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Broken Part 2 – Nothing’s Free

Rated R for violence and language
Part 1 is here: http://nmgrif.livejournal.com/#8301

Once Upon A Time…

The sun is bright and warm and soft…

Lightening flares in the distance, distracting me from the road…a sudden rush of adrenaline as I slam on the brakes… a wide-eyed child in the middle of the street, almost under my car…

Distraction…it’ll get you every time…

In The Here & Now…


The good thing about men, Charity decided, was that they were ruled by a constant barrage of hormones. God did good, making women suffer from an excess of whacko chemicals in the body only once a month in exchange for the pain of childbirth. Men were at the mercy of their dicks, no doubt about that, but it also made things pretty easy at times.

She smiled up at the guard, moving her arms so that her breasts jostled into plain view, mostly hidden by the silken, clingy fabric of her shirt. Her outfit was not what anyone could call subtle, given the shortness of the skirt barely covering her ass and the fuck-me boots. Considering the guard’s beer-belly and shaggy haircut, it was a good guess that he didn’t get hit on much.

Pushing a little, she pouted and whined, “Are you sure you won’t let me take a little peek? I would be…very grateful.”

The man licked at his lips and allowed, “Well, maybe a quick one.”

Charity stepped back so that he could turn to unlock the door and key in the security code. The second the green light went on, she shoved him into the wall, following up with slamming his head into the corner of the doorjamb. He dropped like a stone and she grunted under the sudden weight, muttering, “Go on a diet, buddy,” as she half-carried, half-dragged him into the small room.

…wrists and ankles tied…dragged along the floor of a long corridor with flickering lights…

Inside, the room was small with three easels holding paintings in the middle. Restoration tools and supplies lined a nearby table. More paintings adorned the walls, all encased in glass, protected even in this most protected of rooms. Ignoring all of it, Charity strode to the door on the other side of the room and went through to the next room.

The next room was bigger, but had no furniture. It only contained a single painting on the opposite wall. She crossed over to it while pulling latex gloves from her miniscule back pocket. Charity put them on and then easily took the painting down, leaning it against the wall. A dull gray safe faced her, complete with double locks of combination and touchpad. She had the codes for both, she even had the code for the front door; what she hadn’t had was a partner to distract the guard.

Unlocking the safe, Charity reached in to take out the thin, black cell phone that rested in the center of a red velvet cloth. She smiled and slid it into her bra, not bothering to shut or relock the safe; a message to Ryan. He would know it was her, even if he couldn’t prove it. With the blonde wig and prosthesis, the guard wouldn’t be able to ID her, not positively.

Even if he could prove it was me, it’s not like he would call the cops anyhow, she thought, smirking a little as she left the room.

Still, it was best not to tempt fate.

Charity hurried from the room and jogged out of the office. On its face, the building was an art storage facility for various corporations. In reality, it was a storehouse for technology that didn’t yet exist. The guards didn’t know what they were really guarding and that was how GSC kept it.

…computer equipment fills an entire room…a tech scrolls through lists upon lists of places containing things to be hidden from the world…he makes no sound as I club him behind an ear…

She walked down the hall and out of the building to the motorcycle at the curb. A couple of wolf-whistles got drowned out by the start of the engine and she put on the helmet before flipping off the college-aged boys walking down the street. Charity pulled into traffic and drove towards her next stop: Stephan Reynolds.

* * * *

The small two-story house looked lonely set back from the road. The big pine trees surrounding the property added to the sense of isolation. The rest of the neighborhood was at the bottom of the hill, more normal sized Ranch and Tudor styled homes for the aging middle class. It was a small town in upstate New York, north of Buffalo, and strangers were noticed. Charity had seen more than one person’s gaze linger since her arrival that morning, but she’d ignored all of them.

Driving up to the curb, Charity cut the engine and climbed out of the old, beat-up car. Her backup vehicle. She had a lot of those stashed all over the US and the world. Local resources culled from their proper origins and given new identities, just like herself, depending on the job. She reached into the back and pulled out her duffel bag, hitching it over her shoulder and walking up to the front door. The air was thick and hot, but thankfully not stifling. Still, the heat itched along her skin, a trickle of sweat forming by the time she knocked on the door.

Stephan Reynolds himself answered the door. Thirty-four years old, tall and skinny with thin blond hair and watery blue eyes hidden behind thick glasses, Stephan was due to finish his work on a new engine that would transform the automobile industry in four days.

“Yes? Can I help you?” he asked politely.

