Curveball Issue 10: The Sickness Within

Part Two: Last Wednesday

Martin Forrest shifts in his chair and stares at the young man staring back at him from across the desk. Jason Kline is only a few years older than Jenny—Martin’s sure he’s a few years shy of thirty—but he has the bearing and confidence of someone decades older.

Warm without appearing invested, professional without appearing detached. It’s a hard mask to develop. It’s exactly the kind of mask Martin used when he was a cop interviewing a witness. It doesn’t bother him that Jason Kline is using it on him—quite the contrary. It’s effective, professional, and polite. But it puts Martin on his guard.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Forrest.” Jason speaks with just a hint of a Midwestern accent, almost but not quite swallowed up by years of living in the city.

“I’ll answer what I can, Mr. Kline.” Martin shifts in his chair again.

They sit in a small meeting room that apparently serves as Jason’s office. Jason’s laptop, a large, black, impressive-looking device, sits in the middle of the meeting table. Jason sits on one side in a small, uncomfortable plastic chair, and Martin sits on the other in another small, uncomfortable plastic chair. The door behind Martin is open, and he can hear the chatter of people working in a large bullpen—Martin thinks they’re called “cube farms” these days.

“I apologize for the surroundings. They’re growing pretty fast and didn’t know where to put me.”

“New hire?” Martin tries to settle back into a comfortable position.

Jason shakes his head. “I’m not actually an employee. Kore Innovations brought my team in as soon as they realized your daughter was missing.”

Martin frowns. “No offense, Mr. Kline, but I’m not going to help you interfere with an ongoing police investigation.”

Jason raises his eyebrows in surprise. “I don’t want you to.”

“Then why am I here?”

An expression of confusion clouds his face, then Jason droops forward. The mask falls for a minute, and Martin sees his face crease with exhaustion.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Forrest, I just realized how completely misleading my phone call was.” Jason rubs his eyes. “I swear it wasn’t on purpose.”

“OK,” Martin says. “Why don’t you just explain everything now?”

Jason hesitates, nods, then asks, “Would you mind shutting the door?”

Martin doesn’t mind. He shuts the door; the hubbub of the bullpen quiets to a dull murmur. He returns to his seat and waits patiently.

“Mr. Forrest, your daughter has been working for Kore Innovations for about five months. This Monday she didn’t show up at work. Kore Innovations learned that she was missing after surviving an attack on your house by armed soldiers. An attack that involved metahumans.”

“I can’t tell you any more than what you’ve heard on the news,” Martin says.

“All right,” Jason says. “Police investigation. I understand. But let me tell you what it looks like from the perspective of her employer. Jenny has a rather unique set of credentials. Those credentials made it very desirable for her employer to place her in a position where she had access to their most sensitive systems.”

“I didn’t know that,” Martin says.

“That’s good,” Jason says. “If she told you it would have been a security breach. The point is, Kore Innovations is missing a key employee who had access to a lot of security information. She didn’t give notice, she didn’t arrange for leave, and they can’t reach her by phone or email. At this point they have to assume the worst.”

“She’s not dead.”

Jason looks uncomfortable. “From a security perspective, that’s not the worst-case scenario.”

Martin stares at Jason blankly. Then he gets it. His jaw sets. “If you’re trying to imply—”

“Nothing,” Jason says quickly. “I’m saying nothing specific about Jenny. Kore Innovations has a security policy—a policy your daughter helped write, by the way—that states that erratic employee behavior needs to be treated as a potential worst-case scenario.”

“Isn’t that a little ridiculous?” Martin asks. “Sometimes people have bad days. Bad months. Deaths in the family.”

“They do,” Jason agrees. “And sometimes they are targeted by mind-controlling telepaths and coerced to steal from people they would never willingly betray.”

Martin doesn’t reply to that.

“I won’t get into the specifics of what Kore Innovations deals in,” Jason continues, “but another company in the same field had to deal with that very scenario. It’s not the kind of thing that happens every day, but it is out there.”

