Monday, August 25, 2014

05: The Woman in the Workroom


Entry o5: In which Felix has an unexpected – and unwanted – guest.


                Felix was exhausted by the time he slouched into his workroom that night. He and Cor had torn apart the temperature regulation system only to put it all back together again like Humpy Dumpty's space-age cousin in less than two hours so people wouldn't be sweating in their sleep.
                "A galactic record that will last for years." Felix thought as he keyed open the discolored door to his private space.
                He was so worn out from their marathon assembly line that when the door clunked opened and he saw a gorgeous woman leaning against his work table, he thought for sure he was seeing things.
                Felix squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed at them before opening them for a second look. But she was still there.
                "Uh, excuse me?" Felix tried to sound stern, but his voice cracked from lack of sleep making him sound like a freckle-faced teenager instead.
                He felt his face flush with embarrassment as the woman turned around. Her finely angled face held polite surprise but wasn't startled and Felix felt his mouth go dry as he got a good look at his guest.
                She was stunning to say the least, with violet painted lips and high cheekbones dusted with iridescent powder that caught what little light there was and scattered it up into her luminous eyes. She was tall and well-built – probably average for her species, but she still made Felix feel childishly small – and wore a slinky evening dress that highlighted her feminine form and left little doubt to what she looked like without it even though it followed the captain's old laws of propriety.
                Dimly Felix recognized her as one of the passengers from the mess hall that morning. The dress showed she had just come from dinner with the captain, so she was a special guest at that. The dark sea-green head spines that faintly resembled smooth dreadlocks and the lavender skin marked her as a native of Moralora, a rocky planet in the Hebreda system. Neither explained why she was standing in Felix's workroom rifling through his stuff.
                "Can I help you with something?" Felix tried to sound polite. It was a little difficult now that he was overly aware of the way his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
                The Moraloran woman watched him for a moment, pinning him in place with half-lidded eyes the color of spice. Then she smiled at him.
                "That depends," she answered in a smooth voice that had the hairs on the back of Felix's neck raising on end, "are you Felix Cauldwell?"
                Felix really wished he wasn't.
                Unable to speak, and unable to lie, Felix slowly nodded as he swallowed down the rock in his throat and tried not to look as sweaty as he was starting to feel. Despite this being his room and his work, he had the gnawing feeling in his stomach that he was the one intruding.
                The woman's violet lips twitched up at one corner and Felix got the feeling she was enjoying his discomfort immensely.
                "I am sorry to intrude," she gestured at the room with a liquid motion and took a leisurely step forward that sent Felix a slightly panicked step back, "but Captain Torrik said I might find you here. I am afraid there is something wrong with the temperature controls in my quarters. The captain said you were the man to fix it."
                She had continued to advance as she spoke, sending Felix back step by step until his back finally met the bulkhead with a thump, forcing him to a stop.
                The woman kept coming, smiling so that a glint of over white teeth showed past her lips. Felix felt like a mouse cornered by a cat that had already eaten; she wasn't hungry, but the temptation to play with him was simply too much to resist.
                It finally occurred to him that she was waiting for an answer.
                "I'm, uh, I'm sorry about that Miss, erm..."
                The woman shifted her weight and crossed her arms just under her chest, making the blue-green fabric of her dress stretch and crease in various places. "I am afraid my native tongue was not meant for human throats." She told him. "However many of my associates call me Kla. You may do so too if you wish."
                Felix jerked his head in a quick nod. "Miss Kla then. We had some trouble with the temperature along the starboard side earlier today, but we managed to get it working about an hour ago. Everything should be running just fine now. Sorry for the inconvenience."
                He added that last part as a dim memory struck. Store clerks used to say that to his mother when they didn't have what she wanted and he said it now in the hopes that Kla would take the hint and leave. But she didn't seem too inclined to do that.
                Kla eyed him a moment longer with her gold ringed eyes. She had no pupils, just reddish brown irises surrounded by a bright amber outer ring. Looking into those twin rings made Felix feel like he was under a microscope. It didn't help that he knew Kla was scrutinizing his every facial twitch.
                She finally turned and stepped away, hands now clasped genteelly at the small of her back. Felix heaved a deep breath, cheeks puffing out in undisguised relief. He hadn't been able to breathe with her watching him so relentlessly.
                Relief only went so far though as Felix realized she wasn't heading towards the door, but instead was wandering around his workroom with slow, unhurried steps.
