Book 1, Chapter 2

The alarm clock radio seemed to enjoy playing musical roulette every morning, and had terrible habit of coming alive just in time for another song of cliché symbols and tired rhymes about the young love. This morning was no different. Just once, Julian would have liked to wake up to something other than a kid crooning over his adolescent romance, but considering the popularity of that type of song, the alarm clock always got its way.

The song ended mid "bay-beh" as he flailed for the snooze button and rolled over, pulling his blanket up over his head to shut out the light filtering over him from his window. The song was stuck in his head now. It was almost as annoying as being awake at five in the morning. The cure was the same for both: he would just go back to sleep.

An hour and several slaps to the alarm clock later, the early start he had promised himself he would get was long gone. The guilt at wasting entire the morning sleeping in mounted every time the clock went off, until there was no longer any gratification staying where he was. With great effort, he threw aside the blankets and slid out of bed. He padded to the bathroom, rubbing his eyes as he shut the door with the heel of his foot and walked over to the shower stall to flip the water on.

Glancing over the sink, Julian could see the steam starting to coat his bathroom mirror in a haze. Reflected in it was a man with red-brown eyes under dark brown bangs. He was muscular and slim: an almost perfect physique for a man in his early twenties, without a single blemish. It was model of health and well-being that looked back at him every morning. Satisfied that nothing had changed, Julian stepped away from the mirror and into the flow of scalding water to wash any remnants of sleep away.

Nearly an hour had passed when he emerged, smelling of vanilla and honey suckle--or at least what scientists had decided those things smelled like. He dressed casually in clothes that clung to his damp skin. His hair was too wet to brush, so he left all three feet of it hanging in a lightly tangled tail down his back with the ends tickling at the exposed skin just above the waist of his pants. With some fuzzy house shoes on his feet, he was ready for another exciting day of paperwork and waiting on his couch.

Originally, the plan had been to get up at five, finish the last of the paperwork from his most recent job, then hit the streets of Solace to solicit his services to the wealthy and high profile residents of the Core-ward upper levels who were most inclined to hire a man of his many talents. Having abandoned that plan with his abuse of the snooze button, his primary goal was to get done with the paperwork and simply hope that an old patron would call to request his help again before the next round of bills were due.

There was nothing Julian hated more than paperwork and so it always seemed to pile up. There were tax rules to follow, established protocols to follow towards the necessary breakdown of services to each client, licensing forms to prove he was qualified to perform and receive payment for the various services he found himself employed to do. Had he joined the Solace Police Department rather than work as an independent agent, the majority of paperwork would have been taken care of for him by the city. Working as a freelancer gave him the freedom to accept jobs as they came and at better pay with less red tape, but it was at the price of job stability and, of course, getting to skip over the paperwork. It was a catch-22 that Julian been able to live with.

Still wishing to postpone the last of the forms a few minutes more, Julian headed to the kitchen for a quick meal and some liquid energy. As he scooped grounds into his coffee maker, the phone began to ring. He let it go unanswered for a moment, finishing the task at hand before turning the machine on and crossing to his phone. The screen read “MAXWELL” in clear, bold letters. Julian paused, his hand inches from the receiver. It rang again, sounding more insistent if that were possible. He let it ring one last time, just because he could, then pressed the phone to his ear and said in his most annoyed and unimpressed tone, “Hello?”

“So you are awake. I was beginning to wonder. I understand it is not uncommon for unemployed people to spend most of their time in bed. I wouldn’t know, personally. I imagine it must be nice, though.”

“I’ve been up since five, thanks,” he lied out of spite. “Been filling out paperwork for the job that you can’t seem to remember I have. You have to fill that kind of stuff out when you’re handling a legitimate business. Not that you would know, personally.”

The laughter on the other line was charming but felt like acid dripping through the holes in the receiver. “You’re a whore and a handyman. I should think freelancer is a somewhat misleading title.”

“I’m a detective and a veteran military police captain with marks as a sharpshooter. I suggest you either get on to what you called here for or get a new hobby that doesn’t involve calling me up to exchange witty banter.” Julian held the phone between his ear and shoulder so he could pull his toaster out of hiding and wrestle some bread out of its packaging. It was always the same with Maxwell and Julian was always left wondering why he still bothered to answer the phone when he knew what was coming.

“It was entirely pertinent to my request, I assure you. The last thing I want to do is spend more time than necessary with you, in person or otherwise.” There was a shifting in the background, perhaps papers being flipped through to cover for the slightly-longer-than-necessary pause. "I have a job for you of a completely legitimate nature, and it will pay handsomely once completed: a sum of ten thousand creds, three thousand up front to certify a contractual binding. Whether you are interested or not, it hardly matters. You and I both know you could use the money and the subject matter hits rather close to home.”

Julian bit his bottom lip, pressing the power switch on the toaster down. “Ten thousand’s a lot of creds. Doesn’t sound like the kind of money you’re used to paying for legitimate business ventures.”

“Your brother is missing. I need you to find him and bring him back home.”

“Phineas?” Julian shook his head as his younger brother’s face came to mind, pacing the kitchen with a sudden burst of anxious energy. “How the hell did you, of all people, manage to lose track of a fifteen-year-old boy?”

“How is not your concern; the ten thousand creds for your services are,” his father said. “You say you are a freelancer and I am offering to hire you. If I thought there was a better way to handle this than by asking for your assistance, you can be assured I wouldn’t be calling you. You should consider yourself lucky I am willing to pay you at considering everything you owe me.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit about the hardships of raising children becau--”

“Who is it that had an entirely separate identity created for you so you could leave the Maxwell name behind you, Mr. Julian Vaughn?” Maxwell spat the name out as though it were bitter on his tongue. “Who continues to ensure that your existence as James Maxwell, Jr. is a secret as well kept as the locations of my weapons warehouses?”

Julian smirked despite himself. “Are you trying to threaten me? What could you possibly do? You let slip that I’m your son and people are going to start wondering how such a respectable politician has the network of criminal accomplices necessary to grant me my anonymity. Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t just asked your dealers to look for Phineas. Cheaper labor than what you’re offering me.”

“Yes, of course, and when he comes back malnourished, abused and castrated because a competitor found him first from all the talking the dealers do, I can at least feel better about not having spent too much money on his retrieval. Honestly, Julian, are you a complete moron or do you just hate your brother that much?”

“I don’t hate Phineas,” Julian remarked, annoyed at what he was made to admit to by Maxwell’s wording. “You want to spend ten thousand to find him, that’s your business. The sooner you forward the initial amount, the sooner I’ll get started.”

“It was sent this morning. Your paperwork can wait, Mr. Vaughn. Phineas is your top priority now. I expect prompt results.”

Julian held back the curse forming in the back of his mind. His father was far too presumptuous. “Right. Well, I’ll confirm that first, of course.”

“Of course. A pleasure doing business with you.” The connection dropped and Julian put his phone down.

The toast popped up, golden and brown, along with a simultaneous growl from Julian’s stomach. It would have to wait, just like the paperwork still sitting on his terminal. There were worst-case scenarios to consider, places to search that demanded a timely approach that sitting around at home could not allow for.

He changed out of his slippers and into his boots. When it came to finding anything, there was one person that was always first to come to Julian’s mind: Lieutenant Riley Smith. He was an old acquaintance from his years with the military police; an information specialist, knowledgeable on all ins and outs of Solace’s black markets. He has enough information and technology at his disposal to nearly rival the Surge. If anyone could help Julian find Phineas, it was him.

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