VaiTides – Chapter 01

Darion Navarr, an Assistant Negotiator for the Vaironian government, placed five small black boxes on an expansive wooden table. The watching rebel leader, Tolrek Marou, eyed his opponent carefully. Darion explained that the rebel forces were to surrender, or one of the consequences, in a randomly chosen box would be carried out upon the rebels—and that would only be the foundation of the repercussions.

He studied Tolrek’s face, unable to decipher any emotion in the other man’s dark-green eyes. Although Tolrek was making an extremely weighty deliberation, he seemed incredibly calm.

Over the past three years, Tolrek’s unruffled resolve had created severe difficulties for the Vaironian government. Darion admitted only to himself and a few close friends, that the government had brought the trouble upon itself. Had Vaironia properly dealt with the impact of the war against Ersha, the warlike neighbor to the west, the resistance movement most likely would not have formed.

Ersha had attacked Vaironia six years ago. Vaironia was able to deal decisive blows to Ersha, mainly because of its 12,000 Krezka Units (KUs), highly advanced combat suits piloted by the country’s elite warriors. Still, that was not enough. Vaironia lost and was ordered to disband its military. While Ersha did not have the troops to occupy Vaironia, it was enough of a threat to force the country to comply. The Vaironian government searched for a scapegoat and placed the blame on the Krezka Pilots (KPs). Most of the citizens of the country supported the government, allowing the KPs to be stripped of much of their rights.

For a while, the pilots resigned themselves to their fate. They believed they should have been able to defend Vaironia or at least severely cripple Ersha. With feelings of guilt, they accepted the government’s treatment; but after a year of these punishing restrictions, some of the pilots grew angry and openly voiced their feelings, Tolrek being among the strongest voices of opposition.

No longer did the pilots accept sole responsibility for the losses of the war. They attempted to meet with the governing body, but their concerns were repeatedly ignored.  The government tightened its control, causing even more tension. The most vocal KPs, 500 of them, were branded terrorists. They, along with their families, were rounded up and placed in the Isolation Zone, a heavily guarded compound in the mountainous region of Vaironia. A group of 50 Krezka Pilots, led by Tolrek, revolted and escaped from the complex.

Tolrek and the other rebels had effectively eluded capture for three years, causing disruptions that rippled through the entire society. Their most effective strategy was taking over the communication pathways of the nation. They provided information about the officials who were truly responsible for the defeat in the war, broadcasting how the pilots were wronged and showed footage of repeated failed attempts to capture the rebels. The televised rogue broadcasts ended with Tolrek staring directly into the camera as he announced, “For now, we will act in a nonviolent fashion but always remember what we can truly do.”

The destructive powers the Krezka Pilots possessed, especially Tolrek, was well known by the citizenry so the people did not need a demonstration. They were still drained from the war with Ersha; the thought of having some of their own turn against them was too much to bear. Tolrek possessed a clear understanding of this and used it to his advantage, engaging strictly in psychological warfare.

As time passed, the non-violent methods of the rebels began to win the respect of the citizens. They petitioned for the closing of the Isolation Zone and the pardoning of Tolrek and his rebels. The upper-echelons of the government remained stubborn, not wanting to admit their own missteps. Instead, they sought to trap Tolrek, to get him to admit that he was wrong and to inform the people that his actions would cease. The government sent in a negotiator…and then another…and then a third. After three of the most senior level negotiators failed, Darion Navarr volunteered, promising to get results.

Immediately, Tolrek found Darion to be intriguing. Darion had informed Tolrek that he would come into the rebel territory unarmed and alone, both things the other negotiators had been too afraid to do. The earlier negotiators had doubted that Tolrek would remain nonviolent for much longer. They had arrived with small armies and despite that, fear had rippled off them. Darion, however, entered the area as if he was perfectly welcomed to be there—and as if he had every intention of taking over the place.

Now, in the last round of verbal maneuverings, Darion’s ability to be in control had ultimately remained unshakable. He had refused to make any large concessions and in order to end the negotiations within the timeframe the government desired, he had designed the crushing tactics. Truly, part of him regretted the steps he’d taken. He had found the process difficult to stomach but had felt determined to carry out his task.

