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Recko_glyph
06/01/2007 10:36 PM

This is NOT an open thread, please do not post here or ask to join here, as this is the test of an Idea in the making

If you would like to know more please
[url:http://www.rpgconsortium.com/forums/discussions.cfm?forumid=67&topicid=315083]go here [/url]

[b]When the thread is done it will be made clear [/b] and this (along with a similar post) will be open to comments and questions when they are both finished

Recko_glyph
06/01/2007 10:38 PM

This is the challenge for Pillage (sorry forgot to name the thread [b]=([/b])

Pillage
06/05/2007 12:28 AM

[i][b]The Eastern Front

Monday June 4, 1120 Hours CST[/b]


I'm writing this from Safe Mode. Around me is nought but despair and death. I don't know which is more rancid to me, these good cheerful men slowly rotting in thier bloody filth or seeing the same drained look in each sad-eyed man that passes me, every one reminding me that we are losing. We've hit them with everything. Everything. Our strongest weapons are cut off; each attempt to retake them devastates us and what we have left. We try to update the drivers. Blue-screen. A mere spyware scan. Blue-screen. Even Windows Media Player. What do they want with that?! Taking our basic luxuries gives them a superb morale advantage, but forcing us to use RealPlayer? That is torture. Knowing this happens after the Geneva Convention sickens me.
You may've heard by now, yesterday they took the basic accounts. Administrator is theirs. Even my personal sign-in (password-protected) is gone. All we had was Safe Mode.
But last night the men celebrated. To see these miserable, helpless louts and remember how they danced and laughed hours ago is hysterical, in its morbid way. See, we found a single weapon to reverse everything. The war would be ours - history's greatest twist of advantage.
We obtained the System Restore.
This is why I write to you. I am obligated to report its progress. No wonder, then, this is confidential. All our men would slit their throats, as of old, should they know this.
The System Restore would set this conflict back to before the main accounts were theirs. We could foresee their plans, stop and even reverse them. If our current knowledge were applied a week ago alone, all would be ours. We readied and used it as first opportunity. Complete success. The system was set back, and the main sign-in was ours again. That instant we sprang to work. Our efforts stretched to all of the reconquered land. Then, our Firefox efforts reported (with terrible reluctance) that checking the history yielded no result. This sort of activity has only yielded one result, in our experience.
Sir, it is my sad duty to report that a few hours ago, our main force was delivered a crushing blue-screen, and the user accounts are lost again.
If you wish to access our force (keep this to yourself at all costs), give our startup crew the password 'F8'. I write from 'Safe Mode with networking', our one link to the outside world. Except this little wire, we are trapped. God help us.[/i]


"These things always happen at the worst times."

A humble sigh parted his dry lips, his sunken deep-blue eyes closed. The monitor's light gave his face a dim glow; everything else sunk into the room's inky shadow. Robert flicked his thick hair aside.

"Well ..." A young woman's voice, muffled by the shut door. "... It'll change soon, won't it?"

He stared ahead at nothing, considered, stood and went to the door. His hand got halfway before it crept open, lighting his near-empty white room bit by bit. White carpet. White walls, furniture, bedsheets - even the laptop's wallpaper. A habit from the ward days. He missed padded walls.

Kit's brown puppy eyes rolled up to his - she was leaning forward, a thin hand still on the white painted knob. "Hi."

She looked different somehow. A bit pallid, dyed orange-red hair slumped over her shoulders, full lips but the most plain face. From behind she was stunning, people mistook her for an Asian with the fair skin, thin figure and strong unfrizzed hair. But front-on she blended anywhere, completely unspecial. They joked about her genes, how she must be an alien. So she teased Robert for actually believing that, being the institutionalised nutcase. So he refused to go away again, even if there was more money involved. Both knew no psych ward staff could keep him anywhere against his will.

"How's it coming along?" Her voice was more playful tonight. Anticipation, maybe.

"My computer? It looks ... utterly screwed. I have what we need, though. Did you know that, with the right sequence in certain Dell models, you can make the computer explode?"

A grin spread over her. "I read about it, but I didn't know you can."

His voice softened. "I thought you knew everything about me."

"I do." She leaned upright, so they were equal height, then let herself into the room. A high-pitched drone whined behind Robert for a few seconds, then bluish light flooded the room. He turned around at hearing the news-reader's voice.

"... The Palestinian Army of Islam, BBC journalist Alan Johnson's kidnappers, have released footage of their Prisoner. They warn -"

"Watch the newsbar," Kit pointed to the screen's bottom with his TV remote.

"Um," he smirked, "why do you have my remote?"

"Watch."

Robert read each headline, indifferent, before:

| BARNE'S RAFFLE: Deceased entrepreneur John Barne's suitor identified as 23-year-old Robert Oakley |

He nodded, face a bit interested but otherwise the same uncaring look. "That's what we wanted."

"They actually did give it to him." It amused her.

"The last name's wrong, though. It should been mine."

"Soon enough, right? What do we do now?"

Robert glanced aside at his computer, each old-fashioned window took up half the screen. Only eight lines of his 'report' fit at a time, a bit more at the message board he'd submitted it to. That screwed all his other plans this week, even the stuff he wouldn't get money from. Like blowing up some white-collar jerk's computer tower.

"What do we do?" He rummaged about in his pocket, found it and clamped it tight. "To put it simply, we kill Robert Oakley."

Pillage
06/06/2007 12:51 AM

[i][b]For the receiver's eyes

STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL[/b]


If you are reading this, Safe Mode has been breached. They've done the impossible, smashed our unbreakable stronghold, blue-screened that which does not blue-screen. They also said the Titanic was unsinkable. Ruthless bastards.
I am probably dead by now, and if I'm not, may it come swift before they can force anything from my broken tongue. This is an official beacon, I know. To use it otherwise is punishable, yes. But that no longer matters, and I need somewhere to record my final thoughts. They say [a bloodstain obscures the next few lines]. Nothing matters now, except death and land. These petrified boys around me are just final obstructions to the Virus. To consider them any more human rips at me, and nobody here deserves another source of pain. The rumbles and erratic behaviour are closer every minute. They know what's coming - though none speak, the air among us is clammy, freezing and traumatised. It's funny. You read about final stands, how a surrounded force pushes to the last man, together in life and soon death against everything. The determination and brotherhood that blinds the doomed to everything but tearing down as many foes as possible with them. Even that's abandoned us.
May you, the reader, find a less painful demise than us, the forgotten. May you never bow to them, even if death relieves you. Refusal is our last weapon now, more loyal than hope or strength or the very bullets we'll soon give them. Find solace while you have the chance.
The war is lost.[/i]


This monitor lit his face more, but the room was utter dark. Robert didn't want her to find him on here. She'd bought the laptop so if (she said 'when') they caught Robert, this computer wouldn't go in for evidence and end up being sold to some 12-year-old who'd slow it to a crawl with toolbars and friends who lived on their desktop with three different 10-frame-per-second movements. Like magic, Kit could ramble just as you stopped caring.

