Authors: James Cox
by James "Matt" Cox
The story presented here is fiction.
Any similarity to any person living, dead or virtual is purely coincidental.
Copyright 2013 by James M. Cox, Jr.
Cover Art by: www.viladesign.net
Books by James "Matt" Cox
A Pattern of Details
Books in the
This book is dedicated to Kat and Jim Cox;
My mother: who taught me to love reading at an early age,
My father: who taught me to love science fiction at an early age.
Chapter 1. An Ordinary Day
Micah Stone frowned at the complex fractal shape hovering before him. He moved his fingers minutely, just enough for the complex machinery in his terminal gloves to pick up the movements. The figures changed subtly and Micah knew the data were ready to go. He allowed himself a small, tight smile of satisfaction. He didn't know precisely what the data represented nor did he particularly care. He could, if he desired, investigate the cusps more closely or key in a query on his datapad but that prospect interested him not in the least.
Pulling his hands out of the gloves and removing the holovisor, Micah took a deep breath and stretched his arms and shoulders. None of the others in the office spared him much attention. Most of them deliberately so. Bad enough that he had the fine motor skills and mental flexibility to use a dex at almost full gain, Micah also earned his co-workers' contempt by his Status; or, by his lack of it.
Not that it mattered now. At first Micah entertained visions of using his job, not one usually taken by lowcarders, to gain more Status for himself and his family. Now he knew better.
Originally settled near the end of the Terran Imperium, Caustik had been a marginal colony at best. During the years of the Collapse and the chaos of the Interim afterward most of Terra's old colonies had been left to fend for themselves. All too often they regressed, dwindled, and ultimately died. Not so Caustik. The ad hoc - 'by default' - government instituted a prioritization system for utilizing the planet's meager and all too often tainted resources. No doubt it helped Caustik survive the interim, if not thrive, but by the time the erstwhile colonists had the planet mostly detoxified the priority system was too firmly entrenched to go away on its own.
Now a proud member of the New Stars Sovereign System States Trade League, Caustik held its Status system dear. At least the highcarders, those who controlled and profited by it, did. That left little room for Micah and other lowcarders like him to aspire to something better.
Shaking away his black mood Micah checked the time. Not long enough to start a new correlation and barely enough to fully service and clean his terminals. Micah powered down and took out the cleaning tools.
The voice belonged to Donald Adamson, Micah's supervisor. A man of little ability, no competence, and just enough Status to keep him his job.
“Sir,” replied Micah.
“I want this month's summaries done before you leave.”
“What?” The word slipped out of Micah's mouth before he could stop it. Most of the others in the office already had their gear packed and were chatting about what they planned for the coming long weekend.
“I said I want this month's summaries and estimates before you leave. Reprimand.”
Micah bit down on his anger this time. Several of the others tittered and began talking in cabalistic whispers. Adamson hovered over Micah, silently daring him to earn another reprimand. That hurt. Today was payday and this reprimand would take a chunk out of Micah's already meager paychit.
Adamson left when Micah powered up his terminals. As to himself, Micah let the fury boil within him. Adamson wasn't stupid enough to give Micah enough reprimands to get him fired, Micah out-produced all the others in Adamson's division combined, but he knew to a credit just how much he could shave off Micah's chit up to that point. Nor could Micah request a transfer: his only route was through Adamson. That reprimand had hurt, too.
Five minutes before quitting time Micah had the office to himself. He started the routines to gather the summary information and they just took time to run. When they completed, Micah could begin the slow task of massaging the data into proper shape for Adamson.
“Well hey there, darlin'.”
Micah felt a blush starting as Jennifer Harling walked into the room, her cleaning unit dutifully following her.
They attended school together, nothing more, until Micah ended up working in the offices she cleaned. Jennifer started the automatics, swayed up to his desk, sat by the terminal, and propped her legs on his chair arm. Across him!
Jennifer shifted and settled herself with a good rub against Micah. She'd always been a friendly flirt. Most of her classmates vied for her attention but none received them. The first time she met Micah working late she behaved no differently. Then, when she saw the effect it had on him, she began working it into an art.
“I'm sorry, darlin',” she said sincerely, “But no bad without some good.” She reached out and ran her fingers down Micah's arm. “I'll have you all to myself, sweetness. All night long.”
That produced the desired result. Micah blushed, full and bright. Jennifer squeezed his hand.
“Don't you dare leave without me.”
Micah's terminal chose that moment to beep, saving his frazzled brain from the need to reply. Still smiling, Jennifer rose, tousled Micah's hair and left him to his work.
Micah's fingers quivered just short of a cramp. He knew how to produce summaries with maximum efficiency but he usually didn't face them after a full day at work. Finally, though, he had the last fractal shaped. He saved the results, priority-coded them for immediate backup and disengaged himself from the terminal.
“Well, indeed, sweetness. I'm glad you didn't run away.” Jennifer reclined at his desk with her feet propped up, looking at him. “I wondered if you were ever going to finish.” She smiled and shifted her legs. For maximum show.
Before Micah could complete that thought Jennifer rose and moved behind him. She took his shoulders and began massaging them. Micah relaxed as the tension drained from him.
“Better, darlin'. Now. What were your plans for the evening? I hope you weren't planning to spend it all alone.”
“I've... I have work. Studying.”
She chuckled, warmly and honestly.
“And waste a perfectly good payday? 'Lethal Max III' is starting tonight and I really don't want to watch it all by myself."
Jennifer's words, and their implication, froze Micah's thoughts. She smiled with no apparent awareness that she'd just capsized the world under Micah's feet.
