Story: Sunspots

Colin zipped his suitcase up completely. It was a tight fit, but his week’s worth of clothes were secure.

Leah stood over his shoulder, watching his every move.

“You know I can call one of my drivers to bring you to the airport, Colin.” Leah said.

Colin waved his hand in front of him at Leah.

“No, that’s fine. I have a cab waiting outside.” Colin said.
“That’s a waste of money. I’m calling a driver.” Leah said.

Leah pulled out her phone, a brand new Arcast Exceed smartphone, nearly fresh from the factory.

Colin sighed.

“Fine, Leah. Go ahead.”
“Thank you.”

While Leah was on the phone, Colin finished packing a duffel bag with assorted items; mostly things that wouldn’t fit in his main suitcase.

“Alright. You’re good.” Leah said, placing her phone in her shirt pocket.
“Good to hear.” Colin said.
“It’s a shame you aren’t staying for the Arcast Exceed launch party.” Leah said.

Colin sighed again.

“I went through hell this morning. I wasn’t even supposed to be at work today. Hence why I’m packing for my vacation in my office. It’s a damn fine office, but at its core, it’s still an office, which is the last place I should be packing my bags.”

“Very true. I’m sorry for that, but I’m grateful that you came through for us, Colin.”
“Whatever I can do to make Arcast Tech better, I’m all for it.”

Colin slammed his suitcase and duffel bag on the ground.

“Except right now. Now, I have a flight to catch.”

Leah laughed.

“Of course. We’ll miss you at the launch party, though.”
“I’m not exactly the party kind of guy, Leah.”
“Are you kidding? You made last New Year’s Eve the best one I’ve ever had.”
“That was an exception.”
“Whatever you say, Colin.”
“I’m exhausted. I’d look miserable if I showed up. All those bright, lovely faces. Then, me. ”

Colin picked up his luggage and began walking towards his office door. Leah held it open for him.

“See you on the 25th?” Leah asked.
“27th. Flight was cheaper. I didn’t want to waste the vacation hours, but I doubt I’ll be able to take another break this year.” Colin replied as he passed Leah and through the door.

“Even if you don’t think so, our celebration tonight will be a little less bright without you, Colin.”

Colin made his way to the elevator near his office, and pressed the ‘down’ button. The doors opened immediately.

“Take solace in the fact that I’m going to be recovering from the hell on Earth that I’ve been a part of recently. It’ll be a nice respite. And then I’ll be back to work, better than ever. Hopefully.”

Colin entered the elevator and turned to face the doorway. Leah stood there and gave him a wave and a smile as the elevator doors slowly closed.

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Story: The Spa Incident.

The loudest, roughest, blood-curdling scream rang out from the other end of the engineering floor.

The entire floor stopped working and raised their heads to look toward the directions of Colin’s office.

Adam and Allison ducked into Allison’s cubicle.

“Was that Colin?” Allison asked.
“Yeah.” Adam said.
“Which one of us should go in there?”
“Why does it have to be one of us?”
“Would you rather have a random engineer find out about Colin’s room?”

Adam blinked.

“Shit.” Adam said.

Adam got up and sprinted towards Colin’s office. Another engineer was almost done turning the door handle.

“Back off, man. I’ve got this.” Adam said, nearly slapping the engineer’s hand away.
“Does it really matter? He could be hurt.”
“Dude, I worked with this guy for two years. Who do you think he’s gonna respond better to?”
“Sure. Whatever.”

Adam sighed and opened the door to Colin’s room, which was less of a traditional office and more of a very nice suite that you’d find at a resort. Adam shut the door and locked it behind him.

“Colin? Buddy? Where ya at?” Adam yelled.

Running water could be heard from the far end of the room behind a closed door.

“Colin? Come on, man.”

Adam inched towards the door and shut his eyes as he opened it.

When the feeling of hot air hit his face, Adam opened his eyes to see a large room that was once a restroom, now a small spa area. A spacious shower was near the back, the hot water running at full blast.

Colin was on the floor near the shower, looking up at the florescent lights.

“Colin!” Adam yelled.
“Gah… Not so loud…” Colin muttered.

Adam turned to valve to the shower to shut off the water, only to find no valve on the wall. In its place was just a metal plate where a control mechanism of some sort would have been.

“How the hell do you shut this thing off, man?” Adam asked.
“There’s a dial over by me.” Colin waved his right hand up in the general direction of the wall behind him.

“You’re alive, so that’s good.” Adam said.

Adam looked down at Colin, still staring at the lights.

“And you’re wearing pants. That’s good, too.” Adam said.

“Mind giving me a hand?” Colin asked, holding his right arm up.

“Sure thing, Colin. Hold on.”

After going over to the control dial and shutting off the water, Adam grabbed Colin’s hand and tried to assist in pulling him off the floor. After a second or two, Colin had enough strength to pull himself up, groaning in pain the entire way.

