A storm echoed in the north beyond Consortium Hall. Luminous blue arcs scraping gloaming sky. Inside the structure, harsh ringed ceiling lights illuminated the work-worn face of an officious man seated at a wide kalsomined table. The ring-lights flickered erratically as a immaculate figure entered the room. The obsidian-garbed entrant strode methodically toward the table, regarding its occupant keenly with piercing ichorous eyes.
Ermin Gild straightened in his chair as rain pelted the thick panes of the conference chamber. He pursed his thin lips as the lights returned and gestured to them queriously with his right hand as his left thrummed rhythmically upon the sleeved-smoothed tabletop.
“Mr. Kryos. That from the, ah… what do you call it again? TeleSomA?”
Kryos nodded nearly imperceptibly.
Gild forced a smile. “Well, I appreciate you meeting me on such short notice. And in person, or a close enough approximation. The Chancellor would have come herself were it not for the forthcoming election.”
Kryos folded his hands behind his back and looked toward the empyrean fulminations visible beyond the thick floor to ceiling window-pane.
“No is my answer.”
Ermin Gild furrowed his brow at the smooth resolved declaration, his left hand tapping more rapidly on polished polymer.
“I’ve yet to ask a question.”
Kryos said nothing and turned his back to the speaker seated at the small circular conference table, observing a carbon sculpture that stood the far right corner, which one of the aids had recently convinced Gild to have installed to “liven up the room.”
“Its quite chintz, don’t you think?”
“In execution, not in concept.”
“I didn’t realize there was a concept.”
“A blind man would say as much of a color.”
Gild frowned, left hand tapping faster. He cleared his throat before speaking again.
“Syzr needs to be brought in. We’re gonna charge him with a minor offense, keep that from the public. Wait for the heat to die down and release him, quietly. Comments need to be made to the press. The Chancellor would like your cooperation. We can set this right, but you or Straker are gonna have to make a statement. An official statement. Tell them it was horrible, you’re taking active measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, that you’re restructuring. Retraining. Say something maudlin about poverty and crime, they like that sort of thing.”
“You want me defame one of my own to placate savages,” Kryos ran his right hand gingerly along the contours of the dark sculpture.
“That’s public relations.”
“You don’t seem interested in ameliorating this situation.”
“Not in the way The Chancellor desires.”
“The media is firestorming this. They’ll be more protests. Boycotts. Riots. Rumors. Investigations. I know how keen you are to see your Starglaive Freighter launch. Why jeopardize that?”
“Is that the root of your nervousness? Whether or not my ship launches successfully?”
“You may not believe it, but I’m looking forward to it. The first completely self-sustaining spaceship in human history. If anyone ought to be nervous, its you.”
“You tap your fingers when you’re agitated. As an overwrought woman might bite her nails.”
Gild ceased his rapping and folded his digits into a fist.
“Look. It won’t dent your revenues. You can replace Syzr for the duration of his detention, surely. This is good for all of us. Why are you taking such a hard line?”
“Revenue and reputation are paltry currency to the cosmos.”
Gild leaned back in his chair, brows compressed by perplexity. Knuckles clacking on the table.
“If there is nothing more to discuss, I will be going.”
The man’s form began to distort, quivering like the surface of a pond disturbed.
“Wait. Just a moment.”
Kryos observed the man over his shoulder placidly. His form stabilizing. Gild pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and index and sighed, closed his eyes, opened them and turned to the affin module built into the table. He pressed the touchpad below the viewing panel.
“Cynthia, bring me a seltzer when you have moment.”
A small thumbs-up icon appeared in response. He found that strange. She had never used emoticons before. Must be the influence of her kid, he thought flippantly. He drew his hand from the control panel and leaned back in his seat, stifling a heavy sigh.
“What we desire is seldom what is required,” Kryos declared resolutely, still observing the statue intently.
Gild cocked his head as a middle aged woman with short, dark hair entered the room, carrying a drink on a tray. She smiled pleasantly and approached the ring-shaped table, which retracted such that the server could pass to the middle of it, whereafter she set Gild’s drink down before him.
“Your seltzer, Sir.”
Gild paused, looked to the drink and back to the bland-faced woman, brows knitting faintly. He’d never seen her before.
“Wasn’t feeling good. She asked me if I could bring it to you.”
“Oh, I see. How dreadful.”
