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Eight Earthyears of employment at Larrimer's Brokerage Firm forced the lone woman on the owner/manager's staff to fortify her embattled psyche with bastions impervious to the casual slights, polished slurs, and studied acts of discrimination routinely inflicted on her by men culturally conditioned to resent a female competitor in the cutthroat realm of Columbian business. Initially hired as a market-researcher, Islara managed to gain a promotion to a position which Larrimer termed that of broker's assistant.
The woman fully qualified as a broker determinedly maintained the formidable defenses erected to guard her citadel of the self, as the subtle attacks increased in intensity after she bettered her status in the firm. The highly competent professional well knew that anger at blatant injustice, combined with self-pity arising from circumstances that no act of hers could change, would merely serve to render her life even more unfulfilling than it otherwise was. Refusing to succumb to the emotions threatening to erode her inner harmony, the object of her associates' spite merely perfected her guard, deflecting the constant shower of arrows, so that they fell harmlessly into the moat.
On a Saturday that began no differently from any other, the businesswoman caught herself at midmorning offering silent thanks to the Powers that Larrimer's place of business stayed open only until noon on the sixth workday of the week. That fervent sentiment testified to the degree of aggravation testing her superb control of her face, as she listened to the effusive comments passed by her immediate superior, one Scully, upon his arriving back from a tour of plantsthat manufactured metal goods.
Wearily recognizing that the enthusiast-a gullible type well programmed by a flock of suave salesmen far quicker of wit than was he-verged on launching into several unwise ventures, Islara reflected on the irony inherent in her situation. Larrimer, she knew, kept this inept fool on the payroll only because of the man's being his nephew. Her own present tenure as assistant broker hinged on that ineptness. The shrewd owner-manager bolstered Scully's efficiency by providing him with an assistant not only more adept than he at closing a deal, but also willing to let the least efficient player on the team assume the credit.
Normally, the woman bore more or less philosophically with the injustice. On being offered the promotion, she had neatly managed the difficult feat of prying a substantial raise in pay out of Larrimer. Without seeming to threaten, she led her employer to understand that her acquiescence in his scheme to throw a safety net around his unproductive relative carried a price. Smoothly, she extorted the price she demanded. Grudging admiration of his female employee's exquisitely polite if wholly unyielding stance in the matter, added to what he saw as pressing need, won Larrimer's assent to the raise.
Islara's cognizance that the additional compensation nowise equaled what a man doing her job would have earned served to dilute her satisfaction at her triumph, but not severely. Fierce pride attended her realization that having met her goal of supporting herself adequately earlier, she could now accumulate savings. Eventually, she predicted gamely, she would meet an even more tenuous goal: supporting herself chiefly by the profits of investments.
Displaying delicate tact, the assistant defused Scully's enthusiasm for an utterly suspect offer, soothed his pride by praising a less dangerous proposal, informed him that a solid deal with a reputable agent for Lansing Metals lay complete except for his signature, watched while he signed with a flourish the document she presented on a datapad, offered a concise summary of several other pending deals, and left the man blithely unaware of the degree to which she had manipulated him engrossed in the results of several public auctions held in his absence. Breathing an inaudible sigh of relief, she cleaned up a few pressing details with dispatch, so that she could leave promptly at closing time.
The seemingly endless morning finally drew to a close. Welcoming the thought of a day and a half free of the irritations inherent in her job, Islara walked briskly into the corridor, awash in relief so intense that she indulged in the luxury of paying the cost of an autocab, rather than walking to the quarters she shared with her brother.
Ten minutes later the businesswoman breezed into the combination bedcabin/sitting/dining area of the modest rental suite, to find Aubrey standing in the center of the cramped space, literally wringing his hands. Haunted dark eyes fixed themselves bleakly on those staring in dismay.
"Islara…" The husky, pained whisper with which the distraught occupant of the cabin greeted the entrant, died away.
"Aubrey, whatever's the matter? Sit down here, and tell me," the newcomer urged as dire fear assaulted her. Genius that he was, this sibling considerably older than herself at times displayed a most alarming inability to deal with the mundane necessities of life in the Columbian capital.
As if his eminently practical-minded sister's appearance sapped the last iota of nervous energy keeping him on his feet, the man collapsed into a hunched heap on the bunk that doubled as a couch.
Dropping to her knees on the deck, Islara took both of his hands in hers. "Spill all of what happened," she commanded. "We'll deal with the problem."
"I… You can't. Not this, Islara. I don't know how I… I didn't think…"
Fear looked starkly, nakedly, out of a guileless, utterly unworldly tan face. "I've laid myself open to a charge of criminal negligence," the speaker confided hoarsely. "I've…no defense. I'm…guilty of the offense. Regan's filing the charge on Monday. I was reprogramming his business records…creating him an entirely new system. He inherited considerable wealth from his uncle, recently deceased. Engrossed in combining the uncle's financial records with those of Regan's three-year-old brokerage business, I somehow forgot to shield the record of one substantial account electronically, during the transfer. That unfortunate error allowed a rival-Rothman-access to privileged information. My error resulted in Rothman's pulling off a coup that Regan figures cost him four hundred thirty thousand credits."
Ohhh …no … Aubrey, how could you … Shock melted into fear bordering on terror, in the normally unflappable broker.
"Naturally, Regan's livid with rage. He…just left…after accusing me of deliberate collusion with Rothman. He said a conviction on charges of criminal negligence alone would be sufficient to land me in a penal work force for ten Earthyears, and that he intended to press that charge on Monday. He added that he just hired an agent to follow me, and warned that if I try to vanish before Monday, I'll be seized as a fugitive from due legal process, and held for Security. I don't know whether that's legal, but it's done-not that I have any intention of attempting to flee. I've nowhere to flee to. I'll just have to face the consequences of my…criminal absent-mindedness."
Aghast, Islara threw her arms around the brother who formed her entire family, even as she fought an onslaught of all but uncontrollable panic. "Aubrey, no! We'll think of something! We'll hire an independent advocate!"
Copyright © 2007 Mary Ann Steele.