Warning: This submission contains extreme violence and ends in a cliffhanger. If you can’t stand cliffhangers, you might want to wait until after the next submission before you catch up. There is so much that happens in the next couple of chapters that it would be very difficult for me to avoid them. Besides that, I have a sadistic streak when it comes to torturing my characters and my readers. 😉
I *think* that there will be two more submissions after this one, nine in all.
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Unread messages: 2,342.
Dylan suppressed a groan. This frickin’ job is impossible!
When he’d first been selected to train as an investigator for CorpSec, he’d been so excited. God, was I naïve back then!
Every day more and more messages arrived. There was no way he could keep up; at the end of his shift, he always just deleted whatever messages he hadn’t gotten to—messages that he should have handled. He wondered how long it would be before his boss figured that out. He’d complained about the workload and been threatened with demotion if he couldn’t keep up.
He tried. He would have worked overtime to complete is work if it had been allowed. He knew if he were demoted, he’d lose his lovely apartment in Zonesee, and his girlfriend, gold digger that she was, would surely leave him. But if he were caught deleting important messages, he’d be lucky if he weren’t reprogrammed for garbage collection or sent to the front line as a foot soldier. He shuddered. He’d just have to work faster—that’s all there was to it.
In a near panic, he scanned through the list, deleting every message he thought he could possibly get away with. Down to 1,842. Then he started at the beginning again, handling each one as quickly as he could. By early afternoon he was down to 1,200.
The next one was a mod alert that had come in at 18:02 pm the evening before. Shit! Shouldn’t this one have gone to the emergency guy on duty last night? He quickly opened and scanned the message. According to the tracking records, Raeden Dearborn had partially morfed on the street in Zonei. Fingers flying, he looked up the mod’s info and breathed a sigh of relief. He was a broken one. How the hell did he manage to partially morf?
There hadn’t been any mod sightings reported in the last twenty-four hours—he wouldn’t have missed that. Those came in as high alerts, flashing red with a corresponding alarm sound.
He scanned the vital statistics that had come through. Sometimes other events could appear to be a partial morf, such as a body’s last gasp before death took it. Maybe he just hadn’t gotten to the alert about the mod’s death yet.
He looked up Raeden’s current data feed, surprised to see that he was still alive. His vitals were normal and he was still in Zonei. Okay, odd. But do I really have time to investigate this? He’d already scanned Raeden’s info. After he’d lost his mate, he’d gone down the path of booze and drugs like so many other broken mods. If he was hanging out in Zonei, he was, no doubt, still an addict. Surely what had happened last night was just a precursor to his death throes and not a partial morf.
Shit, I’ve already spent way over my allotted time on this message. If I was erring on the side of caution, I’d send someone to investigate, but I don’t have the frickin’ time for that.
Dylan pressed the delete button and went on to the next message. This one was a report that a Professor Henry Wilders had gone on a radio talk show and insisted that the Corporation was manipulating history (well, duh!) and that they were systematically changing or eradicating certain written works. He had cited an extensive list, which included everything from George Orwell’s 1984 to academic papers about government theory that had been written in the previous century, before the corporations had put a stop to such things.
Dylan groaned aloud this time. He would have to actually do something about his one. He looked up the current location of the erstwhile professor.
Kim had been in a giddy fog all day. It’s a damn good thing I can do my job in my sleep, he thought, smiling to himself. He couldn’t stop thinking about Raeden and what they had done the night before. The big mod had been gentle and loving and oh so sexy. Kim shivered as he remembered the feel of that hot, hot mouth on his cock.
Raeden had looked at him with wanting, he was sure of it. Just before he’d kissed him senseless, Kim had seen the raw need in his eyes. Now that Raeden had been weaned off the drugs and alcohol, his eyes were an amazing shade blue, almost like the ocean on a summer day, or how Kim imagined it to be: deep indigo blue. Raeden had looked at him with powerful emotions churning in his fathomless, blue eyes—and then he’d kissed him.
Kim’s toes curled as he şişli bayan escort remembered the kiss. It was his first, and what a kiss it had been! Kim had never dreamed that having another man’s tongue down his throat could be so erotic. His body had flushed with heat and he’d almost orgasmed right then, just from a kiss.
