicopter overhead. Government. There is also a limo and ambulance at the gate from some casino. They are both asking for a Mr. Bobby Raven, Rudi Wulf and Aaron Auschmann.

LEMON: Great. Cowboys AND Indians. Text from DJCline.com

Born Identity Confirmed

June 6, 2010 Phoenix Arizona

Aaron Auschmann was chained to a metal table in an gray windowless interrogation room under the gaze of a camera with an unblinking red light. The door buzzed and security guard Gordo Loco entered with Aaron’s bag from his safety deposit box. Netrosonics fixer Diana Lemon followed him carrying a somewhat larger briefcase and sat down across the table from Aaron.

AARON: I want my lawyer I demand to be released immediately.

LEMON: We need you to sign some routine paperwork before we begin.

AARON: I’m not looking at it. I’m not signing it. I’m going to sue you. Release me and my friends.

At that point the door buzzed and a man in black suit and tie carrying a thin briefcase came in.

LEMON: Who are you? Who let you in?

SMITH: I’m Mr. Smith from… the Census Bureau. I’m here to see Mr. Aaron Auschmann. Mr. Auschmann, are you all right?

AARON: No! I’m being held against my will. This company has seized my friends and property.

SMITH: I am here to see to your release and the arrest of any Netrosonics employees involved in this matter. I am also supposed to present you with this certificate signed by the president congratulating you on your one hundred years.

AARON: Great, but I thought I needed my birth certificate.

SMITH: We confirmed your age through your citizenship papers, military records and… other sources. I’m supposed to pass you an additional message from the top.

AARON: The top? What message?

Smith pulled out a funny looking Blackberry and held it so Aaron could read it. The message was:

“People give me a hard time about my birth certificate too. :-)” 

Next? Tower Of Gold

Copyright 2010 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Oct. 4, 2009 Blumbers

djcblumbersshadowofflagslogo2 copy

One More Soldier

By DJ Cline

September 11, 2026 3:30 AM

High on a ridge between Pakistan and Afghanistan was one more soldier in one more war. Text from DJCline.com

Captain Don Jin of the Chinese Army was assigned to find and kill the latest villain named Jaca. Many men had been sent to kill him and all had failed. Don’s commanders briefed him in Kabul and gave him a rough direction on where Jaca was last seen. They would keep sending soldiers until Jaca was dead. Text from DJCline.

Don’s approach was very low budget and off the radar. After picking up his regular field gear, he poked around town until he found someone who had the kind of rifle he wanted, sneaked into their compound and stole it. He found a truck, stole it and drove it as far as he could into the mountains. When he ran out of road, he started walking and then climbing. When he arrived at the last known location for Jaca, he started tracking him like an animal. Three weeks later he located what he thought was Jaca’s entourage in a remote village. It was not that difficult. In a poor country, the trash of rich people stands out on a trail. Text from DJCline.

He lay flat on his stomach just below the top of the ridge looking through his rifle’s night scope. In the valley below he saw half a dozen mud brick buildings built by local tribesmen. He looked at the largest building glowing from a fire inside. Don had been waiting for Jaca to step outside and use the latrine for a week. It never happened. Instead women would carry slop buckets out every morning. Don was patient. Jaca would make a mistake. Text from DJCline.

He kind of wished Jaca still smoked. Smokers inevitably stepped outside. He had gotten several targets this way. Don looked around the ridge he was standing on and found dozens of cigarette butts from Americans, Russians, British and possibly Turkish soldiers. They had all been here before him. Since arriving he also found batteries, buttons, wrappers, brass casings and even a bronze arrowhead. He wondered if the whole mountain was simply a pile of trash leftover from earlier battles. People had been fighting here for a very long time. With tensions between China and India so high he wondered if the next soldier on this ridge would have a laser pistol or a bow and arrow. Text from DJCline.

There was movement at the bottom of the valley. A woman carrying a baby was walking up the trail. A guard woke up and stopped her. She held her baby close as it started to cry. Don turned on the rifle microphone and tried to hear the conversation. As near as he could understand it, the woman said she was carrying a son Jaca did not know about. The woman begged to see Jaca. The guard alerted another guard who escorted her to the large building. Text from DJCline.

Listening through the microphone Don heard the consternation of Jaca’s voice at being woken up in the middle of the night. It sounded like the baby was given to Jaca to hold. The woman excused herself to use the latrine. She walked quickly to the latrine and then ran past it and up the hill toward Don. Through the microphone he thought he heard someone shout, “It’s not a baby!” Text from DJCline.

