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A Home on the Hill

Aimery Jaymes loved tempests, or nor’easters as they’d been called back when hurricanes struck old Jamestown only between the end of spring and the first bite of winter, back when there were seasons. He loved the storms’ primal fury and the capricious violence they dealt upon the village below.

In the storm’s tapering winds, he could hear damaged panels slapping against the rest of the estate’s protective blister. He came fully awake to the noise coupled with a draft of salty air, storm-washed of its usual muck. The scuttlebots would fix the tear in time, he knew. There were still enough of the drones left. Try as it might, the sky’s rage could not defeat the transparent blister safegaurding his family home. To the eye, it added a faint texturing to the sky and seascape, but the dome’s semi-porous layers allowed clean air and sunlight in while keeping pollution and unwanted visitors out. Safe. Life was good here in Jaymestown. The gold rococo clock on the mantleplace read just past nine. There was simply nothing like a storm for sleeping.

Well, that and a foursome at bedtime. A pity the others--two village girls and a boy hired for the price of a meal and some black market liquor--had scattered like roaches at first light. It would have been fun to enjoy a second round.

Or not. He rubbed the fleshy wattle under his chin. His lymph node implants ached; time for a tune-up. Aimery considered the impromptu orgy a warm-up for his 104th next month. He made a mental note to scour the red light sector for un-pocked girls and boys for a proper bacchanal fit for the emperors of old.

Last night’s affair had been a birthday gift of sorts. His eldest turned 77 yesterday, providing impetus for Aimery to indulge in some much-needed personal gratification. He’d sent Barry a nice message, but gotten no reply. Not surprising. Ungrateful. Barry, like his other children, was more than comfortable, thanks to Aimery’s generosity. They had homes, incomes, and mindless sinecures so they could toss out their titles at parties and impress the hangers-on. Their mothers, too, were well looked after, spending his money in far flung parts of the world. He loved them all, in his own way. A smirk came to his face as he played out a well-worn thought in his head: Sometimes we love best from a distance. Had he said that aloud? No matter. There was no one around.

He padded across the Brazilian hardwood floor to the spacious Calacatta marble shower, where the water kept changing temperature despite a read-out that promised a consistent 105 degrees Fahrenheit. After checking the mirror for silvery traitors to his carefully maintained crop of black hair, he dressed in a tailored suit, including a fine coat of midnight blue with eighteen-karat gold filigree. His breakfast arrived in the outer room of the Master Suite, as if by magic. The kitchen staff knew to keep out of sight.

He could usually hear them, of course, thanks to their books. He’d provided each of his serving staff with an extravagant gift: his Book of Jaymes, made of steel with a lifetime energy cell. The power of reading had largely gone out of the world, so the books were set to recite Aimery’s words in Aimery’s voice, hundreds of gems recorded over a lifetime. From another hallway, he could just recognize his own stentorian tones: “Before you risk losing, you must know what you get if you win.” That was a good one. Idiots spent fortunes trying to acquire holdings only to learn the prize had lost all value over time. Aimery made it a point to never confuse pride with business.

Another of the sayings he made sure to include ran: “Worship the God who speaks to you.” He never understood those who raised an impotent fist against the wealthy, raging about how the rich worship the almighty dollar. As if that was a bad thing. Money created purpose so it was important to help it go forth and multiply. Money built cities from sand; forged champions in the furnace of war; made towering leaders of those possessed of the wisdom to bend to its will. The god of that old book made all of those same promises, only to fall silent, leaving the average man thirsting in a trackless wilderness. His grandfather understood, as Aimery did now: you can be master of the home on the hill, or stare up from the slum below. It was why Grampa Avery had renamed Jamestown to Jaymestown, to properly honor their strong family rather than keeping the name of a dead regent from a dead empire.

He ate a few bites then called for the maid to take away the rest. He knew the staffers would eat his leftovers. He paid them well, deducting only a reasonable amount for room and board, and yet they stole the crumbs from his table. Like rats.

