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Excerpt for The Things We Do by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

the Things we do

Published by Stephanie Haggarty at Smashwords

Copyright 2019 Stephanie Haggarty



Smashwords Edition, License Notes



This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



Table of Contents

Prologue:

Chapter One:

Chapter Two:

Chapter Three:

Chapter Four:

Chapter Five:

Chapter Six:

Chapter Seven:

Chapter Eight:

Chapter Nine:

Chapter Ten:

Chapter Eleven:

Chapter Twelve:

Chapter Thirteen:

Chapter Fourteen:

Chapter Fifteen:

Chapter Sixteen:

Chapter Seventeen:

Chapter Eighteen:

Chapter Nineteen:

Epilogue:

About the Author:









Prologue


The Texta Four, a small transport spaceship, rested on an open grassy field adjacent to a series of opulent houses. One house, whose wide back door steps descended gracefully down and seemingly melted into the ground, was just feet from the ship. These grand houses had so far been left untouched by the civil war, but at the current rate of hostilities, it may not survive the year.

A small child with wavy blonde hair, nearing four years, looked about her. Something wasn’t right, but she didn’t know what. She recognised the people around her, but they were acting differently. Nervous, afraid, silent. The woman who was holding her hand squeezed too hard. She looked up to Nanna Lou, her brown hair was streaked with just enough grey to show her age. The fifty something-year-old was staring attentively at the small ship.

Shielding her eyes from the setting sun, the child asked, ‘Where we going?’

Nanna Lou looked down. Her very freckled face was hard. Sharp cheekbones, square jaw, with prominent wrinkles on her forehead. She knelt and said,

‘We’re running away from the monsters Isla.’ Then after a pause said, ‘You’ll be safe with me.’ She stood back up and turned to a woman, younger by fifteen years.

‘Mama,’ Isla reached out with her free hand.

‘You have to go with Nanna Lou now. She’ll be looking after you until you get to your father.’ This woman had a round face and her features were soft from a lifetime of comfort.

‘So, you’re not coming then?’ Nanna Lou ask.

‘No, it’ll just take up a seat meant for another child.’ She placed her hand on her belly. Isla was going to have a baby brother in a few months. ‘Take good care of her.’

Nanna Lou nodded. A child in the crowd started crying. Isla looked around to see who it was, but the bodies of adults and other children blocked her. Then people started to move.

‘Time to go Isla,’ the child’s mother kissed her on the hand. ‘Be good and listen to Lou. She’ll protect you. I’ll be right behind you on the next ship.’

Isla began moving with the crowd, there was a sense of urgency. She looked back and saw that her mother was waving goodbye. Isla waved out of habit. Though she was too young to fully grasp what was going on, she knew that she was going up into space. Then she was inside the small ship, though it was quite large to her. People began to thin out as they made their way along the corridor and off into side rooms.

‘Sit here,’ Lou commanded as they came to a series of seats in a quieter part of the ship. Isla sat and waited with arms raised to be strapped in, but that didn’t happen. She watched as Lou looked around her and then took off her backpack, placing it on the seat beside her. Isla saw her yellow plush toy be taken out and she reached out to receive it.

‘This isn’t for you anymore.’ Lou’s tone was surprisingly harsh as she placed the toy under the chair. She then sat next to the girl. Lou was breathing heavily and as she gripped the hand rests, her veins bulged.

‘Don’t worry Nanna. Those monsters aren’t going to get us here. You said they can’t follow us in space.’

Nanna Lou coughed out a laugh. They jerked in their seats as the ship rose off the ground and after some turbulence, everything became calm. The girl watched Nanna Lou crawl at the armrest and the beads of sweat get bigger. Then she turned and said, ‘Come on time to go.’

Grabbing Isla’s hand and tugging her off her seat, she guided her along the brown wooden panelled corridor heading back towards the entrance. The conversations of the other people mixed into one another. Nanna Lou stopped at a door. The girl looked at the large red letters.

‘What do they say?’ she said looking up at Lou, who now had beads of sweat on her face. She didn’t say anything as she pulled down a lever. The door popped open and a voice over the radio sounded. ‘Emergency door four has been opened.’

‘Get inside,’ Nanna Lou said as she pushed Isla forward, almost knocking her over. The woman followed and closed the door behind them. There was banging behind her and Isla saw Lou looking at two angry men’s faces from the door window. Lou pulled down another lever and after a jolt turned away from them. ‘Buckle yourself in,’ she commanded.

