tagNovels and NovellasRunning on Fumes Pt. 01

Running on Fumes Pt. 01

byKrenna Smart©

Chapter 1

Labor status pending?" What on earth is going on? Kimmi Riasco thought as she watched the evil red light blink on the computer screen in her cubicle. Labor status pending! What does that mean? Kimmi looked over her shoulder to make sure none of her co-workers were close enough to see what she was doing. Not that it would matter for very long she thought. Once something like this comes up on a labor status report there's very little time before the shit hits the fan.

Kimmi silently blessed her father who had been chronically paranoid about computer citizen maintenance reports (CCMR's) and had hammered into her head that she should check her status at least once daily from different locations. Kimmi had asked him if that wouldn't just make 'them' more likely to scrutinize her files. Her father replied "just don't do anything wrong" which was a sensible enough answer. But he also warned her never to take her status for granted.

And now the nightmare scenario seemed to be coming to pass. Status pending meant that someone, somewhere, was revising her labor code. Kimmi didn't believe in urban myths where lowly gray workers got status upgrades to gold overnight as a result of computer glitches, and no-coders suddenly became rich. But everyone knew someone who had their credits attached, their housing revised without notice, or their labor status downgraded or terminated overnight. Kimmi had noticed that such things were happening more and more frequently since the most recent pan-global citizen net upgrade. Gold protected Gold and everyone else could go to hell. Or at least that's how it seemed to work these days.

Kimmi's labor status was a mid class shade of blue. Her father had registered her for a slot as a Human Resources Specialist when she was ten years old. Blue was steady and untouchable, or so her father had reasoned. Her mother had been irate, wanting something more glamorous for Kimmi, like a red artist slot or a bronze for athlete. Kimmi's father had been adamant. He reasoned that there would always be a need for Human Resources Specialists since there would always be pan-global corporations with employees to manage.

But daddy hadn't anticipated the huge labor glut the pan-global community was experiencing in 2079. Hundreds of thousands of skilled laborers were out of work. Hundreds of highly coded individuals would show up on the doorstep of any corporation that even whispered that it might be hiring skilled laborers.

Unskilled laborers such as sanitation disposal workers, cleaning staffers, exterminators, and food service technicians as well as lower tech people such as dull data entry technicians were still in great demand. No one wanted the insecurity of an artist code. Athlete's codes were almost as good as gold but you had to be exceptionally gook. Otherwise you were shoved into an unskilled code as a generic physical laborer.

Skilled laborers - those that used to be called white collar, blue collar and pink collar workers had glutted the market twenty years ago. And the market just kept getting worse. Two years ago a friend of Kimmi's had joked that times would get so bad that Human Resources Specialists would become extinct. Employees would be so hard up no one would dare complain about management tactics and Human Resource Specialists would have to be declassified.

Big Joke!

Seeing her code flashing red reminded Kimmi of that day two years ago. She had heard rumors of impending lay offs at Krowe, Pan-global, but hadn't listened carefully. Was it true? Was her position being reclassified? I have to know. How do I find out?

Kimmi started with a general computer inquiry as to the status of all blue codes at Krowe Pan-global computer inquiry as to the status of all blue codes at Krowe Pan-global. ACCESS DENIED flashed across the screen. What? That's not right. I'm a human resources specialist. I'm automatically entitled to this information. What the hell is going on? All right, let's try the back door.

Kimmi worked for two hours, humming retro-rock between her teeth while she sorted through corporate information which someone was trying hard to keep under wraps. She had a knack for this type of work. If truth were to be told, she liked hacking better than most of the things she did as a human resources specialist. Maybe I can re-group. Go back to school if worse comes to worse she thought worriedly. None of the information she was receiving was cheery, although nothing so far explained why her status was pending.

Maybe it was just a glitch. Check it again. It was 12:30 and time for her take or lose lunch. Forget lunch today. This is a perfect time to dig in deep and get some answers. She ran the check on her status. STATUS PENDING flashed evilly in her face. Damn it. How long has it been pending? LAST ENTRY 9/22/2079. Just today. Good. Nothing drastic can happen without my knowledge now. Origin of change in code state? she queried. LEVEL 17, CIRCULAR B3A.

