Don't Write What You Know;
Write What You Care About -- Passionately!
- Eileen Schuh
The year is 2035 and the world’s emerging from a devastating economic collapse. Computer guru, Ladesque, finds her task of restoring the world’s internet capabilities, dull until...
She’s approached by Paul, an attractive FBI agent intent on recruiting her to an ultra-secret project. There’s only one problem—the asexuality she was born with thirty-five years ago, vanishes and she’s left struggling with the unfamiliar power of libido.
When everyone, from ungainly computer geek, Roach to handsome Paul, becomes appealing, Ladesque suspects the popular explanation for the female asexuality saddling her generation is a lie. Her suspicions increase when an encoded diary and whispered rumours link the affliction to conspiracy and murder. However, uncovering facts proves difficult in an age where hackers have corrupted all digital records.
Putting her quest on hold, she joins Paul’s project where her uncertainties are quickly overshadowed by the explosive technology and high-tech challenges of her job. Then, she receives her final assignment. She can either expose her mind to the potentially lethal quantum computer for the sake of the world or be forever a watched woman.
She, alone, must assess the risk—a risk that just might reveal the truth about her past.
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Late August 2035 ~ Boulder, Colorado
The world was depending on her; she had promises to keep.
“Pssst, Ladesque!” Roach peered around his monitor as she entered the computer centre, his bright blue eyes sparkling. “I’ve made an amazing breakthrough.”
It ought to be me, not Roach, making amazing breakthroughs. Several feet shy of his desk, Ladesque stopped. “Tell someone who cares,” she grumbled. Immediately, a deep dimple appeared in Roach’s chubby chin, enhancing his boyish look.
She plodded past him, settled into her steno chair and flicked on her computer. It groaned and her monitor sizzled as if the entire system was upset she’d disturbed its slumber. Impatient with the decades-old technology that ought to by now have been instantaneous, she drummed out a rhythm on her desk. It was actually more than just a rhythm. She’d learned American Sign Language years ago from a deaf playmate and often used it to talk to herself. ‘I need a breakthrough,’ she signed. ‘A breakthrough.’
Her computer dinged, undoubtedly asking for her permission to do something. She ignored it. With a slight tweaking of programming even 2010 technology could be forced to look after itself. And she’d done that slight tweaking—a trivial success considering her much larger mandate.
‘Breakthrough, breakthrough, breakthrough.’ So far this morning, it was just her and Roach in the room. Even Porter, who was usually the first to arrive, hadn’t wandered in yet. Alongside her and in front of her, a dozen vacant workstations waited for their people. The open-office milieu, the bosses said, was designed to encourage team work, enhance cohesion and increase communication. However, in her opinion, putting techies in an office without walls did nothing but encourage immature behaviour.
Working against the motion of the chair rollers, she entwined her legs beneath her thighs in somewhat of a lotus position. She wasn’t as flexible as she ought to have been. She’d been rushed this morning and chose to sacrifice her daily yoga to charcoal mascara and champagne eye shadow.
Ladesque leaned forward, hoping to catch her reflection in the monitor. She’d been told often that she had her mother’s eyes. She shared her mother’s dark, thick, wavy hair too—or had her mom worn hers straight? She’s only been dead three years; I can’t believe I don’t remember.
Ladesque quickly checked the family photo on her desk. Her mother’s hair had indeed been dark and wavy—before the cancer treatments had stolen it from her. And her Dad’s, thin on the top and greying—just as she remembered. Not until both her parents’ smiles again felt familiar, did Ladesque look back at her monitor.
She caught the glint of Roach’s silver pendant and felt the tickle of his breath on her neck. “I’m serious about my amazing breakthrough,” he whispered. “Come see.” He gripped the back of her chair, spun it to face his desk and began racing with her across the room.
“Stop it!” she protested.
Unable to get her feet to the floor, she grabbed at Porter’s desk. Her fingers slid ineffectively along the smooth mahogany until she finally got a grip on the corner. The abrupt change in momentum wrenched her chair from Roach’s grip and sent her spinning. On the first revolution, her arm hit Porter’s desk organizer. A stapler and a dozen pens went flying. The second time around, her shoulder walloped his computer, stopping her chair dead and sending his monitor to the aging carpet with a thud and a tinkle.
Before she could so much as gasp, Roach had caught the back of her chair and again and was shoving her toward his work station. He halted in front of his computer, plopped into his chair and began typing.
