Jameson White paced. He paced and he muttered. The things he muttered now concerned having to contact the corporate office on D’Ware Muda to tell them that a stolen package had been a) hidden in one of his facilities and then b) disappeared from said facility. Not only that, but the stolen package was dangerous. He followed the path around his office desk, where the carpet was worn. The Director of Planetary Operations stopped and noted that it was time for new carpet in his office. Provided of course that the home office didn’t have him fired and then nongrata’d. He looked at his comfortable executive chair wistfully then resumed pacing.
“Story. Get in here.”
Armstrong Story came into the office, but only far enough to actually be ‘in’ and not outside it. He didn’t say anything.
“You had a visitor today,” Jameson White said.
Armstrong Story nodded.
“You never have visitors.”
“Who was she?”
Armstrong Story stood still. “I’ve known her a long time.” His boss studied him.
White started pacing again, this time back and forth behind his desk in front of his chair and slower than before, watching the floor. “Would you call her a friend?”
“Yes,” Armstrong Story said.
“What did she give you?”
“All I saw was the package. I didn’t open it to see what was inside, she didn’t tell me what it was.”
Armstrong Story nodded again.
“All right,” White said and turned quickly to exit the office. “Come with me.” The two men walked down a long hallway that had framed pictures of the corporate officers of InStelExPS. The twelve portraits showed a variety of races in representative native styles. Armstrong Story noticed the sound portrait of Kl’lonb Teuy, the CEO from D’Ware Muda: it moved when Jameson White passed it, and rippled when Armstrong Story stopped to look. Teuy’s segmented eyes seemed shift. “Story,” White said from ten meters ahead. “You’re not here to look at the art. Let’s go.” Armstrong Story felt the eyes in the sound portrait follow him down the hall.
The conference room was huge, with eight giant screens surrounding the enormous table. One very well dressed man sat on the far side at the head. He smiled as White closed the door behind them. “Mr. Ferris,” White said, “this is Armstrong Story, the manager of the facility.”
“Well, Mr. Story,” Ferris said, “That’s quite a name you’ve got yourself.” The well-dressed man rose and came around the table, put out his hand. “Your parents fans of NASA or something?”
Knowing he was expected to shake hands with the stranger, Armstrong Story put his hand in Ferris’. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, students of history.” Ferris’ smile was big, white and ingratiating. He smelled slightly of cinnamon and anise.
“Ever use any other names? Any aliases?” Ferris was intent and then relaxed. “That’s okay, Mr. Story. Never mind. Please,” he indicated a chair to his left, “sit down.”
Armstrong Story did, keeping an empty chair between himself and Ferris. Jameson White was in the corner of the room opposite, his arms folded, his face frowning. Ferris leaned against the conference table, put his hands on the edges. “Would you tell me about the woman who visited you today?”
“She’s pretty, about forty, smiles a lot and always gets me to do what she asks. She’s human, possibly enhanced, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Do you know where she lives?”
“No,” Armstrong Story said.
Ferris stood up and walked toward the door, Armstrong Story turned his chair to follow. “Can you tell me her name, then?” Ferris made a study of one of the blank screens, probably looking for reflections in the glass.
“She signed a note to me with Em,” Armstrong Story said. “Ee, em. I assume it’s short for Emma or Emily or Embeth or something.”
“But you don’t know her name.”
“No, I don’t.”
Ferris turned back to Armstrong Story and looked hard, studying the manager’s face. Then he smiled. “He’s quite honest,” Ferris said to Jameson White. “Probably why she chose him.”
“What’s this about?”
“Mr. Story, I am a very wealthy man. Your friend --- Em --- has stolen something from me that I need to get back. A lot depends on you being able to help me.”
“All I saw was a package, about eight by eight, probably weighed nine or ten pounds.” Armstrong Story turned back to his boss. “I put it in the bottom of the bin bound for AlayaKin. It should still be there.”
