Don't Write What You Know;
Write What You Care About -- Passionately!
- Joy Jones
A world decimated by virus,
A crime lord’s daughter holds the key.
Can she discover it in time?
Meet the crime lord of the future—she’s five foot five, wears an evening gown, has computerized reflexes and carries a Glock. Her soldados defend her against assassination or attacks by San Francisco homeless. But neither they nor the world of high tech Jaymes lives in can protect her from GEORG—a virus that thinks and plans, or Adan Bernardo, the mysterious scientist behind it. When her corporate stronghold comes crashing down, she’s forced to make new and bizarre friends with talents for manipulating technology to uncover her family skeletons and how they link to a terrible future. Unless, that is, Jaymes can unlock the secret she carries within herself to fight back.
Her world depends on it.
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“No,” Jaymes whispered. “No…”
“Yes,” the med tech caring for her father intoned without emotion. “He’s infected.”
How could he say it like that—so abruptly, so cold? One of her brothers stood up and took his place beside her.
The tech shrugged. “Until he starts raving about God, like the others.”
Jaymes saw a muscle in Joaquin’s jaw twitch. “Get out,” he said, and put a hand on his piece.
The tech shot him a contemptuous glance…as though the threat of being shot was neither new nor frightening after all he had seen with the GEORG virus.
Jaymes could believe it wasn’t.
As he turned to leave the Pride penthouse, Jaymes heard her father calling incoherently from the room behind them…Who was he asking for with those garbled sounds? It could have been any one of the three of them: Jaymes, Joaquin or her other brother Jeremias. Of late, their father couldn’t always articulate in order to be understood. And yet his ability to speak clearly could return, inexplicably, within seconds, as well. But his struggle to breathe—that had been painfully ongoing.
Jaymes began backing toward the balcony doors, trying to take in what was really happening, trying to keep the chilled mask she always wore from dissolving on her face.
No, no, no, her mind kept repeating. Not Papa—not my papa…
Joaquin followed the tech to the outer corridor of the Arc’s penthouse, hand still on his gun, intent in his eyes. Jeremias came toward her.
“Stay back,” Jaymes said sharply and continued through the doors onto the balcony. The enveloping sound of water and air traffic from San Francisco bay hit her between the shoulder blades. Her hands, floundering, fell to the balcony rail as she staggered to the edge and gulped air through tears that could safely come, now that her family wasn’t watching…
The city sprawl ground on relentlessly below: a Leonidas urban assault craft banked away, scanning the streets below for potential rioters, dozens of ground vehicles vied for a place in the traffic grid, and her blurred gaze fell on the Pride Arc’s light rail station, a lev train just pulling in. It would be filled with workers for her family’s corporation, going about their busy little lives—content they were employed and not on the streets…oblivious to the drama being played out so far above. Fierce anger hit her then, a wave of heat from her gut to her face—and it pushed her to her knees on the hard concrete, her long, dark hair partially hiding her eyes. How dare they be happy? How dare they when my father is dying?
Jaymes put her hand into her jacket for her gun as her brother had done earlier…as though it would help her now, as though she could aim at anything at all and pull the trigger. Focus, focus—what do you know? She thought, trying desperately to chill, to grasp the facts she knew rather than what her mind wanted to do: deny, rationalize away, find something tangible to hold onto that could confirm this was all a terrible nightmare and not really happening at all…
She’d been wounded a few weeks before during a firefight—a stunning shot to the shoulder that left her curled in a ball on the sidewalk until Joaquin could get to her and drag her back. She’d had no memory of firing or being fired upon until she was there, wet concrete under her cheek, dirt and blood in her mouth. She hadn’t even remembered hitting the pavement.
It was how she felt now: like something essential in her memory had been neatly plucked away, leaving her gasping with shock.
