'It is not enough that I succeed, everyone else must fail.' Genghis Khan.
'Be the change you want to see in the world.' Gandhi.
He smelt damp and old stone, a little musty. Beneath it, fainter, the resinous smell of wood.
"You alright, Jayden?" Gentle Irish lilt.
"Yes, Father." He swallowed, nodded briefly, Father O'Connell's eyes already lifting to scan the church, the people packing the pews. Silence dragged.
Fashionably late, he told himself, she was just making sure of an entrance. He fought the urge to look around, afraid to meet his mother's eyes, to see her friends' faces - petrified of what he might find there.
Minutes passed like hours. All the while he felt hotter, more aware of the sounds, of shuffling, of the creak of the old wooden pews as people became restive. Every now and then an occasional snort, a stifled cough. Somewhere towards the back a baby cried. Shushing sounds.
Kyle appeared beside him, faintly ridiculous in his tux, his face telling. The first signs of pity appearing.
Jayden blinked. Why did he need pity? It was meant to be a fairytale romance, classic Romeo and Juliet. Girl from the best part of town, boy from the reclamation estates. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, everyone lives happily ever after.
"Is she there?" he said, just the faintest hint of desperation now, heat working its way up his neck, touching his face. He could feel every eye, every face looking, watching. Pitying.
Kyle shook his head, said, "There's still time..." Jayden tugged at his cuffs, nodded agreement.
But of course there wasn't. Father O'Connell had his hand on his shoulder now, just a light grip, just enough to steady him, to keep him grounded.
From the back came a rattle of aged iron, impossibly loud in the quiet church, a brief, warm breeze as the door opened. Even without looking around he knew who it was, knew the steady thump of his feet, knew what it meant. The steps stopped next to him, just behind him, just out of sight. He could smell cologne, expensive, stylish. Before him his eyes found the tortured face of Christ looking down - anguished, forgiving. For the first time in his life, Jayden felt real kinship with him. Hanging there, everyone watching his pain.
"It seems that my daughter has finally seen sense," the voice said, no attempt to lower it, no attempt at comfort. Hard. A voice used to command, used to loudness. "She's not coming."
Behind him he heard somebody snigger softly.
Not coming. As simple as that.
He wanted to say something, make some snappy rejoinder, but something was choking him, something that wouldn't let the words out. He felt his eyes sting, squeezed them shut. Not in front of him, not in front of her father.
"It's okay, son, it's okay," Father O'Connell said gently. "Come on, you're only nineteen, you've your whole life ahead of you... Come on."
Then he was being led away, towards the back of the church, away from the suddenly loud crowd, their gossiping following him, taunting him.
Pity. He deserved their pity.
The door closed behind him, the peace of the vestry closing around him and he was sobbing, tears flooding out like they were never going to stop. Sobbing like a child who just wants it all to stop, all to go away.
And in his mind a single thought, one thing repeating over and over. This is never happening again, I will never be this weak again, not ever, not for anyone.
Glass crunched underfoot. Mike glanced around frantically, eyes scanning the litter strewn stairwell - the broken windows, the gang graffiti sprayed on every surface. Nervous glance at his wrist monitor, no location trace - he was close.
He felt cold sweat on his back, his clothes clinging to him under his armour. He kept his back against the wall of the stairwell, working his way slowly up towards the next landing. Eyes flicking nervously up and down. He felt sweat trickle into his eyes, stinging, burning.
It was hard to see anything at all in the blasted helmet. It felt claustrophobic, unnatural. For a moment he was tempted to discard it but in the end he feared the vulnerability more than the awkwardness.
He reached the landing, peering anxiously through the smashed window of the a fire door at the top of the stairwell. The corridor seemed clear. He clutched his duelling pistol - large calibre, single shot - toed the door open. Nothing. He couldn't see anything and his breathing was so loud, echoing around the helmet, that he doubted whether he could ever have heard anything even if there was anything to hear.
There was a window at the end of the concrete corridor, smashed, but it would allow him to orientate himself. He glanced back down the stairwell, it was still clear. Slowly he crept into the corridor, pistol held before him. Along both sides were a number of doors, steel covered wood painted in different colours, numbers hung or painted or scratched on each one. None was free of damage - dented, battered, disfigured with spray paint. Another glance at his wrist, still no trace.
