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Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern [Worm Fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Feb 26, 2019.

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  1. KinKrow

    KinKrow Dead Air

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    Sophia does, however, have the smoothest of brains.

    It's so shiny and pink!
     
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  2. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    Does that mean that they get new SSN's if they pass the citizenship test, or do immigrants with work visas not get social security cards?
    I know that when I worked for Walgreens two people I worked with took the citizenship test the same day and passed. One in my department (DTR), the other one in the attached warehouse department.
    Also recall that you have to reside in the U.S. legally for 7 years before applying for citizenship.

    Do you instead mean becoming residents together?
    As somebody born and raised in the U.S., I'm fuzzy on the details for immigrants with green cards and social security numbers. I know they covered some of it in school, but that was decades ago. Also I'm pretty sure a lot of laws have changed. INS no longer exists.
     
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  3. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    I believe you only get a SSN when you brcome a citizen. Residents get something else. Ive only known one such group, and they were a family who all became citizens together, so they had sequential SSNs.
     
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  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    To clarify:
    These guys all had (falsified) backgrounds which had them not even knowing each other, much less being associated in any meaningful way. Different times in country, came from different countries, lived in different places before coming to BB, the whole nine.

    So half a dozen different dates and places of supposedly becoming citizens, and their SSNs are sequential.

    Huge red flag.
     
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  5. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    The only way I can see someone (Coil) making that mistake is if Tattletale was in charge of their backgrounds for some reason (and why would Coil let her see, let alone help with, something like that).
     
  6. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    Coil's not a god.

    He bribes the right people, setting up fake ID's, but he doesn't have perfect control, so they're not quite what he wants. However, unless somebody with just the right qualities ends up doing the low level analyis, they're good enough.

    Taylor's just the right type of person, motivated to care.



    No cover's perfect, after all.
     
  7. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    Something like that was my assumption from the beginning. I was just amused by the fact that it's possible for a group of people to have sequential SSNs for completely legitimate reasons.
     
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  8. Threadmarks: Part Seven: From Strength to Strength
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern

    Part Seven: From Strength to Strength

    [A/N: This chapter commissioned by GW_Yoda and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    Coil

    Thomas Calvert didn’t often engage in the habit of gloating, but this was one such time. Not only did he have a series of people embedded within Medhall, but there had recently been a corporate reorganisation. His men had been able to consolidate themselves within their departments, creating enclaves with their comrades so they didn’t have to worry about being caught doing things they shouldn’t. Not all of them knew of each other, of course, but opsec was something he was familiar with.

    It wasn’t that he thought Medhall had any particularly damaging secrets, but all companies had information they wanted to keep out of the hands of ambitious competitors. And Calvert was nothing if not an extremely adept opportunist. So whatever they had to hide, he would find it out. Their secrets would become his secrets. And they didn’t suspect a thing.

    Steepling his fingers before him, he experimented with a satisfied chuckle, but only one. There were standards to uphold, after all.

    <><>​

    Kaiser

    Max put down the report. “So, it’s definitely Coil?”

    Leaning back in his chair, looking supremely relaxed, Victor nodded. “He’s the only one who ticks all the boxes. Out of town mercenaries are his thing, after all. It doesn’t look like they’re there for sabotage or assassination, just corporate espionage. And now that we’ve reorganised things slightly, we can control the flow of information to each little group and let them spy on each other to their hearts’ content.”

    Max nodded, maintaining the façade of confidence. Inside, he was more than a little shaken. Until Ms Harcourt came to him with the Hebert girl’s findings, he hadn’t had the least suspicion of the infiltration of Medhall. With the right clearances, they could’ve gone almost anywhere in the computer systems. They may even have been able to hack into areas normally off-limits. They could have outed me.

    Krieg rubbed at his lips. “And this is all down to that girl who you and Hookwolf helped out, the one whose office attire was stolen?”

    “That’s the one,” Victor confirmed. “She’s a sharp cookie, but she was in a bad place. Harcourt speaks highly of her.”

    Max nodded. Time for a gesture, he decided. Such a thing would cost him little in material terms, but it would mean the world to the girl. And besides, she had done him a huge favour, and rewarding loyalty always paid off. “I think we should do something nice for her.”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Thursday passed by in a haze of impatience. I was pretty sure I went to class, and I may have even taken notes, but I couldn’t prove it by any kind of recollection. However, I did notice that my can’t-touch-this status seemed to be holding steady, for which I was profoundly grateful. Gladly didn’t even have to repeat the stern warning, and in the absence of Sophia and Emma, nobody seemed quite willing to take a shot at me outside the classrooms.

    Paradoxically, even in the absence of the familiar bullying, Friday morning was even worse. Now I was aware of the classes I was in, and impatient for them to be over, so I could escape from the dreary crawl that was life at Winslow.

    For World Affairs, Mr Gladly announced a group project where he proposed a hypothetical re-seeding of the Sahara. Each group was supposed to work out a feasible plan for doing so, while using as few capes as possible to make it happen. As he laid out the details, I could see he had one eye on me; whether to make sure nobody bothered me, or maybe to check to see if I was okay with his teaching technique, I wasn’t sure. I just ignored his manner and paid attention to what he was saying.

    Greg was there, bruises and all, and we immediately picked each other as group partners. Mr Gladly directed Sparky to join us as well, which was neither here nor there. We spent about five minutes commiserating with each other on just how long the last two days had been, then we got down to work. Sparky roused himself occasionally to make a comment, which I incorporated when I could, but for the most part we worked around him.