Charity smiled and told him, “I’m Charity. I’m here about the nanny position.”

He frowned at her. “What nanny position?”

Assuming a surprised expression, she countered, “Didn’t your wife tell you?”

Stephan turned away from the door and yelled, “Hon? What’s this about a nanny?”

Moments later Beth Reynolds pushed her husband aside. With a smile on her pretty, benign face, the short woman greeted, “Charity! It’s so wonderful to finally meet you in person!”

They’d been trading emails for weeks, after all. Of course, Beth thought that it was her own idea to hire Charity as a nanny. It was a gesture to help her out of an emotional and financial crisis brought about by an abusive boyfriend.

“It’s great to meet you too, Beth,” Charity answered. “Thanks so much for this.”

Beth took the duffel bag from Charity and stepped back, ordering lightly, “Come in, please, no need to stand on ceremony. Hon, move.”

Stephan practically jumped out of the way as Charity hesitantly entered the home, hunching down a bit as she maintained her new persona. She scanned the hall and living room, noting the number of windows, the way into the kitchen at the end of the hall, and the dining room on the east side. Straight ahead were stairs that led upwards not two feet from the front door.

Putting a hand on Charity’s back, Beth led her to the kitchen, asking, “Are you thirsty? Can I get you anything to drink?”

…the ropes are too tight around my ankles and wrists…dry mouth…parched throat…cold concrete beneath my back…a single, flickering light overhead…

“Water, thank you,” Charity answered, forcing a smile.

She dropped the duffel bag on the floor by the table, standing with an awkward posture as she waited. “So, I guess um, you didn’t talk to your husband about this? Because I can totally clear out. No big.”

Beth walked up to her holding out a glass of water. “Nonsense. His head’s in the clouds twenty-four-seven. He won’t even notice that you’re here, but I can use the help.”

“Well, if you’re sure.”

“I’m positive.”

Charity smiled and took the glass from her, sitting at the other woman’s motion to do so and complimenting, “You got a great house, Beth. It’s real nice.”

Dimpling, Beth replied, “Thanks! It’s so sweet of you to say. Come on and let me show you around. No, I got that.”

Charity let her pick up the duffel and followed her out of the kitchen, paying attention and making a mental map of the house as they went. She had four days to figure out how to save Stephan and his family from a fatal home explosion. It had supposedly been caused by the man’s own invention, even though no one had known what that was. The one advantage she had was knowing the manner of their attack. They were limited to keeping “history” on course, which in their book meant the same manner of death that happened the first time around. Just because Charity was in the picture now didn’t excuse them from keeping the timeline intact.

The second story seemed even smaller, the bedrooms crowded close together at the top of the stairs with a lower ceiling. Beth opened the first door, opposite the stairwell, and said, “This is your room. Let me introduce you to Maggie.”

Charity followed her in and took in the twin bed along one wall and a crib along the other.

Great. The next four days will be spent at baby’s beck and call, she thought sourly.

And then the toddler, Maggie, popped up into sight, bouncing on the balls of her feet and laughing for no apparent reason. She had fat cheeks and barely any hair, but blue, blue eyes and a massive, toothless smile that prompted an echoing one on Charity’s face.

“She’s a good baby,” Beth said, walking to the crib to pick up the infant. “She hardly ever cries and goes to just about anyone. Which, of course, worries us for when she gets older. But for now, it’s a blessing. Here, take her.”

Charity took the child from her, settling Maggie hesitantly on her hip. Tiny hands instantly buried themselves in her hair, pulling with surprising strength. She extricated what she could and Beth helped, chuckling as she took Maggie back and said, “That’s why my hair is always up.”

They left the room to head back downstairs, Maggie babbling away in baby talk. When they passed what had to be the cellar door, Charity asked, “What’s in there?”

“My husband’s workshop,” Beth answered, rolling her eyes.

Putting on an interested face, Charity questioned, “He does mechanical work? Doesn’t seem the type.”

Beth chuckled and told her, “He’s not, believe me. Give him a wrench and point him at a sink and he’s lost. But give him some kind of pneumatic drill or computer gizmo and point him at something that doesn’t exist, and he’ll make it exist.”

“And you live here? No offense or anything, but it sounds like he’d be a good inventor,” Charity idly commented, sitting at the table. “Lots of people make a ton of money making up really crappy stuff.”

Grimacing, Beth explained, “Stephan worked for a company the last ten years and they got all the patents and royalties therein. Cheap bastards. He made eighty grand a year and they made millions off his ideas, but they wouldn’t give him a raise.”