What the HELL? I've never heard of this. Request access to level 17. ACCESSING.

"Kimmi?"

Kimmi almost jumped out of her seat. Her best friend and sometime lover, Alex Sumner came into her cubicle, bearing gifts.

"Oh God, Alex, you damn near scared me out of my wits."

"Why? What are you up to?"

"It's nothing." Kimmi didn't want to confide in Alex. Alex thought her routine code status checks were a sign that she was slightly paranoid and a little off kilter. He had caught her checking her status a few times and finally asked her about it. She told him a little bit about her father's suspicious nature and left it at that. He'd laughed about it. Better your father's paranoia than your mother's temper he'd said. What did he care if she had her mother's temper?

"What's on your computer that has you looking so fierce?" Alex asked, peering over her shoulder to get a glimpse at her screen.

"It's just a general data search that's taking longer than I expected," Kimmi said, hitting escape and blanking out the screen. "I can do it later. What are you doing here, anyway? I didn't expect to see you until tonight."

"I had a few items to research and a report to give to the Executive committee. "

The committee was headed by, Chester Beatty, the Chief of Security Affairs. Alex had a double code. Yellow for upper management and black for security. He thought he answered to Beatty. Everyone thought Beatty was the man behind the throne at Krowe. Dr. Glory Agneus Krowe, the President and Chief Executive Officer held the thrown. She was the forty eight year old widow of old Raven Krowe. She looked like she was thirty. Alex first met her at a Christmas party. It was a costume party. Glory was dressed as an icicle. Alex thought the costume suited her to a T. She was sleek and long and lean. Her tapered body was wrapped in real silver foil. Her eyes were silver and accented by implanted eyebrows of titanium, with a lovely one carat diamond implant on her left temple. At least it looked like a diamond.

Glory's hair was frosted silver. She had a stubborn jaw which bespoke a temper that smoldered. Her mouth often looked petulant. She could be a demonic when crossed.

She was an enigma to all but her very few confidants. Beatty was not one of them. But six years ago, at the time of Raven Krowe's death, Glory had unexpectedly put responsibility for day to day operations into Beatty's hands. The responsibility came with a caveat. The day Krowe Industries started losing money Beatty would be terminated. That's exactly what she told him during a quiet meeting six years ago.

Beatty handled the day to day operations of Krowe very well. He had his ways of ensuring that Krowe Industries remained in the black. Some of them were brilliant, long-sighted and above board. Others were murky, semi-legal, and very rewarding. He dressed those up for the Pan-global Securities Exchange Commission to look legal on a regular basis. Glory never questioned Beatty's operations. As long as the money rolled in she was happy.

Glory had a different agenda.

Side by side with the pan-global's medical facility, the top two floors of Krowe's largest building, where Kimmi and Alex worked housed Krowe's Oneiros Division. This was Glory's realm. The division's activities, called the Oneiros protocols, were experimental and very carefully guarded. Glory was the hands- on helms man of the Oneiros Division. Beatty was charged with ensuring that nothing, ever, leaked out about the Oneiros protocols. One day, over tea, Glory explained to Beatty with a sweet smile on her face that any breach of security would be a fatal mistake. For obvious reasons Beatty was obsessed with corporate security issues. Beatty rode Alex hard when it came to developing and installing state of the art security for Oneiros.

Alex was far up on the Corporation's list of promotable young managers. He was only 33 but carried more labor clout than many men twice his age. Few women ever made it close to his yellow level and only one or two women had achieved black standings.

Glory had seen Alex advance in the corporation. She had been sending out subliminals to him right and left and was quite ready to take him under her wing when he approached her several months ago about flaws in Krowe's security systems. She let them slip into a secret little affair, and then boosted his ego by increasing his power. But she held him tightly reigned in.

Glory had laughed at Alex's nervousness at their first meeting when she told him she wanted him to be her body guard on a few occasions. Then she spoke kindly, and oh so condescendingly about his relationship with that "pretty thing, Kimmi, he ushered about." Alex walked out of the meeting feeling confused, kind of disgusted, and unexpectedly aroused.

