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[NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP

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Rage:
A couple of members have expressed interested in reading my 2014 National Novel Writing Month work.  Seeing as posting here will provide some extra incentive to keep going, I'm going to throw it up here, in all its unrefined glory.  Please remember that during NaNoWriMo, what counts is not quality, but quantity.  50,000 words, to be precise, in the month of November.  So - it's going to be BAD.  Horrible.  Pathetic.  Characters will often have long, pointless dialogue and soliloquy, for no other reason than WORD COUNT.  So don't bother trying to give me constructive criticism - I won't heed it, and will likely add you, passively-aggressively, to said novel, and kill you off.  Just sayin'....

Otherwise, enjoy....

Author: Rage

Title: Grimm's Reaper

Rating: PG-13 (I guess; I mean, I don't *think* I'm going to get any worse, but who knows.  The month is still young.

Fandom: None, unless you consider fairy tales a fandom.

Disclaimer: Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm put these in writing, but I'm reasonably certain they didn't write them themselves.  In any case, I certainly don't lay claim to Cinderella or anybody else who winds up in this story.

Summary: Rebekah Black is just your average, every-day human resources manager, until she suddenly is laid off and finds herself unemployed.  A chance meeting sends her into a world where she tracks down miscreant fairy tale characters and brings them to justice.  She is Grimm's Reaper.

Pairing: I don't think there's going to be any romance in here, but who can tell?  In any case, if it does turn up, it won't be anybody you're familiar with.  (That means NO LOKI.  Sorry, Aure.)

Archive: NO ARCHIVING, please.  This may or may not be worthy of editing and subsequent publication, but if it is, I don't want pieces of it floating around out in cyberspace.

Feedback: If you like it, tell me.  If you don't, keep it to yourself (see earlier paragraphs about constructive criticism).

Rage:
Chapter One

Layoffs.  Downsizing.  Reductions in Force.  WARN notices.  Attrition.  Termination.  I’d dealt with every variation of the human resources terminology that meant “you’re fired” – but I never expected to be on the receiving end of it.

The day had started off innocently enough, I suppose.  We were actually in the middle of a major reduction in force, layoffs forced by the sluggish economy and the current prevailing political wisdom that sustainable, renewable energy was nothing more than a liberal agenda, designed to cast doubt on Creationism (because, really, would God actually make the world in such a way that it would be destroyed by humans?  At least that was the argument being bandied about.)  But I’d assumed that as progressive as Colorado was, it could not possibly be as fundamentally fundamental as its eastern neighbor, Kansas.  Now THERE was a conservative state.  Renewable energy makes as much sense in Kansas as an ice cream truck does in Alaska.

I’d met with several of our employees who were soon to be former employees – doing the usual, going over termination paperwork, the options for COBRA, unemployment, the retirement plan vesting schedule, the availability of the Employee Assistance Program.  Routine stuff, rote knowledge, but it is never an easy message to extend to another, but I was good at it.  At least I felt I was good at it.  I was pretty sure others felt I was good at it, too.  This wasn’t the first round of layoffs or terminations I had dealt with – at this, and at other, employers – and in conversations around the coffee pot later on, with my fellow human resources officers, I heard tales of angry employees and disgruntled workers, yelling and screaming, threats.  I had never experienced anything of the sort.  All of the employees I had met with regarding termination – regardless of reason – treated me with the utmost respect.   Maybe it had to do with the fact that I treated THEM with respect. 

Whatever the reason, I was regarded as an expert when it came to layoff notification and coordination.  An unusual thing to specialize in, as far as human resources goes, but it had come in handy on several occasions.

Until I was on the other side of the desk.

I had met with four employees already that morning, and was finishing up the data entry in our software when the Vice President of Human Resources called my office extension.

“Rebekah,” he said, when I answered, “I need to meet with you.  Can you come to my office?”

“Of course,” I replied.  “Let me just finish up this report and I’ll be right there.”

Ten minutes later, I was listening to Mark Gonzalez deliver the same spiel to me that I had just delivered to four others, and twelve others the day before, and countless others before that.