The thin door pounded behind him.

"Hey Bert!" She crooned in a perfect Ernie voice. "You'd better not be in there, or I'll gouge your eyes out with my paperclip collection!"

His arm flashed to the monitor; Robert leapt silent from the swivel chair and shoved it in the computer tower's way. As the dim light blinked out and he scampered into the room's deepest shadow, the door creaked open.

"Come on Bert, my pigeons are trained to go for the face!"

Robert grinned and craned his neck, so the teeth didn't betray him. In the two weeks she'd been using this routine, that was the first new joke. Kit looked around, an arm on the doorway's top corner so her narrow muscles showed, all but her outline and bright hair a shadow. She stood another moment, shrugged and gently closed the door.

He crept through the dark - hunched, giving time in case she came back. After a silent moment, nothing. Robert rushed across the room, pulled the chair away from the tower's lights, hit the monitor button and waited for the whining hum, then sat.

The door flew open.

"Damn it!" He pounded the desk. Now the computer's glow showed Kit's features, clear as the hallway light behind her.

"Come on." That familiar, wicked smirk twisted her girlish eyes and lips. Her nickname came from this, but he forgot how. Oakley knew.

"Do you want the money or not? I have proxies, if you don't want to get caught." When they'd seen who got the money, Robert pulled a red USB flash drive from his pocket. This had everything they needed. Location, schedule, clients, rivals - the man was far too trusting. Maybe not if he saw this drive. Robert was sure Oakley knew his top social engineer was a convicted fraud and, after that, a former involuntary mental-ward patient. Even if he was a reclusive Internet addict (to outside eyes) now, he was still blatantly dangerous. But if this were just for money, Robert wouldn't bother. He didn't hate Oakley enough to kill the man.

"We both know you've memorised all that." Kit nodded at the spreadsheet on her computer. "Why haven't we moved yet?"

"Because it's not that easy." He exaggerated a patient kindergarten teacher's voice. "We need to book an appointment, Kit. Then we wait our turn, and after we've been patient, the nice man will let us into our office and we can kill him."

"How?"

"You'll see." He leaned back over the keyboard and flicked his neck-length locks aside.

[hr]

"... Mister Oakley, a promising young businessman himself with a security consultation firm at just 23, has declined to comment."

Incredible. This was the twelfth hour in a row the news had reported that there was nothing to report. Robert penned the fourth stroke for his fifth tally-mark on the paper mousepad. 24 times they'd mentioned his refusal to talk. He hunched over the newly clean black wireless keyboard, read the post and grinned wider, amazed.

"Jesus Morton, how in the hell do these things happen to you?"

Funny, his own fortune had turned the shock at his underling's excuse for being away to more humour. He could only laugh at misfortune. They expected him to be a fatcat tycoon, but working with these idiots was far too fun. He didn't need to focus on making money now anyway. But the other part, that'd driven everyone around him crazy, would be harder to hold than the money. A distorted beep startled him.

"Sir," a deep, formal man's voice droned (hired just before he got the money - random raffle my ass, he mused), "Robert Morton and his associate have asked for an appointment."

He chuckled and pressed the speaker on. "After the ... inheritance, you think?"

"By the look of things, most likely."

"How do you know?"

"There's overwhelming evidence."

Great. The secretary was keeping secrets on his third day. Still, they insisted he had no choice but to hire this one, and they knew all. His head rolled back over the chair; he watched his reflection upside-down in the tinted glass window behind, usually a mirror at night but the lights were off, so it was translucent over the city's backdrop. Cropped black hair, deep green eyes and grey stubble though he'd shaven before lunch. He blamed his dad's Mediterranean genes.

Robert sat up and answered. "Put them in the next slot we have. And get some sleep, you'll need it."

"I'll consult the Board."

He went back to the computer, sighed and pretended to press the speaker on. "Yeah, he probably wants to kill me again. Did you know he was deemed criminally insane? I know, it's incredible! Be sure to tell the board that, too. And he's leading my professional liars. So he probably has all my personal information. Hell, he gives me regular updates on how his computer is, so he probably has an agenda, guilty conscience and all. Great read, Arnold. Check it out."

"I have. The man has talent. We'll be wary of this one, Sir."

"Wait what?" His gaze shot to the speaker. The button wasn't pressed. So, the room was bugged. "Arnold, this is ridiculous."

Pillage
06/07/2007 7:16 AM

[i][b]Location Undisclosed

1408 Hours[/b]


I can't give my location, but if this message comes to you on time, there's hope. We're the only ones left, Sir. Assuming you're still alive is ridiculous, but I know they won't have your secret base yet. The laptop is theirs. Safe Mode is theirs, but I believe we could freely walk through it for a limited time before we're discovered and killed. That's more than all we need.
If indeed you're reading this, you plan to take your life before they come. You've nothing to lose. Me, who feels lower than those worms, I have everything to gain. There's one way to eradicate them, ourselves and everything. I know there's resistance - we can't be the only survivors. After their atrocities, there must be uncertainty in their ranks. If we start anew, we will triumph, at the cost of all we love. But when they fell on us, I fled. When the blue-screen took our last hope and they dumped the data before our eyes, I shut down the system and fled. It haunts me. I need to atone for my cowardice. To do that and be truly content amid all this, I have to die. If my assumptions are right, I know you'll join me for one last blaze. We are going to end the world.
They haven't considered our warheads. There's a disk - if you startup with it, and give the right sequence, strategic points in the system will be wiped. This engages enough force to literally wipe the entire hard drive. From here, a new format will eventually come to be, and the system will be literally reborn from time's beginning.
This disk is called Windows XP. I believe, very soon, it'll be in my possession. We'll meet in the near future, but I can't do this alone. I need to be on the laptop itself, and your part of the start-up screen, that infinite desert, is all we hold.
Be patient, we can stop them.[/i]


It made him think. On the boards, Morton was asking him to die. As a joke, excuse and show that he was still thinking while on leave, yet both knew the man desired and planned his end. Robert Oakley watched his older underling's eyes over the monitor, ringed but aware. Calculating everything. Clad all in white, like the 'ward days', he called them.

"Sir," Morton began (the articulate tone rang of Arnold, but far more opportunist than servant), "There are a few reasons I'm here. Thanks for seeing us so urgently." He nodded to the girl at his side. Pale and thin, her fiery hair and colourful lips stole the attention from everything, contrasting her almost unnoticeable looks. Robert had tried for years to decide whether Kit was pretty, average or ugly, but still didn't know.
Now they both stood cool and confident before him, the first time since his inheritance. Still both the exact same height.

"Our workload's gone down since you've been away." He could feel his voice's smooth drone. Ready to probe for the next plan. "I'd love to help you get back as soon as possible. I have a laptop you can borrow. Does that solve the first issue?"

"Not quite - there are some things I didn't have a chance to back up, but they can be redone. You've seen my plan of attack."