“Uh... Would... Would you like...” Micah tried to force out the words.
“Yes,” she said simply, “I very much would. Shall we?”
Outside the building Jennifer lit a drugstick and took Micah's arm. She didn't sway - that she saved for when she had him cornered - but she did occasionally run her fingers along his. They stopped long enough to pick up their paychits. Micah noted the reprimand and with it an unexpected bonus of overtime. Apparently Adamson miscalculated and Micah actually received credit for working late!
“Slaggies.” Jennifer dropped the chit into her bag casually. “But at least I got some over, too. Guess I took too long cleaning those offices.”
“That's not good,” said Micah.
“What are they gonna do, fire me?” Jennifer tilted her head at the building behind them. “That's a stipe anyway. If I lost it they'd just give me another one.”
Micah puzzled over this. Stipend jobs, usually menial, nasty makeworks, ordinarily fell to those with criminal cards, zero Status or no useful skills whatsoever.
“Insubordination,” said Jennifer, reading Micah's expression, “My supervisor, Status 5 and mean, wanted to torque me. I didn't. The bastard managed to bar me.”
Jennifer looked away but Micah still caught a twinge of anger and resignation.
She looked back and smiled.
“That's why I like you, sweetness. You see more than just a pair of...” Jennifer's smile widened and she pulled his eyes downward.
Micah's blush lasted until they reached the theater.
They settled in the middle back of the theater. Micah ignored the holographic ads and trailers and concentrated on Jennifer, who sat snuggled against him. He splurged on a large bag of popsoy and a pair of sodas and now every time he put his hand into the bag Jennifer found an excuse to reach inside as well. She seemed to know when he was looking at her and she took care to smile at him when he did.
Halfway through the movie Micah found himself paying less and less attention to it. With the sodas gone and the popsoy only a memory Jennifer moved even closer and somehow managed to maneuver Micah's arm around her. Much more fun than watching Arn Ironhand mow his way through the various villains plotting to subvert the League. Jennifer wore some soft, subtle perfume. When she settled her head on Micah's shoulder she captivated all of his interest.
The sudden, regular light reflected off Jennifer's face informed Micah the movie was finished. She turned to him, face bare inches from his. She leaned in and kissed him, quickly and softly, and made to rise.
“Let's go to the starport,” she whispered.
Lips still tingling, Micah could only nod.
Off in the distance one of Caustik Down's myriad landing pads brightened. Then, slowly but with acceleration, a shining spark lifted toward the sky. After a few seconds came thunder that didn't stop and the small speck of light joined the others sparkling in the sky.
Micah sat with Jennifer on a conveniently secluded bench with a spectacular view of the port.
“You know what I wish,” asked Jennifer.
“I wish they'd take me with them. Before she died my Gram used to bring me here. We'd have soyadogs and a lite and watch the ships take off. She always told me if I was a good girl they'd take me somewhere wonderful. Somewhere that wasn't here.” She grew silent. “Did you ever wish that?”
“Um... Not really. I used to wish I could do better. For my family. And my little brother.”
“That's so sweet!” She snuggled closer. “I like that. You never find it any more.”
“There was something else, too,” said Micah. He pushed the words out before he could consider what he planned to say next.
“Two wishes?” Jennifer shifted around to look at him.
“There was someone I really wanted a date with.” Micah looked away and worked to calm himself.
“Oh?” She moved fractionally away.
“Yeah. Her name's Jennifer.” There! He said it! Micah finally managed to look back at her.
“Blather,” she said.
“Truth!” he countered.
She smiled, wider and brighter than the starport.
“Well, indeed, Mister Micah Sweetness Stone! Why don't you lean over here and find out just how much Miss Jennifer wants that too?”
Heart racing, Micah leaned over and pressed his lips against hers. Time slowed and a hot, tingling warmth flooded him. His brain worked furiously, trying to record every detail and every nuance. Finally Jennifer pulled away.
“Mmmm,” she said, “I think I like that.”
“But I'm not sure,” she added impishly, “I need more data.”
After an eternity Jennifer scooted back.
“I'm really enjoying this,” she smiled, “but I'd enjoy it a lot more somewhere private.”
“My billet's not far.”
Micah walked with his mind full of nothing but Jennifer. He hadn't lied to her but he didn't consider his likelihoods very high. Apparently he was wrong! Jennifer didn't speak but she did occasionally look warmly at him. Micah suspected telepathy. They almost reached the tran station when his pleasant thoughts were rudely interrupted.
A hard shove to his back sent Micah sprawling. Jennifer stumbled but managed to keep her feet.
“Well duff me doofy,” said a voice Micah knew and loathed, “What have we here?”
As Micah stood, Francis Adamson, Donald's son, stepped into the light along with Lom Michaels and Fred Karris, Adamson's friends.
“Looks like a pair of prollies to me,” said Karris.
“Plus-plus,” responded Adamson, “No doubt planning to whelp a litter before sunup.”
Michaels and Karris guffawed at this. Micah's first instinct was to back away and Jennifer's hand on his arm pulling him that way only made him feel better about it. The other three didn't seem inclined to let them go, though. As they moved an errant breeze blew toward Micah. He smelled cheap liquor and beneath it a sour, sweet odor. Turbo! Highly illegal and ruthlessly prosecuted for those without enough Status to avoid it yet sought nonetheless by those of high Status and low. Micah felt a hollowness in his gut; for him to smell the drug so strongly at distance meant the other three were juiced to the stem!