Entry 08: In which Kla saunters about...
Kla was in a spectacularly good mood as she passed through the doors of her hotel. Not only was she finally off of that junker Torrik called a ship, but in another day or so she would be back in her natural element; civilization.
She didn't mind saying she was a city girl at heart, or that she preferred the finer things in life to rough sand lots like White Sails, Selenium. She had gotten her fair share of roughshod planets with no society to speak of growing up. Her hometown on Moralora was no White Sails, but only barely. The first ten years of her life she had spent digging through the rough dirt until her hands bled searching for cuff root for the family table.
Until the day she had been found by Caladry O'Dowell – business man, inventor, and by then millionaire. The man became her benefactor, taking her away from the grubby little town she'd been born in and sending her off to school with his own daughters. The brats had despised her of course, but she had waltzed circles around their paltry grades so their opinions held no weight with her in the least.
Of course her future hadn't felt so shiny and golden at the time – she'd only been ten after all and leaving the only home she'd ever known had frightened her – but it had worked out nicely for her now.
Kla sauntered up to the front desk, enjoying the feel of the cooled inside air on her bare arms after the heat of outside. Most of the other beings in the lobby were dressed for summer vacation in swimming suits and sandals, but not her. She still wore her pressed slacks and business heels that added another three inches to her height. Her sleeveless, button down shirt was her only concession to the heat, but it fit the more casual surroundings well enough that it had gone unnoticed at the business transaction that had originally brought her out to this backwater.
Kla hid her contempt as she smiled at the paper-skinned Snevish man that stood behind the counter. He smiled in return, showing off blue teeth that stood out against his snow-white skin and clashed with the sandy yellow of his uniform. The Shoreline Hotel was the finest of its kind in Selenium's southern hemisphere, but then that wasn't saying much. Boasting only three floors including the lobby, each floor with only seven rooms each, the Shoreline was barely more than an inn, not to mention an insult to interior designers everywhere. It's walls and linens were decorated in the same sandy yellow of the desk clerk's uniform partnered with a medium blue that did nothing for the place. That plus the ridiculous amount of imported seashells littering the desktops and walls made Kla feel like she was trapped in a giant fish bowl from Antari.
The only reason Kla put up with her lackluster accommodations was by telling herself it was only for one night – and she didn't have any better options.
"Better here than one more night in that 'passenger quarter'." She thought, smile faltering at the memory of the cramped, narrow room with only enough room for her cot and a single, hanging light bulb. Luggage had been stored under the bed to save room. She'd had the only single room; most of the others designated for passengers had at least four bunks.
"I would rather die." Kla thought grimly before firmly putting aside the memory of the dank, harshly lit space and returned the man's smile in full. The snevishet's face instantly colored in a pale blue blush and he looked away a brief second as his smile took on a bashful quality.
He quickly cleared his throat, remembering his job. "Welcome to the Shoreline Hotel ma'am. How may I serve?"
Kla's smile became more natural at his bashful hesitation. She didn't mind admitting she took pleasure in his reaction. This had been a harder skill to learn than her private school lessons, but mastering it had given her a sense of satisfaction unlike any other.
Even now, his complete attention on her – her face, her form, her expressions and every minute inflection – sent a thrill running down her spine.
She knew better now than to let that thrill show on her face. "I'm sorry to bother you," she murmured with the kind of modest-embarrassment that O'Dowell's daughters only wished they had perfected, "but I need to make an important call to my employer. Is there a vid phone nearby I can use?"
She bit her lip in anxious hope as if she knew she was asking a lot but didn't have any other choice at this point.
The snevishet smiled politely and gestured to the street beyond the main doors before him. "Yes ma'am, the space port at the end of the street has public booths next to the terminal entrance for your convenience." He recited the well worn words.
Kla knew better than to speak the first thing that came to her mind. "Do I look like I use public booths?"
Kla looked uncertain even though she already knew the answer to her coming question. "I don't suppose they offer private lines, do they?"
The man suppressed a snort of laughter and shook his head. "No ma'am, there's nothing that fancy out here."
Kla looked crestfallen as she switched her weight to her other foot in consternation. "Oh foo," she mumbled looking down and to the side, and then at the man's questioning look added, "I need to call my office and they won't take calls from unprotected lines. Trade secrets and all that. My employer is quite picky about that."
The man blinked at her. He looked confused, but enough male awe remained on his face that Kla knew he was trying to keep the blatant disbelief out of his tone. "You don't have a personal communicator?"