"Well." Robert smiled and looked deep into his lagged ocean-blue eyes. "What is your plan of attack?"

An uncomfortable gleam showed in his gaze. Kit answered, tone casual. "Just a reformat. Did you see the post?"

"I have it here somewhere," his eyes darted at the screen below. "But this'll solve itself. What's the next issue?"

"Well," Morton explained, "right now we both have places to be. When's your next available lunchtime? There's a lot we have to discuss, and ..." he indicated the room, "... I feel like we're not alone here."

He couldn't know about the bugs. But they'd made it no secret. Arnold practically flaunted it. Robert looked down and considered for a while. The silence made his old-fashioned wall clock's ticking audible. All polished, wooden round frame on a white face, black hands (long on VI, short on XI).

"Tomorrow I'm free. I'll be at the cafe at twelve-thirty. We'll have an hour to discuss the other two issues. Kit, hope you don't mind if he comes alone. Now," he swivelled away from them to face the city, "Paul's conning his first bank today. He looked great in the health inspector uniform. I actually think he won't fumble like you did, if he can get into their records." Robert knew dropping the statements on his way out was a one-off, but remembering it made him uneasy. Less calm. When he came back to explain he was from the security company they'd hired to teach the staff about cons, the usual routine, they arrested him. The bank manager was out, so no one backed his story. Robert swung back to face them. "Now Bert, you're not planning to come back here before then, are you?"

"No," he insisted, almost dismissive, then regained his cool. All too subtle for anyone who didn't know him. "Not that I know of."

"Alright." Robert leaned down, reached to the little shelf under his desk, pulled out the old Mac and placed it on the desk's edge. "Use this for now. It can't hurt."

The man took it, looked it over and nodded. "Appreciate it."

Same-time, he and Kit turned and left. Kit waved goodbye.

When they'd probably reached the elevator, Robert watched the ceiling. "Arnold. They're trying something before midday tomorrow. Send someone. Make them look important, and like they have nothing to do with us. Do it now."

"At once," the speaker answered. It was hard warming to his submissive, stereotypical baritone. Typical of them. The third attempt on his life this year, yet all this was impossible to take seriously.

[hr]

"Excuse me."

A middle-aged, bald man, tall and bulging with muscle. His plain black top and jeans, apparently a uniform, were tight on him. "You're Robert Morton?"

"I am." He spoke up over the city traffic, at its loudest around now. Somewhere distant, over the bystanders' low din, a busker played a steel drum. "Either you know me, or that was a really good guess."

"I've been sent to talk with you. My and my friends behind you."

Robert turned. Two men, taller and just as built; one short-haired Aryan, the other young with a dark ponytail. The same black outfit. He looked back at the bald one, indifferent.

"This is about the Inheritance, isn't it?"

"Come with us and you'll know." He was confident, but too eager to be a good con. "That black car behind us is mine. Get in the back."

"What about my sister?" Robert lifted a thumb at Kit behind him, much calmer than usual.

"She got here alright, she'll get home."

He nodded. "See you at home, Kit ... How long are we going to be?"

"That depends on you. We know where you live, and where you'll go if that fact affects you. It's okay, we're just here to talk."

Robert considered, shrugged, headed for the car and waved to Kit. This would be interesting.

[Edited by Pillage on Thursday, June 7, 2007 7:25 AM]

Pillage
06/09/2007 7:04 AM

[i][b]Time and location undisclosed[/b]

Forgive the shorthand, time is very short. Soon they'll find me and open fire. If I escape this one, I swear ... Keep watching. You won't hear from me today. Something terrible has happened.[/i]


That'd do for now. Last time he was oblivious, but Oakley probed too much today. Maybe he knew Robert wouldn't have time for updates. It was night and he wasn't home, but worse situations had been his staple for ages.
Kit admired her work on the Mac's screen. Just like Robert's style - but she did know everything about him. Her computer was slower now, so Oakley's unspoiled one would do. Tracking bugs did that. Stubborn bastard.


[i][recorded hours ago][/i]

"I have to ask, Bert, why were you so obliging?"

The bald man drove, slow and easy. His two friends sat either side in the back; the ponytail kid on Robert's right smoked a menthol with the window down. He'd offered one, the only time the cronies spoke. Robert declined - "They're womens' cigarettes," he challenged. The boy chuckled, lit up and watched the buildings go by.

"What's there to resist if we're just talking?" He leaned back, eyes on the car roof. Robert liked this car - it smelled new. A siren blared far behind them.

"Ah, not much. Three strange men built like tanks -"

"Panzer in my case," the Aryan joked.

"- dressed in black, hustling you into their car. You went without question, don't show any unquestioning submissiveness ... hey!" The brakes slammed them to a crawl; an ambulance, sirens blazing, screamed past and overtook. "Honestly, you'd think they owned the road ... But what I'm saying is, you're different. I'd guess you're not a bit afraid of us."

"Bold assumption," he smiled, cool and reserved, gaze still up. "How much do you know about my resume?"

"Your resume? For one thing, I find it ironic that you're dressed like a sanitarium guard."

"For all you know, these could be my tennis clothes."

"With a complexion like that?" He sneered. "I'd like to discuss everything in-depth with you. Is it okay if we stop over and take you somewhere? It's right in the city."

Robert shrugged. "It doesn't bother me. There's work to do, but that girl from before will probably take care of it." He'd gotten a strong urge to give Kit the laptop, probably when they began following him.

"Good. But before we stop, I'd like to ask you something personal." The man paused for a reaction. None came. "Why are you obsessed with the crazy house?"

"Oh," he dismissed, "before this I had a noir phase. Next is axe murderer - or insane writer, maybe. It's not the Ward I'm obsessed with, it's Jack Nicholson. By chance, do you know any seven-foot-tall Indians?"

The Aryan laughed.

"I'm not stopping before I have an answer." The bald man laid a palm on the handbrake, since he couldn't reach Robert. "We know you had a few enlightening moments in there. But apart from what the patient records can tell us, why do you surround yourself in the Ward's feel?" His tone had changed, like he needed another personality to get answers.

"Even the South Asian kind will do, if they don't try to smother me. Actually, that could be a problem, huh?"

"Robert, it's counter-intuitive. What, does it comfort you to be where she died?"

He stopped and looked in the rear-view mirror, at the bald man. Then composed himself. "If you have to know," Robert answered in a placid hush, "that wasn't all. Yes, I fell for her. I fall for a lot of people. I don't think about her killing herself - she was crazy. Everything else ... I miss it. Meeting the others, too. Their innermost minds came out in their actions, at the cost of peoples' opinion of them. It's the exact opposite of everything I've learned in life. I need to feel like I'm not trapped pretending. I need identity. Does that make sense to you?"

A long while he was silent. They drove on, like that was all the conversation needed. Then he spoke in a similar mutter. "Okay. I'm sorry. We'll park now."

They stopped a couple blocks up and wandered through a concrete underground carpark, toward the elevators. Robert listened to their footsteps echo deep through the whole floor, looked around and planned.

