2 of 7 | Chapter 4

 

“It's okay Dad,” answered Karen, with a laugh. Deep down she loved her Dad to bits, including his blunt manner. “I am so glad that you are here,” she said, turning to her mother. “Is everything okay with you both at home? I know we've hardly spoken lately but still ….”

“It's okay, we're fine, except … the house is going to repossessed!” she said tearfully.

“Dora! We agreed that we wouldn't worry Karen with our problems, didn't we?” Mr. Colella said softly.

“What?! How?!” Karen spluttered in shock.

“It's nothing. Don't worry, your mom's overreacted, as usual,” he said, trying to smooth things over.

“Right, Jason. You think the bank wants to terminate the mortgage and let us live there for free?” exclaimed Mrs. Colella, wiping her eyes with her handkerchief.

“Why does the bank want to foreclose on you? What is going on? If you need money, I can help. You know that, don't you,” said Karen worriedly.

“No, darling, no. It's okay. We'll sort it all out. It's just that the operation cost a more than we had thought, and we're little behind with the installments, that's all, honey. We're negotiating a postponement of the payments with the bank, so don't worry.”

“How much are you behind?” asked Karen.

“Look, it doesn't matter, really …”

“Five months!” sobbed Mrs. Colella.

“Jesus … why didn't you tell me? I can help Mom, all you had to do is ask,” Karen said with some exasperation.

“We know you're busy and we didn't want to bother you. That's why we didn't say anything,” Mrs. Colella looked at her husband.

“We'll deal with it, as always,” her dad said quietly.

“I can't believe that you get into such trouble, and say nothing to me?!” said Karen, hurt and a little frustrated. I'm not a little girl anymore!

The limousine turned into an avenue lined with luxury hotels and finally came to a smooth stop outside the Four Season's hotel. Karen showed her parents into the hotel and helped them check-in, then left them to freshen up and relax while she went on to continue the arrangements for the evening's events. At Karen's signal, the limousine pulled away from the curb and Karen sat back, her mind ticking over furiously. It was true that they hadn't met in ages, but she felt hurt that her parents felt they couldn't turn to her for help. It hadn't even crossed their minds to tell her what was going on. Did they feel she couldn't cope, or that they weren't important to her? She wanted so badly to help them. She wanted to be near them … but how?

*

At 8:00 pm, the dark city sky was painted with colored light. Business quarter towers glistened like crystal insects in the cobalt blue floodlighting. The music of the world's most iconic pop stars and rock bands could be heard in two dozen different venues. In the chilly evening air, free food and drinks were being served, and open air heaters were provided to keep the crowd warm and the atmosphere building.

The city police had plenty to do directing those who misunderstood the term hospitality. If anyone got out of hand they quickly found themselves being escorted to the city limits, their belongings boxed up and labeled, to be sent on after them.

Steersman found that he was forced to follow the safety protocol provided by the security detail leader to the letter. The success of each plan always largely depended on the client's behavior, which meant that the security company made sure the client always understood his or her responsibilities. Lives could depend on it.

“Mr. Steersman, as we have informed you, it has been recommended that your speech is no longer than fifty-five seconds,” the security detail commander quickly informed Steersman in the presence of his twenty agents. His experience could be felt in his every move, and his voice betrayed that he had been a professional soldier. Although middle-aged, the man was in such terrific shape that he could have easily taken on ten men in defense of his client.

One glimpse of him was enough for a potential attacker to have second thoughts. Only a deluded weirdo or fanatic would do that.

The possibility of a direct attack was the last thing the security company was worried about, however. They were more concerned with protecting this client from unseen danger. The company's main strength lay in gathering intelligence and then acting upon it, but with Steersman they had their work cut out. They'd been working for weeks with all the stops pulled out, though, and eventually, they found something.

“All right,” said Steersman, walking along the preplanned route through the International district.

He had already met and greeted many people, turned up at almost every one of the renowned eateries, made famous by the work of culinary artists: French and Japanese restaurants, Italian and Austrian pastry shops, American bars and steakhouses, English tea houses, Spanish wineries, an incredible array of choice from the world's great gastronomic traditions.

At times he talked to complete strangers and it seemed that all of the visitors to Excolopolis loved the atmosphere. Walking from one national area to another was like stepping into a completely different world of taste, smell and sound that made the senses reel.

Karen joined her boss in the English area. She'd picked her parents up at the hotel one hour before, spent some time with them slowly wandering along the lakeside and then she had finally left them at one of the restaurants to have some fun.

“How are your parents?” asked Steersman.

“Having a great time, if I know them. They'll probably spend the evening partying at a restaurant,” answered Karen smiling.

“Very wise,” said Steersman, nodding as they made their way through the festive crowds.

Suddenly, a stranger, a young man jumped in front of them waving and grimacing strangely, obviously having already consumed a number of bottles of Spanish wine. “This party rocks, dude!” He slurred loudly, “and those high whats-a-names, cribs over there are way cool!” He stumbled and then staggered a few steps towards the nearest tower, at the same time gesturing in the wrong direction.

The guards didn't jump on him. They just kept him under observation. They had screened and analyzed him before he had even got close to Steersman and Karen. He only had a corkscrew in his pocket that he must have lifted from one of the wine bars.

“I am happy you are enjoying the party. What do you do?” Steersman asked politely.

“I'm a student, studying … engineering. I'm going to be umm … an architect.”

“Well, if you graduate with top marks, find me. I might be able to introduce you to someone,” Steersman said and moved on passed the man, who was left searching for something to say, eventually shouting out his drunken thanks.

“I suppose we can expect a fairly lopsided structure from him, judging by tonight” joked Karen.

“Everyone should have at least one chance, then we'll see,” said Steersman philosophically.

“Oh, that reminds me,” Karen remembered suddenly. “Jim Hols called about an hour ago. He said that they'd reached the planned depth.”

Jim Hols was leading the drive factory project in the industrial complex. He had a two-month deadline and unlimited financial resources. Right now he was still out there and had just about finished the underground building foundations for the planned production system. The plans were for the drive factory only, but the unnamed section on the blueprints suggested that the unit was going to be part of something much bigger.

“Did he mention any … umm, incidents?” said Steersman, voicing his worry that they might face sabotage.

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 14 | AFTERSHOCKS
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 18 | TRUTH
CHAPTER 19 | BEYOND EARTH