“I don’t know. Eighty grand’s a lot of money.”

Beth sat at the table, bouncing Maggie on her knee as she agreed, “It is, until you factor in the house, the car, bills, medical expenses for Maggie, and me being out of work for over a year. Really, we have more than most and I’m not complaining, I just feel that Stephan deserved a lot more from that company than he got. And I will get off my soapbox now.”

Charity laughed with as much sympathy as she could manage and told her, “It’s fine, honest. I know all about getting what you deserve.”

Beth didn’t, of course, pick up on the double entendre. She was not only too busy with Maggie, but far too trusting not to take Charity’s words at face value.

“So what’s Stephan working on now? If I can ask,” Charity added with deliberate haste.
Snorting, Beth answered, “He’s solving the world’s energy crisis, if I understand every tenth word he speaks correctly.”

Charity smiled. “Good to know.”

* * * *

Sitting cross-legged on the twin bed that night, Charity went through menu after menu on the GSC ‘cell phone,’ which was really a device called, simply, a Timeline Veil. Small and thin, much like the newest models of cell phones, it held a three inch plasma touch screen and a two hundred gig harddrive, not to mention the processor speed faster than anyone could currently conceive. Its primary function was to hide the user from those who might be looking down the Current Time Thread monitor, but it also allowed the user to access the Time Threads without being noticed. On a far less important scale, it also had wireless internet and phone capabilities.

Once it was biometrically linked to the user, of course.

Charity grimaced as she poked a hole in her finger with a sewing needle and then squeezed a drop of her blood onto the receptor. The plasma screen lit up brilliantly with a blue flare, enough to make her squint, and then faded to normal light. Floating up and down were the prominent Threads of this year, the device automatically acclimating to its Time Shift.

She couldn’t help the small font, as she had no laptop to connect it to, thanks to her cover as a poor, unemployed woman. And while the Veil was already off the Time Grid, but there was no guarantee her presence wouldn’t be detected through other methods. All her hosts had to do was something outside their normal routine and the anomaly would be flagged.

Charity tucked the Veil into her duffel, since the synch was done. It would be a long, boring day the next day and getting sleep would be a very good thing. She glanced over at the crib a few feet away and half-smiled before rolling onto her side and closing her eyes

* * * *

Maggie woke up before dawn, which in turn woke Charity up at the first whimper. She rubbed her eyes as she stood and walked to the crib. Looking down, she asked, “You sure you don’t want to go back to sleep? It’s seriously too early to be up.”

Those big, blue eyes blinked at her and another, louder, noise escaped the toddler.
Heaving her own sigh, Charity scooped the girl into her arms and lifted her enough to smell the diaper. A disgusted noise escaped at the stench that greeted her, and she held Maggie out at arms’ length while walking her to the changing table. It didn’t take long to get a fresh diaper on and then bring the child downstairs to start breakfast. The clock on the microwave said 6:14 a.m. and Charity yawned through a sigh.

She’d just started feeding Maggie when Beth shuffled into the kitchen.

“Morning,” Beth greeted, smiling.

Charity returned the smile and replied, “Morning. You didn’t have to get up.”

Beth kissed Maggie on the head and tickled her stomach as she explained, “Stephan has an actual meeting this morning, so I need to get him going anyhow.”

Charity made an agreeable noise and kept feeding Maggie.

Breakfast turned out to be a leisurely affair until Stephan showed up just before seven. He rushed into the kitchen, grabbing coffee in a mug and looking everywhere for his briefcase, keys, and hat. Charity had all she could do not to roll her eyes at the scattered man.
Once he was gone, Beth smiled fondly and commented, “He never changes.”

Better you than me, sister, Charity thought. I’d kill him in about two days.

They chatted about little things like the house and days things got done, where to go shopping. All the things a real nanny would need to know. Charity kept an intent expression in place while her mind wandered through the possibilities of when the attack might come and how she could get inside the basement without anyone noticing.

The rest of the day passed slowly, as anticipated. She spent all her time with Maggie, aside from a couple of hours here and there when Beth joined them for lunch and again in the afternoon to watch a talk show on television. For someone used to being constantly on the move, it was a form of hell that reminded Charity too much of her time immediately after the last beating…not enough to occupy her body or her mind.

