Snippet: “WTF?”

Holy cow, how did it get to be July already?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I woke up for my last day in Yellowstone?  No?  It was a month-and-a-half ago?  Are you freaking kidding me?!

Note: You all know me well enough by now to imagine the swear words I’m using at this particular moment, so feel free to insert your own here…

Oh, and just to add a random thought for the day: Beach sand and bluetooth keyboards don’t mix particularly well.  That is all.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

One of the fun things about coming to rest in a new place, by the way, is the exploration factor.  Everything is new and unknown, everything is a surprise.  Every restaurant is an unknown variable, every bar a new experience.  When you go into that with no preconceptions, it can lead to a lot of fun, new experiences.  It can also, it must be said, lead to undercooked chicken and overcooked beef.  Worse — for me as a brewery nerd, anyway — is that it can lead also to bad beers, and to tap handles (actually, the lines that lead back to the kegs) that are infected and dirty.

*shudder*

Tasting grass and horseblanket and smoke in your beer?  That’s good.  Tasting butterscotch and corn and banana?  Yeah, that’s bad.

**Beedo!*Beedo!**Squirrel Alert!**

Wait, whaddya mean those tasting-notes don’t mean anything to you?  Good lord, people, get yourselves down to your local craft brewery!  Pronto!  Make sure you spend a while talking to the beertender behind the bar, too.  If the place is worth a damn, he or she will be able to teach you a thing or two about the flavors to expect in different types of beers…and the flavors to fear.

Okay…bigger digression avoided.  All clear now.  We almost had a major rant building there, but I pulled up in time and you’re safe now.  Phew.

It has, at any rate, been over a month since we heard from Connor (and Oz).  Given that this post has already gone completely off the rails, let’s just give up on it and have a bit of a check-in instead:

“What the fuck?”

The sound of steps and the closing of the door.  Silence, then, as Connor continued to stare straight ahead, continued to stare at that disconcerting view.  Finally, he pulled his eyes away.  He leaned back in the chair and propped an ankle on his knee, the very picture of arrogant insolence.

He’d be damned if he’d let some takie bastard see him sweat.  No, just like he had told the shotcaller in the prison yard, it was never a good idea to push too hard an ikiryo with nothing left to lose.

Connor finally did turn, a few heartbeats later, when the tense silence was broken by the sound of ice clinking into a glass.  Tall and thin the man was, but that was all Connor could tell.  He stood with his back to Connor, and the rest of that vast, now-empty office, as he mixed himself a drink in the corner.

It was an attempt, Connor knew, to assert control, and to make him impatient and nervous.  A transparent attempt.  So…it was going to be a pissing contest after all.  The world might be different — the kamo richer and more powerful — but the rules…the rules of the game never changed.  Connor’s game.

“A scotch for me, thanks,” he called, his voice almost as relaxed as if he’d been calling an order to Marie.  “But only if it’s Islay single malt.”

That brought a look, thrown back over one expensively-clad shoulder.  Genuine surprise on that face, to go with a certain amused disdain.

Connor continued to study the man, his stare intentionally direct and disconcerting.  In prison, what had kept most of Connor’s fellow inmates at bay was the worry that he was more than a little nuts.  It definitely would not hurt to have this svine worried about the same thing.  Connor knew he was not likely to make the man comfortable or trusting, but uncomfortable was almost as good.  Uncomfortable usually meant nervous, and nervous people made mistakes.

The guy was young, perhaps ten or twelve years older than Connor himself.  He had the same rail-thin attempt at effete elegance that Connor had seen on so many of the idiots down on that plaza, as well as the same tightly-tailored dark suit.  His face, however…his face was very different from the drones below.

Arrogance and confidence in that face, and a certain note of self-indulgence.  Brown hair, brown eyes…not bad looking.  Oz would have had the guy wrapped around a finger in about thirty seconds, Connor decided with an inward grin.  Connor knew, however, that he would have to use tactics very different from those of his dead friend.

The man wordlessly placed a tumbler in front of Connor, then moved around that impressive desk to sit and begin his own inspection.  He stared and studied, sipping at his drink all the while.  

Connor stared right back.  On both of the man’s hands lay some of the most extensive and intricate tattoo-work Connor had ever seen.  The colors and designs shifted and changed, but not with the cheap randomness he had seen in prison.  No, these changes were subtly patterned and timed, suggesting meanings and purposes at which Connor couldn’t even begin to guess.

A reach and Connor took up his own glass, every bit of him full of slow confidence.  A slow, steady swirl — at least the guy was smart enough not to waste ice on whiskey — then he took a sip.  The surprise didn’t make it to his face, thankfully, but beneath his cool exterior he was all-but knocked off his mental feet.

Good booze had always been well beyond Connor’s means, but Oz had from time to time brought home bottles given by his clients.  Some of those bottles had been top notch stuff, hard to get even on the Station.  What was in that glass, however, made every drop Connor had ever so much as sniffed pale in comparison.  That little calculator in his mind — the one that assessed the value of everything the takies so took for granted — told him he did not want to know what those few ounces were worth.

“My family helped to build all this, Mr. Spogelse,” the man said with a wave vaguely towards the view behind him.  “LRC is the largest resource exploration and assessment company in the entire system.  We may not be one of the colony’s Founders, unfortunately, but we are one of the top five hundred companies in all of human space.”