                "This is all quite fascinating." Kla said in her low, smooth voice. "Just what is it you are trying to create that you feel you must sequester its existence in a ship like this?"
                Felix frowned. What did she mean 'a ship like this'? Did she have any idea how much time and sweat he'd put into the old girl? Sure the Helix wasn't the classiest bird with an engine block – Felix had seen antique cars back home with better exteriors – and she needed a new coat of paint to be sure, but there was still more to a ship than curves and paint.
                "I'm not hiding anything down here." Felix protested, his annoyance keeping back the nervous stutter. "I just like the silence is all."
                Kla glanced up from where she'd been admiring some of his earlier designs. A small smile made her mouth slant up. "I did not accuse you of hiding anything Mr. Cauldwell."
                Felix got the impression she thought she had trapped him somehow. "No," he said, "you said sequester, but it's the same thing."
                Kla moved around the corner of his table, putting it between the two of them as she picked up his current prototype and held the rough metal sphere in both hands. "Hiding is to keep out of sight. Sequestering is to keep something precious solely for yourself. Neither option is acceptable concerning technology such as this." She told him.
                Felix frowned at her in suspicion, something in his gut not liking this woman or where she kept trying to steer the conversation. Quickly he changed the subject. "You speak English very well.  I can barely make out an accent." He told him.
                Kla shot him another smile that hinted at white teeth, seeing the compliment for what it was but going along with the change in conversation anyway. "How very gracious of you Mr. Cauldwell," she thanked him as she slid a finger down the surface of his worktable, barely rustling the thick layer of papers there. "I was fortunate to have a very generous benefactor growing up. He paid for a very fine education. Perhaps you have heard of him? A Caladry O'Dowell? I believe he hails from your corner of the galaxy." She said as if this name meant nothing to lots of people and it was no big deal if it meant nothing to Felix either.
                Felix just about felt his heart stop. "Caladry O'Dowell?"He sputtered. "Of Dowell and Skein Industries? That Caladry O'Dowell?"
                Kla's finely etched eyebrows rose in seeming surprise. "Ah," she said with a smile, "so you do know of him."
                Felix huffed a disbelieving laugh. "Yeah, I'll say." He mumbled. D&S Industries was perhaps the largest company ever created from a back room and a dream. It sold products on hundreds of systems – thousands of worlds – and created everything from boxed lunches to space drives. O'Dowell and his late partner Donald Skein had started off making microchips for the technology market, but had moved on to span practically every business created by man, and a few that hadn't.
                Dismally, Felix wondered what kind of genius this Kla woman was to have caught O'Dowell's personal interest. "She probably understands what I'm trying to do better than I do. And if she works with him personally, it could only be a matter of hours before he knows about my research."
                Out of the many companies Felix suspected of working on near-instantaneous travel like him, D&S was one of the few he knew must be. They just had too many fingers in too many pies not to.
                Felix fidgeted where he still stood against the wall. He needed to get this woman out of here, now, before she had enough time to really get her mind around his complex, if not unfinished, work.
                Before he could politely ask her to get the heck out, Kla spoke up. "These designs are quite intricate." She murmured, her strangely colored eyes drinking down one of his more modern blueprints. "I appreciate how you've eliminated the need for coolant by housing it in a zero atmosphere environment." She frowned, seeing the problem with that design almost instantly. "Although the material needed to ensure your machine did not crumple in the void would make it too heavy for the smaller ships such as this to carry."
                Felix's mouth turned down at the corner. "Yeah, I know." He said, but offered nothing more on the subject.
                Even knowing he wanted her gone, Kla took her time looking over the flawed design. Felix hoped her memory was lousy. He was sure he could still make that design work, especially for the larger transport ships that had enough heft to carry the weighty device. Of course he could always sue if D&S Industries started mass producing his device, but like all big businesses they had a crack team of lawyers and Felix couldn't even afford a court appointed defense.
                "Mr. O'Dowell recently hired a man with a similar concept," Kla said as she finally set aside his blueprints and, thankfully, turned away from the table to face Felix once more. "His designs are not as sophisticated as yours," she said with a shrug that said she had expected more from the recent hire, "however Mr. Redford's reputation speaks volumes of what he can be capable of if he puts his mind to it."
                Felix's mood soured even more. "Redford?" He asked coolly. "You mean Davis Redford, right?"
                Kla shrugged one shoulder and tilted her head to the side looking unimpressed. "Is there any other?"
                Felix's mouth thinned. "No," he grumbled, "I guess not."
                Kla saw his sour face and chuckled. "I take it you've met the man."
                Felix made a grating sound in the back of his throat, for the first time appreciating the understanding in Kla's tone. "Once." He told her. "Years ago."
