Gabriel stood up straight, wiped away a tear with one hand and made an elaborate flourish with the other. The plain wall he was facing turned transparent with a small beep. From here, far above the desperate slums below, he could see for leagues. In the far distance he could make out the flashing rhythmic lights of the mega-factories that were the lifeblood of this dying city, of his dying city. Gabriel wiped away another tear. He couldn't think like that, especially not now. He was Gabriel Givonetti, leading Patrician, and with the death of his father, Patriarch of this dying city. It was up to him to save it, or at least salvage what he could.
Gabriel was tall and royally slim with short brown hair that curled slightly. He held himself proudly, authoritatively, yet upon inspection only superficially so with a brittleness in his taut imperial poise.
It had not been his fault that a vast sector wide mining slump had thrown half of Ankerge out of work. It had not been his fault that the Prefects were incompetent, unable to properly enforce order in the vast slums below. It had been the Prefects, not him, who had failed to protect his father from the human animals in those poverty-stricken districts.
Gabriel had never been to the slums in person, but he had heard the stories. Frightening stories. Humans, if you could call them that, dressed in rags, murdering for sport.
He heard the low whine of a door opening behind him, and the soft patter of approaching footsteps. "Gabriel mio amore." The voice was soft. "It is time."
It was Luceitta. His wife spoke in Italian, an all but dead language, yet a beautiful one nevertheless. It was a language that the Givonetti's had stubbornly maintained, perhaps futilely, for generations. She spoke again. "You will manage, we will manage... we always do."
Her hair was so soft; she had left it unbraided today. She looked so innocent. Luceitta the innocent. She carefully reached up to touch his face and he held her tightly. Felt the curves of her body beneath the soft linen she wore so delicately. If only she knew, would she embrace him then? If she knew that he was soon to be ruined? In a sudden burst of anger he pushed her away, harder than he had meant and she stumbled. Her expression was both puzzled and hurt.
No, she was right, it was time; he had a meeting with the vultures. Besides he could not face her right now, not like this. He strode out of the room without looking back. How dare she try to distract me.She knows I am busy. She knows that I have affairs to settle and a creditor to meet.
Gabriel planned to meet the creditor in his lower lounge, a vast room of polished panels and antique woods. His desk, a large majestically carved piece of mahogany, took up a large part of the room. This room had for centuries remained virtually unchanged in a testament to the stability and material power of the Givonetti clan.
Gabriel took a seat at his father's desk, no, at his desk, and felt the weight of the generations before him. How many Givonettis have sat here through the ages, traded, negotiated, bought and sold, steering the family's fortunes through treacherous waters. All the insurrections, backstabbing, recessions and bloodshed my family has weathered. Gabriel hoped that his clan's proud history would not end with him.
Gabriel was nervous; he did not feel as intimidating as a Patriarch ought to, as he imagined his father had felt. His nervous eyes roved the room and he consciously suppressed an urge to fidget. This creditor is nothing but the firms he represents are truly formidable.
Finally, the far lounge door opened. His manservant Kenneth came in with a bow. "May I prese..." He was cut off.
"Luiano, Mr. Luiano." The creditor swept into the room. Mr. Luiano was a short middle-aged man with a perpetual smile. He spoke in a flat, somehow infuriating monotone. The man's suit was dark, somber and professional. His teeth, showcased in his cold smile, were a gleaming polished white. He reminded Gabriel of a shark, a hungry shark.
"To business then." The creditor opened up the dreaded conversation. Mr. Luiano sat down in the chair opposite to Gabriel. Kenneth remained at the threshold of the door, looking baffled, waiting for further instruction. Gabriel waved his servant angrily away.
"You are late," he demanded of the creditor.
"I can afford to be," came the slow yet confident reply.
"Do you know whom you are speaking to? I am the Patriarch of Ankerge, Head of the Givonetti clan, leading Patr-"
"You are a man who owes almost a billion creditsto those I represent." The creditor spoke as calmly and quietly as one would discuss the everyday weather, yet his words hit Gabriel hard.
Gabriel almost passed out. A billion credits.DidFather really borrow that heavily to keep the family afloat?
Obviously the situation was bad but the sheer magnitude of a billion was stunning. It left him reeling for options, for a reply, a way out. He had known that he was in serious trouble, but a billion.
A look of supreme satisfaction oozed its way across Mr. Luiano's face. "Good I am glad that we have established an understanding of sorts. After all, for all intents and purposes this is my office, yes? Purely rhetorical. Now to business."
The creditor was grinning.
The xenon bastard is enjoying this, goddamn him to hell. Creditors, parasites, so happy to feed off the economic carnage wrought on so many of the leading families. Gabriel had the distinct image of a vulture circling. Father has been dead three days and already they are circling.
