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READ FROM THE START - Chapter 1 Scene 1 - MILAN v0.5

Chapter 1 "The Warmest Welcome" MILAN Mars. The ‘red’ planet stood firm like a semi-circular mountain against th...

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Chapter 1 Scene 2 - THOM v0.5


The grass was a lush shamrock green, the Black Sea was a vibrant azure blue, and there was barely a cloud worth speaking of in the sky. With a classical pop-era Motown song playing in the background, all that was missing from the experience was a cool, gentle breeze, and the smell of freshly cut grass.
The club made a loud thwacking sound as Thom Kelland hit the golf ball half-heartedly. Despite this, he still raised a hand and shielded his eyes from the sun to discern its final destination. From what he could tell, it had flown deep into an assortment of scrub and bushes. So deep, that he imagined only a 19th-century jungle expedition might be up to the task.
“This song is perfect for you, Thom. It’s so apt,” came a mild American accent from Thom’s side. It was Jay Barnum - his long-time friend and, technically speaking, his business rival. The song in question was Nowhere to Run by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and had only started up a few moments before Thom had taken his swing.
Thom frowned and turned to look at him, seeing a wry smile and a glint in the man’s eyes.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Duh, hello? You’re getting your ass handed to you?” was Jay’s bemused reply.
“Oh, right.”
He looked over towards the people that were accompanying them, a man and a woman. Both were lying on recliners next to the tee-off at the fifth hole. Both were wearing the skimpiest clothes possible.
“Lemme guess,” Jay chuckled, lying on one of the recliners himself. “You’re pretending to do the old ‘lulling me into a false sense of security?’”
“I just don’t think he cares,” the woman piped up in a scratchy, high-pitched New York accent. She took a sip from a wildly extravagant looking cocktail before continuing, “I mean golf is so, so boring!”
This time, it was Thom’s turn to give a smile, that of a cheeky grin.
“But, my darling, I’m British don’t you know?” he replied, mockingly turning his vague, nondescript English accent up to the full Queen’s finest. “It’s virtually my job to enjoy boring things.” Everyone tittered. Thom’s self-deprecation was always his go-to move for ingratiating himself to others. “Actually,” he continued, losing the accent. “Wasn’t it Winston Churchill that said ‘to play golf is to spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk?’”
Jay finished downing his beer before shaking his head and waggling a finger. He rose from the recliner and reached for his club.
“Nah-uh. It was Mark Twain.”
“Quote fight!” came the high-pitched cry from Thom’s female companion. She thrust her arms up into the air, making all manner of bangles jingle loudly. The hugely over-sized sunglasses almost fell off her head.
Thom grinned at her before glancing up at the sky.
“Rhea? You want to weigh in here?”
Within a moment, a completely yellow and transparent woman appeared next to him. With her hair tied back in a long ponytail, and sporting a tight-fitting business suit that seemed more dress-like than formal, her first action was to smile at them individually before replying.
“As it turns out, you are both incorrect. The quote first appeared in a book published in nineteen-oh-three by author H.S Scrivener. Ironically, the book was about lawn-association tennis. If it makes you both feel better, it has been misquoted by many people over the last two hundred years.”
Thom puffed out his cheeks.
“Is there anything I know that’s factually correct?”
“Probably,” Rhea replied, clasping her hands behind the small of her back. “But for now, I must inform you that you are receiving a call from Mrs. Tao.”
Jay Barnum moaned and winced, while his male companion frowned at him in confusion over the reaction.
“Who, who’s she?” Thom’s date asked while pushing the sunglasses back up her nose.
“His mom,” Jay retorted.
Thom responded sardonically.
“Har har, very funny. Put her through please, Rhea.”
Rhea nodded and held out her left hand, at which point the volume of the music lowered, and a Chinese woman in a more traditional business suit and trousers appeared. This woman, unlike Rhea, was totally opaque and fully rendered with all the colors of the spectrum. With her jet black hair cropped to a short bob cut, one streak of white remained on the left side of her bangs. Seemingly in her late forties, due to the crows’ feet around her eyes, Thom knew that in reality she was approaching seventy.
“Introducing Mrs. Tao Yin,” Rhea began as she placed her right hand on her stomach, bowed, and gestured to the lady. “Joint owner of TKR, the Tao-Kelland-Raman Corporation. Current residence, Zhaoqing, China. Aged...”
