Wherever shade could be found from the harsh light, he searched for it. Stumbling, shifting his feet, dragging his body and the stained clothes shoddily draped around it to the nearest cool spot in his path. Beneath the blaring vehicles, the screams of machinery, and the stampede of citizenry, one would have been able to hear the ragged, dehydrated breathing of the suffering traveller.
When he found a bus station bench under a particularly large carbo-tree, he removed the jacket he had no reason to be wearing, laid it down on the seat, and proceeded to curl his body into the fetal position for a rest. Those walking by ignored the sight, as they had a million like it before in the preceding hours of their day. It was nothing unusual in this sector of the city to see disheveled husks making their way to shelter, but it was unusual to see one with 4,800 kumai shoes on and a private roadcraft pulling up to wake him.
Out of the left side-door emerged a tall, rathe muscular man in a heather gray suit and red sunglasses. He stood over the shorter, lean gentleman and began poking him in the shoulder to try and activate motion. The driver remained in the car, preferring the air conditioning to an audience with her comatose employer.
“Master William? Sir, I really must say that there are more suitable appropriations for a mid-day rest. You have two rooms at the Mikhai-Galliard for this exact reason.”
He turned his head to face his inquisitor and mumbled some kind of response. Waving one hand in a half-controlled manner, as if to dismiss him rudely. The visibly frustrated attendant, seeing no other way to end the situation quickly, picked up his charge by the waist, threw him over his shoulder, and flung him into the backseat of the roadcraft before getting into the front.
As they proceeded to get onto the highway, Will finally begin to stir from under the weight of a long night’s mistakes.
“Water… for the love of God, is there any water in this car? I am dying here.”
Following a familiar command, the automated system opened the under-seat fridge vendor and selected a bottle of mineral water, perfectly chilled to the desired temperature. William groggily reached his hand over to retrieve the drink, opened the cap, and chugged its contents as if they were the only thing separating him from the grave. The large attendant began fiddling with the radio as the oxygen converter buzzed away. He landed on a news station and lowered the volume, knowing his boss’ distaste for all varieties of the press.
“Holy shit,” William moaned in satisfaction, “oh man, I needed that. Ugh, I’m fucking starving too; can we stop and get a breakfast burrito somewhere? Something with too much potato and even more hot sauce.”
“Master William, I have to say—”
“Karlo, any sentence that starts with ‘I have to say’,” he interrupted, re-energized by the magno-lytes he’d just consumed, “probably doesn’t need to be said. It’s one of those self-defeating phrases. Isn’t that right, Hanna?”
“Whatever you says, sir,” she responded, keeping both eyes on the road and one hand tapping the wheel, “I don’t have much interest in the finer points of conversation. I also don’t have much interest in picking up degenerates in the middle of the daylight.”
“Ouchhhh, oh that cut deep,” he answered with false shock, “almost felt it somewhere in this cold, dead heart of mine. Don’t worry, I’ll set you up with a nice, boring bank chairman for your next gig, you’ll only have to pick up a few call girls a week.”
He made sure to catch her smile in the rearview mirror.
“Um-HMM,” Karlo interjected, “as I was saying, Master William, it is entirely unacceptable for you to be out like this. You’ve missed two meetings and you are in absolutely no shape for the next three. Why on earth would you go out on the town the night before such a long day?”
“Because, my lovable curmudgeon, I scheduled five meetings I simply don’t need to be awake for, so once a certain level of intoxication was reached, it occurred to me that I might as well not be in the room either. I think this is what they call streamlining; also, and a bit more importantly, what’s the point of owning the joint if you have to be on time?”
“Some would say the joys of productivity, sir,” Karlo answered in exasperation, “but I suppose it’s no matter for concern. I only hope you didn’t go there again. It really isn’t the sort of place… well, you know my thoughts on the matter. I simply can’t condone it.”
William gave his friend a knowing but not revealing look before turning his eyes toward the holo-screen to order his meal from the nearby restaurant. He knew that he could have told Karlo the truth of his night, that he’d gone exactly where he’d been asked not to go and done exactly what he’d been begged to not do. That what he was pretending was a normal hangover was actually a piercing comedown from a much stronger substance. Part of him wanted to just to make a point, but he knew that was the wrong call.
