Epilogue: Leadership Meeting

EPILOGUE

BY BENJAMIN

Eden Towers loomed over Bastion City like an ancient castle. A combination of the tinted glass and blast resistant concrete gave the building an almost black exterior. The tower itself grew narrower towards the top, spires and observation decks jutted out at regular intervals. It was the seat of Eden’s power, and today was the Annual Executive Leadership Meeting. Representatives from all 7 seeds, and the new territory of Tidal Pool were present. None other than the CEO himself, Marick Smith, ran the meeting. The meeting took place in the large conference room on the 80th floor. From the conference room the entire city could be seen. On a clear day you could even see the territories beyond. Unfortunately, clear days in Bastion were few and far between. The black sky threatened lightning, but that didn’t matter to Emily. In fact, she preferred storms. Perhaps that’s why she had joined Eden in the first place.

Like all of the executive leadership, Emily Heartland had been with Eden since the beginning. She’d been attending this meeting long before the cataclysm and the construction of the seeds. She’d celebrated more annual leadership meetings than she had Christmas’s at this point. Her current assignment was Terminus, the seed farthest to the west, and consequently, closest to the rift. It also meant she’d traveled a greater distance than any other to be here today, which made her wonder how she could possibly be the first to arrive.

She heard the sound of static behind her and turned. The slightly blue-hued form of Clarence Townsend crackled into existence. Tidal Pool was an unpredictable and unstable situation, and so he had elected to join the meeting via hologram. Emily had no doubt that Tidal Pool was a proverbial powder keg, but she suspected that the true reason for Clarence’s failure to appear in person was a fear of Marick. He was wise to be afraid. This had not been an amazing year for Clarence.

“Emily”, the hologram said by way of greeting. There was a slightly metallic note to the voice. The distance and ether disturbance were interfering with the signal.

“Hello, Clarence. Holding the West I see?”

He smiled. “Where are the others? I’d rather get this one over quickly.”

She shrugged, “Fashionably late as always. Marick has always taken his own sweet time.”

An old man took shape in one of the chairs on the other end of the long mahogany table. “Now, you know very well I have never been late in my life.”

“Ivan, How long have you been sitting there”, Emily asked.

“Since before you came in, my dear.”

She rolled her eyes. “Ever the creeper, Ivan.”

Kimberly Strong arrived with Christopher Lasher. The two were discussing something about the new kind of ether creature that had been posing so much trouble in the territories. These “shades” were apparently comprised almost completely of ether, such a creature shouldn’t have been possible. Impossible things were often notoriously hard to kill. The two exchanged greetings with the group.

Christopher turned to Clarence’s hologram, “So, I hear Tidal Pool is having its own shade problem.”

Blue static ran across his face as Clarence nodded. “Yes, we’ve had some success with the ether grenades, unfortunately the shades are still averaging 5 -1 kill ratios.

“The Faust R&D division is close to a portable ether dissipation ray. Tidal Pool may be the perfect testing ground.” Emily never could stomach Kim’s bragging. Fortunately, the conversation was put on hold as the last attendees arrived.

James Holbrook, Ellen Snow and the old man himself. Few outside of the Eden inner circle would have ever associated the word “old” with Marick. He really looked quite good for his age, of course there were corpses that looked good for his age. Emily shrugged at the thought. The same could be said of any of them she supposed.

Marick wore a tight gray suit. It accentuated his lean frame. He had always been fastidious when it came to his appearance. His hair had been carefully parted along the side. Complete with his wireframe glasses and travel mug he inspired all the fear of a certified public accountant, but appearances certainly weren’t everything. Marick was, in many ways, the most powerful man ever to have lived. He took his seat, leaned back in the chair and exhaled, an over exaggerated gesture of exhaustion.

“So, ladies and gentlemen. Here we are again. I’ll tell you, this has been a challenging year. We’ve had setbacks. We’ve lost some good people. In spite of all of that, I still think we have a great future on the horizon. I know that you are all working very hard to make that future a reality, and so I won’t keep you any longer than is necessary. Let’s jump right in.” His voice matched his appearance. He was soft spoken with just the right amount of gravel. Emily could almost forget that the grandfatherly man sitting in front of her made daily decisions resulting in the life or death of hundreds of thousands of people.

Ellen handed Marick a sheet of paper. He cleared his throat. “The first item on the agenda: David Cohen.” Marick shook his head. “Where is our old friend, Mr. Cohen these days?”

Ivan leaned in and rested his elbows on the table. “I’ve put several of my best people on the job of capturing him, including a very highly recommended bounty hunter. I must admit, we’ve had limited success. He has eluded us at every turn, but all sources seem to agree that he is currently somewhere within the Mechanicsburg region.”

