More Adventures in the Belly of the Beast


Miles O'Neal

(soon to be a dog-eared comic book)
The dark green sports coupe screeched out of the nearly empty parking lot. It was very late, and Deb hated leaving this late. Chasing the moron (who'd tried to grab her as she walked to her car) around the parking lot until he leapt into a hedge of briars had only partially helped her mood.

Shifting into 3rd at redline, almost on two tires, she crested a hill with a tight righthander, just as a pitch black sedan with no lights pulled out of a dark drive. She slammed on her brakes, and the car flipped, rolled... and finally stopped in a ditch.

Almost immediately, black clad figures were all over it. Deb and her purse and briefcase were efficiently and quickly searched. A fat manilla envelope was placed half under the seat, and the figures, and the dark sedan, quietly disappeared into the night. A siren screamed a minute or so away.

"Her breathing is ragged, but faint."

"Get her out of there now!"

"Belt's stuck. Got your Penknife?"

"Don't leave home without it."

"There comes the ambulance!"

"Grab the briefcase. Set her by those bushes."

"I have the briefcase. She's safe. One!"




"Let's boogie."

"No, just the one. Thought maybe I saw some motion as I pulled up - coulda been shadows, could have been her." The driver knew she was speaking for the record. "I just can't say."

Sergeant Detwa chewed on his pen. "One female caucasian, thirty feet from the car. ID in the car indicates it's the driver. Bruising consistent with driver side lap and shoulder belt. Belts have been cut. Noone else around, passenger side of vehicle crushed such that probability of a passenger having survived is negligible. How did she get away from the car? No knife found. Which way did those shadows go?"

"If there was anyone, they went that way. Back that way." The ambulance driver pointed over the hill towards a lit up group of buildings.

"Towards HCC?"

"Yeah. Towards HCC."

Donna frowned at Hadley, Chief Site Security Officer. "I find that difficult to believe. This woman is one of the best. She's on our short list of people to try to hire on full time in management." Smugly she noted the raised eyebrows across the table from her and Hadley.

Hadley shifted in his chair, his mind half on his tarantula farm. In a few weeks he'd be retiring, and it was getting harder to focus on things he no longer cared about. "All I know is what the report said, and what I got from the police, which is this."

His fingers tapped heavily on a manilla envelope, the contents of which all had now seen.

Frank spoke up. What's this mean on the envelope? 'Corn Flake Girl.' Is that a project code name?"

Donna glanced at Hadley before replying. "We have no idea what it means. We had hoped perhaps you knew."

Hawk fingered a paper in front of him. "Look. I know Deb. I know everything she's working on. She wrote these specs. Why would she steal a numbered copy? That doesn't make any sense. Deb's sharp. This is stupid. That tells me that whatever's going on, Deb did not steal these papers."

Frank held up another paper, and looked pointedly at Hadley. "These are things which have nothing to do with Psi. We couldn't make use of this information if we stole it. But you just showed it to us under NDA - so obviously it isn't totally classified. Why would she steal these? We don't have any use for this! And we are NDA'd on everything that happens at this site, anyway!"

Hadley shook his head. "I told you. I have no idea. These were in her car. You tell me. The evidence is against her - against you, for that matter. We may have to temporarily revoke your NDA and suspend all Psi employees' access until the investigation is over."

"I'm sure that won't be necessary," Donna broke in smoothly. "Certainly we can wait until we have a report from the hospital. The doctors expect Deb to be able to answer a few questions soon. They're hopeful, anyweay. Frank, Hawk, I know how you feel about this, and I want you to know I feel the same way. Nearly all of us do," she finished with a glance at Hadley. "We can meet again tomorrow. I'll call you when we have a time set up."

Quando slid through the door when the nurse wasn't looking. He saw the bed and froze. She was encased entirely in a cast. There was just one small hole under the nose. Tubes came and went everywhere, but mostly into the cast. The TV was off. The room was very still. He moved to the head of the bed.