Suddenly the large building exploded, temporarily overwhelming the night scope and hitting the overload cutoff on the microphone. Guards ran out of the other buildings shouting and began shooting in the air. By now the woman was halfway up the hill and had taken off her clothes, wig and makeup. The woman was in fact a very thin man wearing a black commando outfit. As he approached Don the man held up his hands and said, “I am Tapas Kalki of the Indian Intelligence Service. Captain Jin, we need to leave this area immediately.”Text from DJCline.

The guards were beginning to fan out into the flame lit darkness. Both of them were now going to have to outrun some very angry men. How did that this guy already know his name? Te

Next? Pluribus 1

Text from DJCline.

Copyright 2009 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 28

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September 30, 2031, 9:00 PM.

After the show, their hostess Suzy Mankiller came up with two liter-sized plastic buckets. “Here are your complimentary tokens.”

It was full of buffalo nickels.

Don was astounded. “Do you know how much these are worth?”

Suzy shrugged “About a nickel? They are for the old fashioned slot machines in front. Old people like the feel of real coins.”

“They are real?”

“No silly, they are tokens, replicas. They have little chips inside them called RFIDs so we can keep track of them.”

“Is this a common practice in casinos?”

“I guess so. Tommy Raven came up with it a long time ago.”

“I need to find a VR conference center in this casino right now. Can you show me?”

Don broke in on the conversation Tap and Deputy Deer were having about the show. “I hate to break up your critique gentlemen, but I think I know what these coins are all about.”

Deputy Deer looked down at the bucket. “They are tokens.”

Don held one up to the light. “They have chips in them. They are protected by a metal casing. They do not attract attention. They circulate widely. Tommy Raven told Jeff Redman that the answers are between the Indian and the Buffalo.” He turned the coin on its side. “The answer to Pluribus is in here.”

Tap was not paying attention. He was looking up into the rafters at something. He shoved Don to one side as Deputy Deer fell over with bullet hole in his head. The lights went out and people started screaming.

It looked like Anita Gromex was still in town.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 27

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September 30, 2031, 8:00 PM.

“And now Ladies and Gentlemen, the Story of the Stolen Circle!”

Don and Tap sat in a theater in the round at the Raven casino. Deputy Deer sat next to them in what were supposed to be the best seats in the house. Deer had been a gracious host after the jurisdiction issues had been worked out. Loman was under heavy guard at the hospital. An all points bulletin was out for Anita Gromex. It turned out she had a string of restraining orders across seven states on top of several murder investigations.

The lights dimmed. Chanting and drums began quietly. An old man in a fur robe stepped into the spotlight center stage. “There are many circles in the world. There is the circle of water that falls from the sky to the ocean and back again. There is the circle of fire and forest. There is the circle of the sun and moon. The Raven has shown us the circle of all living things. We are born and die and our spirits change as we move around the circle.

One day the invaders, the people with only one way came. They said you only have one name and one spirit. You cannot move around the circle. You must stay put. They took our land and told us to pray only to their god. Their soldiers came and they took our circles away.”

The drums pounded to a stop. The old man stepped out, replaced by a young woman in deerskin. Mournful flute music began.

“Their medicine men captured our medicine men and said they were sick. No one can be another spirit. But the circle does not stop. One of their medicine men figured out how to make anyone see the circle of spirits. He gathered the children of the tribe and kept them from dreaming so he could fill them with his dreams. Then he did this to others and built a tribe of his own. We called it the stolen circle. They used it to keep people in and out. As the Raven knows, you cannot be inside or outside a circle. You are part of the circle.”

The woman stepped out of the light, replaced by a boy with a raven headdress. War drums started up.

“One of the Raven children held all the dreams and learned how to free the circle of spirits. They tried to stop him, but the circle would not work for them anymore. Like the invaders, they told him he could not practice the old ways. He could not laugh. He could not find food or shelter. He could not move. They took everything but the sky from him. Then the Raven laughed and the other circles turned on them. The circle of the land shook their villages. The circle of fire burned their villages. The circle of water came and flooded their land. Then our cousins from the west came to visit. Now the circle of spirits spins for us again. It spins for everyone.”

The stage lit up with a laser show and dancers moving in interlacing circles to thunderous beats and chanting.

Deputy Dan leaned over and shouted. “Tommy thought you would enjoy it.”

Don shouted back. “If you have to sit through a deposition, it helps if it ends with a big musical number.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 26

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September 30, 2031, 12:15 PM?

