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Dark Lords: Shadows, Chapter 12

cover-dark-lords-1Chapter Twelve

Qualifications

Castle Cor, Planet Albion, Realm

 

George muttered under his breath as Thomas readied the comm link to Dr. Messina who was waiting in orbit above them at his office in the shipyards.

“Ah, Dr. Messina, about those plans—”

“Where is the inventor! This is ridiculous! Putting everything on hold like this! How long were you going to hold out!”

“Dr. Messina, what are you talking about?” George could feel a headache coming on.

“Do you realize he tried seventeen thousand variations? Who would have thought of silica substrate? No one! His redesign, we tweaked it. It’s simplicity itself. We can stabilize it at 61%. Are you listening! Just as it is, the power upgrade is 48%!” Dr. Messina was waving his hands frantically, leaning over the comm intake, his spittle hitting the screen. “This will be the new standard! Dr. Beal has demanded 20% more power to make the new systems viable!  This will deliver 61% more! Get him up here now!”  Dr. Messina stormed from his office.

George and Thomas waited a moment just in case the Doctor reappeared.

“He has left the comm open again, sir. I will contact his secretary regarding his report.”

Yes, George thought, definitely a headache. He nodded to Thomas.

“Will Mr. Hunter still be making his meeting?” Gregor asked.

George turned to his Armorum. He glared, first at his secretary and then his Chief of Security. Then with steel in his voice spoke, “Let there be no misunderstandings. Alex will not vanish, he will not be blocked and he will attend his meeting. We will utilize his inventiveness, but in the process we will not harm him in any way. Now if you will excuse me gentlemen, I am late for breakfast.”

* * *

“It’s his big day,” Abigail said as she sat down.

“I know.” Dani replied. She had been tempted to cancel her meeting and attend his presentation to the Industrialist, Mr. Williams. Very tempted. Dani took a deep breath. That would be something that Alex would not want, or was she projecting?

Alex entered the family dining room wearing LC’s classic jacket and trousers with a linen shirt and silk tie. He nodded to everyone, put his jacket on the back of his chair, then began filling a plate from the buffet table.

“Wow.” Johanna said under her breath to her two sisters.

Dani felt herself blush as she watched Alex selecting his breakfast. Dale had picked very well. Last night he had explained to her in detail what Alex would be wearing today. Then he had given her the bag he had already put aside.

Alex turned. The room had been filled with conversation before he’d entered. Now they were all staring at him.

George entered and stopped. He looked from the women to Alex.

“What?” Alex asked the table of women. They merely looked down at their plates and continued eating in silence.

“Now you know what I feel like.” George said next to Alex, who still stood with his plate in his hand. “Give it up, son, they outnumber us.”

Father.” Dani and Johanna together. Abby giggled.

Shrugging, Alex took his seat across from Dani and next to Abby.

“Are you ready?” Abigail asked.

“Have everything you need?” Johanna asked.

Dani put down her drink “I have arranged a car—”

“He is coming with me, Daniella,” George said as he sat down. Dani pursed her lips. Her father’s use of her full name meant there was no arguing with him.

“Thank you, George.” Alex leaned toward Dani and asked, “Do you know where the laundry is?”

“Why?”

“I can’t find my clothes.”

“Oh?” Dani looked down at her tablet.

“What exactly are you missing?” Abigail asked.

“My sweats, shirts, pants, pretty much everything I came with.”

“Oh, well. We do a lot of laundry.” Dani absently played with a strand of her hair. George, who had picked up the Albion Free Press and just opened the paper, lowered it to looked down the table at his oldest daughter.

“But my name’s on everything.”

“Why?” Asked Abigail.

“That is from living in the military, Abby. Perhaps, Alex, your laundry’s whereabouts is one of those mysteries that we will never solve. Like the missing sock issue or New Venetian fashion.”

Alex looked puzzled as all three women intently focused on their breakfasts and George raised his paper.

From the kitchen to the front door, everyone he passed wished Alex good luck. He thanked everyone he met. George smiled politely and motioned for Alex to get in the car first.

“Thank you for the ride, George, and for everything. This has been an amazing two weeks.”

“Alex, you have been a pleasure and a breath of fresh, male, air. If not for the social obligations, I would have liked to spend more time with you. Luckily, we’ll still have the week after this is all over.”

Alex gave George a confused expression.

“Oh, by the Blood. Daniella had extended your stay the week before you arrived. It has probably completely slipped her mind to even ask you if you want to stay.” George rubbed his temples. “She worries me, Alex. Dearly worries me.”

“I wouldn’t—I mean, Sir—George, she means well. And, quite frankly Dani’s been run off her feet, you all have. I have. I didn’t know there were so many museums in the galaxy never mind in one city on Albion, and the schools, and the lectures and the dinners. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

It was George’s turn to give a blank expression.

