When Quentin opened the door, Alex strode in to the hotel suite as though Quentin weren’t there.
“Uh, come on in.” Quentin glanced at the two armed exemplars who waited in the hall, then shut the door. Alex ran his hand along a sofa and rubbed non-existent dust between his fingers. His scrutiny traversed the expansive room, the rich furniture, and penthouse view before settling a contemptuous glare on Quentin.
“Is there something you need, Your Majesty?” His emphasis underlined how they both knew the woman before him wasn’t the real queen, though Alex knew he was mistaking him for Sakhr.
“I have a job for you,” Alex said.
“I’m here to serve, ma’am. What can this poor wretch do for you?”
Alex had follow up lines, but he could tell he was already pushing Quentin too much. Grinning, he threw his hands out to either side, presenting himself.
It dawned on Quentin in seconds. “…Alex?”
“Nice body, isn’t it? I think I’ll keep it.”
Quentin grinned like a buffoon. “Holy shit. It’s you! You’re in charge now?”
“What about Sakhr?”
“Nice. For how long?”
“A couple days. Been too busy to stop by until now. I had an empire to run.” Alex threw himself onto the couch.
Quentin sat opposite him. “What’s it like? Ruling the world?”
“Exhausting.” Alex rubbed his face and stretched.
“But that asshole isn’t telling you what to do anymore.”
“What changes are you going to make? Are you going to keep body swapping a secret?” His eyes lit. “Hey! You must have a body swapping glyph, don’t you?”
“You think maybe uh… we could hook me up with something other than republican soccer dad?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“What do you think? Somebody in their twenties. Calvin Klein model or something. Someone ripped.”
“Those bodies take maintenance, you know. Are you ready to start a workout routine?”
“Fuck, no,” said Quinten. “I told you. I keep the body most of the time and live it up. Then, a couple times a week you swap places with some piss-shit underling who works it out, eats all that gluten-free shit. Meanwhile, you take a cheat day in their body.”
“I suppose you could.” Alex didn’t bother re-explaining the hassles of body swapping.
“That’s why it’s so great you’re in charge now. You don’t have to keep the body-swap glyph a secret anymore. You just have to keep it to yourself. Think about it. You could have a different body for every day of the week. You could fuck someone and get both the orgasms. Just think about what orgies would feel like.”
“Yeah…” Alex said. “That all sounds great, but if people find out about body swapping, sooner or later someone will wonder whether I’m the real queen or not.”
“Oh. Yeah. I guess so. You could probably keep it under wraps then. Maybe that’s better. You could have someone swap places with a hot actress. No one would know it wasn’t her when she starts dating you.”
“I’m sure,” said Alexander. “We’ll do all this once I have time. Unfortunately, Sakhr’s has left one hell of a mess for me to clean up.”
“Victoria, yes. Sakhr fumbled an attack against her. Now she’s got these two girls. One can see anywhere. The other can make anyone she sees forget anything. Do you see how that works out? Between them. She can make anyone in the world forget anything whenever she wants. I could throw a hundred ships at her and get nothing. Then I find out Sakhr hired one of our close mutual friends to assassinate me. He killed two of my men, then took a P.O.W. and scampered.”
“Oh. Those two people on the news?”
“Yes. Everyone in the world is looking for them, yet suddenly everyone is too forgetful to remember what they look like.” Sighing, he stared at the ceiling and rubbed his temples. “No orgies for me.”
The Sympathy glyph was making it’s little tugs. Each time, a little piece of Quentin’s aura chipped away. It morphed into other emotions: admiration, camaraderie, motivation. Alex had done this with a hundred others. He didn’t need to look into Quentin’s mind to know what Quentine was thinking. By this point, cabinet members had been falling over themselves with commitments and promises. They scurried for Alex in ways they never scurried for Victoria, or even their own families. Alex was the center of their lives.
Quentin would be the same.
“That sucks, man,” Quentin said. He nodded sympathetically, then his mood turned playful. “Hey. You should take your mind off it for tonight. Wanna go out on the town? I’m not still under house arrest, am I?”
Or maybe Quentin wouldn’t be the same. Alex sat up and glanced in his eyes. The idea of helping Alex hadn’t crossed his mind.
Alex laid the Sympathy on harder. “No. No house arrest. You can go. I just don’t have the time. Not with this manhunt. Meanwhile, I’m making shields as fast as I can for the military. All the higher up people are safe now. Of course, Victoria got to most of them first, so I’m having to re-explain why this one single runaway ship is so dangerous.”
Again, Quentin nodded in sympathy. And again, the sentiment only lasted a moment. “You’re giving out the shields, huh? Do I get one?”
Alex surged the Sympathy, but at this point he was getting diminishing returns. “Sorry,” Alex smiled apologetically. “Don’t have a spare one with me.”
“When do I get one?”
“We’re handing them out in order of priority. It’ll probably be a week or so.”
“Why? I’m a priority. I know a lot. I’m a flair.”
“You’re not involved with hunting Victoria down… but, if you were, that’d be a different story.”
“What do you mean?”
“I actually came down here to ask your help on a secret project of mine.”
“Me? What could I do?”
Alex shrugged. “A lot, I’d think. Remember those assemblers you used to make that makeshift bomb? I’ve been wondering what you could make if you had more time to work. What do you think?”
“I think those assemblers blew up in the tower.”
“Yes, but we found their designs in the LakiraLabs archives. We could remake them.”
“Okay. Remake them. Sounds like you don’t need me.”
“Right,” said Alex, “but once they’re made, anything you design could be assembled, right? You said those machines can make things the others can’t, like repulser nodes or heavy metals. You could make anything.”