If he’d known he was in for a recruiting speech, Connor thought, he might very well have decided to stay in prison.  Just who the hell did this debil think he was?

“Boss, I don’t know what you’ve got in mind, but you can skip the sales pitch.  Those folks down in your lobby might have resumes and references, but I’ve got nothin’ but a fuckin’ rap sheet.  I appreciate the drink, but can we skip the bullshit and just get to the point?” he said, interrupting what threatened to be the biggest waste of time in all of human history.

Irritation flared in the man’s eyes.  Irritation that was very, very close to outright rage.

So…the guy did not like to be interrupted.  That was good to know.  Anything and everything that could throw him off balance was ammunition for Connor.  You learned that, early on, when you were young and small; learned to never let the other guy have control.  Piss him off, confuse him, even make him laugh…but never, ever let him have control.  Not in a situation like this.

Yeah, but you got your ass kicked a lot, too, the memory of Oz’s voice laughed.

Much like Connor, Oz had been, socially and culturally, a ghost in life — an ikiryo in Dockside’s patois — but why the hell did Connor’s best friend have to end up a real ghost, too?

“Stop haunting me, Oz,” he muttered under his breath.  The scariest thing to Connor?  He didn’t mean it.  Connor knew it was crazy, but there was no voice in the universe he wanted more to hear.  Not even Nat’s.  He still loved Nat, still thought and dreamed of her, but Oz was…special.

Oh yeah, there was real rage now on the face across that desk.  The man stood and glowered, leaned across the expanse of wood and glass.  “If you’re wasted now, you little shit…” he spat, just what he would do left unsaid.

Connor almost laughed.  Once, he would have been on his feet as well, in the svine’s face and ready to fight.  Once, but no more.  Who the hell cared?

“Relax, boss,” he said, his weak attempt at soothing ruined by the amused cynicism in his voice.  “You went to a lot of trouble to get a goddamned worthless ikiryo out of prison and into your office.  Why don’t we sit down and talk about that?”

The rage was still visible on that pampered face, but only because Connor knew what to look for.  To most observers, he knew, the man would be the very picture of a calm and controlled professional.  That control would even have impressed Connor, if the guy were less of a privileged ass.

A long sip of his drink and the man sat.  “You’re quite right, young man.  But, I do need to get a feel for you.  To do that I have to assure myself that you understand just what it is I do here.  I do not generally meet with young delinquents, you know.”

From rage to patronizing condescension.  Yep, definitely a privileged ass…just like the takies who had been Connor’s prey for so long.  And just like those takies, this debil was starting to irritate him.

“We can make this as short as you want.  You know my name.  You know where I came from.  There, the basics are out of the way.  Now it’s my turn.  What the fuck do you want?”  Connor’s stare as he spoke was, if anything, even more direct and challenging than his voice.

“Call me Mr. Chapman.  Or sir,” came the reply, simple and matter of fact.  The mouth carried just a hint of a smirk.

Even Connor couldn’t read through the man’s growing control, and that made him nervous.  If he couldn’t read his kamo, he couldn’t manipulate them.  Then an even more disturbing thought hit him: just how much was this svine manipulating him?

Shit.

Chapman studied him in silence for several moments.  The old nerves, the ones Connor had thought long gone, returned with a vengeance, fought with his growing irritation.  Suddenly, it was Connor’s turn to stand and pace the length of the office.

He held his drink more to give his hands something to do than because he wanted the alcohol.  A year in prison with nothing but cell-made pruno meant the potent liquor in that glass was affecting him already, and he suspected getting drunk around Chapman was not a terribly good idea.

It was, however, time to regain some of the initiative, he decided. 

He moved to the bar in the corner, took a moment to study it.  Shit, there weren’t even any bottles.  Just clear, engraved decanters that he very much doubted came from any local glass shop.

His years years living in Dockside’s chaotic corruption had, however, taught him to adapt.  The secret to survival was confidence.  Even if you didn’t know what the hell you were doing, you never let anyone else see that particular weakness.

Connor took his time, moved with all the slow arrogance he could muster.  He picked up those decanters with contents that looked similar to what was in his glass and sniffed.  A moment to visibly savor each aroma — most of which meant not a single thing to him — then he settled on one.  It might have been the same as what was in his glass, or it might have been completely different.  He had no idea.  He took his time, however, and poured slowly another few ounces into his glass.

His shoulders were itching.  He knew the svine was staring at him, could picture the rage growing behind those cold eyes.  That thought almost made him smile.  Almost.

A tap, Connor heard, as he started to turn.

“Marcy,” Chapman barked, “send in the Security Director.”

Uh-oh.

You always did overplay your bluffs, Oz whispered at the back of Connor’s mind.

The door opened and Connor tensed, expected a squad of rvac ready to beat the crap out of him.  Maybe he’d see that empty field, after all.

It wasn’t a squad of guards, however.  It was just one man.  One very, very familiar man.

Connor dropped his glass, stood frozen and immobile.

“Sonthi?  What the fuck?”

{Muscial Note — if you go all metaphorical with the lyrics, this song works for Connor’s new life…}

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