The tension in the conference room was thick and slightly suffocating, I could think of a million other places I’d rather be, but I was here, trying to keep my eyes on my laptop screen, though if looks could kill the floor of the boardroom would be a graveyard.
The group was split down the middle, everyone on opposing sides, seemingly ready to wage a battle of wills and warfare. To my left, sat Aemous keeping a close suspicious eye on Shaw, next to him was Zachari angrily staring down Karishma and Grayson, then there was Pastel looking absolutely clueless, while Cedric sat across from me with a smirk and an arched brow, eyes glued to my face for some kind of a reaction I wouldn’t dare give him the dignity of.
Even Yurika could sense the severity of our emotional turmoil, it actually cause her to look up from her tablet and survey the room with a curious gaze, wondering what the hell was going on. Our silence spoke volumes, there was none of the usual murmurings or small talk that fill the air before most meetings, there was just this simmering stillness, that was only broken when the doors opened and Jynx Ellison sauntered in.
He was dressed in all white, wearing a casually cut but still quite expensive looking suit, his skin appear tanned like he’d just come from exotic vacation and had a rich olive sun kissed hue, his normal bone straight hair was natural with fine coils pulled back away from his regally handsome face. There was no question this man was a beauty to behold, rivaling a goddess like Yurika Ymoja, who immediately stood up from her chair so he could have a seat.
“Greetings all, I know my presence here this afternoon may come at a surprise, but I felt the need to touch base with you before tomorrow’s excursions. There’s been a bit of a change in plans for the Annual Retreat, I’ve decided that it will be the most exclusive of affairs, so the large majority of your fellow employees will be disappointed and may despise you for the next year, when their invitations get lost in translation. As I’m sure you noticed Cydnee, some of your original plans, most notably the travel arrangements, were cancelled.”
“Yes, I’d wondered about that, but since this morning the issue has been rectified and new arrangements have been made.. shall I make adjustments to the itinerary?”
“Not at all, I found them to be beyond acceptable, I’m almost moderately impressed.” He replied with a nod my way, causing me to let out a small sigh of relief, though that reassurance would be short lived.
“Now, let’s get to the reason why I’m here..” His casual gaze surveyed the room as he paused mid sentence, though I wager it was for everyone to see his face, as his smile flipped so fast it was like his head turned upside down. “WHAT, the FUCK, is going on with the ReGen research?! My investors are shitting two ton bricks and I’m coming out of pocket for several weeks of delays, can someone please pinpoint the origin of incompetence or shall I assume the lot of you aren’t worth the pennies I’m paying you?”
There was an awkward silence and one or two people had to clear their throats, Jynx look to each of us expectantly but no one seem to find themselves fit to answer. Zachariah fiddle with his thumbs, Karishma sank low in her chair as if she was evading the spotlight (for the first time in her godforsaken life), Aemous shifted around nervously in the seat next to me, while Shaw seem oddly confidant in his calm quietness. So with another sigh, I realized I’d have to be the sacrificial lamb, or we all might suffer a worse fate.
“Well sir, from what I can tell.. the research has progressed smoothly as far as the cosmetic and medicinal applications are concerned, but when I was added to the team I completed an overhaul of the program and found that there were three applications that were held up indefinitely due to lack of resources at this branch of Arkham’s facilities.” I shuffle through the files on my computer and patch the data I was referring to onto the projection screen at the far end of the room. “I know I was given oversight of the department, but I ran into security and confidentiality roadblocks when I tried to access these three programs.. Everlast, Lazarus, and SYMPHony. They seem to be what’s holding us back from full completion, and only four people have varying levels of clearance to see what’s going on.”
“I see.. if I’m not mistaken, that should be Dr Jhedav, Dr Grannison, and myself, but who is this other person? Also, why am I only privy to one of those projects?
“That would be me.” Cedric announced boastfully, surprising a few of us in the room, myself included, as accounting usually never had full access to research. “I was required to have entry in order to manage costs, after putting several programs on a short moratorium we were finally able to balance the books, our out of pocket expenses were skyrocketing.. though at the moment, they have been reigned in accordingly. And with all due respect, I was merely following the specs in accord to the NDAs we signed with the defense department for the funding we’ve received when the ReGen and Sirius projects were initiated, because of so, we were unable to sync the data due to a possible breach. After counsel from Karishma and Zachari, I made the executive decision to add extra security and keep the programs on a need to know basis.”