He did look apologetic.  “I am sorry, Rebekah,” he said.  “You have been an outstanding employee, and a valued member of my team.  I am going to find it next to impossible to function without somebody of your knowledge and expertise.  But the directive comes from right from the CEO herself, and I do not have a choice.  I am losing almost my entire staff.”

In a sort of surreal haze, he covered the now familiar details: COBRA, 401K rollover, unemployment, my severance package.  But given my position, I was not getting the usual two week notice: they were already deactivating my employee badge, and revoking my domain server access.  Such is the process for employees with access to sensitive or proprietary data.

Once the meeting was over, Mark walked me back to my (former) office, and watched in uncomfortable silence as I gathered up my personal possessions: photos of my favorite vacation spots, a couple of knick knacks, a few books (“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” and “The Management Philosophy of Yoda”).  I stuffed them all carelessly into a spare box that had originally held brochures for the Employee Assistance Program; those that had remained in the box were now stacked haphazardly on one of the bookshelves. 

I picked up the box, and prepared to walk out of the office that had been my home away from home for the past five years.

Mark held out his hand for me to shake; I had to tuck the box under my left arm in order to do so.  “I… I am sorry about this,” he said.  “Believe me, I wish things had turned out differently.  In all seriousness, though…. Put me down as a reference if you need to.  I will give you a glowing recommendation for any human resources job.”

“Thanks, Mark,” I said thickly, still trying to wrap my head around what had just happened.  “I appreciate that.  I really do.”

And that was that.   My badge was in Mark’s office, on his desk.  I went to the parking lot, put the box of miscellany in the trunk of my Camry, and drove home.

Rage:
Chapter Two

Over the next few days, I navigated the confusing and frustrating world of unemployment benefits.  I sat in front of my computer, staring listlessly at my resume, trying to decide what updates were necessary.  And I occasionally scanned the job listings on the Society of Human Resources Managers, and Monster.com, and Career Builder.  I was not sure if I wanted to stay in Colorado Springs, or if a move to another city or state would be more beneficial.  It was just me – no husband, no kids – and my cat, Providence.  I rented a townhome – home ownership had never really appealed to me, being a single woman.  Too much maintenance and upkeep for one person.  Plus renting gave me the flexibility to simply up and move if I so chose, and that might prove useful in my current situation.

Three weeks after my last day at SynGreen Energy, I was sitting in a small coffee house in downtown Colorado Springs.  I was not much of a coffee drinker, but this particular place also had a fairly large selection of teas, one of which was cooling in a mug in front of me.  While I had be sitting here, thoughtfully sipping, Mark had called my cell phone, wanting to check up on things, and to give me a couple of leads on jobs he had heard about.
 
One of the three sounded promising – the other two did not really resonate with me, being in industries I was not particularly fond of – and I agreed to follow up within the next day or two.  I agreed to meet Mark the next week for lunch, and hung up.

As I sat there, staring into what was left of my tea, I heard the distinctive sound of a throat being cleared nearby.  I looked up, and was surprised to see a well dressed gentleman standing just behind my shoulder.

“I apologize,” he said, “ but I could not help but overhear a portion of your telephone conversation.”  He stepped around and put a hand on the chair opposite mine.  “May I?” he asked, lifting his brows in question.

“Oh, of… of course,” I stammered, waving a hand toward the chair.  “Please do, sit down.”

“Thank you, thank you.”  He pulled out the chair and sat down, arranging the tails of his sports jacket carefully upon his legs.  He cleared his throat again.  “Before I get too far into my business,” he said, “I would like to clarify a point or two with you, if you do not mind.”

“Not at all,” I said, intrigued.  A vague thought that perhaps I would not need to follow through with the lead that Mark had found for me formed in my head, but I dismissed it quickly.  Surely my luck was not going to be THAT good.

“Excellent,” he said.  “Now, as I understood it, from what little of your conversation I was able to hear… You are currently unemployed, yes?”

I nodded.  “I am.”

“How long have you been unemployed?  And how did it come about?”

I shrugged.  “About three weeks now, I guess.  I was laid off, the victim of the same corporate policies I had long spent my days enforcing.”

“I see,” the man said.  “Well, allow me to introduce myself.  May name is Alistair Carruthers.   I am in need of an employee, and while I am a very discerning employer, I have a feeling that you just might be what I am looking for.”
I was surprised; apparently my initial read was not that far off.  A lucky break, perhaps.  “What sort of a position is it?” I asked.  “What are you looking for?”

