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The Stranger – Chapter 2: The Mall

Written by castor :: [Tuesday, 17 March 2015 00:33] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:27]

Inspired by a story by Taliesan


“So how can we help your company deliver its message?”

John sat in his chair, smiling the kind of deliberate smile. It had been months since Boston had been nearly destroyed by a giant monster to be saved by the Defender, and things – at least in his nationhood – were returning to something like normal. His person being saved and rescued was now something that didn’t quite come to mind everyday, a haze of the past. But that meant, of course, he now had to deal with his real day-to-day advertising.

“Well, I suppose … commercials maybe?” said Mr. Wick the man at the other end of the table. He was the president of Translan a fortune 500 company, sitting with three of his people. Two of them where vice presidents, the other was in charge of marketing: a nice woman named Sanders, who looked like she was worried about her job.

“Well, why you don’t tell me more about what you guys make … and then we can see how it can help it grow.”

“WE don’t make anything.” said Mr. Wick “Not really. We develop electronic patents – mainly in field energy. We license them to other companies for industrial applications computers, etc.”

“Well, the purpose of advertising,” said Eric who was sitting next to John in a helpful assistance “is to communicate that to other customers. I mean, to be honest with you, before you came in the door I had never heard of your company”

“The people who would license stuff already know about it.” said Wick “GE and Apple already know about what we do. Sanders here handle advertising. We do some advertising in journals, go to trade shows. Nothing special, but we have a market cap of around 5 billion.”

“Very lucrative.” said John

“Extremely.”

“We also own real estate.” said one of the vice president. “We started out building an office park for R&D facilities in Wolverton, and leased part of it out. It’s been so profitable we have bought several more … is there way advertising could help there.”

“We could do some local work, I don’t really see nationally.”

“We have some vacancy problem at one of them.” said the VP

John smiled again, forced. This was odd. “We can see what we can do to help … but I am getting the sense you don’t think we can do all that much.”

Wick nodded, “I have been instructed by the companies’ owner though, to develop a detailed advertising strategy and implement it with your company. It’s a top priority. I maybe am the company’s president, but … well … even I follow orders.”

He gave a fake smile bigger than John’s.

 

John got home that night shaking his head. Since the train was still down and he had to take the bus, which wasn’t as relaxing. He was strongly considering driving to work, but realized that wasn’t …

He opened the door to his apartment to see Janey. Trembling.

“Is everything alright?” was his first response. She had the look she had when something was terrible or wonderful. It was hard to tell which. That was her general nature.

Janey lowered her head, “It’s my dance company. We’ve … .we’ve been offered a grant to put on a five month tour of Europe.”

“What?” said John

“Five months starting in two weeks … five months. France, Germany … the Czech republic … Italy … it’s for the piece we have been working on. They were talking about bringing it for a couple of shows in New York but …”

She trembled. Until he grabbed and held her.

 

“Field power?” said John as he looked at paper in his office.

“I was looking it up” said Bill, “It transmits energy between objects without a physical connection. Ever seen a Tesla Coil? That’s the basic version. It’s really the whole idea of Tesla.”

“Well that’s an angle.” said John

Bill nodded, “Researching Translan. It’s about 5 years old. It was founded by Erica Harper. She’s a bit like Elton Musk – who founded Tesla – but is a lot less showy. She worked for Ebay, made a fortune when it went public, then founded Translan. She personally developed the basics of what they do: you shoot power from one place to another … and has well made a couple of billion licensing it and having her employees refine it.”

“That’s an angle.” said John, “I could see a commercial there.”

Bill chuckled. “You see something everywhere.”

“It’s a poorly understood idea. We communicate it better, it’s …”

Bill nodded “Well, it’s a pitch.”

“Women in tech.” John paused and googled Harper “Pretty too.”

He saw her picture at a trade show in Las Vegas. She was wearing a conservative suit, but he could see she was quite beautiful. Tall, with kind of willowy muscularity to her arms, long legs and a tight waist that was conserved in a blouse. She had model like jaw, without being a model, if that makes sense. There was something, overall, that looked as if she should be able to showcase high fashion, but somehow that wouldn’t be the right idea. If you looked into her blue eyes, even on a laptop monitor, they would draw you to far in. She had long bright red hair that complimented.

“Pretty.” said Bill “She’s also something of a recluse as far as I can gather. About a year and half ago, she put Wick in charge of the company – even though she owns like 89% of it. She withdrew … too well, people don’t really know.”

“Ahh, mystery.” smiled John “Mystery sells.”

“What are we selling again?” asked Bill.

