Down the corridor, someone shouted, “Hey, no! I didn’t mean—stop!” Sounded like Max’s voice. High-pitched in a panic.
The scraping whine of a chair against the floor followed.
A scuffle in the break room?
Fran ran the rest of the way down the hall. He arrived to the thud of a punch making contact, and his son thrown sideways before bouncing across the floor like tossed dice. The kid shot up with fire in his eyes, his hand dabbing a bloody lip and his chest heaving.
A group of clones stood by, mouths closed.
Fran couldn’t tell which one of them had thrown the punch.
Max dropped into a chair, head down.
It took every cell in Fran’s body to keep his voice to a low roar. “What the hell is going on here?”
The group of individuals present, all of them members of the security squad, gathered in a loose circle. Several stepped back.
Consuela spoke first: “Just a disagreement, sir. Between Leonard and … Max.”
“Why is my son bleeding?” He pushed past Consuela and Andre, and stopped in front of Max, who continued to stare at the ground, hunched in a humiliated way.
“Somebody better start talking,” Fran said.
Leonard, the most military of all the squad and the highest ranking, stepped out of the circle of uniform-clad employees. Diligent, careful, mature, Leonard was at least a foot taller than Max. Fifty pounds more solid too. One of the early clones, he’d received his DNA from Leo—his sandy hair, pale skin, and slate-gray eyes made that much obvious. He would have had a normal American-guy build, like Leo’s, had he not spent the past two decades eating egg whites and lifting barbells in his free time. Leo, the husband of Miranda, headed Startbright’s department of security. He was Fran’s boss, in other words.
Leonard stepped forward and without hesitating, said, “He was complaining about the job, sir.”
“We don’t do that at Starbright.”
“Okay. So, I don’t understand,” Fran said. “You hit him?”
“Yes, sir.” Leonard perfected his already snapped-to soldier’s stance: chest puffed to barrel size, boots together, arms straight as fence posts. The guy was a senior officer. It didn’t make sense that he would throw a punch—or even a slap someone.
Jovians never resort to violence.
“Everyone but Leonard and Max get out of here,” Fran said. “Go find something to do.”
“Yes, sir,” they responded in unison before scattering like billiard balls.
Fran lingered on the fact that no Starbright employee on record had ever hit another employee. Period. Not even accidentally … or in self-defense. If a threatening individual accosted you, you were to take them to the ground and apprehend them using forceful but nonviolent measures.
That’s the way it was, the way it always had been as far as the Jovians were concerned.
How did Max always find a way to screw up?
Fran rubbed his forehead as he unearthed the commanding attitude he once dispensed to cocky FBI recruits: “You just punched your boss’s kid, Leonard, so I’m gonna need to see you in my office immediately.”
Leonard shook his head, his chin looking more square than usual. “You’re not my boss, sir.”
This gave Fran’s face a reason to contort in a befuddled and infuriated way. “Excuse me?”
“Sir, you’re not my—"
“You better believe I am,” Fran exclaimed, determined not to hear the statement twice. “I’ve been your boss for the past eight years.”
“I take orders from the Jovians—”
“What’s gotten into you?” Spit flew from Fran’s mouth. He pointed to the room’s exit. “Get to my office before you say something really stupid.”
The clone turned and left without another word.
Fran stared after him, perplexed. Clones were obedient. Difficult to rile. They had a shallow depth of emotion perfectly suited for this line of work. No one wanted their security staff punching, shooting, or otherwise going off because they were spooked, afraid, or angry. So how did Leonard end up so pissed that he broke rule number one and hit Max?