Jackie Silberston
— in —
Helpless in Seattle
by Van ©2006

Chapter 1


Jackie was tired and frazzled.  Her stylish and expensive new business suit, the one she'd purchased with her first TESSERACT paycheck, just for this trip to Seattle, was a rumpled mess.  The British Airways flight from Heathrow had seemed interminable, and the in-flight movies had been eminently forgettable.  Granted, the food had been excellent  (it was British Airways, after all), leg room had been adequate, the flight attendants were pleasant and professional, and she'd managed to get a little sleep.  Even clearing U.S. Customs at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport had been relatively painless.  But the flight had been sooo looong—longer by far than any flight she'd ever taken.

The maglev shuttle decelerated to a stop, settled to the rails with a metallic clap, and the door slid open.  Jackie grabbed her carry-on bag and duffel, then stepped through the doors and onto the concourse.  TESSERACT HQ Campus Station was hardly Piccadilly, but there was a significant crowd.  Jackie had been told she'd be met as soon as she arrived, but no one in sight seemed the slightest bit interested in her slightly overwhelmed presence.

"Ms. Silberston?" a husky, alto voice inquired.

Jackie turned, and found a tall, athletic, and quite attractive blonde smiling down at her.  "Uh-that's me," Jackie answered, mustering a smile.

The blonde was dressed in brown riding boots, khaki-tan riding pants (with suede panels lining the seat, crotch, and thighs), and a black, sleeveless top.  She was older than Jackie's nineteen years, probably over thirty, possibly thirty-five.  Her blonde locks were long and straight, and her eyes a piercing, pale blue.  "Narelle Tunney," she said, and extended her right hand.

Jackie dropped her duffel and they shook.  "Pleased to meet you."  She could tell at a glance the tall blonde was a rider.  The pattern of wear on her pants and boots suggested more than a passing familiarity with the saddle.  "You're with Margo's stable staff?"

Narelle's smile broadened.  "I am Margo's stable staff.  I'm also her personal gardener."  She picked up Jackie's duffel and gestured towards one of the concourse exits.  "Margo's stable only has three head at the moment, so it's not much of a burden, especially with Eve's robots doing all the routine chores."

Jackie frowned.  "From the brochure they sent me, I got the impression the stables were quite a bit larger."

"Those are the public stables," Narelle explained, "for TESSERACT employees and their families.  I run Margo's private stables."

"Oh."  Jackie skidded to a stop.  "Oh!  You're the one."

Narelle smiled.  "I'm the one who will be evaluating your professional competence and ability to run Margo's new stable on Gondaloo Island," she confirmed.  She put her free hand on Jackie's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.  "No worries, mate," she chuckled.  "Like Margo told you, you've got the job.  It's just a matter of when you report.  I've got to be sure you're ready.  There'll be a vet on call from Cairns, and Gondaloo will have a veterinary expert system on-line, but the island is rather isolated.  You'll be on your own most of the time."

Jackie nodded.  "You're Australian," she noted.

"Onya!" Narelle laughed, and they started forward again.  "Let's get a cuppa, and there's someone you're supposed to meet."
Jackie Silberston
Helpless in Seattle—1
The Headquarters campus, like the station concourse, was sleek and modern, with an emphasis on high ceilings, huge window-walls, mirrored or brushed steel panels, soaring columns, and unexpected angles.  There were traveling walkways, a maze of side corridors, multi-storied galleries, shops, cafés, and cozy lounge areas.  As they passed exterior window-walls, Jackie could see several widely separated glass towers in the distance; but also groves of mature cedars, grassy swards, and even a babbling brook emptying into a small lake.

There were people everywhere, male and female, young and old.  Most were dressed for business, but some were in athletic costumes, apparently on their way to play tennis or basketball, or to run on one of the many campus trails mentioned in the TESSERACT literature Jackie had so carefully studied.

Finally, they came to a suite of offices with a sign reading "LEGAL SERVICES".  Narelle led Jackie through the entrance, down a corridor, and to a closed door.  She knocked twice, and the hardwood panel slid open automatically, with a quiet hiss.   The room beyond was spacious and sunny, with a bank of windows providing a pleasant view of a stand of cedars.  Rising from behind a cluttered desk was a smartly dressed woman with short brown hair, blue eyes, and a welcoming smile.

CAREY LOWELL as ANNE"Hi, I'm Anne Clayton," she announced, coming forward to shake Jackie's hand.  "Welcome to TESSERACT."

"Thank you," Jackie answered.

Narelle took Jackie's carry-on bag  from her hand.  "I'll take these to the stables, then come back and collect you."

"I can see that she gets where she belongs," Anne suggested.

