LaGuardia Teleport Station, New York
Wednesday 10:07 a.m.
June 21st 2045
Robert Jennings strolled up to the massive second terminal entrance of the LaGuardia Teleport Station buttoning the jacket of his Armani suit around a plump midriff. Two men dressed in raggedy clothes with long stringy hair stood outside the wide glass doors with their hands cupped before them. Beggars, Jennings thought. They were a plague on the city, like an infestation of rats, and they were getting worse. He had the inclination to beat one or both of them.
“Get outta here,” he said as he passed. One of the men cringed; the other didn’t even register.
Jennings was a shade under six-feet, with short grey hair and a stocky physique that contrasted the mostly gaunt bodies in the terminal. Some stared at his girth with desperate envy. It was clear he ate more than the average two meals a day that at best, most of them were eating. Neither their thoughts nor meal rations mattered to him, though.
Inside the terminal, a spattering of brightly lit stores crowded in on both sides of the walkway, flanked at intervals by the dark and lonely shells of abandoned retail outlets. Several years ago, when the teleport station had first been opened, the stores had all traded in a frenzy as people had flocked to the wonders of teleporting. Now, the mode was too expensive, used only by those above the poverty line, and nearby trade suffered.
Spotty formations of people moved along the walkway towards the travel booth queues. The smell and sound of high levels of electricity filled the air, snapping and popping as travellers made their jumps. Jennings rarely visited the place. He hated teleporting; it made him feel nauseous. The experts had set a benchmark for safe travel frequency, but in Jennings’ opinion, one was enough. He preferred flying or the magnetic levitation trains. They weren’t as rapid, but what was the point if you felt sick for hours afterwards?
He continued along the hallway, looking for signs of the man he was there to meet, the man who ran the U.S. division of the company for whom he worked. He’d been requested—no, ordered to appear on short notice. Jennings had met the man once and had partaken in an interesting conversation about Jennings’ alliances. They’d spoken several times since and Jennings suspected he knew what the meeting was about. It seemed they both had a dislike for the existing CEO.
Jennings normally felt concern the way an alligator might in its home swamp, but he had been drawn out of his comfort zone. It reminded him of his time as a policeman, attending a meeting with some crooked figure or another before the bribes and corruption finally caught up with him. Now, his own advice was to leave, but he understood that this was a test and he needed to pass it to reach the next stage of his progression in the company. And he had worked too hard under the damn CEO to throw away this opportunity for the sake of a little concern.
He reached an area of private rooms where the affluent teleporters paused to conduct business or to relax before travel; men and women in suits, their robot companions carrying luggage worth more money than most people would experience in their lifetime. Jennings stopped at a smoky glass door marked Thirty-One, and waited as it slid open.
He entered a long corridor before finding himself in another foyer, greeted by an empty counter and no seats. He stood, hands in pockets. The man on the holomessage had told him to proceed to this point and wait.
It was another forty minutes before he saw anybody. The door through which he had entered slid open, and five figures—four of which were tall and thick bodied—emerged in a line and proceeded down the hallway.
Jennings kept a hand on the Taser inside his jacket and stepped back as they approached. He immediately guessed the shorter man in the middle—dressed in a resplendent black suit—was the man that had summoned him. He was old—perhaps eighty, but likely closer to ninety—giving Jennings the impression of hardened iron. The other men moved like protective armor, guarding the space around him.
“Jennings?” the smaller man asked in a Russian accent. Jennings nodded. He reached out to shake hands, but the man stepped past him, mumbling something in a foreign tongue as he did.
A forearm slipped around Jennings’ throat. He tensed, reaching for his weapon. Strong hands grabbed both arms, and others patted him down. One of the men removed his weapon and held it out to another. They spoke more Russian. Jennings made no apology; of course he was carrying.
The small man walked towards the other side of the foyer and placed his thumb against a plate on the wall. A door slid open and the man disappeared. Two of the heavies followed while another nudged Jennings forward.
