— in —
Helpless in Seattle
TESSERACT WORLD HEADQUARTERS
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, USA
Jackie was tired and
frazzled. Her stylish and expensive new business suit, the one
she'd purchased with her first TESSERACT paycheck, just for this trip to Seattle, was
mess. The British Airways flight from Heathrow had seemed
interminable, and the
had been eminently forgettable. Granted, the food had been
excellent (it was British
leg room had been adequate, the flight attendants were pleasant and
professional, and she'd
managed to get a little sleep. Even clearing U.S. Customs at the
Seattle-Tacoma Airport had been relatively painless. But the
flight had been sooo looong—longer
any flight she'd ever taken.
The maglev shuttle decelerated to a stop, settled to the rails with a
metallic clap, and the door slid open. Jackie grabbed her
carry-on bag and duffel, then stepped through the doors and onto the
concourse. TESSERACT HQ Campus Station was hardly Piccadilly, but
there was a significant crowd. Jackie had been told she'd be met
as soon as she arrived, but no one in sight seemed the
slightest bit interested in her slightly overwhelmed presence.
"Ms. Silberston?" a husky, alto voice inquired.
Jackie turned, and found a tall, athletic, and quite attractive blonde smiling
down at her. "Uh-that's me," Jackie answered, mustering a smile.
The blonde was dressed in brown riding boots, khaki-tan riding pants
(with suede panels lining the seat, crotch, and thighs), and a
black, sleeveless top. She was older than Jackie's nineteen
years, probably over thirty, possibly
thirty-five. Her blonde locks were long and straight,
her eyes a piercing, pale blue. "Narelle Tunney," she said, and
Jackie dropped her duffel and they shook. "Pleased to
meet you." She could
tell at a glance the tall blonde was a rider. The
pattern of wear on her pants and boots suggested more than a
passing familiarity with the saddle. "You're with Margo's stable
Narelle's smile broadened. "I am
Margo's stable staff. I'm also her personal gardener." She
picked up Jackie's duffel and gestured towards one of the concourse
exits. "Margo's stable only has three head at the moment, so
it's not much of a burden, especially
with Eve's robots doing all the routine chores."
Jackie frowned. "From the brochure they sent me, I got the
impression the stables were quite a bit larger."
"Those are the public stables," Narelle explained, "for TESSERACT
employees and their families. I run Margo's private stables."
"Oh." Jackie skidded to a stop. "Oh! You're the one."
Narelle smiled. "I'm the one who will be evaluating your
professional competence and ability to run Margo's new stable on Gondaloo Island,"
she confirmed. She put her free hand on Jackie's shoulder and
gave it a gentle squeeze. "No worries, mate," she chuckled.
"Like Margo told you, you've got the job. It's just a matter of when you report. I've got to
be sure you're ready. There'll be a
vet on call from Cairns, and Gondaloo will have a veterinary expert
the island is rather isolated. You'll be on your own most of the
Jackie nodded. "You're Australian," she noted.
"Onya!" Narelle laughed, and they started forward again. "Let's
get a cuppa, and there's someone you're supposed to meet."
|Helpless in Seattle—1
The Headquarters campus, like the station concourse, was sleek and
modern, with an emphasis on high ceilings, huge window-walls, mirrored
or brushed steel panels, soaring columns, and unexpected angles.
There were traveling walkways, a maze of side corridors,
multi-storied galleries, shops, cafés, and cozy lounge
As they passed exterior window-walls, Jackie could see several widely
towers in the distance; but also groves of mature cedars, grassy
even a babbling brook emptying into a small lake.
There were people everywhere, male and female, young and old.
Most were dressed for business, but some were in athletic costumes,
their way to play tennis or basketball, or to run on one of the many
campus trails mentioned in the TESSERACT literature Jackie had so
Finally, they came to a suite of offices with a sign reading
"LEGAL SERVICES". Narelle led Jackie through the
entrance, down a corridor,
and to a closed door. She knocked twice, and the hardwood panel
slid open automatically, with a quiet hiss. The room
spacious and sunny, with a bank of windows providing a pleasant view of
stand of cedars. Rising from behind a cluttered desk
was a smartly dressed woman with short brown hair, blue eyes, and a
"Hi, I'm Anne Clayton," she announced, coming
shake Jackie's hand. "Welcome to TESSERACT."
"Thank you," Jackie answered.
Narelle took Jackie's carry-on bag from her hand. "I'll
take these to the stables, then come back and collect
"I can see that she gets where she belongs," Anne suggested.