“Her son must be wearing her out,” Kryos interjected without turning.
The server nodded, smiled, “That must be it, Sir.”
Kryos looked over his shoulder to Gild, whose dark eyes were now severe and full of concern, then to the woman.
“Cynthia doesn’t have a son.”
As Gild opened his mouth to issue a query, the woman withdrew a cutter from beneath her overcoat and discharged the device into him. As Gild tumbled over in his chair, writhing in shock and agony, she whirled upon Kryos, the weapon levelled at his head.
The man turned full around and fixed her in his xanthous gaze, as a entomologist might observe a newly discovered species. His posture confident and relaxed. The woman smirked and tightened her grip on the cutter, which began to hum, prelude to discharge.
“G’night Mr. Kryos.”
The next instant there came a resounding crack as the assailant fired a pulse into Kryos’ left eye. His head jerked backward, a neat, perfectly symmetrical hole through it. The woman’s smile widened. She waited for the body to fall. Her grin dissipated when it didn’t. Kryos inclined his head until his right eye was level with his foe. Left eye replaced by a charred hole which fizzed and slowly closed upon itself. The particulates comprising his vessel regrouping. Kryos took a step forward as the woman mouthed incredulity.
“What is this?”
The woman raised her cutter once more and fired two more charges into Kryos’ chest. The blasts barely slowed him down. He neither bled, winced or cried and continued striding evenly toward the waylayer as she gasped and spun, dashing for the exit. The woman’s egress was obstructed by an emergency shield door which descended from the ceiling over the sole doorway. She whipped round to see Ermin Gild, struggling unsteadily to his feet, a hole through his left shoulder, his right hand upon his desk-bound control module, his eyes filled with rage. The woman raised the cutter at him, prompting a wince, then pointed it towards Kryos, who continued his languid approach.
“Open the door or I fire. You hear me. Stay back.”
“Cutters can fire four times on a single charge. You’ve neither a recharger nor time to use it.”
He took another step forward, the woman’s handheld weapon nearly flush with his chest.
“Put that ridiculous thing away.”
The woman’s body trembled as she lowered the weapon. Knowing neither fight nor flight was afforded her. Kryos leaned toward the woman until his eyes were level with her own, his bloodless face serene.
“You have given me the gift of trust. For that, I am truly grateful.”
The woman tensed and drew away, bumping up against the shield door.
“My gratitude would be bolstered by names.”
“I don’t have any. They contacted me anonymously.”
“Ever since I was a child, I delighted in dissection. Absolute understanding of mundane composition affords the possibility of absolute supersession. Of contemporaneous artificial constraints. Or, the frailties of mammalian biology.”
“I don’t know anything.”
The shield door opened, revealing a troop of red clothed Vekt Corp security men.
“Hands in the air! Now!”
“What shall it be, life in a cell, or the end of it here?” Kryos inquired softly.
The woman tearfully met her target’s gaze and drew a blade from a hidden sheath strapped beneath her coat and rushed the closest guard. He fired his cutter and took off half her face. Rheum spattered the ceiling. The woman’s body dropped to the floor, lifeless, leaking red.
“Damnit Captain,” Gild erupted, “We needed her.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t have a choice. Are you alright?”
“I have a HOLE in my SHOULDER.”
“Does it hurt, sir?”
Gild glared and opened his mouth, a curse poised on his lips, cut off by the Captain.
“I’m sorry, sir. A medic will be up shortly.”
Gild inclined his head in approval and sat down heavily in the chair adjacent his former one which had been overturned in the scuffle as the guards dragged the body out of the room. As the door closed behind the cadaver and the men who carried it, Kryos approached the table. After several seconds of leaden silence Gild, fighting back tears of pain and dread, looked to the projection.
“What’d you mean, she’d given you a gift?”
“The only people outside of my company aware of TeleSomA are you and the members of the board. This facility requires secretary clearance, which means-“
Gild’s eyes went wide.
“It was one of the under secretaries.”
Kryos looked toward the small hole in his companion’s shoulder and then toward the storm breaking in the distance.
“Someone within the Consortium wants me dead. Make sure to keep this matter in-house. Tell no one.”
The injured man ground his teeth and downed his alcohol spiked seltzer, “What? No. We need to tell the board. The Security Commission. Do you want them to try the same trick again?”
“To kill a wolf, do not hunt it down, bury a blade in the snow and salt it with blood.”