“That didn’t happen to Jenny,” Martin says.

“What did happen to Jenny?”

Martin sighs. “I can’t talk about it.”

“Can you tell me anything?” There is a hint of exasperation in Jason’s voice that Martin understands all too well.

“She wasn’t kidnapped,” Martin says.

“Mr. Forrest, unless you’re willing to give me more specific information, I can’t take your word on that.”

“Why not?” Martin asks, irritated.

“Because you could’ve been instructed by the police to lie about what actually happened,” Jason says. “Maybe the kidnappers warned you not to tell anyone, and the police asked you to play along. Or maybe she’s fine, but she’s in witness protection because she saw something during that attack that the rest of you didn’t. I don’t know. What I do know is that Kore Innovations is missing an employee who has access to their equivalent of the launch codes.”

Martin says nothing.

“Look, Mr. Forrest, no one here—at least, no one that I’ve talked to—actually believes that your daughter is involved in corporate espionage. At least, not willingly. They all think very highly of her. So do I, for that matter. We’re colleagues. I’ve met her at seminars. She’s extremely talented, dedicated, and ambitious.”

“Then why all this?” Martin asks. “If everyone thinks so highly of her—”

“Because given what we know about her—given the dedication she has shown to her job, that every single one of her co-workers and supervisors have mentioned when I interviewed them, the only way her absence makes any sense at all is if she is dead or being held against her will. And you, her father, are telling me that neither of those scenarios is true.”

Martin tries to put himself in Jason’s shoes. He forces himself to stop looking at it as a father, and to look at it like a cop instead. Jason has a point. If the roles were reversed, Martin would be asking the same questions… and probably pushing a little harder.

“Mr. Forrest, your family has had a very bad week, and I know this isn’t making it any easier. I hope that you’re right when you say that Jenny’s OK. But even if you’re right, she’s put her career at risk. Why won’t she answer her phone? Or her email? If you’re telling the truth—and I think you are—then my only conclusion is that Jenny left of her own volition. Could she be suffering from trauma? Post-traumatic stress?”

Martin studies Jason carefully. The young man seems to be studying him just as carefully, searching for any hint of expression that might answer the question for him. Martin can’t read anything Jason doesn’t already want him to see, and he’s pretty sure Jason isn’t doing any better.

“The reason I ask,” Jason says, “is because there are policies and procedures covering that as well. Jenny is a valued employee, and trauma doesn’t invalidate that. If the attack on your home affected her, you need to convince her to get treatment, and to do it in a way that will get it covered by her health plan. That way her employers know what the trouble is, and know it’s being managed. They still have to change all the locks, so to speak, but at least they know why and they know she’s not involved in anything dangerous. Mr. Forrest, that probably saves her job. It definitely saves her professional reputation.”

For a second—for a very brief, dangerous second—Martin is tempted to tell Jason what really happened. He steps on that urge immediately. “Thanks for letting me know that. The next time I talk to her I’ll let her know.”

Jason nods once. “Maybe you could do one more thing.” He reaches into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a business card and a pen. He turns the card over and starts writing on the back. “This is my personal cell and my personal e-mail address. The front has all my official contact information, but… it’d be better if she used these.”

Jason holds the card out to Martin. Martin looks at it uncertainly.

“We’re not exactly friends,” Jason says. “I don’t want to give you the impression we are. I know her professionally. We’re friendly. I admire the hell out of her work. Consider it a kind of esprit de corps. If you manage to contact her—meet her, call her, anything—let her know that if she contacts me privately we can talk off the record. Try to figure out what we need to do. Give her a few options she might not otherwise have.”

Martin looks at the card, mulls it over, then takes it, carefully tucking it into his shirt pocket. “No guarantees.”

“Understood,” Jason says. “I’ll take what I can get. Thanks for coming in.”

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