She wasn’t allowed to finish, as Yin interrupted.
“Oh, be quiet, you silly VI. You should be more than aware by now that the only reason he gets you to formally introduce me is because he thinks that it annoys me. From now on, stop doing it.”
“As you wish, Mrs. Tao,” Rhea replied, bowing her head. “And for clarity, I am fully aware that some of Thom’s actions and mannerisms are considered juvenile behavior.”
Rhea stated it so sincerely that Jay Barnum and the two dates began snickering to themselves.
“Hey! Being my assistant, aren’t you supposed to be on my side?” was Thom’s indignant but light-hearted response. The others chuckled again. Tao Yin, however, seemed to act as if humor was lost on her, or was merely playing upon her perception as a strict businesswoman.
Rhea simply continued smiling.
“As you very well know Thom, you also had me programmed to be courteous, accommodating, and empathetic towards your guests. Understanding Mrs. Tao’s point of view is key to fulfilling that goal.”
“Good, then at least one of you has the ability to learn,” Yin chided, before nodding towards the people on the recliners. “Lady, gentlemen.”
Jay returned the nod.
“Mrs. Tao, it’s good to see you again.”
“And you, Mr. Barnum. How is your family?”
“Very well, thank you,” he replied. “The ex-wife has the kids around her parents’ house for the weekend, so,” he patted the thigh of his male companion, “I was footloose and fancy-free.”
“Ah, and so you chose to spend your free weekend with Mr. Kelland and his friends, I see. Interesting.” Yin had the beginnings of a smirk on her face, as if condescendingly disappointed or bemused at how he was spending his spare time. “I also see that you have your communication level set to Do Not Disturb.”
Jay’s forehead wrinkled.
“How do you know that?”
“Because, Mr. Barnum, if you were not on Do Not Disturb then you would no doubt currently be in a conference call with your fellow directors at your own company; most likely concerning the same matter that I am here to talk to Mr. Kelland about.” Her eyes ended up resting on Thom.
All Jay could muster in response was a meek “Really?” He didn’t get the chance to follow up as Thom clapped his hands together.
“And that’s me out then, guys. I’ll drop the group if that’s okay. Speak to you all later?”
“Sure. Sounds like people are probably after me, as well,” Jay added. “Sorry folks, duty calls an’ all that.”
One of the dates began standing up as Thom looked over to Rhea and asked her to make the call private. Jay was already halfway through asking for the current score to be saved when both he and the two companions disappeared into thin air.
Rhea continued giving the unwavering, cheery smile.
“Moving you both to a private connection. Completed.”
Thom looked at Yin as if waiting for acknowledgment that the conversation could continue. Yin, however, was still not satisfied.
“Can we also remove the unnecessary scenery?”
Thom raised his eyebrows.
“Really? What’s wrong with the Thracian cliffs? They’re beautiful.”
The golf course, set on the cliffs of the Black Sea in Bulgaria, was both beautiful and dramatic. Sometimes he pondered if Yin’s formality and seriousness went beyond that of a personality trait and was more about her not liking him very much.
“Okay, okay. EyeGlass, remove virtual reality; keep Tao Yin and Rhea and bring up my basic desktop and feeds.”
As bidden, the golf course and the Thracian cliffs disappeared from the view on their eye-lenses. All that remained afterward was a rectangular room with flat walls, each one looking like an old English study.
The study itself seemed pretty cliché, with the exception being a theme of space travel dotted about in various places. A range of framed astronaut photographs and spaceship models littered the shelves; the most prominent of which were three ships centered on the far wall. One was an Apollo rocket, standing proud next to its launch tower, the second was the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, and the last was what appeared to be a modern spaceship. It had a sharp, tapered saucer and a cockpit above it, serving as the command module that blended into a cylindrical main body. With two fat metal rings at either end, in Thom’s mind, it always came off as the most science-fictional of them all. The collection was an admission of his love for spaceflight, a passion that only seemed to manifest itself in this room.
The only physical objects in the office were a coffee table with a drink on top of it and three soft, square lounge chairs. One was close by and stretched out, having served as his recliner on the golf course.
With the entire change complete, virtual-reality had given way to augmented-reality, and everything apart from Tao Yin, Rhea, and the display screens hovering beside them were solid objects.