A small part of him was looking forward to bringing Tolrek and his rogues to their knees, even if the selected methods lacked the finesse Darion preferred. So, he had brought a number of boxes, each one containing a consequence intended to devastate the rebels, especially Tolrek.

“Is anything even in those?” Tolrek asked, eyeing the dark cubes.

“Of course.”

“Prove it.”

“Not a problem,” Darion said. “Choose any box you wish.”

Tolrek pointed to the third one from his left. Darion motioned for him to open it. The rebel leader pulled the box towards himself and opened the lid. A crisp, white piece of paper with the Vaironian Security Branch’s black and gold seal contained the words:

Consequence- All children in the Isolation Zone will be taken from their families. The children will be categorized as orphans and psychologically programmed until they forget who their parents are. Eleven women are scheduled to deliver a total of 14 children within the next two weeks. The removals will be carried out after those births and will include the newborns.

Tolrek read the message several times. He considered that the other boxes could contain the same thing or similar words, if not more overwhelming ones. He knew that the country’s leaders understood that the more time that passed with rebels on the loose, the more the rebels could change the political tides. That could lead to a government overthrow. In addition, Ersha was no doubt watching what was developing. According to some reports, Ersha was poised to strike again, especially with Vaironia’s attention so riveted on what Tolrek and his comrades were doing. Those concerns were most likely what had caused Vaironia to create these new tactics.

“I anticipated your tenacity,” Darion said, pulling Tolrek away from his thoughts. “So, I brought extra boxes. We will take the opened one off the table and replace it. Your dilemma remains and your time for deciding grows short. I will tell you this; every single consequence will directly affect the children of those in the Isolation Zone.”

The stakes had become extremely high, perhaps too high for Tolrek to require his fellow rebels to handle. While he was even prepared to allow violence to get his point across, he had to consider the circumstances of his soldiers. Some of them still had families in the Isolation Zone. It was one thing to ask warriors to lay down their lives and another to ask them to endanger their children. He knew his choices were limited. He also understood that what the government truly wanted was to have him, in particular, restrained. As soon as the officials believed he was neutralized, they would get comfortable and when he desired, he would capitalize on that.

Darion assured Tolrek that the Vaironian government had no intention of changing its mind. Should Tolrek refuse to surrender and order his people to cease their actions, the government would carry out the methods it felt would rectify the situation.

“You and your faction are breakable,” Darion said. “I will bring down the full force of the government on you.”

Despite his words, Darion knew the government preferred for any of the consequences to be a last resort. Government officials appreciated Tolrek’s capabilities, as long as he was on their side. It was likely that Ersha would strike again. There was no point in Vaironia purging people who would, under the right conditions, be supremely useful.

“If I surrender, what will happen to the other rebels?” Tolrek asked.

“They will be pardoned for their actions.”

“Oh, of course.”

“It is the truth.”

“I hardly think so.” Tolrek’s eyes went a colder, darker shade of green. “You’re a negotiator. You lie all the time.”

“Skip your bravado.” Darion waved a hand dismissively at him. “If you were half as wise as you think you are, you wouldn’t have me sitting in front of you. You’ve agitated the government far too much and now you’re faced with quite a dilemma. I suggest you deeply consider your options before you make yet another false step.”

Tolrek was normally unshakeable but the taunting in Darion’s shrewd, steel-gray eyes caused him to boil inside. There was just something about Darion, a high level of arrogance, which annoyed Tolrek in ways no one had ever managed to do. That trait had been present throughout the latter part of the negotiations, coating many of Darion’s words. Tolrek would consider it a personal triumph if he could get the best of Darion but he knew that it couldn’t be done if he didn’t remain calm. He cleared his throat and focused on what was truly important, preferring not to let Darion know the extent to which he had affected him.

“Does the government wish to use the pilots in the future?” Tolrek questioned, searching eyes for the truth.

“Your only concern is the present,” Darion answered.

In fact, Darion knew that the government found the pilots, Tolrek in particular, still to be quite valuable. During each meeting to determine how to handle the rebellion, Prime Minister Devdan Kebehde had repeatedly stated that Tolrek and the other rebels remained a national asset. The Prime Minister, and by extension the VSB, had long-range plans for Tolrek and his cohorts, providing that they could be neutralized in the near future.

Darion and Tolrek stared at each other for long, heavy moments, each speculating about the tactics of his opponent.

