Red Sky

Temperatures are climbing worldwide! Global warming? or something else?
 
Red Sky - The Sun Can Kill
A new novel in the works by Mark Phillips!
 
Read the first couple of chapters and let me know how you like it!
 
 

Chapter 1

“I just hope you don’t tear your suit Taylor!”  Taylor could hear M12’s metallic voice express urgency through the earpiece in his helmet.  “I’m being careful M12, don’t worry about the suit, it’ll be just fine.”

Taylor jumped between rocks on the barren wilderness of the Nevada desert.  As far as he could see, Taylor saw nothing but the barren red landscape full of rocks and sand.  Nothing lived out here. The sun seemed hotter than ever today, the thirtieth and last day of testing of the new thermal environmental suit.  The external temperature was 140 degrees F., the hottest day yet at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada.

With another quick step and a jump Taylor completed the course laid out by M12.  He had been jogging for another hour in the body cooling suit and it felt as if he was in the air conditioned lab in Las Vegas. He was still sweating from exertion, but had he not been wearing the suit, he would not have been able to maintain the speed or the duration of the run he’d just completed.

“Your internal temperature looks good. Any mobility problems?” asked M12.

“None, the adjustments you recommended to the knee joints did the trick.”  answered Taylor who paused and took a drink from the internal hydration tube.  It took some getting used to the thought, but drinking his own sweat and urine really didn’t taste like anything but water after it had been treated by the suits recycler.  Even his breath’s moisture was captured and recycled through the wicking liner of the suit. “The exoskeleton works better too. Improving the hydraulics in the legs gave me more power and endurance than before. The battery pack is still heavy though.  When is the solar skin going to be finished?” Taylor asked.

“It’s done Taylor.” answered Arnold Silverman, the lead scientist on the project. “I have the new suit, we can try it tomorrow.”

“This is supposed to be the last day Silverman, how about this afternoon?” asked Taylor.

“It’s your funeral Nathan!” said Silverman in his New York accent. “You’ve already been at it since dawn and we’ve only got a couple of hot hours left in the day.” Silverman had been monitoring communication from the lab in Las Vegas.

“I feel great!” said Taylor.

“Perhaps you should take a break Taylor. You do seem tired.” said M12 which was monitoring Taylor’s vital signs through the suits communication system.

The suit sent M12 Taylor’s heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and hydration level. It also sent data on the suit’s internal pressure, temperature (inside and outside) battery power level, water level, radiation level and GPS location.  The information was transmitted to M12’s extensive offline data storage, but readily available to the robot’s mind.

Taylor turned back towards the east and turned a dial on the side of his helmet.  He used his helmet’s optical enhancer to zoom in and find M12 under the awning of the mobile laboratory where the science team worked and kept cool. The visor on the helmet instantly self-adjusted as it darkened against the glare of the sun reflecting off the white truck and awning.

M12 was a marvel of modern technology. At four feet three inches tall, and shaped like a garbage can of old, M12 was a robot.

He (as he liked to be referred to) was originally designed to go to Mars and explore in lieu of human exploration, which the Whitehouse said was “prohibitively expensive.”  As more budget cuts came, the whole Mars program was cancelled.  NASA was now a skeleton of its former glory and the astronaut program was cancelled.

M12 was bought by Trace Scientific Corporation (TSC), a leading supplier to the military for things like body armor, exoskeletons, robotics, surveillance and any other fancy gadget they could think of.  DARPA funded the company and leading scientific minds were recruited to come up with Star Trek gizmos that would give the US Military an advantage over their enemies.

Equipped with all the latest in miniaturization and microelectronics, M12 was worth more than an F-15 and was one of a kind.  What made M12 different was that his ‘brains’ were in the bunker.

The bunker as they called it was in fact a top secret facility on the south west side of Las Vegas, Nevada. Mercy Air Services was a front for the TSC and actually operated as a successful EMS ambulatory air service.  Underneath the control tower was the bunker.  There was ten thousand square feet of high tech equipment, laboratories, communications, and research facilities hidden from sight. It was complete with staff apartments, a fitness center, a cafeteria, a casual lounge and an indoor pool.

“I’m fine M12, let’s test it out.  I’m heading back now” said Taylor and started off at a jog towards the truck.