"No, I'll be back," Narelle promised, smiled at Jackie, and was gone.

"Tea or coffee?" Anne inquired.

"Excuse me?"

Anne had walked to a wet bar discretely tucked into an alcove.

Jackie blushed.  "Oh—tea, please."

Anne gestured towards a conversation pit facing the windows, then carried over a tray already laden with a complete tea service.

Jackie settled into a comfortable sofa, while Anne set the tray on a low table and sat down demurely on a plush side chair.

"Has it hit you yet?" Anne asked as she poured tea into two cups.  The service was brown stoneware with an olive glaze, a blend of Asian and modern designs.

"Excuse me?"

Anne smiled.  "The flight, the change of continents, the new job, all of the above?"

"All of the above," Jackie laughed.  She added a generous dollop of milk to her tea, then her smile faded.  "A little homesickness as well, I confess."

Anne gave Jackie a warm smile.  "That's to be expected," she said, quietly, then gazed out the window.

Jackie sipped her tea.  "Delish," she murmured.  Beyond the window, a small stream passed through the cedars.  As Jackie watched, a flock of tiny birds appeared.  They descended on an area where the clear water rippled across a series of flat boulders, and began to bathe.

"Chickadees," Anne informed her guest.

The gray, brown, and black songbirds flapped their wings, fluffed their feathers, and preened.  "They're pretty," Jackie said, then used her free hand to cover a huge yawn.  "Excuse me."

"I know you're tired," Anne said, kindly, "so I'll make this quick.  I realize you've already signed your contract and non-disclosure agreement—in the London office, right?"  Jackie nodded.  "Well," Anne continued, "it's my job to make sure you fully understand certain, shall we say, realities of campus life, here in Seattle."

Jackie frowned.  "Realities?"

"You'll be one of a very small group of TESSERACT team members, both here and at the Gondaloo resort, whose jobs require intimate contact with Margo and her personal guests," Anne explained.

Jackie's frown faded.  "Oh, you mean it's a trusted position.  I know that.  I'd never violate Margo, uh, Ms. Well's privacy."

Anne nodded.  "Margo is fine.  Her Majesty can be a demanding boss, but her style is very informal."  Anne sipped her tea, then continued.  "Anyway, here on the campus, access to Margo's private apartments and recreational facilities is tightly and automatically controlled.  The Eve-6900—you've read that part of the orientation literature?"  Jackie nodded.  "Eve tracks the movements of all TESSERACT team members and visitors."  Jackie's IDShe reached into a pocket of her jacket, produced a small badge, and handed it to Jackie.  "Keep this on display at all times."

Jackie gazed at the plastic rectangle and beheld her own image, her name, a bar code, and a strip of shiny material.  She used the attached clip to secure the badge to the front of her jacket.

"Eve and the Security people use a variety of technologies to keep track of us mere mortals," Anne quipped, and lifted her own badge.  It dangled from a black lanyard around her neck.  "There's nothing Orwellian about all this, I assure you; but a lot of sensitive research and business is conducted on this campus, and all sorts of people come and go.  TESSERACT's secrets have to be protected."

"I understand," Jackie said, stifling another yawn.

"As you learn your way around," Anne continued, "all you really need to do is follow the signs, and don't try and go places that are posted off limits.  With or without your badge, if you try to enter a place you don't belong, Eve won't open the door.  If you keep trying to enter, someone from Security will introduce themselves."

Jackie nodded.

Anne set her tea cup down and leaned back in her chair.  "Finally, as I said earlier, you'll have access to Margo's private areas.  Most people on this campus don't even know these areas exist.  Don't talk about what you see, and if someone tries to pump you for information, contact Security, immediately."

"I understand," Jackie said, her expression grave.

Anne laughed.  "Don't get me wrong, Jackie.  The TESSERACT Campus is probably the most open workplace on the planet.  It may seem like a paradox—Eve and Security monitoring your every move, yet things are wide open; but our culture values initiative and innovation.  Security is a necessary tool of business, and our system makes things tight and non-intrusive."

Just then, the office door hissed open.  Narelle had returned.  "You pair done yappin'?" she asked.

"Almost," Anne laughed.  She leaned over and placed a hand on Jackie's knee.  "If you have questions about anything, just tell Eve you need to talk to me, okay?  Any time of the day or night."

"Okay," Jackie responded, and shook Anne's hand.  "Thanks for the welcome, and I won't forget what you've told me."

Anne smiled.  "Once you're settled, down in the stables," she said as Narelle led Jackie toward the door, "I'll take you out and show you my favorite restaurant."  She faced Narelle.  "You too?"

"As long as I don't have to get dressed up," Narelle laughed.  "C'mon," she told Jackie.  "You've got some horses to meet."

