Eric peered through hooded, yellow eyes. His lithe, perfectly toned body stood at attention with his hands clasped serenely behind his back. He studied his boss, Simms, with absolute composure. Nothing could surprise him—he was a master of self-control trusted no one.
Simms, a human with more replacement parts than he liked to admit, could not hide his boxy shape, though he tried. His hair, though not his own, appeared thick and black, while his olive skin tone complimented the wine-colored shirt and trousers he wore. A gold pendant hung at his neck while his bejeweled fingers flashed with color.
He sat leaning back on a well-padded chair, his feet propped up on a wide window ledge. He licked a large, chocolate-chip ice cream cone wrapped in a freeze-sleeve, which kept it nice and cold, preventing drips. Simms did not like drips. He slurped a large swipe of ice cream and then darted a glance at Eric, gesturing with his free hand. “Just say yes and make us both happy.”
Eric licked his lips. “You haven’t told me your plans.”
Simms slammed down his feet, swerving his ice cream cone dangerously close to his desk. “What? I have to tell you everything? Who do you think I am—a beggar-boy? A Bhuac maybe?” He drew in a long breath and regained his accustomed position, swinging his feet back up on the sill. “No. You just say yes. Then I tell you my plans.” He chomped down on the top of the cone and slurped his words. “Don’t you trust me?”
“I already killed once for you; I think that merits some—”
“Aw, hell. You killed nobody. A nothing. What I’m talking about now is real business. My business. I have plans. Big plans.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You want in or not?”
Eric straightened his already straight shoulders. “Yes.”
A wide smile broke over Simms’ face. He swung his feet back onto the floor and tossed his ice cream cone into the trash. “Good! Okay, let’s get down to business. I’m gonna build the biggest interstellar docking bay this side of the Divide. I’m gonna—”
Eric shook his head. “Newearth already has one of the largest docking bays this side of Bothmal. You really think that—”
“Shut up, imbecile. I have already thought this through. I’ve Ingots, Uanyi, and even a couple dozen Crestas ready to follow my lead. I just need someone I can trust.” He peered up at Eric’s impassive face. “You know, killing that crossbreed was my idea. Right wasn’t going to do it, but I showed her the logic of the situation, and besides, I wanted to see you in action.”
“I take it, I performed to your satisfaction.”
“Aw, don’t talk like that, like some cheap robot off a passing trader.” He clasped his hands, lacing his fingers together. “You’ve got to be perfectly straight with me. I need someone who’ll be my eyes and ears, listen, but never talk, except to me. You get the idea? I’m gonna make Newearth the greatest trading center in the universe. And that’ll make some high-profile personalities jealous. They’ll try to stop me or cut in and try to replace me. And I won’t stand for it!”
He waved to his wall of medals, attesting to his award-winning skill at Zinzinera, a tough, body-wrenching, head-cracking Ingoti game that many players never live to see through to the end.
“I’ve got the skills to make this happen. It’ll be good for Newearth, good for every trader who wants to increase business, good for you, and good for me.” He frowned. There’s only one person who might give me serious trouble.”
Eric’s eyebrows rose. “Who might that be?”
Simms heaved himself out of his chair and strode over to his wall of trophies, studying them. “A Luxonian by the name of Cerulean. He’s been around a long time, since before the beginning—of Newearth, I mean. He’s got a reputation as a nice guy. But he isn’t. Trust me. He’s as dangerous as they come.” He swung around and faced Eric. “I want him outta my way.”
Eric folded his arms high across his chest. “Luxonians are hard to kill.”
“I didn’t say kill. I said I want him out of my way, traveling to foreign parts, or back on Lux—whatever. But wherever he is, I want you to keep your eyes on him. I want his reputation tarnished. I want everyone to see him for what he really is.”
“And what—exactly—is he?”
Simms shrugged. “He thinks he’s a guardian, a protector, like some Knight of Oldearth. But it’s all a lie. There are no heroes these days—they don’t exist.” Simms padded up to Eric and peered into his eyes. “Look into Cerulean’s soul and see what you find. Then report to me. We’ll find a way of destroying him—from the inside out.”
Eric unfolded his arms and nodded. “Simple enough.”
Simms shook his head. “Not simple. Necessary. How else will I get everyone to trust me?”