Taylor liked interacting with M12. He could sometimes forget that the collection of wires and circuits was a robot.  The AI software that made M12 unique was constantly learning and adapting from its interaction with people and with its environment.  With the central processing unit housed separately, the M12 unit contained only rudimentary communication circuitry. The idea was that the unit could be replaced, but the brains could be transferred to another unit if necessary.  In fact, multiple R units could share the same consciousness, and there was no limit on the number of units it could control.  Besides all that, M12 was cool.

Captain Nathan Taylor was the last pilot to fly the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which happened to be the last one to fly when the program was cancelled. After twenty five years in the Navy as a fighter pilot, a test pilot, and finally an astronaut, Taylor was mothballed at 42 years old.

That’s where M12 and Nathan Taylor had first met. The M12 program was decommissioned at the same time as the cancellation of the astronaut program.  Nathan was on the team looking into the potential uses of an R-type robot for Mars exploration and had worked with R1-R11.  M12 was by far the most advanced.  In a backwards twist of fate, M12 recommended Taylor to TSC as a test pilot of sorts.  Working together again was just like old times.

As Taylor approached the truck twenty minutes later, he could see the M12 and Running Bear under the awning. When he arrived at the truck, he depressurized the suit, turned off the hydration circuit and powered off completely. Taylor removed his helmet and revealed intense brown eyes set in a tanned craggy face and military cut salt and pepper hair. He was instantly hot in the intense, dry heat of Nevada desert.

“Wow, it’s hot out here!” said Taylor.

“140 degrees Fahrenheit Nathan.” Said M12.

“No kidding!” said Running Bear in his high whispery voice. Running Bear wore baggy well-worn jeans, cowboy boots, a sleeveless cotton plaid shirt and a tan leather vest decorated with Indian beadwork. On his head he wore his father’s old cowboy hat, two sizes too small, which barely sat atop his long black hair. His round face held two intense black eyes hidden under a heavy brow, and a wispy Fu Manchu mustache. “I can’t remember it ever being this hot.  I asked Grandfather.  He said it’s so hot because the world will return to its beginning soon.”

“What does that mean?” asked Taylor as he removed his sleeves, then pressed the suits release button on his chest and stepped forward out of the suit. Underneath he wore a pair Under Armor shorts and shirt which revealed every muscle barely concealed beneath.

“I dunno. Some kind a Spirit talk I guess. I don’t understand all that Indian mumbo jumbo.” answered Running Bear.

“Some Indian you are Running Bear!” said Taylor with a smile, relishing in the familiar banter.

“Oh yah? I can take you any time white man!” proclaimed Running Bear flexing his huge arms.

Running Bear was a walking oxymoron.  At well over six feet and three hundred pounds, he was incredibly powerful.  That was the Bear part. The running part was a problem. In fact it was rumored that if you managed to escape his huge fists, you could outrun him easily.  It was also said, however, that if Running Bear ever hit you with one of those giant sledge hammers on the end of his arms, it would be lights out for good.

Running Bear was the brawn of the operation. He drove and fixed the vehicles, repaired and tinkered with everything, including M12.  It always amazed Taylor that Running Bears hands had the dexterity they had to fix the smallest gadget, yet they had the strength to loosen the tightest bolt.

Running Bear was from the Shoshone tribe, an American Indian from a proud heritage. He lived in Furnace Creek, California where his family had lived for hundreds of years and he claimed that he was related to Sacagawea, the guide for Lewis and Clarke.

Taking advantage of every opportunity available to him as a native Indian, Running Bear went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. There he received his degree in Mechanical Engineering with honors, dumbfounding many of his peers who judged him by his appearance.

“Is the new suit here yet?” asked Taylor.

“No. We’re still waiting for Silverman to bring it down. He should be here any minute if he brought the chopper.” Answered M12.

It was then that they all heard the familiar “wup-wup” of the Bell 412 helicopter coming in for a low pass before landing.

“I’m coming down with the suit.” said Silverman, stating the obvious, “Prepare for some sand in your hair pretty boy!”

The chopper circled once, hovered and began its descent one hundred feet from the truck.  Sure enough, it raised a dust storm as its powerful rotors created the lift necessary for the slow and gentle landing its pilot executed.

M12 shut all external doors and hunkered down. Running Bear and Taylor turned away and protectively raised the inside of their arms to their eyes, screening out the sand as it blasted them like a sand storm.

