She nodded. "That's right, John. He listened to Wim, heard him out. It changed his mind, his view. He offered to bring Achilles on board." Her voice was passionate now, her enthusiasm obvious. "If just one corporation would commit we know that others would follow, it would really change things, give rehabitation a chance-"
"Except that I happen along and call out your pet exec and derail the whole thing."
She smiled slightly. "That's right. Look, Jay, if Achilles don't commit we're back to square one - nowhere. You can see why I want your help."
"You want me to withdraw the challenge, let John stay and change Achilles' policy?" He grinned.
Emma's smile widened, she cocked her head. He'd always loved it when she looked at him like that. "Yes. Please, Jay. Not for me, for Planet Earth."
He smiled gently. "You should listen to yourself... For Planet Earth." He sipped his rum, shook his head. "I'm afraid noble causes aren't my thing," he said. "Just so you understand, I'll make this simple for you - I don't care about Planet Earth or any other member of your lost causes club." He watched her face fall, flush red. "John Fitzpatrick is as dead as your fucking planetary rehabitation project." He finished his rum, stood. "Anything else?"
"At least I care about something," she said bitterly. "What do you care about, Jay?"
He smiled at her, a smile as cold as vacuum.
"Fucking wanker," she said, her eyes bright.
When he looked back from the door, she was still looking at him, her face as enigmatic as before. At least they hadn't lost the ability to get under each other's skin, he thought.
John rubbed at his eyes, vainly pretending to dust or grit. Harry was running on the grass a short distance from them, chasing a rainbow coloured ball. Around them, in the open space at the heart of the park, people were going about their business as if they had not a care in the world - students reading, young couples walking hand in hand, or lying next to one another, atop one another, older people strolling. If it wasn't for the glittering dome sparkling far above them, the absence of animal life, it could have been any park from any part of Earth history.
"He's going to kill me, Tanya."
She shifted, knelt up next to him, rubbed his back, her face as stricken as his. "No, John. You can't let that happen, you can't..."
"Tanya..." he took her hand, holding it on his shoulder. "He was a pro. He's faster than me, he's better than me, he's more ruthless than me... I don't stand a chance."
She winced. "What about a proxy?"
John shook his head. "I've thought about it. Achilles' pros only defend partners, I'd have to pay for my own," he said quietly. "We can't afford it... Nowhere near. And besides, execs who don't fight their own duels don't last long."
She swallowed. "What about blinking?"
His head dropped. "I'd be out of a job, it'd take me years to get back to where I am now... The money..."
She took his head in her hands, turning him to face her, to see that she was crying, too. "Fuck the money, John. Harry needs his father... I need you. If it means having you safe and sound we'll go live in a box, I don't care. But I won't lose you - do you understand?"
He nodded, tears soaking his cheeks.
"So, do you think the boy wonder will fit in in Commercial Exploitation?" Harding said, sipping his drink. Niamh glanced across to where Jayden was chatting to a group of people from her division, mixed men and women. Between them the long table of the boardroom stretched, the far wall broken open to form a makeshift bar, the bar counter the top of a couple of purpose-built dollies.
"So far so good," she said neutrally, watching Jayden intently. "His ideas are certainly ruthless enough and he's made a real success out of Response Solutions."
"Hmm. Gordon will certainly be sorry to see him go."
"Yes, I've no doubt. Still... His loss, our gain." Jayden glanced up, caught her eye from across the room, raised his drink in a salute. She nodded, careful not to give too much away in front of Harding.
"You'll have to watch him, Niamh," he said easily, smiling. "He'll be after your job next."
She looked up sharply. "Not likely. He needs to have enough money to buy a partnership," she said. "And he's nowhere near yet."
Harding chuckled. She looked at him. "Just kidding, Niamh, no need to be so touchy..."
She smiled but her eyes drifted back to Jayden, watching him thoughtfully.
Jayden could feel her eyes on him. Feel her watching him as he chatted to some of the younger women from the division, the group loud with conversation, verbal fencing. Jealousy. Or something else? he wondered.
"Hey Jayden, you hear the news?" The newcomer shouldered his way into the group, towering over it. His voice was heavy, Eastern European accent. Jayden looked up, touched fists, two rings plus four. Stanislav.
"Not yet..." Jayden said. Stanislav grinned, face splitting, a webwork of scars and tattoos like a Maori warrior. Professional duellist on retainer to Achilles.
