Moments later, I hear the soft clicking of heels against the floor. I turn to see a figure approaching in the distance. A remarkably poised, petite woman comes to stand face-to-face with me, wearing the sharpest, full pantsuit I’ve ever seen. Her light, strawberry-blonde hair is tucked into a neat, sleek bun at her nape. Minimal makeup adorns her austere expression. She’s pretty, in a subdued, demure sort of way. Despite her high-end, expensive sense of style, she gives off a rather conservative vibe.


“Welcome to Zanergy, Miss Myers,” she says, extending her hand professionally. “My name is Renée Wilkins. I’m Mr. Zane’s executive assistant. I’ll be overseeing your orientation today.”


I take it, surprised by the firmness of her grip despite the slender fingers that form it.


“Nice to meet you.”


“Likewise,” she nods. “I’ll start by showing you to your office.” She motions with a show of her hand. “Please, follow me.”


We walk up to what looks like one of those transporters from back at the residence—except this one is much larger and appears ten times more sophisticated. Renée doesn’t make any mention of or about it, however, and though I’m curious, I decide not to ask. We step inside, first-day nerves creeping into me, finally surfacing from the pit in my stomach.


“We have several rules that all employees are required to abide by,” she says, pulling out a tablet and handing it to me. “This is your personal, company-provided device and is yours to keep. All the company’s rules and regulations are uploaded in it for your convenience and future reference. I’ll go over all the fundamentals. Please read the rest on your own time.”


My eyes scan the screen as I hold the thinnest, sleekest digital notebook I’ve ever seen, so light I can barely tell it’s there. It’s practically weightless, like a cluster of feathers.


I) Each employee must act in accordance with the company’s policies, orders, rules, regulations, and guidelines.


II) The company expects each employee to maintain proper decorum. Employees are expected to conduct themselves on the job in a manner that contributes to operating effectiveness, productivity, safety and a harmonious work environment.


III) You are required to be at your appointed station and ready to begin work at the appointed starting time. Irregular attendance or tardiness will not be tolerated and may result in termination.


IV) Dress code is to be followed strictly. You are expected to look neat and presentable while on the job. Employees must wear company-provided uniforms at locations where uniforms are required (such as helmets, fire-resistant jumpsuits, laboratory coats, construction jackets, etc.).


V) If employees do not meet the company’s expectations of performance or conduct, necessary corrective action may be taken. It is within management’s discretion to determine what measure would be appropriate under each circumstance.


I follow along as she reads each statute aloud from her own tablet, finding them typical of a traditional corporation and atypical at the same time. She elaborates on each one, outlining rule after rule eloquently, like a newscaster, never missing a beat as we ascend. Another moment later, the door slides open with a unique, soft chime. Renée strides out of it in perfect synchrony with its timing and I have to shuffle after her to keep up. I regain my pace beside her as we walk and talk—her doing most of the latter—down a wide, spacious hallway lined with offices on either side. My eyes dart around as she goes over several more company policies, adding emphasis on punctuality, workplace conduct, productivity, office fraternization, emergencies, and particular aspects of corporate culture.


“We have a very strict dress code,” she continues. “All employees are expected and required to wear professional, office-appropriate attire including suits, dress pants, full-length shirts and blouses, blazers and overcoats. All skirts must be below the knees or longer. Shorts, jeans, and miniskirts of any kind are prohibited. Tank tops, see-through clothing of any kind and extravagant, distracting embellishments and/or colors are forbidden. Hair must always be worn back and away from one’s face at all times. Long hair, in particular, must be placed in neat, consolidated styles like ponytails, braids or buns. Loose hair and messy hairstyles are not permitted.”


She stops suddenly, halting mid step as she turns to look at me, her eyes briefly darting up to my head.


“You’ll have to do something about yours,” she says, the remark absolute. Almost stern.


“Oh…yeah, of course,” I blink, slightly thrown off by the sudden shift in her debriefing—and tone. “I’ll put it up as soon as I can put all this stuff down.” I smile, gesturing to my bag and newly-acquired device, hoping my feeble attempt at a joke lightens the serious, somewhat awkward milieu.


It doesn’t.


If anything, it seems to have the opposite effect. Renée’s expression becomes more solemn. Contemplative. Like that of someone observing a lab specimen in a Petri dish.


“I’m not just referring to the style,” she asserts, her eyes traveling north again, narrowing ever so slightly that I wouldn’t be able to catch the gesture if she wasn’t so close to me. “I’m talking abou—”


A loud vibration sounds off suddenly, cutting her off.


“Excuse me for one moment,” she pauses, reaching into her jacket and pulling out a sleek, gorgeous phone. She answers it immediately.