What's with that? Alex had thought. Old lady Krowe is the last woman on earth I'd want to sleep with. isn't she? But Good God all that power she holds. If she's half as amazing in the sack as she is to look at, it would be really, really tempting. Nothing like a good power fuck! And I swear she was wearing pheromone perfume. Oh yeah. She wants me.

Alex was aware that he was a handsome man. His brown hair was had coppery highlights and was thick and wavy. Baldness genes had been bred out of him or had never existed. He had none of the pigmentation problems that so many red-heads had in these high UV days. His big hazel eyes looked green in some lights and brown in others. His eyebrows and lashes were black, not red, which gave him a commanding air. He had high cheekbones and a strong chin. His mouth was broad and his smile was almost too pretty to be masculine. His teeth were white. His nose was maybe a little bit wide but women didn't seem to mind.

Alex had a full throaty laugh that always made Kimmi want to join in before jumping into his strong arms. When he was upset or angry he looked very imposing. Kimmi was convinced that at least half of Alex's success with the corporation was due to his imperious air.

Some women might think he was a little short. Kimmi liked his height. He was 5'11." Kimmi was only 5'4" and she appreciated how well she fit next to him. He was required by his black code to remain in top form. He followed a strict martial arts regimen, was an excellent ocean swimmer and had won awards in college on the spring board.

Women generally fell at Alex's feet when he wanted them to. But a single sideways glance from him would put them off permanently. No one liked to cross Alex. Kimmi, however, had known him since he was fourteen and she was ten. He had been her champion, her first crush, her first lover, her best friend for ever. But now things were changing. He was an up and coming power in the corporation. Kimmi was a stable blue with little chance for advancement. Kimmi had never really thought much about whether Alex and she had a future together. She had always taken his presence in her life for granted. She didn't know that she was beginning to be considered a liability to his career.

Alex knew this. It had hit him like a led balloon that first morning in Glory's office. He didn't like it one bit. The one stable thing he had ever had in his life, aside from his job was Kimmi. His family had been completely dysfunctional. His mother, Diane, had given up her parental rights to him at his birth. He was the seventh of her eight children. She had decided not to parent any of them. His father was unknown, but believed to have been high enough up in the government to assure Alex a decent adoptive home. Unfortunately the adoption had been for economic reasons rather than love. Alex had been raised by a cold, parsimonious adoptive mother and a brow beaten father.

Alex had been delighted to receive the yellow/black status after high school graduation. He had celebrated the day he left home for good by taking Kimmi's virginity. She hadn't protested, nor had she cared much for the sexual act. She had learned to like it though, Alex reminded himself as he looked at Kimmi this afternoon. He was certain that Kimmi had had no other lovers and wanted to keep it that way. He, of course had had many lovers. But none of them meant anything to him. Kimmi was the only woman who could get inside his head and help him puzzle out the many things that made no sense to Alex.

Like the time his cats cornered a pretty, yellow parakeet in his dining room. God knows where the bird had come from. Alex had saved it. He carried it about the apartment for two hours wondering what the hell he was going to do with a parakeet. He didn't want another pet. So he went out onto his second-floor deck and opened his hand for the bird to fly free. He hadn't noticed that the bird's wings were clipped. The parakeet valiantly flew down to the yard below. Less than a minute later, Alex watched in horror as a stray cat tore the little bird into pieces.

The cat walked away licking its chops and Alex went inside to call Kimmi. She was out of town on business and she'd forgotten to leave her itinerary on his computer. So Alex went to bed. He felt like someone draped a sodden black wool blanket over his bed. He couldn't get up to go to work. He was tormented by the incident for three days until Kimmi came home.

When Kimmi got off the airplane she felt an urgent need to call Alex. She called him from her cell phone. It was three in the morning. Alex answered on the first ring.

"I knew it was you," he said. "Kimmi, I'm a mess. It's over this ridiculous little thing, but I can't get it out of my head. Can you come over?"

Kimmi hopped on the tube with her luggage and went straight to Alex's place. No questions asked. They talked about the bird for hours. Alex finally put the bird to rest. Then Kimmi and Alex made slow tender, almost sorrowful love. Kimmi opened herself up to Alex and they climbed to the pinnacle together. Alex tensed, then poured into her. Then Kimmi came as Alex made a final few plunges into Kimmi's warmth.