On his way to his office in the south wing, he stepped onto a broad balcony under the hazy morning sun and called for a lens. The virtual device obediently manifested in front of him, offering a detailed look at what the storm had done to the blister. Only a few bots were at work, securing loose fabric to the great spidery frame. At this rate, the repairs could take days. He needed more techs, or better techs, but…

Looking through the clear blister, his eyes drifted over the broad sweep of Narragansett Bay, taupe under a heavy sky, past the huge storm wall that struggled to protect the bay’s coasts and islands from the rising Atlantic, and past the fleet of tattered fishing boats. Their crews seemed oblivious to a great dark thing not far away.

There, just off the main channel about halfway to Newport’s bayside communities, lay a mass in the water, its bulk anchored or fixed or grounded, whipping spume around its edges. Gulls and other scavengers swooped down to nip at the oily, undulating bits above the surface. A few of the birds looked too large to be this far north, although with the changing currents and climates, the idea of a ‘north’ or ‘south’ meant little. Large, dull grey sea birds with long beaks settled onto the strange islet long enough to fill their orange pouches with twitching flesh before flying off. There was plenty of live traffic in the water around the great lump. Occasionally, an identifiable set of fins (that one was a shark, a big one!) broke the water and attacked the central bulk.

Aimery’s eyes widened. This was not one living thing, it was a great many creatures. It was a colony of flashing colors and shapes, maintaining tight formation within a slowly spreading volume. And it was eating. The splashing activity at the edges revealed itself as sea life rushing in to bite at the greater whole. Rather than diminish it, they enlarged it bit by bit. Each new gnash of teeth drew a fresh gush of blood, which in turn drew in more hungry mouths. It was a cancer in reverse; it grew not by feeding on those around it, but by ringing the dinner bell for ravening multitudes. How was it not consumed? What grotesque mechanism kept this evil filth from dying?

The image stayed with him as he tried to do his morning work. The computer offered intermittent service. The home had the best receivers made, albeit upwards of a decade old, but there were hours every day when the computer sat useless, unable to connect to the outside world. That meant he was out of touch with his holdings.

After several frustrating attempts, he made contact with his corporate officers in Manhattan. He hadn’t been there in person in years. He hated visiting that office. The landowners had diverted trillions in tax dollars to build protective dykes around key districts, including, of course, Wall Street; still, the rising waters of the Atlantic would not be stopped. They pooled and stagnated in ruined subways, courtyards, and back alleyways, relentlessly weakening aging brick and steel structures as well as moldering wood and drywall, and adding vast clouds of mosquitoes to the city’s occupying force of rats, roaches, fleas, flies, mice, mites, and assorted carrion eaters. Humans slogged through the pungent water on foot or in rickety water taxis. A few deluded souls liked to refer to New York City as the Venice of the West. Better to work from home.

This morning’s main focus was to get things moving on the Styx Project. The future was death. Jaymes World LLC was poised to acquire controlling shares in a consortium of funerary real estate, huge tracts in nations all over the world. Laws and public opinion were blocking  him from developing the lands beyond their current, sentimental purpose: slabs of overpriced marble marking holes containing forgotten piles of dust. What a waste! With carefully crafted legal instruments, JW would offer the descendants of the decedents what his people termed ‘reverse mortal mortgages,’ known as revmorts. Paying pennies on the dollar over a few short years, the project would get families to cede their rights to the land in which their loved ones rested. The true value of the land could then be exploited, as it should be. Arlington National would be the test case. If the team could handle any protests there, it would be relatively simple to rezone countless other tracts.

Legal was behind schedule drawing up the paperwork. One junior VP openly asked where the dead would rest, ensuring an end to his tenure. Planning was in a tizzy about a dearth of labor for any construction, not to mention what the team called a collapse of demand, all due to the shrinking population: five billion, down from eight billion.

Aimery knew they were thinking pragmatically when they should be thinking strategically. Properly handled, The Styx Project would explode in tens of thousands of locations all at once, like everyone discovering the latest pop star all on the same day. The result would be a quantum hike in stock values. At that point, he could decide whether the final goal was viable, and if not he could simply dump the whole project onto one of the other global corporate dynasties at a hefty profit. He half-thought, half-muttered, It’s time to light a fire under some asses and get this project in high gear.

