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MetroForce Chapters 13 and 14
-13A spring breeze weaved between the skyscrapers of the Core, sweeping azalea petals along the curbs. Michelle watched the swirls of pink, red and white dance outside her office window, thankful for the brief distraction. Spring was her favorite time of year. The Dome was open, the cleansing breezes and nurturing rains dissipating the antiseptic atmosphere of a Dome winter. Spring was usually a joyful time for Atlantans as well. Temperature regulation paled against the transformation of lengthening days and rising heat, and nothing compared to the natural aroma of blooming flowers. She almost convinced herself it was a normal day until Harris’s voice filled her cranium. “Ms. Armstrong, your hover is ready.” Michelle dropped her head and sighed. “Pardon me, Ms. Armstrong?” She straightened and put on her mayor’s façade. “Is everyone at the Center?” “Yes ma’am.” “I’m on my way.” Michelle stood and straightened her dress before leaving the office for the helipad. She chose something light and colorful to match the season, breaking her own dress code for formal presentations.
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC She walked into the office ignoring the furtive stares of the workers as she sauntered to the express elevator. The trip seemed too long; by the time the door slid aside she was shaking. Her pilot stood by the Seagway hover jet, holding the door wide. Michelle tried to move but the chills overtook her. She was shaking visibly, her teeth chattering under her closed lips. Not now, she thought, not now. The pilot strode to her, his face puzzled. The shaking subsided, the chill emptying from her head to her feet. When the pilot reached her she was composed, smiling sweetly at the perplexed aviator. “Everything fine, Ms. Armstrong?” “Yes, Taylor, everything is fine.” They walked side by side to the hover jet. “Tough day,” Taylor observed. “Very,” Michelle replied. Taylor helped her into the jet. “Good?” Michelle smiled as she slumped into the leather seats. “Yes, Taylor, it’s good.” “Good.” Taylor saluted and closed the door. Her stomach tickled as the hover jet jumped from the pad and streaked to the
Civic Center. The trip was shorter that she wished but she was late and Taylor was doing his job. Everyone was doing their job except her. Reality settled in at the wrong time. Earth didn’t belong to her anymore. Atlanta was no longer hers to run. She was an employee, not a leader. The Armstrong legacy would end on a podium before an audience of city-state mayors and other dignitaries when she handed control of the
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC Mayor’s Council to Ephraim Page, Earth Project Manager for Environ. They were no longer a world. They were a project. Taylor opened her door. “Ma’am?” Taylor’s voice ended her personal pity party. She looked past the pilot and saw Nelson standing at the edge of the pad. Michelle took his hand and stepped onto the pad. Nelson ran to her flanked by security men, tall muscular brutes in green uniforms with red piping, black shoulder straps holding their hand bolters. Michelle usually frowned on Nelson’s belligerent displays, but now she felt comforted. Nelson was her Shaka. “Welcome, Madam Mayor.” Michelle frowned. “I know; I’m late.” “It’s worse than that, I’m afraid.” Michelle stopped. “What are you talking about?” “Our illustrious guests will not be attending our ceremony. They are on their way to their headquarters as we speak. Mr. Page requested a meeting with you and the Council this afternoon.” Michelle spun around and stormed back to the hover jet. “Michelle, wait! The other mayors are waiting! What do I tell them?” “Tell them to meet me at the Environ Complex.” Taylor opened her door. “Ma’am?” “The Environ Complex.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC Taylor’s right eyebrow rose. “The old GP building,” she answered.