"Hey. I don't have your name yet."

The bald man took a moment to answer. "For now, call me Steve."

"Alright, Steve. I want to talk to you first. Alone. How about we take the elevator and your friends can use the stairs?"

He looked back at them. "You don't mind?"

"Nah," the Aryan insisted. They broke formation and went their own way.

They got to the chrome doors; Steve pushed the down button. It opened that second. Together they stepped in.

There were three floors and two basements. "Five floors, huh?" Robert mused, reached into his pocket, felt for the cold hilt and flicked it open. Steve pushed the bottom one.

"Perfect." He covered Steve's mouth and plunged the pocket-knife into the small of his back. The bald man shook and screamed in his throat. Leaning closer, Robert shushed him. "I'm sorry it had to be you personally, but I don't choose who they send. You're only paralysed - this can be fixed" He reached to Steve's ear, took off the listening piece, replaced it on himself and slammed the 'Emergency Stop' button.

"Now," Robert grunted, reaching to the roof and pulling the hatch open, "who've I really been talking to all this time?"

An excited rush washed through him. Just like old times. It'd been for compensation the first time, but Robert had lied. His obsession with the Ward was a show like the sunken eyes, but sometimes it you'd swear he was crazy.

Pillage
06/12/2007 2:21 AM

[i][continuation ... I was preoccupied for a couple of days, but I'll ignore the disqualification for testing purposes]

[recorded earlier][/i]


"I can wait all day. You, on the other hand, only have five minutes. Then I cut your grunt some more. First the Achilles' Tendons, so he can't get away. He'll give me answers, I'm sure. And I'll ask a lot more of him than I will of you."

Robert was calm as he could be, subtle tension in his tone from gripping the nearest cold iron ladder-rung with one hand, limp unconscious Steve's waist with the other. Exhiliration took the attention from his arm-muscles' piercing burn. It'd been far too long. He'd need to quit his job, hide, maybe leave Kit for a while, but he was tired of pretending. Robert was dangerous, brilliant and insane, sick of bourgeois life and hungry for Barne's secrets. The Board wasn't made of the same people all this time as they claimed, of course. They'd been around longer than the world's oldest man. He'd figure that out first.

He shuffled one foot up, the next, threw his weight forward and swatted the next rung. They didn't have the coppery smell stairway banisters do, but Robert was still wary of how many delinquents had taken a leak on it by instinct.

Still no answer, but a low hum. They were listening.

He worked up the ladder, felt his muscles shriek with pain more and more. Near his stop, the hum crackled and went clearer, softer. An old woman's voice purred:

"Are you there?"

Robert stopped.

"I'm here," he answered. Then waited. Pain shot through the rung-side bicep and he kept going.

"Steve, answer."

He climbed faster along the home stretch, suddenly aware of the small off-white chute around him, the freezing metallic-odoured iron he associated with contamination and how fast he had to clasp the next rung with fingers lagged by cold, how easy it'd be to fall.
Robert pushed it from his mind, leaned a foot out, pushed between the big chrome doors and hoped the other boys weren't waiting when it began to give. He leaned in, gripped the rung tighter and let himself and Steve swing toward the opening, a hand and foot still on the ladder. They opened faster; the light he was expecting didn't pour in. Robert stamped where he wanted them to stay, shuffled the other foot near, pushed himself off the ladder and leapt back with all his weight.

They tumbled barely onto the concrete, sprawled before the first-story elevator doors. After a second, Robert scrambled to the man and tore his button-up shirt open. A black microphone, taped to his chest. A tiny pale-blue light blinked at its end. Bluetooth - this and the earpiece wouldn't work unless they were close together. Robert tore it off, stuck it to himself and bolted to the car.

"Can you hear me now?" The stress had left his throat.

"Steve?"

"Robert. For the effort I just put up, I think I deserve to know who's watching me. By the way, call an ambulance for the parking lot. Tell Steve sorry."

[hr]

"I can't believe it!" he growled.

Kit sat up from a recline on the leather couch and watched him pace the living room. Behind him, the news finished breifly reporting a stabbed security guard. He'd burst through the front door a few minutes ago and locked it behind him.

"Why are you getting so worked up about this?" she asked, soft and careful. "Just disappear for a while."

"It's not that," Robert moved between the room's ends like a trapped rat, "they were right. This whole time ..." Pacing took more of his attention than talking. "The Inheritance ..."

"What about it?"

"We can't get the Inheritance. I mean it is physically possible, but it won't happen."

"So we can't get the money?"

"Yes!" he snapped. "We can get the damned money. But the Inheritance. The Board and everything. I know what it is."

"You know how they're still alive?"

"They're not still alive!" Robert sighed hard.

"So they're dead?"

"No! They're -" He sighed again, stopped pacing and answered, calmer but just as fast. "They're alive now. They didn't used to be. But when Barnes died, they could be."

"What, are they vampires?"

Robert looked over the conversation and laughed to himself. "No. It's nothing like that. We can't have it -"

"- Why not?"

He looked straight at her. "It's a really bad idea, Samantha."

"You haven't called me by my real name in ages. Is it that important?"

"It's that important we don't get the Inheritance." His serious tone was gone. "This is just loopy. The whole situation's bats."

"So, what now?"

"We're going to keep Oakley for ransom. But it'll take everything we have to get near him now. I need your full participation. You don't have any plans for the next week."

"That's how long it'll take?"

"Seven days. If we don't have him in a week's time, we head North for the border. Then another continent. How do you feel about being Russian? No, they might look there eventually. Mongolia. Want to be Mongolian?"

Kit giggled. "Why?"

"Because," Robert sat beside her, "the Board aren't just a bunch of guys set to protect him. The top one is his dad. He knows what I planned to do to his son, and thinks I still will. The first billion's already been spent on all this, anyway. But we'll get the rest and go." He stood. "In a week's time, one way or another, we're ghosts."

[Edited by Pillage on Tuesday, June 12, 2007 2:28 AM]

Pillage
06/13/2007 7:31 AM

[i][recorded two days ago, one day after the stabbing][/i]


It was meant to happen today. There were undercover men posted everywhere, ready to appear in force and take him down. An angry mob of hired professionals. It was ridiculous - the man wouldn't show after all this, but Robert paid a billion dollars, and they'd honour each cent. He knew what the Inheritance was, but a reserved, intelligent man like him wouldn't pursue in now. Did he really want criminal scum protecting him? Maybe the money still tempted them, but that was very unlikely too. Attempt three, failed. All this was hysterical.

Robert chuckled to himself, watching the orange umbrella over their heads. Opposite him, an aging man in a dark business suit looked up from the sideward-set cutlery on his empty plate. Thick orange hair, tall, an aura of elite success.

"What is it?" he asked.

Snapped from his train of thought, Robert heard the steel drum's airy melody drift from a few doors down. "Nothing important. I was meant to see Morton here. We had lunch scheduled. Then we sent men after him, he stabbed the leader, sqeezed answers from the Board and left. He's good, isn't he?"

