Her omni-phone was dead - jammed probably. It was the first thing she tried. The red actual leather shoes made clacking noises against the gravel road as she ran. This was not the way the company picnic was supposed to go. There were supposed to be games like horseshoes and a dunking booth, a vice president was supposed to be manning one of the grills. She even brought some of her beloved potato salad for the pot luck dinner. It was going to be a time of brief fun and relaxation, and in her position, she needed all the relaxation she could get.
**** Twenty miles until destination. He ran through the wooded paths at speeds faster than a sports car on a straightaway. A set of five four-inch retractable claws in each boot helped greatly with the traction. This was going to be close. He cursed the fact that there wasn't an Angel within miles. If he hadn't been cycling through the satellite feeds, he never would have seen the danger.
She misstepped and stumbling, fell to one knee. Cursing at herself, more because her new business-casual skirt was ruined than because of the pain from the scraped knee, she quickly picked out the tiny pebbles imbedded in her leg. Taking off her shoes, she tried to snap off the heels. It looked so easy when vied stars did it. The engine sounds grew louder - like angry hornets in the distance. They were getting closer - following her clumsy tracks. It wasn't supposed to end like this.
*** Fifteen miles until destination. The man leapt over a frustratingly placed stream and purposely ricocheted off a massive oak to increase momentum, splintering it in two. The image stream being sent to his left cornea was filling him with a cold vengeance.
She had worked like a machine for the company and it was finally starting to pay off. She was now forty and, with her new promotion, could finally afford to start a family. She had been saving enough to get a down payment on the new age-retardant mod - three models up from the one she started saving for fifteen years ago. According to her plan, she would have had enough in ten more years or so, if it hadn't been for the inheritance from her great-grandmother's death.
Of course even with an adequate down payment, it would mean an extra twenty years or so of working for the company until she could pay it off, but that was the whole point. She didn't want to grow old like her boss did. Jess worked for the company like a workhorse until she retired. She visited her a few times after that. Jess had first traveled around the world before purchasing a new houseboat next to a country club. She had the time to do whatever she wanted, just like she always coveted while she worked.
And look what happened to her - look what she did with that time. Nothing. At first she tried painting, writing a book, something. But eventually, those efforts fell by the wayside. Sure Jess could lie back on her boat and sip pina-coladas every night, but by the end of the fourth month that lifestyle lost its glamour. The company didn't want her back unless she got a youth mod - which she couldn't, having spent the bulk of her savings and only having enough left to comfortably live on for the next dozen years or so... just like she originally planned.
She tried other things, joined a retirement commune for singles, bought cosmetic makeover mods that only hid the growing senility underneath a new skin and a new face, tried to emulate the latest fashions, and even tried to get a new job. It failed. Any hiring company would examine her record and see that her changes were only on the outside. She wasn't as marketable as any youngster, or, of course, someone her age with an actual youth mod. Jess was left with her houseboat, her retirement commune, and her massive amount of free time.
But without the rigid schedule that was ingrained into her for forty-five years when she worked, Jess - her close friend and mentor, and occasional lover, slowly went insane. She started to watch game-shows and soap operas, almost never venturing outside. Without further treatments, her makeover mod regressed - leaving her looking even more aged. Then one day, the day that Jess' account balance prematurely reached zero, the houseboat exploded. Suicide, the insurance companies said.
That was NOT how she was going to leave this world. She made up her mind about that during Jess' funeral. Now, when she finally was in her prime and the youth mod was almost in her grasp, this had to happen.
** Five miles to destination. He had been keeping an eye out on the people in his safekeeping. There were some that pleased him, a few who didn't, some that he felt sadness for, and this one. Her resemblance was amazing. Like a second incarnation.
There was no time to think as she threw down her shoes, the Italian ones she bought to impress her new boss. She took off running barefoot towards the wooded area looking for anyone who might be able to help, visions of her decapitated coworkers fresh in her mind.
It started only a few months ago. A small terrorist vx2 gas bomb went off at a working singles club. A few days later, gang violence erupted at the young masters golf tournament. Then it started happening all over the nation and then, the world. Single working people about her age were getting violently killed. Several security agencies offered increased protection services ranging from self-defense classes to having your own squad of ex-secret service personnel monitor you 24/7 in such a way that you'll never notice they're there.
