Kingdom of Acatalac Sneak Peek ExcerptSneak Peeks,
Here’s a sneak peek at Kingdom of Acatalec coming 2022! Haven’t seen the Chapter One Sneak Peek:
Read here first! —> Chapter One Kingdom of Acatalac Sneak Peek
I opened my mouth for a retort, only to have the elevator doors shut. I didn’t even know what I would have said, only that I would have liked the chance to see how witty I could have been. I’m sure I would have said something epic. I mean why not, considering I was probably being fired anyway.
Careful what you wish for, was what I should have said, because she knew deep down, I could ruin her career along with mine. She was after all just as responsible. They were her reports that I keyed in for approval to send out the drones on their runs. Her signature was all over that data. I could play innocent, I mean this was supposed to be a collaborative environment, I trusted her, I would say all too sweetly. If I could trust anyone in the company it should be the second-best drone pilot in all of Seattle. I grinned to myself evilly. Both at the thought that I would probably get away with it and secretly jab at her position simultaneously. I felt my heart sink, knowing full well I wouldn’t do it. No matter how evil she was, I couldn’t blacklist her whole career like that.
I mean I wouldn’t… would I?
The elevator opened up to the top floor, and it wasn’t anything like I expected. I didn’t really know what I expected, possibly a receptionist, some corporate artwork, and some glass offices for the big honchos of the company.
That was not what I was walking into. The light between the elevator and the floor blinked green as I rolled over it and a female voice that sounded like a famous actress on that strange college humor TV series that I couldn’t remember the name of said, “Would you like a beverage while you wait?”
“Uh, sure,” I stammered. I mean, why not enjoy the high life while I was still here. And it certainly was grand. The top floor was huge, a penthouse for the rich and fabulous. It had a luxurious sitting area with a large wall screen surrounding it to make it seem like you were watching the waves at a secluded beach, but one I’d never seen before. Did he send out a drone to an unoccupied beach somewhere warm and tropical that’d never been touched by human feet just so he could 3D record the location and download it to his office? I mean, sure, if you’re rich, bored, and entitled that sounded like it could have happened.
In the middle of the sandy serene scene a pop up projected out and prompted me to connect with my contacts listing off the beverage options. My eyes grew wide at the selection. The most prominent of the options being an expensive glass of dessert wine, and why not have a sweet glass of liquid courage before being kicked in the ass out the door? At the very least I’d get a nice, delicious buzz to dull the reaction time, maybe coming out of this meeting with some of my dignity intact. Let myself wallow in misery of self-loathing when I got home.
A spout came out of a sliding compartment in the wall above the beverage counter. Wine on tap, and automatic… now that was fancy. In the distance I could hear the faint sound of a cork being popped from a bottle, giving you the impression of freshly opened wine even though every glass was probably just as fresh with it being contained in an airtight spout system, but the ambiance was not wasted on me. I let out a sigh and wheeled up to the counter and picked one of the crystal glasses. Once I placed my glass under the nozzle it sloshed out like a tasty waterfall that I imagined sticking my face under like a wild animal. I didn’t of course, but the image was enjoyable to think about, I even shook my head in the air in reverence to it, with a stupid grin plastered on my face before I heard a gruff voice clear its throat behind me.
I paused, took a deep gulp from my glass before setting it down. I spun my wheels around to face him, and gave him a big smile, hoping it hid my embarrassment. But who was I kidding, it was him, and those brown chocolate eyes were always so analytical. They saw everything. I’m pretty sure he had X-ray vision, like Superman’s evil twin.
“A Trockenbeerenauslese shouldn’t be wasted. Grab your glass and join me in my office.” Even his voice was as smooth as the aftertaste still lingering on my lips. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I grabbed that glass and held it in both my hands like a precious goblet made of the most expensive jewels that even a dragon would be envious of, because it was the last expensive thing I would probably ever touch. I had to savor every last drop, and every smooth, chilled-filled touch of the glass. While his back was turned, I even lifted it to my lips and let my tongue play with the little drone shaped ice that floated in the liquid. I mean, even his ice cubes were special.