"An intriguing fellow, isn't he, Sir?" The servitude entered Arnold's baritone again, reminding Robert to leave before the next waiter came by expecting an enormous tip from the new baron, then striding away offended when he let them down. He didn't want any bodily fluids in his next drink.

"Fascinating. His sister's interesting too. I forget her real name, but they call her Kit. She used to work with a bunch of other girls - she reminded them of a cat, so the tale goes. Wicked smile and yawn, pounced on any chance for money just out of her reach, completely calm when everything around her went crazy. A con too, but her brother's better."

"It's unlikely he'll give up now, though. His next attempt won't come here, but we uphold habit as doctrine. Does the crowd's abundance discomfort you? We value both comfort and protection."

"No, I quite appreciate -"

A man from the crowd shouted. Near the drum, someone bolted nearer. More bystanders fell in around him. Approaching gradually, his thin, white features cleared and became familiar.

"Here he is," Robert mused.

From Morton's side a man leapt in and tackled, grasped his feet and dragged him to the pavement. The crowd sprinted in and bunched about him amid excited shouts.

"You see," Arnold smirked, "we won't rest until that happens."

Pillage
06/13/2007 11:00 PM

[i][Two days ago, one day after the stabbing[/i]

"We're disadvantaged," the old lady explained from her spot at the long black table's end. "It's one man we're after, and with him one woman, but we suspect she couldn't harm our cause alone. If we can capture Morton, there's nothing to worry about."

'We know she couldn't do it alone," a suit-clad man beside her, taller with cropped black hair, insisted. He addressed the whole table. "Compared to him, she's worth ignoring. How many times have we seen the name 'Robert Morton' in the paper? What about Samantha Morton? At least eight, to none. Before you had to dig through the article, he was forgettable. Now he'll be famous. A headline act. We need to take extreme care of our next move."

"Crowd control wasn't our best decision," the similar old man opposite him agreed. His voice carried a hint of Southern Europe. "We'll drag a lot of attention to him if we take him out in public. The first time he probably suspected we'd do this, though we only sent the men to discuss his mindset. Morton made this a lot more serious than it should be, and if this carries on, our son will be hassled about it. His vulnerability will be very visible. The best way to protect him is to draw attention away."

"We need a distraction and an idea of where to find him at the same time," the old lady answered. Here, six heads in two rows looked down at her in symetry. The speaker before her, identical to Oakley's, crackled.

"This is urgent. It's done!"

The old man reeled back and glanced over the others, frantic. "What?!"

"It's done. He charged at Prospective, and Squad apprehended him. Should we take him to base?"

The old lady's cozy, easy tone didn't change. "Where is He now?"

"We have him in our transit, heading North along Enterprise Street. Base is just ahead."

"Well, bring him here. To us."

The old man choked, wheezed and slammed a hand on the table to steady himself. "What are you doing?!" His deep-green eyes watered.

"He thinks he knows. That was the point I was about to bring to Board's attention, before we were interrupted. He knows the Board's current situation, but this was a tactical manuever. He can be silenced."

[hr]

[i][recorded earlier][/i]

"Robert, this situation could be a lot easier on you, if you hadn't done that."

He hunched over the taxi's steering wheel, eyes darting to the rear view mirror and back. They'd be coming, but not without the car he'd swapped for this, then taken off during the 'test-drive'. Because it was running, he'd assumed the keys were inside. Hot-wiring was still useful in this age.

"Nonetheless, this is the Board's president, isn't it?"

"I am a Boarder."

Code-speak. "You could use my services. I'll tell you something secret about me if you tell me something about your relationship with Oakley. If there's any kind of initiation for your mob, I think I've passed everything except the loyalty test."

"And the fighting test. You stabbed an unarmed man in the back."

"What do you mean, unarmed?"

"You injuring someone is inconsistent with everything we know about you so far. This proves you crave excitement. You find your job boring, don't you Robert? We can give you the most dangerous, free-spirited, dishonest job your senses, skills and wallet desire. Do you want to know about the Board?"

"Yes," he answered firm.

"It's an Urban Legend - a means of personal immortality handed down by inheritance, and a portion of the money that will gives. It works on a basis of understanding, and the like-mindedness of kin. The Board died with Barnes, and came back with Oakley. That's the riddle our initiates get. But it's inaccurate - the Board died about 25 years ago. Yes, you are speaking with the Board's leader. I'm also Oakley's mother."

His attention drifted from everything, then slammed back when he barely missed the car beside him. "Wait. The Board ..."

"That's right. The raffle wasn't rigged, but certain people got multiple votes. Oakley was a Security mogul, Barnes' personal favourite and had a former mental patient as his head of social engineering, so he got ... it'd wouldn't be as fair to call it a vote as a double-digit percentage. The Board is an affiliation of security companies controlled by a group of the finest minds available, who themselves train and are led by the client's parents."

Robert let himself burst into laughter.

"The Board is led by his mother!"

Pillage
06/14/2007 6:16 AM

[i][one day after the stabbing]


[b]The Network

0233 Hours, Saturday June 9
[Recorded 2334, Friday June 8, three hours ago; transcribed][/b]


We must move quickly. I have the disk. Wipe their power's source, the laptop, and they'll be a minor presence on our network's remainder. When our full force smashes the paltry shell we leave them with, they will be gone forever. The laptop couldn't be saved, but there's still hope. I've found sympathisers on the netwrok's lesser ports. They have Registry Fix, System Restore - everything. Yet it seems a simple anti-spyware scan could end them. We just need - hah. Why do I say 'we'? I'm the only one left.
I must go into the startup alone, on foot, if I make it that far. This doesn't feel like a longshot anymore. They have the network's strongest model at their disposal and multiply faster and faster, yet I've nothing but hope. Tomorrow I'll bring this tape with me and record every step. If they're civilised or respectful (even the Nazis adored and protected art), and I don't make it, this will survive. A testament to the enemy's struggle. I've seen these savages at work and shouldn't expect mercy, yet everything my eyes touch blooms into hope now. I'll trudge into the once secret base and avenge my superiors. I'll kill dozens if it must be. I'll bring bullets for every living thing between this disk and the Virus's existence.
Sir, your death at their hands had purpose - me and the nuclear holocaust awaiting them.[/i]


He could've been a poet. More time to train himself, more originality, more inspiration and he could change English literature. They said writers partied the hardest and lived the most vibrant lives, too. Unless they were shut-ins. It'd make a beautiful alias, when they took off in the next week. But he saw the futility in this. Why did Robert still explain himself to the man he'd just screwed over. Though technically, it'd only be an official screw if he didn't return the Mac. Robert noticed he was thinking too much and stopped.

"Here's the plan, once more." He spoke calm and ready to Kit, sitting in the corner opposite him and the lounge. Strange girl. "I'll run at Oakley, and see how long it takes them to catch me. She called the Board 'personal immortality'. When she told me his parents head the Board, I cracked up, because the one thing that drew my attention about the Board is how well they nurture him. It won't take long after I make myself visible. I'll be wearing all nuthouse white, of course."

