Milk & Serial Saturday: “Code Red” Chapter 1

Hot off the (word)presses! Chapter one of my first story for Milk & Serial Saturday is here. It’s loosely fan fiction of a popular universe, but I won’t say which just yet. 😉 There are a couple of clues in here, though, for those who really know their nerdy canons!

I’m not sure yet how many chapters “Code Red” will end up being, but I’ll be posting a new chapter each Saturday. I always want feedback, whether praise or criticism, just nothing unnecessarily rude, please. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! 

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“Tall nonfat sugar free caramel latte!”

Abigail Green tousled her strawberry blonde locks, tucking a loose curl behind her ear and allowing the early morning sun to dazzle off of a diamond stud. Careful not to let her new cashmere cardigan brush against the crumb-laden bar, she grabbed her coffee, muttered a quick but polite thanks, and hurried out of the coffee shop.

Outside, a cabby laid into his horn as a city garbage truck backed up, blocking the intersection between the coffee shop and Abigail’s office building, causing the 29-year-old to miss the “walk” sign before the orange digits started counting down the seconds until the red light. Abigail Green did not jaywalk.

Glancing down at her watch, the redheaded woman in the persimmon cardigan tapped the toe of her cream patent leather Louboutins impatiently. Should’ve gotten a double shot today. Tarleton’s gonna be in quite a mood when I present my latest findings…

“Morning, ma’am!” Clarence, the morning shift security guard, nodded and beamed a smile at Abigail as she pushed quickly through the revolving door of the headquarters of The People’s Bank.

Abigail slowed, pausing to greet the man who might arguably be the only other friendly person here. Well, that was a bit of a stretch, but Clarence’s twinkly black eyes, set deep in a face lined with wrinkles, did always bring a smile to her face.

“Hey, Clarence! How’s it going?” Abigail stopped at the desk to grab her copy of The Financial Times and have their usual morning banter.

“I’m above ground, aren’t I?” Clarence chuckled.

“Me too!” the redhead said, beaming back. Quickly, though, her perfectly made up brow furrowed again, a look of stress sweeping her heart-shaped face. “For now at least … After this meeting with Mr. Tarleton, well … we’ll see!”

“Hmm, well you know what I have to say about that now don’t you, Miss Green?” Clarence lowered his gaze and winked at Abigail, giving her a knowing smile. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Abigail’s look of consternation finally broke into a smile. “…And?”

“It’s all small stuff, Miss Green.”

“Thanks, Clar. You’re my favorite security guard, you know that?” Abigail raised her latte in a toast to the older man, tipping her head and dipping into a semi-curtsy.

“I’ll bet you say that to all the security guards!” Clarence chuckled.

Abigail stuck her tongue out briefly at the kindly old man as she strode gracefully to the elevator bank, her steps as long as her form fitting pencil skirt would allow. The plus side to getting to work at 7 o’clock was that you didn’t have to endure awkward elevator rides with others.

Alone in the elevator, Abigail locked eyes with her muffled reflection in the stainless steel door. Right, game face. Tall and thin, with long coppery red hair styled into loose waves, Abigail Green watched her pink lipped countenance morph from a goofy grin into a fierce, unwavering glare. Naturally pale and freckled, the young woman masked the freckles on her high cheek bones with salon tans and bronzer. She allowed herself a brief flicker of a smile when the clean white light of the elevator caught her two carat engagement ring in a fiery sparkle. Some day, some day… 

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Three hours passed in a blur, Abigail’s brain clouded with talking points for her imminent presentation to Greg Tarleton and the rest of his team at The People’s Bank. Moments later, the tall redhead stood at the head of the 12th floor boardroom, laser pointer in hand. Coral cashmere sweater and herringbone pencil skirt accented by matching diamond studs, necklace, and tennis bracelet, Abigail Green stood out from the rest of the room.

