The client was waiting for SMS on a narrow stretch of rocky beach that ran alongside Dallas Road. Other areas of the winding beachside street were popular tourist destinations, with trails and cliffs and beautiful ocean views, but for this meeting the client had chosen a segment of the beach that was less busy, better to hold a private conversation of this nature.
Like a good animal rights hippie, the man was dressed entirely in synthetic fabrics and was munching on a carrot stick. As SMS crossed the sand and logs that separated them, he saw a seagull swoop down and perch on a rock fifteen feet away from the man, eyeing the carrot sticks. The man watched it like a cornered dog. For someone who apparently cared so much about wildlife, he didn’t appear to have an especially close connection with it.
The client was still staring nervously at the seagull when SMS said, “Hello.”
The man jumped. “Oh!”
“He calls himself Cyber.” Ian Innis declared this with some finality, pushing back from his desk and crossing his ankles. Innis was a middle-aged, slightly overweight, clean-shaven, dark-haired man with a closet full of long-sleeved shirts, tan slacks, and suit jackets. Seen on the street, he appeared average in almost every respect, an ordinary, benign, phonebook-filler kind of person. He was someone you didn’t look twice at, someone you didn’t think twice about.
But every now and then, if you caught him in a sideways glance, you got the impression he was doing plenty of thinking about you.
Innis’s audience for this pronouncement was his personal assistant, Shawn Matthew Scott, called SMS by those few individuals he thought of as his friends. The blond-haired 25-year-old was leaning silently against the door frame, preferring not to fully enter the disaster zone Innis called his office. Continue reading
The rhythmic hum and vibration of the car engine was threatening to lull SMS to sleep as he leaned back against the headrest and slowly tapped his fingers along the spine of Innis’s notebook. It was past midnight now, and beyond the reach of the headlights the world was as black as the void. The moon and stars were hidden behind clouds, and the massive trees that loomed over the highway on either side gave the impression of driving through a forested tunnel.
“Are we getting close?” asked Esther from the back seat. Continue reading
Kevin and Esther strolled quietly down the sidewalk, hands in their pockets, glancing furtively at each other every now and then and pretending to be embarrassed when they caught one another looking. The warm bellyful of steak and the bright sky full of stars had Kevin feeling happier than he could remember being in a long time. Happy enough even to try something a little bit brave…
He withdrew his hand from his pocket and casually swung it back and forth a few times, then, as if by accident, let it brush against Esther’s hand, which was still inside her pocket. In half a second flat he felt her fingers twine into his and give a firm squeeze. He looked up in surprise, and she flashed him a modest smile. His cheeks turned red and he grinned like a little schoolboy.
The rest of the world melted away. The street noises faded into the background. They were walking, and they were holding hands, and life was good.
Suddenly Kevin was jolted out of his happy place by a shoulder to the chest. Continue reading
The truck swerved hard to the right as Taylor jerked with the impact of the bullet. A low concrete wall sprang out of the darkness towards them and SMS flung his arms over his head. The front grill of the truck crumpled inwards and SMS, who hadn’t had time to put on his seatbelt, was thrown up onto the dashboard and against the windshield. It shuddered and cracked, but somehow held.
SMS’s head was ringing like a bell, but his instincts of self-preservation were blaring warning sirens, telling him to move. Continue reading