“I hate fucking accountants, you people speak like lawyers, it’s plain English but sounds like a mouthful of bullshit..” Jynx rolled his eyes and sighed in annoyance, throwing his hands up before turning to the rest of the table. “Do any of you speak asshole?”
“If that’s true.” I began, ignoring the side eye of death, I was getting across the room from Ced. “Then it’s your fault for the hold up, as you should have known we aren’t equipped to handle the R & D for all three.. which would be known if you read my Project Sirius budget proposal that I sent to your company email several weeks ago, I was looking for you back me on it but I received approval without your support. Excuse me if I’m out of line Mr Ellison, but I thought one to had to have executive level employment to make top branch fiscal decisions?”
“Cydnee, you’re quite correct.” Jynx mused, turning to an annoyed looking Cedric for an explanation, with a curiously raised brow and a stern lip.
“I felt the need to take initiative sir.”
“That would be acceptable, if it provided what I care about most.. results. You come to me empty handed and expect a pat on the head and a doggie treat, when to be honest, I’m thoroughly insulted.” The CEO of Arkham looked around the room in visible disgust and dissatisfaction, I’d wager all our jobs were in jeopardy.
“I’ve done some additional searching and found that the facilities in Windigo are equipped to handle the expansion needed to handle the load, while we’re on the island I can have the specs verified, I just need the permission and proper clearances.” I mentioned, noticing how tight lipped everyone was, which wouldn’t be good for any of us and surely land us all on the unemployment, I couldn’t help but feel like the only student in class to do his homework last night.
“At least SOMEONE showed up to work today, I was wondering what the hell I was paying you lot of idiots for.. Cydnee, you’ll have the access you need by the time we get situated on the island, and I expect to be fully briefed on all developments, especially the Lazarus and SYMPH projects. I don’t know why this is the first instance of me hearing of them.. or what the hold up is on project Everlast, I put billions into that program.” He replied, looking suspiciously at Karishma and Zachari, who seem to be avoiding his hard gaze.
“Remember everyone, the private jet leaves first thing in the morning, 9am sharp.” Yurika warned, reading over the travel arrangements for the retreat. “We’ll touch down across the border somewhere along the coast of Lake Superior, then board a luxury yacht that will transport us to our lodgings in Windigo. The updated guest list will be sent out to everyone’s email once his meeting is adjourned, if there are no questions, consider yourselves effectively dismissed..”
“Is there any truth to the rumors of a new position being up for grabs or is that just an urban myth one of these gossiping heifers crafted?” Pastel asked, interrupting before she could finish with a sheepish look on his face, probably because he had no chance at getting the job due to the bloodthirsty completion this workplace seemed to cultivate, so he had nothing to lose by asking
“Oh yes, that’s right, I plan to announce that at the opening night ball we always throw on the Annual. I’m still considering all eligible prospects for the position and will reveal who has been chosen during the festivities. This person will be Primary Operations Director for the entirety of Arkham’s enterprises and ventures, if any of you have ever been wondering what you have to do to really fucking make it in this game, this is it, don’t fuck it up.”
“Now move it, we expect results!” Yurika demanded icily, exerting her full authority.
The group stood up and scattered in tandem, none trying to be the last one in the room, I gathered my things at a more cautious pace. Immediately noticing Mr Ellison had his golden emerald eyes locked on me with mild interest, but not enough give me more than fifteen seconds of his attention. Once I’d cleared the door, someone grabbed my arm, pulling me to the side, it was Shaw.
“I think something is up, we need to talk..”
“What are you going on about? Of course something is up, we’re all probably fucked, I don’t think anyone should be looking forward to being on the guest list for this year’s retreat, everything feels so final like it’s a funeral instead of a vacation.”
“For some people those can be the same thing, but forget about the list, you’re on it. This is more dire than all of that.. come with me.”