“God dammit.” Colin said.
“What happened?” Adam asked.
“I was about to get in the shower when my back gave out.” Colin said.
“Did you lose consciousness?” Adam asked.
“No. You came in about a minute after I fell.”
“Yeah. We heard.”
“Shit.”
“Yeah. That was loud. Really friggin’ loud.”

Adam looked around the room. In the opposite corner, there was a large multiple-person hot tub.

“A goddamn, spa, man?” Adam said.
“Yep.” Colin said.
“Is this legal?” Adam asked.
“Of course. It’s not even really a secret.” Colin said.

Adam and Colin walked towards the spa’s exit. Colin grabbed his workshirt from a rack near the door.

“How? How the hell did you get a friggin’ spa, on top of that office out there? It isn’t even an office! It’s a goddamn hotel suite.” Adam said.

“It’s too complicated to get into right now.” Colin said.
“Oh, come on. Look at this place, man! This is nuts.” Adam said.
“It’s not even that interesting.” Colin said.

Adam and Colin exited the spa and entered Colin’s main office, which was furnished without the traditional office furniture. Instead, it contained a queen bed which sat opposite a large console that held two large wall-mounted televisions and two large industrial fans.

“Oh? What is it, then?” Adam asked.

Colin sighed.

“Remember last year, at CES? When that crazy guy tried to swipe one of our prototypes for the Arcast Exceed?”

“Yeah. That was an ordeal.” Adam said.
“Guess who finally cornered the guy in the middle of a Starbucks?” Colin asked.
“Hah. A Starbucks? Why there, of all places?”
“Most likely, he was trying to use the free Wi-Fi there to upload photos of the phone. The damn thing wasn’t even a working prototype. Dumbass.”
“And for that, you got a hotel suite and a spa to work in?”
“Pretty much, though I don’t really work in here.”
“What’s it for, then?”
“Recovering.”
“From… work?”
“You know what I do here, Adam. Asset reacquirement is rough.”
“And how.”
“I need the downtime. And Leah’s alright with it because she knows I can produce results.”
“You’re the only one doing that kind of stuff, right?”
“Yeah. Right now.”
“Are they going to get any more? Lighten your workload a bit?”
“Probably not.”
“Why not?”

Colin adjusted his clothes to look presentable.

“No reason. I actually don’t mind it. It’s something to do. Something I’m good at.” Colin said.

Adam opened the door for Colin to step out of the room. As both of them stepped into the main floor of the engineering wing, the whole office stared.

“Everything’s fine. He’s alright.” Adam announced to the floor.

Everyone proceeded to lower their heads and sink back into their projects.

“You gonna be alright, man?” Adam asked.
“More or less.” Colin said.
“I think you need to get checked out.”
“I’m fine, Adam.”
“I’m sure you are, but I’d feel better if you went to an urgent care center.”
“And wait for six hours?”
“It’s an urgent care. Not an emergency room. You’ll be out in 45 minutes.”
“I’m fine. I promise.”
“…Alright, Colin.”

Adam gave Colin a thumbs up and headed back to his cubicle.

Colin sunk back into his room. After locking the door and covering the small window near the top of it, he proceeded to lay on his bed, retrieving his cell phone from a nearby nightstand where it had been left to charge. Colin tapped the screen a few times and dialed a number.

“Hey, Tron? How’re things? …Good. Good. Listen, it happened again. Pretty bad this time…”

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Story: A Week’s Worth of Waiting.

Corey stood outside Halter Lake High School, lit cigarette in hand.

Crighton Anderson, the on-duty security officer, approached Corey.

“Officer Hollett?” Crighton said.
“Off-duty, Crighton. You can call me Corey.”
“Here for a meeting?”
“With that bitch of a principal, yeah.”

Corey took a drag of her cigarette, making sure to blow the smoke away from Crighton. He proceeded to point at Corey’s cigarette.

“Halter Lake is a non-smoking school, Corey.” Crighton said.
“Halter Lake can go fuck itself.” Corey responded.

Crighton laughed.

“Just be careful. The staff tends to get high-and-mighty when they deal with smokers.” Crighton said.

“I’ll tell ’em the same thing.” Corey said.
“How’s Dana holding up?” Crighton asked.
“She’s still pretty upset.”
“I can imagine.”
“She certainly did a number on that girl.”
“Yeah. She did. How did the students react?”

Crighton leaned in to Corey and spoke noticeably quieter.

“…Do you want the canned response or the real one?”
“Come on, Crighton.”
“The students are scared of her.”
“…of Dana?”
“Yeah.”

Corey finished her cigarette.

Crighton began walking with Corey, who was headed toward the main office.

“I can’t stop thinking about it, Crighton. It’s burned in my fucking head.” Corey said.

“Well, you know what they saw, then. They saw your daughter beat the ever-loving hell out of another student. To see her utterly destroy another student like that is pretty jarring, especially when absolutely nobody expected Dana to react the way she did.”

Corey stopped walking for a second.

“It’s not like she was looking for a fight, Crighton.”
“Of course. It’s just that most of the students didn’t know Dana was capable of that kind of thing.”

