This story is written to an alternate future where multinational corporations have supplanted every existing national government. Bio warfare is not uncommon and corporate lines of succession are closely guarded. Some of the great old families such as Kellogg, Corning, Skoda, Sukhoi, Tupolev, Bertelsmann, Mitsubishi and Sony rule the larger, more stable corporate clans.
The world population had slowly climbed back up to nearly a quarter billion. The flash plagues wiped out so many people that the government infrastructures of the world collapsed. That left a power vacuum for the corporations that still had any structure to speak of to come into control.
-= The Pickup =-
March 4, 2127 at a private school near Grenoble, France. Three double-load tractor-trailers had parked quite near the campus the evening before. at 2:00 AM all three HERF guns detonated, throwing all local electronic systems into disarray with a rolling sound of thunder. Within minutes four squads of Skoda interdiction troops scaled the walls of the now silent and electronically undefended school. The Skoda troops had working night vision equipment. The staff did not. The sky was heavily overcast. The sound of mini guns firing interrupted the night and the bitter smell of cordite drifted over the residence halls. All the students wondered if it signaled an assassination squad sent for them. The complex was quickly overrun and locked down before any denial weapons could be detonated.
It wasn't so much as a school as a multi-corporate hostage site. Before Skoda could pursue a corporate takeover the heirs had to be secured.
Anthony (Andrei) Skoda sat on the floor of his sleeping quarters, watching through bleak eyes as his door crashed open and four black-clad troopers rushed in to secure the room. The Sergeant motioned for him to quickly move out the door. It appeared that it wasn't his day to die.
None of the other hostages were touched. Injuring or killing the other heirs was the most certain way to force the other corporations join together in destroying Skoda root, stalk and branch. None would survive.
Tony was quickly strapped into a recovery stretcher and nearly thrown over the compound wall. The teams, once over the wall, blew the charges on the underground data conduits to further isolate the school and delay reports of the attack. Three troop transports had pulled up while they were inside the fence. Within moments all that was left of the incursion were tire tracks.
A transport jet met them at the local airport. One team accompanied the heir aboard along with all the obviously high-tech equipment while the other two teams scattered. They would go to ground for five weeks or so, then make their way back to their bases. Their part was over.
-= The Drop Off =-
March 7, 2127 Vella Lavella Island, Solomon Islands. The island had long been deserted since the plagues had scoured away the population. The fields lay untended yet still were covered with their last seeded crops. The fallen seeds had germinated and grown, year after year.
There was only one occupied installation on the island--a hospital and sanitarium whose task was to tend one important guest--Isabelle Bergman, a potential heiress from a distaff line, closely guarded like a precious trade secret recipe or a cache of jewels, to be brought forth and exhibited as proof of solvency in case tragedy struck the main family line. She was kept as a near-imbecile by use of regularly dispensed medications; a blonde-haired little sylph of a teen doomed to a life of eternal childhood.
Anthony was informed of all this and more. He was alarmed at what the family had planned for him. However he was well aware that his continued existence depended on his compliance with orders. Mindful of what was in store for him he carefully inventoried the supplies aboard the jet.
The time of the jet's visit had been carefully calculated to match the hospital resupply shipment and to hide from satellite observation. Immediately after landing the squad burst from the drop tail and secured the landing field, leaving Anthony along with two guards aboard the jet with the pilots. As the heir, Anthony could not be risked even though he had been trained with the teams. All the airport staff and the maintenance team sent to pick up the shipment were secured aboard the jet. There was no sense in murdering them. After all, if plans went well they'd all soon be working for the same paymaster.
Within hours the facility staff and management were taken, the drugs being dispensed to Isabelle were identified in confirmation and the jet was unloaded. The jet took off with the team while still unseen by satellite coverage, flying south west to merge with the traffic over Australia. Anthony was left alone with his charge. He'd been left some soporifics and tranquilizers for Isabelle to ease the panic attacks that coming off her long term medications would cause. His first task was to gain her confidence as he'd be her friend, nurse and teacher in the months ahead. He'd been left several cases of textbooks with which to educate the girl and to continue his own education, so rudely interrupted by his own abduction.
