Closer Protection (1500 words; no sex, drugs, etc. - I must be mellowing)

reiver33

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This is one of those 'rogue ideas' that came to me while trying to sleep ahead of a night shift, but ended up only dozing. I've written a few urban noir stories set in an unnamed location, but, if it helps, the cityscape I 'see' is that from 'Death and the Compass' - the original early 90s TV play.



“Alpha team, clear.”

The four of us stood, facing outwards, covering the neo-brutalist expanse of the underground car park, as Bravo moved past us to take point. Along with Delta team we formed a rolling protective cordon for our charge, Edward Sloan. He walked between us, seemingly unperturbed by our efforts to keep him alive. Ahead of us lay an armoured limo and two military-grade SUVs, surrounded by a shoal of drones to ensure no-one had tampered with our rides.

We’re Maximum Law; private security, bail bondsmen, skip tracers. We police those areas of the city where Metro lacks the manpower or inclination to keep a lid on things. This, though, was a bodyguard gig; three teams, around-the-clock protection, and a client who didn’t quibble about the cost. Sloan – codename ‘Temple’ - had taken the top two floors of the Vandenburg Hotel, which was about as expensive as they come. He stayed alone in the penthouse, with us occupying the floor below, a carpet of sentry pods and sensors covering the hotel roof. Everything he ate, drank or breathed was monitored, and none of the hotel staff got past us, for any reason. All-in all, I was reasonably confident our charge was safe from conventional attack, baring a missile strike or bomb big enough to bring the entire building down.

But fear is infectious and our controllers had a bad case of the jitters. Word was Central had run Sloan’s financials and facial recognition through every database they had and come up empty. The man had money to burn but zero history, like he didn’t exist prior to two weeks ago. The guys who’d taken up his food said Sloan was some kind of share trader, surrounded by monitors showing stock markets around the globe. To my mind that meant he was frontman for some cartel money laundering, or maybe a serious player sporting a new identity to evade past misdeeds. Either way this was an individual with fears for his continued wellbeing – which put us firmly in the firing line.

Not that the gig didn’t have its up-side, however unexpected. I’d met Barbara, a waitress, and she was the real deal. We hadn’t actually been on a date, but when this was done and dusted I wanted her in my life, for sure.

Then, no prior warning, Sloan announces he has to be at the Svenner Glade for 12 minutes past midday. This sounded like a meet, but he handed down zero details. Man, Central really had to hustle, stringing it together, even letting us switch up from semi-automatics to folding-stock assault rifles, with Metro presumably paid to look the other way.

So, the hotel underground car park.

We advanced by teams, safeties off, using a mix of low-light and infrared oculars for maximum visibility. Even when aboard our vehicles, Alpha with Slone in the limo, the tension didn’t ease any. I could see Bryce, riding shotgun, gripping his weapon so tight the knuckles showed white.

“Central, this is Temple two-six, rolling.” I raised my voice slightly. “Chen, stay with one-six, whatever happens. I don’t care if Mother Superior pushing a baby buggy steps out in front, keep your foot off the brake.”

Our driver half-laughed. “Got it, boss. We’re the arboreal express, no stops.”

The three-car convoy surged forward, up and out the exit ramp, onto the boulevard. One-six led us down East Reach towards the Greenswathe, the belt of woodland and parks that historically separated the city into old and new development. We used the priority pay-per-meter central lane, but, hey, money was no object.

Sloan kept checking his watch, so I tried to sound reassuring. “Don’t worry, sir, we’ll get you to your rendezvous in good time.”

“Rendezvous? I didn’t say I was meeting anyone.”

“Yes, Mister Sloan, but you must have a damn good reason to break cover like this beyond smelling the flowers.” I cleared my throat. “Sir, some idea of who’ll be there, and what security they might have, would go a long way towards avoiding any accidental conflicts. Tension makes for an itchy trigger-finger at the best of times, and adding in the unknown just ups the ante.”