Isla sat on a chair and found that she could do what Nanna Lou wanted. She looked up at saw that there were now more people. They looked so angry, so scary. They must be the monsters trying to hurt her, but Lou was going to save her. They continued to pound on the glass, but she couldn’t hear their thumps anymore. And their faces grew smaller, eventually, she could the ship was surrounded by black.

She turned to look at Lou who was now seated in the pilot’s chair. It looked like they were skirting along the edge of the planet with no destination in mind.

‘Where are we going?’ There was a period of silence before Lou turned around. ‘We’re running away from those monsters Isla.’ She stood up and handed the girl a small rectangular object that had a rounded end. ‘Press it and see what happens.’

The girl pressed a button on the end of it. ‘It isn’t doing anything.’

‘I guess it’s a dud,’ but Lou’s eyes wandered over to the small window. In the distance, a small blip of light ignited on the edge of the mesosphere layer. The Texta Four was no more. Then she returned her gaze to the front and moved the steering wheel left. They turned back towards the planet. The girl saw bare, grey mountains approaching.


Chapter One


The image on the screen was of a small spaceship rocketing down through some clouds, a thick trail of black smoke followed in its wake. It was the sole focus of the news report. The image of the ship was zoomed in on and once pixilation occurred it zoomed out. The image had been captured on a personal video camera from someone on the ground.

‘This is the only visual record we have the of Texta Four’s destruction.’ The female voiceover was serious. A banner at the bottom of the screen had the slow-moving phrases of Anniversary of the Vauban Disaster and Anniversary of the Texta Four Incident.

The image was replaced with a picturesque scene of a lush green leafy crop, but the centre held a burnt out and smouldering crater, the final resting place of the remains of the ship. ‘The only wreckage found was a few chunks that had fallen off prior to its crash. Presumed to be brought down by a suicide bomber the impact and subsequent incineration meant that very few remains of both the ship and its passengers were recovered.’ Another image, this time of the field in the present day saw that it was for the most part still active farmland. Flowers and makeshift shrines had been placed along the fence and there were people holding a remembrance ceremony.

The screen changed to a series of large, white, bulbous spaceships as they sat in space. It was an old stock image, used multiple times to show the strength of the military stationed in the Allicarus Region of space.

‘In the subsequent years following this terrorist attack, the Democratic Alliance’s retaliation, led by Captain Pan of the Vision, who has continuously received criticism at his response, especially considering his personal involvement in the situation. . . .’

Lone looked up from her metal food tray on the table and turned to face the screen. She knew this story intimately. . . and had no sympathy for the man that had been the root cause of all the problems in her life. She slumped in her chair, sliding her tray to the side and rested her head in her arms on the table.

The communal tea room was quiet, but even with her eyes closed, Lone could still see everything. The two-toned walls of dark green and grey-white, the white tiled floor that was occasionally broken up with a green one. The rectangular room was twelve meters by twenty-five and there were no windows except on the east side which gave a bland view of the opposing grey apartment building.

When she had first come to this planet she was in awe of how nice it was to simply see intact buildings. The people here were very lucky to have lockable doors, running water, electricity and most importantly no fear of the dark. Now she wondered how the residents in the buildings around them manage to keep their sanity every time they looked out their windows. Especially since it was her workplace, The Nova Vita Democratic Alliance Military Administrative Headquarters, that they constantly saw. Thankfully she and her family hadn’t been assigned to one of those apartment complexes upon their arrival.

A young man entered the cafeteria and saw Lone hunched over a table in the centre of the room. He had seen that she had been stressed from earlier. He could see that she still was and the closer he approached the sorrier he felt for her.

He sat down opposite her, she didn’t acknowledge his presence and still rested on the table looking at the news on the TV. A fork twirling in her hand. He stared at the part in her hairline. It was perplexing, was she losing hair from stress? He thought he could see more of her pale scalp. Bok knew that saying something about her appearance would prompt a response from her. ‘I didn’t know your hair was wavy.’

Lone twitched and touched her hair, still facing away from him.

‘Yeah, I’ve always straightened it because I don’t like it this way.’

‘Well, I like it natural. You should wear it more like that. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing against not having straightened hair in the regulations.’

She turned to him and he saw her sad face. Her brown eyes were streaked with red veins. Then painfully slow she sat back up and rubbed her face.

‘It’s not the end of the world,’ he said trying to cheer her up.

‘Surprise employee audit. I didn’t have time to prepare. I don’t know what to do now. They’re going to find out very soon.’

‘At least your mother is alive. You said to me at the beginning that if everything goes to hell, at least your mother won’t.’

Lone lowered her eyes in thought. ‘I did, but now it seems . . .’

