* * *
Lord Young considered showing up late to the lunch rendezvous simply to ensure it would take up less of his time. Then again, he knew that would seem petty and therefore he found himself in the elevator going down to the café five minutes before lunchtime.
Why the fuck am I doing this? he thought. What could I possibly get out of this experience? Hell, I’m not even hungry.
Lord Jordanis was already there and on his third cup of filtered water which suggested he had gotten very little work done before the afternoon. His glasses were tinted so that was impossible to see his eyes.
“Nín hăo,” Lord Young said respectfully as he took a seat.
Although his eyes were hidden, he assumed Lysander was raising an eyebrow and squinting an eye judgementally.
“Hi,” he said in an almost mocking way. It was very clear that their time together was not going to be spent speaking in Mandarin.
“Why do you dislike the Mandarin language so much?” Koris asked. Their conversation was not going to be on any record so he could ask whatever he wanted.
Before answering, he took a red cigarette from the little silver case in his robe pocket and lit it. He’s never smoked the red kind before, Koris thought. That shit is serious business.
“I just don’t see the point in trying to uphold a culture we ran from in the first place. What are we trying to prove? It’s like when Canadians speak French – it just doesn’t suit their society.”
“But Canada was settled by the Fr–”
“Shut up, Koris. It just sounds stupid.”
The conversation was going nowhere with Lysander in such a bad mood. Koris could not, and would not, ask what was wrong with the other man. He would most likely not answer him or flat-out lie.
“I see you smoke the red ones now,” Koris noted aloud to change the topic.
Lysander exhaled the red smoke. He was living proof that dragons existed.
“Yes,” he agreed. “My son has upgraded to the orange cigarettes so I had to advance. I’ll admit, these are much stronger than I had expected. Physically, my throat is on fire, yet mentally I feel… nothing.”
“Is that what you want?”
“It’s one of a few things, yes.”
Lysander was alluding to something and probably wanted Koris to play in to his game and ask, but the younger man was not one for games and decided to ignore that fact entirely.
“Just a question: why did you name your son Princeton?”
Jordanis smiled, but it was a hollow expression.
“So that he could never be king.”
“That’s a great message to drill into your child’s head to build their self-esteem,” he said in a sarcastic, almost agitated, manner of speaking. “Telling your child they can never be better than you, how lovely.”
“I never said he can’t be better than me,” the older man replied icily. “And in terms of self-esteem: it gets built back stronger every time it’s broken. Better to break and make him now than to let it get to him later. He will hurt for a few years, yet he will be a humble and emotionally solid by the time he’s forty.”
“I see it going two ways: he’ll either be emotionally distraught and depressed when he’s forty or he’ll be emotionless to the point of being a sociopath.”
Koris was not sure why he found himself being so hard and aggressive during their conversation. Seeing Lysander so glum gave him the strange urge to want to entice the older man and get him to react angrily. To his own dismay, Lysander did not seem remotely fazed.
“Either may be true, but at least he will be alive.”
What are you implying? Koris thought. The waiter appeared at the table before he could ask. Oddly enough, the waiter was a downtowner and not Olympian. However, that would most likely change in the future unless Koris won the election and got the Olympians protected under the Servants Union.
He got right back into it once the waiter left them alone: “My children will be alive,” he objected to the previous implication.
“Melody will be,” Lysander agreed.
Koris scoffed. “And so will Flick.”
“What? No? What do you mean ‘no’?”
“If you think my son has emotional issues, then you should really meet Flick.”
“I have met Flick, I know him better than you do. Just because you raped him doesn’t mean you know jack shit about him.”
Lysander sat up properly. Koris finally thought he got a row out of the older man even though he instantly regretted what he accused him of.
“I know Flick will forever be twelve in your mind based on when you found him and just how mature you think he is, but he is twenty-two, he was fully into it, and we did not have sex. All he wants is positive attention and that’s exactly what I gave him and he loved it. You underestimate his maturity level because you think he’s dumb.”