“…And so you can see here, the logistic regression indicates that our legal risk from the new AIM product is both statistically and materially significant. It is highly recommended that we reconsider the product’s April launch date, if we even launch the product at all.”

“Green!” her boss interjected loudly. Greg Tarleton lived up to his reputation as a tough man to work for. “Did you check the Hosmer-Lemeshow test results on this? The risk can’t be this high.”

The well dressed woman felt her face flush red at the insultingly elementary question. Composing herself, she smiled with closed lips and nodded. “Yes, I did. Everything indicates very high risk. In my professional opinion, sir, this product should not go to market, at least not until we change its financial structure.”

“Well who proofread your code? This can’t be right,” the grey haired man muttered, his broad forehead folding into a giant wrinkle as he glared down his pointy nose at the presentation materials.

“I agree,” Alastair Bloom echoed from the other side of the slick mahogany table. The London-born expatriate tsk‘d as he strummed his pasty fingers against the table. “The entire legal department outside of analytics vetted this product. Your concerns, young lady, are no doubt the product of some typographical error.”

Abigail sucked in a deep breath, pursing her pink lips and telling herself to ignore the burning comment.

“Green, I want you to go back to the code and rerun it,” Tarleton said gruffly. “This meeting is over for now. We’ll reconvene if the results still show these oddities.”

———————————————————————

“I’m back,” Abigail shrugged sheepishly to the barista, swiping her AmEx after ordering another dose of caffeine, this time an iced coffee. Tarleton’s rough edges were quickly making double coffee days the norm. Maybe that’s why this job pays so well, to give you a budget for the caffeine and booze required to stay sane. 

Barely catching the “walk” sign this time, Abigail scurried back to her desk, flicking open her bank issued laptop with one hand. Desperately poking the green straw into her drink’s lid with her other hand, the strawberry blonde poked the straw just a little too hard, causing the iced coffee to topple over on the desk. Milky brown liquid splashed all over the keyboard, ice cubes scattering as the computer gave off a dire hiss.

Shoot!” she exclaimed through gritted teeth.

“Green, is there a problem?” Greg Tarleton walked up — of course. The middle aged man heaved a sigh, his belly lifting the end of his necktie as he inhaled and exhaled audibly.

“I’m so sorry, sir. It was an accident. I’ll pay to replace the laptop.” Abigail wiped futilely at the ruined keyboard with a handful of Kleenex plucked out of her purse.

Tarleton shook his head, jowls jiggling as he did so. “No need.” He sounded exasperated, passive aggressive even. “Laptops are pocket change compared to the profits we’ll make off of the AIM product, when it launches — not if. That’s what I want you to understand, Green.”

“Understood, Mr. Tarleton.” Abigail didn’t even try to fight at this point. She’d rerun the code, have a colleague proofread her log, and fight the good fight on another day that wasn’t going so horribly.

Greg Tarleton’s mobile phone suddenly buzzed and lit up. The grey hair man with premature wrinkles stared down at the device in his hand, face twisting in concern as he read the incoming message. Greg Tarleton flushed even whiter than his normal tone, taking on an almost an deathly pallor.

“Sir, are you feeling alright? You look … unwell,” Abigail said with genuine concern.

“Fine, uh … I’m fine. Sorry Green, I’ve gotta run. You can, uh, just go use the computer in my office for the rest of the day.” With that, Greg Tarleton spun on the toes of his wing tip shoes and hurried away.

But he was supposed to be in meetings all afternoon … I hope everything is alright. Abigail furrowed her brow from stress. Looks like Tarleton’s gone for the rest of the day, though. I guess things can only get better from here.

———————————————————————

In no hurry to look back at code she knew was correct, Abigail spent the last couple of business hours catching up on emails and scheduling meetings from the bizarre setting of her boss’s office. Associates began dwindling out around six, the March sun bringing in a red warmth as it set over the city.

Better read through the whole code and rerun the analysis, I guess. If it’ll make Tarleton believe my results … whatever.