“Not anything. Even that machine would have size limits. And any crystalline materials have to be—”
“Right. Okay. Not anything. But you could make any isotope you want in any quantity. You built a bomb in under half an hour. What could you do if you had time to think and plan? You alone could create—”
Quentin scoffed. “Hold on. Hold on. You’ve been watching too many movies. There’s always the mad scientist who invents the wild, decades-ahead-of-his-time technology, like a shrink ray or a time machine. It doesn’t work like that. Maybe one guy can come up with an idea, but real science is done in teams, over years. It takes refinement, and trial and error. Talk to the LakiraLabs scientists. You told me they all have my glyph anyway.”
Alex had pressed enough Sympathy upon him that it wasn’t affecting him anymore. Quentin’s innate laziness was defeating Alex’s mind control. It was a superpower all on its own.
Alex maintained an amiable tone. “You’re selling yourself short. I’ve seen inside your head, and theirs. Your glyph helps them a little, but you’re something else entirely. Your mind… it’s boggling. There are so many ideas floating around in there it staggers me to even glance at them. It’s enigmatic, but you make perfect sense of it. No one else is like that.”
“Sure they are.”
“You engineered a nuclear explosion in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes.”
“Technically, it was a nuclear fizzle.”
“Whatever. How about it? If you just tried, I think you’d surprise yourself.”
“You came here because you want something from me, and you’re not going to give me a shield unless I help, right? That’s just like Victoria.”
And now Alex completely understood why she’d put him in a tortoise in the first place. It had nothing to do with state secrets. Alex’s hand was twitching for the repulse pistol in his jacket. Point and click, and one less freeloading fuck.
“All right, I’ll drop it,” Alex said. “I am acting like her. It’s all this stress. I’m just looking for any edge to beat Victoria.” He sighed. “You better hope I win. She knows you were the one who built the bomb that killed her.”
“I think that’s just another reason why I should get a shield now,” Quentin said. “I know the whole, ‘not enough to go around‘ excuse is bullshit. Everyone can make copies of glyphs.”
“We’re not handing out the glyphs. We may have lost the others to the wild, but I’m keeping this one secure. We’re handing out miniature plaques.”
“Miniature plaques? Can I see yours?”
“Bullshit. Come on. You’re shielded right now. Let me see.”
“I got mine injected.” Lifting his leg, he pulled his dress up enough to show a small bandage on the inside of his thigh. “Microwafer, just under the skin. Figured since I’m Victoria’s number one enemy, might as well. If I put my shield down for even a moment, she’d fry me. Everyone else gets handheld plaques since… er…” Quentin’s aura changed suddenly. All the built up attachment Alex had instilled him morphed into one emotion: lust. Alex acted natural as he lowered his skirt back down. “…since I still have to make security checks on them.”
Sitting straight, he smoothed his skirt. Quentin’s eyes were still on his legs. This wasn’t just a mild fancy Quentin felt. It was all encompassing, like a Minister’s dedication. Alex didn’t dare look him in the eye.
“Why there?” Quentin asked. “Why not in your upper arm or something?”
“I don’t want people to see the scar. Anyway, I’m afraid I must depart.” He stood.
“Wait. Are you sure you don’t want a drink or something?”
“Perhaps another time.” Alex headed toward the door.
“Wait, wait, wait. Hold on.”
Quentin grimaced, uncomfortable with what he was about to do. “What’s this secret project?”
“It’s a secret.”
“Don’t fuck with me. What is it?”
“Are you going to help?”
“Let’s hear what it is first.”
Alex pretended to mull it over. “I want to build another bomb. A big one.”
“Like, what are we talking? Hiroshima? Tsar bomb? What?”
“Uh, what for? This isn’t for blowing up Victoria, is it? Because a garden-variety nuke would work.”
“No no. This isn’t about that. This is about… protection.”
“I’m up against a woman who can read and erase minds, see anywhere, switch bodies, and has an amazing resilience to death. She wants her empire back, and if I don’t kill her soon, she’s going to show up at my door. Maybe by herself, maybe with an army.”
The cogs in Quentin’s mind were finally spinning. “You want a plan B. A final fuck you. ”
“You can see why I can’t ask the other scientists to do this.”
“They couldn’t do it anyway. They’re all stuck thinking a three-stage fusion bomb is as big as you can get. Nah… what you want is cutting edge, maybe a repulse containment field powerful enough to contain antimatter.”
“Antimatter? Those assemblers can make that?”
“Hah. No. Those prototype state-of-the-art assemblers? Bullshit. I’ll make better ones. You just can’t be afraid to smash some atoms, you know? The bomb itself, it’d have to uh… yeah, I guess it would have to be multistage too.” He rubbed his chin. “The fuel assembly might be tricky though. Oh wait, no it wouldn’t. You’d just make a lot of… no.” He chewed his nail. “Oh! The fuel wouldn’t have to be antihydrogen, obviously. Maybe sodium or something. That makes it easy. Kind of.”
“Hold on,” Alex held up his hand.
Walking back, he draped himself along the couch. Mentally, he garnered more attachment from Quentin, all of which turned to lust. Disgusting, but Alex had him. Victoria had spent years working on Quentin. She’d gotten nowhere with orders, pleads, threats, rewards, and punishments. Quentin just didn’t care enough.
But to impress a pretty girl?
After squeezing one last bit of Attachment, he pulled a shield stone from his pocket and tossed it to Quentin.
“See?” Quentin looked it over. “I knew your priorities excuse was bullshit.”
“Of course it was. Now, go on.”