Ladesque rubbed her shoulder and peered behind her. Porter’s monitor was strewn across the floor—sharp-edged chunks of metal and glass entwined in a labyrinth of cords and wires. A tiny spark crackled deep in its housing, followed by a puff of blue—like a last breath.
Roach slapped her arm. “Look!” He jabbed at his computer screen.
Ladesque untangled her feet and stood. “I just killed Porter’s monitor and it’s all your fault!”
“Never mind Porter’s monitor. He wanted a new one anyway.” Roach’s hands brushed the keyboard. “Watch me make history!”
Ladesque hesitantly stepped toward the mess. “We could’ve started a fire and burned the whole place down.”
“So what? Everything is backed up off site. Sit!”
“I can’t believe you said that!”
“What did I say wrong?”
“The end of the world wouldn’t matter to you as long as your fricken-ass data is backed up!” She stomped back to Roach. “I could tell you North Korea launched a nuclear missile, and you wouldn’t care because your data is safe.”
Roach slowly stood and faced her. “I didn’t know Korea launched a missile. When?”
Frustrated, she slammed her fist against his desk so hard the sting traveled from her hand all the way to her aching shoulder. Roach continued staring at her expectantly. “Korea didn’t fire a missile,” she said between clenched teeth. “It was an ‘if’. If Korea—never mind. I have work to do.”
“You didn’t say ‘if’!”
‘You’re an idiot.”
“Sit!” Roach roughly pushed her into her chair then took his seat and crossed his arms. Ladesque would’ve struck back if the man had looked anything like an adult. However, Roach had the demeanour of a younger brother—someone perhaps a grade or two past middle school. His push was like that of an exuberant child playing tag on the playground. She sighed and crossed her arms to match his. The entire tenth floor labour force was in its thirties. She was the only one who acted it.
“Watch the monitor,” he said.
The screen was a blank white page at first. Then words began to appear. Faintly. Ladesque squinted and leaned forward.
“I’ve come here today,” she read aloud, “to explore with you the nature of the universe. Are you ready?”
“Yes, sir,” Roach said quickly. “I am ready. Proceed.”
“I don’t have time for this shit,” Ladesque said.
Roach reached back and caught her forearm. “Watch!”
“You have a question?” appeared on his monitor.
“Yes…yes. A question…” Roach’s fingers tightened around her arm. He leaned forward and spoke to the monitor. “What is the meaning of life?”
“Let me go, you idiot!” Ladesque wrenched free from his grasp and stood.
“Life is a process—”
“Don’t you get it?” Roach asked. “It’s God, communicating with us via my computer.”
“No, look, Ladesque. I’ll put my hands behind my back. I am not keyboarding, yet words are appearing—”
“It makes sense, Ladesque. Electronics is a fabulous way for spiritual beings to communicate with us. Our computers are harnessing the pure energy of electrons—quantum particles that transcend physical nature. Beyond matter. Beyond Newton’s laws of physics. Existing on a purely spiritual plane—”
“Quite literally, for heaven’s sake, stop. I’m not a moron.”
“Are you saying I am?”
“Well, you sure as hell ain’t God!”
“Could you at least play along with the illusion? There’s commercial potential here. We could start our own church—”
“I don’t want to start a church!”
“Think of the tax breaks.”
“Roach, this is not the 1900s. This is decades into the third millennium. Where the hell are you going to find people who will believe God is talking to you through your computer? This generation knows magicians don’t cut ladies in half. This generation, for years, has both mentally and physically interacted with video games. This generation doesn’t even believe in God. And besides, how are you going to come up with words that sound anything like godly wisdom?”
Roach sank into his chair and scowled. “You’re no fun.”
“Here’s a question for your deity,” Ladesque said. “Dear God, what was my mother’s maiden name? Game’s over Roach. That simple.”
“Nobody would ask God what their mother’s maiden name is.”
“Guess what? I just did and God couldn’t answer. I wonder why, you idiot.” She flung her chair in the vague direction of her desk, stepped over the remnants of Porter’s monitor and stomped toward the exit. I don’t belong here.
“If you were to ever get the internet back up and running like you promised,” Roach called after her, “the program could secretly Google that maiden-name question and come up with a correct answer!”
“Ladesque!” Talon, the office director, called from three doors away. Ladesque glanced up at the surveillance images on the ceiling monitors. The slightly over-weight but always exuberant Talon was grinning and waving at the camera in his office. He jabbed at the phone on his desk. “A call for you!”