                She rose that versatile eyebrow again. "And your impression of the man?"
                Felix snorted. "He's a raging, narcissistic, buckethead."
                Both of her eyebrows rose now. At first Felix thought it was at his undiluted aversion to Redford, but when she stared to laugh he realized that hadn't been it.
                "What a charming description, buckethead." She chuckled again. "And one that seems to fit him so well."
                Felix felt a small grin try and sneak up on his face, but he quickly hid it. No need to encourage her, he thought.
                Kla needed not encouragement. "You have a gifted mind, Mr. Cauldwell," she told him as she looked around his workroom again, "one I know Mr. O'Dowell would greatly appreciate. What would you think of coming to work for Dowell and Stein Industries?"
                Felix's eyes widened at the question. "W-who me?!" He squawked, pointing at his chest with a disbelieving finger.
                Kla grinned at him again, making Felix want to squirm. "Who else?"
                Felix mentally backpedaled. "I'm-I'm nothing special." He tried. It was the first thing he could think of.
                Kla waved an arm to take in his workroom, crammed full of the designs she so admired. "Your work begs to differ."
                All the suspicion and anxiety Felix had felt when he first found Kla rummaging through his stuff came back in full. "Look," he tried, just managing to hold back his nervous stutter, "I'm not sure what you think you've found here Miss Kla, but this is all just an idea I had." He told her, holding his hands out in front of him as if that could ward her off. "Something I've just been toying around with for awhile now. I'm nothing Mr. O'Dowell would be interested in."
                Kla smiled, but there was little amusement in the gesture. Instead she looked...nonplussed to Felix, as if she had expected him to say nothing less. "Mr. O'Dowell is always interested in people with ideas." She shrugged, greenish-blue folds of her dress shimmering with the movement. "But what can I say? If you insist on staying here..." She let the sentence hang with a melodramatic sigh.
                Felix dared to relax just the slightest bit, and then stiffened up again when Kla added a smooth, "However-"
                She approached him again, standing so close that he could feel her higher body heat through the simple fabric of her dress. Felix froze, monstrously uncomfortable, as she pulled a business card out of the folds of her dress.
                "My personal frequency is on the back," she told him, "feel free to use it if you decide to stop..." she cast an eye about the room, "'playing around' and join us. I think you'd find the perks worth sticking around for." She murmured.
                Felix sure hoped she meant the equipment. Women like Kla scared him. He always felt like they were about to eat him alive. Kind of like Susie Michaels from high school...
                Aware of his discomfort, and fully enjoying it, Kla smiled at him one last time before finally leaving the room with even steps. Felix listened as her heels echoed down the hallway, becoming harder and harder to hear until they finally disappeared altogether.
                He let go of the breath he'd been holding in, muscles relaxing into water as he slid down the bulkhead to the floor.
                "Well scrap," he thought to himself in a anxious haze, "that was a nightmare and a half."He stared at the card Kla had given him and felt his face turn red as he realized it was warm from being kept so close to her body.
                "Glad Tori wasn't here." He thought, ears tingling with embarrassment.
                The card itself was plain white with the D&S logo in the corner and had simple black lettering printed front and center spelling out a Moraloran name that would have dislocated Felix's jaw if he'd tried to wrap his mouth around it.
                "'Personal Assistant to Mr. O'Dowell and Director of Acquisitions." He read off of the front of the card. He frowned at the words another moment, but they offered up nothing new.
                "Never did understand business titles," Felix muttered to himself as he turned the card over. The number of Kla's personal communications line was written there in neat, slanted handwriting, just like she'd said, along with a little note that read Call me anytime.
                Felix snorted at the note and flicked the card away to land on the floor, where he didn't care. The bots that kept the floors clean would toss it out with the trash when they came through again.
                "Not in a million years." He muttered before climbing to his feet with a grunt and getting back to work.



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1 comment:

  1. LML
    Hi again!
    Oh, I am enjoying this so far!
    I am really liking the concept and the world that you've created. Your characters are great so far too.
    Cor is a fun character, I am really enjoying him. You know, when I first saw his name I immediately thought of Prince Cor from the Horse and His Boy (which is my favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia).
    I can't wait to see more of Tori. I am already starting to get a soft spot for her.
    Felix is quite intriguing, and more than a little entertaining. A solid main character, in my opinion. So far, half of the time I find him amusing and the other half I want to whack him in the head. Looking forward to learning more about him.
    Thanks for the story!
    God bless you.

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