Bok touched her arm, ‘It won’t be the end of the world. Only a few years maximum, right? Worth it if your mother lives another twenty.’

Jarringly Lone scratched her head. He saw the movement of the hairs and realised that black wasn’t Lone’s natural hair colour. Was it blonde? He knew of practically no one on this planet who had natural blonde hair. Why hadn’t she told him she dyed it? But he didn’t think it was the right time to comment on her looks anymore, especially with the way the conversation was going. ‘Do you have any idea on how to avoid it?’

‘I can send in a resignation letter on his behalf. Make it look like it wasn’t working out and they might let it go. I could rinse and repeat in a few months.’ People always got fired after employee audits. But in all her four almost five years here she had never been through a surprise one before. Everyone had always been given at least two weeks’ notice.

‘Did you know that I froze?’ Lone continued. ‘I just sat there in front of Kim and Mr. Perrin. All I could say that I wasn’t able to write up my report in time because I was helping look after Mum. I think they seemed to understand.’

Lone thought back only half an hour as she sat in front the old and greying advisors. Kim, who was known by her informal name, was Lone’s boss and head of Human Resources. ‘They mentioned that I was making mistakes in payslips. Three people had been in contact with them. I’m the reason why that memo that was sent out about everyone needing to check their payslips.’

Bok frowned. He had read that memo and it was odd to see it because it had been months since human resources had new staff.

‘They’re recommending that I should take some time off, a month or two.’ She pressed and rubbed her eyebrow, her light-coloured eyebrows.

‘I can help you while you’re not here.’

‘Thanks. I’ll go write up the letter and put it in. Keep an eye on things. I can’t afford to . . .’ Lone breathed deeply. Bok had never seen her so distressed before. It seemed like it had been months since he last saw her smile. Then he saw a small one.

‘Thank you.’


Chapter Two


Laying her head on a towel that had been placed over the shower’s edge, Lone listened to her sister Augustina as she applied the black hair dye. ‘So, Administrative leave. I’d never thought it would happen to you of all people. Didn’t you get one of those employee commendations?’ She looked at the hallway wall that was in view of the bathroom. The framed award was there for all to see. The once shiny metallic gold trim on the paper now looked dull.

‘Yes, which is why I think they’re being so nice about it.’

August snorted, but Lone did not react to her statement. She did, however, continued to feel bad. They had been, or still are, good employers. She let her sister massage her scalp.

‘Sooooo,’ her sister let the word drag. ‘What about Mum?’ Their small apartment was silent. Their mother was asleep, peacefully, thanks to the sleeping pills.

‘Bok is helping me. He’s going to update me with anything out of the ordinary.’

‘The young man from work you’ve brought home twice for dinner?’

‘Yes.’ Lone smiled towards the shower floor.

‘I’ve got all your roots. You can sit up now.’

Lone sat on the toilet in just her underwear, with a towel covering her upper body. The chill coming in through the frosted glass of the bathroom window was unavoidable. It was just coming into winter on Nova Vita, a winter that lasted an equivalent of seven Earth months and after a month or so of transition turned into a rather hot summer of another seven months.

Lone resisted an urge to scratch her scalp and remained quiet. Checking her phone August stated. ‘Last week’s pay is in.’ Then she looked out at the hallway. With regular payments, they could maintain their mother’s chemotherapy treatments. How did their mother even get cancer at fifty-two? It was so young by today’s standards.

None of this would be a problem if the government here had given her citizenship like they had her daughters. But a cancer patient was a drain on the precarious resources of this moon planet. It was one of a few viable colonies set up in the Allicarus Region. The centre of it was the large inhospitable planet called Allicarus and it was completely useless for anything other than a reference point. It did, however, have a few Earth-like moons that with some hard work had become a home away from home. It was also a place full of valuable minerals, so it was desirable for the long term.

The neighbouring moon they had come from was called Vauban, ill-fated due to its constant civil unrest. Vauban had been set up by the Democratic Alliance as a mining colony. In the two hundred years that followed it had flourished into a stable economy, but after the civil unrest for independence the residents had been stripped of their citizenship and lost all benefits that came with it.

It was so peculiar then, that when they arrived here, that, if they meet all the requirements, then they were going to become fully certified Democratic Alliance citizens again. Prior to the outbreak of war, Vauban had created their own independent government. But then the greater world declared it worthless and they were at risk of dying on their isolated home. It had turned out they were not as self-sufficient or well-connected as they had assumed. They, like many others, accepted the passage to the neighbouring planet of Nova Vita and became refugees. For Lone and her family, they had lasted on Vauban longer than others, but in the end, they too had fled. Now only the most hardened supporters remained.