Jaymes knuckled both fists against her mouth to keep from crying out with grief. Images of her father bringing her a puppy as a child warred with the bodies of dead dogs infected with GEORG they’d seen lying in the street everywhere for months. Papa had started constantly washing his hands ever since they’d seen the first one—made all of them do it, too. Joaquin had teased him about it one too many times only a week before…and her father had backed him up against the car, his pistol shoved under the boy’s chin, dark eyes flashing. Her brother hadn’t said anything since.
“It’s you,” Jeremias said now from the doorway. “He wants you,” he added, just a hint of bitterness in his tone.
Jaymes blinked and sniffled, slipping her gun back into her jacket without looking. The world was unimaginably heavy on her shoulders as she got up and stumbled past him, through the living room and into her parents’ bedroom…
Her mother looked up, dark eyes swollen from crying, and then threw herself away from the bed, breaking into a run as she reached the doorway. Dimly, Jaymes was aware of Joaquin following to comfort her. She moved forward.
Javier Osvaldo Leonidas, CEO of Leonidas Corporation, lay propped against the pillows of the huge bed, his eyes shining in his strained face as Jaymes approached. His saturnine features were familiar to anyone who read the news terminals with any regularity. But the public would not have recognized him in this emaciated version of the once vibrant, olive skinned man with snapping black eyes.
“Jaime,” he said, “We must talk…”
She tried not to wince, either at the way he preferred to say her name or how his voice sounded, the way it had sounded for the last week…as though his breathing was no longer involuntary while he spoke—as though every word was an effort to get out. She could see the fear in his gaze, too…the fear she might really see what he was going through, that he was suffering. So she pretended too, made believe everything was going to be just fine.
“Papa,” Jaymes forced a smile. She came fully into the room, turned the sound down on the vid he was playing, and then sat down by the bed. “What did the doctor say?”
“Doctor,” Javier snorted. “That wasn’t a doctor. He doesn’t know anything.”
Jaymes scooped up his hand from the covers and rested it against her cheek, not trusting herself to speak for a moment. His fingers felt so thin, the bones hollow-frail.
“I just need to take it easy for a while. And I want you to help me.”
She blinked. “Me? But what about Jer or Joaquin?”
“No, Jaime—you. You’re the strongest. You always have been.” He smiled, “Don’t you know that? They do. That’s why they’re always so jealous.”
Jaymes didn’t know what to say to this revelation. So she remained silent as he went on:
“The family must be protected. They know, on the street. They know The Lions are not strong any more. You have to be my strength.”
She shook her head. “But…how?”
“Listen to me,” Javier Leonidas wheezed, “you need to find Adan Bernardo.” He was starting to gasp for air after speaking so much. Jaymes waited for him to catch his breath, her heart laboring painfully to see him so helpless…
“Go on, Papa,” she prompted, after a moment.
Javier began coughing. “He is the one…who made GEORG.”
“He made—?” Terror shot through her, cold ice racing along her spine. Adan Bernardo, Leonidas’ head biologist? But that meant…
“Yes,” her father hissed, dark eyes burning into her own now.
Jaymes gathered both his hands into hers, willing him to be able to feel her touch, though she knew he couldn’t any longer. “Papa, what is happening? Tell me!”
The coughing became one of his spasms, and she quickly reached for the water glass at his bedside, holding it to his lips so he could drink. A moment later his dark eyes cleared and sharpened again.
Her father nodded. “Yes,” he whispered, “it is time you knew. We—the Family of Lions—created GEORG.”
Jaymes set the glass onto the table, focusing carefully on that to keep from crying out. She closed her eyes. “Tell me everything.” Her voice was bleak.
“Bernardo is the only one who can stop it now.”
Jaymes scowled. “But it’s impossible to find him. Everyone with a vid screen knows he disappeared months ago and the authorities have been searching—” She gestured toward the soundless vid running nearby and half expected to see Bernardo’s face when she did. But it was only another public figure who had been making the news recently—some kind of religious advisor to Chinasia. She was caught for a moment by the large, expressive eyes in a face marked with peaceful laugh lines. Then her father was speaking again.