Deputy Daniel Deer of the Raven Reservation Police came through the front door.

A tall man with thin red hair in ponytail and a van dyke beard, he surprised both Don and Tap.

Tapas tried to ask politely. “I could not help but notice, but you do not look like an Indian.”

Deer was slightly annoyed. “Well, you do. Sorry Mr. Kalki, but most tribal societies traded members and accepted outsiders. When Europeans showed up it was just expanding a healthy gene pool. Unfortunately some people think that blood defines culture. Do you?”

Tap bowed. “Forgive me. As you see Mr. Loman is wide awake, despite my efforts.”

Deer crouched down in front of Loman on the sofa. “Shelley, is Sherman all right?”

Loman sneered. “The bastards shot him!”

Deer turned to Tap. “You could have emptied your gun into him and had no effect. Hell, you could have used a real gun and only slowed him down. It is a lucky thing we intervened. Our trackers probably will not find the shooter if she is like Mr. Loman here.”

At that point, the paramedics came in and took Loman to the ambulance in a stretcher.

Don looked at his watch it said 12:20 PM. The clock on the microwave oven said 12:25 PM. “Hey Tap, what time is it?”

Tap looked at his Rolex. “It is 12:15 PM.”He noticed the clock on the living room wall said 12:05 PM. “Deputy Deer, what time is it?”

Deer laughed. “I see you finally noticed. If you had killed him, you would have been here all day. As you will see tonight, it is not a good idea to mess with people like him. Let us go. It is always time for lunch.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 25

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September 30, 2031, Noon.

The phone rang again. Don answered it. “Hello?”

“Hello, this is Deputy Daniel Deer of the Raven Police Department. May I speak to Sherman Loman please?”

Don looked at Tap and then at Loman. “Mr Loman is indisposed, may I take a message?”

Deputy Deer was unfailingly polite. “Whom am I speaking with?”

“This is Don Jin of Wakima, I am here with Tapas Kalki of Applied Karma. We are here to meet with Mr. Loman.”

“We have reports of shots being fired. Is everything all right?”

Loman shouted in woman’s voice. “The bastards shot Sherm!”

Deer was concerned. “Is Mr. Loman all right? We will send an ambulance.”

Tapas picked up the extension. “This is Mr. Kalki. I shot Mr. Loman with a tranquilizer dart. Mr. Loman seems a little confused, but conscious. I am authorized by my company’s contract with the UN Free Trade Zone Task force to take Mr. Loman into custody.”

Deer was firm. “You are on sovereign tribal territory. We will not allow unauthorized extradition to the FTZ. There will be no extreme rendition.”

Don stepped in. “Gentlemen we will argue this out later. God fights on the side of the most expensive lawyer. Right now there is a sniper with a 22 pistol outside taking shots at us. We can stay here a while but there is only so much American beer and beef jerky I can eat. If you do not hurry we will not fit through the door. Can you assist?”

“Of course, our trackers are on it. We will have to make sure Mr. Loman is examined by a doctor. He has several medical conditions needing treatment. We will also need to take you into custody for our own investigation.”

Tap had to ask. “Will you torture us like Americans do?”

“Oh no Mr. Kalki. We have our own methods. We are going to take you to dinner and make you watch our casino floor show.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 24

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September 30, 2031, 11:45 AM.

Don turned to Tap. “Should he be awake this soon?”
Tap had his gun pointed at Loman. “No. Of course, body size might reduce the effectiveness of the tranquilizer.”

“Screw you!” Loman said in a sharp shrill woman’s voice. “You shot Sherm, not me!”

Don asked. “Who is shooting at us?”

“It is Anita Gromex. We were lovers at Netrosonics until I didn’t need her anymore. She stalks people. She had daddy problems too.”

Tap held his gun steady. “So why doesn’t she shoot daddy instead of us?”

Loman laughed a wicked laugh. “Because you are here and he is not! I’ve been waiting for her to show up. She still works for Antzen, and he needs money.”

The phone in the kitchen rang. Don and Tap glanced at each other. Tap shouted. “Answer it Don, I’m busy!” The phone rang again. “Just because I am Indian does not mean I am the one who answers the phone.”

The phone rang again. By the time Don picked up the phone in the kitchen, Loman picked up an extension on the coffee table. In a deep voice he said. “This is Dr. Andrew Loman, how may I help you? No, my daughter is not in right now. I will tell her you called.” He hung up.

Don walked back into the living room and tilted his head. “So you are Dr. Andrew Loman, captain US Army?”

