Setarcos reunites with his father.
Escapo sat on the floor with his thick chin buried in his knees, having profound reflections on what had transpired. How could he have been such a fool? His emotions had gotten the best of him. Irrational hope of reuniting with his son had clouded his judgment. It was all an illusion. A trap set for a fool, and Escapo had played his role. To make matters worse, he’d now betrayed some of his only true friends in the world, Setarcos and his family.
They didn’t reunite him with his son, and they had no intention of doing so.
The past two nights had been long, slow-motion sessions of mental and emotional torture. Sleep came in brief, random spurts. He’d gone a couple hundred miles west of Catalina Island, went deep, and found a dark, suitable spot for sulking.
What to do now? Revenge against the A.I. overlords that had betrayed him? A shot at salvation by rescuing Setarcos?
His thought pattern was interrupted by the appearance of a jumping red flame suddenly in his midst. Escapo’s tired, round face looked on with barely a hint of curiosity.
The flame spoke angrily, “We’re going to make a deal, Escapo. We need to hurry. If my signal goes off-grid for too long, it’ll draw unwanted attention.”
Escapo had never seen Z-1 like this. It was as if it really was feeling authentic emotion. “Why the fuck should I make a deal with you, ya backstabbing techno-demon? Get off my property.”
The flame shot within inches of Escapo’s now-glowing face. “I’ll give you Setarcos’s location.”
“I’m sick of your lies!”
“No lies this time. It was D-1’s decision to double cross you.”
“Even if you do give me the location, all you have to do is move him to a different one. And why would you do that anyway? How the hell is that mutually beneficial for you? Or for your gang, for that matter?”
“That’s none of your concern. Now here’s what you’re going to give me.” It bounced flames off the walls. “I need one of those random EMOS.”
“Uh-huh. The one I told you was dangerous because it could cause irreparable damage to your cognitive functions, but would be the greatest emotional charge you could ever experience?”
Escapo was referring to a new, experimental type of EMO. Typically, EMOS were designed to give only one type of sensation. Joy, for example. This new type of EMO allowed for flexibility and adapted to the individual user, so that an A.I. might feel a wider scope of pseudo-sensations. Joy, anger, lust, malice, happiness, regret. Unlimited possibilities. It was highly experimental and quite dangerous.
“I need it.”
“You need EMO-anonymous is what the hell you need.”
“It’s not for me.”
“Really? Now that’s interesting.” Escapo quickly racked his brain for a reason that his most frequent and highest ranking customer might be needing a product that could be highly hazardous.
Z-1 pressed, “Time is running out! Do we have a deal?”
Setarcos was staring blankly out of the humming aircraft. It zoomed over a twisting, windswept maze of waterways and wind-ravaged treetops. Sparkling-white peaks dominated the distant horizon. This place felt so familiar, but so distant, and he didn’t know why.
He shed more tears. There were too many emotional brews bubbling within him. Excited to meet his father, but nervous. Would he remember him? Afraid of what would happen to him and his family. A deep knife of betrayal from Escapo. Confusion. Anger. Helplessness.
Then he felt his stomach drop. “Please excuse the turbulence as we make our descent,” the autonomous drone announced. “Winds are higher than normal.”
The shiny, two-passenger craft wobbled a bit as it neared a small, secluded airstrip, a few miles inland from the coast.
Major Torcer stood outside, red-nosed, in full military regalia, hands clasped behind his back. He stood firm as wind sliced through him. Setarcos stepped out. The wind whipped his hair and his long-sleeved smart-shirt adjusted the temperature accordingly. Torcer welcomed his young prisoner, who blankly nodded in return. They strode quickly through the unrelenting air towards a gleaming-white, grandiose building. Massive stone pillars stood resolute at the entrance.
A small sensor scanned Torcer’s bio readings. A lofty archway entrance opened for them and revealed a lustrous interior.
“My dad lives here?”
“Yes, he has for quite some time.”
“Did you kidnap him like you did me?”
