(Author' Note : This story first appeared in the Tevun Krus ezine, compiled by Ooorah
TK 22: The Best of 2015. Check it out—if you haven't already— for some great stories and articles!)
WattPunk - a story in 3 parts
Walter Padelewski was running for his life. His sandalled feet slid on the shiny linoleum and his breath came in shuddering gasps as he raced down another seemingly endless white corridor. His straining ears could hear heavy footsteps pounding behind him but he didn't dare stop to turn his head for even a second. If he could only reach the computer laboratory at the end, he would be safe.
Once inside, it would take less than a second to trigger the security lock, and he would be on the right side of a four-inch-thick steel door, guaranteed to stop anything short of a nuclear blast. If he could only reach the lab.
The day had begun ordinarily enough. Morning meeting with the research staff, a quick trip to the cafe next door for a latte and a ham roll, then hours spent hunched over his keyboard, happily absorbed in his latest venture—creating an on-line writing platform.
His first feeling was one of simple irritation when Jewel opened his door and peered cautiously around the corner. "There are two men here to see you, Walt. Mr White and Mr Black. Have you got a moment?"
"Have they got an appointment?" he asked waspishly, knowing full well that there were no appointments at all. He had been most careful to quarantine the whole afternoon for his pet project.
Jewel allowed a small frown to crease her perfect brow. "They say they're from Mr Mazon, to discuss the ramifications of your new project. I think you ought to see them, Walt."
"Mazon, eh? I suppose I'd better see them then," he replied, with resignation. Alfred Mazon ran one of the biggest publishing companies—he couldn't afford to offend him, though he couldn't help wondering how his own small company could be of interest to such a giant.
As if they had overheard his reply, two large men appeared in the doorway, pushing past Jewel. The fact that they were both dressed in expensive grey suits did nothing to allay his first impression. Low brows, thick necks and unsmiling eyes said one thing. Whatever these men wanted, they weren't going to take "no" for an answer.
Walter swallowed nervously. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. How can I help you?"
Both men stayed on their feet, ignoring the two chairs in front of Walter's desk.
"This won't take long, Mr Padelewski," said Mr White. "It's very simple. Shut down your plans for an on-line writing platform and you won't hear from us again."
"But my site will be for amateurs, hobby writers. What harm can it possibly do?" Walter protested.
"Probably none," Mr Black smiled, but for some reason it didn't make Walter feel any better. "But we don't want to take the risk, do we?" he added.
"What happens if I don't?" Walter managed to squeeze out.
Both men smiled, but said nothing. The effect was more threatening than any words.
"I can't believe Mr Mazon would condone this sort of behaviour!" said Walter in a faint voice. He knew Alfred Mazon was a hard-headed businessman, but he'd never heard anything like this about him.
"Mr Mazon is a generous man," said Mr White. "But sometimes he can be too forbearing for his own good. It's our job to look after his interests."
"I'm sure Mr Mazon would be terribly upset if anything should happen to you," added Mr Black, in earnest tones.
"Now if you'll just hand over that laptop, we'll be on our way," said Mr White.
Walter's thoughts skittered around in his brain, seeking a way out. "All right, " he murmured, rising to his feet. "I'll just walk out with you." He clutched his laptop firmly to his breast and stepped out from behind the desk.
He walked toward the door, with both men following uncomfortably close on his heels. In the outer room, Jewel looked up from behind her desk with a worried expression. "Everything all right, Mr Padelewski?"
"It's fine, Jewel." Walter turned to the two men. "If you'd like to wait here with my secretary, I'll just fetch the backup disc from the safe," he added, attempting to project sincerity. Mr Black and Mr White exchanged startled looks. Evidently they had not realised he would have a backup somewhere else.
Without waiting, Walter strode off confidently down the corridor, his laptop still clasped under one arm.
"Hang on, we'll come with you," Mr White's voice followed him.
"I'm afraid it's secure area," replied Walter, over his shoulder. "Have a seat. It won't take me long." He went out of the office and closed the door.
For a split second, Walter thought he had got away with it. Then he heard footsteps. Without a second thought, he took to his heels and fled down the corridor.
"Hey! Stop right there!"
Ignoring the command, Walter whisked around a corner and ran even faster. Heavy feet pounded behind him—they might be big men but they were frighteningly fast.
Sweat ran into Walter's eyes but there was no time to stop and wipe his face. Time enough when he was safe inside the lab. At last! There was the door in front of him. Holding the laptop tightly under one arm, Walter flashed his security card with his other hand, pushed open the door and slammed it shut, just seconds in front of his pursuers. He shot home the safety bolt for good measure and stood back, watching the door as fists pounded against it from the other side.
He took out a handkerchief and wiped his face with a shaky hand. He was safe. Even if the men managed to threaten one of his staff into using their own security card, the door wouldn't open as long as the bolt was engaged.
He went straight to the small refrigerating unit and took out a bottle of water. Gulping thirstily, he looked around the lab. It was a while since he had been in here. It was filled with high tech equipment—the best and newest he could afford. Apart from the mainframe which occupied its own partitioned room, there was a 3D printer and several work benches, one of which was currently covered in boxes containing dismembered laptops, motherboards, and other bits and pieces his research team liked to play with. He wondered what Alan and Ivana were working on now.
He pottered around for a few minutes, filling in time while his pulse returned to a normal level. He wondered briefly how Jewel was coping with Mr White and Mr Black. Had she managed to call the police yet?
He supposed he'd be in here for a while, maybe even a few hours, until things were sorted out.
His gaze rested on a large object, tucked away between two benches and covered with a black cloth. Curious, he twitched the cloth away to reveal a large chair. With padded headrest and arms it reminded him rather unfortunately of a visit to the dentist. A set of small black headphones rested on the seat, with a thin black cord connecting them to a large retro- looking silver radio on one of the benches.
Aah. Just what he needed—some music to help him relax. Placing his laptop carefully on the bench, Walter sat thankfully into the soft cushions. He popped the headset on his head, then fiddled with the knobs on the radio, searching for a station. A faint hissing filled his ears but he thought he could hear music in the background. Walter smiled happily. It sounded like One Direction, his favourite band and rather guilty secret. He turned up the volume.
EEEEiiieeee! Walter screamed in agony as his brain was sucked out through his ears, converted into digital format inside the modified headphones, and circuited into the radio, which wasn't actually a radio at all, but a mini-CPU.
(to be continued...)
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EEEEiiieeee! Walter screamed in agony as his brain was sucked out through his ears, converted into digital format inside the modified headphones, and circuited into the computer. When he regained consciousness, he was floating in a vast black spac...