“Your life is in danger,” he whispered to me. “We’re about to get acquired. There’s a lot of duplication on the corporate level. Including you."
We were standing behind the Collaboration Pavillion, which wasn’t in use at the moment. It was typically used during the day for team-building exercises. Everyone else was gathered around the bonfire near the lake. Earlier, John had slipped me a piece of paper telling me to we needed to talk and that I should volunteer to go with him that night when he said he was going to get more firewood. He would have sent me a text, but electronics weren’t allowed during the retreat.
John spoke quickly but clearly. “No time to explain. I only know it’s been in the works for a while. You’re in danger. You know the rules. Your position has a duplicate with the acquiring company, and they don’t have a place for you with the new organization. And you know too much. You’ll be eliminated."
I felt my heart dive into my stomach. I trusted John. He had helped me get my foot in the door in the early days. We had known each other for a long time. If he was telling me this, I had to believe it was true.
“There hasn’t been a merger among the Big Seven in twenty years. Why now?"
“That I don’t know. But it’s happening.”
“Who else knows?"
“The Board. A few directors like me whose jobs are safe. Now you. That’s it, unless it leaked somewhere else."
“Are they really going to...” I imagined the worst.
“Yes. Why do you think we’re here?"
Realization dawned on me. Typically, no more than a couple of groups would be out simultaneously for a team-building trip, and usually, we all still worked for at least a couple of hours a day. This retreat was different. No electronics, a remote location, no working, a dozen or so teams out at once in different places. It all began to make sense.
"Look, I got you into this, I can help you get out. There’s an old freight line just north of here. It doesn’t handle passengers so you couldn’t be tracked. They pass through this area about every hour, and they move slowly. Slow enough you might be able to get on one. There’s a town called Hawthorn about twenty miles further west. I made contact with a man there named Card who runs an antiques shop. He’ll help you. Now, if we wait until…"
That was when I heard the gunshots and the screams coming from the bonfire.
“Go!” John said.
“But what about you? They’ll know you told me!"
“I’ll say I was trying to bring you back when you heard the shots. Now go!"
I looked back when I heard a thud. John had purposely hit his head against the wall of the pavilion. It would look like I’d slammed him into it during my escape. Smart.
I found the train John had mentioned and barely managed to jump onto a repair platform. I rode it until I saw the sign for Hawthorn and jumped back off again.
“Corporate casualty, huh?” asked Card. We were sitting in a back room of his antiques shop, which had been easy enough to find. I didn’t see a single access node anywhere. “That’s what happens when the country’s run by an oligarchy of a half dozen AIs with a trillion dollars at their disposal.” He dismissed my unspoken concerns with a wave. "Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. I can get you work off the books. You’ll never be able to work for one of the big corporations again, but I’m guessing you’re done with that.”
I nodded. I'd had big plans, and I was hoping for a promotion in the company. I was going to move forward, but now I had to move back. Way back.
“So what’s next?" I asked.
“Well,” he said with a big sigh. “Now that your future is a blank slate, it’s time for you to get in touch with the past.” He pointed to an old desktop computer. "What do you know about antiques?”