Marick nodded. “How has he managed to bounce from seed to seed without being caught by our security network? We should have had him the first time he walked in front of a camera.”

Ivan could not match Marick’s gaze. He shifted his focus between Ellen and Clarence. “Dave is a very capable individual when he has the proper motivation-”

“You have a talent for understatement”, Marick said with a smile.

Ivan offered a weak smile in return and continued, “But now he seems to have acquired an advanced cyber weapon that he is using to great effect. In addition, he is now working with an accomplice: a young woman who assisted in the development of said weapon. Perhaps Clarence or Ellen could provide more details.”

Ellen scowled. Emily had to suppress a smile. Even after all the years they’d worked together the ‘Eden gang’ still never missed an opportunity to throw one another under the bus.

Clarence, surprisingly, took up the mantle. Emily wondered if being hit by enough literal buses had finally pushed Clarence to the point of not caring if he incurred Marick’s wrath.

“It’s true. Dave stole an impressive piece of technology. It was our experiment with developing an artificially intelligent hack tool. By means of an ether-boosted interface it can actually adjust the flow of electricity within a circuit when in physical contact with a device. It also possesses an impressive ability to find and exploit security defects over a network.”

“David Cohen with unlimited access to information. I’m not fond of that thought.” Marick turned his attention to James. “Do we know how Cohen came to be operating in Bastion in the first place? Prior to the theft of this device I thought Dave to be in your vicinity.”

James was dark skinned man with a long beard and longer dreadlocks. Perfectly content with his Eastport assignment, he had never stopped loving the sea, even after the creatures within mutated into monstrous leviathans capable of devouring whole fleets. James had never had much patience for the corporate aspects of Eden. Emily watched as the frown spread across his face.

“All reports placed Cohen drunk on a beach south of Eastport, but that’s as close as we could ever get. I have no idea what put him back on the wagon, but I’d wager it’s got something to do with his recent move against Eden. These last few years we’ve taken some good hits. Maybe he just smelled blood in the water.”

Marick addressed the group as a whole. “Let me be very clear on this point. David Cohen’s westward progression is over. Do not take chances. Do not engage him in conversation; do not torture him or attempt to transport him. Draw him east. Kill him.”

Emily felt her stomach sink. She wasn’t sure what scared her more: the thought of killing him or being killed by him. With any luck it wouldn’t come to that. One of the others would find him first, she told herself.

Marick returned to the paper. “Moving along it makes sense to talk about our recruitment initiative. Ellen, how are things in Bastion? I hope this game of yours is worth what it’s costing me in property damage.”

“It is going well. We have several promising recruits. All have proven that they have the ambition and talent to become executives, all that remains is to see who among them has a strong enough will to endure the process.” Ellen had a tendency to romanticize. Emily didn’t find this ‘Battle Royale’ shit nearly so symbolic. The trauma it was sure to cause its participants would go a long way towards helping them become executives, but there were cheaper ways to torture children.

“What sort of skillsets are we looking at”, Marick asked.

“There are a few contenders who would be a good fit for the specialist and solution engineering tracks. There’s even a young woman with analyst potential.”

Marick nodded. “Keep an eye on that one. If she doesn’t win ensure that she loses.”

Marick turned pointedly to Clarence. “Clarence Townsend, no one has done more for this company in the last year than you. I want to begin this next portion of the meeting by thanking you for your service. Most of us at this table would be dead if we’d experienced one tenth of the physical trauma you’ve endured at the hands of our enemies. Eden needs a strong front line now more than ever. With that being said, I have a number of questions about the situation in Tidal Pool.”

Clarence’s image offered a tense nod. Emily felt nothing but pity for Clarence. Nothing that Marick had said had been untrue. Powerful though they were, no other executive possessed Clarence’s perfect regeneration. He never complained, but she’d always wondered if he’d viewed his gift as a curse. No matter how much pain he experienced he wouldn’t die. The best he could hope for was that the injuries would temporarily destroy his brain or otherwise cripple his nervous system.

Marick’s deep voice interrupted that sunny thought. “I understand that the situation at the old Bolivar lab proved troublesome. Where do we stand with that?”

The hologram spoke with the same metallic echo. “There were two distinct groups present in the lab: the terrorist faction that I had anticipated and a small band of ruin divers. Ironically, the second group proved to be the problem. They had a powerful telekinetic with them.”

“He found the Amulet of Enlil?” Marick was unable to conceal his frustration.