Corey sighed. She and Crighton continued walking towards the office.

“So now the entire school thinks my daughter is a monster. Great.”
“That’s not quite what I said, Corey.”
“…I know. Still, though. Goddamn, Crighton.”
“Not a good day, I know.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do if they won’t let Dana back in. I can’t afford a private school, and I don’t want Dana commuting to school on the other side of town.”

Crighton stopped a few feet before the office doors and leaned in to say something.

“I don’t think you’ll have too much of an issue, Corey.” Crighton said.
“…What makes you say that?” Corey asked.

Crighton smiled at Corey as they arrived at the school’s main office.

“Trust me.” Crighton said.

Corey took a deep breath. Crighton opened the door for her.

“The principal will probably see you in a few minutes, Officer Hollett.” Crighton said. He raised his voice slightly so the staff would notice Corey coming in.

Corey walked up to the front desk, where a school secretary was tapping away at a mechanical keyboard in front of a large CRT computer monitor.

“Welcome to Halter Lake High. May I help you?” The secretary asked.
“I have a meeting with the principal in fifteen minutes.” Corey said.
“Your name?”

Corey took out her police badge to show the secretary.

“Coriander Hollett.” Corey winced a little bit at having to say her full first name.

The secretary was silent for a few minutes, tapping at her keyboard. After five long minutes, she spoke.

“I saw you talking to Michael out there. How long have you known him?”

Corey gave a blank stare.

“…Michael?”

The secretary was equally confused.

“…Halter Lake’s patrol officer? He escorted you in?”

It took Corey a second to realize that the secretary was talking about Crighton.

“Oh. Crighton. I haven’t called him Michael in years.” Corey said.
“How long have you known him?” The secretary asked.
“Christ, I’ve known Crighton for about five years. He used to drive Dana to school when I had to be at work earlier in the morning.” Corey said.

Just as Corey finished her sentence, a voice rang out from the other side of the room.

“Ms. Gear?”

Corey looked towards the back of the room to two wide-open office doors.

“Principal Robertson will see you now.” The secretary motioned Corey towards the door.

Corey made her way back to meet the principal, who happened to be two days into her new job.

“Ms. Gear?” The principal offered her hand for Corey to shake.
“Hollett, actually. Dana’s last name is Gear. Mine isn’t.” Corey shook the principal’s hand.
“My mistake. I’m Meghan Robertson, interim principal for Halter Lake High. Come in, come in.” The principal said.
“Gladly.” Corey said.

The principal shut the door behind Corey, making her way to her desk.

“Sorry for the wait. We’ve had a few shake-ups with our staff this week.”

The principal offered Corey a seat at one of the chairs in front of her desk.

“Apparently.” Corey took a seat.
“I’m sure you have questions.” The principal said.
“One or two.” Corey said.
“Ask away.” The principal said.

Corey took a deep breath.

“What have you decided about my daughter?” Corey asked.

The principal was silent.

“You have come to a decision, haven’t you?” Corey asked.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And?”
“…”

The principal continued to be silent.

“Come on. You guys have left us hanging for a week. I didn’t get any messages from you until this morning. What the fuck are you doing?”

Corey put particular emphasis on the swear word, which she had a habit of doing from time to time.

“…We’ve had a lot of changes in our staff.” The principal said.

“I noticed. The fact that you’re a completely different principal than the one who ambushed me last week is a pretty dead giveaway that something’s going on behind the scenes.”

“Penny Caldwell is no longer an employee at Halter Lake High School.”
“Did she quit?”
“No.”
“She was fired, then.”
“…”

The principal sat for a few seconds, searching for the words to say. Clearly, this was a delicate situation.

“She was fired, yes?” Corey asked.
“Penny Caldwell is no longer an employee of our school in any capacity.” The principal said.
“Mhm. Got it.”
“I’m acting in the interim until a full-time replacement is found.”
“Alright, then.”
“Ms. Gear-”

Corey slammed her fist on the desk in front of her.

“Hollett. My last name is Hollett. Every time I come here, I have to correct someone. I understand it’s confusing, but you’d think by now someone would catch on. Don’t other kids who go to this school have names that aren’t their parents’ or guardian’s legal ones?”

“My mistake, Ms. Hollett. Since Dana’s last name is “Gear”, we assumed you’d have it as well.” The principal said.

“Well, I don’t. It was her father’s last name.” Corey said.

“Ms. Hollett. I’m sorry nobody on our staff kept you in the loop.”

“Well, you’d think someone would have. Dana’s been worried sick about all of this. She can barely sleep. I can’t sleep at all. I’m running on police department coffee and unfiltered Camels, here.”

Corey pulled her pack of cigarettes out of her pocket to prove her point.

“I’m sorry for the communication breakdown.” The principal said.
“It’s fine. Please, just tell me what you decided.” Corey said.

The principal took a deep breath.

“The school district came to a decision this morning.”

“And?”