“I only went out to La Cremeria with Gustavo and Frederik, nothing like that. I don’t even remember the last time I was at The Exhibit, you’re all bent up over nothing. And what did I tell you about the damn news radio? I have enough poison in me, don’t need to hear the latest half-baked hit piece or nonsensical rumor about myself in my own cruiser.”
“But sir, it would be advisable to stay informed on these matters. The 903rd Fleet has been making significant progress in the Vala Nueva system, and all the reports say the Zeta-Falcon is performing beyond expectation. If they take VN Prime by the end of the year then that would be—”
“I have an entire team of product analysts, PR monkeys, and finance heads who can tell me how the Zeta-Falcons are doing, I don’t need to hear it now. Is it really such incredible, monumental news that a space-to-surface missile we spent ten billion kumai developing actually managed to detonate on target? The expectations people have…”
“All I mean, sir, is that this is the first of many new successes for Vandar Technologies, it is something incredible.”
“It’s boring, and you are boring me. Hanna, are we there yet?”
“Aye aye, sir,” she answered, bringing the car into a long drive-through line, “pulling up to the hangover hospital as we speak. Calories and stomach pains on the menu.”
Once the food had been retrieved and viciously stuffed down William’s face, they turned towards the actual destination for the day. Located in the sprawling industry sector of La Barbarosa City, the towering headquarters of Vandar Technologies stood among the giants of the orange skyscape. Housing five thousand of the brightest minds on Earth and a few hundred people in charge of managing actual genius, the jet-black, glass-covered building could be seen from the top of Will’s window as they raced down the highway in the express lane.
Even with half his head still reeling, something about the sharp curve of the tower’s top put a smile on his face, familiar as it may have been. He’d been seeing that tower his entire life, every chance he could get to miss a day at the academy and every weekend he could spare. His father always approved of bringing the future CEO around to see how the business worked, despite the objections of his mother. It was one of their few areas of disagreement, that he could recall anyway.
Thirty or so minutes later, the hover cruiser arrived at the tower’s sprawling entry complex. From the moment Will exited the vehicle, the services of Karlo transitioned to a team of eight nameless assistants and one extremely fatigued secretary. The main lobby was a sprawling series of walkways between marble columns, decorated with koi fish ponds and prized artworks from the Basque. Employees cleared out of the way as the procession reached the elevator, and as the nine chattering mouths continued to press information into his ear, Will focused his attention on the smooth feel of the steel box rising to the heavens.
As he entered his office alone, shedding his people with a vague show of appreciation for their recaps, he finally started to regret the decision making that had led him all the way to The Exhibit the night before. His desk was piled with a small mountain of shareholder communication deck drafts and his desktop was pinging every three seconds. The prepared painkiller and Swiss seltzer water combo was sitting on the left side of the table, eager to be consumed.
While all the work could be passed off to some lackey, he felt the need to atone for his degeneracy through highly specialized labor. Despite his disinterest in hearing it on the news, the updates from Vala Nueva were beyond his wildest, most arrogant expectations. Will knew that if the Republic could manage to actually take the home planet, and if Vandar’s missile tech was the key to the conquer, that his life would transform from lavish wealth to divine, mind-numbing opulence. The story of the next five hundred years of galactic warfare would be written in the blood of enemies taken by his tools, by his hands. He raised them up to his face, as if he were looking for stains, imagining how he’d feel once he learned that he’d helped to conquer an entire world.
It was almost — only almost — as thrilling a sensation as he’d just experienced. And, in the knowledge that it was only almost as good, it became clear what he needed to do for the rest of the day.
“Gerard, shut off my comms for the next three hours, lock the doors and dim the windows please, thank you.”
A light dinging sound emerged from the ceiling.
“Will do, Mr. Vandar. Would you like anything else?”
“Triple sec daiquiri and a turkey club sandwich, delivered in three hours and five minutes. Turn off after registering.”
The AI dinged once more before powering off and darkening the windows down. Once Will saw his signal go down to zero, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a cylindrical jar containing a perfectly cut, perfectly stored, and lightly seasoned hunk of prime alien flesh.