    I found myself wondering something, but I didn’t know how to ask the question. Finally, Greg turned to me. “What?”

    “What what?” I asked, flustered.

    “You’ve been staring at me for the last thirty seconds. What’s on your mind?”

    I had totally not realised I was staring. With anyone else I would’ve been horribly embarrassed, but Greg and I knew each other better than that. He’d literally tackled Sophia and taken a beating for me. So I just came out and said it. “Nothing, it’s just … before we started at Medhall, I always thought you were a clueless dork. Now, you’re a lot more switched on. I mean, was I wrong? Have I been misjudging you all this time?”

    To his credit, he stopped and thought about the question, instead of just answering off the bat.

    “No,” he said slowly. “The last week or two, I’ve learned a lot. About me, about life, about everything. On Wednesday I was having a break with the guys and Bradley dropped by. We had a good conversation about how sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

    “Damn,” I mused. “That sounds like something I would’ve liked to hear.” Bradley looked like he could be scary without really trying, but he’d been nothing but nice to me.

    Greg nodded. “The funny thing is, I probably needed to get beat up to really understand it. I mean, that first day at Medhall when I totally fluffed Ms Harcourt’s test? That was a huge wake-up call for me. I thought I had it all figured out, and that you were being a wuss. You were right, I was wrong, and you kept being right and I kept being wrong. I mean, I had to figure out where I was screwing up sometime.” He shook his head in wonder. “Getting that internship was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

    I smiled. “Me too. And you know something? I’m glad you’re doing it with me. Because you deserve it.”

    We beamed at each other in perfect agreement, right up until Sparky stirred and muttered something about ‘just kiss her already’. Then he grunted, because Greg had kicked him in the shin.

    “Seriously,” Greg said, shaking his head. “I like you, man, but sometimes you just don’t know when to shut up.”

    I snorted softly with amusement. “The number of times I wanted to say that to you, back before Medhall …”

    “What, you liked me then?” Greg raised his eyebrows, making it clear that he was joking. “Or should I go with ‘tolerate’? The amount of shit the others were putting you through was intense, and I wasn’t doing anything to help. Sometimes I seem to recall making it worse.”

    I couldn’t disagree. “Well, all that is kinda true, but you made up for some of it last week, and a lot of it on Tuesday. But I have to say, this is a whole new level of self-awareness.” I briefly put my hand on his, where it rested on the desk. “In case I haven’t made it clear, I do like it.”

    His cheeks went a little pink but he nodded. “Yeah, I had a lot of time to think while I was laid up at home. It’s a bit of a wrench to come to the conclusion that you’re not the centre of the universe, and a bigger wrench to realise that everyone around you already knew that.” He shook his head in self-deprecation. “But I’m not gonna make a big announcement that this is the new Greg Veder, not just yet. A work in progress, that’s me.” He glanced down at what we’d done so far. “And talking about works in progress, we’ve still got some to do here.”

    “Absolutely.” I was impressed all over again. I’d been ready to pull the conversation back to our project anyway, but he’d subverted expectations and done it for me. “So, what do you think about my idea of using mass-produced automated solar-and-wind-powered moisture precipitators to enlarge existing oases?”

    “Hmm …” He tapped his pencil on the desk, thinking. “If I’ve learned anything from doing building maintenance, it’s that automation works great but when it breaks, it breaks hard. The tighter the tolerances, the bigger the chance something will jump the tracks. Not many Tinkers can mass-produce, and their tech usually needs constant maintenance. So we’d need a good solid R&D company to build one with mundane tech and then thrash the design until it’ll stand up to the worst conditions before rolling it out …”

    I listened intently and made notes, and the class period rolled on.

    <><>​

    “So, what’s this I hear about you finding moles in the building?” Greg asked an hour or so later as our bus came in toward the stop outside the Medhall building. “You trying to take Bradley’s job away from him now?”

    “Yeah, right. As if.” I had to laugh at the idea. “No, I just found some irregularities in an employee records audit, and brought it to Tracey’s attention. She called Ms Harcourt, and it was all out of my hands. I don’t know how it turned out, but I got the impression everyone was really pleased. That we found them, not that they were there in the first place.”

    The bus squealed to a halt and we got up, packs over our shoulders. My business outfit was already ironed but I’d be touching it up again once I got upstairs, just to be sure. We didn’t speak as we got off the bus.

    “Yeah, I bet Bradley was all kinds of pissed that they’d snuck in under his nose,” Greg said with a smirk as we started toward the glass doors. “I wouldn’t want to be those guys once he catches up with them. That man has muscles on his muscles.”

    “He really does. You should’ve seen Sophia’s face after he gave her a smack in the mouth.” The cool air conditioning enfolded us as we stepped inside. “She was like, oh-em-gee, I can’t believe you did that.”

    “I bet Emma was the same after you did the same thing to her.” Greg and I tapped our cards at the turnstiles and stepped through. By this time, I was getting to recognise the guys on the front counter, and I essayed a polite wave. One of them nodded back, and we kept going.

    “I was a little preoccupied, but yeah,” I agreed. We stepped up to the lifts and I hit the button. “It was even better watching her realise that Sophia and her dad weren’t going to get her out of the shit she’d put herself into. I’ve never seen anyone shrink like that.”