“Happy?” he gently shrugged.
“Slightly,” was her flat response.
“Great!” He clapped his hands together once more before pulling them out for a shrug. “So, what’s the problem?”
“There has been an explosion at the Russian and Chinese outpost on Phobos.”
Yin simply nodded once.
“Yes, it happened a few hours ago. We do not know most of the details yet, but I am told that the base itself is still mostly intact.”
“Wow.” Thom fell silent, looking slightly beyond her as if taking it all in. He gave a brief “Huh” sound, before looking back at his business partner in the eyes. “Were any of our ships docked there?”
“No. I do not know about anyone else, but we had nothing around Mars or Phobos at the time. However, the United Nations and Corporations have scheduled an emergency meeting. Everyone is expected to attend. They will be revealing a detailed on-scene report and then outline the official investigation that is to follow. That is what I am here to talk to you about.”
The realization didn’t take long to hit.
“What? You want me to go to Geneva? Me?”
Yin attempted to suppress a sigh of disappointment at his reaction, which she only half succeeded in doing.
“As much as it pains me, yes Thomas. You were the one that asked to stop being a silent partner in this business. With that comes duties - one of which is that when a crisis strikes, we promote a united front to the public.”
“Ugh, united?” Thom groaned. “Ranajit’s coming too, then.”
“We need to put on a show of solidarity. This is the closest attack to Earth, ever. And, with it being one of the most important outposts in the solar system, the UNC could do anything. We need to show the public and our rivals that we are strong.”
Thom paused for a long moment, pondering both her choice of words and the pressing issue of unity, before giving her a sideways look.
“Wait, you think he did it.”
Yin took a step closer and lowered her voice, somehow making it sound even sterner than before.
“I have told you before; Ranajit Raman is capable of anything. Why do you think I have had you working alongside me for these last three years, instead of him? Until I can prove it, or prove otherwise, we act as if he is one of our own.” She gave a brief pause, before tilting and leaning her head forward. “Which he is.” She emphasized it so heavily that Thom had the dawning feeling of how those boarding-school boys in twentieth-century movies felt under a headmistress. He solemnly nodded three times before mustering a response.
“You’re going to look into it, then?”
Yin smirked broadly this time. It wasn’t the rarest sight, to be sure, but one that Thom always wished he would see more often. In the bloody and messed up world of corporate politics, it made him feel safer and reassured.
“As you like to say, I have my fingers in many pies. It could be Raman; it could just as easily be any of the other corporations - including your supposedly good friend Mr. Barnum. Regardless, as a business, we have to make sure we walk with the correct posture and not show any public weakness.”
“Even with me about?” he jokingly asked with a lop-sided grin.
Yin didn’t bat an eye, having long ago worked out Thom’s use of self-deprecation.
“Especially with you,” she replied sincerely. “What says more to the public and the media that we are taking things seriously than the sight of our lazy, layabout playboy attending a UNC meeting in Geneva?”
“Huh, gee, thanks.” Thom murmured, taking it as yet another barb.
Yin gave a quick, frustrated sigh.
“Respect must be earned. If you want people to take you seriously then act like a businessman, every day, every week.”
Thom raised a weak smile and nodded, trying not only to show his understanding of her frustration but also to hide his own thoughts on the subject.
“I’ll try.”
“Good,” Yin replied, softening her tone. “And do not think that the irony is lost on me.”
She looked over to one of the walls displaying his graphical collection of space paraphernalia.
“That it used to be your father that was the strict disciplinarian and my wife the encourageable space-enthusiast.”
Thom followed her eye-line to the wall.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way before, probably because I never really knew Da-Xia.”
“You two would have gotten along famously. But, your father and I had to reign in her passion.” Yin’s voice raised a notch as her tone became formal once more. “Because passion alone does not make for a successful business - that is what you still need to learn.”
“I get it. I do,” Thom replied. “I guess it just frustrates me how you and Ranajit don’t see space the same way I do.”
The Chinese woman took a step forward and looked him in the eyes.
“Then you need to be more understanding, Thomas. Where you see wonderous planets and moons to be explored, I see lifeless rocks that aren’t helping anybody. To me, they are simply a resource in a hazardous location. Because, as far as I am concerned, space is nothing more than a dreary and monotonous black void.”

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