Something different from book promotion, today I bring you a guest post, a short story from my Indian blogging friend, Shaily.
Shaily Agrawal is an Instructional Designer with a love of telling stories. This is her first Science fiction.
Shaily is a fully-engaged blogger, and a real part of our community. Please take some time to read her story, and perhaps visit her blog to find out more about her and her work.
This assignment was a bad idea. The signs were evident right from the beginning—not sure how I missed them all. Maybe, the gold in sight had blinded me with its glare. Now I could do nothing but freak out inside this dark place, waiting for someone to return for me.
I wish I had missed that call from Mikhael, my employer, six days back. He had called me back from my vacation for the fourth time in a row. If I could spit venom, I would have killed his hologram that grew from my watch.
“You better make it worth my time. I’m killing my vacation for you. Again.”
But he knew exactly how to pacify me. “Petra dear, the client promises to weigh you in gold.”
With those golden words, he had all my attention. Nothing motivated me better than money. Love I had too much of—being a tall, curvy blond—and stopped counting after my 25th boyfriend.
“Can’t tell you the name for obvious reasons, but the client is a giant in the Blood Test industry. They own thousands of laboratories across Earth with the annual turnover of several billion dollars. They are looking for information about…”
“…Sangue Heder Labs,” I finished his thought. He nodded.
“Of course! The fastest-growing laboratory chain on Earth…I assume, our client is looking for the ground-breaking technology that diagnoses the complete list of diseases, including Cancer, from a single vial of blood, that too within minutes.” He nodded again.
The breakthrough was nothing short of a miracle and was all over the papers last year. By providing general health check-ups at unbelievably low rates, they had wiped out the smaller competition in a matter of months. Now, even bigger competitors were struggling to stay open.
“I’m on it. I’ll have results in a week or less. Keep that gold ready.”
My internet search was the first sign that I should have backed out.
In a universe connected tightly through the Universe Wide Web, celebrities can’t sneeze without someone publishing it. Yet, hardly any information existed about the most successful lab chain on Earth. All I found was that the Sangue Heder Labs were owned by Marco De Rossi, the youngest member of a multi-billionaire family. In 2099, his family was one of the first to move to Proxima Centauri B, the closest habitable planet. They traveled on the legendary Spaceship Noah’s Ark, which was loaded with seeds of all kinds and pairs of all variety of animals in the cryopreserved state. Most of them survived on Proxima, unlike Earth, populating the nearly empty planet in the next 200 years and became a wildlife preserve and favored travel destination for the super-rich celebrities around the known universe. But the family declined to share any pictures publicly throughout its 500 years history on Earth and Proxima, a practice Marco De Rossi seemed to have kept alive till date.
His company was equally elusive. Sangue Heder Labs’ website stated an address on Proxima as headquarter. They mentioned using an “ancient technique” to diagnose diseases from the blood. But there accuracy was up to three decimal digits. Was it possible with anything ancient?
Next, I contacted the patent office, off the record, only to find nothing. Sangue Heder Labs hadn’t patented the “technique”. Or maybe they couldn’t, if it really was ancient. To check whether there was any ‘ancient’ technique offering diagnosis through blood, I deep searched medical sites from Earth and Proxima, but to no avail. Some Proxima health resorts offered ancient healing through local herbs, animal extracts, and solar heat but there was nothing about diagnosis through blood.
The pictures left me wondering how it would be to live on a planet where trees still grew in forests and not pots. Someday, maybe I will too.
The next day, I moved to Plan B, looking for the employees of Sangue Heder Labs on Social Media. Employees are a treasure of information. There is always someone complaining about their job and technology challenges. But soon, I realized that they probably had some employee agreement barring them because I found no one.
With a couple of days gone, I decided to contact them personally. Everybody has a price tag: some talk for money, others for ‘love’. But the contacts from the Earth Employee Benefits organization could not dig out a single email, address or phone number since both the organization and its employees were ‘foreign’ and protected by the inter-planetary laws.
I should have stopped then but my reputation as the best Industrial Spy on Earth wasn’t for nothing.
I decided to catch an employee during a lunch break and strike a conversation. A couple of drinks and an attentive listener can loosen a tongue easily. Usually, they begin with the rant about too much workload, bad managers and difficult clients, and, with careful steering, can easily overstep the line of discretion and divulge their technology without really knowing.
So, I donned a brunette wig and boarded my trusted faded-grey copter—both common and anonymous. Blonds and stylish rides draw a lot of attention and blending in with the crowd was imperative for my job. I flew to the biggest Sangue Heder Lab and parked in the overcrowded rooftop parking of the Food Court next door. I sat down next to the biggest window and could see the reception of the lab through the glass wall as I ‘worked’ on my palmtop.
The receptionist was a tall gorgeous man with red hair, and suddenly I wanted to visit the lab just so that I could look at him closely. I shook my head to clear it. Where did that come from? A couple of lab technicians—different races but just as breath-taking—collected blood samples. Are all Proxima natives like that? Does fresh air and unprocessed food make you look like Roman Gods?