    “Well, she’s needed deflating for the last year,” Greg decided. The elevator doors opened and we went to step inside, but realised at the last moment that there were people in there.

    Nudging Greg, I stepped aside as a tall, spare man stepped out with one of the middle managers trailing along behind. I recognised him as James Fleischer, the head of one of Medhall's affiliated pharmaceutical companies. “Good afternoon, sir,” I murmured as he passed us.

    To my surprise, he stopped and turned toward me. “Good afternoon to yourself, miss. You would be the young prodigy working under Ms Harcourt who found the problem, yes?”

    I cleared my throat, refusing to let my voice betray me now. “Y-yes, Mr Fleischer. I’m Taylor Hebert, sir.”

    “Yes. I know.” His face took on a wintry smile as he held out his hand. As if in a dream, I shook it. “It has been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Hebert. Keep up the good work.”

    More than a little stunned, I watched him walk away. Once he had rounded the corner, I turned to Greg. “Did … did that just happen?”

    “Uh huh. Wow.” He slapped me on the shoulder. “Just gonna say, those moles must’ve been in some really sensitive positions if one of the top guys shakes your hand over it.”

    The elevator doors had shut behind us, so I pressed the button again to open them. “No shit. I thought the most he’d do would be to say hello, but … wow. That was different.”

    We stepped inside and I hit my floor on one set of buttons while he hit his on another. That important task completed, he turned to me. “Joking aside, Taylor, you’re gonna be something in this company.”

    “I guess.” I wasn’t really comfortable with talking myself up like that, so I gave him a light shoulder punch. “And I know who’s gonna be my number one maintenance guy.”

    He nodded, perfectly serious. “I’m down with that. You and me, we make a pretty good team, yeah?”

    It gave me a warm feeling inside. “Yeah. Yeah, we do.”

    The lift stopped on his floor and he got out, then I rode the rest of the way humming to the elevator music. I didn’t know the tune, but it had a real beat to it. Bradley nodded to me as I got out of the elevator and I greeted him warmly.

    “I just want to thank you again,” I said. “Everything’s really good at Winslow now. Well, as good as school can get.”

    “I’m pleased to hear that, miss,” he said. “Any word about the Hess girl?”

    “Uh, you know she escaped from police custody?” That had not been welcome news at all, but a police cruiser had been parked on our street for the past two nights. Not that Dad and I thought she’d do anything stupid like come to our house.

    “Mm-hmm.” He nodded once. “Some people are too stupid to know when they should just give it up. If she comes sniffin’ around here, we’ll hand her over to the cops with a few extra bruises an’ maybe a broken bone or two on top of that. Given the mess she made of young Veder, I figure she’s earned it, don’t you?”

    I lowered my glasses and gave him as serious a stare as I could muster while trying not to smile. “Now, now, Bradley. She’s the victim here. Didn’t you know?”

    He cracked a smile of his own. “Heh. Good one, Miss Hebert.”

    My own smile came out in return. “I thought so. I’ll see you later, Bradley. Gotta get to work before they send out a search party.”

    I was humming the elevator tune again as I entered Tracey’s workspace to find none other than the inestimable Justin leaning his (admittedly well-toned) butt on Tracey’s desk, chatting nineteen to the dozen to Tracey herself. They both looked up as I arrived, and Tracey smiled.

    “Okay,” she said. “Now that’s the Taylor I like to see. You’re looking good. How’s Greg doing?”

    “A lot better than Tuesday,” I said. “He’s still got some bruising, but I get the impression he’d have to be wheelchair-bound to not come in to work, and even then he’d be seriously thinking about it. He’s really starting to enjoy working here, I think.” They both already knew my opinion of the job, so I didn’t bother gilding the lily there.

    Tracey nodded. “Ms Harcourt hasn’t said anything disapproving about him recently, so I think he’s learning to fit in. Which is good; he’s a nice boy.”

    I took a deep breath. “So, talking about Ms Harcourt … what happened? With the employee records I found, I mean?” I’d been itching to know about that for two days straight.

    Tracy grinned at Justin. “Pay up.”

    He wrinkled his nose at her. “Unfair advantage. You know her better than I do.” But he pulled his wallet out anyway and passed a five across to her. She smirked as she tucked it into her purse.

    “What’s going on?” I asked. “What was that for?”

    Justin let out a put-upon sigh. “I bet her that you’d be asking that as soon as you walked in the door. I can’t believe you actually talked about something else first.”

    “What, about her friend who was hurt by those bullies? Now, I wonder why I brought that topic up.” Tracey’s tone was teasing.

    Justin’s face transformed into an expression of mock outrage. “You … that’s cheating!” Pointing dramatically at Tracey, he appealed to me. “Tell her she’s cheating! The bet should be null and void!”

    I couldn’t help but giggle. “Coming from the guy who steals my coffee on the regular, that’s a bit on the nose, isn’t it? Anyway, she didn’t force you to make a bet with someone you knew had an unfair advantage. Did she?”

    “I’m being ganged up on!” declaimed Justin, pressing the back of his wrist to his forehead in a gesture that (in my personal opinion) was totally overblown. “It’s the feminist conspiracy! The world is doomed, I tell you, doomed!”

    “Oh, quit it with the drama queen antics,” Tracey told him with an eye-roll. “You’re just here for the free coffee. It’s about time you paid for it.”

