Gin and Tonic, Part 1

Gin sipped from a glass of pinot blanc and smiled politely as Liam recounted tales of his younger days when he was first breaking into real estate. His own home was perched atop his first major acquisition, a prime piece of land that overlooked most of San Francisco, and even now the ethereal glow of city lights added a kind of coziness to what was an otherwise sterile art-deco décor made of black, white, and silver.

As he talked, her eyes slid toward the hallway where her small, black, hard leader clutch sat on a silver-trimmed side table. A fake bonsai made of coiled gold wire bark and tiny silver leaves sprouted from a shallow dish next to it. It was her own gift to the decorative monotony, but right now it seemed to mimic branching pain that had been spreading from the base of her skull since this morning. She didn’t want to drink, she didn’t want to eat, she just wanted to eat as many of the meds in her bag that wouldn’t outright kill her.

“Are you alright?”

Gin’s eyes snapped back to Liam. She hadn’t noticed he had moved from the living room back to the dining area. “Yes? Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been staring off into space for a while now. The speech isn’t boring, is it? It can’t be boring.”

“Of course not,” she lied. “You’re as intriguing as ever. I’m just… hungry, is all.” Gin waved her hand as if shooing a fly from her plate. “You know how I get. This summer salad simply isn’t doing it, I’m afraid.”

“You should speak up then.”

“And ruin such a riveting speech? Never.”

“Riveting, is it? For the last few minutes you seemed quite a bit more interested in that plant on the table there.”

“Do I have to keep my eyes glued to you every second?”

“Pretty face like yours, I wouldn’t mind it.” He grinned.

“Oh, you!”

“I’ll send for the next meal now, shall I?” He touched the panel embedded in the table without waiting for her reply. A moment later, the kitchen doors slid open and several servers came in to sweep away the remains of their summer salad and bring in a platter of steaming soft-shell crab. A mix of sauces, from simple lemon and butter to tangy curry to Vietnamese garlic sauces ringed the display. Liam took a vintage bottle of Chardonnay and filled fresh crystal glasses for each of them.

Liam raised his glass and said, “To the end of LunarScape and that bastard Gregor! At long last Starfield Estates gets the prominence it deserves.”

Gin hid the look on her face with her wine glass. “Just how many hotels will you own after the sale?”

“Too many. I’ll have most of them bulldozed anyway, so it hardly matters. The real prize is the LunarScape Plaza.”

“That was the centerpiece of Gregor’s empire, wasn’t it?”

“Exactly! But, let’s not call it an empire, shall we? It was more of a… villa.”

“A neighborhood, perhaps?”

“Oh, better! That sounds positively mundane. Thank you, my Dear.”

“I do try.”

“The Plaza alone makes this deal worth it. When he outbid me on the last contract – I was seconds away from signing it, mind you, seconds – I could have wrung his fat little neck right there. But it was worth the wait to watch him squirm.” Chuckling, Liam swirled his wine glass, took dainty sniff, and then proceeded to down the entire glass at a go.

Which on of us is faking more? She thought. Aloud, Gin said, “So you spent all this time and money buying out his supply chain just for a little payback?”

“Please, I would never be so petty. I simply don’t like my plans being delayed. In fact, I may have to thank him. If I had won that first contract, Gregor would have stayed a direct competitor. As it stands now, Starfield will have free reign of the lunar market for the next decade at least.”

“The monopoly board was a close thing though. Lucky they ruled in your favor.”

“Damn right it was! But, you know how it goes. Shake the right hand, scratch the right back, it works out in the end…” Liam stopped mid-pour of another glass. He asked, “Are you sure you’re alright? You’re trembling. Is it cold?”

“No, no, not at all. I’m just… excited for you. Did you ever think you’d going to the moon when you were little, let alone own a piece of it?”

“… And you’ve hardly touched the crab. Isn’t soft-shell your favorite?”

“Of course it is, and it smells delicious. I’m just not terribly hungry at the moment. I do think I need to freshen up a bit. Do you mind?” Gin stood without waiting for a reply. “Don’t worry, I’ll thank you properly afterwards.”

Gin leaned down and kissed his cheek, and then picked up her clutch and made the short walk to the bathroom, latched the door, and then slumped against its cold, metal surface.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! She thought. Why did I say that? Don’t fuck me over now, brain!

She snapped open her clutch and started rooting for her pill case, but then a sudden wave of nausea hit and it was all she could do to brace herself at the sink. A long minute passed where there was nothing but the thready heartbeat in her chest and the coiling pain in her head trying to pop her eyes out.

When it finally passed, she sighed and rested her head against the mirror, dark hair hanging limp around her face. She snapped open her clutch again and picked around until she finally drew out a thin, silver case. She flicked the dispenser, but the only response was a flashing red light across the case’s surface.

 

The pain coiled in her head returned along with panic. She flicked the dispenser again. Surely she hadn’t gone over her limit already? She bit her lip and stared at the metal box, its air-tight seal shut against her. For just a moment she thought maybe she could hold it off on her own this time, that she could resist, but then the next wave of pain hit. When it finally passed there was no longer a question.

“Abel, access med-case.” She sub-vocalized the words in her mind, using that thin space between thought and speech.

“Unable to comply,” replied Abel. “You are already two doses over your daily limit. Any more–”

“Fuck my limit. Override.”

“Any more medication may result in–”

“I don’t give a shit. Override alpha-gamma-nine-nine-seven.”