‘Mum’s not going to die,’ August said breaking the silence, ‘Especially with all she’s been through. She’s too tough.’

Lone smiled, ‘Yes, this is not how she ends.’

Two days later Lone received a phone call from Kim.

‘How are you going?’ came her voice. Lone didn’t know what to say. Her boss seemed genuinely concerned. But considering what was happening she didn’t know how to take it.

‘What do you mean? Mum’s still sick.’

‘I was just curious as to how you’re coping. Your friend Bok said that you’ve been under more stress than we’ve been led to believe. And that you’ve been hiding most of it.’

Lone was silent. She had never received such a personal call from a superior at home. ‘I’ve had worse.’

‘I know. I’ve read your file. You came from the centre of Vauban-’

‘I’m not-, why are going through my file?’

‘I think I might give you another go at your employee report. Can you have it in by the end of the week?’

‘I, don’t. I can try.’

‘No. Hand it in personally next Friday. I will be interviewing you again. You’re getting a second chance due to your past performance.’

‘I will have it done.’ Then it was over.

Lone clutched her phone she began to cry. It might not be so bad after all. Kim had hired her fresh out of high school. She didn’t need to be told then that she was getting the chance of a lifetime to work for the HR department on Nova Vita. Most trainees were at least eighteen, but she had been sixteen. Kim had been so decent to her too. After the entrance interview, she had mentioned that she had gone through a similar experience to what Lone had come from. But from what world or planet had always remained a mystery, Lone had not pried. Rumour had it that it was from near Earth.

Breathing heavily, Lone wiped her eyes. She heard coughing coming from the bedroom. She didn’t want her mum to hear her distress. She must be strong her. Especially now that she was so weak.


Chapter Three


Lone stood in front of her workplace. The tall grey building looked just as imposing as it had been on first sight. There was no overtly large sign indicating that this was the administrative headquarters for the DA. But there was a smaller one under the overhang of the main entrance. It was also presented in Mandarin and French. The front doors were set back into the building with office spaces above it.

Lone walked out from the grey sunlight and into the dark grey of the building’s shadow. The white lettering above the doors, unable to be seen from the street were now visible. She entered the building and adjusted her green jacket. She adjusted it once again just before entering a room on the fourth floor that was no different to her communal office.

She saw Kim and Mr. Perrin standing at a simple table chatting.

‘Lone, please have a seat,’ Kim said in a welcoming voice.

Lone walked to the chair, but before sitting she handed then a plain cardboard file. ‘Here it is. I’ve also put a copy of Mum’s medical report in there for you.’ It was a quiet few minutes as they perused through the file. Finally, Kim looked up.

‘This is a significant improvement from last week.’ Lone began to relax just as she continued. ‘Another question. . . do you remember hiring a man called Gill Grahams?’

Lone was silent and she tensed up. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve hired quite a few people in the last two years. Most times I don’t have anything to do with them afterwards.’

‘Yes, we’re aware of the procedures here. Grahams has only been employed for a total of six months. You signed off on his traineeship. Your signature is at the bottom.’ Kim slid over a piece of paper that Lone hadn’t noticed until now. It was her signature.

‘Yes, that is my signature. But I’m sorry I don’t entirely remember. I have been under a lot of stress for the last year.’

‘Grahams is a rare last name on this planet.’

‘I’m aware of this planet’s Asian and French history.’ Lone stared at Kim and Mr. Perrin. She couldn’t read her their faces. ‘Can’t you simply bring him in?’

‘He never showed up for his employee audit.’

Lone’s eyebrow lifted. ‘I see.’

‘He handed his resignation letter in last week.’ Lone noticed that Kim made no comment about who approved it. Was Bok on her mind?

‘Can you not contact him from that?’

‘No, we can’t find any trace of him.’

After a pause, Lone felt her pulse increase. ‘How is that even possible?’

‘We wondered that too. It got to the point where we were trying to locate any person who had the last name Graham.’

For a fraction of a second, Lone’s face revealed little, perhaps a faint look of stress with a dash of fear. ‘With all the resources you have, it shouldn’t be too hard. He’ll show up eventually.’ Don’t mention that he got a job off world. They’ll know you wrote it. Kim’s mouth pursed. Lone was as neutral as possible, but her heart was thumping. It was only a matter of time before she began to sweat. Maybe the fact that she wasn’t showing any emotion was a giveaway. Then Mr. Perrin spoke.