He smiled, and for a moment something about the cast of his features seemed familiar, then it was gone. “I assure you, Carvel, I’m not going to meet someone – although if my associates had realised I’d been here, they would have certainly tried to, ah, disappear me. This close to completion, though, I doubt they’ll bother.”

Regardless of his twisted optimism I called it in. “Central, this is Alpha-One. Information received indicates the primary threat will be a snatch squad. Repeat, snatch squad.”

“Central receiving. Pre-emptive protocols have been adjusted and we’re now monitoring the airfields for any possible rendition flights. Thanks for the heads-up, Alpha-One. Central out.”

Sloan laughed. “Frequently right if for the wrong reasons. I’d heard that about you.”

We swept past our team at the gate and pulled into one of the peripheral parking areas. Once Bravo and Delta deployed, Alpha escorted Sloan from the limo. He immediately set off down a side path, really setting the pace, leaving us scrambling through the undergrowth, trying to at least get alongside our charge.

We reached the Svenner Glade; just an open circle of grass surrounded by mature oaks, with a small whitewashed wooden pavilion off to the right. I stood there, breathing heavily, while my men positioned themselves around the perimeter.

Sloan spoke without looking in my direction. “Please accompany me, Mister Carvel. Just you.”

I followed him out onto the sun-dappled grass, to a point about a third of the way across.

He looked around the glade. “It was dark when I was last here, so I didn’t appreciate just how little it had changed.” He pointed towards the pavilion. “There will be a statue of Greta van Lears on that spot. But when you meet her, don’t say anything - she has a big enough ego as it is.”

“Sir?” there was a hinky vibe to all of us, and I could feel my palms were slick with sweat.

My charge turned to face me. “I used the name ‘Sloan’ so as not to be too obvious. It’s my mother’s maiden name. The woman your son will marry.”

I stared at him. “I don’t have-”

“You would have met her, regardless. Barbara, I mean. Some couples seem fated to be together, so you can tweak the circumstances somewhat. Causality may be a bitch but it’s quite broad-brush at times.” He smiled, although I could see sadness in his eyes. “We overlap but I don’t remember you, apart from video and pictures. You more than live up to your reputation.”

Oh, man, this was bad. Sloan was clearly unhinged, with a real ‘end-of-days’ aura about him. I raised my rifle.

“Alpha-One, what the hell are-”

I killed the channel. Several of my men turned to aim at me, others at Sloan. My voice came out as a harsh rasp. “What the hell is this sh*t?”

“In the spirit of private enterprise I was able to, uh, step in and exploit a period of extreme market volitivity. I pre-empted the biggest known trades and lodged the profits in a bank with a great future ahead of it. The type of understated, discreet establishment that will surrender the contents of an account to anyone with the correct pass codes, no matter how long the funds have laid there, accruing interest.” He smiled again. “Avarice may be its own reward, Jon, but I also got to meet you. Please believe me when I say that’s worth far more to me than financial gain.”

His watch beeped.

“But now, sadly, our time together is at an end.”

Behind him, in the centre of the glade, a mini-twister appeared out of nowhere – but one shot through with glittering light, like it contained flecks of prismatic glass. The leaves of the surrounding trees remailed undisturbed.

Edward Sloan, or ‘Carvel’, if he was to be believed, tipped me the wink. “There are bad times coming, Jon, but you’ll get through them.”

I could have pulled the trigger, I suppose, or tackled him to the ground, but did neither. Instead I stood and watched as he walked forward into the vortex – and vanished.

The twister winked out of existence.

I dropped my rifle to the grass and stood, arms held out at shoulder height. Some of my men started to close in, aiming, well, everywhere. My encrypted mobile rang.

“Jon, this is Gustav Hunter at Metro. We’ve met twice before.”

The voice in my earpiece worked Robbery-Homicide, so I guess Central figured this wasn’t going to end well and had brought the cops in ahead of time, as they saw it.

“Jon, we all watched the live feed. What the hell just happened?”

I started to laugh, feeling the tension drain away like a tap had been turned on.