"No, I'll be back," Narelle promised, smiled at Jackie, and was gone.
"Tea or coffee?" Anne inquired.
Anne had walked to a wet bar discretely tucked into an alcove.
Jackie blushed. "Oh—tea, please."
Anne gestured towards a conversation pit facing the windows, then
carried over a tray already laden with a complete tea service.
Jackie settled into a comfortable sofa, while Anne set the tray on a
table and sat down demurely on a plush side chair.
"Has it hit you yet?" Anne asked as she poured tea into two cups.
The service was brown stoneware with an olive glaze, a blend of Asian
Anne smiled. "The flight, the change of continents, the new job,
all of the above?"
"All of the above," Jackie laughed. She added a generous dollop
of milk to her tea, then her smile faded. "A little homesickness
as well, I confess."
Anne gave Jackie a warm smile. "That's to be expected," she said,
quietly, then gazed out the window.
Jackie sipped her tea. "Delish," she murmured. Beyond the
window, a small stream passed through
the cedars. As Jackie watched, a flock of tiny
birds appeared. They descended on an area where the clear water
rippled across a
of flat boulders, and began to bathe.
"Chickadees," Anne informed her guest.
The gray, brown, and black songbirds flapped their wings, fluffed their
feathers, and preened. "They're pretty," Jackie said, then used
her free hand to cover a huge yawn. "Excuse me."
"I know you're tired," Anne said, kindly, "so I'll make this
quick. I realize you've already signed your contract and
non-disclosure agreement—in the London office, right?" Jackie
nodded. "Well," Anne
continued, "it's my job to make sure you fully understand certain,
shall we say, realities of
campus life, here in
Jackie frowned. "Realities?"
"You'll be one of a very small group of TESSERACT team members, both
and at the Gondaloo
resort, whose jobs require intimate contact with Margo and her personal guests," Anne
Jackie's frown faded. "Oh, you mean it's a trusted position. I know
that. I'd never violate Margo, uh, Ms. Well's privacy."
Anne nodded. "Margo is fine. Her Majesty can be a
but her style is very informal."
her tea, then
here on the campus, access to Margo's private apartments and
recreational facilities is tightly and automatically controlled.
The Eve-6900—you've read that part of the orientation
literature?" Jackie nodded. "Eve tracks the movements of
all TESSERACT team members and visitors." She reached into a pocket of her
jacket, produced a small badge, and handed it to Jackie. "Keep
this on display at all times."
Jackie gazed at the plastic rectangle and beheld her own image, her
bar code, and a strip of shiny material. She used the attached
clip to secure the badge to the front of her jacket.
"Eve and the Security people use a variety of technologies to keep
track of us mere mortals," Anne quipped, and lifted her own
badge. It dangled from a black lanyard around her neck.
nothing Orwellian about all this, I assure you; but a lot of sensitive
research and business is conducted on this campus, and all sorts of
people come and go. TESSERACT's secrets have to be protected."
"I understand," Jackie said, stifling another yawn.
"As you learn your way around," Anne continued, "all you
really need to do is follow the signs, and don't try and go places
that are posted off limits. With or without your badge, if you
try to enter a place you don't belong, Eve won't open the door.
you keep trying to enter,
someone from Security will introduce themselves."
Anne set her tea cup down and leaned back in her chair. "Finally,
as I said earlier, you'll have access to Margo's private areas.
Most people on this campus don't even know these areas exist.
Don't talk about what you see, and if someone tries to pump you for
information, contact Security, immediately."
"I understand," Jackie said, her expression grave.
Anne laughed. "Don't get me wrong, Jackie. The TESSERACT
Campus is probably the most open workplace on the planet. It may
seem like a paradox—Eve and Security monitoring your every move, yet
things are wide open; but our culture values initiative and
innovation. Security is a necessary tool of business, and our
system makes things tight and non-intrusive."
Just then, the office door hissed open. Narelle had
returned. "You pair done yappin'?" she
"Almost," Anne laughed. She leaned over and placed a hand on
Jackie's knee. "If you have questions about anything, just tell
Eve you need to talk to me, okay? Any time of the day or night."
"Okay," Jackie responded, and shook Anne's hand. "Thanks for the
welcome, and I won't forget what you've told me."
Anne smiled. "Once you're settled, down in the stables," she
said as Narelle led Jackie toward the door, "I'll take you out and show
you my favorite
restaurant." She faced Narelle. "You too?"