Silverman exited the chopper and waived it a way.  He pulled a big silver suitcase on wheels behind him and ducked below the rotating blades as he walked towards the truck.  The marvel of flight lifted off again in another sandy blast. The blue and white paint and the medical insignia emblazoned on the side meant life and hope for many a medical patient. Today it meant a gritty swallow to those on the ground.

“Mouse! You could have landed further away you know!” said Running Bear a little miffed.

“I thought you wanted the suit as soon as possible boys.” Silverman said with an innocent smile.

“Come on, let’s get it on me Running Bear.”  Taylor said as he took the suitcase from Silverman.

Running Bear and Taylor walked over to the workbench on the side of the truck and opened the case. Running Bear helped Taylor assemble and put on the new solar skin equipped thermal suit.

Arnold Silverman was a small man you could easily forget if he didn’t open his mouth.  He was average height, average weight, average looks. Short curly hair, a large nose, rimless glasses, and a grey suit and tie did nothing to redeem his personality which could be described as abrasive.

Taylor described him as an annoying little man. Running Bear tolerated him because he was his employer, otherwise, in his native language; he would have squished the little “bo’nai” or mouse years ago.

Silverman had a way of getting under your skin without even trying.  Maybe it was his attitude of superiority and condescension.  It could have been his New York – Bronx accent.  Most likely it was the combination of the two along with the fact that, unfortunately, Silverman was absolutely brilliant.

When he graduated from MIT at fifteen, he was immediately recruited by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  His few friends at MIT wondered what happened to him.  He disappeared from the world for twenty years.  No one saw or heard from him, or knew that he was working on some of the most amazing technology known to man.  It frustrated Arnold to no end that he couldn’t share his work with anyone.  He was sworn to secrecy. DARPA didn’t mess around if their secrets got out. Brilliant or not, Silverman would disappear, this time for good.

Silverman had designed the thermal suit to be used for exploration in extreme heat. Originally conceived to block the Sun’s radiation and heat in space, the suit would have been the next wave of astronaut gear. 

The new smaller profile suit was fully self-contained and could easily fit on external oxygen tanks where atmosphere was non-existent. On earth external tanks weren’t necessary and the internal scrubber/filters did a good job of giving enhanced oxygen to the wearer.

Silverman was promoting the suit to TSC as the next soldier of the future outfit designed for desert warfare. With the addition of the exoskeleton it enhanced the power and endurance of the man inside.  Conceivably, a soldier could survive for two weeks without a new source of water in extreme desert conditions and now with the solar power pack, he would have unlimited range.  With audio and visual enhancement, a head’s up display for a variety of information and targeting, and satellite communication; Silverman’s suit was getting rave reviews.  If the current set of tests that Taylor was about to complete were successful, a new government contract was guaranteed, with a nice bonus to Silverman.

M12 opened up its protective doors, once again able to hear and see what was going on, he looked around. “Hello, Dr. Silverman.” Then he reminded Taylor, “We only have an hour of sun left now.”

“Al-most-there!” Taylor grunted as Running Bear closed the suit on his chest.

Running Bear helped Taylor with the suits sleeves and rotated them until a click was heard, securing the arms to the shoulders of the suit. Then he handed him the helmet. “This doesn’t look any different, Mouse. Where’s the solar panels?” he asked.

“Argh! Don’t call me that! For your information, Running Bear, they are the size of your brain. A pinhead to be exact, and there are millions of them on the suit and on every surface.  Look closer.” Running Bear growled, but he and Taylor examined the red material a bit closer.

“You can see that I have done away with conventional solar cells. These cells are spherical, negating the direct angles usually necessary to get efficient solar power a light source.  If you damage them, you will reduce your power coefficient. However, I thought about how rough you can be Taylor, and they can operate independently. That way if some are damaged the rest will keep working.”

  “Nice.” Said Taylor. “Let’s get the helmet on and head out!”

Running Bear handed Taylor the helmet and made sure it was latched and patted the top of the helmet to give the OK.

Taylor turned on the internal power and ran a diagnostic test.

“Receiving telemetry five by five.” said M12.

After five minutes all was well. Taylor brought up the HUD and saw the first waypoint five hundred feet away, back into the canyon. “Here we go!” he said and ran off to the north east.

Running Bear found a rock for a pillow, lowered his cowboy hat and was snoring in seconds.

Silverman went inside to see on a monitor what M12 was already seeing in his mind’s eye. That and to get into the air conditioning. It was hot!