“You’re the goddam detective, Gustav. You tell me.”
 

tinkerdan

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I looked at this yesterday.
Read the first paragraph and then went on to other things.
Just glanced at it today and looked at the last few lines.
Thought that it was an interesting way to end it.
Went up a few paragraphs and read a bit more.
Kept doing that--kind of like that movie: Memento.
Anyway--it reads pretty well backwards--I'll have to read it forwards once.
Soon.
Maybe.
Oh-look.
I see a shiny vortex.
...
 

sule

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I think this is an interesting idea. The voice of the narrator worked well, and the prose is good. Unfortunately, I found the ending hard to follow as I was unsure of Carvel's motivation and I couldn't really tell what he had even accomplished from his time traveling that hadn't already been accomplished in his timeline. He existed, so I assume that the main character met his wife in that timeline and he seemed to already be pretty wealthy so the slew of investments he made seemed a bit redundant.

I think you've got the bones of a cool idea here, but this particular iteration didn't work for me mainly because the ending left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Hopefully some of this feedback helps you but keep writing regardless.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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A few points - nothing too serious.

One-six, two six etc. I found confusing when set against Alpha. Surely his call sign to Central would be Temple One. Likewise the team members would be Temple two etc. else what's the point of the Temple code name.

There was just a hint at too much info at the begining.

Also by it nature of the job I would have thought that "Anyone" pointing a gun at the Primary would be shot by the rest of the team including the head of the team. Using the - Anyone can be bought principle.

Of course there is the old paradox - no not the grandfather thing - he made his investments in this time frame. He wouldn't have the fruits to spend here until he got back. So he must have been back some time before the two weeks to get the funds to afford all this.
 

reiver33

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My thanks for the comments! I’m heading out to work so for now;

‘Six’ is the convoy identifier, ‘One’, ‘Two’, etc. is the vehicle position. This was entirely contrived as ‘Temple Two-Six, rolling’ is a line from ‘Hardwired’ (unless I’m misremembering).

Part of the narrative detail problem was trimming the story as originally set down to fit the 1500 word limit.
 

Wayne Mack

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I felt the opening made a promise to the reader that there was some sort of major threat, but that seemed to fizzle out at the end. Why exactly was there a heavy military presence needed for someone who was intent on sneaking away? The story did not seem to end, just fizzle out for me - it read more as an opening prologue than a stand alone story.
 

Mon0Zer0

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The central idea of a time travelling stock trader is an interesting one, but it's hampered by too much telling and not enough showing. Considering the lack of threat or drama, the ending was anti-climatic. It promises some excitement with the presence of a private army, but underdelivers by them not serving any story point beyond the familial connection of one character with Sloan.

Some thoughts:

  • You could hook your reader more successfully in your first paragraph by following Mary Robinette Kowal's short story technique - clarifying who, where and genre.
  • I never really got a feeling for our main character Jon, what his personal motivations were or who he was.
  • Would bail bondsmen be so militarised? The military slang and strategic organisation seem more like the work of PMC's in a warzone than part time body guards.
  • You could cut 2-3 and make the character's roles, competencies and relationships explicit through their actions and dialogue.
  • The location suffered a bit too much from "white room" with no sensory description of the environment or immersive qualities beyond carparks and limo, leaving it without any real atmosphere or mood. You should try and lose us in the environment with some sensory description that heightens the mood.
  • You say you imagine the city to be similar to the one from "Death and the compass" - it would be good to a little atmospheric description, if it helps build the right mood. It would certainly help ground the story to a certain place.
  • The presence of a military operation lead me to believe this would be in a military focused genre, but that peters out for a time travel plot.
  • Personally, I think family members in time travel stories are a little cliche, but ignoring that for a moment this is not tackled in a very engaging way, with no emotional connection. The reader should feel the line when Sloan says "it's been nice hanging out" - and I'm not sure that moment has been earned due to the lack of interaction between the two up until that point.
  • I'm not sure the employer / employee relationship affords scope for what seems to be a story hinting at "connection".
  • There was no drama due to the lack of obstacles or danger. The main characters are on a journey but they face no challenges getting to their destination.
  • The journey is a nice conceit to hang the story on, though.
  • Time travelling stock trader is a good idea - but you haven't constructed the story in a way that serves this idea. How do his trades affect the market and the timeline? What happens to the people he effectively cheats out of their money? How does this affect the rich and powerful, or the common man? Could this have caused a Lehman brothers-ish global financial collapse? Is that his intention? There's potentially a rich seam here to mine for an interesting story.
  • What about some kind of future police force, or PMC hired by rich and powerful enemies of Sloan's time that are out to stop Sloan's trades? This would at least offer some drama and a reason for the bodyguards.
 