“Yes. How may I help you?”

Don waited for a second. “Tell me about Pluribus.”

“That is classified. You will need clearance.”

Don reached into his pocket and put the coin Jeff Redman had given him in San Jose on the coffee table. “This is my clearance.”

Loman smiled. “Okay. It is your nickel.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 22

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Pluribus 22
By DJ Cline

September 30, 2031, 11:15 AM.

“What can you tell us about Pluribus?”Don asked.

Sherman Loman shifted uneasily and lit another cigarette. “I don’t want to talk about it. I signed papers.”

Don tried to reach him. “Yes. You signed papers from a company that screwed you and doesn’t exist anymore. I think you can talk now.” Don pulled out his phone, typed out a large figure and leaned over to show it to Sherman. “I am prepared to send this to your phone, right here and now if you help us.”

Sherman’s eyes bulged. “Is that dollars or yuan?”

Don smiled. “Yuan of course. You could live in California again.”

Sherman pulled out his phone. Don hit his cash button. “Okay, tell me about Pluribus.”

Sherman a lit a third cigarette. “The executives were getting bonuses but the company was losing money. To get a stock bump they needed to fire people. I knew if I were going to stay, somebody else would have to go. It was like one of those old reality shows. I formed alliances and then betrayed people to stay in the game. I got really good at it. I manipulated Lacy Chin to send Tommy Raven to Building 3 instead of me. Hey, I had bills to pay.”

Don saw Tap start to reach for his dart gun. Tap spread his hands. “Okay Don, I won’t do it, but you know how I get when people say that. Please continue Mr. Sherman.”

“Tommy took one for the team. Always going on about a tribe being a big family. That is not a normal family, not like mine.”

Tap interjected. “And yours is? You exposed your daughter to your father!” Don glared at Tap. Tap apologized with a look.

“I get to say what’s normal, pal. Anyway, the bastard met the deadline and pulled it off. He was not supposed to succeed. I had to come up with a whisper campaign to get rid of him. Tommy was always making jokes, said it was his religion. Ha! That’s a laugh. Who can walk around making fun of everything all the time? Religion is not about being happy. My old man said all religion is just a way to keep people in line. He showed me how to do it. I can make people do whatever I want.”

Don was more than a little confused at this Byzantine view of the world. “I’m sorry what was your job?”

“In a place like Netrosonics, my job was to keep my job. Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what you do. As a matter of fact, it helps if you have a job that doesn’t do anything at all. You can’t spend all your time doing your job if you want to keep it. Only suckers like Tommy actually create stuff. I’m a winner.”

Don looked around at the trailer and turned to Tap. “It seems like you have stuck to the right strategy Mr. Loman. Tap, is there something you want to say?”

Tap smoothly pulled out his dart gun and shot Sherman. “I am so glad we worked out those key phrases ahead of time.”

Don tried to support the slumping Sherman. “Dr. Eagle was right. Sociopaths rose to the top. Who would sacrifice their kids to a creepy guy like Antzen for a job? My only regret is that both of us are going to have to carry him off this porch to the car. And what is it with all the ravens around here?”

Tap tried to help Don lift the man up. “Well, this is the Raven reservation. From what I have learned about their culture, I think the ravens are laughing.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 21

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Pluribus 21
By DJ Cline

September 30, 2031, 11:00 AM.

A fat man in a dirty sweatshirt and overalls stood on the trailer porch aiming a shotgun.
A raven squawked in a nearby pine tree. The fat man swung the shotgun and shot at the bird. It squawked and flew to another tree. “Damn ravens!”

Don and Tap sat in their limo. It had been a long drive from Spokane to the American Resettlement Area on the Raven Reservation in northern Idaho. The last five miles was down a red dirt road past rows and rows of house trailers.

Don carefully opened the limo bulletproof window a crack. “Excuse me. We are looking for a Shirley Loman. Does she live here?”

“After a fashion. Who are you?”

“I am Don Jin of Wakima, a company in China. I am with Tapas Kalki of Applied Karma. We have a business proposition.”

The man frowned. “A business proposition huh? Your godammed people ran me out of my house in California with your taxes. That Free Trade Zone was not so damned free. Paid me crap and turned around and sold it to one of your friends for ten times what it was worth. Told me the only way we were gonna get Social Security is if we moved to this damned reservation. You cannot push me off my land. I am not a godammed Indian.”

