Authors: James Wisher
© 2015 by James E. Wisher
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
arcus Drake reclined
beside the glittering blue water of the resort pool. The comfort form chair perfectly molded to his lean, rangy body. Off to his right the steel and glass hotel gleamed in the sun. He took a deep breath; enjoying the scent of flowers in the air. This was the third day of their two-week vacation on Pleasure Planet 4, all expenses paid by the council as a bonus for their work helping stop the Children of the Void and later rebuilding the council asteroid. Marcus had no idea how much it cost, and since he didn’t have to pay he didn’t care, but it had to be a lot given the luxury of the suite he and Iaka shared. Solomon got a smaller room to himself next door to theirs. He sighed. Solomon seldom left the virtual reality arcade except to sleep and eat. Well, this was his vacation too so he could spend it however he liked.
From behind his shades he watched as females from half a dozen species swam, lounged, and displayed themselves in the skimpiest swimsuits their anatomies would accommodate. Their equally fit male counterparts didn’t rate a second glance from him. The heat of the tropical, satellite controlled weather made anything heavier than the light trunks Marcus wore uncomfortable. In a matching chair beside him the most beautiful woman at the resort and by good fortune his girlfriend, sipped a neon blue drink. Iaka wore a red bikini every bit a skimpy as anything he’d seen on the other women, and every time he glanced at her he got a warm feeling and not in his heart.
Iaka glanced at him when a particularly well endowed humanoid female with multicolored feathers in place of hair sauntered by for the third time. Marcus tried his best not to react to her, but Iaka’s raised eyebrow indicated he didn’t succeed. He turned his head and pulled his glasses down and looked over the top of the frame. “It’s not my fault she keeps walking by.”
“Maybe if you stopped looking at her.”
“I close my eyes every time she goes by, I swear.”
Iaka shot him a mock scowl. “Liar.”
Marcus grinned. “You know me too well. How much do you suppose she charges?”
She waved a fist at him. “Less than the doctor you’ll need it you keep staring at her.”
He laughed, pushed his glasses back up on his nose, and settled back in his chair. He might like to look, but Marcus loved Iaka. Not that he’d told her or anything, but he couldn’t stop thinking about her when they were apart and when they were together he smiled all the time. If that wasn’t love it was a close approximation.
He leapt out of his chair at the sound of Solomon’s voice. Something had to be wrong if Solomon was anywhere near the pool. His best friend and navigator, dressed in long black pants and matching, baggy, oversized tee shirt, both soaked in sweat after his walk from the arcade, couldn’t have looked anymore out of place among the fit, almost naked people by the pool if he had on a parka and ski goggles.
“What is it? Something wrong with the ship?” He’d left Gruesome, his modified Void war bot, on guard mode so he doubted anyone had messed with the
. Gruesome had enough firepower secreted about his alloy body to win a small war on his own, still you just never knew.
Solomon blinked and shook his head, sending his mop of shaggy blond hair flopping back and forth. “The ship’s fine as far as I know. I have a more personal problem and I need your advice.”
Marcus sighed and sat back down. “Shoot.”
“One of them found me, she wants to meet for drinks, and I’m not sure what to do.”
Iaka came over and sat beside Marcus. Having her perfect, bronze leg pressing against him made it hard to concentrate. Lucky for him Iaka asked the question he’d been struggling to put together. “Who found you?”
“One of my fans. None of them has ever tried to meet me face to face. I’m not sure what to do.”
Marcus ran his fingers through his hair. It seemed like nothing, but to Solomon this was a big deal so one of his usual, sarcastic replies wouldn’t cut it. “What do you want to do?”
Solomon just stared at him, unmoving and not blinking, like a computer in need of a reboot. “I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you what I should do.”
“If you want to meet her I say go for it. If you don’t like her it’s not like someone’s holding a blaster on you and forcing you stay.”
Solomon chewed the inside of his cheek then nodded once. “You’re right. I’m going to meet her. Thanks, Marcus.”