“What about those in the Isolation Zone?” Tolrek asked.

“They will be released.”

“Am I just supposed to believe that?”

“Mr. Marou, what you choose to believe is irrelevant. The government has been quite benevolent. Most of that goodwill has been overextended and is now getting withdrawn.” Darion looked at his watch. “You have 5 minutes to decide. If the answer does not please me, I will choose a consequence.”

Tolrek did not take the entire time to answer. He agreed to surrender…with the knowledge that he and the other rebels had prepared for this possibility. Unless it was necessary to act otherwise, Tolrek would be the epitome of a defeated rebel for the government. Besides, Tolrek reasoned, if the circumstances warranted it, there could be other ways for him to get what he wanted, even if it took longer than he anticipated. On a deeper level, he admitted that nothing would please him more than to throw all of Darion’s hard work back in his face. It would just be a matter of time.

A short while later, Darion Navarr reported to his superiors that Tolrek Marou, the spearhead of the three-year campaign against the Vaironian government, was pacified. Yet, Darion was under no illusion that someone like Tolrek could be truly quieted. That aspect was why Darion had taken on the negotiation in the first place.

~~1.1~~

One Year Later

Darion checked his watch as he entered the Vaironian Security Branch building. Beilon Warel, the Director of the VSB, had contacted him over one of the three channels available only to high-ranking government officials. Beilon had informed Darion that his presence at a conference was necessary, keeping the details to a minimum. Darion had spent the two days between the phone call and the day of the meeting wondering what Beilon had in mind. He knew his superior well enough to understand that asking for additional information would have been pointless. If Beilon had wanted him to know more, he would have been further informed.

Darion took the monorail to the innermost section of the VSB compound. Immersed in thought, he didn’t note the curious and admiring glances from quite a few of the other passengers. Some of the other passengers found their attention repeatedly going to Darion, wanting to know more about the handsome individual who had bested Tolrek Marou. The negotiatior was hard not to notice.

Darion’s imposing six-foot-seven-inch presence had been handed down from the Tildari side of his family. Tildari, from the planet Krefana, were known for towering at least a foot over many of the other inhabitants of the Rioles sector in the Elfraine Galaxy. The men could reach 7 feet with women usually being up to 6 feet. Rich, brown skin was among their most striking features.

Along with black hair and a strong jaw line, Darion had inherited the familiar Tildari traits from his father, Ryam Navarr, a former Behadan, a ruler, of Tildar. From his Vaironian mother, Saha (Zamil) Navarr, he had received the Vaironian steel-gray eyes, with a dark blue ring around them, making his appearance all the more appealing.

Oblivious to the attention he’d received, he left the monorail when it reached his destination and took the elevator to the 5th floor.  Reserved for high ranking officials, it was the only floor with a lush burgundy carpet embroidered with the VSB’s black and gold seal. Going to the first of 12 conference-room doors, Darion presented his retina to be scanned and entered his security code on the access pad. He was allowed into the room, after the computer authorized him to do so.

Darion took note of the others in attendance. Beilon sat at the head of the small table made of the sturdy, dark wood from Vaironia’s national tree, the Zarva. As the VSB’s Director, he implemented the security directives of the Vaironian Prime Minister. Beilon’s hands were folded, a calm expression on his neatly trimmed, silver-bearded face.

Parbina Elloy, the Deputy Director of the VSB, sat to the right of Beilon. To Beilon’s left was Meric Treih, Lead Negotiator for the VSB. To Meric’s left was Urdana Khane, Lead Security Strategist. Darion walked to the empty seat to the right of Parbina and sat down.

“This meeting is to find another method of detaining Marou,” Beilon began, after Darion was settled. “It has come to my attention that he is being repeatedly abused. Well, given what he can withstand, he might not consider it abuse. However, his interactions with the prison staff are unacceptable.”

Darion bit down on his jaw at this news. He looked up to see if anyone had noticed his reaction. It didn’t appear to be so. He set his mind to keep displays of emotion regarding Tolrek to a minimum.

“I believe the guards are working off a bit of stress,” Meric Treih stated casually. “Marou is our most despised prisoner.”