The flight took moments. Taylor hovered over the stair step structure, his lips working rapidly as he communicated with the landing pad crew. Michelle’s angry thoughts were interrupted by his voice. “Trouble.” “What the hell is going on?” “Can’t land.” “You tell those bastards this is Michelle Armstrong.” Taylor turned to Michelle, a hint of apprehension in his eyes. “Told them.” “Link me.” Taylor looked at his panel then nodded. “Who am I speaking to?” “Groundsman Anthony Cooper, ma’am.” “Groundsman, this is Michelle Armstrong. Why are you refusing us permission to land?” “I’m sorry ma’am, but those are my orders. No one other than authorized Environ personnel are allowed into the building until Commander Cline declares it secure.” “Listen carefully, groundsman. I’m rescinding the order. Clear the pad for landing.” There was a long moment of silence before the groundsman replied. “I can’t do that ma’am. I have my orders.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “Take us back, Taylor,” Michelle snapped. Taylor nodded and they returned to City Hall. Michelle’s Seagway was waiting when she stepped outside. The drive was much longer that the flight despite the programmed traffic. The other mayors waited, standing outside like a well dressed mob, their faces angry and their voices loud. “What is the meaning of this?” Victor Potrenko demanded. “We are legal representatives of our people. This is intolerable!”
The other mayors roared in agreement. Michelle was climbing the steps when the others saw her. They rushed across the courtyard and surrounded her. Maumaudo Diata, mayor of Abijan, pressed against her, his lips almost on her ear. “This is an outrage,” he whispered. “There will be repercussions.” “Let me handle this, Maumaudo.” “You told us you handled this,” Sharon Phillips said. The mayor of London was a tall, thin woman, pale as a ghost with glaring red hair and deep green eyes. Michelle ignored her, marching to the entrance. Two Environ guards stood inside the glass door, eyes focused beyond the angry mayors. The lobby had been stripped the old accoutrements, replaced by Environ icons. The elevator opened and a man dressed similar to the guards emerged, striding towards the door. He was tall, a dark brown man with striking gray eyes that seemed to focus on Michelle. The guardsmen opened the doors and he stepped outside, a warm disarming smile emerging from the cool countenance.
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “Hello council members. I’m Terry Cline, Security Field Commander. I apologize for the sudden change of plans. The Luna Central incident forced us to make unannounced alteration for security reasons. Please follow me.” He extended his hand to Michelle. “Chairwoman?” Michelle looked into his strange eyes and smiled despite herself. She placed her hand in his and he guided her through the door and to his side. They walked side by side as the others followed. Michelle glanced up at Terry, tracing the scar running from behind his ear along his jaw line. “You’re not Paradisean,” she commented. Terry touched his scar. “No, I’m not. Everyone can’t be perfect.” “That’s a perfect scar. It makes you look rugged.” Terry looked at Michelle in mock surprise. “Madam Mayor, are you flirting with me?” Michelle was as surprised as Terry. This man was dangerous. “No,” she finally replied. “Just making an observation.” Terry led them down the corridor to the right of the elevators. The hall led to
the conference room, a huge auditorium that dwarfed the entourage. Michelle recognized Ephraim Page immediately, the Vice President of Earth Operations standing behind the podium in full Paradisean perfection. Another uniformed man stood beside him. He was broad, clearly a weightlifter, mocha skin like Michelle with piercing brown eyes. Michelle followed Terry down the aisle to the stage. She stopped as Terry climbed the short staircase to the stage. She didn’t notice Nelson beside her until he cleared his throat. “This is damn insulting,” he hissed.
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “This is reality,” Michelle said. “I suggest you hold your comments until we see what they have to say.” She turned to Nelson, anxious to ask the question that had nagged her for days. “What do you know about the Luna Central bombing?” “Nothing.” Michelle leaned away from him. “Your friends had nothing to do with it?” Nelson turned away, clearly agitated by her veiled accusation. “My ‘friends’ aren’t responsible. They are many things, but they are not stupid. When they decided to act, we’ll all know.” “Keep them in check, Nelson.” “You talk as if I have some authority over them. I don’t. This is the U.N. we’re talking about. They don’t follow. They lead.” Ephraim approached the podium and the room fell silent.