"John Fitzpatrick blinked," he said, grin turning to a smile. He stood a head taller than Jayden, massive body muscled like a wrestler, black hair slicked back into a ponytail, absurd in a grey pinstripe. "Fucking pussy."
Around him, the group murmured congratulations, a few patting him on the back, a couple of 'welcome aboards' from people he didn't know, a few whispered derogatory comments about John.
Jayden smiled. "Easy money... No such thing as an easy kill, Stan."
"What, you a fucking pussy, too, Jay?" Stanislav laughed, a rumbling like rocks rubbing together.
Jayden laughed. "Here, get you a drink, big guy..." He poured a second rum, passed it to Stanislav, topped his own up. Achilles didn't have the best rums, but some of them were passable.
He raised his glass. "Here's to pussies..." Laughter swept the group, joining in the toast.
Niamh appeared at the edge, an empty glass in hand, tight green dress strappy across her shoulders. "Have I missed something?" she said.
"Fitzpatrick has blinked," he said, taking her glass. "What'll you have... Boss?"
Niamh grinned. "Gin and tonic. I heard about John, wanted to say congratulations..."
He handed her the drink, holding on to it for just slightly longer than he needed to. "Thank you. Guess I'm working for you now..."
"That's right." She smiled at him, her eyes intent. "Come on, there are some people you need to meet."
"Sure." He nodded his farewells to the group.
By the time the lift doors closed behind them she was in his arms, her mouth hard on his, her tongue pushing into his mouth. He smelt her perfume, ran his hands over her body, feeling the play of her muscles, her firm ass.
"Where we going, your office?" he said quietly.
She shook her head. "Too obvious. Upstairs," her hand slipped to the back of his head, pulling him against her, her tongue frantic, "...boardroom."
He punched the button, sliding the strap of her dress off her shoulder, pushing the dress down over her tits, exposing the lace of her matching bra, his hand kneading her through the fabric.
She moaned slightly. "Stop, might be someone-"
He kissed her, driving his tongue into her mouth, pushed the hold button, felt the elevator lurch to a standstill.
"Oh..." she breathed. He unfastened her bra, pushing it off her tits, his hands lifting them free. She fumbled with his belt.
"This what you wanted?" he said, kissing her neck - bitter taste of her scent - teeth on her soft skin. Her hands were on his cock, inside his pants, grabbing him roughly.
"Do me here..." She gasped, his teeth closing on her neck, his tongue stroking her skin. She released him, pulling her dress up around her waist. He pulled her panties down, dropping to his knees as he slid them down her legs. Even before she'd kicked them free of her ankles his mouth was on her cunt, his tongue sliding into her moist flesh, his fingers on her ass, gripping her cheeks.
She moaned, sliding back against the wall of the elevator, her legs splayed open, hands dropping to hold his head against her, pressing him into her cunt. "Mm, feels nice," she said, little more than a breath, her hips rubbing her flesh against his face. He pushed into her, his tongue sliding deep into her body. "Oh, fuck, Jay..." Her head fell back against the wall with a thump.
"Turn around," he said, standing, his hands on her waist, turning her.
"What? Fuck..." She looked dazed, befuddled. Obediently she turned, leaning against the wall, legs open. For a second he fingered her, his hand finding her clit, rubbing it, pushing inside her. She moaned, hips pushing against his hand. "Come on, Jay, fuck me..."
He guided his cock into her with a moan, her body pushing back against him.
"That what you want, boss?" he said, breathless, driving his cock into her, holding it there, hands on her hips.
She grunted. "Fuck, yes... Oh." Arched her back, driving her body into him, impaling herself further.
He slid out, used her hips to drive himself home once again, heard her grunt. "Like that, do you?" he said, fucking her hard, hands gripping her hips - guiding her body, driving her onto him, holding her passive.
"Fucking bastard, " she said, gasping as his cock scythed into her. "Fucking bastard... oh, fuck!"
He released her hips, lifting his hands and grabbing her tits hard - caressing them, fingering her nipples - pulling her back against him, his mouth closing on her neck.
"Oh, fuck, Jay..." She broke off, moaning, grinding her hips into his, grunting with each thrust against him. He felt his body responding, his climax igniting.
"Oh... I'm going to cum," he said, grunting.
"Fucking cum in me, cum in me, you bastard, cum in me."
He pinned her, one hand looping around her body, pulling her back into him, his cock slamming into her, his other hand dropping to her cunt, fingering her clit - working her sopping flesh.