“I’m sorry,” Koris said in a sincere way. “I didn’t mean to accuse of being something that horrible. I lost control for a moment.”
“It’s cute that you think your petty words fazed me, it really is. I’ve grown numb to the word rape… because you are honestly the thirtieth person who has ever accused me of being a rapist. I must ask: do I have some twisted aura about me? Is there something about the way I act or my sexual orientation? I really have no idea why everyone thinks that I’m like that. I’m not saying I’m a good person, but that’s the one thing I would never do.”
“Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what your orientation is.”
“It depends on the time of day.”
“What? Are you bi or pan?”
Koris was not amused. Although he was relieved they were off the previous topic before Lysander brought them right back to it: “I actually think your fear of Flick being near me stems from an incident you faced, say, when you were in university. I think you empathise with his vulnerability around powerful and authoritative males because you were taken advantage of sexually by an older man – possibly a university professor – when you were young and it has scared you ever since – and gives me evidence to think you’re homophobic.”
“I am not homophobic,” Koris said in the strongest voice he could muster, but he was not willing to discuss the first few things Lysander had mentioned. “I completely support gay rights.”
“You support the idea of it when your own family is not involved. It scares you when Flick is, God forbid, happy with another man – especially an older one. Don’t freak out when he starts wearing women’s clothes and calls himself ‘Flicka’. He’s probably also a bit gender confused.”
“No,” Koris cautiously objected. He had to carefully construct his explanation so that Lysander could not twist his words and make him the bad guy. “I have no problem with transgender people and would support Flick if he chose that route. Hell, my dear assistant, Adina, is… ugh, never mind. Anyways; I’m afraid of Flick being taken sexually advantage of by a man – or a woman – because he doesn’t have a sex drive and therefore cannot get pleasure from such acts and I’m worried someone like you will ignore that factor.”
“I don’t think you understand how important it is to him to feel loved and wanted. Although it’s not sexual for him, he really does enjoy being that close to someone. It’s mental pleasure.”
Koris sighed. “I’m not comfortable talking about Flick’s sexual escapades. Besides, what does it have to do with him dying before the age of forty like you suggested he would?”
“I’d be surprised if he lived past twenty-five.”
“Various reasons. My pseudoscientific suspicion is that the universe intentionally works to kill downtowners. Whether they live uptown or downtown, they always die.”
“You can’t just assume Flick will die!”
“Wanna bet? I bet you one-hundred yuan that Flick is dead before he turns twenty-five.”
“How could you say such things?”
“What facts? What the fuck are you talking about?”
Koris had gone into this conversation hoping he would get a row out of Lysander, but it was actually vice versa. He had been arrogant in thinking that he could make Lysander lose his temper while maintaining his own calm attitude.
Lysander inhaled more red smoke as he thought about the gashes he had seen on the downtowner’s wrists.
“You really should pay more attention to him, then you’ll see what I see,” he muttered. “I’m not suggesting he deserves to die. In fact, I think he’s a charming boy. Unfortunately, the good die young, Young.” He laughed at his own pun, but Koris was not amused. “I know that fact haunts you because you feel partially responsible for the separation between the lower and upper class.” Koris shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Yes,” Lysander said. “I do know how disgustingly rich your parents were and how they got rich off the labour of downtowners. I know you refused any of their money in order to distance yourself from your family and their blood money. I also know you think you’ve made a difference in this world by saving Flick. I’ve got news for you: for every downtowner child you ‘save’, there are a thousand who are tortured and killed before they turn ten.”
Koris took a deep breath before answering: “Did you really want to meet with me this lunchtime to bicker about Flick and his ‘impending’ doom?”
“No, and I certainly don’t know how we got onto that topic from cigarettes.”
“Then what do you want talk about?” he asked in an agitated manner. “I don’t have all day. Do you realise how soon the election is?”
“That’s actually what I asked you here to talk about.”