“Cydnee! CYDNEE! I know you hear meh girl.. don’t forget our lunch plans, you better not be ditching me!” Pastel hollered from down the hall in the most flamboyant fashion, waving a designer brand satchel.
I looked to him apologetically as my cotton candy pink haired friend dragged me away, he just sighed, unable to hide a worried look on his face as he watched us turn the corner.
“Now you know both y’all hoes is my bitches, but I don’t seem to understand what in tarnation you two are fighting about and I’ve heard both sides of the damn story twice, it’s like ‘Bold and the Beautiful’. Can’t we all just party and live it up like Mariah Carey on this here trip.. like, I mean, of course I’m going to be invited, oh and don’t forget about you, yes you too honey! Like, we all are gonna have the best.. Oh my GaWD! No! I just had the worst thought.. what if he pulls a twist and doesn’t invite any of us?! Could you imagine? I’d just fucking die..”
“Pastel calm down, you are freaking out again and you talking too fast, I’ve told you about that.” I said with a laugh, as I ate my lunch with him in Central Park, we’d taken a Cab all the way over here so he could feed the ducks.
Yes, he one of THOSE people, but he was always a cool friend and never started any problems with anyone. Pastel could spread the drama better than gossip blog site, but he was never into it personally. I never held that against him, because everyone slows down to look driving pass a car accident and somebody got to report the news, he was the Wendy Williams of the office.
The two of us had taken a seat by the pond, and I ‘people watched’ while he toss feed to the birds, my gaze paused on a group of tourists taking in the area, nothing new in the daily life of the city. It wasn’t crowded at all, the day was lovely, and we stopped at my favorite deli on my way here, it was all so perfect given my morning.
“You know how I get, I’m just sayin’.. the notice hasn’t come out yet and last year’s event had close to five hunnit people. You telling me bitch, that if you yourself, the skally who planned this shit.. you say you wouldn’t gag if you was cut from the List, bitch?”
“You right, I would indeed seeth a little bit, but I’d also possibly come to see it as a blessing.”
“Take ya blessings in this business, they don’t come often.. you right on that.”
He continued to ramble on, while I noticed the large group had moved on, leaving only a man behind, I remember noticing him with their group earlier and it made me oddly curious. He was tall, had smooth dark olive skin, and was sinfully handsome, though that wasn’t ironically why I noticed him. It was the way he looked out at scene before him, taking it all in with the freshness of a child, it was endearing to witness.
“Cydnee, is you even listenin’ to me bitch? I’m tryna put you on to the tea, about my cousins gay husband.”
“What? Is that the one with the severe cheekbones I met last fourth of July?” I asked him, getting pulled back into the conversation abruptly, I always knew something was seriously suspect about his cousin Prym’s husband.
“Bingo, you know I foresaw that in a vision right? I just knew it..”
My eyes darted to where I last saw the handsome tourist, he was gone from site, probably catching up with the rest of his crew. That left Pastel and I alone for the most part, across the water was a father and son walking by, to our right was a suspicious weird old woman with a long coat, who was probably a vagrant. I let my coworker continue to talk as I walked toward the nearest trash can, it was close enough to still hear him, but it was far enough to where I was watching the woman as she strayed a little too close to the area our belonging were set up, for my liking.
She moved on as I returned, twirling in circles pointing in different directions erratically, it was quite the show but also a usual sight in the city. I sadly shook my head and strolled up close to where Pastel was still feeding the pond ducks, he was nearly through with his offerings to them.
“”Look, they come right up to me, they trust me, they even seem to speak.. I feel like some damn Disney princess or something. Come, feast you magnificent flying creatures!”
“Sorry to break it to you, but I think it’s the food that has them eating out of your hand, not any fantastical charm, sweet princess.” I reply holding down a laugh, Pastel was always a great distraction, he might have been too much of one, because I didn’t notice as a figure snuck up right behind me.
“You sound like a bitter spiteful evil Queen.. No, a stank ass stepmother, I don’t know why you offend me so. I cast you out.. Cydnee? Where are you? CYDNEE?!”
I had woken up to darkness, unable to shift or move much, if someone had ask me when I had fallen unconscious, I’d be at a loss for words.