 

The Defender paused, sighing. She was dealing with an apartment fire in Queens, New York. Well, maybe a tenement fire. The differences between the two in the buildings state was hard to tell. She knew that about 400 people lived in a fairly small building, in units so small and grungy that the kids she saved had been ugly and looked malnourished and fat at the same time. It was hot and it was ugly and she hated it.

But well … she was a superhero. That’s what it said on the card. And that’s what superheroes did. She saved probably 50 people, if not from death burns, smoke etc … a good days work.

She flew back towards Boston at a leisurely pace – for her – 600 miles an hour. There was a joy in speed like this. A joy in fast. It was one of the pleasures of her life. She could be that fast. She could be that strong, that tough all of it.

Her powers were awesome. And she knew that the least bit of bitching about them served no purpose. IF only, because there was no one to hear them. Not really.

She glanced around Boston a bit. Nothing too pressing. If you read the paper, you can see murders and mayhem but, on a minute-by-minute basis, a city could be quiet. People in ambulances traveling, but that could be handled. People dying, but, well nothing. Drug dealers on the street, but little she could do … it was … a relatively peaceful moment to the city she called home.

So she did what she sometimes did: she went to watch John. He couldn’t see her of course – if only because she was 10 miles away watching him through her eyes of her helm. If he could see her, she would had bigger problems than being a peeping tom.

He was at lunch in his office eating … KFC? Jesus. For a man so handsome and built he should have better taste.

Then she tried to think the last time she had KFC … and it depressed her. Kentucky Fried Chicken was something. It may or not be a good something, but it existed in the world. Lately, she had been feeling like a nothing. Something so ethereal that it had lost all presence.

For he was living his life. He was a guy in an office yes, but he had a life. He had friends, a job, and restaurant … a girlfriend.

She shook her head. Yes, she had to remember that. Yes.

 

“I’m scared”

John was at home. With Janey. He gave her a hug.

She was just finish packing for her trip. For someone so small, who usually wore some variation of black training leotards most days … she had a lot of stuff in her bags. The idea that bringing a red suit, a black suit, an umbrella, clothes to go biking and formal dress would make the trip easier and better. She did a certain amount of traveling … he wondered if it did. Ahh well.

“I am going to call everyday.” said John “Don’t you worry.”

“Europe is very foreign. That sounds silly but it is. It’s hard to grasp how different it is … .the voices are different the people are different … god the cars are different do you know how small European cars are?”

“Its okay, you’ve done it before.” said John.

Janey sighed. “I am going to miss you so much.”

“Me too.” said John.

He hugged her he picked her up in her arms. He kissed her. And then in the light of the evening before he would take her to the airport he made love with her.

 

The Defender had to respond to a Canadian oil fire by then.

*****

When one thinks of a Fortune 500 company you may think of giant towers in Manhattan, or maybe this giant college like campus to a certain mind- or just something impressive.

Translan was in an office park outside Wolverton, about 2 blocks from the freeway. A somewhat impressive negative space sign had been built for it … but that was about it. The parking lot for the place was twice the size of the building, it was a small squat series of building down a long hallway in the middle. It didn’t even completely fill the floor with the main corporate offices: two other companies were tenants. It did have what looked to John, as he walked down the hall, a kind of hippish coffee shop halfway down but – yeah – it wasn’t the most impressive space.

Bill was next to him holding a presentation board. “Pretty neat, huh.”

Various departments were down the hall: accounting, legal. He saw were the CEO and board where … and far down the hall – ways away – was the office of the owner Ms. Harper. When they actually entered the office, it looked kind of generic. As an advertising agency, John’s firm at some point they had a designer to hip up their office – adding exposed wood, one wall of Chicken wire. This didn’t have that. This looked as empty an office space as you could imagine, with a receptionist desk in a whiteish room, with a small flower as decoration and a bowl of candy. There were pictures of the receptionist with her kids.

“We’re here for Ms. Harper.” said John.

The receptionist looked up with the kind of look you get when you’re interrupting a game of solitaire “Oh, okay. Are you Mr. Farmer?”

“Yes.”

The receptionist smiled at him “Ms. Harper keeps odd hours … but I can check if she’s in. Can you wait here?”

The receptionist got up.

“Don’t you have like a button or …?”

“We don’t have that kind of tech.” said the receptionist as she went into the room.

And so they waited.

“Time magazine.” observed Bill. He didn’t actually read it just observed.

The receptionist came out

“Ms. Harper will see you now.”

They walked through an empty bullpen like space, with desks but no one in them, to an office at the end of the space. They walked inside.

Standing in there, with a slight smile on her face, was Ms. Harper.

