Haden walked out of the warm light of the early morning into the cool darkness of Archimedes Tower. It was the plainly visible hidden bastion of Albert Titan, philanthropist, billionaire and forbearer of the Apocalypse. Only Albert and Haden knew the last part. Very few people suspected anything beyond the first two, though whispered rumors in the dark connected Albert to far more than being the mastermind behind the fastest growing media empire the twenty-first century had ever produced. The occasional sexual or pharmacological indiscretion kept most people occupied enough that they missed the true darkness of his character.
Albert was an expert at keeping his image clean, but he allowed enough rumor to slip through to keep his image from being too pure. People suspected the overly pure of being the opposite, but a little dirt, applied in just the right places, kept them from looking too closely at Albert. Last night’s events had the potential to spin out of control, leaving him more exposed than either of them wanted. Though Haden would take some personal pleasure in seeing Albert take a hit, it would be bad for his long term goals. So something needed to be done about it and quickly.
He walked through the main entrance of the building, strolling past the security guards, ignoring the metal detector and all of the other mundane security measures that were kept in place. Haden could choose whether or not he was seen by the unaware mortals of this world and the security cameras always distorted a little when he was in view He often passed in and out of the building unnoticed. It was easier to do his job if people were unaware of his comings and goings. The work of the unholy was best done in the dark, secret parts of the world.
Haden walked to the wall beside the security guards’ break room. He placed his hand on the fourth granite block from the left, the fourth up from the floor and pushed. He was immediately drawn through the wall. The portal recognized his essence as one that was permitted within and reacted accordingly. His body was pressed and diminished to a point just short of irreversible oblivion. The pain was excruciating, but movement through the fabric of the universe was exhilarating. The combination made the short trip to his personal sanctum exhausting and refreshing all at once.
Haden had always found it amusing the way movies portrayed hidden portals as being mechanical and hidden by some facade of interior design. It was entirely possible, even probable, that such entrances existed, but he thought it was overly simplistic to think that there was no other means of hiding a doorway in plain sight. What sort of idiot hid a room in such a way that anyone could accidentally open the door by leaning against a brick or pulling a book from a shelf? Fiction or not, it was sloppy thinking of the worst kind.
Rematerializing in the middle of his hidden room on the thirtieth floor was always a little disconcerting, but that was a small price to pay for security. His sudden presence caused the candles in the room to flair to life before Haden could will the flames lower. The room was as attuned to him as any mortal space could be, but even there he had to attune his aura to avoid nature’s reaction to his decidedly unnatural presence. Food, animals, plants and fire all reacted noticeably to his presence unless he wished it otherwise.
The night had been exhausting, causing his thoughts to wander more than usual. Chasing after Albert’s playthings had been little more than a distraction, but it had been time consuming. Finding out that one of the blessed was involved had certainly made the night more interesting, even if it was only one of the Light’s lesser servants. Why He would send someone so weak to the lower realm was a mystery, but they say he works in mysterious ways. Haden laughed at his own little joke before heading to an iron door built into one of the walls.
Haden pushed open the door and stepped through, allowing the heavy iron to swing shut behind him and disappear into the cool granite wall. The door was a portal similar to the one in the lobby, but required less power to operate and was a simpler form of the same application. Still no physical mechanics, but it looked like there were as a matter of preference. For all of his otherworldly power Albert still preferred the conventions of using an actual door. Haden tried to accommodate him as much as he could.
Albert’s public office took up an entire third of the top floor of Archimedes Tower. It was a sprawling space filled with conference tables, a bar, flat screen televisions scattered about the room on every wall (and occasionally the floor and ceiling as well), and two large desks that sat near the corner where the floor to ceiling windows of the two exterior walls met. The entire space screamed wealthy, powerful, adventurous and successful; the exact image that Albert wanted the public to see. It is what they expected from him. Details were critical and Haden was there to keep Albert’s details in order.
