63. Video Games

“I don’t get why I’m still locked up here,” Quentin said. “You all are out there running the empire and I’m here playing video games. Not really using your assets. You know what I mean?”

“What would you want to do?” Alex asked.

“I don’t know. Anything. I’m getting bored. God knows you guys could use my help. I got you all out of that tower. Remember?”

“I remember.”

“Does Sakhr remember?”

“I don’t think he’ll ever forget. I’m surprised you’d want to help him after that ultimatum he gave you. You were dead set on destroying him after that.”

“Who told you that?”

Alex looked away from the game to give Quentin a dead pan expression.

Quentin glanced sidelong back at him. “Oh yeah. Well, of course I was thinking that then. Sakhr’s a total toolbox, but I get what’s at stake here. You guys said Victoria is still around.”

“She may be.”

“Well, I fucked her the worst. It was my bomb. She’ll be coming after me, and you all got me crammed away in this shit hotel.”

Alex glanced around at the high-ceiling architecture and the antique wooden furniture. It was the VIP suite of the Al Carlton, the hotel Victoria rented in Porto Maná, before her personal tower was complete. It was the only hotel that met her standards, and Sakhr had rented out the top four floors to relocate evacuees from the Lakiran campus. Alex had personally overseen security.

And Quentin called it a shit hole.

Alex understood why Victoria put him in that tortoise. Though unlike her, Alex knew how people like Quentin worked.

He kept his attention on the game. “The problem is that Sakhr doesn’t… what’s the word?… trust you.”

“I didn’t get the idea that he trusts you either.”

“Trust isn’t the right word for what Sakhr and I have,” said Alex. “He needs me. Honestly, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“You do?”

“I’ve got a better idea. I’m better at finding solutions than he is.”

“Heey, about that. I’ve got a problem I was wondering if you could help me with.”

“Yes?”

Quentin pulled a phone from his pocket. “Sakhr gave me this doctor’s body, which sucks by the way. It’s like Brazilian Mr. Rogers, only extra out of shape. I take the elevator and I still get winded. Anyway, the first day I’m here. I get called.” He held up the phone. “This doctor guy has a wife. She’s not bad either. I had to find out where he lived from his wallet. When I get there, the wife is all worried about the bombing. She’s crying a lot. Anyway, I fucked her. She wasn’t all that into it, and afterward she gets all weird. I had to come here to get away. Now she won’t stop calling me.”

Alex laughed. “Back in our coven days, we learned that it was a bad idea to take advantage of any relationships our new bodies had. Even a telepath like myself has trouble fooling loved ones. My advice is to drop off the grid. Don’t return her calls. Don’t contact her.”

“Yeah, but I already did. And now I think the missus is suspicious. You think maybe we should swap her out with someone else too?”

“Sure. I’ll add her to the list: Random doctor’s wife, right after the exemplars in North Point asking questions about their missing superiors, or the exemplars who just showed up this morning without notice, demanding answers about neglected protocol.”

“Is that a no?”

“That’s a no. I’m running out of good replacements fast. I spent last night cruising prisons.”

“What should I do about her then? Divorce her?”

“No,” Alex sighed. “Give me the phone. I’ll have some people deal with this.”

“You know, you have me, right?”

“Have you for what?”

“If you need to replace someone, I can replace them. They’ve gotta be better than this body.”

“You’d have a job, you know?”

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. I can handle a job. What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just that right now it seems like you’ve got it made. If I put you in an exemplar body, you’d need to to travel around and do exemplar things.”

“Eh, I guess you’re right. What about you though?”

“What about me?”

“Why aren’t you in the body of an exemplar? You’ve still got that girl’s body.” Quentin scrutinized Alex. “I mean, Alex is short for Alexander, right?”

“Yes. It is. Look.” He paused the game and addressed Quentin directly. “Let’s make this clear. I’ve been alive for over four hundred years. I can’t even remember how many bodies I’ve had. Sakhr is using Helena’s because it’s the queen’s body. I’m using this body because this girl was friends with Helena, thus I can be close to Sakhr. It serves a purpose. Clear?”

“Yes. Jeez. Sorry. Was just wondering.”

“Really? Look me in the eye and tell me that.”

Hesitantly, Quentin met Alex’s gaze. “I don’t care. Really.”

Alex snorted at what he saw. “It’s all about sex to you people, isn’t it? When you get to be my age, bodies are just tools. It doesn’t matter.”

“Okay.” Quentin resumed the game. “I mean, thinking about it, there’s something kind of cool about the idea. If I’d lived a hundred bodies, why wouldn’t I want to try a female one. I’d do it. I’d want to do it. Just to see, you know?”

“Sure.”

“Is that ever going to be a thing?”

“What?”

“Getting whatever bodies we want? I know you guys only take bodies to survive or whatever, but we’re at the top of the food chain now. Shouldn’t we get top pick of whatever bodies we want?”

“That would involve telling people.”

“So? We keep the power to ourselves. Why bother hiding it?”

“Sakhr doesn’t want to.”

“And it’s his call?”

“It’s his power.”

They played the game for a while.

“So,” Quentin asked. “How long until you break that glyph guy?”

Though Quentin spoke casually, Alex had seen in his mind. This question led to a dangerous topic Quentin had been meaning to address all night.

Alex played along. “Soon,” he said. “He’s starting to rationalize giving in. It’s never long after that.”

“What’s going to happen after you get the glyph?”

“Hand it over to Sakhr.”

“Do you think he’d let us get glyphs of his power first?”

Alex chuckled. “No.”

“Why not? You have to wait for him to show up every time you want to swap exemplars out. If we had a glyph of his power, then you wouldn’t have to.”

“His power is kind of… central to who he is. He’s got to be the only one.”

“Too bad. But you know. When you have that glyph-making glyph, can’t you use that to make a glyph of his power anyway?”

“I suppose I could, but that would be dishonest.”

“Sure, sure. Too bad though. Too bad he wants to keep his power a secret too. Could you imagine if we had his power? I’d have a different body every few weeks.”

“No you wouldn’t. How long did it take you to get used to the one you’re in? You haven’t even had it a week. How many aches and pains does it have? Chronic injuries? Health problems? Changing bodies is like moving to a new home. It takes time to learn its hidden flaws.”

“Okay. Sure. I’d get a good body though. And I’d maintain it. You know? Well, I wouldn’t. I’d give it to some intern to work it out, while I’m in some other body binge eating. Then I’d take it back and enjoy the runner’s high.”

Alex made himself smile. “Interesting idea. If you were public about bodyswapping, you could do that, couldn’t you? You could enjoy an olympic body and never lift a finger.”

“You could take a body from some hollywood chick and give it to your girl. Get tired of her body? Get her another one.”

“Girl?” asked Alex. “Don’t you mean harem?”

“Yeah, I guess I do. Too bad Sakhr is being a tight-ass with his power.”

“Yeah. Too bad.”

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