“Yes, sir?” she says into the receiver, her rigid demeanor falling for the first time since she appeared, going from self-assured to markedly alert in an instant. Alert and…




Realization quickly dawns on me as to who’s on the other end of her call.


Richard Zane.


“We’re still in the middle of…Yes, but…” she swallows, her expression turning somber, her eyes doubting. “Yes, sir.”


The call ends and she promptly places the phone back into her jacket, clearing her throat.


Her attention on me resumes, this time laced with something else.


“Mr. Zane would like to see you right away.”


My eyes bulge before I can stop them, my heart racing suddenly at both the mention of his name and the unexpected request for an audience. Though, if Renée’s new countenance is anything to go by, it sounds like more of a demand.


“Please, follow me,” she says striding ahead, not waiting for a response. We head back into the transporter, a slightly uncomfortable silence ensuing. She doesn’t say a single word the entire time and I have to wonder if this Richard Zane just has that sort of effect on people—even the ones constantly around him.


A few moments later, we step out into this vast, open hallway. I follow Renée’s lead, trying to keep up with her brisk pace as I look around, my heart moving faster than both our feet.


There’s nothing but white, empty space; no lounging area or furniture. The walls are completely bare, void of any color, not even a single painting hanging from them. It’s almost like it’s still under construction, and yet the barrenness feels intentional. We turn a corner, the only thing breaking up the monotony for several feet, and as soon as we do, my eyes go wide at what lies ahead.


An enormous, extended wall of steel stands erect in the distance, taking up the entire width of the hallway, blocking it. Like a fortress.


Renée maintains her pace, never slowing down, the sternness in her purpose-driven steps adding to the severity it exudes. It gets larger and larger the more we walk. My heart accelerates as we continue to advance, my hands beginning to tremble when we close in on it. Even without any confirmation, intuition says her boss is just beyond this mammoth barrier.


The journey from the transporter to the Great Wall of Steel isn’t insignificant by any means, and yet, the extra time doesn’t help one bit, serving only to agitate my already frazzled nerves instead of giving me an opportunity to mentally prepare myself.


We come to stand in front of the wall, and I’m in absolute awe as I regard it, both amazed and puzzled by its presence.


Sleek, glossy metal fills my entire line of vision, so polished and shiny that I can see my reflection perfectly, as though I’m looking into an actual mirror. Which is precisely the last thing I need right now because the woman looking back looks like she’s about to hyperventilate and hurl all over herself—at the same time.


Renée places her palm against it, a computerized noise following. A soft, automated swish ensues a second later…and the wall begins to descend.


My eyes bulge all over again as the giant slab of mirrorlike metal gradually disappears into the ground. She walks over the now invisible threshold, and I shuffle along closely behind her, my stomach flipping when she proceeds with an eye scan in front of a seemingly reinforced glass door several more feet ahead.


“Authorization complete,” an automated female voice announces.


It slides open and I walk through after her tentatively. I’m barely inside when a tall, imposing figure approaches.


My breath instantly catches in my throat, air literally getting stuck in my lungs as my heart hammers against my rib cage.


Severe, golden eyes meet mine, latching on to them as their owner strides forth in our direction.


Richard Zane.


A dark, fitted suit shields his imposing stature, simultaneously contrasting with and enhanced by the wine tie around his neck.


Holy shit…







I stand there, just…static. Stunned by his beauty all over again. Like a billion bee stings to my psyche.


He looks…impossibly good.


Like a piece of heaven birthed from the flames of hell.


My eyes take in his built, soaring frame as he walks toward me, his movements laced with both agility and a sense of ease that I can only describe as remarkable.


God, he’s tall; easily towering above me, his executive assistant, and pretty much everything else in his office, like marbles to a bowling ball.


As he closes the distance, my heart spasms for no reason and I hear myself swallow a lump hinged in my throat I wasn’t even aware was there.


My gaze lingers on him, zoning in on his chest, his big body completely filling my view as he comes closer.


Even beneath his polished attire, the toned muscles of his arms are evident, pushing against the fitted fabric with the slightest motion.


He stops just a few feet away, staring me down.


At least…it feels like he is.


When he doesn’t say anything, Renée breaks the ice.


“This is Constance Myers from Earth Capital, as you requested, sir.”


“Thank you, Renée,” he says, his voice deep, absorbing, but his attention remains on me, his eyes not leaving mine even for a second. “I’ll take it from here.”


That remark sends a shockwave up my spine, the words catching me completely off guard…and apparently, Renée shares my sentiments.


Surprise etches itself into her face as she regards him, stunned.


She hesitates slightly before offering a conceding nod, clearing her throat and politely excusing herself. She exits through the glass door we came through and I vaguely register the sound of it closing behind her…leaving me alone with her boss.


And now mine.



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