“Dana Gear is welcome back on our campus on Monday morning.”

Corey sighed.

“Jesus. Fuck. Was that so goddamn hard?”
“I’m glad you’re… satisfied? You are satisfied, right?”
“Yeah. Sorry for the swearing. This whole situation has both me and Dana on edge.”
“Well, like I said, she’s welcome back on Monday. Free and clear.”
“Thank you.”

Corey adjusted her position in the seat, hoping to wrap things up with the principal.

“Of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on her. Just to make sure.” The principal said.

Corey looked directly into the principal’s eyes.

“Huh?” Corey asked.
“We’ll be sure to let you know if she happens to act out again.”
“Act out?”
“Well, yes. This sort of behavior was highly unusual for Dana…”
“She wasn’t acting out.”
“Technically, no, but-”
“She was acting how I trained her to.”
“…You trainer her to fight?”

Corey cracked her knuckles on both hands, in an attempt to relax.

“I brought her to a few of my self-defense classes. Taught her how to take somebody down. I enrolled her in krav maga lessons and I had one of my co-workers teach her some Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Not enough to compete or to show off, just enough so that some guy doesn’t take advantage of her at a party.”

“That seems excessive.” The principal said.
“Clearly, it wasn’t, otherwise she’d be in the hospital instead of the other girl.” Corey said.
“You have a point. Still, though. That was an incredibly brutal fight.” The principal said.

“Well, i’m proud of her.” Corey said.
“You’re… proud?” The principal was slightly surprised.

Corey nodded.

“I’m not happy about it, by any means, but I am glad that she used her best judgment and didn’t do anything worse, because she definitely could have.” Corey said.

“…Worse?”
“High school students generally don’t know when to stop, Ms. Robertson.”
“I see your point.”

Corey sighed.

“Did anyone here ever tell you why her last name is different than mine?”
“No. Wasn’t even aware.”

Corey gave a sigh that was slightly louder.

“I’ve told a lot of people here because the staff used to have problems sending out Dana’s report cards – they weren’t sending them out because they thought there was an address mix-up. I’ve had to explain the situation to so many people it’s hard to keep track. I guess I was dumb for expecting your staff to fill you in.”

Corey reached for her cigarettes in her front pocket, but put them away immediately. She clenched her fist and took a deep breath.

“Dana’s father was a man named Colin Gear. I met him in early 1997 at a Nada Surf concert. We dated for a while. He knocked me up after a Christmas party in 1999.”

“Oh dear.” The principal said.

“I yelled at him over the phone for ten minutes straight. Told him I never wanted to see him again. I didn’t tell him I was pregnant because I thought he already knew. On his way to the precinct to apologize to me, he was broadsided by a truck in a busy intersection.”

The principal’s eyes widened.

“…Wow.”

“I was one of the first cops on the scene. I don’t know how. I heard the description of Colin’s car over my squad car’s scanner and I hoped and prayed that it wasn’t him. I pulled him out of the wreck myself.”

“…Was he alive?”

“Barely. I saw Colin get hauled into an ambulance and that was it. Didn’t even see if he pulled through. Hospital staff wouldn’t tell me anything because of privacy concerns.”

“That’s awful.”

“The fucking least I could do for the man was give my daughter his family name. Nobody’s family needs to die off that way.”

Corey sighed.

“Was that enough? Do you get it now?” Corey asked.
“…I do, Ms. Hollett.” The principal said.

Corey put her hands on the desk and continued to look dead-on at the principal.

“I don’t have much in this world, Ms. Robertson. I have a car, a house, and I have Dana. That’s it. The only other person I truly loved was hit by a truck 16 years ago. More than anything, I want my daughter to succeed. I want her to have a good life. When people are messing with my daughter’s academic career, I’m going to step in. I have to. It’s all I can do.”

Ms. Robertson stood up from her office chair, Corey did as well.

“Well, I hope we can put this incident behind us.” The principal said.
“Well, we damn well better. I don’t know about the other kid’s parents, though.” Corey said.
“You won’t need to worry about that. Rebecca’s family has withdrawn her from Halter Lake.” The principal said.
“Really?” Corey asked.
“Yes. They appear to be avoiding legal action, as well.” The principal said.
“Well, that’s good to hear. They probably realized they didn’t have a case when their attorney walked out on them last Monday.”

The two women walked to to the front of the main office doors to the outside of the school. Ms. Robertson put her hand out for Corey to shake again.

“I hope you can rest easy, Ms. Hollett. Dana has nothing to be concerned about.” The principal said.

Corey took a second to return the handshake.

“I will rest a lot easier when you say those words to Dana.” Corey said, returning the handshake.

Corey opened the doors and walked out of the office and out to the school parking lot. She reached for her cigarettes and found the last one in the pack.

After igniting the last smoke with her windproof lighter, she tossed the empty pack on the ground in front of the school.

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Story: Sprite & Sprites.