Jackie's smile broadened, and her fatigue seemed to evaporate.  "Super!"

The office door closed, and Anne was alone.  She walked to her desk and tapped a function key on her computer keyboard.  An audible click sounded from the direction of the door, and the privacy light illuminated.

Anne went to her office closet, opened the door, and touched her TESSERACT signet ring to a small, inconspicuous panel beside the inside light switch.   The back wall of the closet slid to the side—revealing a mirrored corridor.  Anne stepped through, the secret door closed behind her, and she was in "the Biosphere", Margo Well's (and the Inner Circle's) private domain.
Jackie Silberston
Helpless in Seattle—1
Anne turned into a side corridor, continued for about a hundred paces, then joined one of the Biosphere's main arteries.  The brightly lit tunnel made a series of gentle curves.  On the left, its wall of one-way glass provided a rather voyeuristic vista of the Admin Tower's lower lobby.  Anne observed the steady stream of people going about their business, hurrying to meetings, pacing together in conversation, or sitting in one of the lounge areas, all of them totally oblivious to Anne's presence.

She left Admin behind and passed one of the Biosphere's "secret gardens".  This particular venue was a grove of mature bamboo towering over a carpet of moss and shade-loving wildflowers.  The box-prism effect of the mirrored walls gave the illusion of a vast forest, even though the garden was no more than a couple of acres.  The green light filtering through the leaves was most relaxing.  Anne made a mental note to add the bamboo garden to her list of Biosphere picnic sites.

Bamboo gave way to more mirrored corridor, with occasional one-way glimpses of more public spaces through the thick glass walls.  Anne continued and the glass gave way to steel, then the steel became concrete.  As Anne approached a shallow alcove tucked between two branching side-tunnels, its back wall opened with a quiet rumble.  Beyond was yet another corridor, this one somewhat narrow and dark.  It was straight for several yards, then turned to the right.

Anne made the turn, and began passing a series of widely separated alcoves.  Each was faced with a wall of thick glass, and through the glass she could see
a set of steel bars, and beyond the bars, a small cell.  All were dark, the dim light from the corridor the only illumination; but there was one exception.  The last cell in line was brightly lit from above, and its harsh, blue-white glow cast barred shadows on the corridor's concrete floor.

As Anne approached the last alcove, its glass slid into the wall with a dry scrape.  The cell beyond was occupied—by Jodi Weber.

JENNIFER ANNISTON as JODI"It's about frakkin' time!" Jodi growled.  "Get me out of here!"  She was wearing a standard Posey straitjacket, and heavy steel shackles, separated by about a foot of heavy steel chain, were locked around her ankles.  She was also wearing what appeared to be the orange and red bottom of a string bikini, visible under the straitjacket's canvas crotch-strap.  She may have been wearing the top as well, but the jacket made it impossible to tell.

Anne smiled.  "What happened?" she inquired.  (Anne knew perfectly well what had happened, but would enjoy hearing Jodi's version of events.)

"I'd just finished my early-morning Step-Surfin' class—"

"Your what?" Anne interrupted.

"Step-Surfin' class!"  Jodi stamped her right foot in frustration, and the shackle chain rattled.  "It's step-aerobics set to remixes of The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.  Everybody wears swimsuits, I have Eve holo-project beach scenery on the walls, and at the end of class we all run and jump in the pool."

"Okay..."  Anne's smile had become rather dubious.

"It's important to keep aerobics classes fresh and different!" Jodi explained.

"And you being the leader doesn't make things fresh and different enough?"

"Very funny," Jodi pouted.

"Anyway..." Anne prodded.

"Huh?  Oh-anyway, the class is splashing around in the pool, I get out and head for the lockers to change for my floor-walking shift in the weight rooms, all unsuspecting and minding my own business
and one of Kat's Cylons pops out of the wall and drags me into the Biosphere!  And since when did they get outfitted with those great big padded pincer arms and that ball-gag tentacle thing?"

The "Cylons" were TESSERACT Security's robot watchmen.  They were rare on the main campus, where they were used more as publicity for the Robotics Lab than as security; but they were more common in the Biosphere.  In fact, down in the Katacombs (Kat Mayfair's subterranean and very private domain) they could sometimes be encountered in hulking, intimidating crowds.  All were armed with non-lethal weapons only, and were designed to capture and subdue their targets without causing harm.

Anne smiled.  "I imagine Kat's experimenting with improved designs."

"Yeah, whatever," Jodi groused.  "Anyway, I get grabbed, dragged through the wall, spritzed in the face with la-la gas
that aerosol that makes you totally spaced out and compliant for 30-seconds?"  Anne nodded.  "And why the hell hasn't Elke gotten up on her high horse and outlawed that stuff for Inner Circle games, huh?  Didn't we just go through that whole no use of drugs during recreational kidnappings brouhaha?"