I waited at the cafeteria all afternoon. The Food court was busy but none of its clients were Lab employees, only the patrons nursing their pinpricks and their attendants. The closest couple was discussing the blood results they had received via email within a couple of minutes of tests. The stream of patients coming for tests never ceased, and nobody came out for lunch. The organization was probably ordering food and drinks for its employees to stop them from leaving their desk to eat. I gave up at midnight.
The facility was the biggest and busiest, so I decided to try at a smaller facility the next day.
Something wasn’t feeling right about this assignment—probably the fact that most of the clientele belonged to the low-income societies. They wouldn’t have been able to afford these tests if it wasn’t for Sangue Heder Labs. They all could have died without a diagnosis.
Conscience pricked me for a short moment.
Then it passed. I could see myself luxuriating at the Proxima resorts, looking like a Goddess, with fresh air and unprocessed food, and preferably with a boyfriend from the same planet.
On day four, I took the Airbus to a different city and haunted the streets outside a different facility of the Sangue Heder Labs, on my uber-expensive featherweight ecobike. It was ideal for following people. When needed, I could simply fish it out of my purse, unfold it and get going at a moment’s notice. It removed the need to switch between following on foot or rush to the parking area to retrieve my coptor first.
I had planned to follow any employees out for a coffee or stroll, and meet them ‘by chance’. When the female receptionist ventured out alone late evening, I saw an opening, but as I drew closer, I had an urge to walk over and touch her skin—so flawless that it glowed in the moonlight. Considering I am straight…
By the time I had collected my wits, she was gone and returned shortly with an icebox. The opportunity to strike a conversation had passed. I was exhausted and left for the day.
Next day, I tried another facility. While I waited for the employees to walk out to a close by cafe for a break, I searched the employees online by uploading the pictures I had taken the day before. Nothing. One of the pictures resembled one of the war prisoners from the First World War, but I wasn’t interested in ancient history right now.
No employee came out all day. At midnight, they closed the facility and all of them walked out together. I followed from a distance, hoping to catch one of them once they split-up at the Airbus station, but lost them once they turned into a dark street.
I should have given up then, considering the next move was too risky. But I was nothing, if not pig-headed.
Now that I had tried everything else, I moved to Plan C—entering the facility. The plan was simple in theory. Get in close to closing time, hide behind something until the place closes up, and spy around after it is empty of people.
In reality, it is too difficult to hide my 5’8” frame in a lab. Huge head offices are simpler with too many unused rooms to hide in, but labs are quite small with less number of rooms and usually no cover. I had seen it before. At that time, I had walked back out pretending I was looking for rest rooms, because Trespassing is a crime. Getting caught could earn me jail time, and my pictures in the news as an Industrial Spy could kill my anonymity and career.
So, I saved it for the most difficult and most paying cases. This one definitely qualified as both.
I had deliberately waited till Sunday, a public holiday, and chose the busiest close of the day hours to ensure that the facility was packed with people to give me the much-needed cover and more time to hunt for information, in case I didn’t get a space to hide.
Three technicians were collecting samples of fifteen patients at a time with three to four minutes between batches. With 75 patients ahead of me, I had 12-15 minutes, if I did not get a cover (which seemed like a greater probability). The hidden cameras in my earrings were already capturing footage. As soon as the technicians took samples from the people in the front, I quietly left my place.
I pretended as if I was looking for the washroom and, stealthily, slipped inside the door with the “Employees only” sign. The short lobby ended in a hall—no cover. I had a couple minutes at the most before the technician came out for more samples and discovered me. I should have turned back right then but the lure was too strong—I was a bat, blind and focused on the target alone.
I peeped in the hall. It looked like all offices. The room was bustling with activity and sounds of chit-chat. Several employees sat on comfortable chairs with the latest Palmtops. Some of them used huge Wall screens with virtual keypad holograms floating close to their fingers. Small racks of labeled blood vials sat atop a drinks table in the middle. There was no microscope in the sight to test the blood. The gray-haired man closest to me had just finished filling a blood report form on his Wall screen and sent it to the patient’s email.
I focused on him as he picked a vial, excited to finally know the trade secret of Sangue Heder Labs.
He took a long swig of the blood, swirled it in his mouth and started filling the blood report form.
I let out a tiny gasp.
Suddenly, all the eyes in the room zeroed on me. The gray-haired man I had been concentrating on was suddenly behind me and had blocked my retreat. His canines grew. I think I fainted.
I remember hearing a voice from afar. “Set her aside for dinner, Luke. We are trying to concentrate on work here.”
Now I lay inside my coffin, probably six feet underground, complete with fangs and all. Having tried unsuccessfully to claw my way out for a couple of hours, now I wait for them to come back for me. I hope they might give me a job too as a Phlebologist.