They were a wrapped around my wrists, not too tight, but effectively fastened. I could hardly move or shift, so whomever manipulated rope so masterfully must have been a highly decorated fuckin boy scout as a kid.
The pace was leisurely, the impact of the ball and toe was vibrant, as the familiar sound of a woman’s heels drew closer. There was a sudden pause in approach about 2 yards away, I was starting to panic and my breathing grew erratic, the realisation that I had something over my face only hasten the thump of my heart in my chest.
“I thoroughly assure you, I’m quite well versed in the complex and delicate details of what it takes to get your job done, but you need to use tender hands when it comes to especially precious cargo, understand me?”
It was indeed a woman, her tone was full and slightly smoky, while the thickness of her Victorian accent made everything that came from her lips sound like Shakespeare. I was about to speak thinking she was talking to me, but I was abruptly disoriented when the head covering was stripped off, I hadn’t even known another person was with us.
There was a brief moment of spinning lights, that soon settle into a single bright beam that cast down from a low bulb from ceiling. There she stood, the woman, to much dramatic effect, looking every cent of a billion bucks. Swooping pale silver hair, pinned into a loose chignon that was all tucked into a delicately thin black hat with a small cap and sharp wide brim. Her frame was thin and feline, like the head and tale pelt of a silver fox, but her skin was a icy pale almost translucent white, which was accentuated by a bold ruby red lipstick. She was clothed in a billowy collared white blouse and black pencil skirt, topped by a blunt shouldered checkered suit jacket, the highlight was her legs that went on nearly forever to end at her slate red bottom heels.
The person behind me removed all my restraints but my hands, he pressed a firm but gentle hand to my shoulder, added pressure a few seconds till I caught on that I was supposed to sit. She stood there looking down at me, her stilettos making her tower over head. She was older possibly in her fifties or maybe her seventies but still stunningly beautiful, whether natural or surgical, her appeal was timeless. She looked like cash money, old money, dirty money, blood money.. even those piercing green eyes of hers was a testament to the fact money was all she’d ever seen her whole life.
“Cydnee Tyson, it’s an absolute pleasure to finally be acquainted with you, I hope my associate wasn’t too abrasive with my invitation, if so it’s my apologies, I might have robustly expressed an earnest to be in your presence.”
“”Um.. apology accepted, but who are you guys and what is it you want with me?” I asked, looking behind me for ‘the Associate’, but there was nothing there in the darkness.
“Oh, how rude of me, I’m so used to assuming people fortunate enough to be within five feet of already have the honor of knowing who I am, force of habit, please forgive me. I’m head of the estate of Van Duyn, in most circles known as Belladonna..”
“Belladonna Van Duyn? The majority shareholder of VIOtrex? Now I’m worried.
“I see we find both of our reputations precede us.” She replied, lighting up a Virginia Slim cigarette, a smirk upon her red lined lips. “It’s not fate that has brought us together, I’m afraid dear boy, this is all just cold hard calculation. I’ve heard whisper from my sources in Arkham that you are set up for quite a prestigious position very soon.”
“Wait, you have ‘people’ infiltrating Arkham too?” It seemed every major commodity was trying to get a piece of it, there were spies everywhere.
“You seem surprised, that’s positively adorable, why child would I buy into a legendary sinking pirate ship with two blind eyes. I simply purchased a couple pairs of Eyes with a front row seat on my investments, a precautionary measure when dealing with a savage such as Jynx Ellison, you must track animals of his particular breed very carefully.
“But that is illegal, everywhere, except maybe Russia.. I’d have to Google it.”
“I simply don’t care about any obstacles, is it the law that you are referring to? Tell me, how is that for you exactly? The view is quite different from above the Law, and I’ve been above it for a long time as you can imagine.”
“What is it you believe I can do for you Ms Van Duyn, tell me that? You seem to be the kind of person that’s privileged to everything one could wish for, and then some.”