Fuck. Where was he?
He was almost at the window when the door opened. A sound of shouting, screaming. He spun raising his pistol, a spike of adrenalin lending him speed -- felt his finger on the trigger, squeezing - faced a petrified resident, young girl shrieking in terror, face stricken. For a second they both froze, his heart racing, gasping for breath, pistol in her face. He was suddenly shaky with relief, weakness flooding his body. Gradually he lowered his hands, breathing as if he'd run a marathon.
"It's okay," he said, helmet muffling his voice, hands raised, placatory. "Sorry."
Slowly, far too slowly, it dawned on him that she wasn't looking at him. She was looking over his shoulder. Too late he realised what that meant. He spun on his heel, knowing even as he did it that he was too slow, too late.
He had just enough time to make out the custom grey armour, the muzzle of the pistol like a yawning cavern right in front of his face, then Jayden blew his brains out all over the girl and the filthy, battered, disfigured door of her apartment.
"Are you still awake, John?" she said groggily, rolling onto her back next to him.
"Yeah, can't sleep," he whispered. He'd been awake for hours, didn't think he'd slept at all. "It's on my mind."
"I know, honey. I know you'll do good, you always do." She stroked his chest, snuggling in close, resting her head on his shoulder.
He smiled. "I know, it's just a big pitch. Big change - Achilles has never done environmental protection before..."
"You'll persuade 'em," she said sleepily. He wrapped his arm around her.
"It's the right thing, Tanya, it is..." he said softly. "We need to put it right for our boy, for all the children, for their children, too."
He felt his passion surface, sleep receding further from him, leaving him stranded - staring into space. He looked down but Tanya was already asleep, her breathing steady, her head nestled on his chest.
Gently he kissed her head, stroking her shoulder, as far from sleep as ever.
He stared out of the window fighting his nerves, sipping water trying to keep his mouth moist.
Below him the city stretched away in all directions. Smaller than the original New York, little more than the core of Manhattan, the roads narrower, marked by little traffic - only orbital authority vehicles, electric cabs, buses, practically no private cars. Above him, stretching to the horizon in all directions, the enormous geodesic dome that enclosed them and, beyond it, hanging in space, the reason for all this - Planet Earth.
It was a bigger crowd than he'd anticipated.
He scanned the room, picked out his boss, Niamh - junior partner, Director of Commercial Exploitation - next to her Robert Harding - divisional head - his squat pugilist's frame squashed into a seat in the back three quarter.
Down the centre of the room the long glass topped table filled the boardroom, junior executives from every division filling it, washing out in chairs on both sides like flood waters. There were even people standing along the edges of the picture windows, their shapes silhouettes against the view of the orbital stretching away below them, the poisoned green of Planet Earth, hanging like a rotting grape in the sky above.
He sipped his water, straightened his tie nervously. Behind him the clear screen switched to show a view of the Earth. He nodded to the techie and gradually the filters descended over the windows, dimming the room, bathing everyone in the sickly green of his presentation screen.
"Good afternoon everyone," he said, grateful to find his voice steady. "For those of you who don't know me, I'm John Fitzpatrick, executive manager in Commercial Exploitation..."
Once he started speaking it came easily. He'd always been good at public speaking ever since he'd started as a salesman all those years ago. He walked the room, pacing about the screen, punctuating each point with a gesture or an emphasis - a glance at the screen, new images contrasting the poisoned hell they'd created with the Eden like condition of the original Earth.
"The damage was not irreparable" - flash to pictures of atmosphere plants scrubbing the air, removing Carbon Dioxide - "plants could be made to flourish" - image of Lunar Base One's geodesic dome, the hydroponic farms - "people could return" - flash to images of the new domes being constructed in the remains of Washington. He could gauge them, sense the audience, could feel that he had them.
"...remains true that investing in rehabitation of Planet Earth is both good for business and good for Achilles Corp.," John said, rubbing his hands together, the presentation to his rear switching to show Planet Earth as it once was, blue skies, swirling white clouds. "To this end, where we are exploiting the resources of tin, copper, cobalt, gold and, of course, diamonds, we will make a 'no-worsening' commitment. Furthermore we will return ten percent of all takings to fund local environmental protection efforts and take some steps toward returning the planet, our planet, to its native condition" He paused, letting the silence build for dramatic effect. "I believe that this is not only right for the environment , it is right for the world and it is right for Achilles Corp... Thank you."