"Ah, fuck - I'm cumming, Jay..." Breathless, panting.
He came, his cock pumping inside her. She groaned, driving her cunt against him. "Don't stop... Fuck, don't fucking stop..." He worked her cunt with his finger, felt her tremble.
"Fuck... Oh, I'm cumming..." She gasped, her body suddenly rigid, driving into him. "Oh, fuck, Jay... Oh, fuck."
After a moment she giggled, turned to face him. "I guess I should declare that as a perk of the job..."
He smiled. "Does this mean I get an easy ride on Monday?"
"That was your easy ride, Jay," she said, smiling at him over her shoulder. "Remember, business is business, pleasure is pleasure."
He slapped her ass playfully. She squealed, wriggling on his cock still embedded inside her. "Bitch," he said.
"It's a boss thing."
Monday morning he found Niamh waiting in the carefully elegant surroundings of her chrome and glass office. She was sitting behind a gleaming black desk like a piece of modern sculpture, computer monitor incongruous on its surface, a slim audiophone pressed to her ear. The windows behind her were tinted from dark at the bottom to light at the top, filtering the sun to give the room a relaxed, shaded feel.
As he entered she pointed to the small black sofa in front of her desk, gesturing for him to sit. He nodded, crossed to a desk on the side strewn with glasses, poured himself a water. He looked over at her, raising his glass in invitation, sat when she shook her head.
"Okay, Wim, yeah. That's right, a new guy is taking over from John..." Jay tuned in, paying attention. "No, I don't think that Achilles' policies will remain unchanged, but that's something-" she made impatient gestures over the audiophone, waiting, "well I'm sorry you feel that way Wim, that isn't our intention... Yeah, okay. I'll ask him to phone you."
She hung up, Jayden raised his eyebrows in query.
"Environmental nut, works for United Nations or something," she said dismissively. "Been trying to get hold of John, concerned now that the approach that he'd been following will change under your leadership."
"Well, he's right there."
"Yes." She looked at a file open on her desk, touching it lightly. "You've made quite a name for yourself in Response Solutions..."
"Yes, I have, Niamh." He held her eyes.
She nodded, grinning, her eyes appraising. Playing the game. "Good. I hate false modesty. Commercial Exploitation is different, though. Here we're all about stability, Jay - the right kind of stability, the kind that lets us take what we want for the minimum outlay."
"You'll have the environment portfolio - make sure you phone Wim back, I'll send you his number - but you'll also have to look after the commercial concerns we have going, don't lose sight of that."
"You'll need some time to get up to speed. Your office is on the fortieth floor. Take your time, I'll expect a briefing from you tomorrow at four pm - only an email, just an outline summary of the direction you'll be taking. Got it?"
He nodded again. "Sure, four pm tomorrow."
The phone rang. "Anything else?"
"Uh, no. I suppose not."
She picked it up, smiling a farewell at him. "Niamh O'Hara."
Jayden shrugged, standing. Niamh covered the receiver with her hand. "Conor's away until Thursday," she said, smiling, her eyes bright. "If you want to..."
"Sure," he said, but she was already talking with the person on the phone.
John's office hadn't been cleared, his presence pervasive. He sat in John's leather swivel chair, behind John's expensive rosewood desk and stared at John's wife and baby son in the framed picture on the desk. She was an attractive woman, petite and dark, his son still with the fair hair of babyhood.
It probably explained why he'd gone soft, Jayden thought. Kids, family - reason to worry about the future. He glanced down at his hand, the fresh hollow circle completing the flower. One ring.
There was a soft tap at the door. "Hi, need to change your computer over for you..."
Jayden glanced up, young man in the blue polo shirt of Technical Services, 'Pete' stitched in gold letters on the left breast.
"Be my guest, Pete." He dropped John's picture in the trash with a crack of glass.
There were four messages waiting for him. Three were from Wim asking for clarity around Achilles' environmental stance, one was from Minister Mulele of the Congolese interior ministry.
He phoned Mulele first.
The foyer of the United Nations' building in New York Dome was a study in marble, Jayden thought. Marble floor in golden tones, marble walls in white shot with grey, marble reception desk to match the floor, marble statues in niches to match the marble walls, marble steps leading to a balcony with a marble railing. Scattered about it were any number of meeting tables - all dark wood, leather chairs to match. If this was meant to persuade him of the need to fight poverty, he thought, it wasn't working.
