(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
Alimentorum Plaza stretches across a whole quadrant of the city. At street level the old city spreads out, a grid of intersecting blocks of housing tenements, shopping ordertoriums, sleep-pod motels and Dine-A-Lucks all criss-crossed with maglev lanes. Tourmaline takes the ramp to the Plaza, rising up over the city to where manicured orchards march in rows around the reclamation water gardens and high-rise office towers of Alimentorum. In the centre of the Plaza is a large cathedral-like structure, a soaring space of silicon quartz and copper track walls. Festooned with energy-generating solar ferns and rushing waterfalls throwing up a cooling mist as they pour into the moat, the whole building is a computer, the hardware housing the Controller.
The executive car park is empty apart from one other saloon so Tourmaline parks next to it and wonders whether he has the time of the meeting wrong. Where are the rest of the Board? The car park lift takes him to the robe room, an antechamber where rows of anti-static, hooded grey robes, masks and slippers wait, like meditating monks, in front of a wall of cubicles. Tourmaline changes into a robe and slippers, feeling the smart-gel fabric shrink to his body, for a moment cold and unnerving until his body heat creates an equilibrium with it.
He steps through the dustlock and waits while every iota of dust and scurf is blown away by a powerful vortex air shower. Then the dustlock releases its outer door and he steps through into the boardroom.
The boardroom stretches away for fifty meters, a dark, quiet space with soaring buttresses, threads of gold picked out in the polished onyx. Half way along the room is the interface, the rest of the room is empty.
'Hello?' For some reason Tourmaline finds his voice is quavery and weak in the gloom as he wanders over to the interface. His slippers stick slightly to the floor, squeaking with an amphibious sigh over the quartz. A large holographic representation of a graph of intersecting nodes is playing out in real time. An ever changing ribbon dancing in the air.
'Tourmaline Joyce, thank you for coming.'
'Am I the only one here, Controller?'
'I must speak with you alone about a serious matter.'
The graph changes to a globe made out of a grid, a network of light points firing in random swathes over the surface, changing from silver to amethyst in mesmerising patterns.
'Forgive me, I am distracted by our new prototype, Gridstar. This is a representation of our new moon 'Dine-a-Luck Chicken Farm' in the Fourth Galaxy. These grid points are tiny sensor phones scattered across the ground, sending a signal to a network of satellites around the moon as the flock passes. With it, we can track the flock as it moves across the sand pans, following the new food growth. The egg pickers can then target the recent roosts more efficiently and the egg picking yield rises...'
'Yes, yes, Controller, we discussed this at the last board meeting.' Tourmaline is not in the slightest bit interested in egg production.
'I have been analysing data and predicting models of behaviour. Now I can run predictions on the egg harvest with almost 98% accuracy, allowing us to pre-price our commodity...'
Tourmaline wonders if this is actually going anywhere. The Controller tended to think across a series of subjects correlating experiences to fit the subject matter in hand.
'I am good at prediction modelling which leads me to this new matter...'
The globe changes back to the graph, this time a three-dimensional set of intersecting lines. 'We have reached a crux. A point of intersection from some very random reactions. This will lead either to a zenith point in the graph, with good outcomes for Alimentorum or a nadir, a bad outcome for us all.'
'In egg production?'
'In a much more delicate matter, Tourmaline. In the area of corporate espionage.'
Tourmaline raises an eyebrow and curls his lips in a half smile. So much more interesting than eggs.
'Yes, Alimentorum runs counter measures to ensure new food revenue streams found by other corporations do not upset our own growth projections. One of our operatives was targeting a Newtrishia mission, to a new galaxy. She had forged a link with the consignor in charge.'
Tourmaline tries to work out where this could be going but fails. 'Was she successful?'
'Yes. She then managed to track down the Ark ship for the mission departing from Sayonara Space Station. She should have tracked it and reported back to me.'
'And she didn't?'
'No. I have not heard from her since. There was a suspicious vanishing of a Port Adjunct. Then nothing until these started to appear on the DEMISE. I have taken several feeds and rolled them into a diorama for you of what I consider to be a crux moment.'
Tourmaline steps back slightly as a large three dimensional projection fills the space in front of him of 'The Rink'. He watches, absorbed by the theatre of the fire show only to be is shocked when Scint Bourbon's ship appears and even more shocked to see Scint herself, dangling from a rope.
'What in the Five Galaxies is she doing?'
'You recognise Scint Bourbon?'
'She is with Mentor, one of our recruitment officers. He is with Consignor Edwear Linnet, the consignor in charge of the Newtrishia Mission. They were picked up by our operative. An assassin class espionage operative named Kainya who, for some reason, hijacked Scint's ship at Sayonara spaceship and then kidnapped them at the show.'
'So.. where are they now?'
'That, Tourmaline, is the crux of the matter. I have asked you and Juno here today to act as a block vote. I think it is safe to say Scint would want you to be proxy on her behalf.'
'A vote on what?'
'On keeping this matter secret until we can pinpoint their location and find out what Kainya is doing.'
'Secret? You just said she's been kidnapped!'
'By one of our own spies. Kainya does not know she is a Board Member, none of them do. She is simply a member of the super rich to them.'
'Have you located the ship?'
'Not yet, I am searching the Five Galaxies as we speak for a signature but I do not have the luxury of a Gridstar like Chicken Farm to help me. It will take time to locate them. Time to model the likely outcomes, good or bad..'
'She is waiting for you in the lounge bar.'
'She has agreed to this silence?'
'Yes, Tourmaline, she has.'
Tourmaline paces up and down the boardroom, trying to work out what is for the best. 'Will you keep me informed at all times and we can review this decision if a ransom is asked for?'
'Yes. That is acceptable, Tourmaline. Thank you.'
The diorama changes back to the Gridstar and a line of flashing LEDs points the way to the lounge bar. Evidently the meeting is over and Tourmaline follows the lights, his slippers squeaking in the quiet gloom.