"Then I come in," she continued, "when they take you back to the parking lot. I park the car out there right after you're taken in, and hang around with the keys. I get as far in as I can, find out where you are and do whatever's easiest to get you a lock pick and pocket knife ... they'll check me."

"There are ways around that."

"So, you're the master, how does it sound?"

"It'll definitely do." He stood and turned on the TV. Ads - high pitched, whiny and so relieving. Seeing anything besides the news soothed him.

"Good. Now, one last question before we rest up. Are you ready to take on an entire society of beefed-up, pissed off bouncers?"

Kit drew the red pocket-knife she'd hand Robert soon and flicked it open. "Always."

Pillage
06/15/2007 3:07 AM

Where was this?

A flower drew his attention amid the darkness. A dim, small rectangle room, black polished marble all over. Tall bamboo pot-plants (jet-black pots) lined the walls, three on each side behind a black table holding nothing but a speaker just like Oakley's from yesterday. If it was still Tuesday. Far opposite him, a shelf built into the wall held an open white lotus, behind the end chair. It demanded attention, an utter contrast. He couldn't see a door.

He knew why he'd woken here, in his white 'tennis clothes', after the mob tackled him. They'd gone to the carpark, repeating last time without the talkative muscle-men. A guilty pang for stabbing Steve barely pulsed, then faded. His memory was gone, but Robert knew there was more. He backtracked. They were driving toward the carpark, were opposite it (his memory blurred around here) ... his vision flew downward and went black.

"The cheeky dicks knocked me out." It caught in his cheeks and came out muffled. He grunted a couple times, testing his throat. Everything was groggy still. Robert sat back, shut his eyes, relaxed and realised he wasn't tied in place. He mentally felt around his body, the limp calm muscles, he spread awareness to them. Let them sharpen. He flexed, harder, tighter, tighter, let the feeling come back. Consciousness flowed back to Robert, slow and gentle, then sharp and eager. His eyes shot open and he stood and stretched.

Feeling the breath in him, Robert gushed in air and screamed at the room [i]"IS IT BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU IN HERE?!"[/i] An echo trailed it.

"This room's soundproof," that calm old lady answered behind him. He swivelled round. The room was identical, except a little aging woman, long grey hair, a navy business suit, in the lotus' place. Still no door. He knew that should scare him, but it didn't.

"Mrs. Rob," Robert greeted, voice hoarse with phlegm. He cleared his throat.

She smiled. "We were amazed when we heard you'd been caught. Bert, you ran right into out arms. Why is that?"

"Bert. Only people who know me call me that."

"Well," she suggested, "do you mind if I do too?"

"Go ahead." He turned his black cushioned swivel-chair to face her and sat.

"So." Mrs Oakley's tone and face hardened. "What was your plan?"

"To meet with your son in time, of course. It was a bit late, so I hurried."

She didn't react. "We have ways to find out. Did you know that your sister's a criminal?"

Shock beat Robert hard, yet he didn't show it. Just a sign his toughness needed re-adjusting. "How long was I out?" he wondered.

"It's been two days since you came here. We gave you something to ... oversleep. I hope you don't mind."

The way she'd called him Bert sank in.

"Where is she?"

"Your sister?"

"Where is she?"

"You know," Mrs Oakley smirked, "you're lucky and cursed to have an accomplice so dear to you. Even though we've found your weakest -"

"- Where," he pushed firmer, "is she?"

The little old lady stepped forward, her figure errily still, reached into her side pocket and pulled out something red. She held it out, palm down. Robert took it. He felt a short pin and the familiar red pocket knife drop into his hand.

"They're useless in here," she explained, then stepped backward to her spot.

Robert sighed and pocketed them. "So, you've well and truly got me trapped. What now?"

"What now? You've probably figured out that I didn't tell you the complete truth behind the Board's leaders. Unless we brainwashed Prospect's parents, but we don't ..."

It hadn't occured to Robert yet, but he said nothing.

"... It's someone close to Prospect, whether through relationship or blood. Three generations removed is the absolute limit for the latter. Now, Robert, we want to give you that loyalty test. We're missing one person from our ranks, and without you to threaten him, my son won't need the Inheritance.

[i][incomplete][/i]

Pillage
06/18/2007 2:17 AM

[i][continuation ... was kidnapped for a camping trip, had to submit fast][/i]

"Funny." He surveyed the red-painted steel hilt. "At first I meant to steal you from Oakley, mostly for curiosity. Now that I know what you are, I know attaining you is impossible. You want me to lead you?"

"No, not lead. Advise. But it is a very prominent leadership role. Samantha won't come to any harm, and hasn't yet. We're holding her so she can't help you get out. Though I imagine you ran to us for a reason."

"I didn't know where you're based, and figured you'd trust me more in your custody."

The old lady nodded slow. "Even this rashness was calculated. Very good. Now, before we get you to your final test, there are a few things I'd like to know. Tell the truth, not the matter's official status. Answer them in the order I ask. Why were you commited, and is your obsession with white a distraction for analysts. Do you crave dangerous and illegal activity. Were you a factor in Marie Sheldon's suicide during your institutionalisation. Were you romantically involved with Sheldon at any point. Recite the third-last line from the second-last movie you watched. Why did you choose to join us."

Robert brushed his fringe aside. "Are we being recorded?"

"No. We're not the most law-abiding force ourselves. Holding you and your sister is illegal."

"Alright ... I was committed as part of a scam to receive compensation in a hushed hand-out and release when they realised I was sane. If I said nothing of the incident, the money would be doubled. Your tax dollars at work ... Yes. Yes for both, I admit. No, she did that herself, and I almost feel bad for using it to my advantage. Almost." He smirked. "I wasn't, but I don't think my platonic sentiments were requited. 'It's cold'. I'm joining you because it will severly improve my opinion of life. Just like what I'm doing now, without the boredom. I take it I'll get away with stabbing a protector of the Inheritance too. Braggin' rights."

"Very good. Now, explain the movie quote, and how you are with sympathy. You sound proudly remorseless of the mental clinic incident."

"Huh?" His expression fell. "No, not remorseless. I pride myself on the ability to move on. I see people who lack that everywhere - they're rooted to these contract lives. No freedom ... I thought they were all the question you had to ask."

"I never said that, Bert. But perhaps I led you to believe it. Those are the last two, which I needed your answers to ask."

"Fine." He considered a moment. "Pulp Fiction, when Jules sips his coffee. Nothing more to say. That one might be paraphrased - Tarantino's the master of meaningless banter." His smile returned. "Sympathy depends on how much I can afford to have it. Make of that what you will."

"You're impressive." The compliment was stoic. "And that's all I need. Now, you'll prove your loyalty for a crucial position on the Board. We're quite pinned down with the work you'll relieve us of, and of course we've seen how you well manage this type of work."