Jameson White nodded and left the room, gently clicking the door shut behind him.
“Thank you, Mr. Story,” Ferris said. He was calm and cool, but the cinnamon and anise smell was distracting and familiar though Armstrong Story couldn’t place it. “Do you know what was in the package?”
“No,” he said to Ferris. “I asked if I should know and she said people would be looking for it and it was best if I didn’t know.”
Armstrong Story snorted a little. “People who wouldn’t connect her to me.”
“How do you think I connected her to you, then?”
“I don’t have the faintest idea.” he said to Ferris. “Maybe you had her followed. Probably the plant’s vidfeed or one of my staff said something.”
Ferris nodded at that and sat back. He folded his hands in front of his chest, his elbows on the armrests of the chair.
“What did you do for her? What was the nature of your relationship?”
Armstrong Story paused, looking over the man who smelled of cinnamon. There was something to the man’s carriage, his face, behind his eyes; something familiar. “I was a friend, Mr. Ferris. That’s all.”
“You --- held things for her.”
“Ever know what it was she gave you to keep?”
“Once or twice. Mostly not.”
“I would’ve gotten curious.”
Armstrong Story puffed up and put his hands on his knees. “I am a man of my word,” he said. “It didn’t matter if I was curious or not.”
Ferris put one hand up. “I meant no offense.”
Armstrong Story put his palms on the arms of his chair. He crossed his ankles. The two men watched each other without shame or guile. The room gradually filled with the nascent hum of power coursing through the walls, the screens, the overhead lights. The slight click and whine of the door opening crashed the silence and both Simon Ferris and Armstrong Story looked at Jameson White re-entering the room. White shook his head.
“It’s not there,” he said to Ferris. He stood between them and turned to Armstrong Story. “The bin is empty.”
“That’s disappointing,” Ferris said and put a hand to his cheek. “Would you like to tell me where the package really is, Mr. Story?”
Armstrong Story was nonplussed. “I put it in the bin, Mr. White. I did.”
“Story,” White said, “I’ve known you a lot of years, you’re a good employee. Tell Mr. Ferris where his property is.”
“I put it in the bin!”
“Who else would have had access to that bin, Mr. White?”
“Anyone working the floor.” White walked around the table and sat across from the other two. “However,” he said, “it wasn’t scheduled to load out and ship until tomorrow morning. Mostly retail stuff, nothing secure.”
Armstrong Story put his head in his hands, his elbows on the giant wooden table. “I forgot to pull it out and take it home with me. If I’d just taken it home, this wouldn’t be happening.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be happening here,” Ferris said running his hand over the tabletop. “Is it possible that she came back tonight?” He opened his palm, faced it up to the ceiling.
Armstrong Story shook his head. “She sticks to her timelines,” he said. “She said eight or nine days.”
“But it’s possible,” White said.
“Anything’s possible,” Armstrong Story said. He opened his hands and shook his head. “Anything.” He rubbed his temples again.
“Call the gendarme, Mr. White.”
Jameson White touched his jaw. “Security, please,” he said in a low voice. “Last chance, Story: where’s the package?”
“If it’s not in the bin to AlayaKin, I don’t know.” He stood up suddenly and faced Ferris. “If you found it here, you’ll find it again. Why are you doing this to me?”
Ferris was impassive.
Armstrong Story turned to White. “Why are you letting him do this to me?”
The door to the conference room opened again and two burly security officers came in. One was human but verged on being a giant; the other was a tentacled amphibian wearing a personal humidifier. Both looked grim.
“Take him to the cell on seven,” White said. The amphibian nodded and sloshed forward and put one tentacle on Armstrong Story’s left shoulder.
“At least tell me what was in the package,” he said to Ferris. “I can help find it if I know what it is.”
Ferris was deadpan looking at the table with what seemed disappointment. “It’s a time capsule, Mr. Story.”
Thanks for reading Sender.
©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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