The sounds of conversation drew Haden’s attention to the conference room, a little section of the office where Albert held court with some of the executives and advisors of the various enterprises that he had interests in. The informal nature of the location left most executives either profoundly uncomfortable or overly at ease, either one left Albert with an advantage. The board room was as much a battlefield as any place where armies might meet and Albert was a general of unparalleled ability. He knew exactly how to create an environment that gave him every advantage and left his opponents with none.
“…the end result is all that matters here gentlemen. If we can’t get control of Hitaratsu this week it will end up costing us millions extra when we have to make the takeover hostile. Now get out there and make this happen.” The small crowd of men in business suits got up and headed for the large, iron-bound, doors that lead to the elevators. “Jeremy, make sure you send those prototypes to General Perez today. It will make for a nice test run before we start the first production run.”
“Should I scrub them first?”
“Yes, but not too hard.”
Jeremy nodded and followed after all the rest. Albert stood and waited until the doors closed before turning to Haden. “Did you find them?” The words came out calm and quiet. It was never a good sign.
“I have Hector and his bunch hunting them down for now. I was able to get the number off the cab they hopped so the boys should be able to find them soon enough.”
Albert circled around the couches to the open space in the center of his office. He stopped well short of Haden. “Why did you send Hector when you know how important it is to catch those two?”
“Now, Albert, you know I wouldn’t have left something so important to someone else unless I had a very good reason.” Haden strolled about the space casually, confident in his understanding of Albert.
“So then tell me, Haden what was so important that you left chasing down those two to Hector and risked my displeasure?” His tone never changed, always that steady, calm and dangerous pitch that left strong men weak with fear for reasons they could not fully understand. But Haden was not a man.
Haden strolled to a little bar nearby and poured himself a scotch before speaking. “One of them is a servant of the light.”
Albert stood still, allowing the words to roll around in his mind for a moment or two before speaking. “You are certain?”
“Most definitely. I saw the Touch about him as they drove away. He is a weak one, definitely one of the lowest orders, but still one of the blessed.”
“Was it the boy or the girl?”
“I’m not sure to be honest.” Haden stepped away from the bar still holding his drink. “They were already in the cab and I caught the glow from the back seat, so I know it was not the cabbie.”
“Well this certainly is an interesting development isn’t it?” Albert walked to the bar, poured himself a scotch and knocked it back, letting the warm burn of it glide down his throat. “This does provide us with a bit of an opportunity though.”
“Certainly.” Albert leisurely walked across the room toward his desk. “If we can capture this underling there are rites we can perform that will provide some measure of protection or act as an early warning system at the worst.”
“I’ve not heard of such rites,” offered Haden. His knowledge of such things was extensive and he was suspicious of rituals he was unfamiliar with.
“Really? That surprises me, Haden. I thought there was nothing about the dark arts that you hadn’t already learned.” The sarcasm clung to the words thickly. “I found the rites hidden within a translation of some lead bound copper plates found in a cave outside of Damascus. Their discovery hasn’t been announced yet and it never will be. They are really quite fascinating. Their discovery would set the whole world on its head if they were taken seriously.”
“Why wouldn’t they be taken seriously?” Haden’s desire to see the plates was overwhelming, but it was not something he would not let Albert know.
“Because my, Haden, I control the media, and if anyone tried to share it with the public they would be brought before the masses and ripped apart.” Albert paused for a second, turned to Haden and said, “figuratively of course. People believe the shit I feed them on the television and the web. They don’t question, they take it as truth and react accordingly. Any poor soul trying to share the truth would be demonized within hours and would find themselves a complete pariah in days while my secret stays just that: secret.”
“I guess that does take care of the issue. In the old days it was a lot easier. You killed one or two people and the problem was solved, but now the information spreads so fast a few simple murders just won’t do.” Haden was uncomfortable with any technology that was less than two-hundred years old.
“Oh, I’m not above killing a few people to keep a secret, and if you do it early enough you can avoid all of the rest, it’s just that the window is so much smaller than it was even fifty years ago.”