He managed to place several key calls in between satellite gaps. By early afternoon, he’d managed to check on most of his accounts and send updated instructions to functionaries on four continents.

He’d learned from his father’s failures to keep a tight grip on things. Bertrand Jaymes had presided over the family’s various holdings during The Great Resizing. Two decades saw the loss of sixty percent of total global wealth and production. Father had left it to his boards and collectives to staunch the bleeding at Jaymes World, but nothing worked. Union agitators sprang up in every shop. Aimery, then a young man of forty-two, stepped in and whipped the family dynasty back into shape, breaking labor collectives, legally and otherwise, and moving jobs, factories, and headquarters wherever the environmental laws, wages, and tax rates dictated. Numerous and generous strategic donations made all the difference. JW kept the lights on, burning brighter than ever. Until lately.

He was about to break for lunch when the contessa called. He popped her up onto the wall, making her translucent so that he could continue to check his stocks on the next vid layer while appearing to meet her eyes. The global indices were continuing their downward slope. More and more commodities were rising in price, but only because supplies were drying up, in some cases entirely. Eleven straight quarters. His people could still slice out a profit, but the pie was shrinking. The trend was troubling. It was as if the markets were losing the will to live.

“You look well, Aimey.” He hated that nickname more than he could express, but hid his disgust. Margherita De Pascale--the contessa of nothing, though that didn’t stop her from flashing the title like a fifty-karat diamond at any jackass who’d coo and smile--represented a bankroll comparable to his own, and he was not one to insult wealth. At 113, her latest re-facing seemed to have gone well, mostly, so he returned her compliment.

“And you are the most beautiful liar I know, Maggie. Don’t ever change!” They half-laughed at the tired joke. “You’re lucky to get through. I’ve been having trouble with the comms all morning.”

“It’s not like the old days, Aimey. There are too few of us left with the focus to learn how to get things done. I remember being able to call for new satellites whenever I needed them. But, that was--well, never mind how long ago. Now, it was a nightmare to find the resources or enough people with any science education, let alone experience. Point is, it’s impossible to get a satellite built, let alone launched. So, we’re just waiting for the last of the old ones to go dark.” He had to admit she had a decent mind. If only the rest of her body matched her face. Why in the hell she paid surgeons to fix the chandelier while ignoring the plumbing was beyond him. The thought of her, even in the half-light, murdered any lust he might have felt. Their last time together would remain their last time.

“I’d like to talk to you about a new program to address that very concern. And not just communications satellites. A new generation of tech schools and a fine crop of graduates could unlock vast potentials--”

“No, no,” she cut him off. “The brain drain is complete. The universities are worthless. No one understands the specs, scans,  and blueprints. It’s gone, Aimey. Entropy wins. Gone and not coming back. I’m afraid our dreams of boldly going into space have been popped like a balloon.”

 “Quite the opposite, dear. Our projections suggest the time is ripe to clear significant profits from ice mining, getting an unlimited supply of potable water from the solar system. Aqua Luna! Sparkling Space Coolers! Martian Mineral Water!”

“Yes, that fits with the reports my people send me,” she said flatly. “Fewer than ten percent of known aquifers still produce safe water. The oceans come to our doorsteps even as we struggle to find a swallow of clean water.”

“Add to that pharmas are turning up even in carefully treated drinking supplies. Demand for non-toxic water is skyrocketing. My people suggest that despite the enormous initial expense, the ROI for space-based ice mining will tip to the plus side in six quarters. From there--”

 “And what I wanted to suggest, Aimey, is that we pool our remaining resources on the refurbishment and fortification of Sicily.” She attempted a warm smile, which had the odd effect of pulling on heavily reworked skin in ways that made it appear she was wearing a stiff mask of her own face. “Think of it: we could share coffee each morning looking out on the Mediterranean. Darling, say yes and please a lonely woman, hmmm?” Her vamping nearly made him lose his composure.