Two glasses of diet lemon-lime soda sat between Colin and Janet. It was a particularly nice day in Chicago, in a restaurant within walking distance of Azure Planet Software, Janet’s workplace.

“Sprite Zero? Really?” Janet said.
“Try it. You’ll probably like it.” Colin said.

Janet took a sip, tasting the drink slightly. After a hum of approval, she proceeded to drink more.

“See?” Colin said.
“I knew I would like it. It’s just something I wouldn’t have ordered before.” Janet said.

Colin tapped his glass with the four fingers on his right hand.

“I saw the cases of Sprite in your pantry, Tron. Pick up a case of this next time you’re at the store.” Colin said.

Janet sipped her drink. Colin followed suit.

“How’s work, anyway?” Colin asked.
“Oh, you know. I sit at a computer for six hours.” Janet said.
“Y’know, one of our brand reps loves your software. He plays one of the games a lot. Something with cookies on it…”
Cookie Chaos? Yeah, that’s based on an old video game that Nintendo made back in the day.”

Colin checked his watch. 5:45 PM.

“Never was a video game fan. I had a Nintendo. Never got past the second dungeon in The Legend of Zelda…” Colin said.
“I can tell you aren’t a gamer.” Janet said.
“How so?” Colin asked.
“Because you just called the Nintendo Entertainment System a “Nintendo.” Janet said.
“Forgive me for not knowing the terminology, Tron.”
“It’s alright. Easy mistake to make.”

A restaurant server came by with a plate of nachos and set it between Colin and Janet.

“Ooh!” Janet said.
“Yeah, that looks alright.” Colin said.

Colin and Janet took turns devouring the plate of probably-microwaved goodness that sat in front of them.

“When are you headed back to California?” Janet asked.
“Monday morning.” Colin said.
“You’re here until Monday morning, I have off work the whole weekend. We’ve got a weekend to ourselves, I guess.” Janet said.

A server came by with a check. Janet reached for her wallet but Colin managed to get his out first. He handed a $20 bill to the server.

“Keep the change, as well.” Colin said.

The server thanked them and went away.

“You’re off work now, right?” Colin asked.
“Yep.” Janet said.
“Now what?” Colin asked.

Janet got out of her seat, Colin followed suit. Janet proceeded to put her hands on Colin’s shoulders and winked at him.

“Now we go back to my place.”
“…And?”

Janet began walking towards the exit doors.

“And I go grab my NES out of the closet and I show you how to get past Zelda‘s second dungeon.” Janet said.

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Story: Bright Red

“Your Campari and soda, Miss Arcast.”

The bartender presented Leah with her drink.

“What do I owe you?” Leah asked.
“Open bar, Miss.” the bartender said. “But, if you’re so inclined…”

The bartender pointed to a large fishbowl at the end of the counter, stuffed with various denominations of US currency.

“Of course.” Leah said.

She sipped her drink as the bartender went back to work on the other side of the bar.

A few people approached Leah. They didn’t have much to say. Mostly pleasantries.

“You look gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. I love the dress. Red is your color.” one person said.
“Well, thank you. I hope you’re enjoying the festivities.” Leah replied.
“Yes, we are.” The person replied.
“I think the next speaker is starting soon up front at the stage.” Leah said.
“Ooh! Gotta go! Pleasure to meet you, Miss Arcast!”

The person ran off in a hurry towards the bar exit.

Leah sat and drank her cocktail, even as more people started piling up around the bar.

“Did you mean it?” A person approached Leah and asked her from behind.
“Hm?” Leah turned around.
“Did you mean it all? Your speech?” the person asked.

Leah sipped her drink.

“…Of course. I funded this charity drive with my own money. I would like to give back as much as I’ve been given in the past decade.”

“That’s nice. Good for you. But what about your company’s plans for the future?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Arcast Exceed. Any hints on when we’re going to see a prototype?”
“…That’s a question better left for our brand representatives. Adam and Allison are located on the main floor, and they’d be happy to…”
“Nothing? No details?”
“Not from me, sorry.”

Leah looked at the person for a second.

“…I didn’t catch your name.” Leah said.

The person looked around the area at the crowds of people engaged in their drinks and their conversations.

“I, uh…”

A looming presence came up from behind the man.

“Oh, Colin. Everything alright?” Leah said.

The man turned around to see Colin staring at him, two security guards trailing behind him.

“Did you really think you could crash a private party and not have someone find you out?” Colin asked the man.
“I, uh… How did you find me?” the man asked.

Colin grabbed the man by the shoulders.

“You went in through a side door and nearly sprinted around trying to get here. I don’t even know how you found Leah at the bar.” Colin said.
“What’s the problem?”
“…Are you serious? That is a hell of a red flag.”
“Yeah! It’s my, uh, right. As a journalist…”
“Journalist? Got a media badge?”

The man felt around in his jacket pocket for his media badge, which he presented to Colin. Colin stared at the credentials, which were for a local television station, then proceeded to grab the man and secure him against the bar.

