Wednesday, July 22, 2015

32: Negotiations (Part II)

Entry 32.5: Where Rody lays out terms...for all the good it does.

                Their guest, when she arrived, arrived alone. O'Dowell was nowhere in sight.
                "What is this?" Rody asked petulantly. "Not that I'm opposed to beautiful women walking through my door, but we were expecting Caladry O'Dowell. Who are you?"
                The new woman slanted the prince a crooked smile and Felix saw the potential for violence in her that O'Dowell seemed to ferret out like a hound. On the outside, this one was very different from the other women at D&S Felix had seen. Kla and Mamoiya were elegance personified; specialized soldiers in five inch stilettos and knives disguised as hair pins.
                This woman saw no need for disguises or heels or elegance. She had thrown Kla's fancy outfits under the bus in favor of roughed up, sturdy jeans tucked into combat boots and a light orange tank top only partly covered by a red hooded jacket left unzipped except for three inches near her waist, O'Dowell's familiar stamp on the left breast. Her hair was dyed scarlet red and twisted up on her head, the ends fanned out like rays of the sun. She had an angular face with a sharp chin, eyes whose kohl blackened lashes slanted up at the corners, and a wide mouth that sat at a permanent slant. All in all with the pointed chin and overabundance of red, she reminded Felix of a wild fox, eager for the hunt.
                Kla obviously recognized her, though not with the reaction Felix had expected. Her dark-skinned face constricted into a look of loathing, her eyes burning embers above the twisted snarl on her lips. "You," she growled.
                Fox Woman grinned crookedly, her eyes half closing with the motion. "Me," she snapped back with the abruptness of a rubber band. She descended the single step in a loose-joint walk, hands shoved into the pockets of her jacket. She pulled out a chair across from Rody, Magnil, and Felix. This close, Felix saw her eyes, like her hair, were too bright to be natural. "She must be wearing colored contacts. No human has blue-violet eyes."
                And he had no doubt she was human. Whether she was from Earth like him was up in the air, but Felix would have bet money he didn't have that she wasn't. Everything about her screamed Earth, but that was just it. Her style was too Terra Firmian to be authentic, like she was trying too hard.
                "Name's Terra," she told them as she sat down without being asked and stuck her hand out across the table.
                Rody's red eyebrows rose as he took her hand and inclined his head over it, eyes never leaving the young woman. "As in Firma?" he asked.
                Terra grinned, eyes closing from the bottom with the expansion of her wide mouth. "As in Sykes," she corrected. She looked over at Kla sitting two chairs to her left. "Who's the prince?"
                Felix didn't think she meant that literally, but was trying to mock Rody for the hand bowing.
                Kla sighed and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. "An actual prince," she told her, confirming Felix's suspicion. "And it's Terra now? What happened to Delaney or Paully or O'Hara-?"
                Terra – or whatever her name was – sighed dramatically, cutting her off. "Oh, like you've never used a fake name before," she chided. "Now shush, I'm working here." Her eyes glinted as she turned away from Kla. "Unlike some people."
                Kla refused to be shunted aside without a fight. "You've never worked a day in your life," she snapped. "I'm just surprised O'Dowell trusted you enough to send your here on your own. Or did you sneak away when he wasn't looking?"
                Terra lifted one shoulder before letting it fall. "Don't be ridiculous." She grinned, wild fox surfacing again. "No one sent me. I volunteered. Now shush."
                This time Kla did as she said, though not without a furious look and trying to cross her arms over her chest only to realize that the cuffs kept her from doing so. She sat there, fuming, tapping against the arm rest with long nails.
                Terra ignored her with practiced ease. "So, what's this I hear about you stealing stuff from my boss?"
                "Stealing?" Felix stuttered before any of the Hybridians could stop him. "The only one who stole anything was your boss!"
                Terra's face didn't twitch. "Oh I doubt that." She cocked her head at him, perfectly serious. "And just what is it that you think he stole?"
                Felix balked and ignored Cor's headshake from beyond Terra's back. "Me!" he yelled. "He stole me! And my friend and my work! He was supposed to come here and give it back."
                Terra frowned. "Your friend?"
                "My work!" Felix shouted. He half rose from his chair, but a large hand on his shoulder pushed him back down. He looked up to see Commander Magnil standing over him, scowl on his face.
                "We will handle this," he rumbled low so Terra would have a tough time hearing. "Now sit down and be quiet."
                "Yeah man," Rody put in. "You're totally taking the bait."
                Felix looked up with a frown of his own and saw they were right. A small smirk was pulling at the corner of Terra's mouth. She was enjoying this far, far too much.