‘Strangely enough, there seems to be nothing relating to a Gill Graham anywhere here in East Minor Octar. We had someone go to his apartment’s address listed on both his application and resignation letter and found that it was an abandoned building. The letter confirming his resignation was found in the letterbox.’ Lone bit the inside of her cheek. ‘His last pay entered his bank account, even though it’s now shut down.’ Lone’s eyebrow slowly rose. They’re that quick?

‘Perhaps if you let me look at his resume and resignation letter then I can tell you my opinion on the whole situation. But it sounds like he was simply a world hopper . . .’ Lone’s words trailed off as she looked up at the ceiling and saw a small black ball of a camera in the corner. She could almost see her tiny reflection warping around it. ‘Why is this interview being recorded? My last ones have not.’

The man did not lift his gaze from Lone. ‘It’s because of the circumstances that surround this person. No one seems to have any information regarding his employment here. There is no image of him in the file and we cannot get clarification from his assigned department of whether he even turned up for his first day.’

‘I see.’

‘Really? Where do you think I’m going with this?’

‘You can tell that I have not been in the most of astute mind frames lately. It seems I have made a huge mistake.’ Lone closed her eyes and when she opened them she saw a man had come in from a door behind her interviewers. He was unfamiliar in appearance, but she knew his mannerisms. Former military, but not so former, perhaps having left the service only in the last year or so. Lone’s insides tightened.

Mr. Perrin seemed to suppress his acknowledgement of the man. Kim turned her head to the person and then returned her gaze to Lone. Lone couldn’t work out what Kim’s expression was. Concern maybe?

‘Who’s he?’ Lone said looking straight at the mystery man who was now still next to the table.

‘This is Mr. Benoit, he’s a forensic accountant.’

‘Really?’ that was more of a statement than a question.

‘You think otherwise?’

‘His mannerisms are more military than anything else. I’m surprised that a level entry infantryman would be able to attain a tertiary level career. They usually enter the military because they have no other option available to them.’ A scowl appeared on Mr. Benoit’s face and Perrin was displeased. ‘Lone,’ said Kim, ‘We’re aware of your childhood. You shouldn’t have let it interfere with your current life.’

‘What?’

‘We got Mr. Benoit to follow where Graham’s income went.’ Mr. Perrin stated.

‘I don’t think it is any of my business how he spent m-, his money.’ Lone didn’t drop her gaze from the man.

‘True. If he was a real person.’

‘What are you accusing me of?’

‘Theft.’ Mr. Perrin said. Lone showed no reaction. ‘You don’t seem so surprised.’

‘I summarised that was your heading when you introduced the accountant. If I’m being arrested for theft I assume you think you have evidence. What is it?’

The man stared at her. ‘I don’t need to tell you because you know it.’

Lone faked ignorance and made a face. ‘Sounds like you’ve got nothing, and you are trying to elicit a false confession from me.’ Everyone was quiet and then Lone spoke again. ‘I assume you’re going to fire me over this mistake.’

‘What you did was not a mistake.’

‘What do you want me to say? Sorry that I can’t be the commended employee of the past. So, I hired a sub-standard person once. I’ve been quite distracted lately. It doesn’t make me a thief.’ Lone wiped her mouth in frustration. They could see her disgust. ‘Maybe if you had a shred of compassion and humanity you wouldn’t be such cunts.’

Kim’s mouth was an O. The outrage her face showed. Such language didn’t have a place in this building, it even said so in the employee guidebook. Mr. Benoit had changed his stance, perhaps in anticipation of violence.

With laboured breathes Lone thought of Bok, did he have something to do with this? They hadn’t mentioned that someone had given them information. Maybe they found out on their own.

‘Language,’ Kim’s outrage was forefront.

‘Fuck you. My mother could be dead by the end of the year. How dare you think you are more important than her.’

Kim’s face seemed to have become even more outraged. ‘Excuse me. You’re not the only one in this building who’s had severe personal issues. And after all this department has done for you.’

Lone sneered at her. ‘What have you done? You gave me a job that I then performed better than my co-workers. I owe you nothing.’ She stood up and pointing at them said, ‘I quit.’ Then she was heading towards the door.

‘Come back here,’ Mr. Benoit called.

‘I’m not an employee here anymore. I don’t have to listen to you.’ Lone grabbed the door handle and rushed out the door.


Chapter Four


Lone’s footsteps were muted because of the carpet, but her head was filled with noise. After pressing the elevator button multiple times, she looked back and saw Mr. Benoit coming straight towards her.

‘Fuck,’ she said before rushing towards the stairwell.

‘Lone!’ shouted the man, as she burst through the heavy doors. She rushed down the stairs and heard the door open above her, it was followed by pounding footsteps. A quick glance behind her showed that there was only one level separating her from the DA soldier.


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