Personal weaponry and defense sales skyrocketed, the young folks thought it was great because there was now actual turnover in the job markets, the insurance companies didn't care so long as it was mostly working people without families, and thus the need for hefty life insurance policies, that got killed; and the government said they were working on the increasing violence problem, but they too were profiting from the estate sales of the deaths of those without any immediate beneficiaries.
The company thought a picnic in the park was a good morale booster in the face of all the violence. They provided an armed escort of a dozen security people. They even managed to get a few of the riders with well-placed head shots before they were mowed down by the self-sharpening swords and silenced automatic weapons fire. She didn't stick around much after the first few security guards fell. She took off as fast as she could for one of the paths, followed by several of her co-workers. They scattered when she told them to. It was safer that way, and perhaps some of them could reach safety and survive.
* He raced past towards the final clearing, slowing as much as he could afford to. His satellite burst link faded as he entered the jamming field. The brief distraction as his internal gps system fails to update causes a wind-blown branch to catch his custom-made jacket and tear a medium gash in his sleeve. The mental curse was short and almost instantly forgotten. He has arrived at his destination.
She looks back, despite what always happened to the girl who looks back in the horror vids. There was a cloud of dirt and dust quickly approaching through the trees, and the angry buzzing engine sounds were getting louder.
That was when saw him. A young man was sitting on a picnic table in the middle of a large clearing, seemingly enjoying the weather. It was part of her job as a preliminary loan officer to read people quickly, their motions, actions, appearance; then make a decision in seconds. If she approved, they went through the long and arduous process of having the company pulling up and evaluating their credit report, personal history, sexual deviations, favorite flavor of ice cream, etc... If she evaluated wrong too often, that would mean the company would waste valuable time and money (usually the same thing).
After seeing around a hundred people a day, six days a week, fifty two weeks a year for eighteen years, she got very good at reading at a glance. All in all, it was the best job someone with a psychology degree could get.
The man had jet black hair in a short conservative cut, and a matching suit - only slightly torn, that hadn't been in style since she was born. 'Perhaps neo-retro is coming back. The tear looks recent though.', she briefly thought. His eyes, though, were like few she'd ever seen. He was looking at her with a stare she had never seen before. It was more like he was mainly searching for something lost, rather than wanting what almost every man she'd met wanted (although there was a little of that, too).
She snapped out of work mode and suddenly remembered what was going on at the moment.
"Please! You have to help me. They've killed my co-workers and they're out to get me! Please..."; she managed to get out despite lungs that felt like they were on fire.
"It's alright. Tell me, who is out to get you?" He says as the dirt bikes enter the clearing. There were fourteen of them originally, but now there were eleven. Of course there were twelve security guards originally, and now there were none. Each biker wore a black leather. Probably ablative armor, the man thought before verifying by enhancing his vision into the higher spectrums. Each of them wear gang-colored headbands since not even spray paint would stick to the jackets.
"You better turn around, lady. This could get messy." The young man said and strode purposefully forward.
She was so very tired. Last time she ran like this was when she trained for the marathon in college. It took all her effort to walk towards a clump of trees before collapsing, gasping for breath, on the grass and rocks. Not worrying anymore about her outfit, she closed her eyes.
There were sounds, she could remember that much. But the sounds were dream-like in nature. Like trying to listen underwater.
She heard screaming. Lots of screaming which stopped too suddenly. She heard the buzzing sound of the engine stop, replaced by the sound of metal folding in on itself - like someone kicking a cardboard box. There were other noises which she couldn't easily identify. A sound like a duck spitting rapidly, a bowling ball crushing a pumpkin, and something that resembled the snapping of many chopsticks.
Then came a voice. "It's okay, Naomi." It said. "You're safe now. You can open your eyes now." She could just make out the voice adding on, almost inaudibly quiet, "Great-granddaughter."
Naomi Williams followed the voice's instruction and fought the pain and fatigue to open her eyes, but only narrowly until she was successfully squinting.
There were little white dots floating around her peripheral vision. When she was only a child, whenever she would get hurt or sick and see those dots, she would imagine that they were helpful pixies, or tiny guardian angels who would playfully flutter about wherever she looked and make everything all better. She named them 'guardians' because they would only come to dance and protect her when she was hurt. And when she was all better, they would slowly disappear, one by one, to whatever magical place they lived and danced in.
The memory made her smile, then open her eyes fully as the last of the guardians faded from view.
This story is Copyright © 2001 and is reprinted with permission.