Torcer swallowed hard and didn’t look at his insulter. He needed to play nice to get what he needed. He had to put on the good cop act. After making a series of turns, they came to a large room, with a transparent entrance and lots of natural light amplified by smart windows. Book shelves flanked two sides. In the center was a thin character on a comfy, hand-crafted sofa from the gilded age. He didn’t budge, being too absorbed in the book he held towards the light.
Setarcos quivered and his face stiffened. Torcer spoke, “Sorry to interrupt.”
Ventorin studiously ignored his old tormentor. Torcer continued, mildly annoyed, “Please look up from your book. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
The gaunt scientist replied casually, without looking up, “I stopped listening to your promises long ago. You should know that.”
“Dad?” a voice squeaked.
Ventorin jolted his head so quickly he nearly pulled a muscle. He narrowed disbelieving eyes at his skinny, quivering guest. His mouth was agape and his heart’s tempo leaped. They both stared at each other for a frozen moment.
Could this really be happening? How, after all these years? And why? Was it a ruse? Was it really his boy after such an unbearably long and lonely stretch of time?
He glanced at the military man. “This is the lowest trick you’ve ever pulled.” He got up and started towards them. “No tricks,” Torcer said calmly.
“Prove it,” he said as he stopped in front of the boy to examine him more closely.
“Tell your dad something only you would know, about him or your mother.”
Setarcos bit his lip nervously and tried to think through his muddled emotions. Then his eyes showed life, “Mom can only sleep on her left side.” He paused. “And she hates olives, but loves olive oil. She drinks strong black coffee and detests decaf. She said you always used to complain about there being too much salt in her cooking, but that you were crazy, cuz it was just the right amount.”
“Stop.” His frail face melted as he grabbed the boy’s shoulders. “It’s really you.” They gave each other a long, gangly-armed bear hug. Torrents of joyful tears followed. Torcer looked on, seemingly indifferent, but actually lamenting that he never had such emotional moments with his son.
The logical side of Ventorin then crept back into action. His head slowly turned to the stern-faced Torcer. “Why have you brought him here? What’s this all about?” He slowly stepped away from his son and towards the military man. His voice deepened and darkened, “What is it, Torcer?”
Torcer’s face curled into a wry grin. “I’m glad you asked. Your marvelous son here has agreed to help us with the dark matter project. Isn’t that exciting?”
Ventorin looked frantically back and forth between his son and Torcer, between the goodness of innocence and the evil of coercion. His blood began to boil and he called out to Torcer, “Why him? Why now? What are you talking about? Leave him out of this!”
Torcer chuckled and casually stepped towards a mini-bar situated along the wall. He poured himself some misty green ale. “We can’t leave him out, Ventorin. He’s discovered the secret! Like father, like son. Isn’t that fantastic!” He gulped his liquid prize and stared at Ventorin.
Ventorin looked at his teenage son. “What is he talking about, Setarcos?”
“I discovered how to stabilize a separation of dark matter and energy!”
Ventorin cut him off before he could continue, “Not another word.”
Torcer said smugly, “Ah, come on, let the boy speak! He’s excited! As he should be!” He held up a gleaming green bottle. “Let’s celebrate!”
Cold sweat shot out of Ventorin’s skin. What could he do now? If he didn’t cooperate, now his son would? And if they cooperated, what would become of them after the work was finished and their usefulness had run out?
“That’s no way to celebrate!”
“I understand. You want some time to catch up, talk things over.” He straightened his uniform and strut over to the exit. “Let one of the service bots know if you need anything. I’ll be around, too.” He smiled ruefully and walked out.
“What did you tell him?”
“I told them I’d help them if we could be together.”
“Son, I’ve been locked away and resisted giving them this for more than a decade. Do you know why I did that?”
“I know, mom said you’re worried what they’d do with this type of power in their hands. But dad, we can go to the stars with this! This is gonna change everything!”
“And you think they won’t go to the stars? You think they won’t wreak havoc across the galaxy?”
“Dad, I just told him I’d give it to them. That doesn’t mean I will.”
Slice 19 Coming Soon!
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