    “On that note,” I said with a smirk, “I’ll get the coffee started, then iron my outfit.” Still smiling from the idiocy, I went through to the kitchenette and set up the coffee machine. Taking the iron and folding out the small board, I pulled my blouse and skirt from my pack and began to deal with the creases that had crept in.

    While I worked, I listened with half an ear to the ongoing banter between Tracey and Justin, hoping to glean anything more about what had happened with the personnel records, but no such luck. By the time the coffee was ready, I’d finished and ducked into the small bathroom to change. Pouring three cups, I conveyed them out to Tracey’s desk.

    “Aha!” Justin scooped up the one I offered him. “The ambrosia of the gods, to heal a wounded soul!” He sipped at it, then a beatific smile crossed his face. “You have a natural talent for this, Taylor. I’d promote you to vice-president just on the strength of your coffee.”

    “Totally ignoring her natural talents in pattern recognition and other areas,” Tracey said dryly.

    “Well, that too, of course,” Justin conceded. “But I was talking about the important talents.”

    Tracey gave him a look that was less than impressed. “Unless she’s got a burning desire to be a barista, I imagine coffee-making would be a fair way down the list of what’s important.”

    “Ah, but counterintelligence agents would also require a source of good coffee,” he retorted triumphantly.

    “But I don’t want to be a counterintelligence agent,” I reminded him. “I want to work right here in Medhall. You guys have turned my life right around in just a couple of weeks, and I want to give some of that back.”

    “And that’s what I like to hear,” a voice spoke from behind me when I wasn’t expecting it. From the widening of Tracey’s eyes as she looked past me, I got a hint as to who it might be, so when I turned around I didn’t drop my coffee. It was still a near thing, my brain gibbering and running in circles, but I managed to only suffer the embarrassment of being tongue-tied rather than splashing coffee on my boss’ boss’ boss’ shoes.

    Max Anders himself beamed at me, every inch the corporate mogul that the news made him out to be. He was tall and handsome and fit and rich, and his personality filled the room to capacity. Carefully, I put my coffee down on Tracey’s desk so I wouldn’t drop it anyway. “Good afternoon, sir,” I said once I was sure my throat wouldn’t clench up and make my voice into a high-pitched squeak.

    “Good afternoon, Taylor,” he said, an amused smile on his lips. Well, why shouldn’t he be amused? I was more or less babbling like an idiot in front of him. “May I call you Taylor? Thanks.”

    I nodded without speaking. He could call me anything he liked. He was, after all, the man whose company had utterly turned my life around in a matter of days.

    Maybe he saw something of that in my eyes, because the smile left his expression. “Excuse me, Taylor. I wasn’t laughing at you. I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance. From what Ms Harcourt has told me, your attention to detail saved Medhall more money and problems than I would’ve been comfortable dealing with.” As Mr Fleischer had done before him, he held out his hand. “You have my thanks, and the thanks of all of our shareholders.”

    I rubbed suddenly-damp palms against my skirt then shook his hand once, quickly. “So it was moles, like Tracey and I thought, sir?”

    “Indeed it was, Taylor.” He nodded once in confirmation, then he smiled again, this time wryly. “Let me tell you, it was quite a nasty shock to find out just how far they’d spread through the company. It took a team of my most trusted people hours to root out every last one of them, and you’d uncovered at least half of them before you went home for the afternoon.”

    “Oh,” I said. “That’s … that’s good. That you found them all, I mean. Is your team able to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

    His smile turned into a smirk. “At the moment, I’m holding you over their heads as a hypothetical ‘expert’ who’s come in to check their security over for any flaws. While you’ve been attending school, they’ve been going through the system with a fine-tooth comb, trying to beat their imaginary idea of you to any new discoveries. Let’s just say, it’s been considerably amusing to watch them go from ‘we got this’ to ‘what else have we missed?’. Best motivation in the world, if you ask me. And I owe it all to you.”

    That felt very weird and just a little funny, all at the same time. “Uh, thank you, sir. I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to help so far.”

    “Well, I’ve got faith in you to keep it up,” he said warmly. “So much so that I’ve taken it upon myself to push forward your signing date. As of Monday, you’ll be a salaried employee of Medhall. Not that an intern’s pay is all that much, but it’s a start, correct?”

    I blinked, shocked. Going from you get paid from the end of the month to you get paid from Monday was a huge jolt. “I … uh … thank you sir,” I said. “I’ll, uh, I’ll try not to disappoint.”

    “That’s all we can really ask for.” His smile broadened, showing off gleaming white teeth. Even knowing he was just being nice to the new intern who’d accidentally done him a favour, I still felt a little weak at the knees. Then he spotted the coffee I had set down. As if in a dream, I watched him pick it up and take a sip. “Mmm, that’s perfect. Thank you, Taylor. And well done once more for finding those moles.”

    Vaguely disbelieving, I watched him walk out again with my coffee. I could make another one in short order, but that wasn’t the damn point. “What is it with the men who work in this company?” I demanded, though I didn’t raise my voice too loudly. “Do I have ‘please steal my coffee’ tattooed on my forehead or something?”

    “Your face …” gasped Justin, clearly trying hard not to laugh. “When you realised he was just going to walk out with it, and you couldn’t say a thing …” At that point, he lost it altogether.

    Tracey hugged me, though she was snickering too. “You have to admit, it was kind of funny. I mean, how do you ask the boss not to steal the cup you just made for yourself?”

