KEEN 1  ·  KEEN 2  ·  KEEN 3  ·  KEEN 4  ·  KEEN 5  ·  KEEN 6
KEEN 7  ·  KEEN 8  ·  KEEN 9  ·  KEEN 10  ·  KEEN 11  ·  KEEN 12

chapter eleven
" KEEN "
Part One

Joules kept the cargo container at maximum speed hoping that she'd keyed in the right coordinates of the first communication unit and that the auto-locator would simply zero in on that location. So far that's what it seemed to be doing.

Having never tried to hotwire a cargo unit before she was more than a little concerned the box would race for its original drop point, the one El Bazaar had programmed into it, and she'd be taken even farther off course than before.

One had to assume that the spot El Bazaar had paid her to drop both containers to was a secluded spot, although as she looked around at the local terrain Joules began to wonder if there was anything in Buffalo Commons that the word “remote” wouldn't apply to.

When the container came to a halt and hovered, having reached it programmed destination Joules realized another problem, the coordinates were rather vague. Although she was sure she was within a couple hundred metres of the Network Communication Unit that Finnegan's Squad had planted Joules was faced with the instant realization that she was looking for a sizeable “needle” in an exponentially larger “haystack”.

After pulling the container off the road and into some cover she extracted herself from the narrow confines of the box hoping never to see the insides again and rose, striding purposefully around the open plain trying to spot what she needed.

Joules thought about it. The Network Communication Unit would be solar powered so it would have to be out in the open. Serviceable so it couldn't be up in a tree or anything. They wouldn't want it trampled so it couldn't be on even ground.

She wandered around wondering if it would be elevated on a stem or lying flat on the ground. Even though Joules had never needed this knowledge before this moment she made a note that on her return home she would immediately familiarize herself with the variety of network boosters and communication units that might be employed in the field. One couldn't change the past but you sure could prevent a repeat of it in the future.

After almost half an hour of searching Joules was starting to wonder if the Unit was disguised to look like local flora. If that was the case she could be here for days, an unpleasant prospect as the direct sunlight beat down on her raising a mighty thirst and a vigorous sweat.

By the end of the first hour Joules flopped on the ground exhausted and demoralized. This was impossible, she thought! She should've turned herself over to that Network Squad, at least then she'd be sitting in air conditioned comfort after getting cleaned up and being able to use a proper bathroom.

She flopped her arm over her eyes, resting a moment while trying to cool down, a counter productive act in this direct sunlight. Oh Pete, she thought, what must these elements being doing to her skin? Her face probably looked as bad as her Phendo™ top.

“Those bloody terrorists!” She yelled letting out a burst of tantrum. Not only had they abandoned her to die in this barren wilderness, not only had they stolen her beloved Starbus, but her clothes were ruined and when her body was found she'd be nothing more than a withered corpse!

Then she froze. In the distance she could hear a steady hum, a lightly shrill noise that couldn't be of nature. It was the mid-speed transit of a gravity assist vehicle approaching. Joules sat up. The sound was coming from…

She instantly laid back down again and rolled through the grass for some sort of cover. There wasn't any. The nearest tree was over fifty metres distant. She was fully exposed.

Worse still the cargo container still had it's battery in place. It was an energy source and energy sources could be tracked. Knowing she didn't have much time Joules scrambled up and bolted toward the container, sliding around the back of it like a baseball player into home plate on a game winning play.

Quickly she popped the access panel and then began tugging at the power module. It refused to give and Joules gripped it tightly, swung her legs around and planted both feet against either side of the slot before throwing everything she had into the jerk that pulled the power cell free of its coupling and zeroed out the energy.

The whine blew past without pausing. If they'd been tracking the energy signature of the container her removal wouldn't have done any good but at least now they couldn't resort to that.

She peered out from behind her cover watched the passing Troop Carrier with longing. This was a turning point, she'd made a decision. Come hell or high water Joules had committed to finding her own way out of the Commons.

When it was safe Joules flopped back on the ground, letting the power cell fall where it may while enjoying the refreshing, though dusty, cover of the tree and the gentle cooling breeze it provided.

As she caught her breath she began to take in the sounds of nature. The gentle noise of a light breeze, the wafting of various lengths of wild grass and a slight rustling to her left.

Joules looked to her left at the odd little rustle and saw a bug crawling up the stalk of one of the pieces of grass around her. It reminded her of summers near Dieppe; lying among the grasslands along the bluffs overlooking the Channel and those daunting white cliffs of England beyond.

That was the place where she'd lost her virginity, lo those many years ago. To the son of a visiting English Lord, or at least that's what her Uncle had said they were. Joules smiled at that wondering where the boy, correction, the man would be now.

She drifted lazily almost succumbing to sleep when a glint of reflected sunlight caught her eye just beyond the bug. Joules bolted upright realizing that the container had stopped almost exactly on top of the Network Communication Unit. She would've seen it as she stepped out had she dropped to the ground and looked beneath the thing.

Thankfully she'd pull it into this cover so the box wouldn't be noticed by anything coming down the old Interstate. Thankfully because in doing so she'd exposed the unit.