reiver33

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This idea was a spin-off from an earlier story (in another publication) in which a time-travelling CIA black ops team used advanced technology to pre-empt (or perhaps enact) unsolved historical bank robberies considered impossible in their own era. The 'Sloan' in this tale is a member of that team engaging in a spot of private enterprise, fearful of his contemporaries coming back to 'disappear' him for violation of causality protocols.

It was an idea I wanted to 'get down while fresh', and had to be heavily trimmed for the open critique word limit. My apologies if some of the narrative underpinning thus fell by the wayside, but thank you for the commentary.
 

Cosmic Geoff

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This read well and held my attention when I read through it.
A few quibbles arise though. Why is the massive militarised escort necessary? Where has 'Sloan' been hiding out? I got a bit confused there - was it at The Vandenberg hotel? I assumed that the Svenner Glade was going to be another hotel. If 'Sloan' has no history or trace, how did he hire the escort? He would have to pay in cash. Would not the escort be concerned when 'Sloan' heads off ahead of them into the shrubbery? Why do the other guards aim their guns at the chief guard? That is really not what one wants them to do if things start to go pear-shaped, I think.
The short story (for such it proves to be) ends with an unexpected twist. But I can't help thinking that 'Sloan' could have engineered his objective of getting his father and mother to meet with less drama.
Is this helpful? I don't know...
 

reiver33

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Taking a break from The Night Shift From Hell...

Sloan is fearful of being apprehended by a snatch squad from his own era.
As this is physical time travel, he 'stepped back' with some vintage currency and gem stones to provide his initial funds. It was his lack of banking history that raised a red flag, but his initial stock market activity didn't. The big trades were all accomplished in a short space of time, then it was a case of cut and run.
The escort were concerned when Sloan headed off on his own, and struggled to force their way through the adjacent undergrowth.
Some of the other guards covered Jon as he'd aimed at their charge (as another commentator mentioned) - he was just lucky they didn't open fire immediately.
Sloan knew that his grandparents would get together elsewhere, he just engineered an alternative meeting so that he could meet the grandfather he'd heard about.

Now, back to co-mingled database entries and equipment in use where it shouldn't be...
 

HumbleBard

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Pretty dang good. I'm not a huge fan of military fiction, sci fi or otherwise, but I like it when the spookiness of sci fi or paranormal activity upsets the order and discipline of a unit.

Be consistent with your spelling of "Sloan/Slone"

Why did he raise his rifle at Sloan? Couldn't he put hands on him instead? It's not like he can kill Sloan. Not sure what their contract stipulates what Sloan is allowed to do, if they are allowed to prevent him killing himself, or if they are allowed to defend themselves against him with deadly force or instead either subdue nonlethally or retreat.

Why aren't they shooting at the twister, lol. When in doubt pop off, right? Says someone who has handled a gun exactly once. But it makes about as much sense as pointing a rifle at someone who's paying your wages jus because they are being weird.

Also, Carvel says that he was glad he was able to meet the narrator, but why? Did Sloan take time out to hang out with Jon? It seems like he was pretty secluded while Jon was giving him security. You did a good job fitting the word limit, but maybe a little less military jargon and more character building, at least for the important ones like Sloan.
 

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