He subsided, the lights remaining dim, filter closing out the sun and the magnificent view. In the reflected light from the screen the faces around the table all looked green, washed out. Eyes swivelled, flicking between him and the screen, their colleagues. Nobody spoke.
After a second Harding got to his feet, his Ernesto Saddachi light suit immaculate on his squat frame, his dark hair short and tightly curled above his boxer's nose, his scarred face. "Thank you, John. Quite impressive stuff. Are there any questions?" He looked around the room.
"I've got a question," Jayden said easily, his eyes flicking over the assembled faces.
John looked him over, suspicion dawning. Jayden? What was Jayden doing here?
He was incongruous, a dark neo-Armani suit, open collar shirt, the right hand side of his face covered with a duellist tattoo - a stylised black wing curling over his cheek and around his eye like a malign shadow - the broad shoulders and narrow hips of a natural athlete. For some reason John had a sudden sick feeling in his stomach.
"Go ahead..." Harding said, sitting once again.
"When did we turn into a bunch of bleeding heart environmentalists?" he said, staring at John across the table.
John stared at him, struggling to think of a suitable response. Looking along the table he saw heads lift - there was a scent of blood in the water, attracting the sharks. He looked over at Niamh, saw her glance at Harding. The sick feeling became a solid cold lump - suspicion coalescing.
Oh my God, they'd set him up. They were going to feed him to Jayden.
"Give ten percent back to fucking environmental concerns?" Jayden continued. "That ten percent is our profit." His voice became sarcastic. "In case you hadn't noticed, John, Achilles is a business. Who gives a shit about fucking environmental concerns? Ten per cent? No way." Jayden looked about, caught Niamh's eye, watching him intently, saw Harding nodding. "I say fuck the environment, the planet is already screwed why are we taking that burden on ourselves? Let's move to full span commercial exploitation, if the Earth First groups want to get all weepy about it, let them - we save our ten percent."
"That's quite tempting, Jay." Harding said. "John?"
Oh, fuck, he thought. He felt the room begin to shift. The faces were smiling now, enjoying the show, their attention more rapt that during his presentation.
Blood in the water.
"Uh... The effect on the environment... on Achilles Corp's press if this-"
"On our press? This is Poison Planet, John. Who gives a shit what happens there?" Jayden chuckled. "And who the fuck do you think will report it anyway?"
"Uh..." John licked his lips nervously. It was all slipping away, sliding into the abyss. He thought of his family, his wife and son. Little Harry was only two for fuck's sake. Who was going to look after his son? Around him John could see the heads moving, swivelling waiting for the next move.
Jayden grinned. Feral. Cruel. "John, you're done. I'm calling you out."
For a moment John felt utterly flustered, the room seemed to tilt under him. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He grasped at straws. "Uh, you can't. You work in Response Solutions, not Commercial Exploitation," he said, looking at Niamh to back him up, his face betraying his desperation.
Harding spoke first. "It's hardly unusual. Niamh, it's your division. Will you sanction the challenge?"
For a moment Niamh looked at them both intently, emerald green eyes assessing them, weighing them up. At forty four she was amongst the youngest junior partners, known as a shrewd operator. "Pull up the last three performance appraisals for Jayden, please," she said.
A tech scuttled to the terminal at the side of the room. In a moment Planet Earth gave way to Jayden's appraisals. For a moment Niamh looked at the screen, tapping her nails on the table. "He's qualified to junior exec level, scores are good." She glanced across at Jayden, smiled. "Yes, I'll sanction the challenge."
John swallowed. Oh fuck. "You don't scare me, Jayden," he said, meaning exactly the opposite. Jayden smiled.
"When?" he said to Harding.
"Wednesday now... Uh, Saturday morning slot is open. Nine sharp," Harding said, consulting his handheld terminal. He glanced at both of them, a smile on his face. "Normal rules apply? Good. Now, to the rest of today's business..."
The house was unlocked, dark and quiet from the outside. Jayden pushed the door closed behind him. It was only nine, he could see the flickering light of the TV from the living room.