“Be that as it may, the government still needs him,” Beilon responded. “If he dies in our custody, sooner or later people will learn about it. He still has his supporters and his death might lead to another rebellion. We don’t want him becoming a martyr. I had put pressure on the present warden to curb the actions of his guards. However, he apparently did not heed my words. He will be announcing shortly that he is stepping down from his post.”

“Who will be the new VSB Warden?” Darion asked.

“Ormon Bayr. He was originally going to be it,” Beilon answered. “At the time we were making our choice, Bayr was overseeing other matters. So, we opted to go with Seran Za. That has proven to be problematic.”

“I’d like to remind everyone that I was against Za in the first place,” Meric announced.

“Yes, Mr. Treih,” Parbina said, smiling coldly at him.

She noted internally that he, as usual, tried to distance himself from any trouble. He described himself as risk-averse but, at times, it appeared quite cowardly. Still, he had managed to get far in the VSB, even if she disliked this tendency of his.

“I called all of you together to get some ideas,” Beilon stated. “Marou, as you all know, is a special case. As a Krezka Pilot, he has already gone through a great deal of mental and physical training. We have to get him under control. Being in prison is not enough. He’s treating his incarceration as if we’ve given him his personal fight club.”

“From what I’ve learned about him, he has a strong ego. He is supremely confident and with good reason,” Darion said. “I believe the best option would be to find something that affects him on a very personal level. It must be something he has never experienced.”

“What do you have in mind?” Beilon questioned.

Darion thought for a few moments, even wondering if what he was about to suggest was preposterous. He decided it was worth mentioning his idea.

“He can become a Pet.”

Darion understood the implications of what he was saying. He knew that Pets were pampered individuals whose purpose was to please their masters and mistresses. Having a Pet was considered a status symbol; only the most affluent among Vaironia’s population possessed them. Even with their level of influence, they had to get permission from the government to have Pets. The Pets were living monuments to the prosperity of their owners. Once an arrangement was made, it was for the life of the owner or until the owner grew tired of the Pet.

While some people willingly entered that lifetyle, others avoided it, believing that type of existence to be empty. After all the time spent negotiating with Tolrek, Darion was sure the rebel would not be able to accept that kind of circumstance. It was exactly the position in which Darion wanted him.

“Intriguing idea,” Urdana commented. “Why?”

“While he can take orders, he values his autonomy,” Darion explained. “In prison, he still has some leeway. However, I suspect to him that being a Pet is, for him, beneath being a VSB prisoner. A situation of this type should psychologically drain him.  ”

“If we agree with this plan, who, do you propose, would willingly take on such a task?” Beilon asked, though he already knew the answer.

“I will.”  Darion said this with complete confidence, bringing some laughs, a displeased look and expressions of interest. “Being controlled by someone who has proven to be more savvy than him will make things extremely difficult for him. In addition, to become a Pet…well it’s simply not an option he would ever choose.

“Did you want to take charge of him, Mr. Treih?” Darion asked, noticing the disapproval on Meric’s face.

There was an uneasy silence as everyone waited for Meric’s reply.

Meric stared derisively at Darion, whom he’d never liked. He believed he was too reckless and had too much influence.

Darion had worked quite rapidly up the VSB chain-of-command. Before Darion’s career had taken off, Meric was the one who had gained most of the attention, especially in the negotiation arena. Though Meric was the Lead Negotiator, Darion’s success with Tolrek had easily outshone Meric’s own moments of brilliance. He regretted offering Darion the task of subduing Tolrek. He had hoped that Darion would fail. Instead, Darion had completed the assignment in an impressive manner, often making him the topic of conversation among government officials and the public in general. Darion, as much as Meric disliked admitting it, was highly intelligent, charismatic and handsome.  It was a combination that contributed greatly to his rival’s success.

“Any Pet I have will certainly not be some defeated rebel,” Meric finally said, a haughty edge accompanying his laugh. “Perhaps our tastes are quite different, Mr. Navarr. Of course, that is to be expected, given our varying levels of refinement.” Meric smiled callously, his eyes holding his dislike.

Darion understood that Meric’s comment had been a slight at his background, being half-Vaironian and half-Tildari. It was not the first time he’d heard such a comment.

“Put your egos aside,” Beilon stated, pointedly. “I believe Darion is on the right track, as far as a psychological method being needed. Let’s discuss other options in that vein.”