I didn’t really know which part of this massive floor was his office since it appeared to be a living space, until I saw a chair lift up from the floor in front of us. The glass windows around us became opaque and a folder with my name on it appeared on the screen. I could imagine this file taking up more data storage than the average employee with all of my late clock ins, and even bigger file if they knew about my after-hours activities.
Good Lord, not being able to stand had my eyes straight drinking in the full view of his finely tailored pants, and that wasn’t even the after-hours activities I was thinking about previously, but now it most certainly was.
I cleared my throat to change the spiral I was heading into. I took another swig of the wine, staring into the crimson liquid when I was done. When I finally lifted my gaze slowly, determined to enjoy my glass of last-ho-rah, he was seated in the chair, his eyes intently examining me. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and smoothed out a wrinkle on my pants. The whole wardrobe was full of wrinkles, even the one I smoothed out clung back into its original crease when I lifted my fingers.
If I’d known I was going to be coming up to the top floor with Mr. Perfect, I might have decided to at least throw my stuff into the dryer for a few minutes to dampen the whole washed-up-to-shore look I was gunning for.
But if I’d done that I would have been late, and honestly, that might have been better since Jessi would have been forced to finish the update acceptance on her own, and the drone would have gone to engineering. A late marker would have been preferable to what I assumed was coming.
I lifted my free hand, about to pull on my hair to try to tame some of my unruly mane but thought better of it. I mean, it was what it was at this point. The more I tried to make myself presentable, the more I would bring unwanted attention, and I decided I’d just own up to it. I was a mess, and shrugging I thought to myself, I preferred it that way.
Who was he, in his designer clothes, to change that? Oh yah… my boss for the next couple minutes anyways.
He finally motioned to the screen and my file opened up like it was real printed paper, but with all the papers inside having unreadable, blurry writing.
“Ms. Beryl, what do you think I’d find in this file?” he asked, but his eyes never wavered from me. Switching my attention from the screen back to him, I shouldn’t have strayed back to him, his expression was much too similar to the file… unreadable.
Was I in trouble? Did he know I manually flew his transport drone, or that I should have grounded it as soon as I found out it had a malfunction? Did he think I was just joyriding on the company credit?
They all varied in degrees of consequence, none great, but some better than the truth.
I opened my mouth, then closed it. I was about to confess everything, because that’s what being around him made me want to do. Every bone in my body ached to just unleash all of my problems to him, unburden myself.
I blinked several times to stop that stupid train of thought, how dumb did he think I was? That would be tantamount to quitting, and as much as I hated how boring this job was, I only needed to work here long enough to qualify for a private piloting license. As soon as I had that, I could leave, and actually feel the speed of a drone, fly in private airspace, do tricks, and utterly enjoy all the possibilities without as much restrictions as passenger drones.
Convincing my boss that I’m worth the risk of keeping on, despite my poor choices on which company policies I followed seemed impossible. But I could perform in the Skylark Drone Parade or even be the star in the Seattle Technology Fair to show off new features, anything, to keep my job.
“Glowing reviews?” I joked, knowing I may not be the best at customer service interactions. I could almost see a smile at the corner of his mouth before it disappeared. At the very least, if he fired me, I might be able to convince him not to say why I was fired to future employers.
Maybe I could get a job in packaging delivery services for a while? An even shittier job, for the worst of the drone pilots in the business. I mean those things pretty much ran themselves, and the companies made the drones so cheap that they could care less about one breaking down and crashing into a fiery pit of disaster. Really, all the pilots were there for was to make sure that, if they did fail, they landed somewhere it caused the least amount of damages to surrounding things, avoiding a building, or a person walking on the street. Bonus, if the package the drone was carrying landed safely enough not to be damaged, so that another drone could go pick it up and complete the delivery. Please, don’t fire me. Might as well fall to my death now.
The awkward silence building between us was making me more nervous. Like a bandage I wanted him to rip it off and tell me what I needed to explain myself out of to keep this job.