Still, this was no idle project. The island nation of Sicily was already a fortress. She was frightened that the recent uprisings in Nepal, Peru, Indonesia, Eastern Africa, and China would spread to the Mediterranean. He told her he’d consider throwing his weight behind such a project, though he mentally rejected the idea of actually joining her in Sicily. This house was his home and always would be.

Onto the main subject. “I wanted to be sure you got my invitation.”

“Yes, Aimey. I’d love to pop in. I’m not sure whether I can be there in the flesh, but I’ll be an electronic fly on the wall, as it were. Assuming the satellites permit it. Now, what do you want for your 104th?”

She had not quite finished asking when a loud crash erupted in another room. What the-- “I’ll have to call you back.” He severed the call and got up to investigate, using his wrist link to call for his guards to meet him in the library annex, where the noise originated. Walking there took him through a section of the great house that was under renovation. He stopped dead in his tracks as one large room revealed itself. It was one of the rooms added by his father--garish and ‘modern’ as people a generation ago had perceived ‘modern.’

He hadn’t been in there since he ordered the makeover. The work was to have been finished by now. Instead, there was an entire wall stripped down to its wooden skeleton. The room itself was littered with plaster dust and construction debris. Missing, too, were building supplies, tools… and workmen. Where the hell are they? He made a mental note to punish this dereliction. Unless something happened to them. No, that’s stupid.

Continuing on, he dodged, as he always had to, the ugly statue his father had ordered placed in the center of the hall: an eight-foot samurai warrior carved from a block of fine jade. Pearl-handled daggers jutted viciously from between the plates of his armor, indicating he’d been pierced in the liver and one lung. The figure’s face was twisted in rage as he held his katana above his head, ready to deal a death blow against his attacker. That target was whoever stood in front of the piece. The sculpture, by some long-dead artisan, carried the title: ‘No Surrender.’ The message hardly reflected the man who’d bought it. Aimery wanted to move it, but it weighed many tons. The floor below was reinforced to carry its weight. Over the years, he’d tracked down the junk art his father had amassed and sold what would sell, then donated other pieces for tax write-offs. Let them collect dust in public museums. This green monstrosity, however, appeared fixed in place for all time, like the house itself. His people told him this one was  ridiculously valuable. That was some comfort.

Aimery’s father had graduated to the catacombs of senescence; actually The Karkor Institute in Newport where his father’s husk could presumably continue forever, like the ship of Theseus. As in that famous thought experiment, doctors had replaced virtually every organ in the old man’s body, raising the question of whether they were now treating the same patient as when they started. Whatever the answer, his father had not spoken a coherent sentence in thirty years.

He met the guards and quizzed them on the state of things. One said nothing. Neither met his gaze.

“Where is Duerr? He should be here.” So much for Teutonic efficiency.

“Sir, Captain Duerr went to help his family; their home took heavy damage in last night’s storm. I think his daughter may have--”

“He left without my permission? Well, congratulations--”

“Maaka Parata, sir.”

He looked at the tall, beefy guard, whose face vanished beneath an elaborate indigo tattoo. What trade winds had blown this man so far from home he did not know, but damned if a Māori warrior wouldn’t scare off intruders! “Congratulations, Captain Parata. You’re my new security chief. Job one: find out what that noise was.”


“The loud crash. Don’t tell me you didn’t hear it. Are you deaf, captain? I think someone knocked something over, or maybe someone… or something… got in through the hole in the blister. I don’t know. It was loud. Maybe some goddamned pelican got in and is wandering around my home, breaking things. Look, I don’t know what it is… just find it and kill it!”

“Yes, sir.” The newly-minted Captain Parata couldn’t hide his confusion.

“First, get the car. We’re going into the village for lunch and to arrange some things.”

 The giant black limosine wound through the cracked and potholed streets of the old seaside villages nestled in the parts of the island that lay outside of the Jaymes estate. There were no other cars. It had been weeks since fuel carriers had serviced Jaymestown; his own car’s supply was perilously low. These days, there was a difference between being able to afford something and being able to get it. He found the situation ridiculous, but could do nothing about it.

