A week had passed since the decision to rescue Soul and the unknown second team member from Horlus I. Only after the decision had been made and they had come up with the basic outline of a plan had they turn the ship around to head back. And after what they’d learned from DF, they did well to take precautions; Flavia van der Riijn was not what she seemed.
DF’s story was interesting in its own right and the position he had held had given him valuable knowledge of the layout and features of both the 40th and the 41st floor of Fano Tower. He had worked for the catering business that provided food for Flavia, the personal slaves as well as the other humans working on all of the ten floors of Fano Tower that were Flavia’s personal empire. While most of the food was delivered to floors below the living areas and came in disposable containers, Flavia insisted on the outdated fashion of porcelain dishes for her own meals and for her personal slaves’ and all food had to be freshly prepared on request. The delivery was through various food elevators, but cleaning up after the men on the 41st floor was a daily necessity. That had been DF’s job. He didn’t have access to the upper floors though. Whatever collecting of dishes needed to be done from Flavia’s private quarters was handled by the personal slaves only.
After all the facts and stories DF had shared, it seemed surprising that he had managed to get away from Fano Tower, but apparently, if Flavia had a soft spot at all, it was her slaves.
The week had passed in a blur of activity. When he hadn’t been busy planning the rescue mission, at the helm or asleep, Garran had spent most of his time in the gym. He had worked a lot with Doc over the week to develop a program that would allow him to regain his previous level of fitness despite his limited mobility. And he still had some catching up to do, but working himself to exhaustion would be a mistake right now when they were only a few hours away from their scheduled arrival back at Horlus I.
Garran had completed his last set of bench presses and Doc who had been spotting had left Garran to carry on with his cool-down routine on his own. This included the passive movement exercises to keep his legs from developing contractions.
He shifted himself from his wheelchair across to the seat of a modified recumbent bike and like every time in the last couple of days when he had adjusted and strapped his crippled legs into the machine, he remembered Aurra bursting into to his room, catching him in his birthday suit. He grimly pictured the sight he must have made in his head. Just out of the shower, after he had finally made up his mind that staying in his cabin wouldn’t change anything either. He remembered vividly how she had massaged his foot, chiding him for not taking care of himself. And she had been almost right. At the same time a day earlier, he couldn’t have cared less about anything, but Doc’s taunt had worked. He had been one set of clothes short of leaving his hideout and apologizing to Aurra when she had stormed his cabin and thrown him completely off balance once again—but what a landing it had been.
Over the last week though, she had kept her distance, Garran mused while the machine moved his legs for him. She had said that she wanted a relationship with him, but since then she sure hadn’t gone out of her way to spend time with him. Had she changed her mind? Uncertainty assailed him, unsure of how to interpret her recent reticence. Was she having second thoughts about being involved with a man who couldn’t walk? She had hardly talked to him throughout the entire week and a slight feeling of unease settled into the pit of his stomach that he had failed to realize her lack of personal interaction until now.
Garran grimaced at the thought. He would prove to her once and for all that he was still worth his salt. The success of this mission depended squarely on his tactical plans and he would be right there in the thick of things, making damn sure that this time Soul and the other survivor made it out of there alive—even if he didn’t.
That thought brought him up short. If the machine hadn’t been working for him he would have stopped dead at this point.
That had been his mantra of the past: Success of the mission and the safety of his team over any personal considerations. But now, he realized that was no longer what he wanted. He cared. He cared about Aurra and coming back to her. Damn! Had he lost his edge?
With the sudden intensity of being doused by ice water, he realized that she wasn’t second-guessing herself. She was afraid—afraid of losing him.
He punched the stop button with his fist and the machine came to a quick but controlled halt. Garran unstrapped his legs in a hurry and this time his thoughts where not on his legs or the fact how much it bothered him to be dependent on the wheelchair, but on the woman who he realized needed his reassurance just as much as he needed hers.
Ten minutes later after breaking his personal record for showering and getting dressed, Garran toppled Brent who had been standing in front of Garran’s cabin, his hand raised to knock on the door when said door suddenly opened and Garran sped out, unable to stop his momentum before hitting Brent’s shins.
Garran threw up his arms to keep Brent from crashing down on him and succeeded in deflecting him to the side. Brent let out a stifled shout, more in surprise than in pain, but sat up and rubbed his shins where they had connected with the footrest of the wheelchair and at least one of Garran’s knees.