                He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, determined not to give her any more satisfaction.
                Terra waited until she had their attention again before putting her hands on the table and shrugging her shoulders high, eyes closed. "Well I don't know anything about this at all. I was just told to come here and set up the line."
                Magnil's eyes narrowed. Even three feet away, Felix could feel the iron weight of his static field. "What line?" he demanded. "Didn't O'Dowell send you broker on his behalf?"
                Terra's blue-violet eyes widened in innocence so insincere Felix was surprised she didn't choke on it. "Me? Oh no sir," she said slowly. "Like I said, I'm just supposed to make sure the line is clear for the vid-feed."
                "Vid-feed?" Rody repeated. "Are you saying I waited three days in this backwater nowhere for a conference call?"
                "Mr. O'Dowell is a busy man, majesty."
                Rody's hand came down hard on the table, making several people jump at the loud clap. "I am not a majesty!" he shouted in what Felix thought was disproportionate anger. "Kings and queens are majesties and I am not a king."
                The room was silent. Terra had struck a nerve Felix didn't understand, but from the looks of the aides and security guards standing around the room, the Hybridians were all too aware of.
                Terra was one of the few that hadn't jumped at his reaction. Instead she watched the Hybridian prince with her big eyes, face outwardly pleasant. "No need to get so upset," she told him softly. "It was a simple mistake. I'm sorry."
                Her 'sorry' sounded more like she was rubbing it in, rather than an apology.
                Rody's voice, when he finally broke the silence, was tense, even angry. Felix had only seen the roguish, sometimes inappropriate, man that lied about being a personal assistant.
                "Just..." he rumbled darkly, "set up your precious connection."
                Nonplussed enough that Felix knew she had definitely known what she'd been doing, Terra pulled out her comm. unit and a wireless holo-projector for the video. With its rectangular camera body and spherical projector perched on top, it looked like a 3D lowercase 'i'.
                She placed it in the table between them, camera lens facing the Hybridian side of the table. Once it was set up and humming pleasantly, Terra tapped a personal frequency number into her comm. and waited. A rising set of beeps came through the projector's speakers as they waited for the call to be accepted.
                One of the beeps cut off with a click and O'Dowell's head and shoulders appeared in the air above the projector. He was tinted green but otherwise looked exactly the same as Felix remembered.
                He sat up straight in his chair, frown darkening his face as he stared at the amiably smiling face of the man that had hunted him down and imprisoned him. An anger he hadn't been fully aware of began to boil away in his chest. Maybe it was a good thing O'Dowell wasn't there in person, Felix thought as his fingers clenched into fists. Right then, he wasn't sure what he would have done if they had been in the same room.
                "Yes, what is it?" O'Dowell asked, his voice coming through a split second before his image mouthed the words..
                Terra swiveled in her chair, beginning to look bored. "It's the Hybridians, boss. They want to talk to you about that man they found."
                O'Dowell's eyes swept over Rody and the Commander before catching Felix at the edge of the frame. His face lit up. "Ah, Felix Cauldwell. How nice to see you again. Glad to see you're not dead."
                Felix's snort said how likely he found that.
                The older man ignored him as he fixed his eyes on the Hybridians that were more firmly in his line of sight. "And you are...?"
                Commander Magnil made the formal introductions while Felix seethed in silence. These people...when would they just leave him alone? It was like they somehow felt entitled to not just his work, but his thoughts, his person, along with it. He was so sick of their arrogance.
                "Right," O'Dowell was saying as Felix tuned back into the present. "And what is it you want from me? Permission to pursue a similar line of work? Flattering as that is, it is entirely unnecessary considering you have the original architect sitting right there." He pointed a writing stylus at Felix.
                "We hardly need your permission," Rody said, still sounding more serious than what Felix had come to think of as his normal self. "Mr. Cauldwell and I have entered into an agreement concerning the research and construction of his machine and what we want is assurances that you will not get in the way."
                O'Dowell actually laughed. "You're funny," he said, his voice crackling over the speakers as his volume rose too high for them to easily handle. "What makes you think I have any interest in sabotaging your experiments, your highness? I have quite enough of my own to keep me occupied."
                Rody's eyebrows twitched over stern silver eyes. Felix wasn't sure if that was a good or bad sign. "How about your abduction of not only Mr. Cauldwell but one of my own citizens to ensure that the human shared the information you clearly want so desperately.