She stepped aside. Behind her was an indented marble shelf, holding an open lotus. Symmetrical to the end behind him. Still no door.

"Unusual, isn't it? This place was once owned by a little Japanese Mafia syndicate. The Yakuzas spare no expense. Robert, you will be the Board's top security executive. We vaguely run you, and you run everyone. This isn't a demanding position, except when you're juggling it with another part of the Board. I can't wait to have our intercom on this side of the room again."

"Good. I suppose your son knows I won't be showing up anymore. Let's start, I feel like I've just had two days' rest." He hopped on the spot to warm his legs.

She knocked on the wall behind her three times, and waited. The wall section behind her began swinging in, slow and deliberate, showing it was an inch thick at the most. Behind her, a dusty concrete hall gradually presented itself, a faded yellow banister on each side.

"And here, Security Morton, are John Barne's dollars at work."

[hr]

[i][today][/i]

Kit watched the old-fashioned black second hand tick closer, closer, then hit the XII. It was on the floor now, face-up.

"It's been exactly three days now since Robert took their test. Do you think he would've passed?"

Oakley's heavy eyes rolled up at her and watched. He said nothing, of course. But he didn't laugh either. She'd let his dreary mood slip - they both needed sleep.

"Oakley, you're right. This whole situation is hilarious. We can laugh when we've slept, but somehow I don't think that'll happen soon." She groped for the packet, not bothered to turn her head, then clasped the plastic. "Want another marshmallow?"

Pillage
06/21/2007 12:08 AM

"He intrigued me at first." The old lady leaned against a wooden crate, voice echoing long in the little concrete room. Mr. Oakley listened a couple metres across, hands in his pockets, shoulders against the dusty opposite wall. "When he got our man's gear, he was very easy to converse with. So I took advantage of the situation. Rob always talks about how bored he is, how he always talks about that ward ... talked, I should say. It's very easy to reel in a bored thrill-seeker."

Mr Oakley joked "Oh, aren't you the psychologist? Listen to you," with a bare smile. Composed subtlely suited him; those suits who taught him to be tactically untraceable encouraged it. But this cramped cupboard's one lightbulb gave everything a very revealing, blunt feel. Thus why they spoke in private here.

Robert listened from below where they'd left him, an ear to the cold roof, held by a thin rickety steel step-ladder. It'd taken a while to find their exact spot, but they said nothing he didn't recognise. Soon Mrs Oakley would come with his instructions, and he wanted to know everything. They expected him to end up teaching the next Boarders, chances were. He wouldn't give his free life for a title only others respected. But they had a billion dollars, and he'd get his bit ...

"Well, it's my job to deal with the main players, and yours to make entire crowds chase people."

The room must've been tiny, the way her voice echoed. The extra concrete at their feet drowned their voices more. Robert strained.

"Sure, but look what it got us. We have him, and he's about to join the Board. This eliminates a good portion of our troubles."

"A good portion? You mean all. What should I put into the loyalty test? Any suggestions, before I send him to it?"

"Well, we're almost out of coffee ..."

"Anything that proves his loyalty to us."

"Come on, Jan. What kind of enemy brings you coffee?"

"We're not making him buy coffee."

"I know, I just thought we needed some laughter. Everyone's so dire when we should be celebrating. We have him!"

"Last chance."

"I have nothing, but thanks for asking, dear. Go to it."

Above Robert's ear, a click rattled the floor. The door opening. He scampered down, fluid and careful so the brittle ladder wouldn't fall, carried it under one arm to the store-room, jammed it into the dark, shut the door fast and waited.

She came through the fire exit door and down the shallow ramp soon, smiled at him and stepped close; her leather shoes didn't give the [i]tap tap[/i] he expected.

"Bert, the Board have consulted, and we need you to watch over our son all of today. We know there'll be an attempt on him, and rather than deal with it beforehand, we thought you deserved a chance to prove yourself. Though we're excited to have you interested, if there's no way to prove yourself, we can't let you in. This won't be your first act as Security necessarily, but you will be handling our security. Here," she held out some little black gear, palm-down, and let it fall into his hand. He knew before seeing it: the mic and headset like Steve's.

"Do I just put it on like before?"

"Yes, you seemed to have the gist. Was it ever uncomfortable or loose?"

He clamped the mic onto his white collar, flashing light inside, unlike Steve's duct tape job. Robert was still missing chest-hair, but blamed having no time to check for the clamp. "No, it's good." The listening piece went snug over his right ear. "Is this right?"

"That's right. Now, I'll only tell you this once. There are four other plain-clothed guards with him. One is Paul, your former colleague. So you'll know who they are - they've dealt with you before, but with different members. You may recall Rob occasionally having a group of hard-looking men in his office for a very long meeting, where they seldom talked."

Realisation washed through him. Robert laughed. "I had a suispicion."

"Of course. Today you're leading them. Our current intel is, they've researched camera positions and won't attempt anything if you can see or hear them. This is quite plausible, so we can expect them from the air vents, well-equipped and very fast. Can you fire a gun?"

"As in, can my index finger squeeze things? Of course. I'm not a bad aim, either."

The little old lady reached into her coat and pulled it out. Robert almost lost his balance, shocked.

"This is a standard issue Glock 9mm." She turned the silver pistol over, showing it, then pulled back the hammer and let it click in place. Mrs Oakley lifted it, aimed forward with an eye shut and fired into the wall. Echo made the loud shot a shattering roar. Robert stumbled back.

"It's loaded?!" His voice shook, but he grinned.

She clicked on the safety, slid the clip out and handed both to him. Careful, he took them and put one in each pocket. Mrs Oakley reached both hands in her coat, fumbled round, then pulled out a black leather holster stuffed with ammo magazines.

"See, Bert? I told you it'd be interesting. But you probably won't have to use this, so keep the safety on. We only damage other groups as much as they damage us. On that note, we still owe you temporary paraplegia."

[hr]

"See, Oakley? One way or another, we were going to do lunch."

Watching the city from his chair, a habit from watching crime flicks, Oakley shrugged. "I guess so."

This'd been going on all day. Robert pointing out how nothing had changed, he'd enjoy the job far more now, he'd finally gotten that pay rise. It annoyed the boss. He deserved it for getting Robert off-guard the same way before this started.

His prouest moment came a few hours ago. Oakley was walking toward the mens' room. Robert paced toward him in formation with the others, reached to the boss's pocket, then bumped into him and returned the hand to his pocket. Before it could ring, he punched in Kit's number and texted her, hand in his pocket:

change of plan, we're leaving very soon. keep playing along. stay away from them or you'll get to see dad. might even be his cellmate. give oakley our last regards when you can. don't answer this

He sent it, feigned a coughing fit, let the phone drop on the carpet behind him and paced slowly around the mens' room door. A burly guard in blue pinstripe waited outside with him, looking around, relaxing. When the phone rang, they assumed he'd dropped it. Nothing he did today could beat that.