M12 was watching the suits statistics while he reviewed the week’s results in another part of his processor. “That’s interesting” he said out loud, but Running Bear was sleeping and Silverman was inside.

Over the last thirty days of testing, the average daily temperature had increased by point six percent per day, from 118 degrees to 140.35 degrees in one month. M12 compared the historical records and temperatures should be decreasing daily for the fall season. In fact they had already broken the record high of 111 degrees. He made a note of it and went back to monitoring Taylor as he leaped across a dry riverbed in the distance.

 


Chapter 2

The noise of the traffic on the street failed to penetrate the screaming of the heavy metal music in her ears as Jade Carter snaked in and out of traffic to a rhythm only she could hear on her mp3 player. Her skate board was emblazoned with a graphic of her latest project, soon to be released.

The occasional cry of “Hey!” from a jostled pedestrian, or the honk and screeching tires of a suddenly stopped SUV didn’t slow her down.  It was the fastest mode of travel in the busy Redwood Shores district of San Francisco, California.

Jade Carter looked about sixteen. She was a tiny five foot five and 110 pounds. She wore the clothes of a rock star and the combat boots of a soldier.  Today’s outfit was made up of well-worn jeans and a skinny metal studded leather jacket over a tie died T-shirt.  Her short black hair and bangs that fell over one eye was graced with a bright yellow daisy, a feminine touch in contrast to her boyish looks. With no makeup on her round face she could have passed for a boy. That was until you looked into her eyes.  Long black lashes surrounded her deep blue eyes that seemed to always sparkle with mischief. When Jade saw the humor in life her lopsided smile revealed straight white teeth and a single dimple on her left cheek.

On her back was a black leather backpack with her dearest possessions inside. It contained the most powerful gaming laptop money could buy, her cell phone, her wallet and keys, a notebook for ideas, a pocket Taser ‘just in case’ and a small photo album.

Turning the last corner and grabbing a free breakfast bagel from her friend Carlo’s sidewalk Bistro as she went, Jade rolled to a stop at GV Games.  Jade picked up her skate board and clipped it on her pack she walked in the front doors.

GV Games was the number one game developer in the world.  It hired only the best and Jade was the best game script writer in the business. The tall green glass doors opened automatically for her and as she entered the lobby she instantly felt relief from the hot air outside. 

The beautiful and eye-catching fifty foot waterfall in the center of the ornate lobby seemed to be falling from thin air. It was supported from the ceiling by thin guide wires and gallons of water were pumped from underneath through clear Plexiglas tubes. It created a cooling mist that permeated the lobby.

Jade walked on the cobblestoned floor and around the waterfall to the security gate where she showed her pass to the guard on duty.

“Thanks Jade.” said Sergeant Nick Gonzalez with a brilliant smile on his handsome face.  He was the only security guard on staff that had any military training.

Eight years in the Army Special Forces, with three tours in Afghanistan, made him more than qualified for the minimum wage job.  At five feet seven and one sixty five pounds Nick still wore a uniform well. He stayed in shape at the staff fitness center and was the envy of the GV staff who worked on computers for a living. 

In her mind’s eye, Jade could see how their pale, skinny bodies failed to measure up against his tanned, muscular one.  She often couldn’t help but take a peek when she came off the jogging track and passed by him on the weight machine.

Jade looked up at him with a smile and said “Good morning Nick”. She put her bag and board on the conveyor belt and walked through the body scanner. “Did you have a good night?”

“Yes thanks.  I studied until late again.”  Stifling a yawn Nick covered his mouth. “On top of that I couldn’t sleep.  It was so hot last night!” he said.

“I know! It was hot! It’s supposed to be even hotter today they said on the weather last night. 95 degrees! Who would have thought it would ever get that hot here again this year?” Jade asked.  She picked up her stuff and with a quick lopsided smile over her shoulder, Jade waved goodbye.

“I know, huh?  Have a great day!” Nick said and watched her head for the elevators. She was cute, but so young to work for a living, he thought. Little did he know that they were the same age.

At 19 Nick joined the Army with his Dad’s permission. His Dad was a Korean War veteran that had served in the Army as a volunteer and was thrilled to see his son get off the streets and into the military. He could see how Nick would end up if he stayed in the streets. Nick would be wearing gang colors in the wrong neighborhood, dead in the gutter. A Mexican-American had little chance to make it in the mean streets of xxxxxx.