Abigail opened a SQL session on Greg Tarleton’s computer and pulled open her code from the shared drive. After reading through the lengthy computer program, she stretched her arms, looked out the window at the nighttime city street, and indulged in a moment of daydreaming about being a stay at home mom one day, spending her evenings cooking family dinners instead of hovering over SQL code in a stuffy office.

Focus, Abigail. Time to run this code and give Tarleton what he wants.

Within seconds of hitting run, though, the code crashed. An annoying red x appeared on the tab labeled Log.

What? I didn’t modify the code at all. Probably just an issue connecting to the server.

The redheaded woman, slouching at her desk with her chin resting in her left palm, clicked on the log tab — the only surefire way to see what went wrong.

“What the hell?” Abigail muttered aloud. While it wasn’t uncommon for her code logs to induce profanity, this was a bizarre new error message.

ERROR: Agent T2, do you copy? Base has not received your confirmation since 1500 hours. 

Abigail shook her head quickly, blinking her eyes dramatically and craning her neck towards the screen. The words, though, were clear as day.

Before she could hit the back button, the log continued to populate on the screen, scrolling on its own.

ERROR: Subject’s coordinates unknown. Project Code Red is delayed pending location of subject. Agent T2, relay subject’s coordinates as soon as possible. Agent T2, do you copy?

It’s not April Fools Day! What the hell kind of weird joke is this? I’ll report this to bank security tomorrow… Someone with really good hacking skills and a weird sense of humor must be playing a dumb prank. 

The woman with strawberry blonde hair laughed nervously, feeling annoyed with herself for apparently letting a sophomoric stunt rattle her. Abigail Grace Green, you’ve overcome too many real obstacles to let some silly hoax scare you!

The pep talk did little to quiet her nerves, especially as the log began to grow longer. This wasn’t a huge query — 50 megs, max. There’s no code still running, so why is the log —

Her thoughts halted abruptly when another red text appeared. Abigail’s bronzed face flushed to its natural alabaster, her pale green eyes widening at the newest message.

WARNING: Agent T2, send subject to lobby of elevator bank B in The People’s Bank main tower. Failure to do so within ten minutes will result in disciplinary actions. Agent T2, this is your last warning.

The hacking joke was going too far now. Or was it real? No, it couldn’t be. Abigail massaged her temple, not caring that doing so would rub off her Chanel foundation. The tall woman stood slowly, letting the office chair swivel beneath her thin frame. She smoothed her tweed pencil skirt with her hands, gulped, and started to head towards the elevators.

What the hell am I doing? This is a stupid joke. And if on the off chance it isn’t a joke, someone off their rocker is waiting for somebody in the lobby elevator bank in ten minutes. If I go down there to save whoever it is, I’ll be as stupid as a victim in a horror film who opens the damn door to face an ax murderer. But… what if someone is in trouble down there? Or am I just going mental?!

Abigail Green sat back down, breathing faster now, her head spinning. Best case scenario, someone was having a chuckle at their dumb hacking prank. Worst case … either she was a raving lunatic, or someone was in trouble.

The woman closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and steadied her racing heart. You’re being foolish. Still, out of precaution, she scooped up the phone and cradled it under her left ear, fingers tapping quickly on the buttons.

“Yes, Security? This is Abigail Green, from Legal Analytics, on the 12th floor.” A pause, as a bored voice on the other end spoke.

“I … wanted to make sure there was no one else in the lobby right now.” Another pause.

“Well, I … I’m working late tonight and wanted to just … check, you know.”

Abigail stuttered the last sentence, realizing how paranoid she must sound to the night guard downstairs. Make sure no one’s in the lobby? Anyone who works here is allowed to come in at all hours. Sheesh. Maybe I am going crazy.

Shaking off her fears, Abigail dug her iPod out of her Louis Vuitton and scrolled to her favorite Taylor Swift album, hitting play. The redhead in the persimmon cardigan settled back into her boss’s office chair, shutting down her SQL session and opening Word.  Just forget about the stupid prank. A nice, boring legal consent order should help.