“Authorized. Just a moment, please.”

“Finally,” muttered Gin. “You’re the reason I need these pills in the first place, you little positronic asshole.”

Suddenly the case flashed green and two pills tumbled out into her palm. “Oh God thank you.” Gin tossed them back without bothering with water.  When the pain didn’t start to fade in the first couple of minutes, she thumbed the switch for two more.

Another minute passed and the coil in her brain began to loosen and she nearly cried. Gin dropped the pill case back into her purse and stared to pull out some makeup to make herself presentable again. At least she tried to. What Gin did instead was drop her hand down into her clutch like a dead weight and sent her pill case, lipstick, mascara and all the other bits in her purse flying everywhere.

Gin thought, I only took two, right? She felt slow. Suddenly she wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Her arms felt like two water-filled tubes of rubber. Then Gin realized she was sagging and tried to brace herself against the sink, failed, and then fell back onto the floor. Her head slammed against the wall. She felt the impact, but no pain. She tried to get up, but couldn’t, so she decided she would just breathe for a while. Somewhere in the vestiges of her consciousness Gin knew this wasn’t what normally happened.

There came a knock at the door and Liam asking if she was alright, but she couldn’t think of how to reply. Distantly, she felt a wetness on her lip and she raised her hand to wipe at it. She stared vacantly at the smear of blood for a time, then watched her hand fall back down to her side. There was knocking coming from somewhere. It sounded like it was getting louder, but also softer? She wondered briefly if she could rewind her hand to watch it fall again and then she thought nothing at all.

A sensation like ants ran down Gin’s spine and her eyes shot open, fluttered, and then relapsed into semi-conscious dreaming. A second run sent her shuddering and rolling deeper under covers. “Abel, stop alarm,” she said aloud, though it sounded more like groan.

“Stopping.”

 

Gin started awake again and pulled herself out of the covers. She was back in her own apartment again, in her own oversized bed, filled to the brim with her downy blankets and overstuffed pillows. What wasn’t taken up by the bed was crammed with electrical components, server blades, cables, monitors, and all manner of other nerd wizardry. The entire far was a massive server rack centered around a suite of three monitors and a single chair.

“Would you like to order breakfast?” asked Abel.

“No… No, not yet. Abel, what happened last night? Where’s Liam? How did I get back home?”

“I am not aware of Liam’s present location. You arrived home by taxi at 4:32 this morning.”

“A taxi? Liam always let me use his personal driver, why would he…” She trailed off. A small pit of horror was growing in her stomach. “Oh God, I fucked something up, didn’t I? Please don’t tell me I blew the fucking op at the last minute.”

“Unknown,” Abel replied. “Please provide context for the phrase, ‘fucked something up’.”

“Never mind, just call Liam for me. Maybe there’s still a chance to salvage something. Bloody hell, how many pills did I take?”

“Attempting to connect to Liam now. My records indicate you have taken seven doses within the last twenty-four hours.” Abel’s voice cut out and was replaced with a meandering tune while the call was placed.

Gin put her head in her hands. Seven doses of zenoxine. Fourteen pills. Abel was right, she thought. I should be dead right now, or at least in a coma. But not only am I alive, I feel better than I have in months, years maybe. What the hell happened?

The melody suddenly cut out and Abel’s voice returned. “I’m sorry, I was unable not connect to Liam.”

“Did you try his other line?”

“I have attempted all known personal and business lines. Would you like to email him?”

“No, just let me think a while. Order me a coffee or something. Wait, stop! What time is it now? How long until his meeting is supposed to start?”

Abel said, “It is currently 3:42PM. The signing was to take place—”

“—Nearly two hours ago!” Gin finished. “No wonder he hasn’t replied!” She scrambled out of bed and to her computer. “Business dealings involving the moon should still be big enough to make the news, right? Don’t answer that, just search the news feeds for anything related to Starfield and the business deal.”

There was a brief pause. “There were forty-eight million results. Would you like to see all results or apply a filter?”

“… I’m feeling lucky.”

“Just a moment, please.”

The three screens on Gin main computer flashed and then filled with a live feed from NewWorldNews.

“—representatives from Starfield Estates confirmed that CEO Liam Cast was slain last night in an apparent homicide. All staff members on duty at the time were also found dead. Police described the scene as ‘unsettling’. Cast’s partner, Selene Alvera, who was reportedly with Cast at the time, is currently missing. However, police would not speculate on whether she was a victim or a perpetrator, only that she is currently a person of interest.”

This comes at a particularly delicate time for Starfield as it passes through the final  rounds of government review to approve the acquisition of LunarScape. If the acquisition goes through, it would make Starfield Estates the largest extra-planetary developer in the world. The alleged bitter rivalry between Cast and LunarScape founder Gregor Harding has also made Harding a person of interest in the matter. Harding voluntarily turned himself over to police and–”

The words dissolved into an incoherent buzzing as Gin stared at the monitor. Liam was dead, her fake persona was destroyed, and even the staff? It was too much. “T-they scrubbed the op, didn’t they? Didn’t they, Abel?”

“Unknown.”

“And how is it on the news if they scrubbed it?”

“Unknown.”

“Is that seriously all you have to say? Liam was an asshole, but he didn’t deserve to fucking die! And neither did Jean or Anna or, or, any of them! Did our guys scrub the missing or not?”

“Unknown. I lack the information to answer your query.”

Someone knows,” Gin said, “and I intend to find out.”

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