Darion and the other VSB officials deliberated for another hour on what to do with Tolrek. By the end of the meeting, Darion had convinced them that making Tolrek a Pet would have a desirable outcome. He assured them that Tolrek would be kept secure, unable to do further damage.

At the end of the meeting, Beilon motioned for Darion to remain, while his counterparts left.

“Darion, you might believe what you’re doing is straightforward. However, I want to warn you now.” Beilon clasped one hand on Darion’s shoulder, looking him directly in the eyes. “Tolrek is more unique than you realize. Some of the information I have on him still needs to be verified. I caution you to not get too comfortable.”

“I…I understand, sir.”

“I don’t think you do because I’m just learning more about him. Remember what I’ve told you.”

~~1.2~~

The VSB maximum security prison was a small complex which was 200 feet below the VSB building. With a capacity for 50, it was used strictly for the country’s most dangerous military criminals. Those who were sent to that prison remained there for a minimum of 25 years. They were never permitted to interact with anyone, besides the prison staff and VSB officials. The members of the prison population, which were currently four individuals, were never allowed to speak with each other. They were kept so isolated that neither of them knew for certain how many other inmates resided in the facility. It was one of the country’s most exclusive clubs and many of the members tended to die there.

At the age of 28, Tolrek had been sentenced to life. He was aware of the realities of the prison and yet, he was presently casually lying on his bed, staring up at the concrete ceiling of his cell. It was not his circumstances that preoccupied him. Instead, images of Darion ran through the rebel’s mind, warring with his desire to forget the government negotiator.

To take his thoughts away from Darion, Tolrek got up and began doing one-handed pushups, alternating hands. Fortune had no desire to assist him in removing the present subject from his mind. As he was in the middle of exercising, Darion walked into the cell. Tolrek looked up, surprised at who had entered but determined not to show his reaction. He steeled himself and continued his workout.

Darion took the opportunity to admire Tolrek’s body. The rebel was permitted two hours a day in the Vaironian sun and the tan enhanced the definition in his upper and lower torso. Muscles honed from years of training bent to Tolrek’s will. His silver hair clung to his face and neck, as beads of sweat glistened on his body. Darion filed away this image in his mind, deciding to work it into the many fantasies he had about Tolrek.

“48…49…50,” Tolrek counted and then he jumped to his feet.

“I see that you’re a bit damaged,” Darion stated.

He’d noticed various bruises on Tolrek. Tolrek’s right rib cage was battered, hues of black and brown marring his skin. One eye was blackened and his top lip had almost healed from a cut. A contusion had grown on his left temple, slightly extending into his hairline.

Tolrek realized that Darion now had an unobstructed view of his latest injuries. The rebel took great satisfaction in knowing that, so far, during his stay, he’d inflicted numerous injuries in repayment to the guards. Three of the twenty prison guards were missing teeth. Four had needed medical attention for broken limbs. One had resigned. The remaining guards had been particularly angry about one of their colleagues opting to leave. As a result, the latest altercation had been rougher than usual. However, the guards knew their limits. They had already been warned that Tolrek was still quite valuable to the government. They understood that they could only go so far, regardless of how much they wanted to hurt him.

“The guards and I have been enjoying a regular workout routine,” Tolrek explained, dryly. “I highly recommend it.”

“I see. Are you getting medical attention when they hurt you like this?”

“Yes. Of course, it takes several of them many tries to cause this much damage but you VSB boys are a persistent group. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Lord High Negotiator Navarr?”

“I just came to see if you liked our premier facilities.” Darion responded, his eyes perusing the cell.

The accommodation was not terrible, with the width, length and height each being 10 feet. The bed was a decent size, with ample padding and a thick wool blanket. A shower was in the left corner, furthest from the door. On the wall, adjacent to the shower, a metal sink and a metal toilet were six feet from the bed. A metal shelf, with a few books, was at the foot of the bed.

Among the books was one on the history of the VSB prison. It was issued to all prisoners and contained information on when the facility was built and biographies on its seven wardens and 15 of the most notorious prisoners. While he found the bit of history interesting, he much preferred Time and Tide. It was his digital collection by Anrina Kolya, his favorite poet and author. He’d been permitted to bring one personal item to the prison and had chosen that work.

