Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 12
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
The Jump Cannon crew have arrived at the Fututio, a hotel in Moderate Formai, one of Seeon's most important cities. The political leaders of the planet exist in a blinkered state, ignoring the excesses already present in a society still recovering from war. For Maur, Kerra, Charles and Thom, the mission remains paramount, and the recipient of their delivery has just arrived.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
Maur looked into his eyes, trying to work out if there was some sort of deceit afoot. He had become used to that, given recent events, and the paranoia felt entirely reasonable. However, the longer he looked, the less likely it seemed that Mr. Luthais was anything other than a hard-working hotelier. Albeit, one with a terrible fashion sense. They had been ushered into a conference room one floor up. The see-through staircases didn’t inspire confidence in the safety of the Fututio’s construction, but he was consoled by Luthais' proud proclamation that the hotel had been standing for a few years now without incident. The other side effect of Maur’s recent adventures was that he now had a slight aversion to being suspended mid-air. This wasn’t something he was aware of until he had made the first steps upward towards the conference room.
The room itself was fairly traditional, and followed the trend of human influence. It was wood panelled, like something pulled out of the past, but at the same time the modernity of the hotel pushed through. A long, heavy-looking table and matching chairs had been made out of the same material used to construct the Fututio’s interior – mostly transparent.
Unaware, with rising discomfort at their situation, Beta Crew took their seats on the right hand side of the table. Mr. Luthais sat opposite, one leg hitched over the other and his fingers interlocking over the knee.
"So, you have my package?" he asked, waving a hand vaguely in their direction. "Uh, yeah, of course," replied Kerra, slinging the pack off her shoulder and onto the desk.
The room’s layout made her very worried. The wood panelling would be free-standing and the walls hollow. While there were four bodyguards in sight, one for each member of the crew, there could be any number of footsoldiers hidden from view behind the panels. Formai's hotels were well known for voyeurs passages hidden in the walls. She tried to scout out any movement, and pushed her ears to pick up scuffles and shudders of rats ready to attack. There was nothing, but all of this ceremony over a small brown package seemed excessive.
"Let me tell you a bit about my hotel. I don’t get a chance to discuss how proud I am of it very often."
"We don’t really have the time, as much as we appreciate the offer," Kerra said, trying to get out of there fast.
"Please, please. Nonsense. I’m sure you can understand, the native hoteliers and leisure entrepreneurs don’t like how I’ve done things, so I like to share it with people who might be more appreciative. It breaks convention, something the seetans seem ever more attached to as they try to convince themselves they have moved beyond violence."
"You don’t think they have?" asked Thom. "That might offend them."
"I’m entirely sure I’ve done that already, and I don’t care in the slightest. What right do they have to control my opinion?"
"There’s a difference between controlling your opinion and you being offensive."
"Of course there is, but we both know that this sinful city is testament to their forte for hypocrisy. Moderate Formai is a cesspit, all I am attempting to do is bring some human touches, make the place a bit more palatable."
The comment silenced Thom, whose persistence in holding the man in a discussion of morals and etiquette frustrated Charles and Kerra, both on edge. More than the consequent delay in departure, it seemed pointless to argue against something they all knew to be true.
"The land has actually been in my family for over a century," Luthais said, picking up where he left off. "We had another hotel here prior to that awful civil war. It was a far more modest affair mind you, none of the grand wonder that the building now offers its visitors. Still, you can imagine that seeing it razed to the ground was rather upsetting to watch."
"I was only a boy at that time, roughly half way through the war. I had always lived with the seetans, but they showed no signs of stopping their senseless conflict. Did any of you see the devastation?"
Kerra paused for a moment before replying.
"I did, towards the end. One of the last massacres."
"Ah yes, where? If you don’t mind me asking."
"What’s now Moderate Irinder," she said, stuttering a little and forgetting where she was for a moment. "Just west of Dawn’s Edge."
"I know the place well, Irinder was a candidate for my second location but its port isn’t busy enough. I imagine the same terrible incident that you experienced keeps people away."
"I’d rather not talk about it."
"Of course, of course, but did it not make you think, even for a moment that we shouldn’t have interfered? Many have said that Earth was to blame for that massacre. That the ECF’s presence aggravated the militants..."
"Nobody in the ECF was to blame for what those men did."
"Of course, sorry, I shouldn’t have said any more,” he said, eyes glinting over the width of his grin, “but being brought up here during the war has made me a little sensitive about these matters. It’s also made me immensely proud of this place – bringing it up from those blood soaked ashes."
"I had to build up my enterprise over many years to accrue the capital required to build the Fututio. It was worth the work though, seeing my family’s heritage rebuilt. It has also been worth the cost of the delivery to bring you all here. Can I have my package now?"