“Good day, everyone,” he began. “I apologize for the abrupt changes but they were necessary for security reasons. I’m sure you are all aware of the incident on Luna Central, some of you more than others.” He paused for a moment to let his meaning set in. “I’m not here to discuss the Earth/Environ merger, and I’m not here to listen to your protests. What’s done is done. What I’m here to discuss is moving forward, accepting reality and making the best of this new situation. We at Environ see this merger as a positive move for Earth, Environ and the Corporate System.” He stepped from behind the podium, switching to his remote.
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “Our analysis of Earth’s infrastructure reveals that the Council has done a decent job managing the planet’s assets despite a small and fluctuating budget. But shortcomings abound and will only increase due to the Earth tourist trade envisioned by Environ. A host of issues come to mind, but the most glaring shortcoming is security. ‘Many things can be said about the Corporate System, but its greatest accomplishment is safety. Crime in the Corporate System is virtually non-existent. The crime rate in the frontier planets is higher, but manageable. The two men standing with me are expert in the field. They will insure that everyone on Earth is protected by Corporate Law.” Restlessness swept through the room. The delegates’ faces reflected their
skepticism; most of them turned back and forth between Michelle and Ephraim. Michelle kept her silence. This was not the place to confront Environ’s project manager. She would wait until they implemented their plan before making any decisions. Nelson, however, would not go out without a fight. “Safety? What does safety mean to Environ? What is it Earth lacks that Environ can provide?” Ephraim looked at Terry and stepped aside. Terry took his place, his hands folded behind his back. “My analysis shows that the individual public police forces are extremely short on manpower. Officers are overworked and underpaid, hence the widespread corruption on every level.” A collective gasp sprang from the delegates. Even Nelson was taken aback, leaning back as if slapped. Michelle smiled; Terry Cline wasn’t interested in making
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC friends in council room. He was after the man and woman in the streets. He knew if he won the crowd, the leaders would become irrelevant. It was perfect Armstrong strategy. “If you study my profile closely – he looked at Michelle- you will find that I’m an honest and fair man. I believe there should be a high level of security no matter what a person’s status. Security brings prosperity, and prosperity brings profits. I’m dedicated to establishing all three on Earth, beginning here in Atlanta. If you’re associated with any group deemed illegal under Corporate Law, I suggest you disassociate as soon as you leave this room. Consider this a grace period. Any questions?” Nelson stood. “Tough words from an alien,” he began. “I studied your file closely, Mr. Cline and it is impressive; in the Corporate world. But this is Earth, and the Mother World is unique. Our people live a legacy that extends back thousands of years. There are associations, alliances and rivalries you could not begin to comprehend, let alone end. I believe you are setting yourself up for failure.” Terry grinned at the councilman. “I’m not concerned with the history of the people on this planet, nor am I concerned with finding whose ass to rub to make things happen. I’m here to make Earth safe. I will use every means in my power to do so, and I
will take down anyone or any organization that stands in the way of security and safety.” Nelson looked about the room at his fellow council persons, a confirming smirk on his face. Michelle shook with anger. “I hope you enjoyed making yourself a target,” she hissed. “It’s a game of chicken. I wanted to see who would blink first.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “Be sure not to include the rest of us in your game,” she shot back. “I don’t care how much the UN is paying you.”