Darion noted the collection and went to pick it up. Tolrek followed the negotiator’s movement with his eyes.

“And how do you find the accommodations?” Darion asked casually. He began thumbing through a few passages of the book.

“Naturally, I love this place.” Tolrek chuckled. “I think in another 30 years, I’ll be upgraded to a suite.”

Darion leaned against a wall, folded his arms and returned to his surveying of Tolrek. The other man found the blatant scanning a bit disconcerting.

“Are you just going to look at me?” he demanded, feeling like an animal getting appraised for purchase. “Why exactly are you here?”

“I came to inform you that you will be living with me,” Darion said.

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

“You will reside in my home.”

“What? As your maid?”

“No,” Darion told him. “Although that would be interesting…You’ll be my Pet.”

“You want me to become your Pet?” Tolrek laughed. He leaned against the opposite wall, mimicking Darion’s posture.

“I do believe that’s what I said.”

“Is this some kind of joke? We’ve had more than enough dealings.”

“Consider this a continuation of the negotiations.”

“What do you get out of this?”

“Anything I want.”

Tolrek laughed again. He walked towards Darion, leaving only a few inches between their bodies.

“You’re quite an arrogant government dog, aren’t you?” Tolrek taunted.

Darion suddenly stopped leaning against the wall and quickly slashed through the distance that separated himself from Tolrek. The negotiator reminded the rebel, again, that he was more physically intimidating, being a foot taller and more muscular.

“You’re quite an arrogant rebel, aren’t you,” Darion responded, looking down at Tolrek. “You should be honored that I’ll allow you in my home, under my thumb.”

“What if I said I was going to stay in the prison?” Tolrek asked, trying to pretend he wasn’t affected by Darion’s closeness.

“You can say anything you want,” Darion told him. “I will control what you ultimately do.”

Tolrek put some space between himself and Darion, his mind working, wondering what the other man was up to now. It would be interesting to find out. It wasn’t as if Darion could truly break him. Darion had needed to use underhanded tactics in the negotiations and the government had ordered him to do so. If Darion thought he could handle Tolrek, then Tolrek would let him try. Besides, life on the outside might prove to be an advantage. He would be able to find out more about what was going on with the government. That was important, especially in case it began mistreating the KPs again. He would have to put up with Darion’s arrogant attitude but that could be handled to fulfill a greater goal. Darion was most likely feeling lofty because of his success in the negotiations and he was bound to make mistakes. Tolrek believed he could capitalize on them.

“I accept,” Tolrek said.

“I wasn’t giving you a choice. Now, you do understand what a Pet is correct?”

“Yes.”

“Do you also understand that, in some ways, you have even less status than other Pets?” Darion noticed Tolrek tense at that and smiled, pleased that he could agitate him.

“I‘m certainly not beneath those vacant sex toys,” Tolrek snapped.

“Yes,” Darion sniffed derisively. “You have so much pride. We’ll see if you get to keep any of it.” He made his way towards the cell door. He was almost out of it when Tolrek called out to him.

“Just a moment,” Tolrek said.

Darion paused. “What is it?”

“Give me back Time and Tide.”

“I didn’t even notice I had it.”

“Bullshit. And you know it’s the only personal thing I brought here.”

Darion placed the book firmly in Tolrek’s outstretched hand.“I don’t need to be greedy.” Darion looked at him through half-closed eyes. “I’ll be taking enough from you, as it is.”

He exited the cell, a small smile gracing his face. He’d watched Tolrek carefully, once the rebel had learned he’d become a Pet. It had been clear to him that Tolrek had quickly considered ways to turn being a Pet into a benefit, far beyond the frivolous rewards a person could gain from that position. At least Tolrek believed he could garner different and substantially better advantages. However, Darion intended to make some serious changes to Tolrek plans.

~~1.3~~

Tolrek shook his head in disgust at himself. He had wanted to see Darion again but two weeks had passed and there had been no contact. He punched the wall, then took a deep breath. From now on, he didn’t intend to get eager about anything connected to Darion. He shouldn’t have a desire to see the one who had forced his hand, sending him to prison. Yet, that was what Tolrek felt.