    “Gee, I have no idea,” I grumped. “Given that everyone in the building except for Greg is technically my boss right now, is there going to be a queue that I’ll have to make coffee for when I get in to work? Because, just saying, that’s gonna cut into my productivity.” I may have been overstating it just a little, but my point was still valid.

    Tracey nodded soberly. Justin was still chuckling, but he got serious when she gave him a hard glare. “Okay, yes,” she conceded. “Justin, please don’t spread it around, okay? We’re putting Taylor on salary so she has an incentive to continue being my extremely able assistant, not a barista to half the building. Understood?”

    I was pleased at the ‘extremely able assistant’ line, but even more so when Justin nodded. “Yeah, sorry, Taylor,” he said. “I shouldn’t have laughed like that. That was a bit mean of me.”

    “It’s okay,” I assured him. And it really was. I knew malice and mean-spiritedness when I saw it, and that wasn’t it. Besides, Tracey was on my side, and he’d apologised of his own free will.

    In short, this was light-years removed from what I’d been experiencing at Winslow. It wasn’t even as stringent as the hazing Greg had been getting from the guys in the maintenance crew.

    Tracey smirked at him. “Besides, I still won our bet.”

    “And I still think you had an unfair advantage,” he pretended to gripe.

    “Actually, that’s a point,” I said with a grin. “Where’s my cut?”

    Tracey nodded to me. “Sure. How does fifty-fifty sound?”

    I shrugged. “Ahhh … okay.” In all honesty, I’d said it as a joke, but she seemed happy to go along with it.

    Reaching into her purse, she sorted out some money, then pulled out two one-dollar coins and two quarters. “Here you go.”

    “Oh, uh, thanks.” A little awkwardly, I accepted the money. Rummaging through my pack, I found my coin purse and dropped the change into it. “So, what did you want me to do today?”

    Tracey looked pensive. “Well, the records you were supposed to be doing got finished off yesterday, by Mr Anders' security team. However, we both know what they were looking for, so I think it might be an idea to go through the files and double-check to make sure they didn’t half-ass it when entering the data they didn’t think was significant.”

    “Sure, I can do that.” I turned back toward my desk and my elbow caught my pack where I’d left it sitting open. Of course, it toppled off and crashed to the floor, my books and homework assignments spilling out haphazardly. “Oh, crap. Okay, I can clean this up.”

    “Here, let me help you.” Justin got down and started grabbing the stuff that had fallen farther away, handing it back to me. He stopped with the last homework assignment in his hand, his eyebrows raised. “A plan to reseed the Sahara? Really?”

    I felt my cheeks heat slightly. “It’s a World Affairs project. We’re supposed to be doing it in groups of three or four, but it’s essentially just me and Greg. It’s to be presented and handed in on Monday.”

    “Huh.” He skimmed his way down the pages of notes Greg and I had worked up. “This is actually pretty good. Is this all your idea, or Greg’s as well?”

    “Both of us, really.” I shrugged. “I’m presenting ideas, and he’s refining them. We’re supposed to collaborate over the weekend and come in Monday with a finished product.”

    “Hmm.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “What are the rules on outside assistance?”

    I knew this one, because several people had asked. “Okay … first, we’re allowed to ask adults for help, but we’ve got to come up with the core idea, and we’ve got to understand the finished product well enough to present it in front of the class on Monday. And it can’t be a previously published presentation.”

    “Really.” Justin smiled slowly. “Can I borrow this? I promise I’ll bring it back to you before it’s time to go.”

    Tracey looked at him oddly. “Justin? What are you up to?”

    “Nothing.” His beatific expression wouldn’t have fooled a blind man in a dark cellar at midnight … in Australia. “I just wanted to touch base with someone I know. He might just have ideas to beef this little presentation up a notch.”

    “Someone you know?” Tracey tilted her head slightly. “One of your Medhall drinking buddies?”

    “Nah, babe.” Justin gave her a carefree grin. “He’s not in Medhall. More of an acquaintance than a buddy. Works out of Boston.”

    I shrugged. “Um, okay. If he doesn’t mind, I guess?”

    “Nah. He loves a challenge.” Whistling, he folded the paper into a more manageable size and strolled off, coffee cup in hand.

    I looked at Tracey. “Do you have any idea of what that’s all about?”

    “Not a clue.” She leaned sideways and looked in the direction he’d gone. “He does like to play the international man of mystery sometimes. It’s irritating but endearing. In small doses, anyway.”

    “Well, so long as he doesn’t forget to get it back to me, I’ll be interested in seeing what his friend can add to it.” I headed into the kitchenette to brew myself another cup of coffee.

    <><>​

    Victor

    Alexander Grayson frowned. “You want me to do what again?” This was more a delaying tactic than a real query, but he also did want to know if his teammate was sure.

    “You heard me.” Justin waved his hand negligently. “You get along with Accord better than I do. Every time I talk to him, I get the distinct impression he wants to murder me and dispose of my body in a shallow grave.”

    “That’s probably because he does.” Alex sighed. “I keep telling you, the man takes the concept of OCD and turns it up to eleven. Using that to get a rise out of people is a dick move at the best of times, but when it comes to him, it’s also suicidal.”

    “Which is why I’m asking you to make the call.” Justin unfolded the pages of notes and held them out. “I’ve seen his plans. If anyone can take this and make something amazing from it, it’ll be him.”

