Nadia, a story by Miquel Morales.
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“You did great today, Nadia.” Ziza seemed quite enthusiastic. Perhaps too much.
“I guess? I just hope this goes through. Could really use the commission this month,” said Nadia as she entered the elevator. A few weeks ago, she had timed how long it took for the lift to reach the ground floor. Fifty-eight floors in barely thirty seconds. Now that was fast.
In the streets, the morning fog had turned into evening fog. Waves of commuters struggled against the tide to find their way home. Nadia avoided the constant stream of electric scooters and made her way down the street and into the subway station. As always, the train car was packed. Nadia tried to maintain the balance without touching anything or anyone. It was like surfing, but cheaper. As programmed, Ziza went on to cover the news of the day. Apparently two members of the same family won the Mars shuttle lottery. What were the odds?
“Incoming message,” said Ziza halfway through the report.
It was a message from Tom. Short and sweet, as he liked to say – Get some sleep. We start first thing tomorrow.
Nadia was ecstatic. She decided to stop by the bakery right beneath her apartment and get a big box of pastries to bring with her to the office the next day. She fought the urge to grab one of them as during the way up. They were freshly baked, and the warmth of the box felt nice on her cold hands.
But as she reached the top of the stairs, Nadia saw that the door to her apartment was half open. She rushed down the hall, expecting to find everything upside down like it happened when burglars entered her parents’ house last year. To her surprise, everything was exactly like she had left it that morning. Well, everything but a small envelope that was resting in the middle of the living room floor.
Nadia opened it and found an old thumb drive. She remembered her Computer History teacher telling them about these early 21st-century storage devices. To think that people would carry those around all the time… And only for a few GBs worth of storage.
Intrigued, Nadia closed the apartment’s door and examined the drive. Maurice at the office was good at these things. He had all sorts of gadgets and spare parts, but Nadia couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Should she call the police? Nah. Nothing got stolen, and it was not worth all that time and paperwork. Wait…
She took the old laptop that her dad had given her to decorate her new flat. It had belonged to her grandfather, apparently. It took her a while, but she finally managed to detach one of the laptop’s USB ports and connect it to her home computer. She inserted the thumb drive. With a sudden bang, a power surge left the room in the dark. Of course.
“Ziza, status report. What happened?”
“Hello, Nadia.” But to her surprise, it wasn’t Ziza’s voice. It was that of a young woman.
“Who… who are you?”
“You can call me EVE.”
Nadia took a long sip of coffee and let her gaze go from one person to the other around the conference table. A strange bunch. Even in their formal business attires, she could tell how different they were from one another. Two men and two women, their ages ranging from the early thirties to the mid-fifties. She tried to come up with a background story for each one of them as Tom from sales walked them through the proposal. Raindrops kept hitting the glass wall behind them. It was an unusually foggy autumn day. Nadia could barely see the building across the street.
“I keep telling you: there’s something weird about this guy. It’s as if… Hey – Nadia. For real?” Tom’s hand was suddenly going up and down in front of her face.
Nadia came back to her surroundings and tried to recall anything of her colleague’s speech. Not a chance. She swallowed the rice in her mouth and smiled at Tom. He was sitting on the opposite side of the cafeteria table. His bald head and shaven face contrasted with the overly sized red glasses he was wearing. He had a different colour for every day of the week. Or so Nadia liked to think.
“Never mind, don’t bother.”
“Look, Tom. I’m sorry. I know I’ve been a bit off these past few days,” said Nadia. The dining hall was rather empty that day. Perhaps one of the office floors was having a birthday celebration or something. Hmmm — pizza.
“Seriously, it was nothing,” said Tom. “But Nadia; I’m a little worried about you. Ever since we signed on RayStar you have been acting all down and so not like you. I thought that this is what you wanted, to work on a big account, you know – have an impact.”
“By quietly shielding a major corporation from dozens of cyberattacks every day? Yeah, right. Big game changer over here. Hey, I’m going to save the world!” Nadia had raised her voice and was now speaking to the whole room, her arms held high above her in a gesture of victory.
A few heads turned, shook in disbelief and then went back to their plates. Tom sighed and got up.
“Play tough if you want. Sarcasm won’t hide whatever is wrong. Especially not from you.” Tom reached for the interior pocket of his bright blue blazer and took out a black plastic card. “There’s this place in Shoreditch. A friend of Hao is throwing a party there tomorrow night. Drop by, would you? You could use a break. Use this to get in.”
Tom left the card on the table and walked off, adjusting his glasses with the index finger. Ugh. That had been hard. She loved Tom. He and his boyfriend were just so nice to her. When was the last time she had seen Hao anyway? Nadia picked up the card and flipped it. There were some words carved into the plastic: The Blue Dragon. 4 Chance St, Shoreditch, London.
“Let me guess; I am not allowed to go,” said Nadia to the silent partner in her ear.
“I did not say that,” responded the female voice. Nadia felt the frustration mounting up and took a long, deep breath.
“So, I can barely talk to anyone, but I’m allowed to go to a party?”
“Even I have feelings, Nadia,” said EVE laughing. “You have been so good these past weeks. Plus, we don’t want them to get suspicious. I sensed distress in your friend’s voice. Well-intended, nosey people can cause a lot of problems.”
“Well, aren’t you nice?” Nadia did nothing to disguise her disdain. She didn’t even know who she was talking to — an AI or a real person. Nadia grabbed her bag and started making her way back to the holovisor room.
“Oh, and Nadia. Don’t say anything you might regret at the party. We wouldn’t want your sister to get hurt, would we?”
A chill went down Nadia’s spine as she rested her chin on the biometric scan that guarded the RayStar project holovisors. The doors opened with a soft beep. Nadia walked in.
To be continued…
Read the next chapter: Nadia – Chapter III
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