“Who is it?” she mouthed.
“I can’t hear you! Come pick up.”
Ladesque took a couple of steps toward his office then changed her mind and turned to the bank of windows. Ten stories down, traffic was insane. The world was not supposed to have turned out this way. And it may not have if the fallout from the global financial collapse that began in 2010 hadn’t halted science and technology like no other event in history—except, perhaps, the ice age that sent Europe into the Dark Ages.
People were supposed to have had personal jet packs for commuting by now, or better yet, been able to work from home. She doubted that would ever happen, even if by some miracle she did get the internet up and running again. Man was a social critter, an animal who ran in packs. A colony of desperate, moving, seeking, working ants. At least from ten floors up, that’s what her world looked like.
“Ladesque! Take the call, NOW!” She finally relented and proceeded to Talon’s office. He was the only tenth floor employee who had his own space.
Talon motioned to the phone. “For you.” Ladesque was positive no one had dreamed landlines would be back in vogue twenty-odd years after the first iPhones stormed the market. It was one of Ladesque’s priority projects to develop the security necessary to enable the world to once again go wireless and digital. “It’s the FBI,” Talon said.
Ladesque strode past Talon. “The FBI, yeah, right.” Talon had the best office in the entire building. Not only did it have a corner window overlooking the roof garden, it also had a five-hundred-gallon tropical fish tank—complete with real coral.
“It is the FBI,” Talon insisted.
“Why don’t you take the call?”
“They asked for you.”
“They asked for me?” Ladesque tapped the aquarium.
“Don’t tap the glass!” Talon shouted. “Can’t you read the sign? It says, ‘Don’t tap the glass.’” A clown fish wandered over to kiss her finger through the pane. “Yes, they asked for you. Answer the damned call.”
“The FBI asked for Ladesque?” She tapped again and attracted a second fish.
Talon sighed loudly. “Yup.”
“You lie.” She reached for the jar of fish pellets and shook some into her hand.
“I’m not lying.”
“You’re lying again—by saying you’re not lying.”
“How do you know who they asked for?”
“Talon, who is Ladesque? Is that my name? No. Is it a name anyone beside you idiots call me? No. Is it a name the FBI would call me? No.”
She sprinkled the fish food into the aquarium and watched the flurry of activity. Some fraternities had frosh, some initiation. Some men’s clubs even had hazing. The tenth floor had nicknames. One did not belong, she was told, until one was given a nickname—preferably a nickname one did not like. She had no idea how her coworkers had come up with the name ‘Ladesque’.
Initially she’d thought they were making fun of her Canadian heritage, since Americans thought all Canadians spoke French. La…La desk. ‘La’ since she was the only female, and ‘desk’ because that’s where she stayed while the rest of the nerds gathered around someone’s locker to drool over the latest porn magazine. La Desk—that’s what she thought it was until someone wrote it on the assignment board. ‘Ladesque’, a meaningless word that appeared in no thesaurus. Meaningless, like her. Like her life.
“Oh, yeah,” Talon said. “You’re right. That’s weird. How would the FBI know we call you Ladesque?”
“They don’t know. That’s my point.”
“The FBI did ask for Ladesque.”
“I’m not an idiot.” She had twenty bucks riding on the bet, like all the others. It was somewhat like the vintage Seinfeld contest except it wasn’t the last one to masturbate who won the pot but the last one to accept an assignment from the FBI. The temptations were considered equal since it was notoriously difficult for a computer nerd not to be seduced by the FBI.
“I’m not kidding,” Roach insisted. “This has nothing to do with the contest.”
The contest was to enforce the tenth floor’s pledge to never help the FBI again. Ever. The geeks were protesting the fact the FBI constantly used their expertise but never gave them any public credit.
‘Our experts were able to…’ the FBI often announced at news conferences. The tenth floor wasn’t the FBI. Didn’t get paid by the FBI. Never even got visited by the FBI—phoned maybe, but for sure those surly agents in dark suits and reflective glasses would never actually set foot in the nerd cave and press the flesh of a binary expert. Talon said it was because they were afraid they’d catch some intelligence which, Ladesque had pointed out, was always what the FBI was after.
Talon had collected a stack of FBI media releases that said things like, ‘France has asked the FBI for high-tech help…’ and ‘Russia is calling on the FBI’s computer expertise to help solve this issue…’ On the bulletin board in the coffee room was a headline clipped from a newspaper that read, ‘The International Monetary Fund credits the FBI with South America’s booming economy’. Ladesque guessed Talon had pinned it there since he had headed the South American recovery project.