Tap kept his mouth shut. Now was not the time for a lecture on karma. Don tried to figure an angle that might work. “We might be able to help you get your house back. Can we speak to Shirley Loman?”

The man stuck his double chin out. “Talking to her. I got myself reassigned a few years back when I had insurance. Come on up on the porch and have a few beers.”

They sat on dirty white plastic patio chairs. Don had a beer in his lap and Tap had his on the wood deck floor, probably to get to his dart gun before Sherman could get to his/her gun.

Sherman lit up a cigarette. “So what brings you boys out here?”

Don tried say it in a neutral tone. I would like to ask you some questions about your time at Netrosonics.”

Tap thought Sherman was going to get up and shoot them. Instead the man swore. “Can you get my pension and stock options back? They cheated me. All my years of brass polishing and backstabbing to get ahead and I wind up not more than fifty miles from where I grew up. Life sucks. They took my daughter you know.”

Don was genuinely surprised. “No, I did not know. How did that happen?”

Sherman flashed the regret of a mother. “I left the Circle when I got reassigned. They kept her. She wound up in that big fire.”

A raven called out, unopposed.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 19

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September 21, 2031, 11:00 AM.

A kitten slept on the dragon’s head.

Don and Tap rode the limo up to the front gate of the Dragon Ranch north of Sacramento. Two man-sized robotic dragons flanked the entrance as silent sentries. A gray kitten had climbed on top of the dragon on the left and found a comfortable spot between the ears.

Don was blown away at the beautiful detailed rendering of a traditional Chinese dragon. He opened the window on his side. “Excuse me, we are here to see Karen Purima.”

The eyes of dragon with the kitten glowed. An intercom voice spoke. “Come on in. I am in the shed on the left.”

Karen came out of the shed wearing a purple caftan and welder’s helmet. She lifted the visor. “Dr. Eagle said you were looking for me. I kind of figured. Netrosonics is like plutonium, it never really goes away.”

Don tried to be conciliatory. “We will try to be brief. What can you tell us?”

“I worked there before Tommy. They were nuts, tried to drive me nuts and I quit. They tried to tarnish my reputation, keep me from working anywhere. Told people not to talk to me. Made it real hard to pay the bills. It was like they wanted me to kill myself. They like to isolate you and make you think you are the only one it happened to. It turns out they had a history of doing this to people. I think it had to do with insurance.”

This was Tap’s department. “Do you know about the policy on you?”

Karen shrugged. “I guess so. It is not enough to bury me.”

“That is the benefit you get. They get over a million dollars. No matter how you die.”

Karen snapped her fingers. “That explains it! The other day I got a strange anonymous message on my phone. It said DO NOT TALK in big letters. Tommy called and said I should post more dragons. That night somebody tried to get on the property but one of my dragbots flamed him. It took three dragbots to put out the grassfire near the back fence. He also said that you two would be coming and to tell you everything.”

Don had to step in. “You talked to Tommy Raven? Can we talk to him?”

Karen snorted. “Sure but he will have to call you. He is a little hard to get a hold of. When Netrosonics did its little number on him he had to leave the country to find work. They have tried to stop him for years. They think he stole all their ideas but that is a joke. Tommy can come up with ideas just like that. He wound up starting all kinds of different companies in China and India. You guys started enforcing your patent laws and he started coming up with all this cutting edge stuff. He helped me get started with this whole dragbot business. People pay good money to have a robotic sentry guard their business or store. It has enormous cultural significance and I am able to create distinct identities for each one I sell to wealthy clients. Come in and see what I have done for both of you.”

Tap and Don looked at each other and said simultaneously. “For us?”

Karen nodded. “They are paid for. He is very generous. It is like potlatch. He just gives people things. Mr. Jin, here is your dragon. Mr. Kalki, here is your tiger.”

The eyes of both robots glowed and they said in unison. “Greetings from Mr. Raven. May we bring you good fortune.”

Don turned to Tap. “No doubt about it, I have to get a bigger apartment.”

Tap laughed. “I have to GET an apartment.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 18

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September 19, 2031, 10:00 AM.

“In short, she is nuts now, but she was sane when she did those things.”

Dr. Ellen Eagle, Professor Emeritus at Denton University in Santa Cruz pulled off her glasses. “At the risk of violating patient privacy, but under the conditions you have presented to me, I will cooperate to the best of my ability. Besides, I’m eighty years old. Sue me.”

Don and Tap were sitting together on a well-worn leather couch. “What is the root cause of this diagnosis?”