Terry took a seat. Kwame stood and assumed the podium, a forced grin on his face. Not a speaker, Michelle noted. He was probably not very good with people either. He was the enforcer; a man who probably rose to through the ranks by obeying every order without question. Terry’s words were tough, but this man was the one to fear. “Hello everyone, I am Kwame Simpson, commander of the Environ Rangers. You won’t see me as much as Terry, but my position is just as vital to the Environ plan. My unit is in charge of artifact location and restoration. We’ll locate cities and structures of historical significance and determine restoration status. There are so many sites outside the city-states that could be considered valuable to Earth’s history, but like all projects we have timetables and budgets to meet. I would like each of you to submit a list of areas you deem significant. We will compare your list with the current Environ template and make additions based on feasibility of restoration. We plan on carrying out our function with a minimum of environmental intrusion.” “He seems nice,” Tanaka said. “Hold your judgment,” Nelson replied. “Kwame is operating outside the citystates. He’s Terry’s equal, which means Terry has no jurisdiction outside the cities. Kwame may be looking for lost cities but I’ll guarantee he’s also hoping to locate the naturals smugglers. I’ll bet he has complete autonomy to deal with them as he sees fit.” “What’s wrong with that?” Tanaka asked. Nelson shook his head, amazed by Tanaka’s apparent stupidity. “He’ll kill them and take control of the trade for Environ.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “Do you have a question, Mr. Smith?” Kwame asked the councilman.
“No, not at all, Mr. Simpson. With the two of you here I feel as safe as a lion in a cage.” Kwame’s face lost its forced pleasantness, revealing his natural hardness. He glared at Nelson and Michelle smiled. Good one Nelson, she thought. She would warn the foresters; they would go underground until the threat passed. There were years of inventory stored off-planet, enough to feed city coffers for decades. The only question was could they outlast Environ? “I assure you, Nelson, you will hardly notice the transition.” Ephraim took center stage, signaling Kwame to sit with his eyes. “Environ’s policy is to enhance, not intrude. We would like you all to join us this evening for dinner. It will give us a chance to get to know each other better.” “Is the UN invited?” Nelson said. Michelle gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. Nelson had pushed it too far, as always. “I’m only inviting the people in this room, Nelson. It would be interesting if they attended. It would answer a few questions, don’t you think?” The smug look left Nelson’s face. “I wouldn’t know.” “Thank you all for attending,” Ephraim finished. “Terry will escort you back to the lobby. I hope to see you all this evening.” The council members followed Terry back to the lobby. Michelle took her place beside Terry again. He looked at her and smiled.
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC
“You don’t think we believe this nonsense about enhancing not intruding, do you?” “Of course not,” Terry replied to her surprise. “There are certain statements that must be made for the record. You should know that by now.” “Are you referring to the Proceedings?” Terry nodded. “Everything is on the record. The purchase is final. There’s nothing you or your friends can do to change it.” Michelle held her anger in check. “So we should give up any notions of protest. Is that what you’re saying, Terry?” “It would make it easy for all of us,” Terry agreed. “I don’t need another rebellion on my record, no matter what the outcome.” This was too much for Michelle to take. “Are you threatening me?” “No, not at all,” Terry replied. “I’m trying to negotiate. Environ is not going anywhere anytime soon, but eventually they will leave. It’s their way. Once they wring all the profit they can from Earth they’ll move on. They’ll sell it most likely. If you and your council are cooperative you may have first shot.” Michelle was surprised by Terry’s words. “They? Whose side are you on?” “No one’s,” Terry replied. “Don’t let the uniform fool you. All I want to do is make Earth safe. Nothing else means anything to me, which means I have to ask you for one more thing.” Michelle was curious. “What else, Terry.” “I need you to give me the U.N.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “That’s out of my control,” she replied. “The UN is independent of the Council.” “So you admit they are here,” Terry said.