He thought back to when Darion had visited him in the prison. He remembered how the negotiator had towered over him, how he’d struggled not to quickly back up and show he was the least bit concerned. He tried his best not to admit that even the slightest stirring of attraction had taken place during all those months of negotiations. Of course not. It just wasn’t possible.

~~1.4~~

As Darion reclined in his chair, he smiled while looking at the footage of Tolrek pacing his cell. Over the past two weeks, he had made preparations for Tolrek’s arrival. Halsam, one of his assistants, had set up a room filled with various types of modern-day comforts, sure to please the most fastidious of Pets—or anger Tolrek, who prided himself on avoiding frivolousness.

Darion had requested that the VSB prison send him a copy of all files related to Tolrek. When his daily duties for the VSB were finished, Darion returned to his home, taking pleasure in watching how the rebel’s day went. He enjoyed the way Tolrek worked out. He became angry when he saw Tolrek charm one of the guards, getting the man to bring him cigarettes and better food. He’d wanted that guard removed as soon as possible. He had dialed the number of Ormon Bayr, the new official in charge of the prison. It was not jealousy that had caused him to do that. It couldn’t have been. It was merely in the interest of maintaining the prison’s integrity.

“Going to cause some trouble for yourself?” Darion heard. He laughed softly at Fei’s words.

Fei was his supercomputer, an entity that oversaw the running of the house; whipping Darion’s two main assistants into shape when necessary, ordering household items through the electronic markets and doing a host of other duties.

Designed by Reya Kulani, a close and technologically savvy friend of Darion, Fei was imbued with some of her creator’s personality traits. Every circuit was coated with a disarming, mischievous obnoxiousness. Over the five years he’d had her, Darion had begun feeling a great affinity for her, frequently sparring with her. A digital confidant, she was also protective of Darion, lethal when it came to securing his safety and the well-being of his household. Unwelcomed or unruly visitors could at the very least find themselves swiftly removed by one of three guardian androids deployed by Fei.

“What makes you think I’m headed for trouble?” Darion asked.

A shapely longhaired female projection materialized behind him, peering over his shoulder. The projection was one of three forms Fei normally used.

“Well, I see how you’re looking at the screen,” Fei began. “It’s clear how much you want Tolrek. My sensors tell me that your breathing increases when you speak of him or see him. If I remember correctly—and I do, because I’m perfect—he’s a pain in the ass. I’m more than equipped to handle him but must he come here?”

“Yes. That is final. Everything is in place and I want to have him delivered tonight. Be nice to him, Fei.”

“I wouldn’t dream of hurting him, not seriously,” she promised Darion. “Unless it’s necessary.”

“Yes, unless it’s necessary. Now, go away, I need to make some phone calls.  Check to see that all the security features are in place.”

“So rude,” Fei said, pretending to be in a huff. Her form disappeared and she turned her attention to other matters.

Darion accessed his videophone and found Ormon Bayr’s contact information. Bayr’s round and slightly haggard gray-bearded face appeared on the video screen soon after getting paged.

“Mr. Bayr, I hope things are going well for you,” Darion greeted him.

“They are fine, Mr. Navarr. I hope things are going well for you also.”

“Thank you for your concern. Now, let me get to the point. You will bring Tolrek Marou to my residence. I expect him to be processed out of your prison and at my home within two hours, personally delivered by you. I’d rather not have anyone else overseeing the transfer.”

“Well I…It’s just such short notice,” Ormon sputtered, a flush of concern deepening his already reddened face. “What about proper clearance? I don’t mean to be offensive but ultimately, my superior is Mr. Warel.”

“I assure you that I have his acceptance of what I’m doing. You only need to complete your part. I want Marou here tonight and do it as discreetly as possible.”

“I don’t think—–”

“Did I provide you with too much time? Will an hour from now be sufficient? Make it happen.”

“I will have Marou at your place in a few hours,” Ormon said. He looked oddly defeated and Darion suppressed a chuckle.

“Thank you for being so accommodating.” Darion leaned in closer to the screen, half-closing his eyes and smiling softly at Ormon. Ormon found himself reacting to Darion’s charm, despite himself.

“It is my ple…pleasure to assist you,” Ormon said.

“And it is my pleasure to be assisted by you. I won’t forget this.”

Darion ended the connection. He looked at the time. Soon, Tolrek would be arriving.

Read VaiTides Chapter 2…