"As long as I don't have to get dressed up," Narelle laughed.
"C'mon," she told Jackie. "You've got some horses to meet."
Jackie's smile broadened, and her fatigue seemed to evaporate.
The office door closed, and Anne was alone. She walked to her
desk and tapped a function key on her computer keyboard. An
click sounded from the direction of the door, and the privacy
Anne went to her office closet, opened the door, and touched her
signet ring to a small, inconspicuous panel beside the inside light
switch. The back wall of the closet slid to the
side—revealing a mirrored corridor. Anne stepped through, the
secret door closed behind her, and she was in
"the Biosphere", Margo Well's (and the Inner Circle's) private domain.
|Helpless in Seattle—1
corridor, continued for about a hundred paces, then joined one
of the Biosphere's main arteries. The brightly lit tunnel made a
series of gentle curves. On the left, its wall of one-way glass
provided a rather voyeuristic vista of the Admin Tower's lower
lobby. Anne observed the steady stream of people going about
business, hurrying to meetings, pacing
together in conversation, or sitting in one of the lounge areas, all of
them totally oblivious to Anne's presence.
She left Admin behind and passed one of the Biosphere's
"secret gardens". This particular venue was a grove
of mature bamboo towering over a carpet of moss and shade-loving
box-prism effect of the mirrored walls gave the illusion of a vast
forest, even though the garden was no more than a couple of
green light filtering through the leaves was most relaxing. Anne
made a mental note to add the bamboo garden to her list of Biosphere
Bamboo gave way to more mirrored corridor, with occasional one-way
glimpses of more public spaces through the thick glass walls.
continued and the glass gave
way to steel, then the steel became concrete. As Anne approached
shallow alcove tucked between two branching side-tunnels, its back wall
opened with a quiet rumble. Beyond was yet another corridor, this
one somewhat narrow and dark. It was straight for
several yards, then turned to the right.
Anne made the turn, and began passing a series of widely separated
alcoves. Each was faced with a wall of thick glass, and
through the glass she could see a set of
bars, and beyond the bars, a small cell. All
were dark, the dim light from the corridor the only
illumination; but there was one exception. The last cell in line
was brightly lit
from above, and its harsh, blue-white glow cast barred
shadows on the corridor's concrete floor.
As Anne approached the last alcove, its glass slid into the wall with a
dry scrape. The cell beyond was occupied—by Jodi Weber.
"It's about frakkin'
time!" Jodi growled. "Get me out of here!" She was wearing
a standard Posey straitjacket, and heavy steel shackles, separated by
about a foot of heavy steel chain, were locked around her ankles.
She was also wearing what appeared to be the orange and red bottom of a
bikini, visible under the straitjacket's canvas crotch-strap. She
may have been wearing the top as
well, but the jacket made it impossible to tell.
Anne smiled. "What happened?" she inquired. (Anne knew
perfectly well what had happened, but would enjoy hearing Jodi's
version of events.)
"I'd just finished my early-morning Step-Surfin' class—"
"Your what?" Anne interrupted.
"Step-Surfin' class!" Jodi stamped her right foot in
frustration, and the shackle chain rattled. "It's step-aerobics
set to remixes of The Beach Boys
and Jan and Dean.
wears swimsuits, I have Eve holo-project beach scenery on the
walls, and at the end of class we all run and jump in the pool."
"Okay..." Anne's smile had become rather dubious.
"It's important to keep aerobics classes fresh and different!" Jodi
"And you being the leader doesn't make things fresh and different
"Very funny," Jodi pouted.
"Anyway..." Anne prodded.
"Huh? Oh-anyway, the class is
splashing around in the pool, I get out and head for the lockers to
change for my floor-walking shift in the weight rooms, all unsuspecting
and minding my own business—and one of
Kat's Cylons pops out of the wall and drags me into the
Biosphere! And since when did they get outfitted with those great
big padded pincer arms and that ball-gag tentacle thing?"
The "Cylons" were TESSERACT Security's robot watchmen. They were
rare on the main campus, where they were used more as publicity
for the Robotics Lab than as security; but they were more common in the
Biosphere. In fact, down in the Katacombs (Kat Mayfair's
subterranean and very
private domain) they could sometimes be encountered in hulking,
intimidating crowds. All were armed with non-lethal weapons only,
and were designed to capture and subdue their targets without
Anne smiled. "I imagine Kat's experimenting with improved
"Yeah, whatever," Jodi groused. "Anyway, I get grabbed, dragged
through the wall, spritzed in the face with la-la gas—that aerosol that
makes you totally spaced out and compliant for 30-seconds?" Anne
nodded. "And why the hell hasn't Elke gotten up on her high
horse and outlawed that stuff for Inner Circle games, huh?