“Yes, but I do have some good news. He has recently been apprehended, and is being transported to Tidal Pool as we speak.”

“This telekinetic is never to be allowed to come into contact with the amulet again. I want you to interrogate him. Find out if he knows of the other artifacts and how he came by this knowledge.” Marick’s tone had become dark. Emily was surprised to see such emotion from her boss.

“What if the boy just got lucky”, Clarence asked.

“Torture him until he makes something up. We cannot chalk this up to coincidence. In the meantime I want all of you to locate and recover the Sumer artifacts that were lost during the cataclysm. We were fools not to have made this a priority, and now we’re paying for that mistake. How many of the artifacts do we currently possess?”

Christopher spoke up for the first time since the meeting began. He had always been fascinated by history, and even established the First Library in Neopolis as a side project. “We currently possess Tiamat, Anu, and Nergal.”

“Unacceptable, find the others”, Marick ordered. “I understand that we’ve also lost the golem?”

Clarence and Ivan exchanged a look.

Ivan spoke reluctantly, “Yes, sir. In recent months the golem had begun showing signs of activity. This culminated in a full reawakening that we still do not fully understand. The golem had been tested for all reasonable stimuli prior to this and showed no response.”

Marick had somewhat recovered from the news of the artifacts. “Do we know where the golem is now?”

“No, sir. Tracking efforts are ongoing, but it is surprisingly elusive for a creature of such size.”

Marick only nodded. “Continue recovery efforts. If there is nothing else, gentlemen then-“

To Emily’s extreme surprise Clarence interrupted Marick. “There is one more thing. We carried out an operation against a known arms smuggler in the wilderness near Tidal Pool. The smuggler turned out to be a vampire.”

The CEO of Eden raised an eyebrow in surprise.

Emily chimed in. “We’ve had a string of suspicious murders in Terminus over the past few months. Young women, all with their throats torn out and significant blood loss. Though the missing blood and tissues have never been located. The police believe that the assailant consumed them. I have to admit my first thought was vampirism, but-“

“-but the strigoi are supposed to be extinct”, Marick finished. “Persistent little parasites, aren’t they?” He shook his head. “We should increase our undercover presence in outland communities. Emily, find your murderer. I want to know where the rest of his people are, and how they’re feeding. Why have we not heard any other reports of similar attacks?”

“I have an idea. I’ve been examining the casualty reports from or conflicts with the rebel movement. The terrorists are actually claiming far more fatalities at the hands of Eden then we have actually been able to deliver. In fact, over time as they have become better armed and armored they have actually seen an increase in casualties. Even adjusted for their increased numbers this is still disproportionate. I am guessing that the vampires are demanding a price for their services.” Clarence responded.

Marick smiled. “Excellent work, Clarence. See that this information makes its way into the terrorist ranks. I won’t claim that our company has never done anything that wasn’t morally questionable, but one thing can be said for Eden. We do not eat people.”

There was a general chuckle around the table at Marick’s last remark.

Marick slowly rose to his feet. “As always, excellent work guys. Looking forward to making this next year even better than the first. I will see you all later at tonight’s outing. Please try to attend as I know our junior staff are looking forward to an opportunity to network and learn from the executives.”

Emily’s eyes rolled back in her head. She hated networking.

 

Marick watched as his executives exited. They chatted and gossiped. He was reminded of a time when they were as young as they looked. The years had done little to change them, unfortunately. The hologram of that miserable failure, Clarence, fizzled out as the connection was broken. Infinite regeneration was an ability unique to Clarence, and one that Marick could not afford to throw away. Despite his best efforts, Marick had been unable to find another executive that shared Clarence’s talent. Emily derailed his train of thought.

“Are you staying, sir”, she asked.

“No, I have a lot to take care of before the event.” As he stood, Marick’s head swam. It felt like someone had kicked the back of his skull. This was too soon. He could almost hear Cohen’s smug laughter. He should have killed David when he’d had the chance. “Actually, Emily, on second thought I may just take my next appointment here. The room is free, and to be honest I could use a break from my office. I know those 4 walls better than I know my own face these days.”

She smiled. “Oh, I know the feeling. Try not to work too hard. I’ll see you tonight!”

He offered a warm smile in return. The smile quickly faded after the door closed. He tapped an area of the table, and spoke aloud to the room’s conference call system, “Marick Smith’s personal secretary.”

“Hello, sir, what can I do for you?”

“Hi Maggie, I think I’d to like to move my 4 o’clock to now. Can you see if Kaylie can meet me up on the 80 in the large conference room?”

He heard the tapping of a keyboard and then “She’ll be right up, sir.”