They rested for about an hour. Then Kimmi got up and started to dress.

"Where are you going," Alex asked?

"I have to get home. I've been away for four days. I have a few things to do before work tomorrow. I'll see you tomorrow after work, okay?"

"No, no, Kimmi. Please stay the night. I want to sleep with you. Surely you've got something in your luggage that you can wear to work tomorrow. We'll take the tube in together in the morning."

"I really shouldn't stay. " Kimmi hedged.

"Shouldn't, or don't want to?" Alex asked.

"Both."

"Too bad," Alex said jokingly. "You're here now. And you're mine, all mine. I will not let you go until I've ravaged you again and you hear the call of the morning dove."

He pounced on her playfully and began taking clothes off while she put them on.

Kimmi laughed. "This isn't getting me anywhere."

"I guess you'll just have to stay."

"Oh, for.... Okay, you win. But I get breakfast in bed. Deal?"

"Deal."

If Alex had ever stopped to analyze his feelings for Kimmi he might have realized that his was a possessive love, bordering on obsession. He did his best to keep the relationship low keyed. He didn't want the ownership to go both ways. He didn't really want to marry her, although he wanted her to be available to him as needed. He certainly didn't want children. Not yet, anyway.

"So, what's up with the Executive Board these days?" Kimmi asked. Any scuttle but about new labor codes or anything?"

"No, Alex said. "You know I can't talk about what goes on inside those meetings."

Alex eyed Kimmi critically, as he would a prize possession. She looks good today, but worried. I wonder what's up.

Kimmi's hair was chestnut, but it bleached out in the summer to various shades of light and dark brown. She wore it long with bangs that accented her cornflower blue eyes. She had a rack of freckles across her nose that had made many of the boys in high school want to treat her like a little sister. The nose, itself was turned up at the tip. Her ears were slightly pointed, as if she were part elf. Her mouth was generous and her face was a pretty oval with delicate lines. She had a long, graceful neck and the body of a modern dancer. Her legs were well muscled, her abdomen was flat and her breasts were small but shapely. Her hips were narrow. She was proud of the fact that she could do twenty men's pushups without busting a vein.

Alex felt a swell of desire as he looked at Kimmi. Then he felt cross at himself. Remember what Beatty said. No point in getting in too deep with a woman who has no real stake in Krowe, pan-global's future. She's only a mid-level blue. She hadn't even applied for a subsidiary color or an upgrade when her four year contract expired. She has no real goals and no ambition. And now, with the labor glut and the specter of mass layoffs, how secure can a relationship with Kimmi be. Not very. he concluded. Are they going to get rid of her? Is that what the old man was trying to tell me at the meeting? If so, then what? Should I think about applying for leave to co-habit so she'll have secure housing? Should I ask her to marry me so she won't have to worry about her future? Would doing either of those things be fair to her or to me? Her parents' past and her lack of ambition could poleax my career advancement. Ah, hell, she doesn't want to be tied down, anyway. Besides, she's safe. Even if she's terminated she has some money set aside from her father's insurance settlement.

Kimmi's father, Mark Riasco had lost nearly everything in the upheavals of the 21st Century. He had been raised by his maternal grandparents in a little-known "neo hippie commune" in the Midwest where he was deposited by his artist parents when he was three years old. His ancestors had been victims of the great depression and well-known labor organizers. Kimmi's father's upbringing was steeped in anti-government sentiments. He had cut his teeth on stories of economic hardship and governmental betrayal. Kimmi came by her suspicion of governments and large corporations honestly. You could say it was bred to the bone.

When Mark left the commune for college in 2038, he had sworn that his kids would have a normal life and bright futures. He had worked his way through college and a master's program in computer technology and mathematical statistics which had guaranteed him a stable, upper middle class income. He met and married Laura Tausen in the summer of 2043. By that time he had a $300,000 student loan debt. That debt, along with the $750,000 he and Laura shouldered to buy a child-friendly house in a good neighborhood outside Philadelphia had crushed all spontaneity out of his character. Mark had worked steadily from nine to five every work day for 34 years. His spare time was spent renovating the house and maintaining its yard. He refused to spend money on vacations, or anything else that might be considered frivolous.

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