“The authorities,” Javier growled, and tossed his head in contempt. Jaymes could almost see the dismissing gesture he might have made…except he could no longer move his arms… He swallowed, and she retrieved the glass to offer him water again. After a moment he continued, “The only authority is The Family. The only law Omerta: the code of silence. You know that, Jaime.”
She offered a small, solemn nod. It was everything she had been taught, even as a child.
“I,” Javier said in a clear, certain voice then, “am almost dead.”
Unable to speak, Jaymes shook her head vehemently and clutched at his hands again.
But her father insisted, “Yes. And the other Families will try to move in—like jackals, scenting my blood. You know this, too.”
“We Lions have always protected our holdings ourselves!” Javier declared, shaking his head back and forth. “You must not let them come.” This was followed by another coughing spasm until he was an alarming shade of gray. Jaymes helped him sit up to counteract it, and sensed someone standing in the doorway, drawn by the sounds of distress…one of her brothers perhaps, or her mother. She waved them away impatiently and the shadow retreated from her peripheral vision.
When she turned back her father had become distracted by the vid again, and Jaymes saw a headline on the screen: Where is Coman Gadi? Of course, that had been his name. It was commonly thought he’d gone into hiding for his own protection, certain fanatical religious groups having made several death threats against him. She wondered if her father thought Adan Bernardo such a romantic figure as well, and her lips tightened. She’d never met the man, but Jaymes guessed money had been more his motivation for dropping out of sight.
“Turn that up,” Javier commanded, and she did so, watching her father as he watched the vid.
“I’m nothing special,” Gadi was saying on the screen in an appearance recorded earlier that same year. “I was a tech, you know, years ago.”
The crowd before him sighed—he understood them and they him.
“Now they call me a theologian engineer,” and Gadi made a rueful face. “But that doesn’t matter. The fact is, we all are more the same than different—we have the same potential. We are still reacting to today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. But we have to change from the inside first. It’s really the only way to change the outside world. And any situation can be changed—with the right effort.”
Jaymes had heard it all before, and shook her head.
She was about to turn the sound down again when her father spoke unexpectedly, “I believe in God, Jaime. What do you believe in?”
“Nothing,” Jaymes whispered, surprised to tears by the question, “Nothing, Papa.” And although she’d never really thought about it, she said it with complete conviction.
If this could happen to her father, then there was nothing left to believe in.
~ * ~
After some time, Jaymes emerged into the outer room, where her mother waited, wringing her hands next to the table holding her priceless Julio Gonzales sculpture.
"I knew this would happen," Clorinda Leonidas exclaimed. "I knew we shouldn’t get involved in the biotechnology wars." She paced back and forth across the antique rug, while Jaymes recalled how she had stamped her foot in a temper until Javier bought it for her. Twisting her gold-ringed fingers around each other, she had walked repeatedly over the tiny animal and human figures in the weave until her carefully painted face had run and pooled mascara darkened her lower eyelids. “What will the Sevilles say when they know?”
“Whether you’re popular enough to get invited to the next Arcology Corporate Tea isn’t our biggest problem at the moment, Mama," Jaymes snapped, then caught her brother Joaquin's reproachful eye from where he sat, clutching the arms of her father's beloved (and quite black market) cowhide armchair, and relented. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I think we should be more concerned with our security,” she added in a reasonable tone.
"I can't bear to see him like this," her mother said, to no one in particular. Indeed, to Jaymes’ relief, it seemed as if she wasn't aware anyone else had spoken.
Jeremias entered from the outer hallway, still wearing the dust smudged business suit he’d put on that morning when he’d left for his board meeting. Although that part was common—his love for tech being more prominent than business—his tie was loose and his hair in disarray as well, now.
“So,” he said, fumbling for the crystal decanter on the sideboard near the door, and she could swear his usual hard, abrupt way of speaking had softened as well. “You know about GEORG.”