Lysander did not elaborate because the waiter came by their table and set a toasted Panini in front of him and a bowl of noodles in front of Koris. Once the waiter was gone he continued: “I wanted to warn you that I’m giving up.”
Young stared blankly at him. “Um, what?”
“I’ve decided I don’t care anymore about the election… or anything for that matter. I’m afraid I’ve become a bit of a nihilist, realising that life is nothing more than a tale told by an idiot.”
Koris did not care for the older man’s personal issues or Shakespeare quotes: “You’re dropping out of the race?”
He laughed. “No, I’m not making it that easy for you. I really just don’t care who wins. However, I do have a few suggestions for you if you win.”
“Really?” Koris asked sceptically. Was Lysander trying to trick him?
“Yes. And if a man, who has been at this game far longer than you, could impart wisdom: don’t get ambitious and try to make major changes to our society.”
He is trying to trick me, the younger man thought.
“I intend to make as many changes as possible. I want to give Olympians and downtowners equal rights to us. I want to equalise the blasted city!”
“See, when you talk like this you sound like a communist.”
“I’m a socialist.”
“That’s a synonym for communist.”
“No, it isn’t! Communism means everyone’s treated equally shitty, save the people with all the power at the top. Socialism is capitalism and communism combined so that you can climb the success ladder, but if you fall there will be a safety net.”
“I prefer to call your ladder metaphor ‘capulism’. But, no, you really shouldn’t aim to make such dramatic changes.”
“If I win, I’ll have ten years. That’s a lot of time to make big changes so it’s not all so sudden. My first intent is to get the Olympians to be protected under the Servants Union.”
The older man let out a chuckle. “Servants Union, eh? Do you even know who started the Servants Union all those years ago?”
Koris shrugged. “Some downtowner called, err, I think ‘Lucinda’.”
“Yes. If you know that, then you know how corrupt and inefficient the Union is.”
“It’s a start for making sure the Olympians aren’t treated like slaves. Eventually, I’ll make sure both them and the downtowners earn as much as uptowners.”
Lysander leaned forward in an intimidating manner.
“Wishful thinking, but no. Don’t make big promises. Do not promise the downtowners something you cannot deliver or you will be faced with a city-wide riot that will tear Manticore Metropolis to the ground. Focus on the people who aren’t going to get violent if you don’t follow through: the uptowners. Don’t tell the downtowners you can make any major changes to their way of life because you can’t. The other politicians will stop you at every turn every time you try to change how things work.”
“But the downtowner vote is how I’m going to win this thing.”
“Yes, I know. But don’t hand out any more of those silly brochures full of promises you can’t fulfil. The downtowners are restless, Koris. And they’ve grown in numbers over the years. We underestimate how dangerous they could be if they worked together to destroy our city. They’re a time bomb. Hell, our whole humanity is a time bomb. Sadly, it’s not a matter of if this bomb will go off, it’s a matter of when. It’s the chairperson’s job to delay the imminent explosion and give our society as much time as possible before it crumbles to the ground.”
“What makes you think the changes I want to make will cause our city to collapse?”
“Chain reaction: you piss off the downtowners, they riot, they piss off the uptowners, they rebel against government, and the whole thing comes crashing down. Manticore is unstable. The best-fit metaphor for our society is probably Jenga – ever played it?”
“I kick ass at that game, but that’s not the point. We’re at that stage that that if you try to make one more major change – or remove another block – it’ll all crash down.”
“You wanna know what I think?”
“Well, you’re gonna hear it anyways: I think you’re just trying to scare me because you know that I’m going to win and you know it will be because of the downtowner vote. That’s why you want me to stop appealing to the downtowners so that I lose their vote.”
“That would be a clever plan, and yet it is not the case. As strange as it sounds: I’m being honest with you.”
“I call bullshit.”
“Alright then. It’s going to be on you when humanity falls apart.”
“I can live with that,” Koris said sarcastically as he got up and pulled out his card. “I’m going to go pay now.”