Didn't we just go through that whole no use of drugs during recreational
Anne shrugged. "I guess some tools are just too useful to be
Jodi sighed. "Yeah, well, anyway—the Toaster holds me
while two valet-bots dress
me in this thing—" She squirmed
in the straitjacket. "—and these—" She lifted
her left foot and rattled her chain. "—and then I got dragged to this miserable place." She
shoved her right shoulder against the white, featureless wall, and
"All the walls are padded?" Anne asked, still smiling.
"Yeah, and the floor too," Jodi muttered.
bars, of course. They're
electrified. You can touch them, but if you get violent and kick
against them, you get a
"Show me," Anne suggested.
Jodi scowled. "You're such a
get me out of
here! This isn't fair! Kat isn't even in
town!" Kat was with Margo, in New York, as was Elke Weber, Jodi's
much put upon big sister. "Kat shouldn't be allowed to mess with
me when she isn't even here to play!"
"What makes you think it was Kat who ordered your incarceration?" Anne
"Well, who else would..." Jodi's eyes popped wide.
"It was you?"
Anne's smile became decidedly evil. "Margo's instructions, my
orders," she confirmed. "There will be no Trickster nonsense while Jackie
Silberston's in town—Red Queen's orders."
"I didn't do anything!" Jodi
"And I'm gonna make sure you don't get the chance," Anne
Jodi stomped her foot, again. "Not fair! I'm gettin'
punished for nothin'! Not fair!" Anne stepped forward,
reached through the bars, and began straightening Jodi's tousled,
honey-blonde locks. "Not fair," the captive reiterated, a
heartrending pout on her "innocent" face.
"I'll make it up to you... tonight," Anne promised, "after Narelle and
I get done taking Jackie to The
Jodi was still pouting. "Is she as hot as she looks in her
photos?" Jodi had never been to Brightman Hall, so her knowledge
of Margo's new Gondaloo Riding Mistress (and potential "Inner Circle
was limited to snapshots from Elke and Charlie's scrapbooks.
Anne's smile broadened. She continued combing her prisoner's (and
lover's) hair. "Yeah, Jackie's quite the little nubile
hottie. She's also
adorable, a saucy English tomboy, and something of a coquette—only unconsciously,
without trying. God help us
if she starts trying."
"Yeah, you always were a sucker for cute little blonde flirts," Jodi
whispered, and kissed the inside of Anne's forearm.
A blush touched Anne's cheeks, and she bit her lower lip. "Sorry,
cute little blonde flirt," she purred, touching her index finger to
lips, "but that's not gonna work this time."
Jodi sighed and kissed Anne's fingertip, then her pout returned.
"So unfair," she whined. "Please let me out. I'll be good."
the Black Knight, and
Harem-keeper have left Shyster in charge," Anne said,
"and I'm not gonna let anything
ruin Margo's plans for Jackie."
Trickster," Anne sighed, then gave Jodi's sad face a gentle
caress. "It's not gonna happen, Sweetness. Tell you
I'll bring you some take-out from the restaurant, and if you're good,
tonight—then tomorrow, I'll
see if I can't get one of the other Sisters to keep you
meanie," Jodi accused. "Why should
I be 'good', if you're going to be so unfair?"
Jodi's chin, leaned even closer, and kissed her pouting
lips. "Because if you aren't
good, I'll let Eve-L use you
for interrogation practice."
swallowed, nervously. "Uh, okay. No need to do
anything drastic. Good
I'll be good." She twisted
her torso, testing the limits of the
straitjacket. It wasn't especially tight, but it was tight
enough to be inescapable. "But this is still
Anne took a
step back from the bars. "Give that tongue of yours
rest," she advised, with a coy smile. "It's gonna need it,
She took a second step back and the glass wall closed, sealing off the
cell and its still pouting prisoner. Jodi stuck out her
tongue, but this only served to broaden Anne's
smile. The irritatingly smug
waved, and walked away
down the corridor.
clinked to the far wall of her cell (a journey of nearly
six feet), put her back against the padded wall, and let herself slide
the floor. The padding wasn't very soft, but at least it was
warm. "So unfair!"