Storm Tower: A Suspense/Thriller Short Story by cam
A black electric Mercedes pulled to the curb in front of Storm Tower where the driver opened the rear door and assisted a woman, the oldest CEO of a world class financial empire, to the sidewalk.
Crews from the major news networks had set up at the front of the building to cover the grand opening of the skyscraper which bore the woman's name. As she approached the reporters, her personal charm radiated through a broad smile highlighted with red lipstick.
Following several brief interviews, the building's doorman escorted her to the pneumatic lifts where she pressed the button for the one-hundred-twentieth floor. She stepped into the lobby and was greeted by the festive sounds of soft music, the clinking of fine china and the laughter of friends and colleagues.
Martha Storm mustered her considerable energy and passed through the double doors into the banquet room where all attention turned toward her. She made her way through the crowd, shaking hands here, sharing an embrace there until she stood behind a podium on a low platform. The head table stretched out on either side where VIPs stood to join the rest of the assembly applauding her. This was it, the grand opening of Storm tower, and the beginning of a new era of expansion for Storm Enterprises. She set her cell phone on the podium and prepared to speak.
Fire alarms sounded throughout the city's newest skyscraper. The applause slowly died out until the clinking of a fork against a spoon might have been heard all over the banquet room except for the wailing of the alarms. Faces turned one way, then another, looking for some explanation. People moved toward the pneumatic lifts, but those had been automatically disabled when the alarms went off. Murmurings rose to shouts of concern when someone found that none of the stairwell doors would open.
"What the hell are you people doing? Now sit down and listen up." Most of those who now returned to their seats while the fire alarms blared, referred to her as Ms.Storm. A few knew her as Martha. One, Matthew, called her Great Grandmother, Grandma for short.
Matthew came to his grandmother's side, adoring the take charge attitude of a woman –– who on this very day –– turned one hundred years old. "Grandma, please turn this over to your head of security. Tom is more than capable of handling the situation."
Thomas Drake had been running holographic simulations about the tower for every kind of mishap one could imagine. Fire, terror, earthquake, hurricane, hostage, bomb, you name it, he had a program for it. Tom was the best of the best at security, and now they were apparently facing at least one of the situations for which he had so ardently prepared them.
"Yes, yes, in just a minute, Matt. Let me get them calmed down first." She leaned into the microphone and spoke with reassuring confidence. "My friends, right now we have no idea what's going on, but we've got good people, the best people, who are, at this moment, sorting things out. You all know Tom, our head of security. I'll let him take it from here.
She picked up her cell phone, the antiquated but persistent name of the personal organization device, or POD, and followed Matthew to the back of the room while Tom spoke to the assembly. Martha's cell phone chirped, her ringtone for an unknown caller. "This is Martha Storm." She listened to the caller for a moment then walked toward the hallway leading to her office and motioned for Matthew and Tom to follow.
After they gathered inside her office Martha spoke into the phone. "Alright asshole, I heard everything you said, but two of my trusted advisors didn't. Now back up and repeat everything for them." She punched the speaker button and set the device down on the desk.
"Ms.Storm, you may be a little confused about who is in control here. Do everything I just told you to do or there will be serious consequences." The voice went silent.
"We're waiting," said Martha, and after a moment, the voice continued.
"We have taken control of Storm Tower, its computer network, communication systems, security systems, elevators, fire doors and internal environment control. We are providing you with a phone application to transfer one billion dollars. All the required information is built into the app. You are to connect to your account and click on the app. If you refuse to do this within the next twenty minutes, Storm Tower will come crashing down on the city."
Before Tom or Matthew could respond, Martha spoke. "Alright, you've made your demands, now you listen to me. There are two hundred people up here who have no way to provide what you want. Only I can do that. Before I even look again at the app, which I see has just now appeared on my phone, everyone except me gets to leave the building."
"I have no way of knowing that you will let us go if I give you the money. Release them or all you will end up with is a bunch of dead bodies on a pile of rubble." Martha touched the phone's screen and the call ended.
"My guess, ma'am," said Tom, "is that he'll accept your terms, but he'll be watching the security cameras and your POD. If we try to get you out with the others, he'll retaliate."
"Then we won't try."
"Grandmother, I am not leaving you up here alone."
"Sorry, Matt. You are my only great grandchild and one of my heirs, so you must go. Tom can stay if he so chooses." She looked at the tall, ex-military man who was less than half her age. He was physically fit and a match for anyone hand to hand. He had the mindset of a predator. She would trust this man with her life.
Tom nodded his assent. "But Ma'am, this is a serious security breach, and I'm responsible for it. You may want...."
"Later Tom. Right now, I want you at my side, not someone else." The phone chirped. Martha touched the screen.
"Ms. Storm, we feel the need to make clear to you who is in charge right now." The phone call ended.
An explosion shook the building. Windows cracked. Everything that could fall over did so with thuds and crashes. Two hundred unsuspecting people broke out into a cacophony of screams, yells, and cries that called Tom away from the room. In the midst of the din, the phone chirped again.
"Ms. Storm, For the next sixty minutes, you will remain in your office with your cell phone directed at your face. Everyone else can go down by way of stairwell number nine. The stairwell door on your floor will unlock in exactly five minutes. During that sixty minute period, you are to transfer the one billion dollars."
Martha watched from the doorway of her office as two hundred relatives, friends and employees lined up at stairwell nine. She sat down behind her desk and propped her cell phone against a photograph of Matthew. The Video application opened. She was certain someone was watching. A digital timer appeared, counting down from sixty minutes, but to Martha, time seemed to stand still.
