Friday's Flash - The Man from the Juniper Tree

This is the third… fourth?... thing I want to do with this blog. I know I’ve done this before, but, this year, I want to have a piece up every Friday. This year, these pieces will be taken from one of my two published flash fiction collections—365 Days of Flash Fiction, 366 Days of Flash Fiction—and from the upcoming collection, Another 365 Days of Flash Fiction.
All these collections are of genre-based pieces of fiction, ranging between 100 and 1,000 words. Today’s piece is the January 25th entry in 365 Days of Flash Fiction. It was inspired by one of Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenges, way back in 2014.
The Man from the Juniper Tree

Cassidy stared at the gleeful smile on the Burman’s face, tried to lift a hand and break the connection between his head and the mainframe. Failed. He looked to Marlena for help, but the girl stood silent, tears streaming down her face. Her eyes flicked between his entrapment and Burman, helpless in light of the gun pressed up hard under her diaphragm.
“Cass,” she whispered, her voice helpless and awash with grief.
Cassidy heard her, but felt the deadly lethargy spreading through his limbs. Where he had felt shocked into immobility, he now found he was numb, his body a leaden weight pinning him to the chair. There was a picture on the wall above the desk, one taken on the open day at a foreign embassy.
It gave nothing of the embassy away, but framed the juniper tree perfectly, reminding him of the day he’d first encountered the agency. The chief had found him, standing in the juniper tree’s shadow trying to keep a dark-clad woman on her feet, weeping as he held her tight to his side—his boss’s partner. He’d pleaded with her not to die, but his pleas had been in vain, and the boss had dragged them both out before the security guards could reach them.
Cassidy fought to bring his mind back to the present, but the desk swam before his eyes and his memory pulled him through the years of training and living under the chief’s roof, the missions, the funeral, his adopted father’s ever-present sadness.
“You’re just like her,” Hillier had said at the graveside. “Same fire.”
Fire Burman was now putting to good use. Cassidy could feel it drawing the life out of him, could see only the Burman’s malicious smile as she shifted the pistol down and put a bullet through the top of Marlena’s thigh. Cassidy didn’t see her leave the office, but he heard the door close, heard Marlena sobbing as she dragged herself over to the chair.
Cass wanted to tell her it would be all right, that he’d hacked his way from one system to another, raiding drug-supported corporations, weapon-smuggling front companies and taking on service deniers and info-nappers. He wanted to say this system would be no different, that the company interface was his friend, but the paralysis that stopped him moving wouldn’t let him. It held his jaw locked tight.
Dammit! Should have seen this coming. Should have… Cassidy’s mind wandered back over the project’s progress reports, and remembered he could join the data-stream. He wondered if he could save himself, and wished he’d managed to get his treacherous second-in-command to tell him how it was done, wished he’d asked more questions about how the computer tapped the excess energy produced by each person hooked into it—just a little, she’d said. Yeah, right.
“Where’s Cassidy?” The sound of the chief’s voice made Cassidy jump, jolting him out of the exploration he’d been making of the interface, making him remember Burman’s promise. She’d make his adopted father kill him, cause the head of the agency to drain every last drop of life from his protégé so that she could rise, and Marlena’s place in the succession was assured. Marlena had protested too soon to save him.
Thinking of Marlena reminded Cassidy of the female agent’s presence. He became aware of the pressure on the arm of the chair, of Marlena’s scrabbling attempts to reach the jack plugged into his head, became aware of her expletive, just before she seized the chair with both hands and toppled it and him to the floor.
“Sshh, sshh, sshh,” she whispered, as though she wasn’t the one who had cried out in pain and caused the crash. “Sshh.”
Cassidy noted the way he’d caught his feet under the lip of the desk, and felt ridiculously relieved they’d stopped his rag-doll legs banging his knees into his face. He tried to re-focus on the interface, only to have the chief’s voice pull him back to his predicament.
“What’s this?” Hillier asked.
“The latest from the labs,” Burman responded.
Cassidy heard the scrape of something being pushed across a table.
“The laptop,” whimpered Marlena. “Got to be quick. Quick. Quick.”
Cassidy wished she’d shut up.
“Why don’t you try it out?” Burman suggested. It’s got the latest software. There’s even a mission simulation.”
“I have a report to write.”
“No problems, just log in from here. Come on, Jon, give it a go.”
“Anything for an iota of peace,” Hillier grumbled, and there was a click. “Nice.”
Cassidy felt a pull at his insides, a sudden tiring tug.
“No, no, no,” Marlena said, her voice tearful. She patted Cassidy’s cheek. “It’s wireless, Cass. Wireless. You’ve just gotta get into the mainframe. Please…”
Wireless. Which means… Cassidy found the port and leapt for it. Why does she want me in the mainframe?
“Holy Hell! Cass is going to love this!” It was the highest compliment Hillier could pay, but Cassidy doubted Burman would appreciate it. Truth was, he did love the new system. He flipped and swirled and wondered how he could save himself. Tried to think like a hacker instead of a man whose mind was trapped in a machine. He didn’t need to find the data link to his body to know it was growing weaker by the minute.
Cassidy studied the data-stream, noted the security cameras’ feed, dived in, found the alarms, alerted the guards. Twisting, he fed the image to the laptop, bringing Hillier at the run. He shut the laptop down.
The chief took one look at Marlena and dialled the ambulance. Cassidy flashed the interface tell-tale, catching Burman’s attention. He had a surprise for her, was relieved when her fingers seized the connection.
Rummaging through the databanks, he’d found the power commands. Laughing, he tweaked them, feeding the mainframe’s power-feed into Burman’s fingers, frying her from fingertip to toe. Laughing, he returned to his head in a wireless leap, hoping the medics made it on time.
You can find the first two flash fiction collections at the links below. The third collection will be released later this year.