She was wearing a suit – a nice double breasted number that you would buy from the rack of a department store. She looked sleek and fit, healthy. In person her super model looks and height – well – were intimidating. Her red hair caught the light to make her look almost godlike. John was a man, she was a woman, and for a second he wondered what she had at home. A harem of men? or just one – probably a very lucky boy toy who hit the jackpot? She deserved it. Easily. But well …

“You can sit down now.” she said. And this was perhaps the strange part – for a woman who radiated strength – her voice had a certain doubt.

Bill talked first, “I think this is a two part process: first we increase your public presence; if we can do that, we are in a good spot to increase your business.”

Harper nodded and listened to Bill drone on – but John got the sense that she wasn’t that interested. She focused a lot on John and his face, several times asking if ‘John’ – always him – wanted coffee or something. She had a slightly unsure tone that when prompted to talk.

“So, one of the things we have discovered is that you’re a bit of a recluse.” said John at one point.

This caused her to laugh. “Just because I don’t make news everyday or put out a press release, it’s not like I have lived under a rock. I just well … live quietly, mostly. I have a small home in Boston, another in the forest of Maine – go on vacations … but, well, mostly I work a lot on developing technology. I just don’t need the limelight.”

“Why?”

“I have all the money I will ever ever need. What I can do now is make the world a better place. I am not interested in building a smaller Iphone or any nonsense – but power and power transfer shapes the world in ways that are so profound that it’s almost impossible to see. Its ingrained. If we can build a solar plant in the middle of nowhere – or on the moon – if we can harness the energy of the sun or the tides – if we don’t need to have gas in cars or expensive batteries – if we can give free and unlimited power to the world … well, that’s something … and beyond that. There are times I think there greater things beyond – I could tell you what but they would sound silly.”

“Up until that last sentence.” said John “That would make a great Ad.”

She smiled. “You have a good mind for this Mr. Farmer. I suppose with glossy footage of trees and forests.”

“And children playing.”

She chuckled: “Then we see the majestic CGI satellites.”

“If you want to splurge we can build model ones.”

“Ooh, that does sound good.” said Ms. Harper “I do prefer model work as opposed to that silly CGI nonsense.”

They laughed.

Just then, they heard a noise. It wasn’t a particularly loud noise in the scope of things – but it was a different noise.

Most noises in this world are two things connecting. From the stomp of a foot, to the string of a violin. Two solid objects pushing there mass. And this, maybe, what this was – but listening to it John had no idea what either of them were. But they sounded large.

“Um …” said bill.

John got up and walked to a window …

“Ummmmm”

The complex was located near an outdoor mall – they saw it on the drive in. The kind of mall were you buy sneakers at a discount.

Above said mall, there was what looked to be … what could charitably described was a giant flying robot.

Now, when you think about a giant robot the mind comes to some kind of humanoid shape – a kind of voltronesque model, with friendly shapes and boxy arms.

This wasn’t that.

Its base was a central cube that floated without seeming power over the mall – an armored hall – in sleek metal that looked crafted from a single piece of aluminum in perfect square-like shapes Out of it, there were a series of metal pseudo-pods, a monstrosity that seemed constructed from random junk – cars steel, metal containers – looking less connected and rather glued with strange magnets.

And the tentacles thrashed.

They came down in an instant on the mall bellow them smashing a giant hole in a Macys.

“Jesus!” said Bill.

Its geometry was simple: a cube simpler than the Borg. Yet in it there was something utterly alien as if, in some strange way, there were cubes beyond cubes, simplicity beyond simplicity. The strange mouth thing was attacking the city for a reason John could guess. This one …

Harper paused behind them. “I am going to see to my work, my people.” as she ran out of the room quickly. They barely paid attention.

Meanwhile, the robot thing smashed. It didn’t have a face really. Not exactly, but there was a way it moved that suggest a face, suggested something larger than itself. It moved very slowly and very fast at the same time, as each time it raised its tentacles to strike it took time, but the flash was an instant.

He watched it lazily destroy the mall … then he heard a thud as Bill fainted.

How big was it? Big. It was hard to guess scale but he guessed maybe 200 foot by 200 foot cube, with tentacles some of which her nearly a 1000 feet long.

Huh, he had never seen that before.

Just as he was turning back. He saw her. The Defender flying out of some horizon as a champion of the world. He smiled. Good for her. He thought of her often and he hoped that the woman inside the costume. God! There was a woman inside the costume – just a … the thought of that was kind of strange. Humanity at its most base and slightly fragile with …

To speak to her, to know she had doubts, to know she had feelings … that shouldn’t make him more frightened but it did.