Tom was watching her.
"What?" Martha looked down to see what might be so interesting.
"You're putting lipstick on, Ma'am."
"Oh, so I am." She slid the lipstick applicator into her desk drawer.
Tom fielded phone calls from the chief of police, the mayor and the governor. Martha took the call from the President of the United States.
CNN was on the transparent screen television on the wall. The police were busy evacuating the city for blocks surrounding Storm Tower, and news helicopters flew into position as close as they were allowed. Crowds gathered at the perimeter of the evacuated area. One man carried a sign that read, "Let the Rich Bitch Die."
Martha stared at the application on her phone. One billion dollars. Could she even arrange for that much in cash at such short notice? No billionaire kept that much in a bank account. There were stocks she could liquidate quickly. But the question wasn't could she, but should she do what these gangsters were demanding?
The phone chirped. "Ms. Storm, as you can see, you have exactly twenty minutes to transfer the money. I suggest that you not try our patience any longer."
At Ten minutes, the phone chirped again. "Ms. Storm, we are going to assist you in making your decision to transfer the money." The building rumbled. What hadn't fallen during the first blast, came down now. The transparent screen TV fell from its brackets and the windows behind Martha's desk shattered, sending a swirling cloud of important documents across the city. Tom was there in an instant. He pulled Martha from her chair and ran from the wind torn room. Martha shouted into her cell phone.
"There are people in the stairwell. You said you would give them sixty minutes."
The response was chilling. "Ms. Storm, that was the stairwell."
"It's time to go, Ma'am."
"Yes, Tom, it is."
Tom turned away to unlock and open a floor to ceiling, sliding window. He was wearing a parachute on his back and a handgun at his side. When he turned around, a tandem harness hung from his front. Martha, the centenarian, backed up to the man she knew would gladly die for her. Straps fitted into buckles, and Tom stepped up to the window.
Martha held the phone for anyone watching to see. "Go earn your own damn Billion."
Tom jumped and immediately released the parachute. They flew toward another skyscraper which had been evacuated. On a balcony near the top, movement caught Martha's eye, and she pointed just as a gunman stood up.
Martha reached back, unsnapped the handgun from Tom's holster and took aim. Her shots weren't even close, but they drove the would-be shooter back under cover.
"Keep that thing handy, Ma'am. There may be more."
"This is all so bizarre, I can't believe it's happening." Martha clutched the gun to her chest.
"What?" said Tom.
"Never mind, just get us down from here."
Tom increased the speed of their descent until they approached the level of other buildings in the city. A man popped up on a flat roof and released a series of rounds. Bullets zinged past them. Martha lined up her target. She got lucky.
Tom and Martha glided lower and lower between the buildings until they landed on the grass in the city's central park. They gathered up the parachute and joined a crowd of people watching the tower against the backdrop of blue sky and thin wispy clouds.
A city of millions waited as one in nervous expectancy. The loud cracking sound of a series of explosions that occurred below their line of sight reached them. Storm tower continued to stand, her glass sides shimmered in the afternoon sunlight, refusing to give up. Then it dropped as if the earth had opened and swallowed it whole.
The lights in the simulation room came on. Martha blinked a few times but remained in her seat. Tears streamed down her cheeks following the creases of an absent smile. Tom sat next to her. "Nicely done, Tom. I actually had no idea that was a simulation. How did you get me here? I went directly to the luncheon."
"No Ma'am, you got off the lift here and stepped immediately into a simulation of the luncheon. The program and the room have a mesmerizing effect, so you quickly fell into your proper place in what you believed to be reality."
"That was amazing. The program must have interacted with my words, with my decisions. How did I do?"
"Let me put it this way, Ma'am. The people in the stairwell, including Matthew, made it out alive. No one died.
"So I –– we, did well? I mean, we lost the tower, but the people were all saved."
"Yes, despite the risks you took."
"The man on the phone held the fate of two hundred people in one hand and the trigger to enough explosives to bring down the tower in the other. You were demanding and belligerent. You even called him an Asshole."
"Was I? Did I?" She looked around for someone or something that would divert Tom's attention from her undiscerning boldness.
"I suppose I should have expected it," said Tom. "The program spent the entire session looking for an appropriate response to your attitude. That was the main reason I chose to do this simulation, to see how you would cope with the pressure of an extreme situation."
"Tom, we base jumped from two thousand feet to the city streets. I'm one hundred years old."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"It was exciting, but I shot and may have killed a man while we flew through the air. I can't even hit a stationary target at thirty feet on the firing range."
Tom stood and held out his hand. "Are you ready to go?"
"Go where?" Martha accepted the hand and stood as well.
"To the grand opening of Storm Tower. Your guests are waiting."
"Oh, my. They must have been waiting for hours. How long did the simulation take?"
"Only fifteen minutes. You aren't late. You're never late to anything."
Tom and Martha stepped off the pneumatic lift into the lobby and heard the sounds of food service workers and guests. A band played softly in the background. She took Tom's arm and they strolled through the crowd in the banquet room, greeting and chatting along the way. She took her seat next to Matthew and set her cell phone down beside her plate.
Martha looked at the device, half expecting it to chirp. "He really was an asshole," she muttered.
"What was that, Grandma?"
"Oh, I just said that, um, anyone as-old as I am should be at home in a rocking chair knitting socks for her grandchildren."
"I don't know," said Matthew with a smirk on his face. "You seem more like the base jumper type of grandma to me."