It was not a question.
Jaymes felt all their eyes on her and swallowed. “Yes,” she admitted, then looked up at her older brother. “You were listening,” she accused him.
Jeremias shrugged and threw back a half-filled glass of amber liquid, then pinned her with the penetrating gaze so like her father’s. “I was coming to check on Papa when I overheard him tell you.” But when he put the glass back down on the marble topped table it clacked hard enough to set her teeth on edge.
Jaymes kept her face perfectly still, wondering how much he had heard.
“I agree,” Joaquin interrupted, pushing his chin out. I also think security should be…”
“It is not your place,” Jeremias swept his cold glance over to his brother, “to make decisions about corporate security.”
“Nor is it yours,” Joaquin tossed right back. “At least, not yet.”
“Don’t…” Clorinda whispered and sank dramatically into a brocade chair across from Joaquin.
“Exactly what do you mean by that?” Jeremias challenged.
“I think you know,” Joaquin responded, rekindling the beginning of an old argument between them.
“Stop it!” Jaymes stamped one foot. “Papa said word is already out on the street—that he is…dying…” Even as the word emerged from her mouth, she could hardly believe it. But she straightened her shoulders anyway. “We must turn our attention to the other Families. Why, Khidar alone…”
Clorinda let out a wail and buried her face in her arms. Joaquin immediately moved to comfort his mother. “That man, that Saahira! He has often bragged he would take over Leonidas one day…”
Jaymes met Jeremias’ gaze at this, and he nodded with reluctance. “That is true. The soldados have seen an increasing number of Honovi at the perimeter of the Arcology grounds as well.”
Gathering his mother against his chest, Joaquin asked, quietly calm, “What about the Orishas?”
Jaymes shivered. Yes, there were always the Haitian Families. “Something must be done,” she said.
Jeremias pursed his lips and after a long moment acknowledged, “Tell me what you think.”
~ * ~
“Are you there, Last Horse?”
“Yes. I’m here.”
“Good. I was afraid you’d gone.”
A longish pause. “No. I’ll always be here.”
“The girl—has she been told about her father?”
A sigh. “I expect so, by now.”
“And how do you think she’ll react?”
“How should I know? Besides, what difference does it make?”
“Oh, quite a bit. You see, if she becomes too overwrought with grief then things may not go the way we want them to at all.”
“And wouldn’t that be just too bad?”
Silence for a time. Then, “Sarcasm doesn’t become you. Nor does it change what I want to happen.”
“No. I don’t suppose it does.”
~ * ~
The penthouse lights were muted: the only way to see anything below—at night, when the wind picked up and blew the fog of pollution out of the city. Jaymes stood at the balcony doors; staring down at everything and nothing…wondering how much longer it would last for her father.
Over the bay, aerodynes hurried in this direction or that, Leonidas security copters monitoring their flightpaths. Some of those, she knew, were private sightseeing tours—the darkness also providing cover for most of the city’s unsavory elements. Others would be executives hurrying home to their families in Los Anaheim or San Ensenada. She told herself to stop thinking there—the anger couldn’t help her now.
Her father had been raving all day: so much that the doctor had come—a real one, this time—and sedated him along with her mother, who simply couldn’t stand to listen to it any longer. Javier kept repeating the same things over and over: that God’s will was upon them, upon him…that he knew his time had come. He just didn’t understand why God was toying with him this way. And he kept begging him to finish it.
When he exhausted himself with this tirade, he would move on to gibbering about the other Families: the Arabian Saahira in particular. Clorinda was right: their boss, Khidar, had often made it known he would be happy to take over Leonidas Security—usually with monetary persuasion, occasionally with dark threats.