“It’s a good thing we have preprogrammed A.I. for most customer needs, though you weren’t all that unpleasant earlier today.” His silky voice made even my shortcomings seem like a compliment. I wasn’t unpleasant, and the way he said it, I found myself blushing at my almost, but not quite, pleasant nature. Tell me how not unpleasant I am again, was what I wanted to say, but of course bit the inside of my lip instead to prevent any more embarrassment.
I doubted any of that talk would help me keep my job, but if it did then I’d be screwed, because I didn’t think I could bring myself to act like a smitten dumb dumb in front of someone so annoyingly perfect, too much of a power grab. And not even one I could pull off successfully. Got to keep the little dignity I had to be able to wheel myself out of here after it was all said and done.
“I’ll try to keep that in mind next time I offer a survey. On the bright side, one less survey to give out to meet my quota.” If there was even a next time. I tried to keep my best poker face on, the same one I used when I wanted to fool my mom into thinking our communication was broken. I had enough listening to her complain about when I’d get out of the house, and meet ‘people’. If only she knew what I did when I got out of the house to make some extra credits.
“When not responding to my personal drone, feel free to utilize the automated A.I. for your survey quotas.” He paused to let that sink in. I had future surveys to complete, meaning I still had my job. He didn’t check the reports in my sector yet, I still had some time. “What are your goals at Zeiten, Ms. Beryl?”
Relieved, I turned my attention away from those chocolatey eyes of his to gulp down an obscene amount of wine to steady my nerves. I didn’t even get to enjoy the flavor, but I couldn’t keep holding the glass in my hands anymore. My hands were sweating, and I feared I’d either let the expensive crystal slip and shattered on the floor any second, or even worse, crush it between my fingers with a single nervous twitch when trying not to let it slide out of my grasp. Coughing on the sudden intake of wine, I wiped my lips, and as gently as I could set the glass down on the small table holding a house plant. I nearly shoved the thing into the plant itself, just to hide it, but he was watching me.
“Well, I would like to advance to a position that can utilize my piloting skills more regularly. Eventually, that is,” I didn’t want to sound greedy for a promotion when moments before I thought I was going to be fired, “It’s just that you know, I know those positions don’t open up regularly. So, I can wait, that is, it would be nice eventually to transition to the adventure side of the business. You know, like a maybe help out as an event pilot for tourists and thrill seekers when someone goes on vacation?” I quickly add, “No rush or anything. I don’t dislike my job,” I tried to clarify that this wasn’t a dissatisfaction of my current job, because I really couldn’t afford to lose it, but really… who would be satisfied with this job? But he didn’t need to know that, right?
I can’t believe I even told him about my dream of being an event pilot. Seconds ago, I thought I was being fired, and I had the nerve to pretty much say I wanted to be promoted. What was I thinking?
Those damned eyes kept sucking out my secrets, if he didn’t stop staring at me, I’d probably start blabbing about how attractive I found him, especially in those fitted slacks. Why couldn’t there be a desk in front of him so I didn’t just let my eyes wander all over his sleek muscles?
I mean, he wasn’t like ripped or anything, but definitely toned. Who was I kidding, he had to work out for that, I just really wanted to say something about him that wasn’t absolutely everything a girl could ask for. All I had was, maybe he could have been taller, but even that didn’t matter considering I sat in a wheelchair. He would always be way too damn tall for me.
That’s it, he was too tall.
Take that Mr. Perfect.
He merely nodded at me before letting me see one of the documents in my employee file. It had my piloting scores… and I would have felt smug about it, until he pulled up Jessi’s scores right next to mine. So, she wasn’t bad at her job, so what? I could have done better on that performance drill, but Jessi always found a way to get into my head, even during training.
“We do have a part-time opening for something a little more hands-on than your current position, though—” He then pulled up another document on the screen which showed my customer reviews, my tardiness, and all the rest of my dedicated work history statistics. And just like I feared, he also pulled up Jessi’s stats next to mine. She was much more pleasant than I was and got a lot better scores than me in her work ethic, and customer satisfaction ratings. “As you can see, you are not the only candidate for the position.”
