Some plot-thickening at Yellow Rose Industries.
NSFW warning: bad words and sexual themes.
** ** **
Blinds drawn and lights off, Aciano’s office was a cool escape from the unprecedented heat wave – but not so much from conference calls. The calls without video were particularly difficult on sleepy afternoons – no opportunity to read lips meant he had to actually focus, while no webcam simultaneously made it easier for his attention to wander. Today, he was at least 30% focused on examining the sample of biotic porcelain recently sent up from the lab.
<<I think City Hall has made it fairly clear they don’t want that kind of intermingling of the classes,>> came a voice over the line – Remus Friday, the corporation’s eyes and ears at the City. <<We’re going to have to try another angle if we want to push this through.>>
<<Green space?>> came another voice – Helena Mason, one of Yellow Rose’s many lawyers. <<We’ve had reasonable success making that kind of case even in elite areas. Everyone has kids or dogs; everyone likes parks.>>
A rectangle of light splashed across his desk, and Aciano looked up to see Krishna’s silent wave. He motioned at his phone to indicate that he was busy, though his assistant certainly already knew that. She made the face she always made when she was ‘sorry’ to interrupt – a wide grimace and a glance towards the ceiling – then crept into the room with her tablet. Somewhat worryingly, she closed the door – not her usual MO.
<<But it isn’t green space. And they’re getting wise to that anyway. And regardless, they’re going to want an appearance, Mister Mercier. I can be your mouthpiece but I don’t have your… er… star power.>>
<<It would help if you attended or hosted some high-profile and needlessly expensive event, sir,>> Helena agreed. <<Something to show investors and the wealthy elite that you’re interested in their happiness, too, not just that of their underpaid gardeners. You need to be seen somewhere other than Kara’s game parlor or whatever.>>
“Game Corner,” Aciano said.
<<I rest my case.>>
“Ugh,” Aciano groaned. He inhaled to whine about it, but his breath stuck when Krishna turned her tablet towards him to reveal a selection of very crude, very candid photos – the subject of which was very recognizable. “Krishna – what – shit – Helena, Remus, really sorry – something’s come up – I’ll call you back. I’ll think about an appearance. Sorry – I have to go.”
He slapped the button to disconnect, but wasn’t quick enough to snatch Krishna’s tablet away.
“Aha! So it is you!” she said, mismatched, augmented eyes wide with delight and interest as she stepped back to gaze at the photos in safety. She tilted the tablet – and her head – sideways, grinning like a cat who’s figured out how to get to the treat cupboard. “Where is this? When? Who is it? Did you–?”
Feeling much hotter than the AC in his office should have permitted, Aciano dropped the little sample onto his desk, leaned forward in his chair and put his face in his hands.
“It was last summer when I was on business in Barcelona,” he said through his fingers, then lowered his hands. They were already shaking, and he could only imagine what his face looked like. “But there weren’t supposed to be any photos – they take your camera and phone and everything – and it was for charity – and I only got there by accident!”
“Oh, of course!” Krishna said. “All of that sounds really true.”
“Krishna,” Aciano moaned, trying not to sound as upset as he felt; he must have failed to some extent, for his assistant softened, approached, and handed him the tablet.
To whom it may concern,
Please prepare 1,000 untraceable units of Project CR-X-55, as well as blueprints for their construction and manuals for their use. You will be contacted again in TWO WEEKS with delivery instructions. Do not contact the police; do not alert your internal security. Do not attempt to find us.
Failure to comply with our demands will result in the public release of sensitive photographs, a small sample of which is attached.
Rather than inspecting the thumbnails, Aciano shut the screen off and laid the tablet down. Krishna came around to sit on the corner of his desk, and Aciano covered his face again.
“No,” he murmured, and for a moment tried to forget the rather personal elements of the blackmail. “How the hell do they know about X-55? We haven’t made any public statements about that… …how… did they get those photos..?”
“Maybe you haven’t said anything, but someone must have,” Krishna reasoned. “It’s not the first time, and it’s not a big deal. I’ll tell Faizah she needs to have the staff questioned, and Emily’s already preparing a statement about the photos – they came through her inbox via the webform this morning. We can get ahead of this and–”
“You’re suggesting that we let them… release…?”
“Are you suggesting that we instead distribute an unregulated, untested and illegal product, as well as blueprints?” Krishna countered, and Aciano felt the obvious answer like a boulder in the pit of his stomach.
“…no…” he said, but then, “But… if we’re going to… just… I mean, if we’re not going to… negotiate… then we might as well hire someone to look into it, right? Someone external, maybe?”
“I can send you a list of PIs, if you really wanna show these to more people,” Krishna said. She picked up the tablet and tapped the screen back to life. How she managed to work it despite her jewel-encrusted fake nails, Aciano would never know. “But honestly boss, these are fairly tame, and using them as blackmail is really petty. They’ll be forgotten in a week, and their existence won’t be any threat to the company – or to your character. Stay away from the tabloids and you won’t even have to see them again.”
“I’m not worried about the company, I’m worried about my… personal… life…”
“You have one of those?” Krishna teased, and Aciano glowered at her.
“If I tend to keep to myself, this is exactly why.”
“Because you prefer your ‘charity’ spankings to happen in private..?”
“Because I can’t even have a conversation with my assistant anymore without playing Twenty Questions about an event that is entirely inconsequential!”
She signed at him to calm down, and the wordless instruction had more effect on him than anything she might have said. She then raised her right palm.
“If you tell me everything right now, I swear I’ll never bring it up again, and I’ll insulate you to the best of my ability from anyone else’s questions or comments should the photos be released.”
“You’ll never bring it up, or just not in front of me?” Aciano said. Krishna shrugged, which was about as much clarity as he was likely to get. He swallowed, inhaled and forced out, “I didn’t know what the club was about until I got there, but they were friendly enough and I didn’t want to go back to the hotel, so I stayed. They were doing this donation raffle thing to raise money for safe sex education, which I thought was a good cause, so… …yeah. The ‘prize’ – I guess? – was a block of time with one of the dominatrix… people. Like I said, there weren’t supposed to be any photos. We good now? Moving on?”
Krishna held up a finger.
“Not yet. What exactly did you think an S&M club was?”
“…you might recall that Eric wasn’t with me on that particular trip..?”
“That’s not that I asked,” Krishna said, and Aciano felt his face get even hotter. He licked his lips.
“I thought it stood for Science and Math.”
Krishna whooped with laughter – so hard and so suddenly that she had to stagger away from his desk, clutching her tablet to her chest.
“Omigod oh my god, Aciano!” she wheezed, and took so long to recover that by the end she was crying with mirth, and even Aciano managed an embarrassed smile. Krishna wiped her eyes, looking to her tablet again. “So did you get to pick or did they? She’s got huge tits; is that your–?”
“Yep. Now we’re done. You can go. I literally never thought I would want to have a conference call, but this has changed my mind. Please send me that list of PIs,” Aciano said, already keying Helena’s number. Krishna shuffled to the door, inbox still open.
“You know, boss, we could upload one of these to your MIXRR profile! You’re skinny, right, but you have this kind of adorable fuckboi thing going on that I think–”