Week 5 of Short Story Sunday. Per usual, the majority of the segment is under the cut. Read the beginning and then click the link to read the rest. See the “Short Story Sunday” page for previous segments. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.
5: The Presentation
straightened his tie. Director Grace glared at him in the elevator. “Pull
yourself together,” he ordered. “Bradshaw can smell fear and doesn’t want it in
any of his officials. You’re a manager for God’s sake. Act like it.”
his stance. “Yes sir,” he said, strong and clear.
Grace said. “You’re about to walk a thin line. Be sure that you know which side
you want to end up on.”
there to say? Instead he stared straight ahead at the mirror-paneled wall as
the elevator continued to rise. His mind raced faster than the buttons lit up
as they traveled to the top floor. Would this work? Or was he screwed?
Not with such a punishment at stake.
prepared speech in his head. We introduced
this idea back in January, but didn’t have everything we needed. Until now, he
mentally rehearsed. His clammy hands readjusted their position on the file
containing the details of Project H.
mildly pleasant voice said, “Penthouse Suite.”
followed Director Grace out the door. The view of the penthouse office, his
first, made him stop again almost immediately.
room was entirely windows that looked over the city and the surrounding area.
The room itself had gleaming hardwood floors – unlike the linoleum of the rest
of the building – and high ceilings. Four desks sat in the part of the room
closest to the elevator, where four people sat working busily. Francis saw two
hallways branched off the room, and assumed that one led to Bradshaw’s office.
they were on and looked up at the newcomers. “Do you have an appointment?” he
forward. “Yes. Director Grace and Manager Spear. His 10 o’clock.” The secretary
pulled up the schedule on the computer, scrolling through it with a single
up and left the room, moving to the hallway on the right.
“Thank you, Jack,” he said calmly. As soon as Jack was out of sight, Grace
turned to Francis. “Jack is the only way to get into Bradshaw on time. He’s the
head secretary and the key to getting anything done. Before you were promoted,
you sent all materials to The Office of the Mayor, correct?” Francis nodded.
“Well now you’re sending them directly to Jack. But – ” Grace leaned closer to
hiss “ – address them always to Secretary Jones. Never use a first name unless you have been up here and seen Jack
in person. If you address it to Jack, but that day they’re Jackie, it won’t
make it to Bradshaw.”
“Bradshaw has a bigender secretary?” he asked, his voice a whisper that echoed
“Bradshaw’s a power-hungry asshole, not a barbarian,” he said, straightening as
Jack rounded the corner towards them. “It’s been, 35, 40 years since the LGBTQI
Rights movement. You shouldn’t be surprised.”
that, Jack returned within hearing distance in the spacious room. “The mayor
will be with you shortly. Please take a seat.” He indicated the seating area
behind the secretaries’ desks, and Grace nodded curtly in thanks.
and opened the file to look over it once again. Back in 2051, we learned of the existence of an abandoned project
ordered by the previous presidential administration, he mentally rehearsed.
hissed, drawing Francis’ attention. “Stop shaking your damn leg,” Grace
continued harshly when Francis looked surprised, trying not to draw the
attention of the secretaries. “What did I tell you about fear?”
roots of his blond hair, Francis mumbled an apology. This was not going as
expected. At least Grace didn’t seem like he was about to punish Francis. At
the briefing Francis gave before heading to meet with Bradshaw, Grace appeared
intrigued. And now … well he acted almost like a mentor. Not like a boss. A
good sign, right?
Grace’s watchful eyes, he closed the file and set it in his lap gingerly.
it down and consciously stopped moving his legs, a phone on one of the desks
rang. The woman answered it, said a succinct “Yes, sir,” and ended the call.
She stood and walked towards them, and Francis could feel himself start
sweating. “If you’ll follow me, please, the mayor will see you now.”
Grace calmly and pulled together, Francis desperately trying to imitate him.
They left the entry room and went into the hallway Jack did earlier. The walls
were mostly windows, revealing conference rooms on either side. A door at the
end of the hallway presumably led to Bradshaw’s personal office. Francis
figured they were going there, but instead the secretary showed them into an
empty conference room.
looking at Francis as the secretary left them alone.
the podium where a computer sat. He connected to the city office’s server and
logged into his account. Without hesitation, he located a presentation document
labeled with a single “H.” After clicking a few buttons, the beginning of the
presentation popped up in the hologram presentation spot of the conference room.
dimly, and Francis shut off one row of lights in the conference room. The
letter’s brightness grew.
Francis hoped the dim lights hid his red face.
he stumbled. “I – I – I worked on it in the Special Projects division back in
2051. It was closed due to lacking all the necessary materials, but – ”
interrupted sharply. Francis nodded, and wondered why the mayor threw a sharp
look at Director Grace. The director leaned back comfortably in his chair and
met the mayor’s eyes as he nodded slowly. Taking a seat, Bradshaw looked back
at Francis. “Continue,” he ordered.
environment, Francis continued. The presentation moved forward. The H
disappeared and the face of a young girl took its place, no older than 13. “At
Special Projects, it came to our attention in 2049 that corporate offices
located in Hollybrook featured an increasing amount of corruption. As you know,
sir, in 2050 we fought to combat this by inserting low doses of a chemical that
incites honesty in the city’s water sources. This improved the amount of
corruption, but not as much as we hoped.”
“Then, in 2051, we added a dimension to the program and named it Project H. A
girl – ”
Bradshaw snapped, and Francis reddened again.
But we’ve been looking for her ever since. There is strong evidence that she
will be returned to us soon. Until then, the preparations for Project H should
be resumed. Once she returns to Hollybrook, we will be able to proceed as
originally planned. With some improvements, of course.”
the holographic image of the girl. “You think this really could happen?” he
asked, but Francis could not tell who he directed the question to.
Grace answered, “Yes, sir. It can and will happen. And it will catapult
Hollybrook to the top of the list of influential cities, and you to the Oval
leaned back, smirking at Francis. “Make it happen, Manager Spear,” he said.
hurried to add, “But sir, I have to tell you how dangerous this could be. We
still don’t know how many people could die. I think further tests are needed to
tell for certain.”
an arched eyebrow, Bradshaw stood up. “You think,
boy?” he said, and laughed. “You’re not employed to think. You’re employed to act. Would you like to volunteer
yourself as the first test subject?” Francis didn’t reply. “That’s what I
thought. You’re dismissed,” he barked, and left the room
So, what do you think?