“Our free day? There’s nothing on the itinerary?”

“When you are married, you will understand, Alex. A free day is one where the women just have not informed you of what they have planned for you yet.”

Alex smiled. “Yes, sir.”

George took a deep breath. “Regardless of how this goes for you today, I would very much like to have a look at your designs. Perhaps tomorrow we can spend some time and I will show you my lab, my real lab. It is in the south garage. It’s actually just a converted storage room, but it is mine and the girls do not go in there, well not very often. I have an XVT Luministy so we can mail your idea directly from the den, have it built before breakfast. The platform allows you to build a ship from scratch and do real environment testing.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing it.” Alex took a deep breath as the car stopped.

“Good luck.” George said, shaking Alex’s hand.

Alex walked into the beautiful Grande Lucien Hotel and Conference Centre. Heading to the main room he had to pass through three security scans. Head pounding from the telepaths’ final check, he entered the show room. The man had done his best to scan Alex and he had the migraine to prove it. They had almost not let him in. It seemed that every scan got harder to take. He was thankful that hotel security had vouched for him.

Thank you, De La Roches, Alex thought.

He went to his stall and within it’s security field set up his DataBox. The Unit opened showing the assembly of a virtual rendition of his redesign. With his hands he could move in on any aspect or take apart the model showing any working segment plus all his numbers. Setting the security he sealed his booth and headed off to his before lunch seminar.

It was strange walking through the convention centre. The crowds were nearly silent, most with the slack look of neural up-link. An attendant stood to the side of a door, she was holding up a book, “…no sir, you open it, you do not upload it.”

He entered the Oak room.

* * *

“So, Alex,” Professor Bhaskara said with a smile. “How’s your stay going?”

They were lucky to find a seat at one of the little cafes supplying free food to those attending the seminar.

“It’s been very interesting, sir.”

“I must insist you call me David. I’m so sorry they ran over time and you didn’t get a chance on the floor.”

“Probably for the best.” Alex shrugged. He still wasn’t sure why he’d been picked to speak. “I’m not a real social scientist.”

“Yes, you are! You’re just not a, a, virtual one. You work with reality. Trust me, we need more of that. Your idea, about basic biology warnings in permanent print is sound. I was on the Gufur, after all.”

“Everyone just seems like they’ve got their oxygen levels too high.” Alex looked over at an older man laughing hysterically, the young server stood next to his table looking baffled.

“It’s the lack of neural uplinks. Thank’s to the Vampires’ weird obsession with no net everyone’s been so disorganised. Did you know that all but medical neural upgrades are illegal on all Realm Worlds? It’s caused more that a few guffaws.”

“Guffaws?” Alex picked up his chicken sandwich.

“Your specialty, social misunderstandings. Can you believe, no neural uplink anywhere on this entire world?” The old man shook his head as he added cream to his coffee.

“I read about it in the visitor’s guide. But they’ve made an exception for New Oxford for the Summit and Symposium.”

“Not all of New Oxford, it’s only around the downtown. Professor Chen believes that’s why they combined the two.” Professor David Bhaskara leaned in close. “No Hypers with certain traits are allowed either. And they have genetic restrictions. I think we’re both lucky we got in. Especially you. I must tell you, it’s been interesting conversing so much.”

Alex nodded. It was nice to actually talk to people. To get to know them by interacting, not by downloading the salient points of their history from the net. He was about to comment when over David Bhaskara’s shoulder he saw a group. He put down his forkful of salad, his appetite suddenly gone. “That’s Dame Conklin, isn’t it?”

“Now, Alex, please do not start up with her again.”

“People shouldn’t own people, David.”

“They’re her clones.”

“They’re not just her clones! They’re people! Besides David, she just doesn’t own clones. They buy and sell hominids. Seize people for debt payment. They’re a blight on our species. Everyone they see is a commodity.”

David put his hand on Alex’s arm. “Regardless of our feelings in the matter, she is a Corporate Citizen and an Elite. She has diplomatic immunity for the duration of the summit. I agree with you. Most here do. Don’t you notice how isolated they are?”

Alex watched the little knot of well to do’s surrounded by their property. It was true. The eight people, and the four hairless clones, were in an invisible bubble that very few crossed. The fact that they represented so much capital angered Alex.

“There was a time when their lot ran things,” David said with a smile. “That isn’t the case anymore. There was another rebellion of sorts on Olympia. They lost millions of clones. Some subsystem failed. Rumour has it that their whole system has been brought to a standstill.”

Alex took a deep breath. Millions? Millions? No doubt, just disposable people to her and hers. 

“To those who died, may they find peace,” Alex spoke the traditional words as he held up his glass of ale. David, surprised, put down his fork and did the same with his coffee. They drank.