    “Okay, but why?” Alex gave Justin a cynical stare. “Taylor’s a sweet kid and she found those moles for us and all, but Max is already pushing her paid start date forward to Monday.” He paused for a moment, then his expression cleared. “Ah, right. It’s not Taylor you’re trying to get in good with. It’s Tracey.”

    Justin didn’t even try to deny the charge. “What can I say? One, I want to imagine the looks of shock on the faces of those idiots who call themselves teachers at that dumpster fire they call a school. Two, she makes a damn fine cup of joe. And three; yes, if I pull this off, Tracey will love me forever. She’s really taken Taylor under her wing.”

    “Fine.” Alex accepted the folded notes and looked them over, easily absorbing the information within. Taking out his phone, he tapped in a number from memory.

    It rang precisely once, then a woman answered. “You have reached the offices of Designated Projections, Incorporated. Who is speaking, please?” Her diction was precise and measured, as he’d known it would be.

    “My name is Victor. We’ve spoken before. Could you please make an appointment for me to speak with Mr Cord about the August numbers, please?”

    “Yes, of course, sir.” As he had figured, Accord’s assistant was competent enough to recognise the code phrase intended to get him past the front name of ‘Designated Projections’ to the man behind the curtain. “He will not be available until one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Is that acceptable, sir?”

    “Certainly,” he said at once. Accord didn’t make power plays. If the man had decided that his first available timeslot was one o’clock on Saturday afternoon, that was when it would happen.

    “Thank you.” He could hear the faint rattle of keys as she typed in the details. “May I inquire as to the nature of the request you have for Mr Cord?”

    “Of course.” He smiled. Now to set the hook. “It involves an existing plan that needs to be expanded and improved upon.” There was nobody he knew who could do that better than Accord.

    “I will pass that on to him, sir. Thank you for calling Designated Projections.” The phone went dead in his ear.

    “Well?” asked Justin as Alex put the phone back in his pocket. “Did he say he’d do it?”

    Alex rolled his eyes. “Cool your jets. He wasn’t in on the call, though he may have been listening. We’ve at least got his attention. Now, he may still refuse to do it, because he can be a cranky little git when he gets in that mood, but if I present it just right and offer extra to get it done before Monday, we should be golden.”

    “Dude.” Justin punched him lightly on the shoulder. Alex let it happen, though he knew of at least three ways to stop the blow. “You are the man. Let me know what it costs, and I’ll cover it for you.”

    “Yes. You will.” Alex had already made up his mind on that one. Justin was a teammate and a friend, but there was a difference between doing a simple favour and actually putting down good money to further Justin’s romantic designs. He looked down at the notes again and frowned. “But he’s not going to react well to some schoolkid’s scribbled notes. I’m going to have to take the time to write this up properly for when I email it to him.”

    “Uh, sure?” Justin looked dubious. “I told Taylor I’d get it back to her before three.”

    Alex shook his head and sighed. “One of these days, your mouth is going to write you a check that the rest of you won’t be able to cash. Let me run it through the copy machine, and you can take it on back. Then do me a favour and don’t bother me about it. I’ll get it done. Okay?”

    “Okay, cool.”

    “You’re gonna owe me big-time for this. Just saying.” Alex lifted the cover to the copier and placed the first page of notes neatly on the glass screen.

    “I’ll buy you a six-pack of that Swedish beer that you like.”

    Satisfied, Alex closed the copier and pressed the green button. “Make it a carton.”

    Justin nodded. “You got it.”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “Ohh boy.”

    At my half-sighed utterance, Tracey turned to me. “Problems?”

    “Nothing I can’t fix.” As I spoke, I opened the scanner lid. “The guys who did this weren’t paying attention to anything but a few identifiers. Some of the data a little farther down the page just came out wrong. Gonna have to rescan it, because I have no idea what ‘hash ampersand at-sign backwards-R’ is supposed to mean.”

    “Ooh, ouch.” She winced. “Well, good thing I’ve got my best person on it.”

    I grinned and raised my eyebrows. “You mean, good thing you don’t have to deal with it?”

    She returned the grin. “Well, I wasn’t going to put it that way … but yes.”

    “Trust me, I get it.” I carefully aligned the page on the scanner, then gave it the slightest twist to the right. It made no sense for the OCR to work best like that, but I wasn’t arguing. Just so long as it worked like that consistently, I wouldn’t care. I lowered the lid and hit the button. “Besides, I was going to be doing this anyway, remember?”

    “Very true.” Her grin went back to a smile. “I’m still just thrilled that you’re going on salary about three weeks early. Not that you haven’t earned it.”

    The scanner hummed, and built an image on the screen. This time, the OCR worked perfectly, slotting the correct information into the right places. I kept half an eye on it while I talked to Tracey. “Well, you guys are all right. I think I’ll keep coming to work here for as long as you’re willing to let me.”

    “What’s this I hear?” It was Justin, wandering in with my notes in hand. “The sound of a wild work ethic?” He held his hand to his ear. “Quick, we much hunt it down and cage it, before it infects anyone!”

    “You’re an idiot,” Tracey told him fondly. “Don’t you actually have work of your own to do? I’m pretty sure those ads won’t make themselves.”