She did not in fact. Not for lack of cash or interest, but Kla had a long history with communicators, almost a life-long war. The simple version was that she did not get along well with technology. Just being around most forms of public communication like the space port's vid phones would send lines of static rolling down the monitors. And the smaller the machine was the less reliable it would become when she was around. Her war with the handheld communicators had ended with her chucking her last one, hissing and spitting, into a gorge.
Kla smiled blandly at the man. "I'm afraid I lost mine." She settled on the simpler, easier to believe lie instead.
Despite her plight and her put on pout, the snevishet was not convinced. He looked to the side and fidgeted nervously. "I'm sorry ma'am, I wish I could help but-”
Kla cut him off at the expected 'but'. "I understand." She insisted, adding a touch of disappointment to her otherwise cheerful words. "Really it's alright. I guess I'll try my luck at the space port."
She waved her hand in lackluster thanks and turned away, shoulders drooping just slightly as she strode across the lobby for the double doors. A helpful bellhop had just held one open for her when the desk clerk suddenly called out, "Wait!"
Kla stopped and took a brief second to capture the victorious smile trying to reach her face before finally turning around, face schooled in careful hope.
The desk clerk looked no less nervous than before. "The boss is away for lunch." He said slowly, watching her anxiously. "And he does have a private line in his office. And, um," he smiled nervously at her as he pulled an old fashioned key ring out of his pocket, "he did leave me the key for emergencies."
Kla smiled wide in gratitude. "Oh thank you! Thank you!" She gushed, feeling like a bad actress on one of those awful Trattatorian soap operas Isabella O'Dowell – the youngest girl – loved to rot her mind with. She ran forward and threw her arms around the clerk's paper-white neck across the counter. Then before he could wrap his feeble mind around what was happening, she pulled back, instantly shy.
She glanced at him. "Sorry," she murmured without looking at him, "but thank you so much! You're really saving me here."
The snevishet was too dazed to give her any other answer except a mumbled, "yeah, sure," as he led her to the back office and the promised vid-phone. It was a relic, to be sure, an ancient, boxy machine that hadn't even bee new in her grandmother's time, but it was clean and the desk clerk told her quite proudly that he maintained it himself.
"My boss'll be back soon," he remembered to say as some of Kla's spell wore off, "so I can only give you five minutes."
Kla half turned around and smiled. She was already sitting in front of the large monitor, the machine coming out of sleep mode quickly enough for its age. "That's more than enough time."
He still didn't look so sure as he slowly closed the door after himself. "Just-five minutes." He reminded her.
Kla twiddled her fingers at him. "Promise." She said lightly.
The desk clerk flashed five fingers at her before finally disappearing back to his counter.
Kla instantly let the smile drop. She rubbed at her cheek with one hand as she pulled a security drive out of her pocket and plugged it into the base of the machine. "How do people stand smiling as much as that?" She wondered to herself a she flipped the drive on without thinking. "My face hurts from all the effort!"
She was distracted as sparks shot from the vid phone's base where she had plugged in the security drive. She swore vehemently as the monitor flickered and died before abruptly coming back online as she thumped its power base with a fist.
The hum of the machine rose and evened out as power was restored. Smoke wafted in front of the monitor as Kla glared at the security drive. Carelessly, she had forgotten about her affect on machines. Generally vid phones had a big enough power draw that they would work with barely more than a flicker of static during start up. But this one was so old that when she'd plugged in the security drive it had weakened the already feeble power and left it suspceptible to Kla's peculiar power.
"And so the war with machines continues." Kla grumbled to herself as she set about putting in O'Dowell's private office number.
There was a brief ripple of rainbow color across the monitor as the communications network directed her signal to Dowell & Stein Industries' home office on Nexus 5, and then the face of her benefactor and employer appeared on screen.
Caladry O'Dowell looked much the same as he had that day he'd appeared in Kla's former village. He was still just as tall, just as straight-backed, just as precise as the man she'd first met, but there were little signs that told her that man had long since gone. His face – though outwardly unchanged with his straight nose and square jaw – had been softened by the crooked, playful smile he now wore as well as the more natural wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and eyes. He had lost none of his hair as he'd grown older, but gray now tinged his bright natural blonde, giving him a more washed out appearance that border lined on grandfatherly.
"He is a grandfather." Kla remembered with some humor. "Sabrina squeezed out another one last month."
It was funny now to picture him bouncing grandchildren on his knees, especially when he'd been so severe with his own children, sending them off to so many private boarding schools Kla had lost count and never calling them home except for Christmas – and that was solely for the tabloids' benefit. However in spite of everything, age had apparently softened his former trademark severity.