“What are you doing?” The journalist asked.
“You crashed a private event.” Colin said.
“I’m a journalist, man! I have a right-”
“I guarantee you that you don’t have a proper invite to this event, and since this is technically private property, you’re breaking and entering.” Colin said.
“Who are you?” The journalist asked.

Colin grabbed the man and gave him a slight push towards the two security guards.

“I’m a lot of things here. Right now, I’m head of security for Arcast Technologies. And if you don’t play nice and let these security guards escort you out of the building, you and I are going to have a bigger problem than you’re able to handle.”

The journalist gulped and allowed the security guards to take him away.

As the journalist was taken away, all of the people at the bar stopped to stare. Many couldn’t believe it happened.

After the security left the building, all eyes were on Colin and Leah.

Colin spoke up.

“Go back to your drinks, people. It was just a nut who wanted to get some info on a new smartphone.”

The crowd remained silent. Colin tried again.

“If you’re curious about our upcoming products, talk to Aly in the main ballroom.”

Still silent. Colin sighed.

“Drink, people! It’s New Year’s Eve. Auld Lang Syne and all that stuff. You don’t waste an open bar.”

Finally, the crowd started listening.

“That’s better.” Colin said.
“That was impressive. A little embarrassing, but impressive.” Leah said, her face slightly flushed.
“An open bar is a gift from the gods. People shouldn’t take it for granted.” Colin said.
“I wasn’t talking about that.” Leah said.
“I know.”
“People can be crazy, Colin.”

“Yep. They sure can. But that’s why you have a security team as good as you do. The president doesn’t have a team like the Arcast Tech security workers.”

Leah sipped her drink and stirred it around with a cocktail straw.

“Actually, they do. A few of our security officials worked for the White House in some capacity.” Leah said.
“How’d you get them on-board?” Colin asked.
“When your brother is running for senator, you tend to make government connections.” Leah said.
“Is that legal?” Colin asked.

Leah laughed.

“Of course.”

Leah continued enjoying her drink. Colin pulled up a seat next to her and ordered a negroni from the bartender after waving him down.

“How’ve the crowds been?” Colin asked.
“They’ve subsided.” Leah said.
“That’s good to know.”
“I guess. I hear and see a lot of people commenting from across the way.”
“What are they saying?”
“Nothing substantial. Just stuff like ‘Did you see her? Did you see her hair?'”
“That’s… interesting.”

Leah finished her drink.

“My dad always warned me to not let any success I have go to my head. ‘You be careful, it’s contagious.’ he’d say.” Leah said.
“But I bet it feels nice on some level.” Colin said.

Leah motioned around to the rest of the bar, which was packed. Most of the patrons were drinking champagne or champagne cocktails.

“This? Oh, yes. It feels so good. We launched a hell of a charity event for the city and for a really, really good cause. I couldn’t be happier. I love speaking to people after events like this, because I just feel like I’m on cloud nine. I just wish other people here actually wanted to talk about that. Not just small talk…” Leah said.

“I bet that makes it a little rough to know that the people you’re talking to don’t share that same enthusiasm.” Colin said.
“A little bit, yeah.” Leah said.

Colin finished his drink.

“You know that feeling?” Leah asked.
“Kinda feels like you’re drowning, huh?” Colin answered.
“Face down. In shallow-” Leah was interrupted.
“Water?” Colin asked, hoping to finish Leah’s thought.
“People. Shallow people.” Leah said.

Colin got up off of his bar stool next to Leah.

“How about I throw you a rope, then?” Colin asked.
“What do you mean?” Leah asked.

Colin motioned for Leah to follow him.

“I’ve got a surprise for you.” Colin said.

Colin waited for Leah to get off of her bar stool, and then headed outside with Leah in tow. Out at the valet parking area was a limousine.

“I talked with Allison and your receptionist. Cleared your schedule for the next week.” Colin said.
“What? Why?” Leah asked.
“You’re heading home for a week.”
“…What?”

Colin opened the back door of the limo.

“I know you haven’t been able to get back to Massachusetts for a while. I had your receptionist clear your schedule for the first week of January and then some, so you can actually take some time off. You’ve been redlining pretty hard lately, you need a break.”

Leah moved in and gave Colin a very tight embrace.

“Colin, I’m floored. Absolutely floored.”
“I thought you would be.”
“Who’s going to my meetings when I’m gone?”
“Allison and Adam are taking care of that.”
“And you?”
“I’m going with you. I’ve had a trip to Boston planned for a little while, myself.”
“I remember you telling me. I was jealous.”
“Now you don’t have to be.”
“…I don’t have a bag packed.”
“I’m sure the driver can make a quick stop.”
“And after that?”
“We’re taking the Arcast One over. It’s faster. I called the pilot, he’s ready and waiting.”
“And then?”
“We land at Logan. BOS, I think. I’m not too familiar with my airport callsigns.”
“That’s a start.”
“Indeed, it is.”

Leah stepped into the limo, Colin followed suit.