Nick had his father’s height, but his mother’s looks.  Built like a tank, they used to say when Nick was growing up.  Nick was always stronger than the other kids in school. They soon learned that he was the wrong one to ridicule for his height, or because he had a white mother.

The US Army soon found out what they had when Nick joined. Basic training seemed like a walk in the park to him and he graduated easily. He was recruited by Special Forces and placed in the X-Ray Program, a special program for new recruits that included the Infantry School, and the Airborne School.  After successful completion, Nick attended the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) School and two years of specialty training.

Needless to say Nick did well in the SF.  Their investment paid off when Nick and his team of four infiltrated a Pakistani Al-Qaida stronghold in the middle of the night to rescue a missing pilot. It turned out that the pilot was severely wounded and the terrorists knew they were coming.

Outnumbered and surrounded, Nick managed to kill or wound all the terrorists, rescue the pilot and two of his own men, all while he himself was shot in both legs. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action, but was medically discharged due to the injury to his left knee. A bullet from a terrorist’s AK-47 shattered his knee and in spite of several surgeries, he would never have the motion or endurance demanded by the Special Forces.

Nick was still, however, not someone to mess with. It was a good thing that most of the time his Canadian mother’s mild manners won over his dad’s Latino temper.

He took the security job mostly for extra spending money as he was on medical disability and that covered his basic needs.  Consequently, he had a nice, new, Mustang GT Cobra.  It was brilliant black that shined like the night and had two red racing stripes across the hood, over the cab and over the back tail of the powerful car.  A matching red stripe hugged the lower edge of the car on both sides, making the muscle car look like it was always in motion.

Nick’s mind wandered for a moment and he thought it would be interesting to take Jade for lunch some time. He was about to call to her when he was greeted by the next employee to arrive at work and motioned him through the scanner.  When he looked back at Jade she had entered one of the towers elevators.

Jade pressed the fourteenth floor button and waited for the door to close.  Josh Martin threw his hand in between the doors a split second before they closed and the doors opened with an annoying buzzer voicing its complaint.

“Hi Jade!” said Josh nervously looking Jade in the eyes and quickly back at the elevator floor indicator.

“Hi Josh. Close call!” said Jade.  They had known each other for the last two years and they now worked together on the new game that was about to be released.

Josh was a bit taller than Jade, but twice her weight. He had brown eyes mounted too close together on his wide round face behind “Harry Potter” glasses that magnified his beady eyes to incredible effect. His old blue T-shirt with Pac-Man on the front was his normal attire with khaki shorts that he had trouble keeping up in the back. The shirt seemed to always be wet under the arms, which was in part due to nervousness, and in part the extra weight he was carrying. Fortunately Josh had a habit of taking a shower twice a day to combat body odor for which everyone was grateful. He had straight brown hair cut in the style that used to be called a “bowl cut”. This was a recipe used for years by kind hearted mothers the world around who really thought it looked cute.  “Take one poor small boy, place bowl on head, trim around the bowl, remove bowl and comb.” Somehow mothers had no idea how silly their boy looked to his peers.  Josh kept the style into his twenties even though his mother had died seven years ago. 

He lived with his mother after his father had run off with his secretary when he was twelve.  His mother had won the house with the divorce settlement and his father had gotten away without paying alimony, for reasons his mother never would understand. As a single mother, she managed to earn enough as a waitress to send Josh to private school, but not much else.  Once Josh started working things eased up for a while financially. That was until she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Then financially and emotionally Josh carried it as best he could.  He still had a debt that would crush most sane people, but if there was one thing his mother had taught him, it was to be indebted to no one. When his mother had finally died after months of chemotherapy he was left alone in the house she had willed him; the house where he was born.

 Josh was the graphic designer responsible for making the background scenery details realistic for the game and he designed the world that the players ran through. He began as a game tester for GV games, but when, at Jade’s suggestion, he submitted some of his artwork to the Lead Graphic Designer, Bill Smith was impressed enough to offer him a job. Josh was forever in Jades debt for more than just that.  She didn’t know it, but two years ago she had saved his life.