“You didn’t even eat your meal,” Lysander noted while staring at Koris’ full bowl of noodles.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Okay then, see you later.”
The waiter came by shortly after Koris left and stared at it in confusion.
“Is he, err, done?” the downtowner asked.
The waiter shrugged and picked up the bowl and cup to take back to the kitchen. Lysander stopped him as he tried to walk past and gestured for him to lean down so he could hear what the older man had to say.
“If you want to make a little more yuan then I suggest you go tell your manager you’re taking your break and then meet me in the disabled toilets in three minutes,” Lysander whispered with a complete lack of emotion.
The downtowner thought for a few seconds, nodded, and then stood up properly again and headed for the kitchen. Jordanis found himself no longer hungry and pulled out his card just as Young had done.
Why am I going to get fellatio from a random downtowner? he asked himself while paying. Despite acting like a bloody nympho your whole life, it’s not going to satisfy you now. You have murdered your enjoyment for sex – great job.
Chief Nikhita Kothari left Erik home with Proteus. She was sure that Proteus would be able to manage a downtowner as low-maintenance as Erik. Hell, the boy acted like he was under mind control after Nikhita fuck
However, he would probably grow disdain for her if he learned what she was doing that afternoon. She and Ghoad were interrogating the suspect they had captured at the downtown hostel who went by the name of Tom. As a pair, they used the tactic of fear to get answers out of people. Usually a downtowner would speak if they were proposed a reward, yet Nikhita preferred the fear tactic.
To build the tense atmosphere she had the main lights off in the interrogation room, leaving only the screen of the table to faintly illuminate the room. If the darkness was not intimidating, the shadow of the giant insect behind the Indian woman certainly was – Ghoad’s presence was useful for interrogation.
“I-I really don’ta know what you’ra talkin’ about,” Tom stuttered. He watched Ghoad rather than Nikhita or the pictures of the missile shell displayed on the table’s screen.
“It’s not a coincidence that you were in the exact part of town that the missile was shot from and that you made a call to an uptowner to discuss certain plans in a code. Unfortunately, whoever you called was using a disposable phone that was found in a trashcan at the mall, but with you we may be able to find them.”
“I’va neva met them!”
“But you do admit that you called an uptowner?”
Tom froze. He was not sure which would have worse consequences: lying or being honest. He got the feeling Nikhita would hurt him regardless.
“What did they sound like?” Nikhita asked, “male or female? Was it an auto tuned voice?”
Still no answer. Unfortunately, that was just what Nikhita wanted. She glanced back at Ghoad and gave her a nod. The svellik then left the room without a word. Tom watched her go – why was she leaving?
“I need answers from you, Tommy. The question is who are you more afraid of: me or the person you called?”
Tom bit his lip. He was quite afraid of both. Despite the situation, he came to the conclusion he had to be more afraid of the person he called.
“Just tell me one thing: how important is this uptowner you called? A mere weapons provider or the full-on leader of this Rebellion shit?”
He still gave no answer. Anyone who worked with the Rebellion had been told to remain silent during interrogation. If he talked and survived the interrogation then he would certainly be murdered in the most violent manner. Uptowners, especially ones in government, were not cruel like downtowners so death at their hands would be better – or so he thought.
The insect-like creature returned and held out a syringe to Nikhita. Although it looked small in her black razor-sharp fingers, it still looked very menacing.
“Roll up your sleeve,” Nikhita said calmly as she strolled around to his side of the table.
Tom shook his head rapidly. He didn’t want to be injected with that stuff – whatever it was.
“Roll up your sleeve or I jam it in your eye.”
Realising that she probably was not joking, he complied. There was an odd tingling sensation in his arm the moment the fluid got injected into his body.
“You’ll find that your body is going numb,” she explained as if she had read his mind. “In a few minutes you will be permanently paralysed. I can cure this before it happens, but you have to give me answers first,” she whispered in his ear.