“You shouldn’t have, Colin.”
“Leah, you and your company gave me another chance at having a real life. Between you and my therapist, I owe more than I could ever repay. But I can try.”
“Thank you, Colin.”

Leah rested her head on Colin’s shoulder as the limo pulled out of the complex and into the streets of Pinnacle City, CA. They almost immediately hit a stoplight once on the main road.

“So. Are we going our separate ways once we get to Boston?” Leah asked.
“That’s entirely up to you.” Colin said.
“I think we could spend some time together. I know a few really nice nightclubs in the city. I’ll have to check to see if any bands are playing…”
“There will be plenty of time to do that on the plane, Leah.”

Colin reached over to a small compartment on the right inside the limousine, near the window. It was a small bar area. Inside a container of ice was a fully stocked chest of plastic containers of cranberry juice and miniature glass Perrier bottles.

“It’s not exactly champagne, but it’ll do. I figured you’d be through with booze at this time of night anyway.” Colin said.
“I’m fine with it.” Leah said.

Colin opened two bottles of Perrier and gave one to Leah. They clinked the bottles together, with Colin saying a few words after:

“Happy New Year, Leah. Let’s make this year one to brag about.”

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Short Story: “To The Woman I Loved.”

Dana walked into the hospital room at 10:30 PM. Her mother Corey was wide awake, at a time when she would previously have been sleeping.

“Thanks for coming, Dana. I won’t take up too much time. It is a school night, after all…” Corey said.
“You know that I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Dana said.
“I know, and I’m still not happy about it.” Corey said.
“I had to drop out. You know I didn’t really have a choice.” Dana said.
“No, I guess you didn’t.”
“How did the visit with the doctor go this time?”
“They want to keep me here for a few more days.”

Dana sighed, then stood silent.

“Come on, Dana. Don’t do that.” Corey said.
“I know. I miss you being home, is all.” Dana said.

Corey held out her right hand. Dana grabbed it.

“This is probably the best place for me to be right now.” Corey said.

Corey pointed to a box that was resting in her lap as she lay on the hospital bed.

“This is why I wanted you here. To see this.” Corey said.
“A package?” Dana asked, pulling up one of the nearby chairs to Corey’s bedside.

Corey took out the contents of the brown cardboard shipping box: a white box that was nearly the size of the shipping box itself. It had no logo on it except for a large blue “A”. Underneath that was a medium-sized opened white envelope.

“I need to read you the letter in the envelope first.” Corey said.
“What doess it say on the front?” Dana asked, pointing to the envelope itself.

Corey took a deep breath.

“A Letter To The Woman I Loved.”

Corey took multiple pages of paper out of the envelope and read them to Dana:

“Corey. It’s been a while. I owe you every explanation in the world for what happened. Most of it was beyond my control. But nevertheless, I have never been able to shake off my previous life, knowing that I had left you behind.

Nineteen years or so, I was hit head-on on the interstate. A trucker had a rear-view mirror blocked off and didn’t see me in my sedan. I was destroyed. Utterly destroyed. I’m 5% steel and carbon-fiber now, if you can believe it. Therapy was rough. Had to re-learn to walk. The same nurse asked me the same five questions every day to make sure that my brain was functioning properly.

We didn’t have the easiest of break-ups. I don’t even know what happened. Maybe it’s the accident screwing with my memory. I don’t know. I don’t know why you were so mad with me. For the life of me, I can’t think of it, and I definitely didn’t back then. All I knew at the time was that I wanted to make things right.

After therapy, things got blurry. Sort of. Long story short, I work for a tech company out in California called Arcast Technologies. You may have heard of them…”

Corey paused for a second to point at the television mounted to the ceiling – an Arcast Technologies model from 2008. Corey continued.

“…I want you to know that I didn’t mean to hurt you. Whatever I did all those years ago, I didn’t mean it. And I miss you. It’s taken me 19 years to say that to anyone.

Enclosed is a little item from our experimental tech department. Real bleeding-edge stuff. Have fun. Don’t pawn it.

– Colin Gear.”

Corey finished the letter with tears in her eyes.

“That’s…” Dana started to say, but was interrupted.
“Your father, Dana. This is a letter from your father.” Corey said.
“I thought you said he was-”
“I thought he was dead, too.”
“Well. Fuck.” Dana said.
“Dana…”
“Sorry. I know I shouldn’t swear.”
“No, no. For this, you’re fine. That was my reaction, too.”

Dana and Corey sat in silence for a minute. Dana broke the silence with a question.

“So, Mom, what do we do?” Dana asked.
“Well, you can go home and go to bed.” Corey said.

Corey leaned in and hugged her daughter.

“What about you? How are you going to deal with all of this?” Dana asked.
“I’m going to call Arcast Technologies tomorrow morning.” Corey said.
“Great.” Dana said.

Dana looked at the clock. It was nearly 11 PM.