“So, then,” feeling much too bold for my britches I responded with a sour, “What did you call me up here for then?” To rub it in my face that the only thing going for me was my piloting skills, and I was a less than pleasant person to work with?
“You’ve demonstrated much higher piloting capability than your previous scores indicate, as if you’ve been getting more manual hours logged than what your charts have recorded.” He flourished to the screen showing my pilot hours awarded, and the stats of those hours. My cheeks burned, and that heat sank deep into my belly making that glass of wine in my stomach create waves through my nerves. Was he saying what I thought he was saying?
I was getting fired.
With my mouth ajar I stared at him, unable to confirm or deny this statement. He was right, I was getting in a lot of extra piloting hours through illegal drone races, and those events were known for extreme circumstances that required a lot more maneuverability and practically a Hail Mary prayer to your intuition to remain under the radar, and in one piece. Or in my case, skill, and a lot of manual unlogged overrides every time I went to work. I mean the only life I was putting at risk was my own, and that risk went way down with all my practice.
“It was nearly seamless,” he praised, “you would have got away with it, no one the wiser if it were anyone else.”
Nearly? I pressed my lips together tight to stop myself from asking the only thing that mattered to me in that sentence, where did I go wrong? What could I have done to make sure he never knew?
He grinned at me, an amused quirk of his brow at my crossed arms and poorly masked agitation. “I’ve only seen this level of piloting where I grew up, but,” like answering my prayer I eagerly anticipated him telling me what tipped him off, I leaned in, “You could use some more practice, so I’m going to increase your allowed manual training time.”
“You’re what?” I choked, realizing what he was giving me was way better than a promotion, because a job was still a job that dictated what kind of things I could do with the drone, and this… this was free range skill training. I couldn’t be happier, unless he folded that offer into different words that didn’t include, you could use more practice. I needed to know how he noticed? And almost as important, why I wasn’t fired?
“And I’ll be changing your pass codes to only work during training hours,” he added as if he didn’t just stab me in the gut, “When you come into work, you’ll have to come grab me so I can log you into your terminal with restricted access codes.”
He might as well have fired me. This was like chopping off my left tit and feeding it to a grinder. I wouldn’t be able to manually redirect a drone or fly my own transport on the way to work. My login credentials wouldn’t work outside these walls, and even if I wanted to manually take over a passenger craft again, I wouldn’t have the access to do it even during work hours. He was suspending my access, and if anything were to happen like today again, I would be forced to get an infraction and ground the drone no matter what.
I’d have to find an upgraded chip to even think about link fixing a drone to manually fly again. That would mean more credits, that I didn’t have.
“You can’t be serious?” I said dead pan.
I checked my interface, and scrolled through my work credential settings, and they were still intact. A second later it refreshed, and an icon with a red circle and white dash appeared. I activated it and a pop up appeared saying: Restricted access to training drones during the hours of four a.m. to six a.m. and eight p.m. to nine p.m. only.
“That’s insane!” I huffed out after I read it. No sane person was going to come into work before work hours and stay after work hours to login to training.
“I’m very serious, Ms. Beryl. I can’t very well have you training during peak customer hours. These are our lowest trafficked hours.”
“But how am I supposed to work?”
“Your job is the same. I’ll log you in when you come in, and I’ll log you out when you leave. Should you require an emergency need for further access, you can transfer the drone to me by activating the call button in your interface.”
“The updated credentials shouldn’t interfere with your typical duties. I’m actually very surprised you had this much access to begin with, but it makes sense considering you were one of the original hires for this sector when it expanded.” He pushed up from his seat, like the conversation was over, and the chair receded back into the floor.
He walked towards me, and my breath hitched up as he stopped beside me. His strong hand reached out, making me nearly choke on my own spit, thinking he was going to push my hair behind my ear. My cheeks flushed like I’d just applied fresh makeup powder before his hand passed my face and picked up the empty wine glass. “I’ll log you in after you’ve had some time to let this settle.” He took the glass to the counter, and it slid out to reveal a dish washing rack. It closed, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave this spot in his office. The screens with my records and Jessi’s records blew off and faded back into a serene oasis on the glass walls.