I have been treating Netrosonics employees for forty years. Whatever any of them walked in with, they suffered the effects of corporate psychosis. The published research goes back to Stanley Milgram’s torture experiments over at Stanford. The best-known example is the Stockholm syndrome. You are too young to remember Patty Hearst. She was a wealthy woman who was kidnapped and programmed to rob banks. Combinations of sleep deprivation and suggestible conditioning can make people do things that may be unacceptable outside a cult. Sociopaths rise to the top of such organizations.”

Tap wanted clarification. “So the company was a cult?”

Dr. Eagle shook her head. “I would not say that. There were cult-like elements. This Savior Circle certainly was a cult inside the company. One person got hired and then hired members from that group. It starts to affect the larger corporate culture. Their belief in an apocalypse and attacking people who were different was a self-fulfilling prophecy of paranoia. Such views did not help them keep up with a changing world. You have to remember what it was like thirty years ago. Even the president was telling people ‘You are either with us or against us.’ Cult members understand that. Neither of you has asked about their screening process.”

Don leaned forward. “What screening process?”

“The company conducted tests to build personality profiles of potential employees. Years ago marketing researchers discovered that people susceptible to cults make great employees because they develop irrational attachments to groups. If Netrosonics did not have cult members when it started, it certainly attracted them. Over the years I have discovered many of Netrosonics employees belonged to all sorts of fringe groups. While people who were not susceptible might slip through, they might find it a very hostile work environment.”

Don asked. “Did Tommy Raven slip through?”

It seemed the doctor did and did not want to talk. She hesitated. “Without going into specifics, a person like Tommy could slip through. Tribal culture is a shared consciousness, an extended family of mutual support that cooperates even with strangers. Tribes are for mutual benefit, cults are not, and they might take advantage of someone like Tommy. Survivors of extreme events like genocide have to take on protective coloration. They mimic like their Raven god. They appear to go along until things go wrong and their earlier survival imperatives kick in. His cultural heritage and spiritual values embrace humor in the face of danger. Telling someone like that not to find humor in a dark situation is like telling someone else not to pray.”

Tap latched on to that. “So if you tell Tommy not to joke around, it is telling him not to practice his religion?”

Don snorted. “That is the silliest thing I have ever heard.”

The doctor laughed. “Yes! The fact you find it is funny would only confirm the divine for Tommy.”

Don tried to cut the chase. “So would Tommy kill someone for a joke?”

The doctor frowned. “Someone like Tommy? It would be a case of classic projection. No. As a mimic, he could only express the subconscious violent impulses of people around him as humor. The more people are dysfunctional around him, the more dysfunctional he would appear. He would react with humor not violence. Of course, this might drive dysfunctional people to violence, but you would have to look at them.”

Don was polite but direct. “We need a list of everyone you have treated from Netrosonics.”

She was equally firm. “I cannot allow that.”

Tap pulled out his phone. “I tell you what. Contact your patients and ask them if they will cooperate.”

She relented. “That sounds reasonable. Thank you for coming today.”

Don and Tap walked out of the building. Tap was shaking his head. Those poor bastards never had a chance. They were triggered like Pavlov’s dogs. There should have been warning labels on Netrosonics job postings that said “DANGER: Working here may be hazardous to your health. Do not work here if you are a pregnant or have children. Do not work here if you are a person of color, gay, lesbian or transgender. Do not work if you are elderly or being treated for a medical condition. Consult your doctor before working at Netrosonics.”

Don spread his arms out. “That kind of eliminates just about everybody. No one would come to work for them. I think it should have been more subtle, like in their commercials on Sunday morning talk shows ‘Netrosonics: the last company you will ever work for!'”

Tap pulled out his phone. “Who are you calling?” Don asked.

“She does not have to tell me who her patients are. I am going to track her phone calls. We will compare them to the employee records you gathered at Wakima. That way I am not breaking any rules.”

“You are incredible. I still think when this is over, you are going to wind up hooked up to that machine of yours.”

Tap shrugged. “Yeah, but it is all billable hours.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 17

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September 18, 2031, 5:00 PM.

Realtor Stacy Chin stepped out of the brush. “Mr. Redman! You are trespassing again. Please leave immediately or I will call the police.” She pulled out her phone.

Tap pulled out his phone. ” I will do you one better, Miss Chin. I am calling the Free Trade Zone Task Force.”

Stacy Chin was flabbergasted. “Mr. Redman is a squatter, this is hardly a matter for the Task Force.”

