Chapter 1 - Knox
Master Anton returned from his father’s native country two months later than scheduled after Kruick’s secret police revoked his visa. While night after night his activities produced tabloid worthy photos of debauchery, this last incident turned into a particularly unsavory scandal. The “incident” occurred in his hotel suite with a few escorts, some sort of mob lord and obscene property damages. Dilapidated furniture, cinders and smoke, stitches, violence with every gory detail splattered across the blogosphere. It seemed depression didn’t suit him. At least he possessed the funds to back up his instability.
I waited behind the security barrier and wondered how he would take the sudden reality of his situation and half hoped he might have stopped on one of his uncharted islands to escape for just a bit longer. I imagined him smiling in with the warm glow of sunset illuminating his lanky frame when the private landing base at NAX began to rumble. Appearing hazily through the dark, the Nabukov company jet began its descent. 12:05 A.M. Right on schedule.
Lights flashed, and the jet’s bright red racing stripes shone against its dark gray body. On Anton’s 12th birthday, his father took on his first trip to Kruick. Still retaining the jovial naïveté of youth, the adolescent master asked for a splash of color. “Father, the jet is so dull. Could we paint it red?” Unleashing a rare smile, Master Nabukov compromised on the stripes, the last thing father and son ever agreed upon. Seventeen years later, those stripes served as a reminder of a man just buried beneath the snowy earth of his home country.
The aircraft door opened and Master Anton stepped out alone. He left the sterile interior to descend slowly from the jet sporting a gray suit with a top hat and cane. It comforted me to see he retained his old fashioned eccentricities. I hurried to relieve him of his luggage and briefcase, but his grip on the latter did not yield. Old leather with V.A.N. engraved between the gold buckles. His father’s briefcase.
He met my gaze. I saw the emptiness of a man still in mourning. Black vacant eyes looked vaguely ahead. His sunken sockets were only outdone by razor sharp cheek bones and skin that nearly glowed in the darkness before the dawn.
“Master Anton, the car is just this way.” I broke the silence as I directed him to the Rolls Royce, a perfectly restored antique. A glowing black paint job. Red interior. Yet another gift from the man buried in snow. “I can get you home in a flash, sir.”
He did not respond right away, looking as if he was waking from a terrible dream. His eyes widened as if he just now realized the space that his body inhabited.
“Knox... it’s been some time,” he said with a weak smile and a hand collapsing on my shoulder. Skin desperately clung to bone.
“Indeed it has, sir.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call.”
I took a moment to store his belongings before opening the rear passenger door for him.
When I turned on the vehicle, he looked up and said, “I have somewhere to be this evening.” His voice was hash, a strong juxtaposition to the usual the usual cheery apathy, as if he were struggling to form words. He put down his cane and began fiddling with the built in mobile tablet checking maps and navigation points. “Take me there... please.”
The map glowed before me with the coordinates he had just entered. It was a thirty minute drive to what had to be one of those Next Order parties in the Paleo District. And so his downward spiral began.
“Sir, are you quite certain that’s it?” I gripped the wheel hopefully.
“Yes, Knox,” he said spreading out across the back seat. “Do step on it, if you will.”
He whipped out a his titanium flask. It reliably contained a solid 6 ounces of single malt scotch and was garnished with a single princess cut ruby. The effect made for a look of glamourous alcoholism, something only the absurdly wealthy manage to pull off.
Eyes forward, concern buzzing inside my skull, I responded with an, “as you wish, sir,” and set out toward the lower level barrios.
We passed through Neo-Alphar where the luminous blue outlines of the skyscrapers cooled the city into late night submission. After midnight, the machine slowed to a hum lulling the financiers and bankers and analysts to bed with the modern lullaby. In the Neo Sector, everything was clean, rigid, organized. With a dim glow at night and a brilliant sparkle in the daylight, the surface evoked a sense of righteous order and perfection.
I could feel the eyes of the almighty scanning the city for Master Anton. He was reckless and powerful. A threat to this world immaculate. Chancellor Bardot‘s LENS fleet weaved up and down the streets in a perpetual quest for data. Sitting in her crystal castle, she observed from on high making sure every piece of the puzzle fell into place. A queen alone, indeed.
One of the LENS drones passed by. It’s energy core mimicked the same blue hue that brought energy to the whole of Neo-Alphar. A red laser scanned the car and took note of Master Anton’s presence. It was only a matter of seconds before the Chancellor knew of his return. After the scan was complete, the drone darted of with a steady hum. On to the next one.
To the younger citizens, an interaction like that was commonplace, but to those of us with a few more years of pre-Neo memory locked away, it still felt like a violation.
As we drove further down the way, Master Anton slumped further into the back seat, fingering the small wooden crucifix he wears under his dress shirts. The old trinket was an heirloom left behind by his barely Catholic mother. He pursed his lips and took another swig.
We halted at a traffic stop. I cleared my throat in an attempt to break the silence.
”Knox, I’m afraid if you haven’t heard from me it’s because there’s nothing to tell.” he said with a depressing air of defeat. “... and I assume likewise on your end.” He took one more swig before tucking the flask away in his coat pocket. “But I’d rather wait and discuss all that in the week ahead.”
“Sir, I didn’t mean--”
“Yes, you did. And it’s all right, just let it lie.”
“So Mr. Vega... ?”
“Mr. Vega is in worse shape than I am. How father came to appoint him Vice President, I will never know. He asked me if I would consider taking father’s place. That is was my birthright or some medieval garbage. Ha!”
“Could you imagine the publicity? The Times would adore it. ‘Grief stricken son of Sir Vladimir Aleksander Nabukov, rises to take his father’s place as head of Nabukov Alternative Energy & Resources continuing the legacy for another generation.’ What a sham.”
“Don’t dismiss yourself so quickly, sir.”
“Knox, please. Not now,” he snapped back into his harsh depression. “It’s just a little further.”
It was not the time for discussion. Instead of pressing him, I respected his request. We descended into the outer dregs of the city, past the shining columns and into the miles of wasted concrete and rusting iron. The decaying leftovers of years past. An erroding foundation not yet erased. Slowly the pristine gleam faded and we arrived, right in the heart of Paleophar.
Rusting cars lacking wheels embroidered the sidewalks. The smell of fresh graffiti seeped into the vehicle. We passed large warehouses. All conversions of conversions that once held industry, then homes or parties and now empty shells. On the outside, some were marred with large glowing letters that read, “make way for the broken pieces,” and others with giant drawings of writhing centipedes.
I felt a chill rush up my spine and reach over my cheeks after the drawings activated animation mode. As I brushed off the sensation, the navigation beeped, and I turned onto the final block.
The boom from the old warehouses shook the vehicle in rhythmic thuds. Master Anton lifted his half-dead gaze to check our location.
“Just up there, Knox.” He weakly pointed at the most dilapidated of all the buildings with a line of adolescents extending half a mile down the empty streets. Some in neon, some in black, all half-naked and tragic.
“Very well, sir.” I pulled up to a door that looked bolted shut. “Shall I wait here?”
“That won’t be necessary,” he said stumbling out of the car.
I knew I would have to drive around until morning. I only hoped the vehicle’s energy outlasted Master Anton’s stamina for self-destruction.
He staggered forward and rapped the door with his cane rhythmically. Like magic, it opened instantly, and he disappeared from view. Of course, when you’re the primary shareholder in the company that controls the world’s clean water, everything is abra kadabra and open sesame.