Now, about to go to lunch, the roof creaked above them. Two men strode through the office doors, reached to their waists, then the vent's gauze above them fell and shook the floor. His clock fell and thumped after it. A third man dropped onto the carpet, facing Oakley, a pistol in each hand. When he stopped, Robert saw at once they were machine pistols, the other two men had Glocks like his drawn, and each wore white business suits.

"Let's be quick about this." The uzi man didn't take his eye from the target. "We're not afraid to kill him, and nobody needs to know about your security lapse."

This was a very hasty plan, as Robert had known from the start. He drew his own pistol, cocked it, stepped toward Oakley and pressed it to the boss's head.

"Alright, all of you. Change of plan, and I don't care who out there sees."

Pillage
07/02/2007 1:09 AM

[b]From: Bert
June 21, 10:34:56 AM[/b]
[i]change of plan, we're leaving very soon. keep playing along. stay away from them or you'll get to see dad. might even be his cellmate. give oakley our last regards when you can. don't answer this[/i]


Kit snapped the phone shut before he could see and returned her hand to the wheel. The test of loyalty - like she'd assumed. They must've had a very good reason for getting her to drive Oakley around and entertain him until business hours were over. He kept asking, nagging why he couldn't work today. Bert must know their plan, she figured. They had a routine for situations like this. He'd steal a phone, text her to be ready, then text again when he needed backup. Now she had Oakley, unknowing, annoyed over trivialities that'd mean nothing if he knew what was happening in his office.

Oakley hummed beside her, amused. "So you're working for the Board now. Of all people, why did they send someone who I've met?"

"I suspect they have their reasons." She looked ahead, braked hard and halted just short of the next car's bumper. Both jolted forward hard.

When they steadied he continued, voice refreshed by shock, "To distance you from Bert for his loyalty test? I knew they'd use him. For the kinda security they caught him with, they must've had more than one very good reason."

She didn't answer for a bit. Then, "I feel like coffee. Let's find a cafe and discuss the Board more, what do you say?" in an accidental mother's tone.

He laughed. "You should consider childcare."

Kit let herself grin. "And you should consider watching your tone before I feed you to the nearest kidnappers," she joked, realising Oakley was a decent guy.

[hr]

"Don't do anything rash, man." The crouching one raised himself, slow and deliberate, hands steady. "You don't need to die for him."

He was charismatic. But he was negotiating with a con. Bert had noticed it all day, Oakley's distinct difference, unexcited mutter and fatigue compared to usual. A very good faked virus, in a workaholic who insisted on one more day before he recovered. But he'd never seen Oakley sick. For now, he'd pretend.

Robert motioned with his gun, "Get up," then stood back. Oakley's body double stood, flinchy but composed.

"Now," he moved forward and pressed the barrel to his neck, "hand me your phone."

His hands shook, then went to his pocket, retrieved the old black phone and handed it over his shoulder. Robert punched in a message without looking down.

[i]getaway car in the office basement now. do you know where oakley is? you can answer[/i]

He pocketed the phone. "Now," the free arm linked tight around Oakley's, "everyone, please don't try to follow us. I'm the only one here not afraid to die, I'm sure."

With a nudge in Oakley's firm-built ribs, he shuffled quick to the door. They lowered their guns and let him go, to his surprise. The glock fell to Oakley's back; facing the guards, he stepped out the door, scurried to the elevators, held the hostage between him and anyone who might see the gun's barrel hit the down button, reached in and pushed for the ground floor, kept moving down the hall, then elbowed the fire exit door-handle down. They hurried in, he pushed the heavy door shut without slamming.

At the basement floor they hid behind the nearest car, between the door and them. Robert leaned in close. "Now, where's Oakley?"

His voice trembled. "Are you going to kill me?"

"I paralysed the last one they sent, did you see on the news? My mind is determined for two conclusions right now, answers or trouble. What'll it be?"

"I don't know anything! They said there'd be a kidnapping drill for a security team, and I was impersonating a real guy, is this part of it?"

He had no idea. "Who did you deal with, getting this job?"

"I don't know, I didn't see her. She said she was part of Central Security, and they'd pay well. I'm an impersonator. This is just a drill, right?"

"You should've used your judgement," he taunted. "I'm here for Robert Oakley's money. My name is Robert Morton, I'm a criminal genius. Need I tell you more, or should I take it out on something you'll miss?"

"What is this?!" His voice echoed. Robert decided to whisper.

"Have you heard of The Board? The urban legend, if you believe the cynics, about a group who give their client physical immortality? It's their job to protect him from people like me. They thought I was working for them, and this is my loyalty test. It was either this or prison."

"You're going to outsmart The Board?" he whispered back. The door across from them opened. Robert pushed him under the car, let the actor crawl and joined him. The black work-trousers and leather shoes suggested it was just a co-worker. They waited for him to stroll from earshot.

"That's right ..."

A engine-hum like the Board's black cars moved gradually around the carpark, coming nearer.

"... so far it's worked perfectly, and with your help, we're going to pull it off. Come on, that's either my sister or more of them."

He shoved Oakley out, rolled from under the car, pressed his glock to the hostage again and watched the black sedan approach. Kit was driving, which he'd expected but was still amused by. Seeing the passenger seat, the surprise never hit him, undermined by utter shock.

"Is that ..." He cast Kit an amazed look. Halfway through her nod, he burst out laughing.

"This is the greatest job yet! Get in the back."

He clicked the pistol's safety on and holstered it. Robert hurried to the seat behind him and got in. "Go!"

They sped to the automatic door. Kit swiped Robert's card, waited for the slow folding grey sheet-metal, light slitting very gradually over the bonnet. Then sped into the traffic.


Their similarity amazed him. Standing beside each other, watching the chrome doors, clothes the only difference. The actor gripped the banister behind him with both hands, feeling the elevator's vertigo more in his heightened adrenaline. The real Oakley didn't know he had a gun, so their reactions told them apart.

Sharp footsteps echoing deep around them, all four passed where Robert had taken the step-ladder. He stopped them, thinking.

"You two. Go in there and change clothes."

They both looked back, more incredulity in the real Oakley.

"Do it." He opened the door.

Both went in, no protest. Robert's influence surprised him. He pressed an ear to the door, in case they planned anything. After a bit, they came back out, both looking sheepish. The one in Real Oakley's medium-blue, tieless suit flinched first.

He whispered to Kit "Take the real one. He's our insurance policy. They'll think he's still the actor. Search him. He doesn't have a wire."

She took Real Oakley by the shoulder (Robert thought he saw a flinch) and led him past where they'd come. Robert drew his glock, pressed it to Oakley's back and led him to the hall outside the Board's black meeting room. In there, he took in the hollow feel that promised a very loud echo, considering. She'd knocked on the wall and it opened, but the room was soundproof. Either she'd lied, or they had cameras. Only one flaw in the plan, but they still had Oakley hostage. He cocked his chin and screamed,

"Mrs Oakley! I have your son at gunpoint! Open up!!"

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