Then he spoke feverishly of The Honovi Clan—strong and athletic, their leader Mahkah was an enigmatic Native American whose best talent was his ability to simply wait. The Honovi always sent a chill down Jaymes’ spine—their eyes, sparkling coals in bronze faces…beacons in a crowd of faceless others. Then there were the Haitians, of the Family of Orishas—who believed themselves emissaries of their loas. Their leader, Mambo Veronique, often carried a serpent with her. Jaymes actually found herself more concerned with where it might be slithering when she didn’t see it than when she could watch where it went…There were other, smaller Families as well—satellites orbiting the four largest criminal bodies—but she wasn’t worried about them just yet.
She’d tried—they’d all tried—to tell her father the Corporation was secure. She, Joaquin and Jeremias had called in every debt they had to strengthen their forces in the last twelve hours, and then strategized and launched skirmishes all over the city. For once, Jeremias seemed relieved to have Jaymes making the decisions. Perhaps the idea of taking over Leonidas from their father disturbed him more than his sister giving the orders right now.
The Honovi came first—once you’d spotted one watching the fence outside Leonidas’ main facility you could see them all, surrounding the outbuildings. But they’d been no match for the Leonidas Soldados—each sworn to defend the Family with their lives. Afterward, Joaquin had led a team to their Camp Arcology, infiltrated the grounds and lobbed a few grenades inside.
And that had settled that.
Jeremias had contacted World Bank this morning, as well. A thin, pale agent had appeared shortly after, his face emotionless around the mirrored shades set deep where his eyes should have been. He’d left with the large briefcase Jer had handed him, saying not a word.
Jaymes’ cell had rung by noon, Saahira’s first wife screaming and crying at the same time. It seemed Khidar had poisoned himself after receiving notice his international funds had been frozen indefinitely by the chairman of the board at his firm. She vowed revenge, of course…but Jaymes had ended the call without saying a word. The other woman would never make good on her threat: Saahira’s soldiers would simply fade away into their old terrorist networks, mercenary to the core and seeking whatever master could now pay them.
That left only the Orishas. And Jaymes was waiting now to hear how the plan she’d designed this morning for them had been executed.
“Clorinda!” her father broke off in his babbling to call her mother’s name. Jaymes turned to go into his room and make another attempt to calm him, when her mother appeared in the opposite doorway, dark eyes heavily encircled from lack of sleep.
“I’ll go,” Jaymes offered at once.
“No,” Clorinda Leonidas waved her back. “It is my duty. I will go to him.”
Jaymes subsided, biting her lip. She was grateful Jeremias entered just then from the main hall. “It’s done,” he said quietly, and reached into a bag he held at his side to pull out the bloody head of Veronique’s serpent.
“Take it away,” his sister spared the dead reptile barely a glance before waving him off. She’d known of course, her father having explained before this final stage of GEORG had begun, that the simplest way to take out the Haitians was by striking at the heart of their faith. Without it they were directionless, in chaos.
But the physicality of her decision did not lessen her fear: they had just set upon the three largest rival families to their corporate empire—surely there must be a reason her Papa had never done so, but allowed them to perpetuate their power just at the edge of his territory without molestation.
Now Jaymes could only hope that what he’d asked her to do was the wisdom of years of experience in such matters—and not the last ravings of a sick man in the throes of religious fanaticism.
Her cell rang again and Jaymes tapped her right ear.
“Jaime.” It was Joaquin, staticy and sounding muffled from his station on the ground floor of the Arc.
Ice moved over her. He never called her that. Never.
“They’re here,” he gasped, and now she clearly caught the sound of blood in his throat. “Get out…”
Jaymes began to run, her boots seeming to weigh down her feet more and more with every step. “Jer!” she cried in the direction she thought he’d disappeared. But there was no response, nor the answering cries she should have gotten from the soldados on duty on the rest of this floor. Her right hand dove inside her jacket for her Glock pistol, as the dimmed lights flickered and went out. She heard her mother scream in the next room—a deep throated wail of pain and anger. But, anger at whom?
And before she could find out…the ceiling caved in.