“I do not wish to divulge every detail just now,” he said slowly.  “However, you mentioned that you had spent your days ‘enforcing’ polices.  Rules, if you will.  I am in need of a discerning employee, one who can know and understand the rules stated, and adhere to them, and bring others to bear under them.”

I eyed him suspiciously.  “This position,” I asked, “is it considered a sales position?”

“Goodness, no,” he said, shaking his head.  “No indeed.  I, or I should say, the agency, does not have a product to sell as such.  A better analogy for this line of work might be, ah, law enforcement.”

I grimaced.  “Not sure I want to be a cop,” I said.

“I think you will be pleasantly surprised,” he replied, undaunted.  He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a shiny silver case with delicate engraving on the lid.  He flipped the catch and it popped open, revealing a handful of business cards.  He removed one and placed it on the table in front of me.

Then he stood.  “If you would like to explore this opportunity further, come to my office tomorrow morning at ten o’clock sharp.”  He nodded politely and took his leave.

I sat silently for a few minutes, puzzled and surprised by this recent turn of events.  I had been rather unmotivated about my job search, and given the economy in the area, my options were few unless I agreed to relocate.  And while I was not necessarily opposed to moving, that is a huge hassle that I really did not want to deal with just at that moment.  I was not as if I had planned for this.

But this opportunity, even coming out of the blue as it did.  Perhaps it was worth looking into.  It certainly would not hurt anything to follow up with Alistair in the morning.  I did not have any other interviews or immediately pressing appointments, and it was not like it was going to hinder or delay my continuing job search in any way.

I sighed and finished my tea – it was cold now, and not very satisfying, but I had paid for it.  I left a dollar on the table, pocketed the business card, and went outside.

Rage:
Chapter Three

I did not look at the card until I got home, and I had stopped at the grocery store en route, in order to pick up a few items, and some chocolate.  I felt the need of some chocolate.

The card was plain and unadorned, black ink in Times New Roman type face, on a pale ivory card stock.  It read: Alistair Carruthers, GRIMM Agency.  An address and cell phone were also listed.

GRIMM Agency?  The only thing “GRIMM” I knew of was Grimm’s fairy tales.  It must be an acronym for something, but whatever it was, it was not spelled out on the card.  Government agency, then, I thought.  Makes sense, if what he was talking about was analogous to law enforcement.

I put the card down on the kitchen table, and set about preparing some dinner.  I fed Providence, who gave me her usual reproachful look when I did not give her her favorite flavor of canned food, and ate my salad while I read the news online.  My thoughts kept going back to the innocuous business card on the table.  Should I or should not I go tomorrow?  I debated calling Mark and telling him about the situation; I felt oddly like a girl agreeing to a blind date over the internet, and thinking she needed some security back up, in case something went horribly awry.

I had not yet made up my mind by the time I went to bed at about ten thirty.  I decided to sleep on the matter, and decide in the morning.

The day dawned bright and clear, and I awoke feeling strangely invigorated.  Over a lazy breakfast of a bagel and orange juice, I decided to go ahead and see what Mr. Carruthers had to say for himself.  It was worth a shot, and I was not going to lose anything by going.

I showered, dressed, and picked up the card and left.

I steered my silver Camry through downtown Colorado Springs until I found the address – a quaint little store front tucked in between a knitting supply store and used bookstore.  An odd place for a government agency, I thought, but parked in the closest available spot and pushed open the heavy wooden door just as a grandfather clock inside began to chime ten o’clock.

Alistair sat behind a large mahogany desk.  A pair of silver rimmed reading glasses were perched on his nose, and he was peering intently at a piece of paper. He looked up when the little brass bell above the door tinkled as I walked in.
A broad smile crossed his face.  “Well!  I must say I am pleased to see you.  I rather thought that you might not come, you seemed a bit hesitant yesterday.”

I returned the smile politely, crossing the room and seating myself in one of the leather chairs facing his desk.  “I was uncertain yesterday, but after some thought, I decided that at the very least I could see exactly what it is you are looking for,” I replied.