“As I said, cold hard calculation is what drives me, I see an opportunity that’s too good to pass up.” She replied, tossing the half finished cigarette to the grounds at my feet, knowing I’d instinctively snuff it out because of fire, while her intent was to never soil her shoes. “With the announcement of your promotion, soon will come an immense pressure to deliver, whether on behalf of Jynx Ellison or the shareholders, I just so happen to be one of those shareholders and a minor member on the board of directors. My first sense tells me he went by creation of this new title to bamboozle the other members, creating the guise of security when it comes to operations, but one of my Eyes sees cause for this position of influence to be legit, while the other is a disbeliever that you are the favored candidate when both my eyes can see that you are.”
“Who are these sources you call ‘Eyes’, they seem to see things that aren’t the whole picture. There’s still a possibility I don’t take the promotion at all, there too much going on behind the scenes I don’t know about, I’m not trying to end up fired, in jail, or worse..”
“No, you’re absolutely perfect for the job, in fact, I was an initial sponsor on the Sirius Project in its infancy and your first progress report was why, the work you did was so impressive we are years ahead of schedule. I see so much potential in you, that is why I ask that you allow me to sponsor you in a more personal capacity. Be cautious with any decision, as I’m thoroughly prepared to offer you more money than you could ever dream of, taxes paid in full. All I ask is that you show a bit of favoritism to Arkham programs I find condign.”
“And if I refuse to barter my soul for the Devil’s toilet paper?”
“I think I like you Cydnee Tyson, you’re tougher than the intelligence reports speculated, there’s no fun in easy prey.”
“Oh don’t be scared, I’m not going to eat you up, I don’t care how adorable you are, dear boy.” She gest, letting out the softest polite giggle I’d ever heard, but I was still missing the joke. “I take it you’ve figured out the big secret, some of us are monsters, some even demons, and we devour people just like you every single day. Jynx is a monster, I’m a monster, as is my associate here.”
There was a gust of movement in the darkness, but there were no footsteps or windows open, the sensation made me nearly piss myself.
“I come across people like you everyday Cydnee Tyson, people who are bright and talented, filled with the capacity for so much potential, good souls who want to a make an impact in a fickle world. Monsters like Jynx, end people like that daily, he crushes their dreams, their hopes, their entire lives. It’s then he feeds, because the soul is most ripe when it’s at its highest potential or crushed down to its worst. The monsters like myself indulge on the opportunity to fatten you up first.”
There was that smile again, like she was telling a joke that I wasn’t in on, half of what she was saying left me shouting a silent prayer in my mind, as I tried to look attentive and smiled with her.
“I’ll give you time to chose the predator you wish to play with Mr Tyson, consider THIS a non refundable deposit for your time, and know that I mean business when it comes to what I want.”
She put something in my chest pocket, patting it afterward gingerly, with that wicked grin of hers, I looked piciously like a check.
“Who are your sources in Arkham? I don’t want to bump heads with them, workplace is a tense atmosphere right now.”
“Don’t test me Cydnee Tyson, I like you, let’s keep it that way.”
“Is it Shaw or, umm, Aemous?”
“The implant for Madeleine Astor and the Department Nine agent are a nuisance, two problems that I’ve been trying to take care of for weeks now to no effect, but I’m a relentless ole broad, I always get my date.”
“What if I asked you to spare them?”
“My, my, my.. you’re soft on them aren’t you? Those boys are fascinating specimens, I don’t blame you. Good souls tend to gather round each other, makes the prey easier to corral.” She said this more to herself, than as a reply to my query, in an eerie absent minded place before she caught sight of something behind me in the darkness with her stern eyes. “I’m done, please take him home, make sure he’s well taken care of.”
It was then he stepped forward, the tourist, he was better looking close up but it was intimidatingly so, he was definitely some kind of Brazilian or Colombian import. He had a unique swagger, wearing these crisp white linen pants that left nothing of anything to the imagination, a fitted pale green Polo, and a tweed fedora.
His smile was as bright as the light bulb above, but it sent chills up my spine, I look to Belladonna pleadingly for some kind of help, honestly scared to go anywhere with this dude. A cry escape my lips when the suffocating blackout sack went back over my head, making me gasp for breath, an intense fear enveloping me.
“Don’t be afraid of Ramon, he has orders to be gentle this time, we’ll meet again soon Cydnee Tyson. Look forward to that..”