He adjusted his cock in his pants and brought his focus back to the computer in front of him. Damn, I need to quit thinking about Raeden before someone notices I’ve got a stiffie.
Still, he couldn’t stop his mind from drifting back to the evening before. After Raeden had blown his mind with an incredible blowjob, they’d lain tangled together and Raeden had stroked his skin tenderly. The closeness had been almost unbearably euphoric after so much time alone.
Kim heard himself sigh and brought his attention once more to his work. His message board was flashing. He clicked on it and the bottom dropped out of his stomach.
His boss wanted to see him at the end of his shift.
Mr. Thomas had never called him into his office before. He would sometimes drop by Kim’s cube and chat, and occasionally he sent him messages with instructions or praise, but he’d never requested that Kim come to office.
The first thing that occurred to Kim—in fact, the only reason he could fathom for his boss’s request—was that CorpSec had finally noticed the liberties he’d taken with Representative Kenner’s machine.
He tried not to panic. It could be anything, he told himself. Maybe they’re giving me a raise or promotion.
Yeah, right. That won’t happen.
If CorpSec had really caught him though, wouldn’t they just come pick him up and haul him away? He’d seen it happen to others. One minute they’d be working away, doing their job as usual, and the next minute two grim-faced corporate goons would be escorting them out the door—never to be seen or heard from again.
Kim swallowed hard. His stomach had tied itself into a tight knot and his hands were wet with perspiration, making it difficult to type. He had another two hours before his shift was over. He wanted to rush into Mr. Thomas’s office and demand to know what his boss wanted, but he forced himself to wait, to pretend like he was still working. It wouldn’t do to act guilty. Maybe it was nothing.
Yeah, not nothing, his intuition told him.
Finally—finally!—his shift came to an end. He wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not. He forced himself to breath normally, not fidget, and to act like getting called into his boss’s office was an everyday occurrence.
His boss’s door was ajar and he knocked on it softly so as not to swing it wide open.
Mr. Thomas looked up from his computer and his expression darkened. He motioned for Kim to come in. “Hello, Mr. Takemoto. Close the door behind you, please.”
Kim’s stomach flip-flopped. He knew for sure now that whatever his boss had to say was bad news. His hand shook as swung the door shut. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned to face his boss, trying to keep his expression neutral.
“Take a seat, Kim,” Mr. Thomas said. His voice was not unkind, but it seemed maybe a little sad. Kim had always liked his boss. He was fair and supportive, and although Kim wouldn’t describe their relationship as friendship, it was definitely friendly.
He took the indicated chair, sitting stiffly on the edge. Looking at his boss attentively, he tried to keep his expression neutral. When he realized his nails were digging into his palms, he unclenched his fists and focused on appearing relaxed.
“Kim, I’ll get right to the point,” Mr. Thomas said, typing into his computer and not meeting Kim’s eye. “It’s my job to pay attention to the work that everyone in my department does. I am required to look for and report anomalies. When you volunteered to fix Rep. Kenner’s machine, it stoked my curiosity because, unlike some of the other workers who like to curry favors, you normally avoid politicians.”
Mr. Thomas’s face showed no emotion as he spoke. Kim felt lightheaded. Oh my god! They’ve caught me. What are they going to do to me?
The video screen on the wall to his right caught his eye as it flickered to life. There on the screen was himself in Rep. Kenner’s office, typing away on his keyboard. His image glanced at Kenner’s door fearfully and then refocused on the machine.
That must have been when I heard the noise in the hall, he thought. He had certainly looked guilty.
“I’m not going to ask you what you were doing on Kenner’s machine, but I think it’s pretty clear from your actions that it was not sanctioned. You used manual entry instead of voice commands. There is no record of your keystrokes because the feed was down—the feed that you were supposed to be fixing. How you managed to bring the feed down, I have no idea.
Kim turned startled eyes on his boss. “I didn’t—”
His boss waved şişli escort his hand at him, cutting him off. “It doesn’t matter. CorpSec will get to the bottom of it, I’m sure. In any case, it’s out of my hands.”