He put down the paper, and removed his glasses.  “Excellent,” he said.  “I really do feel that you would be a very good fit for this position.”  He opened one of the desk drawers and withdrew a folder.  He removed a single sheet of paper from it, and set it on the desk in front of me.  On top of that he placed an elegant fountain pen, the barrel gleaming black in the light from the overhead lamps, its edges trimmed in what looked like twenty four carat gold.

“Before we go any further,” he said, “I am afraid I must ask you to sign a non disclosure agreement.  The work that we do here is very serious, very serious indeed, and it would not be good for news of our activities to be spread amongst the general public.”

I frowned.  I was no stranger to non disclosure agreements, certainly, but I had never had one sprung upon me during an initial interview.  Definitely government work, I thought.  Possibly intelligence?  CIA?  FBI perhaps? 
I slid the pen to one side and picked up the paper.  The agreement seemed fairly straight forward, as such things go.  The agency was still referred to by the unhelpful acronym of GRIMM, and while thorough, the document still did not reveal any secrets about the type of work done.  It referred to “activities” and “clients” and “perpetrators” – which hinted at law enforcement again, but still gave me nothing more to go on.

There was nothing untoward about the document, but still tendrils of doubt were creeping up my spine.  Perhaps it was only because I had not been able to thoroughly research this company before coming here today – usually when I interviewed, I was well informed as to the nature of the business, their missing and vision, their structure and corporate culture.  In this case, however, I was walking in essentially unprepared.
 
It came to my mind again that perhaps I should have told somebody where I was going today.  Was that just crazy talk?  Or was I in danger simply by being here?

I decided to test the waters.  “This seems to be a fairly standard non disclosure agreement,” I said, putting the paper back down on the desk.  “But I confess I am a bit curious as to why you are asking me to sign it now. I have not agreed to anything yet, nor do I truly understand what it is you are seeking.”

“A fair question,” Alistair agreed.  “I will explain.  This is, as far as it goes, my standard operating procedure.  I find it difficult to truly explain, in words, precisely what it is we do here, and what we aim to accomplish.  And so, in lieu of a written job description filled with useless corporate jargon and meaningless turns of phrase such as excellent communication skills and other duties as assigned, I intend instead to show you – actually take you out in real time, into the field – and show you exactly what your job would be.  A living case study, as it were.”

Now I was definitely intrigued.  I had spent many years in corporate America and while I understood and could easily navigate the world of jargon speak and double talk, I did not much like it.  And the part I hated most was trying to translate exactly what a company meant on a job description.  Human Resources is fairly straight forward, as far as jobs go, but many companies have specific requirements that are odd or unusual, and trying to piece those out of a document that has been so carefully edited is a daunting task.

No, that is not what I hate the most; it is what I hate SECOND most.  What I hated most was actually have to craft those obnoxious and deceptive documents. 

In any case, I had never had the opportunity to actually witness a company in action before I hired on.  I had to rely on my own instincts to determine if not only was I a good fit for the job, but also if the company was a good fit for me.  I remember once when the true nature of the business was so cleverly concealed from me that I walked into a EEO officer’s living nightmare.  I still cringed at the memory of having to deal with those law breaking, sex crazed, idiot executives.  Instead of just investigating reports or filed complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, I was living it.  And I had to figure out how to bring suit against the business owners who were – I still had a hard time believing they had been actually getting away with it for so long – having sex with prostitutes in full view of the female team members.  Glass windows in the executive offices.  Crazy.  But true.  I had put an end to it – and lost my own job in the process, but that had not been a difficult thing to deal with.  I had hated the company, and knew that once I acted I would be out the door anyway.  But a federal lawsuit against the company owners had forced them to fire the executives (who were all members of the owning family), so it was some comfort.

Anyway, this was a chance I simply could not pass up.  I had to satisfy my curiosity, even if Providence was the only living creature I could talk to about the experience.

“All right,” I said.  “I will take you up on your offer.” I signed my name with the heavy black enamel pen and pushed the document back over to Alistair.  “I must admit, you have me very intrigued.”