"Anyone could come in here," he said, locking the door.
"Not in this fucking neighbourhood," Niamh said, emerging from the living room, drink in hand, smiling mischievously. She was wearing a short black negligee under a silk robe, her long gymnast's legs flashing white through the black fabric.
He grinned. "I suppose not."
She handed him a drink, sipping from her own glass, cocking her head at him a small smile playing about her lips.
"So is your husband home?" Jayden said, grinning as he sipped his best whisky.
"Oh, don't be like that," she said, giggling a little.
"You're drunk," he said.
"That's right," she said, moving closer, eyes looking up at him. "Drunk and horny and waiting for you..."
He smiled. She looked up at him, face flushed, dark brown hair chopped short. He fingered it, lifting it to his nose, inhaling her scent. "And how long have we got until hubby comes home this time?"
"Overnight. He's away in Boston Orbital." She smiled at him again.
He kissed her, tugging her robe loose with his free hand. She tasted of oranges - the Cointreau she was drinking.
"There, that's better," she said, slipping the robe free of her shoulders to fall about her ankles. Her negligee was short and strappy, barely covering her ass, clinging to her slim body, outlining her firm tits, her hardened nipples. Under the straps her shoulders were soft and creamy, a dusting of freckles.
She fumbled to undo the buttons on his shirt one handed, her drink clutched in the other.
"Here." He shucked his suit jacket, unbuttoning his shirt before pulling it over his head. "Is that better?"
She kissed his chest, her tongue touching him after each kiss. "Much," she whispered. She ran her hands over his body, stroking the hard muscles of his belly, his smooth chest. Her hands dropped to his crotch, pressing his cock through his pants, rubbing it, looking at him intently. "Come on..."
She led him through the large house to the bedroom, his hand in hers. It was decorated in neutral tones - teal and cream - one wall given to a capacious walk in wardrobe, the doors a polished wood. On the cabinet next to the bed was a picture of her and her husband taken against a forest backdrop - one of the hyroponic domes, he thought. Seeing it, he grinned triumphantly - a predator to his prey - saluting her husband with his own whisky. Niamh sighed, rolling her eyes - came into his arms, pressing herself against him.
"What am I, then, some kind of trophy?" She looked up at him, eyes wide.
"That's right. Victor's spoils," he said.
Her tongue was hot in his mouth, her arms looping around his neck. He pulled her negligee up, sliding it over her raised arms - breaking the kiss for long enough to strip it from her. Her tits were large, creamy with dark nipples, a dusting of freckles on their upper surface. He dropped his mouth to her neck, kissing her softly, teasing along her skin. He could feel her hands fumbling at his belt, struggling to get his trousers off while still holding her drink.
Gently he took it from her, swigging the last mouthful himself, placing it on the cabinet. Even as he did so he could feel her undoing his pants, pushing them down, his cock swinging free.
She looked up at him again, smiling slightly, her little hand wrapped around his cock, stroking him. "Spoils of war is it?" she said, face so close he could feel her breath on his skin, the end of his cock brushing the soft skin of her thighs, her hand working him expertly. "So what are you going to do with your trophy, then?" Breathless.
"I'm going to fuck you in the bed of my enemy..." She giggled slightly. Without warning he wrapped his arms under her ass, lifting her up and dumping her, squealing, onto the surface of the bed. Even as he discarded the rest of his clothing she was stripping her panties, pushing them down and off, spreading herself open.
When he straightened she was watching him closely, her eyes bright, her fingers in her cunt, rubbing herself. He felt her gaze stroke over the long muscles of his thighs, lingering on his erect cock, the smooth plane of his belly, the black tattoo across his chest, sweeping up onto his cheek. "Fuck, Jay," she said hoarsely, sexily, fingers sliding inside herself, rubbing her clit. "You've got the sexiest body I've ever seen..."
He grinned, clambered onto the bed, his weight sending her rocking. She splayed herself around him, below him the neat covering of dark hair giving way to the pink flesh of her cunt, moist and glistening. One hand reached for him, pulling at him, dragging him down to kiss her mouth, her other hand held his cock, stroking it, guiding it into her.
"Come on, then, Jayden," she said breathlessly, her hand sliding around to his ass, pressing him into her, his cock inside her. "Fuck me in Conor's bed."