Without waiting for a rely Solomon spun and stomped back toward the comfort of the hotel. Marcus hoped Solomon remembered to shower before he went to meet his date. He yawned and ran a casual hand along Iaka’s leg earning him light punch to the shoulder.
“Solomon has fans?” Iaka’s incredulous tone didn’t surprise Marcus. If there was a less likely person to have a fan club Marcus couldn’t imagine who it would be.
“You wouldn't think it, but Solomon is a big deal on the hypernet hacker boards. He's quite well-known among the community. Every once in a while one of them sends a message, but no one has tried to make contact in person.”
“How do you suppose she found us?” Iaka looked concerned and Marcus supposed it was a little stalkerish.
“We all checked in under our real names. I don't imagine it would be hard for a hacker to locate us. I just wonder how she got here, most of them are broke.”
his fingers through his still damp hair then dragged a fresh shirt over his head. He sat on the edge of his too soft bed, mind running a mile a minute. Why was he doing this? He hated talking to people. Sure it was flattering when they sent him private messages complementing his code or asking for help with some program or other, but hunting him down and asking to meet in person was a whole other thing. The Queen of Hacks was one of his steadiest fans, sending a message every few weeks. He wasn’t certain if that made it better or worse.
He got up and paced, walking from the bathroom door to the TV and back, ten paces from one end of his room to the other, shaking his head and muttering, his flip flops smacking the bottoms of his feet, as he alternated between trying to talk himself into and out of going through with the meeting. Solomon sat back down, many more trips and he’d need another shower, air conditioning or not.
Solomon slapped his knee. Marcus was right; if they didn’t get along he’d leave and never have to see her again. Breathing a little easier now that he’d decided Solomon grabbed his data slate, swiped over to her message, and replied that he’d meet her in an hour in the hotel bar. If she made it great, it not, well, he wouldn’t deny that might be a relief.
The hotel bar sat a little to the right of the stone and steel entryway. Solomon sat facing the door at a little table made of dark wood and sipped a scotch. He grimaced, not sure why he ordered the nasty stuff. Marcus loved it, but he could hardly choke it down. Two wrinkled, gray skinned, bipeds in gray tunics from a species he didn’t recognize sat on stools at the bar sipping bubbly green drinks. They were the only other patrons this early in the day and that suited Solomon fine, the fewer people that saw him make a fool of himself the better. He checked his watch, five minutes to show time.
Three minutes later the door swung open and a human woman with a medium build, long dark hair and chunky, dark framed glasses entered. She clutched a large brown purse to her chest and peered around the bar as though unable to see well in the dim light. She took a step and wobbled on her three inch heels. Solomon was certain she was about to fall, but she caught herself. She looked just a little less comfortable than he felt. This had to be his date.
He stood up and waved. She smiled, flashing bright white teeth, and walked with all the grace of a two year old over to his table. Solomon pulled out the second chair so she could sit before she fell over. “You must be the Queen of Hacks. I’m Solomon.”
“I know. It’s so killer to meet you. I’m a huge fan of your work. That randomly mutating tracking program you wrote a few years ago was genius. My name’s Emily.” She held out her hand, she’d lacquered her nails midnight blue, and Solomon gave it a hesitant shake.
“So how did you find me anyway?”
“Pure dumb luck.” She waived the waiter over. He nodded and started their way. “I won a weeklong vacation to this planet and, when I got here, I hacked some guest registries on a whim. You know, just to see if anyone I knew was here. Imagine my surprise when I saw your name. I just had to take a chance to see if you'd meet me.”
That sounded like bullshit to Solomon, but he decided not to call her on it. If she was telling the truth he'd be embarrassed and if she wasn't he’d find out on his own later. The waiter arrived and asked, “What can I get you?”
“I'll have a Martian ale and the Glitter Duck Salad,” Emily said.
The waiter turned to Solomon. “For you sir?”
Solomon frowned as he thought. “I’ll have the swine burger, chips, and a lemonade.”
The waiter nodded as he jotted the order down. When he finished he took his leave and Solomon was on his own again. He had no idea what they should talk about. This was exactly why he hated dealing with people, lucky for him Emily seemed eager to keep the conversation going.