The long halls of the hospital had been mothballed and sealed for years. Only the emergency facilities and a small ward for Isabelle were kept active. Anthony was made aware that the illumination patterns should not be varied so that comparison satellite imagery would not detect any changes. Under these constraints he was still able to move into the staff housing wing, replacing the site manager's possessions with his own. He inventoried the somewhat dismal kitchen stores and began to write up some menus that could be prepared from what was on hand.
The site ran off of a diesel generator. A fuel tank lay buried beneath the garage where a small truck sat waiting for the needs of the staff. Being near the equator Anthony hoped that some old orchards and gardens around the island would provide windfalls to vary his diet. He'd have to be careful to ration his time, however. He would be taking on the tasks of at least four people. His primary concern was the girl. He had to be prominent in her sensorium to make an impact through the filters put in place by her drug regimen. The first week or two would be critical. Before that he could not vary her routine without confusing her. After the detox period he could take her with him around the island as he inspected and harvested the crops. The changing environment should benefit her recovery.
-= The Substitution =-
March 8, 2127 At promptly seven A.M. she woke up, went to the bathroom and got dressed. She sat at the table waiting for her breakfast, noticeably bored. A different person brought her the bananna, oatmeal and milk that made up her standard fare.
"Hi! You're new!" "Hi, yourself. I'll be your new nurse. George had to go home to take care of his mother."
"Oh. Okay." Her attention span had been dramatically affected by the drugs. She quickly ate her breakfast, then went out to the sun room where her picture books sat. She wheedled, "Would you read me a story?" Anthony had read her case notes. She often tried to convince her nurse to read for her. He thought it an ideal way to acclimate her to him. "Well, okay. Which one?"
She gaily hopped up to pull down a tattered Dr. Seuss book. They spent the next hour in the bright morning sunshine exploring the deeds of the magical cat. Isabelle liked this new nurse--he didn't mind holding her in his lap while reading to her. Her old nurse didn't like to touch her. She wistfully remembered hugs. She missed getting hugs.
"Time for the pool!" "Yay! play time!" "Will you change into your suit for me?" "Okay!" She promptly peeled down to her birthday suit, then padded back into her room to find her swimsuit. He watched her jog away, her flanks and bottom switching. "This is going to be a harder job than I thought." Anthony quickly made for the bathroom where he changed into swim shorts himself. He picked up his charge and jogged outside where he jumped into the swimming pool with her in his arms. Her squeals of joy and laughter echoed off the walls. They splashed about and played catch across the pool with a big inflatable ball. Soon she lost her enthusiasm. Anthony sprayed her with some sun screen and left her to doze in the sun while he jogged back to the kitchen for the sandwiches he'd prepared that morning for lunch. He'd been up at five to exercise, clean the pool and prepare the day's meals. A chicken stew was slowly simmering in a crock pot. It would be ready for the biscuit topping by four that afternoon.
After apple juice and a ham sandwich it was lesson time. The poor kid had been doing the same six lessons for two years and didn't know it. However, he knew not to change the status quo until the chemicals had a chance to work their way out of her system.
They finished the day with another viewing of Beauty and the Beast from a DVD, then he read a little Peter Pan to her as she fell asleep. This nursing bit was hard work! Anthony picked up her clothes, took the dishes back to the kitchen, cleaned the place and, after a quick shower, went down for the night himself.
The second morning she frowned on seeing him and opened her mouth to ask who he was, then seemed to change her mind. He kept a smile on his face and maintained physical contact with her as much as he could.
This was the daily regimen except for weekends which were a bit more relaxed and he had a chance to clean the place and get the washing done. He frequently blessed his stars that he'd always been pulled towards cooking. Thankfully some of the house cooks had taken to the curious little boy he'd been.
.... There is more of this story ...