He entered the room and found the small man sitting on a plush leather sofa. Glass, chrome, and polished oak surrounded them. Benches ran at right angles along two walls. Bottles of alcohol and glasses filled one, whilst copious amounts of food waited—platters fruit, cheeses, breads, and meats, the likes of which were almost a rarity to the outside world. A pretty girl stood in one corner waiting for instructions.
The small man held out his hand. “I’m sorry, Mr. Jennings. You know how it is.” Jennings leant forward and shook, trying to maintain a stiff hand.
Former US Senator Ivan Chekov, a Russian immigrant in the late twenties following the 2029 Russian-American treaty, was the Chairman of the board for the company’s US operation. He was a big fish in a big pond. Jennings didn’t know a whole lot about Chekov, other than he was number one at Janefield Investments in the US, he had contacted Jennings, and that you did not mess around with him.
“It’s nice to see you again, sir.” Jennings fought to maintain eye contact. Four of the heavies stood inconspicuously in the corners.
The girl poured Scotch; they drank, and then placed their glasses on the low floating table. One of the men handed Chekov a cigarette and lit it for him.
“I suppose you haven’t seen one of these for a long time?”
“Not since the early thirties,” Jennings said.
Chekov nodded. “Lots of things are still accessible.” He drew again then blew smoke out; Jennings tried not to cough. “We will soon reverse the legislation that made them prohibited. Shortly, everybody will be able to go on killing themselves with cigarettes again.” Chekov waved a hand and smiled. “Anyway, we’re not here for small talk. It’s time, Mr. Jennings.”
Jennings felt a cold shiver along his spine. “Time?”
“Time to make our move.” Chekov finished his first drink. The girl was there to pour him another. “Time to make a move against your CEO. Are you ready?”
“You are ready to bring down the house that Fox built?”
Jennings shifted his position. “His allies are weak. I could kill all of them.”
“We don’t need all of them killed. We only need enough of them out of the way to make him vulnerable.”
Jennings nodded, but couldn’t hide his disappointment. “We’ve identified the weakest links.”
Chekov’s mouth curled slightly. Jennings thought that was about as close to a smile as the Russian would get. “Good. What about the police?”
Jennings scoffed. “They’re covered. Our protection is solid. They won’t look twice.”
“And your team is secure?”
Jennings glanced away and nodded. “They are. I’m working closely with the head of security. Fox will be no trouble. Neither will his allies.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Chekov said. He made another hand motion and one of his men produced a cigar. Chekov waved it at Jennings, who declined. Chekov poked it in the corner of his mouth and his man lit it. “He’s wily. Been around a long time. In his day, he was formidable.”
Jennings cleared his throat, worried his voice sounded weak. “Why not just…”—Chekov raised his eyebrows impatiently—“execute him?”
“He’s a powerful man, with many allies. His ties to the police and government run deep. This is the best way. Attack from within. Break the inner walls down first. The rest will take care of itself.” Jennings nodded; he had supposed as much. Chekov smiled again, a cold, calculating smile that would freeze water. “You never told me why you hate him so much?”
Jennings ground his jaw and thought of Bryan Fox, the long-time CEO of Janefield Investments. “I’ve played second to him my entire career. I’m sick of it. Even if he resigned, he wouldn’t endorse me.”
Chekov finished his second drink and smiled; strong, enjoyable. “It burns you.”
“Yes. He should have resigned a long time ago. The bastard is ruining the company.” Chekov nodded. Jennings asked, “What are you thinking in terms of the structural changes after he’s gone?”
“You’ll run the division. I’ll make sure of that.” One of the men leant forward and spoke into Chekov’s ear. “We’re done,” he said, indicating the doorway with his cigar.
Another two men approached the sofa. Jennings stood, adjusted his suit jacket. “Thank you for your counsel.”
Chekov removed his cigar. “Don’t let me down, Mr. Jennings. Those that do don’t last long.”
The goons escorted Jennings down the hallway and out into the terminal. He was glad to be gone.