The creditor produced a sheaf of papers with a theatrical flourish and a small, almost confidential smile. "These are the necessary documents and applicable financial records. On some your mark is required."
"You are enjoying this aren't you?" It was all he could muster and Gabriel shifted in his seat as the creditor paused thoughtfully before replying.
"Enjoying this... yes perhaps. Enjoying the humiliation of a proud better-than-thou family, of course. All you highborn, all you Patricians, you are all the same. Caught up in your titles and baubles, your arrogance and wealth. Living well off the labor of the exploited. I have seen the factories, workers, slaves in actuality, living and dying for a pittance. All so the privileged can get more privileged. Yes Mr. Givonetti, I am enjoying this."
Again, Mr. Luiano had hardly raised his voice but for the first time Gabriel could sense the burning hate boiling under his professional demeanor. The meeting proceeded to get progressively worse and after the creditor had finally left, Gabriel felt like a defeated, broken shell of his former self. What hope do I have? He could have taken the lift to his personal rooms, to bed, but Luceitta would probably be up there waiting for him. How could he face her now? How could he look her in the eye? He could not, not now, maybe not ever again.
Father wouldn't have given up, no, hadn't given up. Father would have fought to the last. Father is dead. That articulation, that harsh reality, hit Gabriel hard. Now I am dead, dead like my father, like my family, like the language we have always maintained. Like Ankerge itself, dead or at least dying.
He still had one more notable to meet. In about two hours he had an appointment with Theodore, Magistrar of the Ankerge Prefects, and personally overseeing the ongoing investigation. Gabriel was his father's son and would, at the very least, see justice done.
After that, what? He had a distinct image of his body slumped across the very desk he sat at now, his brains splattered on the back wall. Is that it, the way out? Is that the answer? He imagined himself with the snout of a sidearm in his mouth, his finger on the trigger. Deep down however, Gabriel knew that he did not have the strength, the bravery, the fortitude for that. He was not a hero from one of the holo-vids he used to love so much. Not so ready to fall on his metaphorical sword to maintain his honor. I am a failure. Gabriel Givonetti, Patriarch of Ankerge, head of the Givonetti clan, leading Patrician of Terra, hopeless and alone, began to cry.
He met Theodore in the same lounge, sitting behind the same expansive desk. The truth was that he had never left it, never seen the point.
Theodore cut an impressive figure, a big man built like a holo-advertisement for vat-muscle grafts, towering over almost everyone else. The man's back was straight and he was dressed, as always, formally and flawlessly. His dark ebony skin was in sharp contrast to the blues and yellows of his perfectly pressed uniform. He positively radiated disciplined power.
Gabriel knew all about him as his father had spoken of Theodore often. Born to lowly factory workers, and orphaned early, Theodore had joined the Prefects as a young boy, lying about his years to join the force at the young age of fifteen. Even then he had stood out for his intelligence and physique.
Despite his tender years and low birth, Theodore had performed remarkably, rising rapidly through the ranks. He had finally found, in a sense, a purpose, and with it he had not only survived but veritably thrived in the harsh military discipline of the Prefects. Approaching every problem and dissecting, solving, and overcoming it with a ferocious single-minded intensity.
At the age of twenty-three he had impressed Raymond Givonetti greatly with his competence running a Prefecture deep in the slums. With the patronage of the Patriarch, Theodore's career had taken off. Within two years,Father had promoted him to Magistrar, the highest attainable rank a Prefect could attain, commanding the Prefects of Ankerge and reporting directly to the Patriarch himself. Now I am that Patriarch.
Theodore was running the investigation into his father's death. Gabriel had faith that Theodore would catch the murderer. He is the one man who never fails, who always accomplishes.
"Sir." Theodore's voice was deep and rolling, his dark almost-black eyes coolly taking in the room.
"Theodore sit... please." The Magistrar sat, his dark eyes never blinking. What is that about? Why don't you blink you bastard? Blink dammit.
"Sir Givonetti, may I presume that you have summoned me to provide a report on the ongoing investigation?"
"Yes you may." Gabriel leaned back. Please, what he would give for some good news.
"Sir, first my condolences, Raymond Givonetti was a great man, an inspiring leader, a true Givonetti."
"Have you caught him, the murderer, the xenon?"
Xenon was a terrible insult used by slummer and highborn alike. It implied an alien, otherwise known as a xeno, likeness in the accused. Cowardice, treachery, greed and laziness all rolled into one word.
Theodore took a moment before replying. "I believe we are very close. Catching the killer is but a matter of time."
"So you have a name?"