“To good news,” David said. They drank again. David leaned in. “Did you hear about Goodwin? Got himself bitten by a Vampire.”

Alex felt a shiver. “Really?”

“Said it was rather disappointing. He went to Miller’s Road. Claims it wasn’t worth the money. I guess that’s what we should expect from someone who deals in finance.”

“He paid someone to bite him?”

“Yes, apparently. This Vampire was not one of the service workers. Just some fellow he met in one of the bars.” David took another sip. “I suspect you’ve been to Miller’s Road, a young man like you.”

Alex felt his face heat up. “No, I haven’t had time.”

“Well, damn it man, this thing’s almost over. I’ve bloody well been there. No Cats, mind you. Oh, and good luck this afternoon. Who is your sponsor?”

“I’m O3 on this.” Alex noted the professor’s blank expression. “Sorry, military slang, three O’s means your On One’s Own.

Walking over to the Grande Lucian, Alex tried not to think of Professor David Bhaskara and Cats. That was another thing, if there were no Engineered Life Form’s, no ELF’s allowed in the Realm worlds, how could they have Vampires? Weren’t they one of the first engineered life forms? Or, because they started off as humans mutating themselves, did that make them re-engineered?

No one spoke to him as he neared his booth. Every stall had groups of barely clad people around them. Most of them had the kind of height and beauty you paid for. For not the first time Alex was thankful for the clothes the De La Roche’s had had made for him. At least he could blend in a little.

Alex was early. Dr. Bhaskara had given him the Albion Times to look at. The paper had extended coverage of the Summit. Each section followed a different ‘royal’ Vampire and what they were doing. Alex found it weird to realise he’d met all the royals depicted. Near the end of the spread was a shot of Dani at the Green River Elementary School. She was standing over a young girl, while Alex knelt to the girl’s left with Abby leaning over him. Dani had her hand on his shoulder. All of them engrossed in the girl’s school project.

“Excuse me?”

Alex looked up. A too perfect almost two metre tall woman smiled down at him. Behind her stood a very pretty man and another woman just as perfect but with bright neon blue hair and eyes to match. She wore very little and her blue outfit showed off her blue striped skin. Both were just centimetres shorter than the woman in front.

“Yes?”

“You’re Mr. Alexis Hunter?” She had that disinterested look of someone getting neural updates. Of course she knew who he was.

Great, thought Alex, and so it starts. “How can I help you?”

“I do background for Mr. Williams and I can’t find your education code. Obviously somethings been misfiled.”

“I’m sorry?” Alex stood, but still looked up at her. It always started like this.

“I have you listed as a citizen of New Canada, but I can’t find you on either of the Charlotte or Victoria student databases.”

“That’s because I didn’t attend either school. I got my degree at Matheson Tech Voc., with honours.” Alex’s felt his jaw tighten.

“Interesting. Matheson Technical  Vocational has no undergraduate certification program listed?” Her eyes were finally focusing, as she looked down at him.

“I got my undergraduate equivalent through the HFSS Military Education Program.”

“With honours?” Her perfect right eyebrow rose marginally.

“Yes.” Alex saw the signs. Her mouth had tightened, her right hip was now jutting out and she had crossed her thin perfect arms under her extremely large gravity defying breasts.

“I see no upgrades listed.”

“I don’t have any.”

“And you’re here to demonstrate a redesign of a power plant system using hundred year old tech?”

“Yes. I—”

“Your family occupation is listed as plumbing?” She blinked several times.

Alex could feel his pulse beginning to pound. Don’t go there, don’t! But it was too late.

“Adopted, oh.” Now she looked at him, but he knew she was no longer seeing him. She was falling back on logical assumptions that happen when the phrase ‘emancipated’ appeared in your history. She stood a moment longer and gave him a once over, but he’d seen it too many times. Now she was seeing the clothing and reading between the lines. Whatever came out of her mouth next, he wouldn’t like.

“Look, you should stick to what you’re clearly good at. Mr. Williams is a busy man, you shouldn’t waste his time.” The woman walked to the next stall, a smile on her face as they greeted her like old friends.

The worst part was he couldn’t even leave. The security was so tight that once Mr. Williams and his entourage were on the floor all the exits were sealed. Alex flipped through the files on his PC. For the next forty minutes, he sat back and played, Tarsell, Destroyer of Doria! Cutting down the evil overlords and their underlings on 2D wasn’t as satisfying as VR, but it still felt good.

The entourage was now massed around the booth to his right. Most displays it seemed, at least got a cursory review by Mr. Williams. But he had walked right by Alex, with not so much as a glance. The majority of Mr. Williams time appeared to be spent with the big three contractors.