That night when she came over to see his artwork, he was going to take his own life. She surprised him by actually coming over.  When she showed up two hours late and knocked at his door, he had already locked himself in the bathroom and had prepared himself mentally for the last pathetic act of his poor pathetic life. He somehow heard her knocking over his pounding heart and answered the door in a sweat.  She attributed it to nervousness and he didn’t tell her what he was about to do. They looked at the pictures, ate some popcorn and watched a remake of Star Trek in 3D.  Josh couldn’t believe that Jade had actually come over and had actually stayed.  He now loved her more than any other person in the world, but was too afraid to say anything.  If she would ever look into his eyes, deeply, even for a moment, she would see the love there, but Josh never had the courage to hold her gaze that long. 

Jade liked Josh as a friend, a good friend, but she had no idea that he wanted more than just friendship. They worked together, and were friends, but she really couldn’t see him as more than that. Besides, they were both too busy anyway.  The deadline for the release of the new game was less than a month away and there were still several chapters to finish.

The elevator reached their floor and Josh motioned Jade to go ahead. “Ladies first!” he said gallantly.

“Why thank you kind Sir!” Jade responded with a grin.

They walked side by side through the sea of nondescript grey cubicles decorated with various monsters, ghouls, aliens and cartoon characters according to the fancy of each cubicle occupant.  Fortunately Ray Wong was a good boss who wasn’t big on corporate rules and regulations but was big on creative freedom.  The cubicle walls were his only concession to the man. Within their workspace they had the freedom to decorate and customize as long as they delivered their work as promised.

The project room as they called it, was a converted conference room.  Ray had taken funds allocated for a new office copier and spent the money on comfy couches, bean-bag chairs and pillows.  This was the place they met every morning to get their directions for the day, and to provide status updates for their particular piece of the game.

When they entered the room they saw the usual crowd; Richard Stevenson with his biker’s scarf and hulk Hogan mustache was the special effects/model master; Randy Watson the historian with his bifocals hanging around his neck; Elaine Gerard the PhD in phycology with her tight-fitting sweat suit; Padraig Jones (Jonesy) with his green tea and long blond hair was the game programmer.  A unique group of people to say the least, but in spite of their appearances each one was an expert in their field. GV games only hired the best. Greetings were exchanged and Jade and Josh grabbed a drink and found their customary spots; Jade on the bean-bag chair, and Josh on the leather recliner.  They were all waiting for Bill Smith and Ray Wong to arrive to direct the meeting.

 Elaine, ever the observer of human behavior said with a suggestive voice, “Good morning Jade and Josh, arriving together again this morning I see?”

“J-j-just a coincidence Elaine!” stammered Josh, almost spilling his coke.

“Ignore her Josh, she’s just trying to get a rise out of you.” said Jade calmly.

“I know.” said Josh, carefully putting down his coke so no one would see his hands shaking in embarrassment.

Stevenson laughed and said, “Yeah, those two together? Who are you kidding?”

Randy just shook his head in amazement.

“C’mon dude, it could happen. Even Sonny had a Cher!” said Jonesy with a smile.

“We’re just friends, OK?” said Jade, then with a glare “Let it go Elaine.”

“Good morning everyone!” said Ray Wong gliding in unnoticed by all, followed by Bill Smith clumsily carrying a laptop and several binders and folders.

“Good morning!” was the group’s reply.

Ray Wong was dressed in a dark business suit complete with vest and tie.  His dark hair was cut with bangs in front and fairly short around the sides. He looked around thirty to his coworkers, but in reality he was fifty years old, although he had no telltale grey hairs to prove anything to the contrary.  Ray always wore the most expensive suits which was a quirk from his years in Hong Kong.  He was unusually tall at six feet tall and had a slender build from his mother, with hands better suited for a surgeon, or a concert pianist. He was always smiling, so you couldn’t tell if you were in trouble unless you looked into his eyes.  There you could see the flint of his father’s anger beneath the veneer of civility.

He had grown up in Hong Kong and was involved in the family business that manufactured and exported children’s toys to the US and around the world. Ray’s parents moved to San Francisco the year before Hong Kong was going to be turned over to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.  They were afraid that the PRC was going to revert Hong Kong back to communist rule and confiscate any businesses, property and assets held by Hong Kong nationals.  There was a mass exodus from Hong Kong in the years leading up to ‘the handover’, as it was called, and Ray’s parents and his brother Ronald were included in the more than one million souls that emigrated from Hong Kong in the end.