                O'Dowell was nodding, the movement lagging just enough to blur the picture. "Ah," he said still sounding overly reasonable, "I can see where the misunderstanding is now. Rest assured that I have no further interest in hiring Felix Cauldwell."
                "Hiring? Is that what you call locking me in a box every night so I don't try and run away-?" Felix's fury started to bubble out, but a gesture from Rody made him grind to a halt.
                "Let me," he reminded Felix.
                Reluctantly, Felix did.
                The red haired man turned back to O'Dowell. "And we're supposed to just take your word on that?" he asked, clearly unconvinced himself.
                O'Dowell folded his hands together in front of him. "Of course not. And of course if Mr. Cauldwell ever changes his mind and wants to return to Dowell & Stein Industries I will hardly complain. However I see no reason to press the issue at the moment since I have everything I need right here." He reached a hand forward and it came back holding a familiar leather bound notebook.
                Felix bit back his expletives. Rody looked over at him. "Yours I take it?"
                Felix nodded. "It has all my most recent work and ideas. All the earlier ones were destroyed though, so it'd take a codetalker to read it."
                Rody stared at him.
                The human huffed out air and scratched at the back of his neck. It was starting to itch fiercely again. "Codetalkers were cryptologists during Earth's second world war. They developed codes based on obscure languages. One, based on a Native American language, was never broken." He shook his head. "Look, the math is really complex all right? You get the basic idea."
                Rody did. "And what's that supposed to prove?" he asked O'Dowell. "None of your other scientists will be able to read it without pulling their hair out first."
                O'Dowell didn't seem too concerned. "I have a few things in the works," he answered as he put the notebook down. "Besides, this is a good thing for Mr. Cauldwell. It means I don't need him anymore."
                "Somehow that leaves me less than thrilled," Felix grumbled.
                The others ignored him. "Yeah, as great as that all is, it's still not going to fly," Rody said. "You have no legal claim to this information. If you won't give us any certainties, we'll be forced to go to the GCC."
                The older human actually chuckled at that. "Pulling out the big guns now I see. Except dragging the Cohesion Council into this will also keep you from researching as well. They'll insist all work stop until they can determine the truth."
                Felix's head snapped up. "Is that true?" he hissed at Rody. "They can't honestly keep me from working, can they?"
                "They most certainly can," O'Dowell answered before Rody could speak. "And with these kinds of sector-spanning claims it can take years to reconcile all the little legal minutia."
                "Years?" Felix squeaked. He went pale at the thought of doing nothing but sitting on his hands for years on end.
                O'Dowell smiled, showing white teeth as he refolded his hands over Felix's notebook. "And if there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's how to drag things out in court."
                Rody finally stepped in. "Which is why we're speaking here first. We have no desire to do this the long way, but we will if that's what it comes down to."
                The blonde human thought about this. Felix only hoped that even a man with as deep a pockets as his had no desire to see them depleted by high-priced lawyers squabbling over what was ultimately a losing battle for him.
                "All right," he finally said, "suppose I did roll over. What would I get out of the deal?"
                "You mean besides not going to prison?" Felix shot.
                Again they didn't pay him any attention. Rody flicked a finger to the side of the projection where O'Dowell couldn't see. "The safe return of your violet lady friend." He tilted his head in a sideways nod. "And the lack of criminal charges as Mr. Cauldwell said. Kidnapping is much easier to prove than rightful ownership after all.
                A hard expression came over O'Dowell's square face. "Turn the camera," he ordered. Leaning forward from where she'd been observing them quietly, Terra did, bringing Kla into her employer's vision.
                He made a disappointed sound. "Oh dear," he murmured. "I had hoped my fears were unfounded."
                He sighed, the full force of his disappointment unspoken, but clearly felt by the Moraloran. Her face was stone where she sat, rigid, chained to her chair.
                Terra grinned behind the projector where O'Dowell couldn't see, and flashed Kla a victory sign.
                She scowled at the younger human, her eyes full of venom and hot fury. Felix thought she was putting the old phrase 'if looks could kill' to the test.
                "Well," O'Dowell said sadly, "here's hoping some time to yourself will help you see past this obsession you've developed. It's left you with some rather unfortunate blind spots, my dear."
                It took Felix a moment to fully comprehend. "Wait, you're not going to take her back?"
                Terra returned the projector to its previous position. "You mean the woman that failed me? No, for the time being Kla will be fending for herself. At least until she can prove to me she can still get the job done. Such a shame though. You always were my favorite."
                Felix was shocked – not to mention a little horrified that he still wasn't rid of her –but a glance in Kla's direction showed that she wasn't. She had expected this, possibly ever since she'd regained consciousness on the Windjammer.