Kim’s insides turned to ice at the mention of CorpSec. He stared at his boss in horror.
Mr. Thomas focused on him for the first time since he’d been in his office and his eyes filled with sympathy. “I don’t know what information could have been so important that you risked breaking the law to find it. I can’t imagine what would be worth that gamble. In any case, you lost. I’ve reported the anomaly to CorpSec. That’s the extent of my involvement.”
“What … what is going to happen now?” Kim asked. His voice shook, but he didn’t spare any embarrassment for his fear. He was fucking terrified.
Thomas cocked an eyebrow at him. “I imagine they’ll come pick you up for questioning,” he said. “I don’t know where or when. I wanted to give you a heads up in case you had anything you needed to take care of, people you wanted to say goodbye to, before then.”
They both knew that people never came back after being picked up by CorpSec for questioning. They also both knew that it wouldn’t do Kim any good to run. He couldn’t get anywhere without his intel, and with his intel on, the government could locate him and pick him up wherever he was. There was no escape.
“You’ve been an exemplary employee up until now,” Mr. Thomas said. “I’ve noted that in your record. You are welcome to continue to work until you are taken away. I imagine all of your actions will be carefully scrutinized, so don’t do anything else stupid.”
He smiled at Kim sadly. “It’s been nice working with you, Mr. Takemoto. That is all.”
Kim rose from the chair stiffly. “Thank you for telling me, Mr. Thomas,” he said. His voice sounded hollow. “I’ve enjoyed working with you too.”
Then he was walking down the hall in a daze, back to his desk to pick up his coat and his lunch bag. On autopilot, he exited the building, walking at his normal pace to the train station to catch his regular train home, as if his world hadn’t suddenly turned upside down.
While Kim stood on the crowded train for the twenty minutes it took to reach his stop, the ice inside him melted and became an inferno of panic. By the time the train pulled into the station in Zonei, he was in a full frenzy of distress.
He took off running toward his building, heedless of the looks he got from the few people on the street. He needed to be with Raeden. Maybe the big mod would know what to do, if there was anything to be done. At the very least, Raeden could offer him some comfort in his last hours of freedom.
That last thought brought a huge lump into his throat. His breath came in quick, hard gasps, whiteness rising in clouds about him from the frigid air. His lungs ached and he had the thought that maybe it wasn’t good for him to be running when it was so cold outside—maybe he would freeze his lungs. He was almost home by then, though, and completely out of breath. He slowed his pace marginally and a few moments later was dashing up the steps to the front door of The Shangri La.
His side ached and he was wheezing for air by the time he’d climbed the four flights of stairs to his unit. He burst into his room with Raeden’s name on his lips and then stopped abruptly.
Raeden was not there.
Raeden’s stomach growled ferociously. He put a hand on his belly and rubbed. He couldn’t remember ever having been this hungry. His stomach was cramping from lack of sustenance.
He had scoured Kim’s unit, but they had eaten the last of the food the morning before. That’s why Kim had gone to the grocery store. Raeden’s partial morf had quickly depleted his calorie reserves and raising his body temperature to warm Kim had wiped out the rest.
Raeden had not found any cash when he went through Kim’s apartment, but he wasn’t sure he would use it even he had. He knew Kim wouldn’t mind him spending his money on food, but it wasn’t Raeden’s money to spend. Damnit! I need my intel back.
He had avoided looking at his feet since the night before. He hadn’t even removed the taped-on sweaters that he wore. He had noticed that he could move his toes though, which he hadn’t been able to do since he’d gotten frostbite. The partial morf had done wonders, he was sure. He didn’t want to think about being fully mobile, because that meant he could and should leave Kim’s place. Although he had made up his mind, he hadn’t mentioned it to Kim that morning. He would tell him when the time came.
His stomach rumbled again, sounding like an angry bear. He had been lounging on the bed and now he sat up suddenly in frustration. A wave of dizziness washed over him.
That’t it, he thought. I need to get food in me one way or another.
Placing one of his feet on the floor, he mecidiyeköy escort slowly put pressure on it. It hurt, but not badly. He placed his other foot on the floor and stood up gingerly. Trying a few tentative steps, he found that the pain, although harsh, was bearable.