That sent the downtowner into panic mode. He desperately tried to stand up but his legs had gone numb and he flopped onto the floor.
Nikhita kneeled down next to him and then dropped the empty syringe in front of his face.
“P-please” he begged as he felt his body becoming less responsive by the moment.
“Are you going to tell me anything good?”
“Well then, we’re just going to have to take you back downtown.”
“B-but ya have to save me.”
“I don’t have to do shit. I really don’t care if you live or die, I just need information on whatever this Rebellion group is because, if you haven’t noticed, there’s an election coming up and we can’t let your gang be a threat.”
“I-I can’ta tell ya anything!”
“That’s a shame.”
The door to the interrogation room flew open causing Nikhita to stand up and spin around. Her heart froze when she saw Lord Koris Young standing in the door way – he did not look happy.
“Hello, sssirrr,” Ghoad said calmly. She saw no fault in what she was doing.
“Niki, what the fuck are you doing?” he growled.
Nikhita kept her calm: “I’m trying to get information that could save your life on the election day,” she explained.
“This is not the way to get information from someone. Also, the media will pounce on us if he dies so you better give him the antidote.”
Nikhita sighed. “There isn’t an antidote.”
“What?” Koris and Tom said simultaneously.
“I didn’t give him anything lethal. It’s mapo.”
“A natural drug that the svellik used for religious rituals. Don’t worry, it’s untraceable so even if his body was discovered later nobody would think we drugged him.”
Koris shook his head in disbelief.
“Niki, you don’t plan on killing this man, do you?”
“We jussst want inforrrmation,” Ghoad said in the place of Nikhita.
“We were only pretending to kill him so that he would talk,” the Earthling said to elaborate on the svellik’s explanation. “Did Kane tip you off? I tried to brief him earlier, but he wasn’t properly listening and didn’t understand what was going on.”
“Look, this guy’s suffered enough today,” Koris said while gesturing to the downtowner lying on the ground who had lost the ability to speak due to the mapo. All he could do was groan. “I want you to take him back to where you found him and let him get on with his life.”
“But he’s a terrorist!”
“There’s not enough to prove that.” He leaned in closer so that his mouth was next to her ear. “If you want, you can inject a tracking device into him so that we can always find him later if we need to.”
She nodded, yet her expression was annoyed. Koris was disturbed by Nikhita’s aggressiveness and cruelty. It was good to have her on his side – because she was too dangerous to have as an enemy.
“Ghoad, drop Tommy Boy off downtown,” Nikhita ordered while keeping her eyes on Koris.
“Shouldn’t you cure him first?”
“Mapo doesn’t have an antidote, it just fades in a few hours.”
“He’ll be vulnerable if we drop him downtown in that condition.”
“Ghoad will sort all that out,” she said while putting a hand on his shoulder. “Right now we need to talk about some more pressing issues.”
She led Koris out of the room and to the elevator while Ghoad picked up ragdoll-like downtowner and carried him to the garage on that level. Even though she could fly without a shuttle, she knew she had to take one with the Jhard in the sky or the downtowner would roast immediately and the politicians would witness it. No, she had to get him far away.
Tom’s eyes followed svellik as she dropped him on the backseat of the Oxen Security shuttle before she took a seat in the front. It took her a while to start the shuttle up as she had not driven one in years.
She flew them out to where the hostel was before lowering the shuttle.
“You will be able to move in a few hourrrsss,” she said even though she knew he could not respond.
Once the svellik felt they were low enough, she opened the backdoor to the shuttle.
With no intent on landing the ship and risking downtowners trying to damage the ship, she instead picked up the downtowner and held him out of the shuttle. She didn’t care that he was vulnerable while in his paralysed state. She just wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, the svellik overestimated what heights a paralysed human
Ghoad was unfazed. Without thinking twice, she shut the door to the shuttle and flew back to the Parliament House, leaving the downtowner corpse to be ripped to shreds by body snatchers who had been in the area.