"Deb?" he whispered hoarsely. "I don't know if you can hear me. But we're watching you, OK? We're here. We got you out of the car, but we had to let the ambulance take care of you. We got all your papers and stuff. We're all real worried about you. We also think we have a line on who did this..."

Just as Quando realized the monitors were all silent, he also realized there were two nurses standing in the now open door. They grinned at him. The RN spoke. "You know, most of us don't get half that intimate with that practice dummy. I think you're the first to bring flowers."

Quando felt his face heat up. The whole room seemed suddenly red. "I thought this was Deb's room. I didn't think she'd been hurt this badly." He looked at the roses the team had sent. "Where can I take these?"

"You can put them in her room. Next door," the other nurse laughed. "She's still sedated, but you can sit with her. Just don't disturb her, OK?"

"Yes, ma'am," Quando said as he hurried to the correct room. Glancing to make sure nobody was following him in, he hurried to Deb's bed. Yes, this was plainly Deb, if a bit bruised. A motion beside her caught his attention. He threw the flowers onto a chair and dropped into attack position.

The Madman sat up and stretched, yawning quietly. He jerked mildly as he saw Quando, who now relaxed. "What," demanded Quando, "are you doing on that bed?"

Madman slapped his face to wake up more. "Just hanging close. I reckon she'll need to see a face she knows and trusts when she comes to. This was some nasty business, and she'll need all our help."

Quando retrieved the flowers, and crammed them into one of the many already full vases scattered around the room. He pulled a bug out of a nearby plant, dropped it with distaste, and ground it beneath his heel. "Looks like security's already been here. Not that they can help anymore than they did last night."

"Someone did," Madman pointed out reasonably. "And it wasn't me, because I was home with my family. But I think I know who it was."

"The who is the easy part, I think. The why is the scary part. Mort says her briefcase was recovered, apparently intact, probably rifled." Madman hopped down from the bed. "Look, I've been here all might. I need to get home and clean up, and get to work. Can you stay? I'll let the nursing staff know."

"Sure. Call Mort and tell him I'm staying, OK?"

"Will do. Keep me posted." Madman slipped quietly out after checking the hall. Rad and Burt were still in position, appearing to read. With a brief dip of his eyebrow, the Madman sauntered tiredly onto the elevator. Rad glanced at a nurse walking down the hall with a chart. Legit. He went back to seeming to read.

Quando flopped into the larger of the chairs. He agreed with the Madman's assessment, but wasn't so sure Deb would relish the idea of waking up disoriented with a coworker in her bed, even if it was for her protection.

Staring at the ceiling, deep in thought, he almost missed the movement outside Deb's 3rd floor window.


HCC - Huge Computer Corporation - is still making the transition from proprietary mainframe vendor to open, standards-based workstation and personal computer vendor. Depends quite a bit on contractors for work areas with wildly varying staffing requirements, and for jobs regular employees hate.

Psi - Psionic Software, Inc. - a software house so adroit at anticipating industry trends and customer needs everyone figures it must be telepathic.

Donna D. Sleet, general manager of the HCC Individual Computer Systems Division, worked her way up from customer phone support right through the glass ceiling into corporate management. Considered a tough but fair manager, respected by all, she runs a taut group many are jealous of.

Frank Keen (aka, 'the King') now heads up one of HCC's larger vendors of contractors, Psi Enterprises. Keen had retired from HCC years ago after successfully bootstrapping a new technology program which resulted in the first desktop computer worthy of that name HCC had ever produced, the Edsel, which eventually went on to outsell the auto it was named after by several units.

'Hawk' Yeheta, executive VP of Psi, is known throughout the industry for his salesmanship, his ability to cut through bull, his brilliant analytical mind, and his spectacular motorcycle wrecks.

An NDA, HCC's Non Disclosure Agreement, is roughly equivalent to the NSA's agreements regarding "black" projects. It's easier to get in to the White House with an assault rifle than to get an HCC NDA.

Last updated: 20 July 1998

Copyright 1994, Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

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