Flash: Against the Sky

Photo by Hassan Sherif on Unsplash

Rufus Orion Zerafshan showed up on time the day after Skyfall went black. As a middle manager in the recruitment and training department for Vella Utilities, his job wasn’t essential to the emergency but his particular job hadn’t been exempted from the blanket order of everyone report. He figured a day of shuffling paper in a heated office wouldn’t be a bad way to celebrate the success of his rebel cell group while everyone else ran around trying to get the power back on that they had taken down.

He had pulled it off. Nearly five years work to create the network needed. The big break happened sixteen months ago when the Home-at-Last terrorist attack showed the weakness in the grid. Then grooming and recruiting Taurus and Virga took another five months. With them in hand, the rest had fallen like dominoes.

Now he had proven himself. Make an impact, Scorpio had ordered. Have the city feel the grip of terror. Mission accomplished. Promotion within the organization should follow. Establishing a group raised him out of the general pool to middle management. Maybe next he could get an office with a window.

Rufus pressed the sensor under his name, smiling again at having his name with a permanent desk, and the door to his office slid open. “Scorp—” he cut himself off.

The man sitting at his desk said, “Close the door.”

Rufus slapped the inside sensor, then set it to private. “Is it…” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “safe for you to be here?”

Scorpio sat forward, his black Vella security uniform collar displaying two pips of a low-level patrolman. “Today no one is asking any questions of where security can and cannot be, thanks to you.” He gestured to the singular chair Rufus had in front of his desk for supplicants wanting to be hired into utilities.

The plastic molded seat had no comfort to its form deliberately, but Rufus sat quickly.

“No one will hear anything.” Scorpio touched a small box in the center of the desk. “Report.”

“Sir, it went off exactly as planned. What I submitted on Second-Day is exactly what happened.”

“I believe I told you to back off the Avery, compromising only one of their substations.”

“I’m sorry sir, but Taurus had infiltrated them first. Those devices have been in place since the summer, and the cell would have questioned if I told them not to attack Avery. The only way Vella remained untouched is by me lying about improvements being made to our internal security systems.”

Scorpio leaned back. “I didn’t realize the devices had been in place so long. You hadn’t indicated that. Weren’t you worried about them being found?”

“Virga is an artist, no one would suspect anything. And, sir, you did say to keep my reports to a bare minimum.” Rufus rocked back and forth to keep his butt from numbing. “Cell security. ‘You are an essential ingredient in our ongoing effort to reduce Security Risk.’ – Kirsten Manthrone. You said, the less people know the better.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?” Scorpio squeezed his fist tight enough the mysu-leather crackled. “Well, you did amazingly well and we will need to throw a couple of sacrifices to the Christians newsies before the hunt gets too deep. Where are Virga and Taurus and how soon can you arrange another meeting?”

Rufus jerked, a light flush rising against his skin. “Sir, I followed the plan. If successful, I dissolved the cell.”

“But you still have a way to get in contact with them?” Scorpio leaned forward. “Don’t you?”

“I mean, I still have Virga’s contact information somewhere in the … no, she helped me delete all connections between me and the others.” The ex-cell leader shook his head. “I think I remember where she lives, maybe. Somewhere in the New Hope Projects. She had scored exceptional during the vo-tech testing in third grade and became a gifted-potential.”

“And Taurus?”

“Leo hired him to move something and suggested I tap him for delivery connections.” Wiggling in the steadily more uncomfortable chair he had plucked out from the catalog for just this feeling, but never thinking he would be one in the seat, Rufus continued, “He was a dayworker for the Greens organic foods. I never learned where he lived. Perfect for cell security.”

“How about their names?”

“Virga and Taurus.”

Scorpio scoffed. “No, their real names.”

“I don’t remember.”

The security’s officer fist pounded the table, making everything on it jump. “You’ve been working with them for a year, and you don’t know their real names?”

“No sir, cell security.” Rufus leaned forward. “You said to keep everything as isolated as possible and I did. I did everything you told me to. No names, not ever.” Rufus actually knew both their names, where they lived, and their family connections, but rules were rules and Scorpio didn’t need to know he could reassemble the cell if he needed to. Because if he betrayed his people, Scorpio would think he would also be willing to betray him and Rufus didn’t think he would survive that. Better to appear to be an idiot that follows the procedures than a potential leak.

“Fuck.” Scorpio stood, circling the desk.

Rufus rose to meet him. The office barely had space for two men standing.

Gripping the rebel by the shoulder, the security officer asked, “You sure? The dogs are yelping for blood and tossing them some bones could save a lot of trouble.”

“Sir, I’m loyal. I do what I’m told.” Rufus looked as earnest as possible. “I did everything asked. We did a great work. ‘Individuals do not create rebellions; conditions do.’ – H. Rap Brown. These are the perfect conditions. The FirstLanders have to listen to our needs.”

“A rebel to the end.” Scorpio frowned. “We really could use more like you in this world Rufus.”

The manager stood a little taller under the grip of the other. “Thank you sir.”

“Too bad you died resisting arrest.”

A blast blew through Rufus’ belly and traveled part-way into the next office. The Vella security officer sent a second blast through the other man’s head, destroying the brain casing to keep any Pisces psychics from looking for evidence where they shouldn’t.

(words 1,045; first published 1/7/2024)

When the Stars Align series

  1. When the Stars Align (12/24/2023)
  2. Against the Sky (1/7/2024)

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