The local hotels were once the envy of the world, but times had changed. Their fortunes fled, they’d become out-of-the-way places for a handful of wealthy tourists to discover, year after year. Their condition now showed generations of decline. Indeed, it was testimony to the skill of the original architects that the hotels still stood at all, considering the quilt of patches: corrugated metal and tarpaper replacing whole sections of clapboard elegance. Comically mismatched windows marred the face of many of the multi-story hotels. They, like the shacks and shanties in the area, wore a uniform wainscoting of brine and muck from last night’s storm surge.

This area was far beyond the blister. Here, shore dwellers took their chances with the increasingly vindictive ocean. The storm had damaged many homes. Workers patched cedar shingles on two houses, while other properties stood silently showing the effects of the latest storm as families sat on the curb staring into space. A stretch of Walcott Avenue, around Union and Lincoln, had taken the worst of it. Carefully preserved Cape Cod-style houses were gone, leaving a few pipes and a single chimney rising up to nowhere, piles of broken shingles, and random detritus wrapped around salt-water poisoned red maples.

In the front seat, beyond the sound partition, Captain Parata was motioning to the driver to pull over. Aimery looked out and spotted the focus of the guard’s concern: in the twisted branches and scraps of fabric and sodden papers, was the shape of a large doll. It was face down in a mound of mud, its life-like hair matted with filth and dried leaves, one red ribbon neatly in place. A woman sat nearby, staring out to the horizon… and beyond. Just as Parata was reaching for the door handle, Aimery flicked the intercom. “What are you stopping for? Keep going.” There’s nothing to be done about that, not on my time in my ship. The two men up front exchanged a quick look, then drove on.

Aimery liked to think of any vehicle he was in, be it car or plane, as his ‘ship.’ It led his thoughts to roll back like the ebbing tide, revealing a carefully preserved memory. As a boy, he had loved being on the water, learning to handle a Sunfish as well as handling the girls who were drawn to sailboats. During his sixteenth summer his Grampa Avery had taken him on a month-long voyage around the Caribbean aboard his schooner, a hand-crafted wooden two-master christened ‘Bindi’s Virtue.’ One night in Saint Martin, while drunk as proverbial pirates, Grampa Avery had confessed to him every detail of his wild weekends with Bindi, even revealing the true owner of that name. The boy Aimery came away blushing, with a mission to live life as boldly as Grampa Avery, whom he secretly considered to be his true father.

He missed those days. He tried, in his eighties, to recapture something of those exhilarating times, even commissioning a one hundred twenty-ton brigantine with a towering square-rigged foremast. Over three seasons, the foul waters of ports from Boston to The Keys etched a brown stain along the waterline. He never forgot the smell of those chunky harbor swells, and never took her out again. 

They drove on to Newport for lunch. He might have preferred one of the Italian restaurants serving mounds of pasta on Federal Hill in Providence or one of the many quiet taverns dotting East Greenwich’s Hill and Harbor district. There was a problem, though: traversing the 60-year-old Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge connecting the island westward to the rest of Rhode Island was problematic. Pedestrians packed the crumbling lanes in each direction, on foot or bicycle, carrying everything they owned. Some dreamed no doubt of opportunities on one side: work or a market for whatever wares or services they had to sell. The rest were equally sure that reaching the opposite shore would reverse their dim fortunes. So instead, the big car sailed east along the stately Newport Bridge, which had patrols to keep the pedestrians off.

The city had fared better in the storm than the villages around his home. These days, Newport’s marinas were only half full of aging luxury craft, and though most appeared to have escaped damage overnight, they had not escaped the relentless gnawing of time’s teeth.

As a young man, he’d joined in ‘the happening,’ a summertime moveable feast of sex, booze, and drugs that jumped from one yacht to the next. Male cadets from the naval college performed admirably, pleasuring the wives of billionaires whose mogul-husbands were busy striking drunken deals aboard the floating palaces. All that was a distant shadow now. The party atmosphere had long since fled these slips, leaving crusty hulls and sagging grey rigging swaying  in the dirty breeze as a sad reminder of the city’s once giddy excesses. More than a few giant gas-guzzling yachts lay at the bottom of the Atlantic, their owners having scuttled them for the insurance money and grudgingly switched to sail or wind turbine power.