…the hospital room empty and silent late at night, only the drone of the tv and the pain in her body to keep her occupied…

Stephan returned to the house late that evening, not until eight, and he was in a great mood. The company had apparently listened to all his lawyer had to say and had given ground on two whole points in the mediation. He’d gone out to celebrate with the man, which made Charity suspicious, since it said nothing about that in his history on the Veil. But since the lawyer hadn’t come into the house, she couldn’t know if he was legit or not.

Finally it was time to put Maggie to bed and she said her own goodnights about an hour after that. Charity waited until late that night to try the basement. She waited in the dark, listening to the house settle, lockpick kit in hand, Veil in her pocket, and still dressed. She waited in the growing cold of the night for Stephan and Beth to climb the stairs and go to bed. She waited another hour to make sure that they’d really fallen asleep and then silently left her small room.

The floorboards creaked under every step, but it was an old house. She went downstairs, pausing at the base of the stairwell to see if anyone had heard, but nothing stirred upstairs. Aiming for the basement, Charity tried the door and found it locked. She pulled out her kit and knelt down to undo the lock.

Twenty seconds later, she opened the door and felt along the side for the light. She found and turned it on, squinting momentarily from the sudden light. Descending, she found a large, single room with a chaos of mechanical parts on counters and tools hanging from racks on the walls. In the center of the room stood a dais of about five by seven feet and on it lay a bulky, square thing covered by a shroud.

Her training at the GSC had giving Charity a strong foundation in mechanics and engineering, among other sciences, but Charity had no idea on what she looked when she yanked off the cloth covering. It was big and ugly and supposed to revolutionize the energy industry while prompting a mini world destabilization as it adjusted to the concept of free energy.

“Find what you were looking for?”

Charity turned, not showing any of the surprise that struck her at how silently he’d moved. Any more lapses like that and you’ll wind up dead, she thought darkly.

Offering a brief smile, she informed him, “I have no idea what does what, but I do know that it’s a power source that’s going to change the world. I also know that people will kill you to stop this from going public.

Stephan paled as he stared at her and then asked, “Are you one of those people?”

“I used to be,” Charity answered bluntly. “But you caught me in the middle of a reformation streak. I’m actually here to protect you and your family.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Because the alternative is to die.”

Stephan looked at her for a long moment before nodding slowly. “So, what do we do now?”

She loved it that creative and scientific types alike were uniformly paranoid to a certain extent. It made her work and explanations a lot more believable. Charity looked at the machine and asked, “Do you have plans for this thing?”

“Of course. Why?”

Grinning wolfishly, Charity informed him, “Because you’re about to get really, really famous.”

The reason the GSC always succeeded the first time was because they worked in silence, unknown to the world. Their victims never knew they were targeted. Those who benefited likewise were kept in the dark. Death or Fortune; two sides of the same, seemingly arbitrary coin. But it wasn’t arbitrary to those who knew. Not even the agents on the missions knew everything. Those who did, ‘guided’ the world in a way that kept destiny and free will quiescent and silent and ignorant.

Knowledge brings power. Ignorance brings death. It’s a truth that doesn’t just apply to the GSC.

“Charity?”

Jolted from her thoughts, Charity focused on the computer in front of Stephan. “Ready?”

Stephan nodded and said, “You know, I always dreamed that this would make me rich enough to take care of my family without any worry for the rest of our lives. And now I’m giving it away for free.”

Charity half-smiled as she deadpanned, “Just think about all the talk shows you’ll be able to get money from.”

He laughed, a strained sound, and replied, “I’ll try.

She watched as he began the upload of multiple schematics to a Wikipedia account they’d created. A few seconds after the upload started, the hairs on the back of her neck rose in warning. She’d only been in the house for a day, but there was something very wrong. Gripping his shoulder, she ordered, “Keep working,” and moved towards the stairs.

The power went out.

Charity froze.

…complete darkness is part of the training…moving through the pitch with ears straining for the slightest noise…danger and death waiting for a mistake…

“What happened?” Stephan demanded.

“Do not move from that spot and do not make a sound.”

With her eyes adjusted to the dark, Charity pulled a knife from each boot and hit the stairs running. The large shape at the top of the stairs didn’t even slow her down. Charity slammed into the man shoulder first, lifting him off his feet to crash to the kitchen floor. She followed it up with a kick to the head and swiped the night vision goggles askew on his face.

Charity slid the goggles into place and switched them on, immediately scanning for other operatives in the now green-tinted area as she sheathed her knives and took the man’s guns. There had to be more, but she saw no one. Moving silently through the kitchen, weapons at the ready, she walked to the stairs, guessing that the others had to have gone upstairs, probably to kill Beth and the baby.