Kerra pulled the package out, never taking her eyes off Luthais. His platitudes and openness did nothing to appease her fears. With her palm pressing it down, she slid the delivery across the table with a sharp push. It wasn’t aggressive, but she hoped it would be enough to warn him off making any move towards betrayal. She flexed her slight frame, puffing out her chest a little. Charles was noticeable in doing the same, although it had a far more intimidating result than her efforts.
Luthais picked up the package in the hand left free from cradling his knee. He chucked it up in the air a couple of times, catching it effortlessly, staring over at Beta Crew with that ever-bright smile carved into his face. Quickly, and with enough force to make Kerra jump, he thumped the package back down to the table.
"Oops, sometimes I forget my own strength!" Luthais said, grin spreading even wider, as impossible as that seemed.
He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward to start picking off the brown paper surrounding the package. Mr. Luthais was delicate in this procedure, ignoring the existing tears and instead separating the paper by running a fingernail along the sealing tape. Paper still crisp he pulled it apart, revealing a navy felt box, the fabric frayed in some spots where it had made impact with whatever surfaces Kerra had been pressed upon during the street-fight in Cirramorr.
"I’ve been looking forward to this," said Mr. Luthais.
He lifted up the lid, the felt making a just audible noise as the two parts of the box rubbed together. From their position across the table none of Beta Crew could make out what was inside, but the container was definitely big enough to hold a weapon. That uneasy fact was enough reason for Charles to shift his weight onto his feet, holding himself ready just above his seat. He could be over the table in a second or so.
In the end there was no need to pounce. Luthais pushed manicured fingers inside the box and pulled out a long, dark brown cigar. A small red ribbon circled its centre, but there was nothing worth fighting over. He held a palm open to the sky, a bodyguard placing into it a stainless steel cigar cutter. It glinted in the harsh halogen lighting of the room, and despite fervent attempts Maur could not make sense of the markings etched into its surface. Probably a monogram, he thought. Mr. Luthais was definitely arrogant enough for such an item.
The cigar end was snipped, another bodyguard stepping in and scooping the off-cuts into his own hand. Luthais pulled a lighter out of his own pocket, long and cylindrical, and flicked it on. The end became red hot, and he dabbed it onto the freshly cut cigar, placing the opposite end into his mouth and puffing air through the tobacco. With a deep sigh, expelling the hot fruity smelling smoke across the table, he sat back in his chair. Relaxation dampened the grin, its falseness dipping slightly as he enjoyed the buzz of the tobacco.
"I have to ask," said Charles, breaking the tension with his deep grumble, "why are we worth the delivery cost of that item? You paid the Jump Cannon a considerable amount for something that could have been freighted."
"Hmm? Oh, yes, of course. Sorry, I got carried away there. Difficult not to, you understand," Luthais replied, tensing up again and re-printing the gaping grin across his face. "Despite their love of good liquor the seetans never bother to import decent cigars."
"Plus," he continued, "I just wanted to meet a few of the crew-members who survived Los Piratas. I was held hostage by them once, you see. I feel a certain kinship to the survivors of your unfortunate meeting with them. Of course, I blame that dastardly lunark..."
"Whoah, how do you know about Josia 24?" quizzed Thom, sharpness covering his words, brow furrowed with turmoil.
"Oh? Josia 24, I wasn’t aware that was the man responsible." Luthais grin became laced with spite, a single low chuckle in his sentence. "Very few details have been released to the public you see. Although your faces have been plastered across news broadcasts."
Kerra stood up, Maur following suit of his own accord. He had wanted to make the move first, but the very person he had intended to impress with it had beat him to the punch. He glanced at her, collapsing any impression that they might have intended to stand together. Kerra wasn’t fazed. Maur could not claim the same and left the talking to her.
"I don’t intend this to come off as rude," she said, extending the last word to accentuate a suggestion that Luthais was guilty of such a transgression himself, "but we do have a schedule to keep and it leaves no time for public appearances."
"You won’t stay?" he replied, calm and steady. "I would be happy to comp you a room. All facilities included, the least I can do for fellow victims of Los Piratas."
"With due respect," said Charles, "we do not see ourselves as victims. We are mercenaries, such events are occupational hazards." The suggestion of his victimisation was enough to disappear his last few ounces of tolerance for this man
"Yes, quite," Luthais growled, agreement a token gesture. "Well, at least let me see you out."
Thom and Charles stood, joining their two crewmates and made their own way to the door. Behind, Mr. Luthais and his guards double-stepped to catch up to them and the largest of the four opened the way. Charles and he shared a look, neither used to looking at another man at eye-level. The gaze didn’t break until Charles stepped out into the hallway, Kerra glancing up at the guard to offer support to the silent threat as she followed. Maur and Thom were last, flanked by the men, and made attempts at the same intimidation tactics. Both were unsuccessful, although Maur’s effort was slightly more convincing given the extra bulk his training had built up.
