by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 7, part 2
Chapter 8 appear
in this issue.
Seated on a couch in Finn’s peristyle garden, Colonel Zack nervously scrutinized the Consul as Berenice served them wine.
Taking the carved glass goblet to his nose and savoring the pungent aroma, Finn observed, “An excellent vintage; you may leave the jug with us, Berenice.”
The android bowed, and silently exited the garden, Finn’s eyes following her until she disappeared from view. Sipping his wine, and then turning to Zack, he remarked, “There’s an ancient twentieth-century American military acronym, FUBAR, which aptly describes our situation. Are you familiar with the term, Colonel?”
Zack swallowed his wine the wrong way, flushed bright red, and began coughing loudly into his toga sleeve.
Waiting for the Colonel to recover, Finn commented, “I’ll take your temporary indisposition as an affirmative response.”
Clearing his throat, Zack spluttered, “I’m sorry, Excellency. Surely, it’s not as bad as that?”
Finn smiled, and continued drinking his wine. After a moment, he said, “Oh, no, not all that bad. My daughter and Ludwig have defected. They have friends in the I.S.P. helping them. Cato has found a way to subvert my ‘B’ androids, and your man Dax has proved worthless. Have I missed something?”
Zack stared at the Consul and then stoically replied, “Yes, Excellency. I failed to arrive at the fortress in time to stop your daughter, Ludwig, and Dax. I apologize. Please provide me a place in which to die.”
Finn burst into jovial laughter that echoed throughout the peristyle. After a moment, he calmed down, and said, “Thank you, Colonel, for proposing to fall on your sword, and splatter blood all over my lovely garden. However, I must decline your offer of an honorable death.” Lifting the wine jug, Finn filled their goblets. “Drink up, Colonel. Your suicide would be useless; I need you.”
Relieved, Zack drank, and said, “I’m indebted to you, Excellency. Tell me what you want me to do.”
Finn smiled, and declared, “Colonel, the first thing you must do is locate Aurelia and Ludwig. A good place to start would be the I.S.P. Ferret out the rat who is helping them, but don’t make any moves until you receive further orders from me. Do this right, and you’ll redeem yourself.”
Zack walked over to Finn, knelt, and kissed the Consul’s outstretched hand. Looking up, he said, “I won’t fail, Excellency.”
Beaming magnanimously, Finn replied, “Of course you won’t fail... General.”
* * *
Three days after Ludwig’s alternate-world confrontation with Finn, Major Slim joined Ludwig and Aurelia at the safe house. Slim’s carefully reconstructed cyborg face seemed haggard, and his typically neat I.S.P. uniform, unkempt.
When Slim arrived, Ludwig and Aurelia were sitting under an opaque flaxen colored awning, at a small white wrought iron and glass table on the villa’s second story balcony. They were leisurely drinking their morning coffee, enjoying the clear, mild weather and the panoramic vista of verdant pine, olive grove, and vineyard-covered hills. High above in the almost cloudless cerulean sky, a shrilly-calling hawk circled in the thermals.
Upon seeing his old comrade, Ludwig leaped to his feet, embraced the Major, and exclaimed, “Sir, it’s good to see you again.” Turning to the android, who escorted Slim, Ludwig added, “Charmaine, please set a place for the Major, and bring more croissants.” Ludwig fetched an extra chair, and then ushered Slim to the table.
Slim bowed to Aurelia and said, “I’m sorry to disturb you and Luddy, Colonel, but I’m afraid I have bad news.”
Aurelia smiled graciously, answering, “Please call me Aurelia, and take a few moments to enjoy some excellent coffee and croissants. Unless, of course, the bad news you speak of is so urgent that we must act immediately.”
Slim relaxed, and said, “No, ma’am, we have enough time for coffee.” The android returned with Slim’s place setting, and a wicker basket filled with fresh, warm croissants, which the Major assaulted like a man who hadn’t eaten for days.
Finishing a mouthful of flaky pastry, Slim wiped some crumbs from his chin with his napkin, paused a moment to appreciate the view, and then continued, “There’s been a shake-up at I.S.P headquarters. Your father used his influence to retire the Chief and replace him with Zack.”
Aurelia poured some hot coffee from a sterling silver pot, savored a mouthful, and then asked, “What about the Deputy?”
Slim shook his head, answering, “Excuse me, ma’am; the Deputy’s scared shitless. He’ll do whatever Zack tells him to do.”
“I see,” Aurelia responded. “And what about you, Slim?”
“I’m finished with the I.S.P. I did manage some sabotage before I left; they’ll have a hard time finding you. As for me, don’t worry: I’ve covered my tracks, and I’ll be on my way soon.” Slim smiled, took a sip of coffee, and then inquired, “Before I leave, could one of you please tell me what I’ve gotten myself into?”
Ludwig placed his hand on his friend’s robotic arm, and replied, “Consul Finn plans a coup prior to the upcoming election. Aurelia and I have taken Consul Cato’s side, for reasons we can explain later. In the meantime, please stay here with us. I’d like nothing more, sir, than to have you fighting by my side.”
Slim laughed, grasped Ludwig’s hand, and answered, “You should probably drop the ‘sir’, since it appears I’m now working for you.”
* * *
“What’s happening at the I.S.P., Zack?” Consul Finn spoke to the new I.S.P. Chief, Major General Zack, from a secure videophone in Finn’s study.
“Major Slim was the rat working for your daughter and Ludwig, Excellency. He’s vanished, but he managed to do plenty of damage to the files before he left. We’re attempting to locate him using information from one of our moles, and we believe he’ll lead us to Ludwig and Aurelia.”
“Keep working on it, General. Find them as soon as possible. We need to separate Ludwig from Aurelia and Slim. Ludwig is the key: he’s obtained a source of tremendous power. We must isolate him from that power source to capture him and then use him as bait to lure the others.”
“I understand, Excellency. We won’t rest until we’ve found them.”
“General, you will report any new information directly to me. That’s all for now.” The Consul switched off the videophone, poured himself a whiskey, lit a cigar, and reclined in his leather armchair. Blowing a few smoke rings, Finn watched as they drifted upward toward the coffered ceiling and then disappeared. After a moment of silent reflection, the Consul placed his drink on his desk and pressed a button, summoning Berenice.
In an instant, the android knocked, entered the study, bowed, and silently awaited the Consul’s orders.
Finn smiled, and quietly beckoned her to his side. Once she was standing next to him, the Consul took her hand, looked directly into her eyes, and said, “Mistress Aurelia has been a great disappointment to me. How would you like to take her place?”
The android fell to her knees, kissed the Consul’s hand, and clasped it to her forehead. Tears streaming from her dark blue eyes, she replied, “Your Excellency, I would do anything to please you.”
Finn gently stroked Berenice’s fragrant, black hair, and whispered, “Of course you would, my dear. I’m going to send you to Plotinus, for an upgrade. You will become the new Aurelia, my obedient daughter, and matriarch of the Intergalactic Imperium.”
Berenice gazed upward into Finn’s eyes. The Consul lifted her onto his lap. Holding her tightly, he kissed her sweet, warm, open lips.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder