Sunday, September 25, 2016

Cannon Code Chapter 1

(Author's note: No, I'm not starting another web novel! I basically have a plot bunny for a story set in the same universe/era as the Quicksand series, but set in the middle of the war on Earth instead. I banged out the first chapter, revised it a bit, and have placed it here for your perusal. Maybe it'll become something longer, maybe it won't! Maybe I'll revise it to slow down the pacing a bit, if anything, because it does feel pretty fast-paced to me. Thoughts?)

The bustle and chatter of the armed men around Misha Tehrani was terrifying. If she wasn't being escorted by two armed guards herself, she would have slunk away a long time ago.

She had been invited to an interview with Gerald Dalton, one of the most powerful businessmen left in Baltimore, but she had only accepted out of desperation. She was three days away from being evicted from her late grandmother's flat. If she had a choice, she would have stayed as far away as possible from the corrupt, low-wage defense contractors that had already done so much damage to her city.

But here she was, and it was too late to back out now. She had already signed a non-disclosure agreement for everything she was about to see and hear. Mason Industries had a reputation for being tied to the mafia, and if the number of automatic weapons around her was any indication, that reputation was well-earned. What the hell kind of job was she getting herself into?

The guards on each side of her stopped by a pair of metal doors, and a few seconds later, one of them opened. Misha recognized Gerald Dalton immediately. He was in his mid-thirties, fifteen years older than herself, and it showed in the ghosts of wrinkles beneath his blue eyes. "Miss Misha," he said, extending a hand. "I apologize that we had to meet here, instead of more comfortable quarters, but the renovations have made that difficult. I hope you understand."

Misha shook his frigid hand. "Not a problem at all," she said, faking a smile.

"This is much more interesting than the main complex, anyway," he continued. "Come inside; let me show you one of my favorite parts. The garage is full of great things."

She nodded, unsure of how to respond. Was this really an interview?

The guards beside her turned to leave, and he waved her inside a large, gray-walled garage. Though most of the area was full of box trucks, several white, glossy floaters sat in a line along the far wall.
As Misha glanced down to sidestep a toolbox, she noticed a silver laser pistol strapped into a holster on his hip. That probably wasn't normal for a CEO, she thought as her heart sank.

"My team was intrigued by your resume," he said as he led her through the garage. "You seem very bright. You'd be an excellent addition to our team."

She smiled, though she was fighting the urge to wipe her sweaty palms on her dress. "Thank you," she said. "I look forward to learning everything I can. I'll take night classes, too, if you think that will help."

"That won't be necessary." He slowed and waved her to the right, where an old-fashioned black limousine sat to one side. "Isn't this beautiful? They don't make many like it anymore. I prefer it to the floaters, when possible, because it just looks so sleek. With the streets as beat-up as they are, though, it doesn't always make for a smooth ride."

"It is nice," she replied, unsure of what else to say.

He turned to face her more fully, and she did likewise, hoping the conversation would start to become more serious. "What sort of role do you see me playing here?" she said.

He glanced down, looking thoughtful for a moment. She folded her fingers together in a nervous knot. There were only so many positions she would be qualified for at a defense contractor, especially since she only had a high school degree. What was taking him so long to get to the point?

"You'll be my companion," he said quietly. "You can make a good living and spend much of your time as you please, but you will be mine and no one else's."

Misha's breath caught in her throat. She took several seconds to process his words as she flushed deep red. Her heart began to bang against her ribcage, and she desperately wanted to run away.

"I need a beautiful woman by my side, and you'll fill that role just fine." His words were dry and empty of flattery. She glanced away as he looked her up and down. "You will never have to worry about money again, Misha. I can't force you to take this role, but..."

She opened her mouth to reply, but closed it again. He offered her a grim smile, seeming to notice her hesitation. "Are you surprised?" he asked.

"Yes," she whispered. "I wasn't... I was only applying for..."

"You thought I really needed another clerk or factory hand, in this economy? Why did you think I had you attach a photo to your resume?"

She stiffened. How was she supposed to have picked up on that? Did he often engage in these shady recruiting tactics? It was entirely possible that he ran some kind of prostitution or human trafficking gig on the side, she thought with a shudder.

"I'm not going to force you to do anything. But that's the only job we have for you here, so either take it, or leave. I think it will grow on you."