He chose a restaurant along Thames Street, tucked between various upscale shops and bars, just far enough from the putrid water of the docks to avoid the stink. The beer was cold, if weak. As usual, beef was nowhere to be found on the menu. No sweet pork, either. Although it’s not like the owners are gonna advertise if they have that. A couple at the table next to his looked over. Oh, that had come out aloud. Whatever. He settled for a bowl of Rhode Island Clam Chowder. The clams--quahogs, in fact--were most likely the product of one of the many land-based aquacultural farms that thrived even as the oceans died. The potatoes seemed real, but he recognized the onions and celery as the artificial cellulose produced in one of his JW plants. The bacon was anybody’s guess. The crackers came sealed in the same packets he remembered from childhood, and for all he knew may have been sitting in a warehouse since then. As he chewed the quahog bits, an unwanted image came to mind of the dark mass he had seen in the bay this morning. Evil doesn’t die. He pushed that thought away and finished his meal.

The wiry-haired woman who served him said not a word. Instead, he enjoyed the sound of a familiar voice, his own, coming from the Book of Jaymes she wore around her neck. “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” One of his better snatches of wisdom. The book followed up with: “Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life.” He forgot in what context these had occurred to him. What mattered is that he had recorded them and generously shared them with his employees.

He took a closer look at the woman who wore the talking necklace. He knew this trick. Waiters and merchants often kept the necklaces handy and threw them on when they saw him coming, hoping for a sale or fat tip from gullible old Aimery. Good luck!

He looked again at her face. He almost recognized the waitress from many years before; perhaps a former lover, or a maid, probably both. If she still felt anything, indeed even remembered him that way, she’d never given any outward sign in all the times he’d been here. Not that he really cared; she was much too old now for him to go looking to stir the ashes. Whatever.

After lunch, he stopped by the clinic to see about his lymph node augmentations. It was usually a twenty-minute proceedure. A special device harvested a graft from a donor and spliced it onto his existing tissue. Simple. For him, anyway.

As he approached, he saw that the clinic building was closed. A note on the door explained that Dr. Laghiri was dead and his aides had decided to move on. When did this happen? He looked through the glass door to see that the furnishings were absent, save for a dark green fish tank and some overturned chairs. It took money to attract a proper longevity doctor. He could do it, but he’d face a bidding war with a dozen other corporate dynasties, no small matter.

Still, he might find a doctor for one hush-hush operation at home. He’d think about it.

For now, he focused on the final, and most pleasant, item on the agenda. He checked with planners about arranging his own birthday party. Only a handful of people came and went in the shops. Although it was June, tourists now avoided this place, exposed as it was to the Atlantic weather.

Really, someone should be doing this busy work for him, but there was no one he could trust. Barry was useless, and besides he had not seen the boy in years. His daughters were off, doing whatever they did with his money. It wasn’t the kind of thing he’d leave to his corporate underlings. So, it was up to him.

As they traveled on, Captain Parata informed him that the guards had conducted a thorough search of the Jaymes mansion and grounds, but found nothing. Couldn’t have been all that thorough, now could it? Parata offered his best apology and they drove on. His first day as captain was not going well.

Aimery looked from one run-down shopping plaza to the next, finding a little here and more there. Favors and trinkets, snacks, booze. His favorite independent stores were long gone. In fact, he’d made it a point to buy most of them, with an eye to developing them into global chains. In the end, though, he folded them into larger retail holdings, in some cases erasing generations of work. No matter, since his business savvy ensured greater profit from each of the locations. For a while. These days, nothing was sure, but that wasn’t his fault. People were failing in their roles as supporters of the greater good that Jaymes World offered.

 The car rolled over streets lined by nine-foot privacy walls and trees from all nations. In the eighteenth century, sheep farmers cleared virtually every native tree. Then, the leisure class of the Gilded Age embroidered Newport with lush elms, European beeches, Japanese maples, and countless gardens crafted to rival Versailles. These days, what little decorative flora remained  stood sickly and stunted.