Carefully Joules crawled through the grass to it. A mere ten centimeters high, it was a sturdy metal disk, probably able to withstand the pounding hooves of a thousand Buffalo. She picked it up and flipped it over, didn't matter which way it faced the unit was communicating.

Grabbing hold of the top and bottom dome module Joules began cross twisting hoping one end screwed off cleanly. It took some effort and she almost stopped to look for something to pry it open with instead but after a seeming eternity the top ring gave and the two halves came apart with the greased ease of a well manufactured product.

Bless the geeks, Joules thought as she cleaved open the unit to expose its inner workings. Someone wisely has guessed a need might arise for manual communications through one of these units and provided a micro-keypad and display.

Gilmore told her that someone was an agency that did more spying on its own people than its enemy. Joules didn't care who was zooming who so long as she was able to get the override to work and piggyback a call to…

Joules stopped. Who could she call? Gilmore only had that Shuttlepod of his. It was barely spaceworthy, slow as molasses in January and would raise nearly every flag in the system as it came down towards Buffalo Commons.

That means someone else. It had to be someone local. Either Frank in Boston, Enzo in Los Angeles or, no... Bruce Porter in Calgary! Joules immediately began keying in Bruce's Comm-Sequence, hoping that her memory was accurate and that her paramour was home.

* * *

Bruce Porter was a night owl and that frequently meant late nights at the swankiest of parties, in the hottest town on the planet. Last night had been the Prime Minister's Gala on the western outskirts of Calgary against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

The event had boasted some of the planet's hottest musical acts and was therefore worthy of being broadcast throughout the Network in full Rez-Nay™ vision. Thanks to a well placed 'G-Note' Bruce ensured his arrival in the Grand Designs latest model Aerocar, a retro-hopper concept vehicle named IKARUS™, was broadcast in a fidelity so intense the viewer would think they could actually "Reach out and drive it!™ " as their ad copy stated.

Of course as Vice President of Marketing for Grand Designs, the world's foremost manufacturer of Aerocars and Luxury Space Hoppers Bruce's primary job was to make sure their product was seen everywhere people were looking so that the few who could afford such toys would buy from Grand first.

It didn't hurt that Grand Designs had a "Favoured Nation" contract with Rigel Aerospace and was the only Aerocar manufacturing fitted with top line Rigel Grav-Plates and boosters. People with money wanted the best, most reliable things they could buy and Grand, in partnership with Rigel, tried to stay ahead of expectations.

In fact, each year's model didn't reinvent the brand so much as add additional refinements based on testing and interaction with existing customers. Grand vehicles didn't depreciate half as quickly as their competitors and because of that they had the highest return business rate in the industry.

And as anyone in Marketing will tell you heaping similar types of desire together simply bolsters the illusion that if you had one of those things, the one you could get, it would attract the other things you wanted, the ones you were unlikely to have.

This is why Bruce had a well maintained 'black book' filled with names of very pretty and desirable women who enjoyed mixing it up at swanky parties with the rich and famous. The list was well maintained because Bruce had his own design theories as to which woman went best with which auto. For some that made him a player, or a simple chauvinist, but as sales spiked after each event he attended it was pretty clear to his bosses that Bruce knew how best to tap into the consumer's 'lizard brain' and in Marketing you don't mess with what works.

Years of doing this hadn't softened Bruce's edges either. While all of his friends had found their soul mates, or at least treasured companions, Bruce continued flying solo and linking up with 'Miss Right Now' when the needs demanded.

Bruce wasn't about to settle down with just anyone, it would have to be someone very special indeed. He smiled as he thought of her, and then rolled over, bumping against the lithe form of the redhead lying with him. She wasn't her; in fact Bruce could not even recall this one's name through the cloud of his first waking moments. He was about to start morning chat, hoping to gleam that information from her before being found out when his phone rang.

"Hello?" He said into the handset, almost dreamily.

"Brucie, I need a lift."

The sly grin was automatic, he always had it for her, "So did I, luv. Thank you."

"I need you to come down to Buffalo Commons immediately."

"Where?" He must be dreaming. He'd tooled through the wilderness of the Commons many times while testing out concept cars but Joules just didn't do nature.

"I'm in Buffalo Commons. I've been abandoned here and I need you to come and pick me up right now!"

Bruce had never heard this stern voice from Joules, he liked it. "Where, exactly?"

She gave him the coordinates and then rang off after adding the cryptic phrase, "Keep this to yourself."

Bruce Porter climbed stiffly out of bed, and began dressing as a world of thoughts rushed into his aching brain. Abandoned in the Commons? What had Joules gotten herself into this time? Well, whatever it was he was sure she'd tell him on the way back and what a story that would be. He could hardly wait.

He quickly apologized to his new lady friend, noting that she wasn't the woman he'd gone to gala with, and then left for the Aerocar Port where, keys in hand he brought the two tonne concept vehicle to full power and sped off, taking the retro-styling of the aerodynamic craft and its twin Rigel built Tadis™ Aero-Turbines to cruising speed at the steady altitude of ten thousand metres while keying in the coordinates Joules had given him.

Yes, there was one woman on the planet that Bruce Porter, infamous player and playboy of the modern world would give up everything for; the irony was she didn't return the sentiment.

* * *