The robot turned its body somewhat to acknowledge its foe. It extended all of its tentacles upwards toward it … as they started to glow a faint red light. The Defender paused about a quarter mile away.

(Jesus Christ that was a long way away but – from his vantage pointed – just a couple of feet)

They looked at each other for a long second, waiting for response as if engaged in some ancient duel.

Then, quicker than Jack Christmas, Defender flew at it. It lashed its tentacle at her and missed. She hit the side of the cube at several hundred miles and probably a million pounds of force, creating an earth shattering noise and a flash of light as it was turned into heat.

When it was over, the side of the cube had been badly bent as if it had been hit by a car

However, as she flew away to go for a second round, he watched the machined repairing itself and was once again smooth As if the metal itself was melting and reforming into a single cubic mass once more.

Huh.

Though he couldn’t see her really – she was just a small speck – he guessed that’s what she was thinking as well.

Huh. The creature flew towards her, its tentacles like an octopus flailing towards her. In an instant about three of them grabbed her pulling her into it, like there was some mouth, some orifice of consumption, and it was about to dine.

Then they stopped moving about 50 feet away from it.

She simply pulled her self back and off – flying away from the creature – the tentacles came with her disengaging and turning into metal chunks, falling on a nearby forest as weird glyph-like debris. They where just magnetically attached to it and her flying away pulled them aside.

The cube looked at her. It had a single tentacle left and … it looked down probably to grab some innocent to …

Nope. The Defender flew too fast for it. She pulled that last one off and kicked it halfway across the state, by the looks of it.

The robot was left a solid metal sphere. Invulnerable perhaps but …

She flew underneath it … and started to push … and flew straight up. And up and up …

John could no longer see it, just a flash as it seemed to be a molten thing, just heard the sound as it boomed against something.

He watched it for a moment then turned to Bill. He was still unconscious.

He wasn’t quite sure how to deal with situations like this. Get some water fan them. Slap them …

He seemed to be alive and all that. Smelling salts was that a thing.

“My cousin back in Georgia used to get fainting spells.” said Ms. Harper “Occasionally. Some wet towels will help.”

“You.”

“Everything seems more or less okay here. From talking to people threes some injuries in the mall, but nothing too serious. That thing just did what it did and … Ehhh”

“This is strange.”

“The world is a strange place.” said Ms Harper “I wonder what kind of mind did that made that. It’s wow. Strange place.”

“You’re assuming its not aliens.”

Harper shrugged “Maybe.”

“Somehow dealing with electric systems that send power to your phone doesn’t seem so. Well … interesting” said John

“We do what we can. There was a line in movie I saw as a kid that struck with me: ‘In a world of angels and demons gods and monsters. Math. It’s the key to the universe’.” said Erica.

“Now that is a good marketing line, Ms. Harper.” said John.

“Call me Erica.” she said smiling. “I was wondering something. I have cabin – I think I mentioned it – in Maine. I spend a lot of time there. I was curious if you would like to come out for a visit some weekend – a couple of days even if you can swing it – so we can better discuss the strategy of building my company up in the public eye.”

“Do you have like a thousand servants and ‘cabin’ is a joke?” asked John

“I have indoor plumbing.”

“That’s better still.” said John “And sure I would be delighted to. This is a tough case – I am going to say – but I do think we can get somewhere. Sometimes making the world a better place is giving them hope. It’s like … Her. She does the same thing. We can make you like her.”

“Well, that’s a place to be.” said Ms. Harper as John smiled.

It was about hour latter as Ms. Harper sat in her office. She looked out the window. Bill had recovered and both were on the way back to town, to work and think about there strategy. A date had been set. Meanwhile in the rubble the fire department was having fun.

The robot. It depended, you see on atmosphere. You think a superconductor would have worked better in the cold of space but no. It didn’t even hit the stratosphere where it had broken up and congealed into a useless mass of nothing.

The timing at least had been good. Better then she suspected.

Well, Ms Harper reflected, she didn’t expected it to really win. Not yet. An early test. She had tried biotics and she had tried synthetics. Both had their powers but …

Well, they weren’t getting her, were they? The Defender was still a bright shinning beacon in the horizon.

But there were other ways.

She had given Bill a short term poison to drug him mixed with a retrovirus. He would develop a very nasty flu – possibly die – it didn’t really matter. In the next couple of weeks though he would be puke level sick. And leave her and John.

Defender. She cared about him. She cared about all the people of course, but him in particular. She had observed this and studied this and plotted this. In the end, of course, it wasn’t magic or little green rocks.

Invulnerable people. They cared about vulnerable things. And thus laid the tragedy.

Erica Smiled.

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