The tenth floor didn’t deny the FBI dismantled the South American drug cartels but without Talon’s business and political acumen, there would have been nothing to replace the lucrative drug trade that had driven the economy for decades. In fact, without Ladesque’s efforts to destroy the cartels’ underground communication networks, the FBI wouldn’t even have been able to achieve the little it had.
“You take the call, Talon,” Ladesque suggested. She tapped the glass again. “Or are you too afraid you can’t say no to them?”
“They want you, I swear.”
“Don’t swear. Roach might hear you and he thinks he’s God today.” She turned to leave.
“They’ve been on hold for you forever, Ladesque. I have to tell them something.”
“Tell them I’m in the can.” Ladesque swept a pile of files off Talon’s desk as she strode past. “We are supposed to be a paperless society.”
Talon picked up the receiver. “She says she’s taking a shit…No, I don’t know how long she’ll be. Women take forever in the can, especially when they decide to go paperless…”
Ladesque tried to slide into her workspace without Roach noticing but his eagle eyes caught the movement. “Why don’t you like working here on the tenth floor?” he asked.
“Because I have to.” In the outside world it was a given: if one was stuck in one’s job out of necessity, enslaved to it for whatever reason, one couldn’t like it. However, on the tenth floor, nobody cared that their life forever would be ten floors up from the pavement in downtown Boulder, Colorado. From the moment the criminal background checks were completed, the fingerprints and DNA taken, the personality profiles completed, the oaths of secrecy signed, employees were enslaved to the tenth floor. Forever. Such job security appealed to the geek natures of most who worked with Ladesque. To her, though, it certainly didn’t. Not anymore.
“Everyone has to work somewhere,” Roach protested.
A month or so ago, Global had even started random medical testing on employees. She hadn’t appreciated being poked and prodded just to ensure she had a desk on the Tenth Floor in perpetuity. “This is a workplace of idiots. Children in men’s bodies.”
“You’re not in a man’s body.” Roach whistled toothsomely despite the fact he knew his attempt at appreciation would enter deaf ears and was, quite possibly, illegal.
Ladesque was asexual, a member of what the media had dubbed the ‘eunuch’ generation. Upward of twenty-five percent of North American females her age were infertile and lacked libido—an unexpected result of generations of chemical birth-control. Pill-guzzling and patch-crazy females had stolen not only fertility from their female descendants, but sexual desire as well. With the affliction so common and the victims so accepting, asexuality quickly vanished from medical journals. It was no longer considered a sexual dysfunction and was enshrined in the constitution as a sexual preference.
At the age of thirteen, after she’d had her pheromone production and pheromone receptors and preceptors tested, Ladesque attained the official status of asexual. The diagnosis granted her special legal protection and social benefits. It was also why those who’d hired her assumed she would function quite well amidst the male testosterone that dominated the tenth floor. Unfortunately they’d neglected to consider that sexual proclivity was just a tiny part of what separated men from women. Now, she was stuck here forever—with idiots.
“Why do you say this is a workplace of idiots?” Roach asked.
“You have to ask? You, who pretends he is God and expects me to believe he is? You, who insists upon being called Roach when your mother gave you a perfectly fine name. You who insists on calling me Ladesque when my parents named me—”
“Hey, there are valid reasons for the use of nicknames.”
“Give me one.”
“Same reason gangsters give themselves names like ‘Tiny’ or ‘Scar Face’ or ‘Mama Boucher’—to disguise their identity from the cops, to separate themselves from their evil deeds and to protect their families from their criminal cohorts. We are, after all, top-secret workers working top-secret projects. Anonymity is important for the safety and security of not only ourselves but the work we do. Once you leave this building, no one knows who Ladesque is. No one can sue you for anything done here. No one can trace illicit tenth floor activities to your humble abode in the suburbs. No one can blame you—”
“What the hell?” Porter yelled from the door. He marched over to the pieces of his monitor strewn across the floor. “Who did this?”
“Sally Jergens,” Ladesque said quickly.
“Who the hell is Sally Jergens? What the…” Porter kicked at the monitor and then bent to study its innards. “Wow. Cool. Ah ha. I see now how that works.”
“I guess you’re right, Roach,” Ladesque said, returning to her keyboard.