Lord Young was a little confused when Chief Kothari led him into the stairwell and then stopped. He did not feel comfortable being alone with her in an isolated area after the downtowner incident.
“Why did we come here?” he asked.
“Because of the lack of security cameras or sound recorders,” she explained. It was true, every other public area in the building was wired save the meeting rooms or a private office – or so they were told. You could never be sure.
“Why do you need to be sure nobody’s listening?” Koris asked. He wondered what could be secretive enough that Nikhita had to be sure no one else would hear.
She shrugged casually.
“It’s not actually that big of a secret, but it is best that we keep it on the down-low because it could cause bad publicity for me. And if it’s bad publicity for the Chief of Oxen Security then it’s bad for you.”
“Is this about something illegal?”
Nikhita did a so-so motion with her hand.
“I did not do any paperwork or report it so… probably. He’s really one of two illegal things in my house at the moment, but that’s not important.”
“I have an Olympian living with me and I didn’t buy him.”
Koris raised an eyebrow. “Then how did you get him?”
“Found him. He escaped the factory.”
“Escaped? As in he didn’t want to be there?”
That was intriguing news. He had thought that Olympians always wanted to obey humans so why would one ‘escape’?
“I know what you’re thinking: and you’re right. Olympians don’t consciously want to escape or disobey humans, but this one’s a little different.
Both of them looked up when a door a few floors up opened. Some people chose to take the stairs rather than an elevator if they were only going down a few floors.
“Meet us at the Marley Skyway at seventeen-hundred hours tonight,” Nikhita whispered before pulling him out of the stairwell.
Koris swallowed. The last place he wanted to go was the Marley Skyway after his sister had been murdered there. He doubted Nikhita knew that and probably chose it because it was one of the last Skyways that had visual surveillance, yet no audio recorders.
He laughed moments after Nikhita closed the door to the stairwell. “Nikhita, the secret life you lead is fucked up. You have this whole side I’ve never seen.”
She patted him on the shoulder. “Trust me, you don’t want to witness my secret life.”
“What’s the main reason you think I should talk to this person?” Koris said softly as to not be overheard.
“He’ll help you fight for Olympian rights as he would be your evidence.”
A smile spread across Koris’ face.
“That would be amazing. I’ll see you two then,” he said while hitting the elevator button.
“I figured that would make you happy.”
“Happy? Niki, people wouldn’t deem me crazy for trying to abolish Olympian slavery if I had proof that Olympians didn’t want to obey us like that. I’m ecstatic.”
And then I can stick it to Lysander, he thought as he stepped into the elevator. Nikhita waved goodbye to him as the doors closed. She knew he had forgotten all about the interrogation of the downtowner. He would usually forget bad news if he was served enough good news.
A shadow slowly cast itself over her – Ghoad had returned.
“That was quick,” Nikhita noted.
“Yesss,” Ghoad agreed.
“Is Tom back downtown?”
“Yess,” the svellik repeated. “I drrropped him frrrom the ssshuttle and he died.”
Nikhita raised an eyebrow, and yet seemed unfazed.
“How many times must I tell you that humans can’t fall from the same height you can?” she said while laughing.
“I overrr essstimated human durrrability,” she admitted.
Nikhita gave her a pat on the arm, accidently puncturing her palm on the svellik’s spiky exoskeleton.
“All good,” she said while rubbing her hands together. “We all make mistakes, but let’s not tell Lord Young because he wigs out about that kind of stuff.”
The Earthling glanced at the camera closest to them. Their audio had probably been picked up, yet she doubted the Parliament House security team would care that Ghoad had accidently killed a downtowner. They most likely wouldn’t have cared if she had intentionally killed a downtowner. Their priority was to keep an eye on illegal uptowner affairs that affected other downtowners – plus they probably didn’t want to mess with an intimidating svellik.
Humanity by Edward James Bowman / Science Fiction have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on38 votes