“Sorry, man.” Garran found his voice first, but could barely contain the laughter that threatened to burst out at the priceless look of surprise and horror on Brent’s face while being felled. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I didn’t see that coming. Don’t you have a pilot license for that thing?” He grimaced then extended his hand to let Garran give him a hand up.
Garran was surprised by the gesture, but set the brakes and took the man’s hand and pulled him up. “No, but a concealed carry permit.”
At that Brent burst out laughing.
“You wanted to speak to me? I am on my way to the cockpit.”
“Yeah and in a major hurry at that,” Brent grumbled. “Go ahead.”
Garran grinned up at Brent and shrugged his shoulders before he turned his chair and set off in the direction of the cockpit once more.
Brent kept pace with him. “Jason is about to try to test his hacking skills on deactivating DF’s failsafe. Doc is standing by, though as you know if this thing blows up it’s unlikely Doc will be able to do anything to keep him alive. DF’s such a nervous wreck that Doc had to sedate him. Jason also isn’t his usual calm and collected self. Aurra is busy talking him up or down or whichever direction he needs.
“In the medical bay?”
Garran did an abrupt one-eighty and headed for the medical bay instead. Damn, he had completely forgotten about this. His plan to talk to Aurra privately would have to be delayed some more. He hoped he would get a chance before they reached Horlus I.
Brent turned as well and followed Garran. “What if it doesn’t work? Is it worth the risk?”
Garran brought the chair to a stop and closed his eyes for a moment, giving Brent the chance to catch up. Taking a deep breath he answered Brent’s question. “If it doesn’t work then we have to go with plan B. Which is not only far less likely to succeed, it also exposes Aurra and the rest of the crew to much greater danger. DF knows the risk. He volunteered. He wanted this.”
Brent looked at Garran thoughtfully, but only nodded in response. They had arrived in front of the medical bay. Brent reached out his hand to touch the door sensor, but hesitated. He retrieved his hand once more a turned to face Garran. “I hope all goes well for DF’s sake, for yours and for Aurra’s. She went through hell when her husband died six months ago during some silly stunt some of his old military buddies had talked him into.” His voice had taken on a distinctly threatening tone. “Don’t you dare hurt her like that again. I will personally hunt you down and kill you all over again.” He touched the door sensor and the door opened, but instead of walking through he turned and walked away without looking back, leaving Garran in the corridor.
Garran swallowed his response and watched Brent’s retreating form until the man disappeared around a corner and another piece of the puzzle that was Aurora MacCowan clicked into place.
Flavia van der Riijn regarded her handiwork one last time then she turned away from her Father’s pleading eyes with disgust. Six more hours and the nano-bots, the same that had successfully destroyed the nerves in Garran Raulsten’s lower body would finish their work. But unlike in Garran’s case where the effect had been induced by Doctor Balkenhorn’s skillful scalpel and the bots had only been used to ensure that the result was irreversible, she had treated her father to a different experience altogether.
Flavia giggled to herself as she walked away from the bed on which her Father was lying motionless. The bots had been injected into his feet and as they slowly ate their way closer and closer towards his brain, her Father had failed her a final time.
She could have stopped the bots on their destructive path; she would have stopped them if her father had shown just one ounce of that same resilience she had observed in Tyr. The same resilience she was certain Garran Raulsten possessed. Instead, when first his feet and then his lower legs had stopped obeying his commands and Flavia had made certain that he understood that they never again would, her Father had turned into a blubbering fool. Begging her to stop, offering her everything she didn’t want. He still understood nothing.
Six more hours and he would stop breathing. And Flavia planned to be there to savor her triumph when he drew his final breath. She had already taken control of his organization. She had executed the inner circle of her father confidants and had replaced the section heads with her most capable and loyal slaves. All of Riijnstone Enterprises’ legal as well as illegal operations were now at her command and she expected little dissent. She had orchestrated her Father ‘retirement’ for health reasons, stepping down as the Chairman of the Board and her own robotic double taking over. It had been a public relation’s coup par excellence.
Six more hours and she would return to Fano Tower with Rag and Balder. The others would stay behind for the time being under the guidance of Dr. Balkenhorn to cement her position. Six more hours and she would be on top of the world—in more ways than one.