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Ch. 5.1 – Travis

Travis Terrell West, CEO and majority stockholder of Purity West Investments, stood at the window and looked out over the Houston skyline. From the top floor of his corporate headquarters, he could look down at most of the city. The mostly-white room was well-furnished and understated, with its electronics either on or in the walls. An artificial fireplace crackled without warmth. Catching his own reflection in the glass for a moment, he examined the fit of his Italian suit. Perfect, of course, he noted, its dark gray sheen becoming almost silver in the light of the setting sun.

With Vision awareness that could sense a mouse in a nearby building, he felt two very different minds approaching from opposite directions. One was carnal and fierce, reveling in power restrained nearly as much as the thought of being unleashed. The other was a dull gray hole in the world, carving the air aside with monotonous authority. *Ekaida,* he sent to the first mind, *Denier incoming.*

*Oh, let me scandalize the dull-heart,* Ekaida replied, a hungry smile echoing through the bond. Travis rolled his eyes and pulled on chains threaded through her dreams. The gasp that escaped from unwilling lips was reward enough. *It’s like that, is it?* she added, her Vision brazen and fearless. *I am yours to command, quite literally.*

West permitted himself a brief shake of his head, then played puppeteer long enough to walk her body into a play room. He returned to his own mind just in time for the Skeptic to walk through the office’s main door. “You are here, of course,” he said lightly, “to inform me that the Ghost Dragon is no longer a problem and the girl is in a suitcase downstairs.”

“Humor, again?” the Skeptic said in his papery voice. Just once, Travis thought, forcing himself not to grind his teeth, I’d like to hear him yell, or snarl, or something beyond that accountant’s voice of his. Travis kept his back to the Gray Company agent, waiting for the visitor to continue. “You know we encountered interference.”

“Interference,” Travis said quietly. He gestured to his right, and a bottle of red wine filled a hundred-dollar glass. “I condition one of her closest confidants to do half your job, arrange for the Ghost Dragon to be occupied, and give you a blank check for equipment. What do you return with?” He drained the wine glass, then whirled and threw it at the wall next to the agent. “EXCUSES!”

“Your theatrics are as irrelevant as your wit, Mr. West,” the Skeptic replied, completely unmoved by the flecks of expensive glass on his right sleeve. “Somehow, the freak acquired one of the few genuine mutations among the otherwise deluded.”

West rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “I don’t have the patience to entertain your willful denial today, Skeptic. Tell me what the brat’s latest find can do and I’ll pay for the equalizer.”

The Skeptic paused, and Travis looked up in surprise. Something that can throw off the Denier? Interesting. “He’s an actual psychokinetic,” the agent muttered unwillingly. “Probably got his powers from the Anshin. Too stable for a Daimani construct.”

Blaze. Right in his stone face, no less, Travis thought, almost pleased by the notion. “Well.” He rubbed his chin. “I may have been too hard on you.” He met the Skeptic’s eyes, ignoring the emptiness in them. “How powerful?”

The Skeptic frowned outright at that. “Powerful enough to harden tinfoil armor and block bullets with a garbage lid.”

“Tinfoil armor” is probably his denial talking again, West decided, but he nodded as politely as he could manage. “I see. I’ll call Gray Company, make sure you have proper back up.”

“Gray Company protects the world from fanatics and madmen,” the Skeptic replied, his voice dry and empty once more. “We have better things to do with our time than snatch stoned frauds for the Mandate.”

“And yet here you are,” Travis said quietly. “Gray Company’s top man, trying to snatch a ‘stoned fraud’ for the newest Sovereign.” He turned away from the Skeptic again, pointedly looking out the window, though he kept watch on the agent’s pale reflection. “Given your recent failure, perhaps a short-term increase to investment can prevent long-term overrun.”

The Skeptic stared, unblinking. “Not everything is about money, West,”

Travis sighed. “Money isn’t about money, Skeptic. Money is about power. Wealth, authority, force, all of it boils down to the minimum expenditure for the maximum return.” He summoned the wine bottle again, along with a new glass. “That’s why leverage is so important. Archimedes may not have had a place to stand, but I intend to.”

The Skeptic’s scoffing snort got Travis’ attention. “Taylor’s no fulcrum.”

At that, Travis smiled. “We’ll see.” He waved in dismissal. After a few seconds, the Skeptic turned to leave. “Where is the Reanimate?” West asked.

The Skeptic didn’t slow down, moving towards the door. “Escaped in the confusion. Best guess, it went looking for the target.” Travis nodded, and the Skeptic left. He sipped the wine carefully. Mm. That might be lucky. I’ll have to probe for the freak when the Skeptic’s far enough gone.

Ekaida walked in, her usual fluid grace marred by the shake in her legs. Her black dress clung to her skin perfectly. Is it even a dress, Travis wondered, or did my favorite Daimani just grow it? She walked up to him and snaked well-muscled arms around his chest. “You bastard,” she whispered huskily.

“My parents were married,” West said with a confident smile. She squeezed hard enough for him to feel it. “As for the rest, that’s exactly why you’re here, isn’t it?”

The Daimani flowed around him to come face to face, long raven hair becoming golden blond with a shake of her head. The dress shifted from black to red. That answers that question, West thought with satisfaction. She kept her height equal to his, which, at just over six feet, would have been impressive for a human woman. “Why don’t you let me collect her, master?” she asked almost plaintively. “Blaze or no Blaze, I could take Taylor’s boy-toy.”

Travis wagged a finger at her. “Not yet, Ekaida.” He gestured at the window. “I loathe this city,” he said casually, “this whole state, really, but I have learned a few valuable lessons from it.” He ran a finger down her back, and she arched and moaned as a long, serpentine tail flowed from the base of her spine. “Take poker, for instance.”

“I wish I was, right now,” she half-groaned.

Travis chuckled. “Business before.” He ran his finger – and Vision – up her spine, and Ekaida’s tail began to curl around her. “You are my ace in the hole, my magnificent thrall, and I intend to keep you there for as long as possible.” He smiled at the Daimani’s widening eyes as her own tail crushed her arms against her ribs. She gasped again, still looking excited. “Until then, you’ll simply have to stay…face down.”

“You’re a monster,” she whispered, smiling more hungrily than ever.

“And you love it,” Travis replied ferociously, his own grin distinctly shark-like. “Which concludes our business for the day.” With a final, savage slash of his hand, curtains fell over the windows and the lights dimmed. “Time to enjoy my returns.”

Written by Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan was born in the Bronx, New York, giving him the right to root for the Yankees while making less than six figures. After a long, largely pleasant interregnum in suburban Connecticut, he moved to the Inland Empire, California to be with his wonderful wife and muse, a stepson, and a crazed feline. An occasionally too-avid player of and writer for tabletop roleplaying games, his other passion is metaphysics, which informs most of his fiction.

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