Tap raised both eyebrows. “I think it is. Genocide, mass burials, cult suicides, hostile work environments. There is so much wrong with this site you could probably see it from orbit. It is my job to recognize bad karma and I am red tagging this place. It will be sealed within the hour.”

Don just stared down at the nickel in his hand. Luisa was making calls.

At that moment an old woman wearing a gray pageboy haircut, a thin cotton dress and cheap sandals appeared from the same area as Stacy Chin. She ran up to Jeff and started shouting at him. “Get back to work! Snap out of it! Focus on your work! You are nothing but trouble! It is because of you I have to go to the doctor!”

Stacy flared. “Mother! I told you to stay in the car. Have you not caused enough trouble for one day? Come with me.” She turned to the others. “I am terribly embarrassed. My mother gets disoriented. Our family tries to take of our elderly and it was my turn to today.”

Jeff roared heartily. “Ladies and gentleman, this is the infamous Lacy Chin.” The old woman started to pound his chest with her fists. “She does not look like it, but she is the most dangerous person under five feet tall. She has got two degrees in psychology and knows how to use them. She sent many a good employee to Building 3.”

Don Chin finally looked up. “We are going to have to question your mother. She is obviously disturbed. Who is her doctor?”

Stacy was on the defensive. “You cannot do this. You cannot go pushing people around, calling them crazy and telling them what to do.”

Jeff continued to take the harmless blows. “Why not? Your mother made a career of it.”

They all fell silent as the sound of helicopters filled the evening sky.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 16

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September 18, 2031, 4:30 PM.

Tap could not believe it. “They built on an Indian burial ground? Come on!”
Jeff was thoughtful. “Well not technically. I mean they was Indians but they was massacred and did not bury themselves. That is how the Antzens got around the law. That and a little money. See, land used to be real expensive and for all their money, the Antzens are cheap bastards. Them bones got concrete poured right on top of them.”

As cynical as Tap was, he had to pursue. “Is that why the building was destroyed?”

The left corner of his mouth went up. “Some say yes, but some say it was Antzen himself.”

Tap nodded. “Well that is consistent anyway. How did it happen?”

“Antzen hired a bunch of refugees and hired me to boss them cause I spoke Vietnamese and he did not. He sold the company to Netrosonics. They did not say so, but it was pretty clear they did not like the Vietnamese. They brought in all these blond people from up north, army officer types to boss us around. They put up that Building 3 there. Put all kinds of security on it. People working in these buildings called it Siberia, seeing how it was farther way and cause they must have kept the air conditioning so cold.

Hard times came and the war started, more army officer types showed up. If the boss wanted to get rid of you they moved you to Building 3. People who went there just disappeared. Rumor was they just worked you to death. We were told not to talk to them or about them. Bosses would whisper that they were not very good, but we knew these people and knew it was not true.

To stay in good with the bosses you had to be in something they called the Savior Circle. If you were not in it, you were not saved. First they got rid of the Vietnamese, then they got rid of foreigners, then people with no kids like me and Tommy. You know, people like you.” He waved to Tap.

Tap gently encouraged Jeff. “Tell me about Tommy.”

“Tommy is a Raven Indian. You know what that means? Raven is a joker, a trickster, and a storyteller. He could meet somebody and imitate them right off. Used to make us all laugh. He could tell you exactly what some boss was going to do. He would just pretend to be the boss and figure out what the stupidest thing to do was and plan accordingly

Well the bosses called him Tonto behind his back. You know, Indian giver, stuff like that. They put him in that building, but he kept talking to other people. They gave him harder and harder things to do. They kept letting other people go and gave him their work. He would come by after work and could imitate all the people he replaced. It was like he captured their spirit. Then bosses made him work on some project that no one had ever finished. He finished and disappeared. They tried to duplicate what he did and could not. They kept adding people but it was not enough.

Strange things started happening in that building. Electrical stuff. People said it was haunted. The bosses emptied the building. I got laid off too when they closed these buildings.

The war got worse and then people started fighting back east. There was the earthquake and the fighting spread here. All those Savior Circle people showed up with their kids and boarded themselves up in Building 3. A battalion surrounded the place and asked them real nice to surrender. The soldiers never fired a shot, but the building just blew up. Saw it on the news. I figured with a second wave of people falling to invaders there must be a bunch of hungry ghosts, I better move in and keep them company.

It is funny, but I never saw Tommy until a few nights ago. He came to me and said you were coming to visit and I should give you what he gave me just before he left. He said what you are looking for is between the Indian and the buffalo.”