Stopping at Rosecliff, he made sure no one objected to his using the gaudy old palace for his party. It wasn’t as though the staffers could refuse. He just wanted to ensure that the estate was closed off to public visitors in time to put everything in order. The stony edifice cost two and half million dollars back when crews finished it in 1902, a laughable fraction of the cost of building such a home now. Getting things done was simple for the oil barons of the day; no one questioned their place atop society. Once, Rosecliff provided the setting for a movie based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby. As a boy, Aimery dreamed of being Robert Redford in a flawless pink suit and keeping the lithe and lovely Mia Farrow all to himself in an oversized marble dollhouse. Like Gatsby, Aimery threw lavish parties there, allowing his guests to wander the south-facing cliff walk from one gilded summer cottage to the next. None of the Newport pharaonic locations matched his own home, of course, but he had no intention of letting so many friends and strangers into his special preserve. Easier to make proper use of this dandified vacation home. That was the real benefit of ongoing efforts to keep Rosecliff in decent repair, along with a handful of lesser but still fine homes along Bellevue Avenue. His footsteps echoed through the atrium as he walked in the door. Gazing up, he pictured himself descending the grand staircase dressed in a splendid white tuxedo. Having his party at this location was a cliché, but the best possible kind. Not bad.

In the late afternoon, he, his driver, and Captain Parata made their way home. The big car drove through a tunnel under the blister and dropped him at the main atrium, then drove out of sight. Stepping inside, he heard and felt… something. Not silence. The wind blew through the damaged blister. The house still made sounds. A family of owls had claimed the attic over his bedroom. Pipes clattered and hissed like spirits denied their rest. This was none of those things. It was something with a purpose and it was moving about in the upper levels now, tentative and out of sight.

A new thought occurred to him. What if these sounds he heard were not some broken, wandering creature, but rather from one of his own spawn. Is that you, Barry? Barry had been busy, lately, trying to tap into some of the family’s business interests. What if he had ambitions to do more than just fiddle with them? What if Barry was planning to send Aimery to join his father at the clinic? No. That was not going to happen. He would put a stop to any thoughts the boy might have. Barry would learn--maybe sooner than later--that power meant always being ready to fuck or fight. To kill if necessary.

He summoned his staff, but only four came. They stood, haggard and gaunt, in their cheaply made uniforms. One of the girls--no smile; too bony to be sexy--had failed to properly press her uniform. Aimery made a mental note to dock her pay. He paid them good money. The fees he charged covered uniforms and laundering. They were responsible for presenting themselves in proper order, not this sad puppy condition. 

“Has my son been here? Or my daughters or any of the former Mrs. Jaymeses?” He noted  the vacant looks in the row of sunken eyes. What was wrong with them? Are you people or old ragdolls with mud for brains?

Then another thought hit him with a sudden chill. Perhaps these sorry excuses for staffers were in on this… this plot. Or, maybe some of the villagers had allowed their envy of his fine house to get the better of their reason. They’d throw away all that he had brought to the island just to possess what was his. Not a chance. These half-starved peons couldn’t muster a decent fart, much less a coup.

He was about to dismiss the staff, when he looked at one, considered for a moment, then checked something using his link. Yes. A match.

“You.” A vague gesture fired in the girl’s direction.


“You’ll join me for dinner tonight.” The others didn’t flinch, but one appeared to tremble.

“Sir?” The girl stood like a statue with marble chipped away in the wrong places. She was underfed, but that wouldn’t matter.

“Sir? What sir? You’ll join me for dinner,” Aimery said. He barely looked at her as he keyed in a message to a public hospital in Boston. He wouldn’t be caught dead there, but he’d get someone down here to do what he needed done. It shouldn’t require a specialist. Any doctor or resident who worked at a public hospital would be willing to be discrete for a price. He’d had these transfers before. He could instruct even a public hospital worker on what to do. The transfer was never difficult… for him. Afterwards, Captain Parata would handle the clean-up.