She jogged up the stairs, avoiding the ones that creaked on her way down, and paused at the top to listen. Hearing nothing, she first went to get Beth. When she found the woman sleeping in her bed and not dead, Charity knew something big was going to happen. It was still a full day before the house fire was set to happen, but that had to be their plan. She’d forced their hand.

Shaking Beth awake, she ordered, “Beth! Get up! There’s an emergency!”

Beth woke at the sound of her voice, sitting up with a mumbled, “What’s wrong?”

“There are intruders in the house!” Charity explained. “We have to get Maggie and get out!”

Fully alert, Beth jumped out of the bed and would have rushed out of the room, but for Charity grabbing her arm tight. Getting a good look at her, Beth demanded, “What is on your face? And, are those guns?”

“Night vision goggles and yes. Now listen to me, because we don’t have a lot of time,” Charity ordered. “Your family is in danger because of what Stephan’s building. People want to kill all of you, but especially him. I need you to stay behind me and not make a sound. Do you understand?”

Tight-lipped with fear, possibly because she thought Charity a homicidal lunatic more than that she told the truth, Beth nodded. There was no time for any other assurances, so Charity headed for the door, mentally crossing her fingers that Beth wouldn’t attack her from behind.

Thankfully, she didn’t and they made it to the baby’s room without incident. Charity could practically feel the ticking of a bomb. When they got downstairs and the man that she’d knocked out was gone, it was all she could do not to yell for Stephan to come up. Pulling out the Veil, she quickly looked up Stephan’s Thread and cursed under her breath.

Grabbing Beth’s arm, she pulled the other woman down the stairs behind her and found that Stephan had stayed put.

“Is there anywhere in here to survive an explosion?” Charity demanded.

Stephan’s gape was visible even in the darkness. “I ah, I, maybe the shed?”

“Show me.” She followed him to the corner of the workroom where he struggled to slide open a metal door in the wall. There was no time. “Get in. Both of you.”

Charity shoved Stephan at the hole and then did the same with Beth. There was just enough room in there for her and she climbed into the cramped space, pulling the thick metal door shut with six seconds to spare. The explosion rocked them, causing Maggie to burst into loud shrieks, but the walls held. The good news was that the explosion had originally blown the debris of the house out of the basement, leaving only charred ruins for the firefighters to hose down.

“Cover your faces as best you can,” she warned.

Using her shirt, Charity shoved the door open, hissing as the heat got through the thin fabric. Smoke instantly engulfed them, but she pressed on. They had to get out before the firefighters showed up. Fortunately, the house had been practically vaporized, just like in the original history. There wasn’t much effort needed to climb out of the basement.

Once they were out, she hustled them towards her car, now pockmarked by flying debris, and asked Stephan, “What the hell was that shed made from? Titanium?”

“Well, ah, actually, yes,” he replied.

Charity’s eyebrows lifted and she demanded incredulously, “You just happened to have a shed made from titanium in your basement?”

As he helped Beth inside the back seat of the car, he shrugged and told her, “Where did you think I would house the reactor once it was done?”

Lips pursed, Charity mused, “Good point,” and walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side.

They pulled away just as sirens and lights drove tearing up the street and neighbors started walking to see what was going on.

The Semi-Distant Future

Rubbing at tired eyes, Charity lowered herself to the hotel bed and yawned hugely, jaw cracking painfully on one side. The day had dragged on endlessly in her new ‘job’ as a data analyst, cozying up to her next assignment, but she’d survived.

Picking up the remote, she turned on the television even as her eyes closed.

“And in what first appeared to be a hoax, but now has scientists around the world scratching their heads, blueprints for a possible source of clean, renewable, sustainable energy. At first denounced by utility and oil company scientists, now several other blueprints for the Charity Drive have made their way to universities where some are saying…this could be the real thing…”

Charity’s eyes popped open at the announcement of the device’s new name, thinking, Stephan finally must have rebuilt the thing from memory.

She stared at the ceiling for a long second before laughter burst free. She was still giggling several minutes later when she turned off the television and lights and then closed her eyes, knowing she could sleep.

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About Nancy M. Griffis

Author and screenwriter who loves scifi/action/adventure/urban fantasy genres. I have two published novels, Mind Games and Eternal Investigations, as well as a short story published for charity called "Home Fires Burning." All are available through amazon.com and barnesandnobles.com.

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