Ray had started with GV games fifteen years ago. The fledgling game development company had limited resources with only eight employees, but a lot of enthusiasm. He was the project manager for their first game using a 3D gaming engine they had bought from a Swiss company. “Hidden Sky” was a first-person shooter that had amazing graphics for the time; the plants actually moved and objects exploded as the character moved through various but limited landscapes. It was a far cry from the graphics of today, but still had a large cult following. The game started as a PC game, but eventually moved to game consoles as they became more popular. The success of “Hidden Sky” continued with version 2 and version 3 popular worldwide. As new technology grew, the gaming universe evolved into near-real-world virtual reality landscapes and cinema quality graphic sequences. GV games became number one in the world expanding its offices to China, Ireland, Las Vegas and San Francisco.  Each office was responsible for a specific game genre. San Francisco was the head office and owned the first-person shooter genre. 

“Red Sky” was the project Ray’s team was working on and it was almost complete.  The pre-release trailers had already hit the TV and the internet and hype was building with the Comic-Con gamer’s conference only weeks away. The game was already the number one downloaded demo on File-Planet.com which was the most popular place to get information or get demos for the latest games.

Ray and Bill found a seat and the conversation turned quickly to more important matters.

“Alright boys and girls, before we get into status reports, Ray would like to say a few words.” Bill began.

“Thank you Bill.  As you know we are three weeks away from the release of Red Sky. I want you all to know how proud I am of you. I am sure that this is the most advanced game ever produced, by any gaming company, and I know that it is the best one ever produced.  With your hard work and creativity, Red Sky will be a best seller, and I’m sure, a cult classic just like its predecessor, Hidden Sky.” Ray began with flourish. He continued, “You also know, that Red Sky is the number one demo downloaded in the US, and a close second in Europe and Asia.  Your two years of hard work is about to pay off!  The company has approved a significant bonus if this game is released on time. Are you ready?” he paused for effect and looked at each person, letting their anticipation build for a moment, he paused then went on, “two months pay, plus an all-expenses paid, week-long trip to Las Vegas!”

“Hey-Hey!” said Elaine.

“Awesome, dude!” said Jonesy.

“Nice!” said Josh.

“I’m in!” said Randy.

“Whose pay?” asked Stevenson clarifying an important detail in his own mind.

“Each of your individual salaries Dick.” answered Bill.

“Just askin’” said Stevenson.

“What’s the catch?” asked Randy.

“All you have to do is finish the last chapter this week, so that we have time to produce the finished product for pre-sales in two weeks!” answered Ray.

“No way!” exclaimed Jade, “we don’t even know how it ends yet!”

“I guess our trip to Vegas depends on you then dear.” said Elaine sarcastically.

“How am I supposed to write the final script in one week?” asked Jade, her voice rising.

“Jade, I’ve seen you come up with brilliant solutions before. I don’t doubt you will come through again.” observed Bill.

“Thanks for your vote of confidence Bill, really, but that doesn’t give me much time!” she said.

“I’m afraid we don’t have much choice Jade.  Our sales channels are already expecting delivery in three weeks and management has approved the schedule.” Ray said.

“Well no one consulted me Ray!” said Jade, a little angry now. “How can they set the schedule without input from the people doing the work?  That’s inane!”

Bill cleared his throat, but before he could speak, Ray answered, “We did consult with Bill last week, before the schedule was approved.  He was filling in for me while I attended to some business out of town. We assumed that he had spoken with you.  Did he not?” he asked looking at Bill with his dark eyes burning.

“Of course I did!” Bill said, then looked at Jade and each person in the room in turn as he spoke, “Last Monday I shared the schedule with you.  I told you we had four weeks left.  You all agreed that that was enough time to finish.” He concluded.

“Bill, I was sick last Monday, remember? You never asked me about the schedule.”  said Jade.

“That’s right!” said Josh, coming to her defense.

“Oh, you’re right, um, I guess I forgot that.” said Bill sheepishly.

Ray straightened his tie, a sure sign of his annoyance, “Well, all that aside, this is the schedule we’ve committed to.  Jade, please do whatever you can to finish up this week.  I understand if something comes up, but do your best.  If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Okay. Thanks Ray.” Jade said, somewhat appeased.

“Alright, let’s go through statuses now. Bill you can start” said Ray straightening his tie again.

The meeting continued for an hour as each one gave a status report for their respective areas.  Everyone was caught up, except for working on the patches to the game from beta testing, but those would be done by the time the game was released.

Jade’s status was short and simple. “I have to work a miracle.” She said.

 

 
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