Last week I found out that I was one of 64 finalists from around the world who advanced to the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge finals. Prompts dropped at midnight on Friday, and I had 48 hours to write a 1000-word story set at an office holiday party, featuring a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). The genre was left up to us.
I'll find out how I did early in the new year, but in the meantime, here's my story:
“It’ll be fun. Promise,” I said. The elevator sped skyward.
“Hmm.” Cammie’s glasses cast a blue glow as she scanned her HOLOfeed.
She thought my nerdy computer job lacked glamour. But she didn’t know about the new investors, how integral I was to securing them, and how dangerous my tech would be in the wrong hands. I had a hard time admitting these realities to myself, let alone to the woman I loved.
If I hinted at my inner turmoil, I’d be fired—or worse. I needed her with me to prove I was still stable, happy. Same old Jayne.
Cammie tapped the side of her glasses and the glow winked out.
“Sorry.” She tucked an arm around me.
“We don’t have to stay long, but…”
The elevator doors opened, and I let the rooftop view do the convincing. A red carpet extended toward the helipad where guests were being shuttled into the sky.
“Told you it wasn’t going to be stale appetizers and watery drinks in the office.” Nice to be able to show off, for once.
Overhead, a glittering, ballroom-sized disc hovered over the city, pulsing with the energy of a party in full swing. I tried to rise to the occasion, but dark suspicions lingered.
The autocopter got us up to the platform quickly. After stepping out and adjusting my simple black dress, I reached a hand over the edge, testing. White light bloomed where my palm pressed the invisible wall. It pushed back, urging me away from danger, toward the party. But there were dangers there, too.
Rowdy tech bros from the new Moscow office cut in front of us, hurrying to join the partygoers shooting Dom Perignon corks at a virtual bullseye. Robots scuttled back and forth, mopping the pricey spillage.
Cammie led me to the drink table, where an ice sculpture crafted into a pissing Rudolph—complete with bright red nose—dispensed crystalline vodka into her waiting shot glass.
A crude touch to the festivities—classic Shrike. In recent months he’d watched me carefully; I was uniquely poised to derail the company’s rise.
You’re too soft, Jayne, he’d say. I’ll cure you of that.
He appeared at my elbow, as if conjured, smelling of sandalwood and wealth.
“Cammie, this is my boss, Mr. Shrike.”
“I’ve seen you pop up on Jayne’s HOLOfeed, of course,” Shrike said, pulling Cammie in for a peck but keeping his eyes on me. It landed too close to her mouth for my liking.
I shivered. Drones hovered above, sprinkling delicate snowflakes. They evaporated as they hit the heated floor.
“I had no idea...” Cammie gestured to the party thumping around us, sexy Santa dancers gyrating inside giant snow globes.
“Yes, well, fortune favors the daring, right Jayne? Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
He stalked toward a center platform that lifted him above the crowd. All went quiet. He stood in a brilliant pool of light, emerald cufflinks glinting.
“Colleagues, friends. We are poised to exceed our wildest dreams. And your contributions haven’t gone unnoticed. As I speak, 50 bitcoins are being transferred into each employee’s account.”
A manic cheer went up. Cammie grabbed my arm, manicured fingernails digging.
“A toast, to loyalty,” he continued, raising a shot glass, lupine teeth bared. Our eyes met. “Cheers! And to our new investors, a hearty vashe zdorovye!”
Shrike threw back the vodka and jumped into the adoring crowd.
There could be no more kidding myself.
The US was taking tentative steps toward reconciliation with Russia, but until the hacking stopped there would be no agreement. International business investments were still heavily restricted, and the coin coming to the company from overseas put us way out of bounds. It was my tech that set us on the precipice of treason. I swallowed a surge of bile.
Cammie tugged me toward the dancefloor.
“Can’t,” I choked.
“Don’t be a party pooper! You deserve this.”
Her eyes watched the revelers hungrily.
“That drone I developed? It was supposed to revolutionize search and rescue—and it has, but…”
Cammie wasn’t listening, but I couldn’t stop the gush of words.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jayne. You always do this—get all uptight at the worst times.”
I let it all out.
“They scan the corners of the world for missing people’s DNA. It’ll be child’s play for them to flip the switch from search to destroy.”
“Them who? Anyway, you can’t control what others do with it.”
“It will kill people!”
She stared at me for a moment before rolling her eyes. She watched a conga line shimmy past.
I had to decide: give in to this ill-gotten opulence to keep Cammie, or follow my conscience and leave everything behind.
The gap in understanding that had gradually widened between us yawned into an insurmountable canyon. Her face was still aglow with the glitz around us, more alive than I’d seen in months.
I was withering into nothing, and she was oblivious.
“Go have fun,” I said, lips trembling. “I need to check something.”
She dove into the chaos without a word, heading for a giant goblet of caviar. Her elegant back, the crisscrossed straps of her red velvet gown navigating the planes of her shoulder blades, disappeared.
The trip down to the rooftop went quickly. Once inside the elevator I punched floor 237, hoping Shrike hadn’t noticed my departure. I needed a head start.
The doors opened, and I hurried toward my cube. I couldn’t prevent the inevitable—Shrike would turn my tech over to the Russians now that their investment was official. But I could be the thorn in their massive paw.
I booted up and logged into the company mainframe. After purging the backup system, my finger quavered over the delete key.
The tech would be re-coded within a year, but I sure as fuck wasn’t going to make it easy to equip a flying death machine that could locate and eliminate anyone on the planet.
I took a deep breath, and pushed.