by Matthew McLean
Jhel Phen looked at the earnest young woman in front of him and gave her his most comforting smile. He made certain to keep any hint of sexuality out of it, but that was easy for him. Jhel categorized his smiles and demeanors the way other lesser creatures categorized their wardrobes. He was aware of himself and the impression he gave to others at any given moment.
“Dr. Xiaong, I know that a lifetime contract with GT can be an unsettling prospect at first. You’ve put a great deal of time into your academic work and the value of your knowledge and intelligence are…” he paused, looking away to break contact, feigning sheepish awe. He looked up at her, making sure to catch her eyes and bring the smile up an octave. “Well, quite astounding.”
Draw the features in, bring the serious. “But think of what GT has to offer you. The resources that GT can put at your disposal for your research is unparalleled by any organization on Earth. Imagine what you could do with – “
The beeping of his handset was both unexpected and unwelcome. Jhel could feel that he was close to pulling Xiaong in. He was reaching down to shut it off when he recognized the notification tone. The confusion that this produced almost broke his smile, but his control set in.
“Excuse me for a moment.” Unclipping it from his belt, he knew who he would fire if he missed this hire. “I have to take this.” Standing up from the immaculate leather chair, Jehl knew that he looked good in the afternoon light coming in through the office windows behind him. He walked into the bathroom adjacent to his office. He opened the door and closed it behind him in such a way that Dr. Xiaong wouldn’t see the porcelain.
“What” the question sent spittle from his lips, “the fuck is it?”
“Uh,” the syllable was enough for Jhel to recognize the voice of Lee, his pet technician. “Sir, a flag just went up.”
“This fucking well better not be about the Canadian negotiation.” Jhel lowered his voice. He knew the bathroom was soundproofed against the office, but you never knew who was listening.
“No sir. It’s about Kansas.”
There was an explicit understanding between the two never to mention this. The mention of it almost made bladder control an issue for Jhel. He was suddenly glad he was in the bathroom.
“Where are you?”
“Control Room 3RC, sir.”
“I’ll be down in one minute.”
Jhel knew from Xiaong’s files that she preferred green tea with honey. Spiking it with endorphins would hold her for long enough. The synthetic peptides weren’t easy to get, requiring a circuitous transaction of crypto-currency in the darker corners of the Terran Information Network, but using a little of his supply was apposite in this case.
The executive elevator took only a few minutes. Stepping off into the sterilized halls of a non-existent basement floor, Jhel found his way to Control Room 3RC in little time. Hitting the biometric security, he pushed open the heavy door and stepped through in record time. The room was dark except for the flood of the monitors that lit Lee’s face.
Jhel walked up behind the technician, standing at his left shoulder. “My quarterly bonus is upstairs and high. You have 15 minutes.”
Lee pulled a series of images off the bank of screens using his multi-touch sensor. They floated there as he highlighted a series of events.
“I’ve been following a package. We’ve got reconnaissance assets in the area.” With a snap of the glove Lee brought forward an image of a crumbling building front. It had a single sign that read, ALON BAR.
“The assets tracked the package here. When it remained stationary, observation was set up.”
“That doesn’t look like Kansas.” Jhel pointed at the floating image, some superstitious part of him preventing him from actually touching it.
“What, exactly, does this have to do with Kansas?” said Jhel, successfully managing not to spit.
“Wait.” Speaking and pointing, Lee pulled in another screen. Motion jumped in the illusion. A figure stepped out of that bar’s front opening and moved to the street, hailing a taxi. Judging by the number of people on the street, it must have been the dead of night.
The video held no value for Jhel, who was about to make that point very clear when Lee reversed the motion of the video and froze it. Pinching the taxi-hailer between thumb and forefinger, Lee magnified the face. A green, square halo appeared around the magnification and cleared up the resolution. Jhel recognized the face immediately as Lee pulled it into focus.
“It’s Kansas, sir.”