    “Ah, but I’m your idiot,” he reminded her. “Your project notes, Taylor. My acquaintance won’t be able to start on it until tomorrow, but we should have something by Sunday.” He grinned down at Tracey. “We could make a day of it, drop the finished piece over at Taylor’s place, then go driving up Captain’s Hill or something. What do you say?”

    I wasn’t going to lie. That sounded like a pretty nice way to spend a Sunday to me. Tracey looked torn, then she glanced at me and I nodded encouragingly. “Okay,” she said. “You two talked me into it.”

    “Excellent,” he said. “I’ll give you a call. Later, ladies.” Out he strolled once more, leaving the pair of us sitting bemusedly in his wake.

    “Well, that happened,” Tracey said, once he was gone.

    I smirked. “I can’t help wondering exactly how much coffee he’s had today. He did seem to be very full of energy right now.”

    “Full of something, anyway,” she said with a snort, and I giggled.

    “Well,” I said with a sigh and a stretch. “This is fun, but it isn’t getting the work done.” I took a drink from my still-warm coffee and checked the file over. It looked to be on the up-and-up, so I saved it, then brought up the next one. Three seconds in, and I groaned.

    “That one’s worse, huh?” Tracey gave me a sympathetic look.

    “You know it.” But I knew how to fix it, so I got to work.

    It might not have been the most fulfilling, interesting task I’d ever taken on, but who cared? I was working at Medhall.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Later in the Afternoon


    I exited the elevator into the lobby with a jaunty step. Greg was waiting just up ahead, chatting to the guys on the security desk. He seemed to know them by name, which would’ve surprised me a week previously but the new Greg was beginning to grow on me. Glancing around, he saw me and raised a hand in greeting.

    “Hey,” he said happily as he came to meet me. “I got out a couple of minutes early, and decided to hang about and wait for you. You’ll never guess what happened!”

    Whatever it was, he was pleased about it, so I figured ‘the guys’ hadn’t ramped up their hazing efforts. “I have no idea,” I confessed.

    “Ms Harcourt came to me and said that due to my efforts in ‘defending a work colleague’, they’d be putting me on salary at the end of the month!” Greg seemed to be almost fizzing with happiness. “Salary! Can you believe it? I thought for sure they were gonna can me after the internship was up, because of that huge screwup at the beginning.”

    “Oh, wow, that’s amazing.” And it was. It really was. “I’m totally glad for you, Greg.”

    “That means we’ll both be going on salary.” His grin nearly split his face. I’d filled him in on what Tracey had told me about going on salary at the end of the month, but of course he didn’t know that Max Anders himself had paid me a visit and pushed it up to Monday. And, to be honest, I didn’t think I wanted to tell him. It would feel too much like I was topping his huge triumphant moment, and I really didn’t want to do that.

    “Absolutely,” I agreed. “Also, Justin’s said he’s going to help with our project. He knows somebody who can write something like that up really good. So I’ll get it back Sunday, maybe?”

    “I think we should still work on it ourselves, just in case,” he said seriously. “You never know, after all.”

    “Why, Greg.” I tilted my head and looked at him curiously. “Responsibility and forward thinking? I’m getting more impressed by the day.”

    “Yeah, yeah.” As we emerged from the Medhall building, he rolled his eyes, but I could tell he was pleased at the compliment. “So maybe I could come over to yours tomorrow and Sunday, and we could work on it?”

    “Now that sounds like a plan.” I headed for the bus stop with Greg alongside me. “Do you have my address? Because I don’t think I ever gave it to you.”

    “No, I’m pretty sure I don’t.” He fished out a pen and notepad. “Shoot.”

    <><>​

    Shadow Stalker

    Sophia, suitably anonymous in a hoodie, watched Hebert and the Veder asshole make their way to the bus. They were dressed totally different from their normal school attire, which made her snort in derision. Medhall had swallowed them whole and made them into good little corporate puppets.

    She had a bone to pick with them, but first she wanted to settle matters with the Medhall assholes who had come to her school, filmed her actions, and smacked her in the face. Then, once they were unable to protect Hebert (and maybe the building was on fire, because that was always an option) she’d go after those two and show them why they should never have crossed her.

    Turning, she headed off down the street, just another teenager in Brockton Bay.

    <><>​

    Accord

    The Next Day


    He opened the email and studied the file. A brief, neat precis of the plan requirements, and a series of notes regarding what had been already sketched out.

    “Is this person serious?” he asked. “To reseed the Sahara?” It wasn’t something he’d considered before, given that it would take up resources and time, drawing them away from his grand Plan.

    Still, a Sahara that was no longer a desert, able to be farmed, producing food and reducing conflict in the region … hmm. This bore thinking about.

    “That’s the idea,” Victor said over the phone. “They may or may not implement this any time soon. They just wanted to know it was possible, and to have the plan in hand.”

    “Factors change, Victor. We both know that.” But already his agile mind was taking apart the problem and rearranging the pieces to form a solution. “Today’s warlord will be tomorrow’s nonentity. The plan for bringing one person on board will not necessarily work for another.” This was broadly true, though ‘give them a lot of money’ was always a semi-reliable fallback.

    “They know this. Call it a proof of concept.”

    “Very well, but I will require the option to keep a copy for myself.” If someone else was willing to pay for a plan to be created, and the plan could potentially shift some of the factors in his plans to improve the overall quality of life on the African continent … then why not? After all, the guidelines and requirements were trivially easy to accommodate.