Jeff came over to Don and reached into his own pocket and gave him a coin.

It was a nickel, the same as the one he found in Freid’s apartment back in Shanghai.

E Pluribus Unum.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 15

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September 18, 2031, 4:15 PM.

Jeff Redman called down to them. “Meet you around back at the courtyard.”

Don, Tap and Luisa carefully stepped through the weeds and debris to the back of the buildings. In a courtyard next to the loading dock was a blackened stainless steel outdoor grill with a thin stream of gray smoke rising past the ruins.

Jeff came out through the loading dock. “You are my guests. I will treat you to dinner.” He lifted the lid off the grill and pulled out a skewer with a thin strip of meat on it. “We can share this, or can catch some more.”

Luisa looked a little green. “Catch more what?”

Jeff hooted, “Well there ain’t any fish in that creek. Trust me, this rat is better than the big ones that used to call the shots in that building. I had a dream that you folks was coming, but cannot be too sure about such things.”

Tap wanted him to clarify that. “You had a dream?”

“Oh yeah, you know a vision. My momma was Vietnamese and my daddy black Cherokee. Spirits no stranger to me. I feed the hungry ghosts here.”

Don knew what he was talking about. “My grandmother in China called them hungry ghosts too.”

Jeff flipped the meat and put it back on the grill. “Yep, these are hungry ones around here. You do not feed them and they start to wander, no telling where they might wind up. Sit yourselves down at that picnic table and I will tell you what Tommy Raven told me.”

Tap tried to steer the conversation. “Thomas Raven?”

“Yup. He was a mixed up child just like me. Half this and that but mostly Indian. Belonged to the Raven clan up north somewhere. Whites count blood, we count spirit. You know there used to be a village on this very spot? Old man Antzen got this place when he married some senorita. No offense Miss Almondo, but in those days, when you bought land you got Indians with it. I hear told that the Old Man wanted land for cattle and not Indians. So he invites them to a feast and brings a bunch of poisoned beef. They died a horrible death.”

Luisa was now green and scared. “Where are they buried?”

Jeff opened up the grill and pulled out dinner. He pointed the skewer over to the darkened concrete pad. “Over there, in Building 3.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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Pluribus 14

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September 18, 2031, 4:00 PM.

The Netrosonics property was a real fixer-upper.

The campus was sandwiched between a derelict railway on one side and freeway on the other. Right next-door was a Superfund toxic waste site, covered with cracking concrete that vented some strong chemical smell. A creek that ran through both properties was eroding its banks, causing the weed-choked asphalt in the parking lot to sink in slow motion.

Two of the remaining office buildings were still standing, but the sky bridge connecting them had fallen. Their broken windows reflected the afternoon sun at odd angles into the pond scum of the abandoned fountain pool at the main entrance. Slightly away from the first two structures was a black scorched concrete pad indicated where a third building had been.

Realtor Tracy Chin had a real turkey on her hands and these were the first interested buyers in the San Jose property in years. She smiled but resented all these rich speculators coming in from Asia and treating her like she was some sort of ignorant country cousin. Tracy stood in front of the buildings and turned her smile up a notch at Don Jin, Luisa Almondo and Tap Kalki.

“As you can see, it is a four acre lot with great freeway and rail access. It was originally part of the Antzen family ranch on Condor Creek in 1847. The buildings did receive some damage in the quake and I am legally required to tell you there were several deaths. If you are going to use it for your employees you have great opportunity to remodel. If you are going to outsource to contractors, it is ready right now.”

Luisa tried to stifle a giggle. She had been buying California real estate for the past five years and could not believe the sheer chutzpah of this realtor. “We are not sure if we are going to develop the property. We were thinking of it more as an investment.”

“I see.” Tracy’s phone rang. “Excuse me.” They heard some sort of whining screeching unintelligible voice bleeding through Tracy’s earpiece. They noticed she could not stop wincing at increasing intervals, before the call cut off. “I am sorry, but I have a family matter to attend to. You are free to look around and let me know your decision.” She stepped over the fallen chain link fence and took off in her car.

Tap did his best Bette Davis impression. “What a dump!”

A voice came from inside one of the dark buildings. “It may be a dump to you, but it is a home to me!”

Don called into the building “Who goes there?”

“Jefferson Redman.” An old man with speckled frizzy hair wearing a dirty army jacket came to a second floor window. “I used to work here.”

Tap looked at the other two and then up at him. “Mr. Redman, it would be an honor to take you to dinner.”

Note: Hello Hollywood!

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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