Mulele had been easy, he'd just wanted to confirm that Achilles would continue to pay the generous bribes he demanded for allowing them to rip what was left of his country to shreds in search of its valuable mineral wealth. Nothing new there.
Wim was a little different. Despite his dyed in the organic green wool outfit, he couched his pitch in business language. Talked about proposals, about presentations, about official United Nations input. In the end, Jayden had agreed to meet him the next day in New York Dome, at his home base - the United Nations building.
He sipped from a glass of water, watching the people stroll by. In the main, he thought, they were of three types. Corporate visitors in expensive suits, UN employees in cheap suits and activists in whatever they happened to find in the laundry that morning.
"Enjoying the view?" Wim said, sitting opposite.
"You an activist, Wim?" he said smoothly.
Wim raised his eyebrow quizzically. "I'm sorry?"
"You don't strike me as Emma's type."
Wim sighed. "Are you going to start a fight with me, too, Jayden? Is that your tactic whenever people try to discuss things you don't like?" he said.
Jayden looked at him, thought for a moment, shrugged. "Okay. On the phone you said that you needed to talk to me officially, as the new Achilles lead."
"That's right. Same pep talk we give to all corporate leads... Try and persuade you the easy way."
"There's a hard way?"
"No," Wim looked at him, resigned. "But while we sit up here in space doing nothing, our planet is dying down there..."
"Spare me," he said, sipping his drink. "Emma tried that already... Is there anything new, or can I get back to work?"
"Yes, she said." Wim rubbed his face with his hands. "Jayden, I know you don't give a fuck, Emma doesn't believe it yet. She wants me to make the pitch, okay? Will you come?"
"Where?" he said.
"Home, of course, Planet Earth."
Jayden looked at him, curiosity on his face. "What, now?"
"No. We'll need to arrange shuttles. Tomorrow?"
"Okay." He smiled, easily. He'd never seen Earth except from space. First time for everything.
"Good. Thank you," Wim looked relieved.
"What if Conor hears about this?"
Niamh looked around, raised an eyebrow. "What, hears about me taking my latest management acquisition to dinner on the company?"
The restaurant revolved slowly, the view outside twisting to take in the reduced splash of green that was all that was left of Central Park, the geodesic dark now - Earth between them and the sun's light. Above the star field was bright, visible even through the dome's diamond panes.
"So you take all your new managers out to dinner, do you?" he said, bringing his gaze back to Niamh. She was holding her glass before her, elbow resting on the crisp white cloth, the remains of dinner strewn before them.
"Just the ones you're fucking, right?"
She smiled mischievously. "Jealous?"
He weighed her up. She was wearing a short, tight Chanel number - cut low to show her firm cleavage to its best - tits large on her slim, toned body. She was trying just a little too hard, he thought, a touch of desperation about her outfit, her look. "No, not jealous," he said. "Realistic."
She said nothing to that, turning to look out of the window. "You can stay tonight, if you like. You won't need to leave."
"You want me to stay?"
She looked at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He sipped his wine, took his time. "You asked me if I wanted to stay. I'm asking you if you want me to stay. I've been kicked out of your place often enough-"
"Yes. Yes, okay?" she said quickly, taking a drink. "I want you to stay."
He grinned and turned to look out of the window. In the distance he could see the green ball of Planet Earth slide into view, with the sun behind it it seemed to glow against the night.
"Do you think they could ever make it like it was?" he said quietly.
"What?" she followed his eyes. "Planet Earth?"
She said nothing for a while. "I don't know. It's been a long time getting out of shape... If they do, it'll take more investment than anybody is ever likely to make."
"What if the corporations all came together?"
Niamh looked at him. "You been talking to John?"
"Well forget it. He's full of shit, they all are. They've spent decades measuring everything, throwing theories around that convince nobody, trotting out all that bullshit about 'personal responsibility'. You'd swear they'd never heard of Pareto's law or game theory..."
Jayden looked at her. "Eighty - twenty and hawks with doves, right?"
She smiled, sipping her wine. "You got it. All this personal responsibility bollocks only holds if everyone wants to play dove, the minute you get a hawk - bye bye stability." She looked out of the window, tracking the planet. "Get twenty percent hawks and there goes the neighbourhood," she said. "Only totally fucking unrealistic bleeding heart environmentalists like Wim even think it's worth trying."