“Well I am certainly glad you haven’t lost all sense of perspective,” Haden said with a laugh. He did not question Albert’s abilities or his ruthlessness. The man was utterly devoid of true humanity. Everyone, including Haden, were tools for Albert to use and throw away as he saw fit. He was not wasteful or overly cruel, he was simply practical to the point of malevolence, which was a trait Haden’s masters could truly appreciate: Evil through apathy. “So how do you want to proceed from here?” Haden favored simple assassination over more complex schemes, but it was Albert’s call.
“I want the Light Touched caught and brought here. The other one can be killed and disposed of.” Albert walked to the window and looked over the city. “Are we sure it was just the two of them?”
“There was the third one, David was his name, but he has been taken care of.” There was no need for Albert to know that the boy was not dead, as long as he stayed quiet.
“Good. I want to keep this in house, Haden. This little event would not be easy to smooth over in the media no matter how much control I exert.”
“I understand, Albert. I’ll play it close and keep it clean,” Albert said. “I expect Hector to report back to me in the next hour or so. If he hasn’t caught them I’ll take a more direct hand in the hunt.” Haden hoped Hector would be successful.
“No, I need you here this morning. I have some visitors coming and I want your take on them.” Albert turned back to the center of the room, facing Haden. “I don’t trust the Orpheans one bit, but their cooperation would be invaluable in the coming days, and your advice here would be invaluable to me.”
“I have had dealings with the Orpheans in the past and they can indeed be a little slippery in their negotiations,” Haden said before he took a drink of his scotch and let out a slow breath, “and in holding up their end of any bargain struck.”
“So I have heard, which is why I want you here. I do not want any protocol loopholes left exposed. I’m not worried about them using their music to manipulate things since I had the white noise generators modified with a disruptive component, but they have a gift for finding the chink in any binding armor.”
“Very well. I’ll be in my study until I hear from Hector. I need to set some more bindings on my new thrall too.” Haden had picked up a soul touched by darkness on his way to the tower. He had left the drug dealer with Peter watching over him as the demon seed took hold. It was always easier to turn the twisted than it was to convert the pure, though conversion was so much more fun. “He won’t be fully ready until after your meeting with the Orpheans so the timing should be just about right.”
“Another thrall Haden? How many is that this month?” Albert laughed and smiled.
“This will be the fourth I’m afraid.” Haden sighed and sat in one of the overstuffed chairs placed before Albert’s desk. “Honestly I’ll be surprised if this one lasts the month. He was a drug dealer.” Albert raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “I know, I know, but I was in a hurry, again, and he was available. He might make a good one once his own product is out of his system, but I have my doubts.” Peter had been a thrall for years, but he was an exception.
“Well make sure he doesn’t cause any problems. Remember that last drug dealer you took? The moron had been snitching on the mob before you took him and they were none too happy about that.” It had taken weeks to get that mess cleaned up and still the thrall had ended up dead along with a handful of lesser hirelings. “I am too busy right now to put down another crime boss or an angry drug dealer who feels cheated. See if you can do something to modify his appearance so that old acquaintances will not recognize him.”
Haden stroked his chin in thought, a habit he had picked up while intending to mock movie villains but now he could not shake it. “Yeah, I suppose I could manage something like that. It will hurt like hell and he’ll be all but useless for about a week, but it can definitely be done.”
“Good. I know it is inconvenient to be down a thrall for that long, but maybe this guy will last more than a day or two.” The two men laughed together, their dark humors happily compatible. “Go see to him then get back here. I want to review some points.”
“Most certainly, Albert. Give me an hour and I’ll be here ready to go.” Haden turned back toward his sanctum. His face held a half smile as he waited for the response that he knew was coming.
“See that you do, Haden. No more than an hour.” There was a moment of silence marred only by the sound of Haden’s shoes hitting the floor with each step. “And, Haden, bring one of the girls. No, two. It is going to be a long insufferable day and I’ll need all of the distraction they can manage.”