“You’ll need to leave soon, Dana. They like us to try to get some sleep at night.” Corey said.
“I… I know. I wish I could sleep here.” Dana said.
“Why?” Corey asked, “This place is awful. It’s cold. Sterile. Full of needles and tubes.”
“I… I don’t want to be alone.” Dana said, her voice slightly muted.

Corey leaned in and hugged Dana again.

“You aren’t. Nor will you ever be, if I have anything to do with it.”
“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“You can’t worry about that, Dana.”
“…I can’t help it.”
“Go home. Get some sleep. You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

Dana gave her mother another hug before leaving the room.

Corey let out a deep breath and took another look at the package from Colin.

“I pulled your body out of that wreck, Colin. How the hell did you survive that?”

Corey’s words would have echoed off the walls if they weren’t partially soundproofed. Nobody was around to hear them anyway. Right before the silence became the loudest sound in the room, Corey just stared at the white Arcast Technologies box.

“Better yet, Colin… What the hell did you send me?”

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Story: A Glimpse of Tomorrow.

The main board room at Summerwinds Financial was sparsely-populated. White walls, a few florescent lights, and a dark brown conference table big enough for eight people, which had a single corporate-branded intercom phone connected in the middle to a cable that ran through a hole drilled in the middle of the table.

Only three men in business suits sat at the table on the far end. One of the executives reached over and touched a button on the intercom.

“Jessica, you can let the representative in.” they said.

A few seconds later, the door at the end of the hall opened. Colin stepped in, hauling a large briefcase. He wore a black business suit with a light blue dress shirt underneath.

“Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Colin Gear, senior VP of product develop-” Colin was interrupted.

“Get to the point, Mr. Gear. You have five minutes.” said one of the executives.
“Very well.” Colin said.

Colin took his suitcase and placed it on the far side of the desk away from the executives. He opened it up and showed them the contents.

“This is a Phillips CDI 370. It’s a portable CD player made in the early 1990s. At Arcast Technologies, we used to use one of these to display product information to clients.”

Colin took the device out of the case and held it in his hands.

“As you can see, it’s primitive by today’s standards – the screen is only three inches, and you have to be fairly close to it to read any text it displays, but back in 1993, this thing was revolutionary. It cut down on excess weight in a sales rep’s luggage that normally went to paperwork, and two compact discs could hold all of the images and sound that someone would need to show off new products with room to spare.”

“It’s not 1993, Mr. Gear.” the head executive said.
“No, sir, it isn’t. We live in the future.” Colin said.

Colin put the device down on the conference table.

“I like showing this to our clients. It shows how far we’ve come since even a few years ago when it comes to presentations. We used to use these things in lieu of showing off actual product because a lot of it was too hard to set up for any real demonstration – we used to have giant monitors, cameras the size of an engine block… You get the idea. Our new product is compact enough that most of it fits into your pocket.”

Colin reached into his pocket and pulled out a small round object with a USB cord sticking out of it.

“This, right here, is the future of video conferencing.” Colin said.

The executives sat in their chairs. One of them coughed slightly. Colin reached into his other pocket and took out a small portable battery, normally used for charging cell phones. He plugged the other device’s cable into it. A flash of light came from the device. Colin pointed it on the conference table with the light-emitting end away from the executives.

“Watch this.” Colin said.

The light on the device flickered, then got brighter. All of a sudden, Colin was not alone at his end of the table. A brown-haired woman sporting thick-rimmed glasses, a white lab coat and khakis appeared next to Colin and waved.

“Gentlemen, this is Allison Greyloch. She’s the head of Arcast Tech’s engineering wing. She put in a recording of herself to be used as a model for this demonstration.”

“What are we looking at, here?” one of the executives asked.
“It’s a hologram projection device. The tech you’re seeing here is the tech we offer.”
“That’s… astounding.”

Colin shut off the hologram with a push of a button on the top of the device.

“I thought you’d like it. I hope you can understand the potential uses something like this has for your company.” Colin said.
“Yes. We do. But what’s the cost?” the head executive asked.
“$100 per month per unit. Installation is a little extra.” Colin said.
“What else is needed for it?”
“A strong, reliable internet connection. I’m sure your IT department can work it out.”

The executives all talked amongst themselves quietly. Colin began packing his materials back into his suitcase.

“Mr. Gear… Colin, was it?”
“It is.”
“We’re very impressed.”
“I appreciate that, and I’m sure that the rest of us at Arcast Tech do, as well.”

The head executive stood up and walked towards Colin, who finished putting his items away. Colin held out his right hand, and the executive reached in to shake it.

The executive’s hand went right through Colin’s hand, which flickered slightly.

“What the…?”

He tried to shake Colin’s hand again, thinking he missed somehow, but this led to the same result as before. The executive stood for a second to process what had just happened.

“We’ll be in touch.” Colin said.

Colin adjusted his tie and grabbed his suitcase off of the table.

“Alright, Aly. I’m good. Power it down.” Colin said, speaking to someone who clearly wasn’t in the room.

With a slight flicker of light and a faint whirring noise, Colin’s hologram faded away.

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