“You’re welcome to stay up here until you’re ready,” he added while he motioned to the couches.
I dumbly brought attention to my wheelchair like he was the government expecting me to reveal my alien nature by uplifting myself from my contraption to lie all vulnerable on his couch with no way to escape. My chair wasn’t obnoxious like some peoples, it was sleek, and had see-through silicone padding with clear plastic in the most tapered down design so it was as close as possible to disappearing. I preferred to be as much like a floating magician as possible, even my wheels were actually omni-directional treads, and as unobtrusive as my budget could afford.
If it were up to me, I’d upgrade to the magnetic field chairs, or if I were getting into the crazy expensive category, I’d swing for the new AmbularGo upgrade. But, with my paralysis not being a recent accident it made the whole process of rebuilding neutrons and nerve-endings to attach to the device a pretty intense process. Hence the expensive and the crazy part, but so worth it to have my legs be connected to my own will again. Who cares if I couldn’t feel them, as long as I could make them do what I wanted with just a neural connection from my NeuralGo to my AmbularGo. Even that was still a maybe, in terms of rebuilding the neural pathway that’s deteriorated already, but a chance is a chance, and I’d take it faster than my NeuralGo could connect to a drone. And I’ve disabled my delay sequencing, so that’s faster than even my brain could interpret.
Lost in my own thoughts about walking, which was why I wanted one of the highest paying drone piloting jobs available… and why I even entered illegal races to begin with, besides the excitement of manual flying. To be able to walk again, I mean, I can’t even remember how it felt anymore. I was eight at the time. It was like he teleported in front of my eyes when I saw him again, he was kneeling in front of me.
He had misinterpreted my far-off gaze for drunkenness.
“You are a lightweight, Ms. Beryl. If I’d known this, I would have insisted you indulge in a different beverage.” Before I could protest, he bypassed my wheelchair’s security system measures and disengaged the straps that kept me secured so I didn’t have to actively adjust myself all the time. I’d never really considered myself a lightweight, and I’d never let anyone, not even my mother, help me transition anywhere.
I preferred to handle it myself, and yet for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to get angry at the fact that his toned muscles were cradling me, and I was forced to wrap my arm around his neck. My fingers grazed his soft hair, and I resisted the urge to stay there and pet it, or grab it. Partially because he was my boss, and also because yanking his head back for thinking I couldn’t do this myself if I wanted to would be detrimental should he drop me. He gently placed me on the couch, and the lights dimmed.
I found myself unable to prevent the words from coming out of my mouth, “Just because you’re handsome, doesn’t mean you can get away with pretending to be some strange prince charming swooping me up like some cave man. I’m perfectly capable of moving myself to wherever I want to go.” I knew then that the wine really had gone to my head, because I couldn’t excuse my lack of filter otherwise. “This is like slapping HR in the tit, and flexing your man muscles around like it’s okay to demoralize little old pathetic me, who had my accident before AmbularGo was invented, so I need some tall, dark, and handsome to come rescue me…” I stammered, and realized I was talking out loud, and not in my head before adding, “Well, I don’t. You know… need your help, that is. I could’ve done it, and…”
“You don’t need me,” he finished for me. His eyes grew dark, and I didn’t think that was possible given how dark brown they were to begin with, but I rationalized he did turn down the lights. He gave a short nod before adding, “You are more than capable of doing anything yourself, but the point I’ll make is that you don’t have to. I assisted not because I slap HR’s ‘tit’ as you say.” My face burned as the reflection of my words came back to haunt me in his own voice, “but because your eyes are clearly dilated with the effects of the wine, and I value the safety of my employees, and that of the passengers of our drones, more than decorum to remain distanced.” He stood then and gave a small head bow to me as his silent way of saying goodbye before he gracefully left me there, and the elevator doors chimed closed behind him.
What was the next step below getting all my credentials being controlled by my boss? I almost wished I was fired, just so I didn’t have to face him again. How was I supposed to look him in the eye after this?
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