“Excellent,” Alistair said, quickly scanning my signature, and then sliding the form into an empty folder.  “This little exercise should give you a much better idea of exactly what it is we do here, and whether or not you would be interested in joining us.  Though, I must say,” he added, as he pulled a set of keys out of his desk drawer, “I, personally, feel you would make an excellent addition to our team.”

Rage:
Chapter Four

He stood up and extended an arm, ushering me toward the back of the office.  “This way,” he said.  He stepped ahead of me, and opened a door.  Inside the small room was an unusual object – it appeared to be the frame of a door, but it was fashioned out of a strange sort of metal, burnished to a soft finish.  Attached to the side of the frame was a metal box, with buttons and indicator lights. 

I stopped.  “What is this?” I asked.

Alistair gave me an appraising look.  “This,” he said, “is the heart and soul of our agency.  It allows us to do what we do.”

I returned his look.  “And what is it, exactly, that you do.”

“I will show you.”  He strode to the control box on the side, and punched two of the buttons.  The largest indicator light on the box glowed to life with an eerie yellow light, and the doorway began to hum softly.

I took a step back.
 
Alistair smiled kindly.  “There is nothing to be scared of,” he said.  “This this The Gateway.  I will not try to explain the science behind it to you – I only vaguely understand it myself.  In layman’s terms, this device opens a wormhole, or a portal to another dimension.”

“WHAT?!” I cried, unsure now whether I was either being completely deceived or possibly clinically insane. 

“It is true,” he said, “as difficult as it might be to believe.  I will freely admit it took me a good few weeks to come to grips with it.”

I shook my head in disbelief.  “But…. But why?  What IS it that you do?”

Alistair stood thoughtfully for a moment.  “Rebekah,” he said, “what does the name ‘GRIMM’ mean to you?”

I blinked.  “Grimm’s fairy tales.  That’s the only thing that comes to mind.”

He nodded.  “We did take our name from that.  Sort of a play on words, if you will.”

“I assumed GRIMM was an acronym,” I told him.

“It is,” he said.  “It stands for Galactic Intervention and Magical Management. G.R.I.M.M.”

I blinked again.  “Galactic….  What?”

“Where do you suppose Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm got the ideas that they put into the stories that they published as Grimm’s Fairy Tales?”

The abrupt change of subject took me off guard.  “I… I assumed that they were just the first people to actually put those old stories down on paper.”

“In a way, that is true,” Alistair said, looking thoughtfully at the Gateway.   “They were the first to commit them to official writing, but the stories and legends had been around for far longer than that.  And, as I am sure you are aware, myths and legends often have their basis in fact.  As is the case with what we know today as ‘fairy tales’.”

“Surely you are not telling me that those silly stories are actually true,” I said, the skepticism obvious in my tone of voice.

“Oh, yes,” Alistair said.  “Very much true.  Only they did not happen here.  They happened on about a half dozen other planets, in other universes than this one.”

“You are joking,” I said.

Alistair shook his head.  “It is no joke.  The universes are not the same one our planet is in, you see.  They are different worlds, and they overlap in places.  This device, The Gateway, was built in order that we might harness those overlaps, as it were, and not have to travel over multiple worlds, and through multiple natural gateways, in order to access any given world.”

I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes.  This was definitely not what I had been expecting.  “So let me get this straight: there are these other worlds, other universes, and in them occurred things that we ended up calling fairy tales in our world.”

“That is the gist of it, yes,” Alistair replied.

“I still do not understand,” I said.  “What is it that you DO?”

“We keep the balance.”

“The balance of what?”  I was beginning to feel like I was playing a game of Twenty Questions.  Or maybe I was in an Abbott and Costello routine.

“The balance of worlds.  Their stories crept into ours.  Their worlds influenced our mythology, our culture.  Is it so hard to believe that our world, then, also influenced theirs?”

OK, that made some sense.  “But how?  What is it that you do?”  I had asked that question at least five times already.  I wondered if I would ever get a clear answer?

“Redress the wrongs,” he said.  “Our culture has been steadily creeping into theirs.  Bad things are happening as a result.  It is our task to find them, and fix them.”

I cocked my head to look at him.  “That’s it?  That’s all you do?’

“Well, it is not all,” he conceded at last.  “There is more, but that is not for the telling now, and not something you would be dealing with right from the start.”  He gestured again towards the humming doorway.  “Come with me, and I will show you one of these worlds, and an example of the trouble it is facing.”