Twenty minutes passed. Abigail yawned, stretching her long arms upward, momentarily forgetting about the hacking hoax. Eight o’clock. I should head out before all the Ubers get taken by college kids heading out for the evening. 

Packing her defunct laptop into her Vuitton tote, the redhead locked her boss’s desktop, rose, and sauntered to the elevator. Abigail checked her iPhone on the ride down to the lobby. Nothing.

As the lift neared the lobby, a ping sounded from her phone. Abigail’s face broke into a giddy smile.  It’s him!

Typing in the password with her thumb, Abigail stared at the screen as she strode out of the elevator, a smitten grin on her face.

“Finally, you came!” said a deep voice with a dark chuckle.

Abigail Green only had a split second to look up from her boyfriend’s text message and lock eyes with the tall, stocky, olive-toned man with jet black hair standing mere inches from her face.

He smile, winked, then pounced. His gloved hand cupped her mouth, as his other burly arm wrapped around her slim frame. The man was strong. The redhead kicked vigorously and tried in vain to bite at his hand. The man’s high, short ponytail bobbed as he dragged her to the loading dock door at the far end of the lobby, past the elevator banks.

The man with a jet black ponytail released his hand from her mouth, keeping the other around her waist as he pulled a blindfold out of his pocket. Abigail quickly memorized everything she could see about the man’s face and body. Security guard uniform. He’s who I talked to. Shit! “What did you do with –“

The gloved hand stuffed a tasteless rag in her mouth, and the world around her went black as he tied the blindfold around her eyes. Cold air from the loading dock rushed against her skin, sending goosebumps up her arms. A faint whiff of stale garbage met Abigail’s nose as the muscular pony-tailed man hoisted her into a van.

“Buckle up, Red. We’re going on an adventure!”

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16 comments

  1. That was fun! The pace picked up quite a bit in the middle and I was really into it. The one thing I would say is that the descriptions might be a bit repetitive. I had a good picture in my head of what she looked like because you nailed down all the fine little details that I am bad about skipping past, but I would say to try and keep from over painting. Give the important little bits and then let the reader shade it in. It was really good though! My momma always told me not to trust a man with a ponytail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Thanks for the kind and helpful words, and just for reading! I really appreciate the feedback about over-painting. When I read your comment, I actually chuckled to myself a bit, because one of my biggest weaknesses in my first two novels (never finished or published) was not describing enough at all. In fact, one of the MS’s I took to a SFF writing workshop, and the instructor (an illustrious SFF author herself) was very adamant that I had to start describing the five senses more. She pointed out that she got ten pages into my MS without having a clear picture of what any of the characters looked like. Anyway, the critique has obviously stuck with me, because now it’s always in the forefront of my mind as I write. So I chuckled a bit when I realized that I think I’ve maybe gone a bit too far in that direction. Your feedback was definitely needed — I honestly hadn’t realized that I was over-compensating too much as far as over-painting. After your feedback, I reread the chapter and agree completely.

      And haha the sinister man with the ponytail — in my head he is played by Jason Momoa! I wouldn’t trust him either! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Jonathan above–to much character description; a simple she or he or the person’s name would suffice. If you throw in just a few tidbits of info as to what a person looks like, your reader will flesh out the rest.
    Other than that . . .
    A very interesting story, and well-written. You have piqued my interest, and I’m looking forward to the next installment. Just who the hell is that man, and where is he taking Abigail? And what’s with the code?
    Can’t wait to find out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • That balance is hard to strike, not only on character descriptions, but with descriptions of surroundings as well. Then there’s balancing exposition and dialogue too. It’s a never-ending learning process.
        You have a way with words, and a gift for storytelling. Just keep on writing, and you’ll get better and better. Practice, practice, practice, like learning to play a musical instrument.
        Like you, I also welcome constructive criticism. It helps us grow as writers.

        Like

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