I bit my tongue several times during the two hours brief with the CIA. And if Vexx’s puckered face was any indication, he had a hard time keeping his mouth shut too. We managed to pull it off because Gabriel brought up most of the concerns we had in a soft and seemingly subdued manner; he asked questions as if he wanted to make sure he understood the concepts all the while pushing the CIA team leader toward the realization that some of his ideas didn’t make a lick of sense.
In the end, the always-on tracker and recording device were nixed out of the equation — anyone who had done the least bit of research on MerriTech’s detection devices would have known it wasn’t viable, which meant that they were either unprepared or that their definition of “acceptable risk” matched my definition of “cannon fodder”. I would have to wear the emergency beacon, but as long as I didn’t use it, it was just another black and pink ring. They insisted on the default spy enhancement chips, which had my stomach in knots for the fifteen minutes it took to convince them to drop it.
“I don’t care that you don’t like the tech.” The CIA guy’s pointing finger came so close to my face I could lean forward and bite it off. “It’s unlikely they’ll find out and if they do, it’ll only cost you a meaningless part of your reputation.”
“Merrilyn builds similar tech,” Gabriel hammered, calling all the attention to himself and away from my ever-shrinking patience. “Hell, they build more advanced tech! They’ll know exactly what that choice of chips is for.”
The CIA guy swallowed his retort after a few seconds of consideration, and then jumped right into the next point on his agenda: operational procedures for an extensive list of emergency situations.
Whatever… By the time my feet hit the tarmac the next day, I had forgotten most of the CIA’s trigger words and actions as I knew I would; I didn’t plan to use them, so why clutter my limited brain space? I would make it through this on my own or with MerriTech’s security; anything else would blow my cover.
“Welcome on board, Miss Beyer,” the air attendant said, her athletic physique and square stance reminiscent of army training. I remembered seeing her in my ‘assistants’ office, which made her an almost subtle and definitely overkill addition to the aircraft security.
The private shuttle was reserved to the brain trust of my world tour. I didn’t trust a single one off them, but the rich brats wouldn’t try to kill me themselves. If someone other than them was after me, they would have to blow the shuttle, and no amount of prettied up, classically trained and chip-enhanced ‘assistants’ could prevent that.
Nevertheless, I played my part, acknowledged her presence with a smile and made my way in. Ben lifted his eyes from his holographic display to give me a quick nod. Sitting at the forefront of the cabin at a workspace wider than traditional first class seats, he was busy manipulating my interview schedule. The project manager for this whole trip sat opposite him and gave me a similar too-busy-to-say-hello-and-risk-a-conversation nod.
Behind them, the main living area took half of the cabin and sat four people. Every piece of that space was movable to accommodate its multiple use. It went from lounge to dining room to conference room to individual, sectioned off workspace to private sleeping quarters, all with the tap of a button.
“Enjoying yourself?” I asked Cy who sat in his reclined seat with his eyes closed. His legs were stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. The current configuration of the seats left plenty of space to go around. Cy’s organic fingers twined with his metallic ones, his hands resting on his flat stomach, fully relaxed.
He looked good for an half artificial grandpa, and even better when his lips stretched in a smile.
“Half the success of a tour lies in the accommodations,” he murmured. “Tech enhancements, sublime extras… hell… even I can’t keep a tired performer from sucking.”
I chuckled as the passion of his words didn’t translate to his soft tone. The man loved his contrasts and his presence would go a long way to keep me sane over the coming months.
“Rest also makes my job easier,” my personal stylist, hairdresser and make-up artist chimed from her seat behind the living space, next to another of my assistants who would act as a bridge between me and head office. Hearing the scuff of Vexx’s shoes on the carpet behind me, I took my place opposite Cy. Vexx slipped into the free seat in front of me, unbuttoning the tailor-made jacket with ease. He only wore these when he played Vincent, but no one could have known.
Gail slipped in the remaining spot in front of Cy. “As if Miss Beyer could under-perform or look less than stellar!”
“Touché.” Cy finally opened his eyes and straightened his seat.
Gail and my stylist giggled so I joined them, even though I didn’t feel like it. The sheer thought of spending several months between hotels, official events and this shuttle choked happiness right out of me. Vexx leaned forward and gave my hand a squeeze.
“Is 7am to early for you, Lorelei?” Ben asked. Whatever warmth Vexx had injected in me froze. Not hearing an immediate answer, Ben twisted in his seat to look at me. “I thought wedging a few morning shows in your schedule would help audience see you as approachable, dynamic and family-friendly.”
“Sure.” Why did I let Vexx convince me not to jump off a cliff, again?
Next chapter Thursday >>