“Typical.” Alex muttered. At least the scenery was pretty. The tall women came in as many colours as their various outfits, all of them with amazing gravity defying accoutrements, more than a few had three and one had four. Two women had feathers instead of hair and one had what looked like a mane. Several of the men were hairless and looked tight in their skin, their muscles seeming ready to rip through at any moment. Many of them were barely dressed and a couple had see through clothing. Their large genitals were as freakish as the rest of their overdeveloped bodies. Such ‘supers,’ had been extremely rare on New Canada. He’d seen his first during a high school day trip to Green Bay. There had been a time when the vary large bulges in their stretch pants, trousers, Alex corrected, and extremely defined double muscled bodies had truly freaked him out, but he’d grown past that.

Two Cats, one black, one white, walked up to his booth. Great, all he needed. By the black! Where was security? He stood up looking for the orange jackets.

Both had full coats and tails, not something that common anymore. Alex had been shocked to see ‘real’ cats, house cats, at Castle Cor and about New Oxford. Petting them had been a surprise too. What Alex called cats, Abby and the rest called Felinoids.

Why did cats always find him? Right, you’re flat. The flatter you are, the more attracted cats be. And no one comes, flatter than me.

“We smelled you from over there,” The black one said. What little there was of her outfit was composed entirely of delicate platinum chains and diamonds. The webbing held her ample breasts, only two. The white cat had the same outfit, except in black metal but also with diamonds.

A tall man separated from the group and walked over. He put his arms around the two ‘women.’

“Ladies, what are you two beauties up too?” He was looking at Alex as he spoke, not the beauties.

“Could he come play with us?”

“What are you selling, Mr. Hunter?” The man asked, ignoring the Felinoids. He stepped forward, around the table. Behind him the entourage had moved. A wall of perfect faces now stared at Alex, blocking any exit. Studying him. Their smiles anything but friendly. Alex shifted to the balls of his feet. They might have been silent, but their features showed they were passing messages between themselves.

“Power plant redesign. Instead of replacing entire systems, the redesign of existing plants could save billions of credits. Ships could be up and operational in a few weeks instead of months.”

“Oh, power plant redesign. We tried that twenty years ago. It always fails.” The man stepped close enough that Alex could smell his aftershave. Alex stepped back from the larger man, refusing to break eye contact. The man broke it first as he looked to Mr. Williams who now stood with his arms around the two cats.

The crowd tightened in behind the industrialist. The white cat sat down seductively on Alex’s display table, her tail having swung around toward him. The black cat was on the other side of Mr. Williams. She leaned forward, staring at him as she licked her lips. He could hear her purring.

“You have interesting friends, Mr. Hunter.” Mr. Williams said. The white cat was looking down at the newspaper, casually flipping pages. “I like exotics. Please bring some of your friends by. I’m throwing a party. The more the merrier.”

One of the cats made a mewing sound and whispered something into Mr. Williams ear.

“My, what have you done to my pets?”

His look gave Alex what Louis would call the ‘neg shivers.’

“Come now ladies, a new world awaits.” With that Williams turned and left.

Alex took a step toward his table but the tall man put a hand out. The man stepped toward the table and turned the paper so they both could see the picture of the school visit. His finger came to rest on Abby’s chest.

“Mr. Williams would love to meet your friends tonight. We’re staying in the Royal Wedding Suite, we have the whole top two floors.” He put up his right hand and before Alex could pull away, touched the side of Alex’s face. “My appetites aren’t quite so exotic. We’ll be expecting you after seven.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Alex snapped. He reached for his PC and DataBox. The man grabbed his arm, the grip painful but Alex bit down on any sound.

“Is there a problem?” Marcus’s voice was ice.

“None of your concern.” The man said, not even looking.

“Remove your hand at once from Mr. Hunter’s person, Mr. Durand, or I will tear it off.” Alex felt every hair on his body lift.

The man, Durand, looked at Marcus and took a step back, releasing Alex’s arm as he did so.

“Later, Mr. Hunter,” Durand said quietly and then left the booth.

Alex refused to look at Durand’s parting form.

“I thought, if you were done, you might like to come to the Sports Club.” Marcus was still watching the departing entourage. “The rain has cancelled the garden party this afternoon. I called and there is open time on the fencing floor. Our club has an excellent collection of swords.”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Alex picked up his gear. “Thanks, Marcus.”

“Durand and his lot are …” Marcus shrugged.

“Brundi. Zelfts. Ucka?”

“I was thinking fucking assholes.”

“Fucking? You mean fracking?”

“For unlawful carnal knowledge. It goes back to old Earth.”

“Carnal knowledge?” Alex slowed and shook his head. “I wouldn’t use that in the verse, Marcus. Here might be okay, but not out there. Translators … it wouldn’t be wise.”

They headed through the doors and out into the lobby. The once sunlit entrance now showed a wet grey world.

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