Anne shrugged.  "I guess some tools are just too useful to be dispensed with."

Jodi sighed.  "Yeah, well, anyway
the Toaster holds me while two valet-bots dress me in this thing—"  She squirmed in the straitjacket.  "—and these—"  She lifted her left foot and rattled her chain.  "—and then I got dragged to this miserable place."  She shoved her right shoulder against the white, featureless wall, and bounced back.

"All the walls are padded?" Anne asked, still smiling.

"Yeah, and the floor too,"
Jodi muttered.  "Not the bars, of course.  They're electrified.  You can touch them, but if you get violent and kick or shove against them, you get a mild shock."

"Show me," Anne suggested.

Jodi scowled.  "You're such a comedian
—now get me out of here!  This isn't fair!  Kat isn't even in town!"  Kat was with Margo, in New York, as was Elke Weber, Jodi's much put upon big sister.  "Kat shouldn't be allowed to mess with me when she isn't even here to play!"

"What makes you think it was Kat who ordered your incarceration?" Anne asked.

"Well, who else would..."   Jodi's eyes popped wide.  "It was you?"

Anne's smile became decidedly evil.  "Margo's instructions, my orders," she confirmed.  "There will be no Trickster nonsense while Jackie Silberston's in town
—Red Queen's orders."

"I didn't do anything!" Jodi protested.

"And I'm gonna make sure you don't get the chance," Anne purred.

Jodi stomped her foot, again.  "Not fair!  I'm gettin' punished for nothin'!  Not fair!"  Anne stepped forward, reached through the bars, and began straightening Jodi's tousled, honey-blonde locks.  "Not fair," the captive reiterated, a heartrending pout on her "innocent" face.

"I'll make it up to you... tonight," Anne promised, "after Narelle and I get done taking Jackie to The Cedar Plank."

Jodi was still pouting.  "Is she as hot as she looks in her photos?"  Jodi had never been to Brightman Hall, so her knowledge of Margo's new Gondaloo Riding Mistress (and potential "Inner Circle Associate") was limited to snapshots from Elke and Charlie's scrapbooks.

Anne's smile broadened.  She continued combing her prisoner's (and lover's) hair.  "Yeah, Jackie's quite the little nubile hottie.  She's also adorable, a saucy English tomboy, and something of a coquette
only unconsciously, without trying.  God help us if she starts trying."

"Yeah, you always were a sucker for cute little blonde flirts," Jodi whispered, and kissed the inside of Anne's forearm.

A blush touched Anne's cheeks, and she bit her lower lip.  "Sorry, cute little blonde flirt," she purred, touching her index finger to Jodi's lips, "but that's not gonna work this time."

Jodi sighed and kissed Anne's fingertip, then her pout returned.  "So unfair," she whined.  "Please let me out.  I'll be good."

"The Red Queen, the Black Knight, and the Harem-keeper have left Shyster in charge," Anne said, "and I'm not gonna let anything ruin Margo's plans for Jackie."

"Pleeease—please-please-please!" Jodi begged.

"Oh, poor Trickster," Anne sighed, then gave Jodi's sad face a gentle caress.  "It's not gonna happen, Sweetness.  Tell you what... I'll bring you some take-out from the restaurant, and if you're good, tonightthen tomorrow, I'll see if I can't get one of the other Sisters to keep you entertained."

"You're a meanie," Jodi accused.  "Why should I be 'good', if you're going to be so unfair?"

Anne cupped Jodi's chin, leaned even closer, and kissed her pouting lips.  "Because if you aren't good, I'll let Eve-L use you for interrogation practice."

Jodi swallowed, nervously.  "Uh, okay.  No need to do anything drastic.  Good is good—meaning, I'll be good."  She twisted her torso, testing the limits of the straitjacket.  It wasn't especially tight, but it was tight enough to be inescapable.  "But this is still colossally unfair."

Anne took a step back from the bars.  "Give that tongue of yours some rest," she advised, with a coy smile.  "It's gonna need it, tonight."  She took a second step back and the glass wall closed, sealing off the cell and its still pouting prisoner.  Jodi stuck out her tongue, but this only served to broaden Anne's smile.  The irritatingly smug lawyer waved, and walked away down the corridor.

Jodi sighed, clinked to the far wall of her cell (a journey of nearly six feet), put her back against the padded wall, and let herself slide to the floor.  The padding wasn't very soft, but at least it was warm.  "So unfair!" she muttered.
Jackie Silberston_
_Helpless in Seattle—1

Chapter 2