His ruthlessness, however, still knew no bounds.
O'Dowell smiled when he saw it was her. "Ah, Kla! I wasn't expecting to hear from you for another day. Did the meeting with the Royniks go well?"
Kla inclined her head. "Yes, they were quite pleased with the merchandise. I believe you can expect a more formal call from them soon. However that it not the reason I called you."
The broad shouldered man raised a strong eyebrow at her and leaned forward on his desk, large hands clasped together in front of him. "Oh?" He hummed.
Kla allowed herself a small smile. Oh this would be good. "I found something during my travel that I think you'll be most interested in. A machine."
O'Dowell huffed a laugh that shook his shoulders. "Well there's a surprise." He grinned. His entire life was machines. They were the only things he truly enjoyed, which only made sense to Kla.
She nodded again. "Yes, one unlike you've ever seen."
His eyebrow rose even higher at that. At fifty-seven there was very little he hadn't seen. "Alright then," he told her, leaning back in his chair as he watched her with dark brown eyes, "let's hear it."
"It's a type of engine," Kla told him, not wasting any words, "one designed to affect space so that mass can traverse great amounts in mere moments."
O'Dowell frowned slightly, not seeing what had peaked her interest yet. "Like a hyperdrive?"
Kla shook her head. "No, faster."
The frown deepened. "How much faster?"
Kla leaned forward so that her face must have filled her employer's monitor. "Fast enough to travel the entire Hybridian Way in seconds flat." She murmured to him.
Now she had his attention. "Impressive." He intoned. "Are you sure it'll work?"
Kla shrugged as she relaxed against the wooden back of the chair. "Once we've had some time to work on it, I don't see why not. Redford may be a moron," she sighed, "but it is his specialty. Size and power would vary of course depending on what ship it was designed for," she said, anticipating his questions, "however I believe it would be powerful enough to be...useful to you and yours."
The grin that split O'Dowell's face at that remark was anything but human. It darkened his face in a way that was very near unholy.
Kla shivered at that look, but not from fear.
"Fascinating," O'Dowell said as he thought of all the uses a machine like that would have, "just fascinating. Where did you find this phenomenal idea exactly?"
"One of the mechanics working for Torrik came up with it. I found it in his workroom quite by accident." She supplied.
The man grinned again, but it was more wicked than demonic now. "Ah the things we find on accident that we didn't even know we needed." He said wistfully.
He quickly turned serious again. "How soon will you have it?"
Kla crossed her legs, one over the other. "Sometime this evening." She told him. "I made it clear to Torrik that it was either the boy's designs or his life. You know how he is. He'll hand them over with barely more than a whimper before slinking away." She paused, for once not sure how her next news would be received. "However," she murmured slowly, "I did tell him that his dept to you would be paid once he had given us the boy's designs."
O'Dowell flapped a hand at her, unbothered. "Unless he has anymore hermit geniuses secluded in that Jumble rat's nest of his, he is no more use to us. Let him go if he wants. But are you sure he will give us this person's work? His sense of honor is quite strong." He sent her a look that was equal parts reminder and amusement. "He is not like you after all."
"No one is like me." Kla reminded him with a proud lift of her chin. "And Torrik's sense of honor is precisely why the good Captain will give us Cauldwell's machine. Refusing to pay what he owes us is a slap to his own honor. Not to mention he would rather steal from the boy than see him dead. He won't stand for either one. He'll do it."
O'Dowell did not appear entirely convinced. But from his shrug he would leave this in Kla's hands regardless. "If you're sure-”
"I am sure." Kla dared to interrupt him, leaning forward and pinning intent, amber eyes on her employer's image that fairly glowed with intensity. "By this time tomorrow you will be the sole owner of a powerful machine that no one else has even imagined. And Captain Torrik will have delivered it to you himself."
O'Dowell thought about this in silence for a long minute, creases forming on his forehead as he searched for any potential trouble. Finally he shrugged.
"Like I said," he told her, "if you're sure."
Kla smiled smugly. "I am." She repeated.
With a grunt, her employer leaned towards the end call switch. "Tell me when Torrik delivers the goods." He told her before flipping the switch.
The screen went black and then a moment later returned to its homepage. Kla simply leaned back in her chair, a sense of complete satisfaction filling her chest as she once again swung one leg over the other.Yes, she thought with a small, violet-lipped smile, today was going to be fantastic.