“That’s no secret,” Michelle replied. “They have no influence on the Council and they don’t interfere with our jurisdiction.” “What about Nelson? Can he arrange it?” “Nelson has nothing to do with the UN,” Michelle lied. “He’s an old friend of Dimitri Stanislaw,” Terry said. “That makes him a suspect. Let him know that.” “So you’re sending him a warning through me.” Terry smiled. “He wouldn’t listen to me.” Michelle stopped to take a hard look at this strange man. “You’re not one for secrets, are you?” “I don’t play games. I believe in giving a person the chance to do the right thing. That way when I come after them I have a clear conscious.” “You’d make a terrible politician,” Michelle said. “That’s Ephraim’s job,” Terry replied. They reached the entrance. Most of the delegates were gone, fleeing in anger and frustration from the meeting. Terry walked Michelle to her limo and opened her door. “I hope we can be friends, Ms. Armstrong.” Michelle entered the limo then turned to face Cline. “Atlanta is first and foremost to me, Terry. If being your friend means compromising this city, then that’s a friendship that will never happen.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC Terry shut her door. “I guess I’ll have to prove to you I’m sincere.” “Yes you do, Mr. Cline. Good day.” The limo lifted and Michelle exhaled a long breath. Ephraim and Kwame were easy reads, but Terry was an enigma. She would have to watch him closely to see what side of the fence he would eventually land on. In the meantime she would warn Nelson. Despite his stupidity she didn’t want to lose any of her council members. That
would make the others nervous and turn this transition into a violent situation. She peered out of her window as the limo continued to rise. Terry still stood at the platform, watching her fly away. “I’ll figure you out, Terry Cline,” she whispered. “I definitely will.”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC
-14A thick mist shrouded the pine infested mountains north of Atlanta, filling the valleys with clouds tinted red by the setting sun. The very top of Nelson’s mansion peeked over the low level moisture, its landing pad barely visible to the approaching limousine. Nelson sat in the back, his arms wrapped tightly, and his head vibrating in anger. He hated Environ; he hated Ephraim, he hated Kwame, but most of all he hated that smart ass Terry Cline. If he had a bolter at the meeting he would have shot him down and to hell with the consequences. They all deserved to die, every last one of them. He was out of the craft before it touched down, scrambling down the stairs into his home and striding into his office. No sooner had he closed the door did he contact Dimitri. The UN commander greeted Nelson with a smile. “My friend, you seem upset.” “Those condescending bastards pranced around our building telling us how things are going to be run and those monkeys we call delegates lapped it up. Even Michelle sat there obediently, drooling over Terry Cline like a school girl. The whole scene made me sick. What are you going to do about this, Dimitri?” “I’m not going to do anything.” Nelson’s eyes bulged. “That’s impossible! How long do you think it’s going to be before they come after you? We have to strike now!”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “You’re a bold one, Nelson,” Dimitri observed. “But then you can be. You have nothing to lose. You’ll be out of a few million dits, but you’ll still have your life,
your wife and your mansion. Me, one the other hand, will probably have to spend the rest of my life in some dank corporate prison or dead in some alleyway.” “You act as if I don’t have a stake in this,” Nelson snarled. “Your risk in nothing compared to mine. You’re probably more upset because you think Terry Cline is making a move on Michelle.” Nelson said nothing, his shoulders rising and falling with his exaggerated breathing. Dimitri smiled. “I thought so. Listen, my friend. We will do nothing. Stop drawing attention to yourself. Be quiet and listen. Remain skeptical; you’ve already played that hand and if you stop suddenly you’ll draw more attention to yourself. They suspect you’re one of us and you’ve done nothing to dissuade them. You’ll have to play it delicately.” “I’m not a delicate person,” Nelson replied. “Then you must practice,” Dimitri suggested. “For now we watch and we wait. We want Environ fully vested in the takeover before we act. Their security is impeccable, but they can’t hide their actions. Never listen to what men say; watch what they do.” “How long will that take?” “One year, two, who knows,” Dimitri shrugged. “We must be patient. This is a big catch we’re trying to land. We have to make sure we make no mistakes. Do you understand, Nelson?”
MetroForce © 2010 by MVmedia, LLC “I do.” “Good. Now go spend some quality time with your lovely wife. We’ll talk again soon. Oh yeah, make sure you go to the dinner tonight.” Nelson was shocked again. “How did you find out about that?” “Connections, my friend. You have a good evening.” Nelson sat at his desk long after the call was done. So there was another UN
supporter on the council, someone apparently better connected than he. He suddenly felt nervous, expendable. He would make sure he attended the dinner.
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