                "You're rejecting our offer?" Rody sounded a little stunned himself.
                O'Dowell met his eyes. "Yes. As I will reject every offer you care to follow it up with. Like I said before I have what I need, so Mr. Cauldwell's location no longer concerns me, but I'm not about to give up what I have either. I would suggest you do what you like." He smirked. "I will."
                Rody's orange-red eyebrows creased over his eyes. "So it's a race to the finish then."
                O'Dowell grinned. "Most definitely."
                Then he reached forward and cut their connection, effectively ending the conversation.
                Terra repacked her comm. unit and the eye-shaped projector. "I'll be going now," she announced as she stood and beamed at them. "Unless you want to try and use me as a bartering chip too?"
                She raised her eyebrows at them in a challenge, as if she'd like to see them at least try.
                Rody was frowning at the table top, so it was Magnil that answered, gathering up two of his men with a look. "Escort the woman back to her ship."
                Uttering agreements in unison they gestured Terra Sykes back toward the door, one in front and one following close behind.
                She raised an arm over her head but didn't turn around as she called back to Kla, "Later babe. Enjoy the vacay!"
                Terra laughed until the doors swung shut behind her and her escort, mercifully cutting off the high pitched sound.
                Kla remained silent, even as she was released from the chair and led back to the brig, Au'relia once more supervising, leaving Felix unnerved by her total lack of reaction to being abandoned by O'Dowell.
                "I will never understand women," he decided as she was taken away, her head still high. "Especially the violet ones."
                He waited until she was gone before asking, "Well that didn't work, so what now?"
                Rody held his stare with the table long enough that Felix wondered if he'd heard him. Then, planting both hands on the thick arms of his large chair, he leapt to his feet.
                "Now you get to work," he told Felix, the stoniness that had so unnerved the human finally retreating. It's what you came here for, right?"
                "Well, yeah," Felix stood quickly, thinking Rody would take off before they finished speaking. "But I thought you said we had to wait for O'Dowell to promise not to sue, and he didn't."
                "True, but only because he has no intention of suing at all. You heard him. This is a race now, Cauldwell, so you'd better snap to it."
                "Just because I heard doesn't mean I understood," Felix muttered under his breath.
                Rody began to make his way around the table in a long-legged stride Felix couldn't match. "So I can get to work again. Seriously?" he asked, needing to be sure.
                Rody nodded without looking back. "Seriously. Watts – that's our lead scientist Watt'engton, chief of the nerds. Very mellow. I think you'll like him. – anyway, Watts has already assigned you a lab downstairs with all the other brainiacs. All the bells and whistles, of course. Even a few lab assistants to boss around I hear. Relia will introduce you to them later when she's done with Violent Violet there."
                "Relia?" Felix asked uncertainly. "Doesn't she have more important things to do than play tour guide for me?"
                Rody shrugged. "Not really. But then as head of your personal security, I doubt she'd let anyone else do it. She takes her job very seriously."
                Felix barely heard him. He'd stopped cold halfway around a pushed out chair, someone had forgotten to put back. "R-Relia's my bodyguard?"
                The prince stopped and turned around. He came back and slammed the chair in, muttering about slackers leaving messes all over his ship. "Yep," he answered Felix, then reconsidered. "Well, technically Cor is your bodyguard, along with two others to round out the security detail, but Relia's in charge. Trust me, you'll be fine. There's no one better on board."
                Felix couldn't identify with Rody's cheery smile right now. Not now that he was faced with the mental image of a surly Au'relia brooding in the corner of his lab every day and checking around dark corners for ambushers that all looked suspiciously like Kla clones.
                "Oh boy..." he whispered. It was going to be a tense working environment to say the least.
                He looked around for Cor, wondering if the old Hybridian knew about this. But he didn't see him. Felix frowned. "Where'd Cor go?"
                Rody looked around automatically before stopping. "I think I saw him go off with Magnil. I'm sure he'll reappear before Relia does, don't worry. Hey! You know what this means?" He straightened up, eyes shining in excitement. Felix eyed him and resisted the urge to step away.
                "What?" he asked warily.
                Rody turned and grinned wide. "You're officially a member of Perseph's crew now. This is great!" He reached over and slapped Felix on the back, nearly sending him forward into a chair. "We'll have to celebrate later, but for now welcome aboard, Cauldwell! Glad to finally have you with us." He beamed.
                "Yeah," Felix murmured as Rody walked away. "Glad to finally be here."

< Entry 32                                                                                                                                                Entry 33 >

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