“Excellent, thank you so much.” He didn’t have to wait for very long. Kaylie walked in slightly out of breath. No doubt she was nervous about this meeting. She’d let her brown hair grow long. She wore a dark skirt suit, and had replaced her glasses with contacts. She’d certainly transformed herself from the bookish, young student he’d recruited from Bastion University 8 year ago. Only about 1 in 10 people could truly grasp and understand the scientific properties of ether, even fewer could creatively manipulate those properties to develop new theories and technologies. Kaylie was one such person, and Marick had taken a personal interest in her research. In time she would have made an excellent executive. He wondered what talent’s such a mind might have shown, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“Kaylie, please, take a seat. I think you know why I’ve called you here. Mark tells me that you’ve handed in your resignation.”

She looked up from the table, “Well, you know, Jeff and I have been thinking about starting a family for a while now. You know better than anyone that Eden takes a big commitment and I just don’t see how I’d have the time to do both.”

Marick nodded, “Well, I have to be honest, Kaylie. I’m really sorry to hear you say that. You’re one of our best ether engineers. Your work on the ether grenades has been an absolute gift. I was actually just in a meeting with some of our executive staff, and those grenades have been saving lives right and left on the frontier. Is there anything we can do to keep you? More paid time off maybe? We could also offer you flexible hours and the option to work more from home.”

Kaylie shook her head. “Please understand this job means everything to me, and this was not an easy decision, but I’ve thought about it and I really think this is the best option for me right now.”

Marick smiled and stood up. He reached across the table and shook her hand. “Kaylie, you will always have a place at Eden. It has been a privilege working with you and I wish you and Jeff all the luck in the world.”

Kaylie looked as if all the stress of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. “Thank you, sir. It means so much to hear you say that.” With that she turned and walked to the door. Marick’s smile grew wider. As she gripped the handle he whispered, “sarru.” The ancient language fell easily from his lips. Kaylie tried the door handle, but it wouldn’t budge. He leaned back on the table and raised his eyebrows. She shook as she turned to face him. Her eyes were wide with fright. He took a step towards her. Instinctively she tried to back away only to find the door immovable.

“You know, I’ve heard the most interesting bit of gossip recently.”

Kaylie opened her mouth to beg. Marick merely put a finger to his lips. No sound left her mouth. Tears streamed down her face. Her make-up smeared. Marick strolled slowly towards her. She tried to scream, but there was only silence.

Marick continued, uninterrupted, “I’ve heard that Phoenix is starting a secret project. They want to get into the ether market, can you imagine? It must be hard for them, what with all the best ether techs… hell, the only ether techs… in the world working for me.” He pointed at her and her back slammed even harder against the door. She couldn’t move. He could see her body trying to sob despite having every muscle held in place. “I hear that Phoenix has been doing some head hunting. I hear that they’ve made you a very lucrative offer. I want you to know that I don’t blame you for taking it. This isn’t personal.” Marick looked out the window, as if in thought and then shrugged. “No, I take that back. It’s a little personal.”

He placed his hand on her sweat covered forehead and closed his eyes. The words flowed from him, ancient and powerful. “nis ilim zakaru....” He hardly heard himself speak. His body knew the ritual. Marick focused on his breathing. Kaylie attempted to struggle, but it was no use. Her body was beyond her control now. She tried to scream though no sound could be heard. Her eyes grew blood shot. Soon the blood flowed from them in place of tears. Blood flowed from her nose and ears as well. Her face was turning a bright shade of purple. A strange blue glow began to envelope her. The glow rose from her body like steam. Marick inhaled the blue mist. The fear left Kaylie’s eyes, followed by the light. It was done.

Marick released the girl, and she collapsed to the floor. He cracked his neck and straightened his tie. He jumped up and down on the balls of his feet a few times. Everything seemed to be in working order. He felt worlds better than he had a moment ago. He walked back to the table and gathered his things. He tapped the desk and called on Maggie one again.

“Yes, sir?” she asked pleasantly.

“Hey again, Maggie. We’re going to need a cleaning crew to come through the large conference room before the next scheduled meeting. Do you happen to know Kaylie’s husband. Jeff, I think his name was.”

“Yes, I know him.”

“Oh good. He’s going to have an accident on his way home from work tonight. See that his family receives something nice from us.”

“Of course, sir.”

“You’re a life saver, Mags. You have a great day.” Marick ended the call. He stepped gingerly over Kaylie’s husk, the eyes were staring vacantly towards the window. Marick tried to follow the gaze. It was a beautiful view of Bastion. He wondered if she’d seen it one last time. He shrugged and closed the door behind him.