Okay, so suppose I’m able to make it to the closest store or restaurant, I have no money. But maybe I can sell or trade something for food. Glancing around the unit, his eyes fell on his wool cap. It was finely made and clean, thanks to Kim. He wondered if he’d be able to trade it for enough to fill the void in his cramping stomach.
The only other possession he owned that might be worth selling was his coat. He had stitched up the ripped shoulder and the coat was clean, but it was also quite worn around the cuffs and the lining was threadbare in places. He would sell it as a last resort if he needed to.
He fetched the duct tape and fortified his homemade shoes, then he headed out in search of food. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get back into the building without Kim, but he could just hang out near the front and wait for him. It was another hour before he was due home.
As Raeden was shuffling slowly and painfully down the street, he suddenly felt Kim’s distress. He paused and focused on his psychic connection. Kim was rattled, but he wasn’t in any immediate danger. Something must have happened to upset him.
Raeden continued down the street. He could tell that Kim was still at work, or at least that he wasn’t in Zonei. His telepathic bond with the young man had strengthened dramatically with his last morf and the closeness they’d shared the evening before. He had a good idea of Kim’s location, but there was nothing he could do for him until he got to Zonei.
Maybe I can meet him at the train, he thought. Wouldn’t Kim be surprised?
His feet hurt like hell though, and without an intel he had no way to know in which direction he could find food. He was heading toward the more central area of Zonei, turning to follow the busier streets and observing that there were more and more people about as he walked.
He got the occasional odd stare. He was used to getting gawked at for staggering around drunk. Now he supposed people were staring because of his makeshift shoes and perhaps his giant stature. He didn’t have the energy to shrink himself at the moment.
As he walked, he realized that Kim was en route home. To meet him at the train station, he’d need to abandon his quest for food and head in that direction. Kim’s distress was ever-present, and it seemed like it might be getting worse, but he was still not in any immediate danger. Raeden wondered what could have brought about so much dread.
He paused as another wave of dizziness assailed him. He was starving and that wasn’t going away until he got something into his stomach. Raeden, ever practical, realized that he could deal better with a crisis if he were fed. In any case, his feet were killing him; he didn’t need to traipse all over Zonei. I can catch up with Kim at The Shangri La, he decided. He kept on his current heading toward the center of the zone.
Shortly a delicious smell wafted to him and saliva pooled in his mouth. Oh my god, I’m sooo hungry! He followed his nose and eventually spotted a “hot dog” stand. He was pretty sure there wasn’t any real meat in those dogs—not in Zonei—but they came with grilled onions and what could pass for cheese and they smelled wonderful. It’s amazing what they can do with soy protein these days.
It took him only a few minutes of bargaining to trade his hat for four fully-loaded dogs. It helped that it was quite cold out and the hot dog vendor did not have a hat of his own.
Raeden wolfed three of the dogs down immediately, feeling his dizziness finally subside as he was finishing the third. While he was wrapping up the last dog to take to Kim, he felt the young Asian arrive at the station in Zonei. Distress poured off of him in waves. Raeden set off toward their building at as quick a pace as he could manage on his damaged feet.
Kim was moving much faster than Raeden expected, and he hadn’t gotten very far when he felt a wave of anguish emanating from Kim.
Raeden, where the fuck are you?
Kim’s thought came through loud and clear. Raeden grinned at the strength of Kim’s telepathic sending even as guilt plagued him. He should have been there for Kim when he got home. He picked up his pace, wincing as his feet screamed in agony.
I’m here Kim. I’m coming home, he sent, but Kim didn’t acknowledge his thought. Kim was furious with him and his angry thoughts assailed Raeden with the force of a gale.
You coward! What are you thinking? You can’t just leave me. I’m coming to find you, and when I do, you’ll be so sorry!
Raeden winced again. He had indeed been planning to leave Kim, but he wouldn’t have gone without telling him why. Well, I would at least have left a note, he amended to himself.
He was shocked by the depth of Kim’s anguish at finding him gone. Whatever had had Kim in a panic when he reached home, it was nothing compared to what Kim was feeling now.