“What about you? This place doesn’t seem like your scene.”
She had him there. “Most of it isn’t, but have you seen the virtual arcade yet? They have everything in there.”
“Cool, I’ll check it out tomorrow. I’m more impressed you could swing the fee. Even a junk room here cost a thousand credits a day and that doesn’t include food or entertainment.”
Solomon coughed, uncertain how much he should tell her about his work for the council. “I sort of won my vacation too. It’s a bonus from my last job.”
She nodded, seeming impressed. “That must have been a hell of a job.”
He nodded back, remembering how many times he almost died. A hell of a job barely covered it. “It was.” The waiter arrived with their food, sparing him the need to elaborate.
and glanced at the clock on the wall of his room, four in the afternoon, local time. The bed squeaked when he flopped back on it. He’d expected to hear from Solomon long before now. His date must be going better than Marcus expected. He grinned, if it went past fifteen minutes it would be better than he expected.
“What are you grinning about?” Iaka came out of their bathroom, long black hair dripping, a short, green silk robe tied around her waist.
All thoughts of his friend vanished. “I don’t even remember.” He crook his finger, beckoning her over to the bed.
Iaka walked toward him, slow and sinuous, teasing him as she loosened the tie on her robe. She made it halfway over and had the tie almost undone when someone knocked on the door. Marcus’s grin turned sour. It was a good thing for whoever was out there that he’d left his blasters on the ship. He bounced off the bed and trudged to the door. Through the external camera he saw Solomon dancing in place, a big smile on his face.
He sighed, unlocked the door and pushed it open. Solomon barged through, spun in a little circle, and stopped facing Marcus. If he broke into song, best friend or not, Marcus was going to punch him. “I take it your date went well?”
“Better than that. She smart, funny, pretty, and she gets my programmer jokes.”
“Well, there had to be someone in the galaxy that got them. I’m glad you had a good time. Was there anything else?”
“I’ve never talked with anyone as long as I did with her, not even you. We’re going to the arcade tomorrow, isn’t that great?”
“Wonderful.” Marcus ground his teeth.
“It’s fantastic, Solomon,” Iaka said. “Don’t pay any attention to him.”
Solomon turned toward Iaka when she spoke and his jaw dropped a little when he saw her lying on the bed in her little robe. Marcus understood his reaction perfectly. “Did I interrupt something?”
Marcus patted him on the shoulder and guided him toward the door. “If anyone ever says you’re not a genius I’ll tell them about your powers of observation. Good night, Solomon.”
He slammed the door, locked it, and turned back to Iaka whose robe now lay in a green pile beside the bed. His grin returned.
olomon retreated to his room
, leaving Marcus and Iaka to their own devices. He settled in the lumpy chair in front of the cheap metal table in the corner of his room and connected his data slate to the hypernet. It didn’t take long to pull up Emily’s biography and do a simple background check. He felt a little guilty doing it, he really liked her and it seemed like a breach of trust to snoop on her like this. On the other hand he’d gotten shot at enough times over the last year that he’d picked up a little of Marcus’s mistrust, and like her or not, he wasn’t stupid enough to take her word for everything.
She was born on Earth, which surprised him a little. He’d have sworn she was a colony girl. Graduated at the top of her class at Cal Tech. A few brushes with Earth Force for illegally accessing some secure servers. Couldn’t have been anything too serious, since she wasn’t in prison or dead. He frowned, unless she made a deal with them. Maybe Emily agreed to spy on him for Earth Force.
Solomon chuckled at his own self-importance. After what the Void did Earth Force had way more pressing things to worry about then him. More likely she tried to make her college loans disappear. He swiped to the next screen. Her family life looked pretty solid, even boring, some different than him and Marcus. Her parents were alive, still married, and gainfully employed for a robotics manufacturer. Talk about boring, no wonder she struck out for space.
He switched the slate off and tossed it on the table. He’d seen enough. His instincts said she was a good person and that was enough for him. He yawned. This world had twenty-eight hour days so by Earth standard time it was close to bed time. He flopped down on the bed, eager for morning and his second date with Emily.