Walking back down the corridor, couples linking arms and staring as they passed the odd convoy. Luthais pulled up beside Maur who was pitched at the right end of the line. Outside the quiet of the conference room the loud pound of Moderate Formai’s music perforated the walls of the hotel, just enough to cover up the whispers he fed into Maur’s ear.
"You should really keep her in line," Mr. Luthais said, speckles of spit escaping his lips along with his words.
"Talk about her any more and I’ll break those shiny teeth in half," Maur cut back, keeping his voice low and talking through his teeth. Luthais' comment had shattered whatever remaining indecision Maur had about him.
"Oh, don’t be silly. I know you scum can’t afford to kick my ass," retorted Luthais, Maur looking into his eyes with a flicker of panic. "In fact, I know more about you and the Jump Cannon than you can possibly imagine."
Maur itched to bring a fist into the man’s jaw, but was faced with the bleak actuality that any scuffle with a local businessman would levy disorder fines that neither they nor Champion could pay. He did not relish the idea of imprisonment, and so reigned in temper.
They made their way down the staircase, Maur’s brain racked with too many other thoughts to concern himself with the height this time. With each step the noises of an argument became easier to hear. Scuffles of feet, curses, heavy hands being pushed away with bold slaps.
"Leave me alone! I’m leaving! Just keep your hands off me man," the shouts of a half-undressed seetan man.
He was wearing a pair of black boxers, the revelation that seetans wore underwear surprising some members of Beta Crew. His robe was bundled in his arms, and a bag was hooked over his shoulder. A ponytail was flipping around in the air, a lengthy braid of hair on his chin, yellow rubber bands keeping both neat at three different points along its length.
It wasn’t popular, but Maur had seen seetans with hair implants before – typically they were men and women who had aspirations towards humanity. This individual’s slang and attitude showed he was exactly one of these sorts of seetan.
"Bro! Don’t fucking push me!" he shouted.
A squad of burly bodyguards, very similar to those who flanked Mr. Luthais, were attempting to shove him toward the door, the seetan rebelling in futile retaliation. The guards wore the same black outfits, their tunics closing below the right shoulder with a large golden button. Most had already charged their tasers, brandishing them in the air.
"What the hell is going on here?" Luthais broke from the group, stepping down the last few stairs at pace to tackle the problem in his prized foyer.
The seetan looked around at Luthais, with a look of further embarrassment on his face. The crowd of bodyguards around the hotel owner was enough to inform him of his importance, indicating that events were about to take a turn for the worse. He swung his arms down, still gripping his robes but letting them drag onto the floor as if defeated. Maur was confused however, when his expression seemed to change dramatically. A massive smile spread across his face, and his arms flew into the air. A joyous cry escaped from his lungs. "Charles! Charles, is that you buddy?"
He ran toward Charles, gripped the sides of the giant’s biceps and squeezed, gazing into his eyes.
"Bro, its me, Marzy! You don’t recognise me?” The newly introduced seetan sounded a little desperate.
"Yeah... well I mean no. Not in your boxers..." Charles said, looking confused, but almost happy too.
"Yeah, yeah man, sorry about that, bit of a misunderstanding..." Marzy mused, looking back around at the angry guards who had moved to surround the pile of clothes left back on the foyer floor.
"A bit of a misunderstanding? Men, why is this man standing in my foyer without any clothing on?" Mr. Luthais quizzed his staff, floating down the last few steps, Beta Crew and Marzy following after.
"He has been a guest for the last month. Neighbouring rooms noticed an odd smell. We investigated and found a narcotics lab, Sir," offered one of the guards.
"Whoah! There is no proof that it’s a narcotics lab!" Marzy shouted, buoyed in his confidence thanks to the familiar face of Charles appearing to rescue him.
"Oh, yeah right, like people have chemistry sets in hotel rooms for any other reason," spat the guard, his words petulant and annoyed. He had wanted this whole thing sorted well before the boss got involved. "It is not a narcotics lab!" Marzy shouted with even greater volume, he turned to Charles. "I promise you bro, it’s not a narcotics lab. I was making some herbal shit."
"Marzy, we’ve been through this before. What you think is herbal is not necessarily what the rest of the universe thinks is herbal. In several instances your definition of herbal has clashed with other’s definition of illegal substance." Charles used far more words than he was typically inclined to, he clearly had some affection for this man.
Mr. Luthais moved back to Beta Crew, who were now joined by this unusual seetan. His pale cheeks had gained a slight red hue and his eyes were bulging. Rage was building up behind his eyes, Maur recognised the look. In any other circumstance he imagined that the hotelier might use an open palm slap to discipline his guest. He felt some redemption in watching Luthais struggle with the financial pressure of disorder fines. Instead, the hotelier kept his hands clasped behind his back, rubbing them together and trying to work out some of the anger boiling through his veins.