I took a single, hesitant step toward him and the doorway.  Did I dare trust him in this?  What was I going to see?  What was going to happen to me?

“It is quite safe,” Alistair assured me.  He held out his hand.

Taking a deep breath, I walked forward and allowed him to take my arm in his.  Together, we started to step through the doorway.

“Brace yourself,” he murmured, “this takes a bit of getting used to.”

The instant we were inside the Gateway, the world swirled before my eyes, a prismatic dance of color and light that partly thrilled me, and partly made me queasy.  I felt a jolt, it seemed more to come from inside me than from any outside source.  Then suddenly the swirling colors dimmed and cleared, and the room in front of me solidified. 

I blinked, trying to clear my vision.  I found myself standing in a room not unlike the one we had just left.  It was small, mostly square in shape.  The walls were fashioned of wood, but as I looked closer, I realized the wood was not as polished and dark as the walls in the office in Colorado Springs.  This was definitely not the same room in which we had started. 

The doorway here, too, was slightly different.  Instead of a silvery color, the material here was of a pale gold, with streaks of darker amber running through it. 

I looked around, but there were no other identifying details to be seen.  I looked at Alistair, who had turned away to flip another switch on the control box. “Where are we?” I asked.

He looked back at me.  “Ionus,” he said.  “It is the planet that lies closest to our own, and so tends to have quite a wide variety of societal issues that often occur on our world.   There is a situation here that has recently developed that, should you opt to accept my offer of employment, you would be handling.”

I was surprised.  “Your offer of employment?  You just met me yesterday, and our discussion today has been mostly about the agency and the position, not about me.  How do you know I am a suitable candidate for this job?”
Alistair moved to open the door, which – just like the other office – opened out into a larger office area.  I moved out past him into the room, and watched as he closed and locked the door.  He turned back to me and smiled.  “I am a very intelligent man,” he said, with just a trace of pride.  “And I have a keen sense of intuition and am an excellent judge of character.  But aside from all that, I have seen you in action.  I attended a presentation you gave at one of the meetings of the Colorado Springs Society of Human Resources Professionals.”

I knew what meeting he was referring to.  I had given a talk at one of the monthly lunch meetings on the topic of human resources and social media.  While I was rather proud of the presentation and felt it had gone very well, I could not rationalize how my performance at that one hour seminar could have possibly given anybody enough insight to offer me a job, especially one that was not directly related to human resources.

“And what did that talk reveal to you?” I asked.

Alistair walked toward what I assumed was the front door of the building.  “It told me that you have a strong attention to detail, are thorough in your research and investigation, have a certain adherence to rules and regulations, and a strong work ethic.  In short, you are exactly what I am looking for.”

He opened the door, and the light from another world streamed in.  I stepped forward, unwillingly drawn to something I never imagined I would see: the surface of a habitable planet that was not my own.

The building we were in fronted a small cobblestone street.  The buildings across the street were of unusual shape, but familiar none the less.  They were so unusual that they drew my attention away from anything else.  I turned back to Alistair.

“Shoes?” I asked.

He nodded.  “Ring any bells?” he asked.

“Uh… the old woman who lived in a shoe?”

He smiled. “Just so,” he said.  “Now, come along, and let me show you around.  This village is rather quaint, once you have adjusted to the unusual architectural designs.”

I stepped outside and looked around to get a better view of things, while Alistair locked up the office.  The street looked like virtually any other street that you might see anywhere in America (or even Europe), except for all of the buildings looked like giant shoes.  And what a variety of shoes!  There were tall, multi story buildings that looked like cowboy boots, with windows peeking out at various heights.  And smaller buildings that looked like tennis shoes.  But there were also shoes that were not similar to modern America.  Some looked like elf shoes, with curled toes at front.  Some were more like tall riding boots with filigreed patterns all over them, which reminded me sharply of Victorian or Renaissance periods in Europe. 

As we walked down the street, Alistair pointed out various buildings.  This was apparently a downtown or business district, as most of the buildings here were restaurants or shop fronts.  A fancy dress shoe had a wooden sign hanging above the door and small tables with chairs set out front.

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