    “Excellent. One more thing. They want it by Monday morning. Sunday evening would be better.”

    “That will cost you extra.” The majority of the time would be spent typing up the plan and formatting it to his exacting specifications, but he was a firm believer in the principle that people valued things they paid more to get.

    “Of course. I expected as much. I’ll send you the payment as soon as you’ve mailed me the completed document.”

    “We have an agreement.” He hung up and began work at once. Victor wouldn’t stiff him, he knew; the man was almost as punctilious about obligation and the payment of debts owing as he himself was.

    Besides, it was an interesting problem.



    End of Part Seven
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
  9. SailorOfMyVessel

    SailorOfMyVessel Writer of plot, with some Plot for pleasure.

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    I love literally everything about this chapter.

    Literally everything.

    Also, I laughed at Taylor thinking that Max could call her anything. My mind is too filthy for this pure tale.
     
  10. ShellOG

    ShellOG Not too sore, are you?

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    I'm loving this story so much. If only there was a way for me to get more of this... Ack, your Patreon is always full. :(
     
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  11. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    Tapping Accord to help with a homework assignment. That's like bringing a nuke to a fist fight.
     
  12. GladiusLucix

    GladiusLucix Versed in the lewd.

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    As soon as Justin mentioned Boston, I knew it was going to be Accord. This is starting to look like a "Taylor and Greg impress all the White Collar Villains of Worm." How long until the Elite start recruitment efforts?

    Honestly, that's probably what happened to Heith and Kayden.
     
  13. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    I was thinking about this chapter, and I had a thought.

    Theo. Max wants him to man up, something fierce. Greg just did. And Taylor's smart, and cleaning up well.


    I could see Max setting up a "coincidental" meeting, seeing if he can get a bit of their good qualities to rub off onto Theo.


    The fact the Max is Theo's problem, well, that's not something he gets.
     
  14. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    Is it alright if I sig this? I feel like it deserves to be sigged.
     
  15. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    This was a beautiful chapter, from beginning to end. Although, I'm curious: was the mis-entered data (&@backwards-R) just an example of a botched scan artifact, or was it a piece of E88 data that had been mistakenly included in the Medhall documentation? Something about the fact that Taylor is checking over high-security data that's filled with peculiar characters entered haphazardly just screams out to me.
     
  16. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    Go right ahead.
     
  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It was a botched scan artifact.

    At least, as far as you know ...
     
  18. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    *sighs, digs out the 'Go, nazis, go!' sign again*
     
  19. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    I think we can all agree on a sign reading "Get Fucked, Sophia", regardless of whom she's attacking. I mean, it's not so much that we want the Nazi's to win as much as we want Sophia to lose.
     
  20. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    I'm more interested in seeing Director Piggot tearing into Sophia's case worker.
     
  21. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    Not only a homework assignment, but a weekend high school homework assignment.
    If Taylor & Greg use that as anything more than a loose summary Mr. Gladly will know it was plagiarized.
    Maybe if this was a midterm at the 300 or 400 level (I really don't see much difference between 300 and 400 level, and between 100 and 200 for that matter, just that the 200's usually have prerequisites. ) or at the graduate level, but not at the high school for an overnight or weekend assignment.

    They'll be accused of cheating for sure.

    I think it would be more amusing for one or more of the Nazis to go down from the surprise attack (snipers can be deadly to even the best because they strike you unawares, and Sophia's power combined with a crossbow makes her an ambusher like a sniper.) only for Taylor to get lucky with a taser.
    I could be even funnier if she doesn't know that Sophia is Shadow Stalker because she doesn't see the bolt phase back from shadow and Sophia isn't in costume. She just sees Sophia Hess with a crossbow and fires a taser. It's super effective.
     
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  22. Kanzid

    Kanzid Making the rounds.

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    Yeah the only way they can use whatever Accord provides is as research / as an example of a possible way that a professional has suggested implementing the plan. It will be far too detailed for it to be possible for them to use it directly.
     
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  23. Madrox

    Madrox Getting out there.

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    It's Accord. He’ll have a concise two page summary that covers the entire plan, because he’ll have planned for that too.
     
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  24. Diraniola

    Diraniola Not too sore, are you?

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    Accord thinks it's an actionable plan he's being commissioned for. He has no reason to explain it at a high school level.
     
  25. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    Even if its not at high school level, a quick summary (even if its like, 2 pages) is still a good idea on its own
     
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  26. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    I'm still wondering how Taylor'll take the hundreds of pages of plan. Get offered homework help, get weight lifting in return.

    "You only had two days!"



    On the other hand, if Accord finds out this is High School homework, how will he respond? Sure he was paid, but that's not what Accord cares about.
     
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  27. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    He does, however, care about getting his plans out there. Somehow.

    And solving world hunger took 150 pages. This will be much less.
     
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  28. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    Hopefully he doesn't find out. I can't imagine he's at home with surprises, and an Accord (tm) plan being used as school homework sounds like it could be interpreted as a put down.

    But, for all we know, this is part of one of the plans that he gave Cauldron in canon. Who knows what goes through the baffling sharp-angled maze he calls a mind?
     
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  29. Loveschach

    Loveschach I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Making the Sahara green would reduce the necessary steps of removing world hunger.
     
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  30. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    And even if greening the Sahara turns out to be impossible, slowing or stopping desertification will do huge things for the stability in the areas of Africa around the Sahara.
     
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