"It would appear," Luthais growled, "that this man’s business within the Fututio has come to an end. I will settle my bill. I would appreciate if, when the staff of the Jump Cannon leave, you might take friend with you. Come with me, I’ll use a panel at reception."
Kerra broke rank to head toward the reception desk. As much as Luthais probably wanted to slap Marzy, she wanted to slap him. His attitude stunk, and she still didn’t believe the reasons he had given for bringing them there. She walked behind him closely, attempting to march him forward like a prisoner. Luthais was far too confident to succumb to that unfortunately, and instead he swung an arm over the desk and snatched a panel away from one of his dolly receptionists.
"Hold on, let me see the screen," barked Kerra, being pedantic. He puffed and tilted the panel toward her. A quick nod from Kerra prompted the final taps and the funds demanded for their successful delivery of his cigar were transferred to Annie’s accounts. "Did he transfer all of it?" Maur asked, more to appear useful rather than out of any genuine concern.
"Yes. Two-point-five million standard currency as agreed." Kerra confirmed, furthering the faux-professional stance she had taken in reply to Luthais’ hostility. She walked back toward Beta Crew, but her steps were interrupted before she could make it all the way.
"I don’t think it needs to be said,” Luthais spat, “but none of you are welcome back to the Fututio. Good day, I have further business to conduct with reputable individuals."
He dumped the panel on the reception desk and ushered his bodyguards, all of them, to follow to an elevator at the back of the foyer. They took him as far as the steel doors, but he was left alone once they closed. It rose to the top floor of the Fututio, a welcoming ping coming from a bell as he reached his combined office and living space. It spread out over the full top floor, although like the rest of the internal structure, it stood free from the energy tent covering. Over all four sides he had views of the foyer below, and watched closely as Beta Crew regrouped near the front door.
His office mirrored the décor of the conference rooms, and offered old fashioned style within the walls of an ultra-modern modern hotel. He had no set rooms, but his furniture sat grouped in distinct batches. In each there was something that clashed, much like his purple shoes, a brash splash of colour among otherwise dull property. Luthais’ desk though, that was impressive. A heavy wooden thing, carved and curved, a wide panel set into its top. He approached it, and the panel arced towards him, ready to receive his command.
Luthais tapped on a seemingly random selection of buttons and the landscape of the panel changed. The various coloured squares and updates flicked off, the panel turning entirely black for a few seconds before kicking back into life. Now only green and blue made up the options on screen, a crest he was now well familiar with rotating in the corner of his desk. The necessary call had automatically been placed, the recipient answering quickly.
"They are leaving," said Luthais quietly and confidently. "The saboteur is with them. The Jump Cannon will be disabled as and when planned. We will be able to capture him with little fuss."
"Good, we can’t afford another public display of force like the incident on Pura," came a woman’s voice.
"The Gentle Reminder is correct, she is always correct," offered Luthais.
"Of course I am. For the Nation!"
"For the Nation!" replied Luthais.
Below, Beta Crew and their new companion exited through the front door of the Fututio, pride intact and the mission completed successfully. A few pairs of curious eyes followed them out, transfixed after the exchange in the foyer. For the most part, however, people continued on with their own dirty business, unaware of the dark goings on within the hotel’s top floor. Just as unaware as Beta Crew themselves. The evening atmosphere hit them again, the cool air conditioning of the hotel giving way to the sweaty heat. They walked away from the hotel, each slightly unnerved by their experiences inside. The constant procession of drunken, but never violent, party-goers staggered past them as ever.
"So, you haven’t said how you know Charles," said Thom, ending the silence and successfully piquing interest.
"Hah!" chuckled Marzy, having just swung his crumbled robe back over his pony-tailed head. "Well that, my new brother, is a very interesting story."
"Are you entirely sure you wish to tell it?" asked Charles, grimacing. "Bro, of course I want to tell it. You just saved my ass for the second time!"
* * * * *
"In the shadow of the longest war in the history of Seeon, below the dark sky we have forever cursed ourselves with, we call to session the first meeting of the Moderate Council of Seeon. We shall strive, beyond all other objectives, to rid our planet’s surface of violence and senseless fighting.
I call upon you, the members of the Moderate Council, to halt the spread of hatred that might again threaten our future, and our children’s future.
Now, we shall commence ordinary business.
First motion on the agenda is the legalisation of gambling to generate much needed funds for the economy. All those in favour, say aye..."
From Paolin Yves first speech as the leader of the Moderate Council of Seeon. The motion was passed by unanimous vote.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Thirteen of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)