He wasn't even trying to be nice anymore, she realized. She glanced down at his gun and wondered if he would actually left her leave. The best - no, the only option she had right now was to play along.
"Sorry for seeming alarmed. I'm just a little surprised, is all." The words came out of her mouth, but she didn't even feel her lips move. "You're right, your offer is growing on me."

His shoulders relaxed, and he stepped closer to the limousine to open the door. "I can have someone take you to my penthouse," he said. "It will be much more comfortable than here. You can relax and get adjusted to things there."

There was a muffled shout behind the door they had come through. Dalton whirled around and glared toward it for several seconds. He slowly relaxed and turned back to Misha, smiling. "Idiots are probably fighting among themselves. At any rate, maybe instead of sending you home, we could also go someplace more quiet--"

"Knock it off, Dalton," said a low, raspy voice behind Misha.

He froze, and Misha turned around to see a tall, shadowy figure emerging from behind a box truck ten meters away. A shotgun, barely visible against the figure behind it, was aimed squarely at Dalton's chest.

His face went from beige to white in an instant. "Cannon," he said, raising his hands. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"What does it look like, asshole?" The figure left the shadows of the truck. Short, amber-brown hair swept over her forehead, almost low enough to get in her eyes. A black bandanna was tied loosely around her neck. Her body armor and pants matched the dark gray of her shotgun, the double barrels of which never left Dalton's chest. "You've done enough damage in this town. We're taking your shit. And you can't do anything about it, because if the cops investigate this robbery, they'll find out what you've been doing," she said with a savage smile.

Misha didn't want to tear her eyes away from the figure - Cannon, or whatever her name was - but she glanced back at Dalton, whose face had turned scarlet. "Your team is as good as dead," he snapped. "I'll fucking have you hanged--"

"And I should just shoot you now for trying to exploit this poor woman over here," Cannon said. "If I didn't have other orders from my boss, I'd blow your balls off."

Misha would've bristled at being referred to as "this poor woman" if the situation wasn't so dire. If Cannon made off with all of Dalton's cash, that would leave Misha in a worse place than ever. If a firefight erupted, though, Misha was as good as dead.

Instead of reaching for the pistol strapped to his hip, though, Dalton kept his hands up. His fury seemed to dissipate as the seconds quietly ticked by. "I'm not hearing any more sounds of fighting, so I'm assuming your team got a solid jump on mine," he murmured. "Take what you want and fucking run. If we see you in Baltimore again, you're dead, you hear me?"

"Sure, whatever," Cannon said, stepping toward him. "I'm taking your weapon. And don't try anything funny. I got a bat in the belfry now with a clear shot at the side of your head."

Dalton's eyes widened, and Cannon laughed hysterically, the bellowing sound echoing across the garage. "See, when I first had my gun on ya, you had a chance to beat me, since I was alone," she said, her voice high and piercing. "Coulda taken her hostage with a gun to her head if you were quick enough. But you were too busy being a sniveling coward--"

"Shut up!" he roared.

She adjusted her grip on her shotgun. "Turn around and lie on the ground," she said.

Misha watched in awe as he obeyed, and Cannon knelt next to him and took the small laser pistol from his holster. "Stay there," Cannon said. "Cool off a little, huh?"

There was a hollow banging noise to their left, at the far end of the garage, and Cannon aimed the laser pistol that way. "Hey," she said, nodding to Misha, "you want this? I can't hold it and the shotgun at the same time. And I hate these tiny things."

The pistol looked menacing in the dim florescent lighting, and Misha hesitated for a moment before holding out a hand. Cannon handed it to her before turning her own gun toward the noise.

A second later, a long, low whistle came from behind the truck Cannon had been behind. She smiled and lowered her shotgun. "C'mon, let's go," she said to Misha, before casting one last glance at Dalton.

Misha took a step to follow her, but stopped to look at him again. "Who are you?" she whispered.

"Name's Cannon," the other woman said.

"No, but who - what are you doing?"

"Staying alive," Cannon said, "and making sure my people stay alive, too. You wanna get out of here or not? Hurry up."

With that, she jogged toward the truck. Misha looked at Dalton, who was sitting up on his elbows, and turned to follow Cannon.

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