“Sir, I – Really, you mean me, sir? Yes, sir.” She was young and new to the household, but already a darkness circled her eyes.  

“Good. Nine o’clock.” He then dismissed the girl and the other servants. It was only afterwards that he realized he hadn’t gotten her name.

Aimery spent the next hour going from room to room, but found nothing. Out one cracked window, the spotlights came on and revealed how overgrown the topiary had become, how laced with choke vines; he couldn’t tell the lion from the panda he had loved as a child. His explorations took him to parts of the house he hadn’t visited in years. The solarium held a dozen or more aviaries. On the bottoms of the oversized cages, there were dusty feathers but there was no sign of any living bird. Had they perished by some intruder? Somebody get hungry? Up on the fourth floor, he found his grandfather’s suite. Propped on a stand, a hand-written journal stood open to a page with a single entry: "We gladly gave our nights to every whispery sin, until the daylight found us bitter and empty." Grampa had gotten morose in his later years.

Again he mustered the staff. This time, the troop roster totaled three. When none could explain the absence of the fourth, the timid girl, he flew into a pique of anger and ordered them all off the property immediately. He threatened to call security, wondering if indeed he still had a security department. The ex-staffers made no challenge but quietly collected their things and left, walking slowly back to the village that, if the weather had shown mercy, still included their homes.

Aimery began the business of rummaging up dinner in his cavernous kitchen. Thankfully, the utensils were still in place. But, try as he might, he could not find all of the ingredients to make any of his favorite dishes. There’d been theft here, too. As he filled a Wedgewood plate with canned salmon and olives, his ears pricked up. There was a scraping sound, like a rake being dragged over the dining hall’s fine tile and teak inlay floors. He stopped what he was doing and listened. Nothing. He hummed to himself and started to bring his plate to a small servants table by the massive copper-hooded stove. The scraping drew slightly closer, then stopped again. Craning his neck, he could see down a small corridor to the dining hall. There was no sign of any movement. Screw it! He released a disgusted breath from his lips, and ate his dinner.

Aimery settled in for the night, with the help of a bottle of Courvoisier XO Impérial and some carefully hoarded pot. In the days to come, he had a great deal to do. He planned the best party ever, complete with the finest foods available, a rainbow fountain of liquors, four bands, and a coterie of young people for sex and feasting. His invitations drew unanimous acceptance and gifts soon began pouring in.

Ten days before the big event, he canceled the entire production, canceled the food and liquor, canceled the three-night reserve on the great marble mansion on Bellevue Avenue, canceled the brigade of servants and hired lovers. He did it all with one note fired from his wrist link. He eventually acquiesced to allow his friends, employees, and admirers to send video greetings, but no actual guests attended his grand masque. The 104th anniversary of the birth of Aimery Jaymes became an evening for one. He was sorely lacking in energy.

He’d had no luck getting someone from the hospital in Boston. This was troubling. His implants were no longer responding as they should, resulting in a noticeable drop in certain vital hormones. Any attempt at debauchery could only end in frustration, possibly humiliation. No. Just no. He’d have to find a new doctor to replace them, soon. From… somewhere. No matter, he’d tend to it.

Aimery Jaymes hired a new set of staffers, then fired them  three days later. Didn’t like the look of that bunch. He oversaw the bots himself as they finished repairing the blister, only to watch another storm tear a new hole in the northeastern section. He checked with all of his corporate departments to see whether they could muster the resources to build new bots and the operating support to go with them. All resources were committed, all supplies were facing sharp rationing. His people promised him they’d get it done somehow, but he knew… he knew they were lying. 

It didn’t matter. He was home. Safe. He was safe.

Was that damn thing moving again? No. No sound. Good. Good. He could hear it scraping, moving, circling. It was in the walls or the attic or under the floor. Then, it stopped. No. No sound. It waited. No. Nothing there, dammit. Aimery Jaymes focused on the next business at hand: The Styx Project. That was the future.


[Note: Chris Riker is not a plagiarist, but Aimery Jaymes is. Two of his Book of Jaymes quotes are lifted from Ayn Rand and Frederick Nietzsche.]