Chapter 24


Riyad shook the hand of the man he felt he already knew after the hours of research into James Maxwell's business and character. It certainly made it easier to feel relaxed and in control with that small factor in his favor. Having a lovely lady at his side didn't hurt either, spurring on his rather instinctual need to be cool and together in front of the opposite sex. There was no denying that he was both of those, packaged nicely in a suit he didn’t get much use out of. His father might have been proud of him if he could see him. Maybe.

Maxwell was everything the CommNet said he was: regal, charismatic and engaging. Riyad felt himself being pulled in by Maxwell's smile and glance and, after spending so much of his life around the same sort of people, it was a comfortably familiar sensation.

With introductions out of the way, they all took their seats by the large desk, ready to get down to business. Ashe stood at attention to one side, a grateful spectator.

"So, D'sen was it? As in the New Arcadian D'sens?" Maxwell leaned back in his chair comfortably, adding to the laid back atmosphere in the room that seemed to serve as both office and lounge with its large, rich desk along one side and couches and chairs arranged on the other.

Riyad smiled, readying his initial lies. "Fifth son of the D'sen clan. Cross is my oldest sister's intern and has accompanied me to gain experience. It was very nice of your assistant to fit us into your busy schedule."

"Not at all. It's a rare honor to have someone of such a prestigious family in my home. What is it I can do for you?"

"To be frank, my father has sent me to see you," Riyad said. "He seems to think I'm the most tactful of his older children."

Maxwell raised an eyebrow. "Tactful? What exactly does this meeting entail?"

"You are a man whom my father greatly admires, out of all the visible figures in Solace. He has wondered, in the years since we made the crossing, what special characteristic you must possess to make yourself so successful in this harsh place." Despite appearances, Riyad had learned long ago how to charm a person into submission. The way Maxwell smiled was all the proof needed that he was doing a fine job flattering his way into his good graces.

"I find it hard to believe he would send you here for something so personal. If that is the case, though, please, let's move to the sitting area." Maxwell motioned towards the couches and chairs that occupied the other half of the room on a plush rug as he stood up from behind his desk. "May I get either of you a drink? Wine or bourbon, perhaps?"

"Bourbon, please.” Riyad moved into the most inviting chair he saw and sank into the cushions with more restraint than he would normally use. Cross sat close by on the same side of the sitting area, while Maxwell took the opposite in a commanding, high backed armchair that stood like a throne awaiting its monarch.

Ashe took his cue from Maxwell and silently went about pouring drinks.

"So, your father wants the secret of my success? I'm afraid that's not a lesson I think I can teach, but I am willing to help him in any way I can."

Riyad smiled congenially as he accepted his glass from Ashe. "He has observed you, within the public sphere, and feels that he owes much of his success in this city to that observation," he said as he sipped the honey-colored liquid. "Things are done very differently in Solace than they are in New Arcadia, and making the crossing with his whole family was a calculated risk. A man of my father's age must adapt quickly to new ways of doing things, but he feels that he has been successful."

"I would say so. I don't remember all the influential families in Solace, but it's hard to get away from the D'sen name"

"Your words are very kind."

Maxwell reclined against one armrest. "They're simply true. However, if I can't share my secrets, what can I do for you?"

"There is one secret I would like you to let me in on, Mr. Maxwell, if you would be so kind." Riyad set his drink down, and shifted closer to the edge of his chair. "I must assure you, though, that this portion of the visit is my own interest. I've found that this is a very complex city. There are many things going on here that I have never seen before and one of them seems to have gone missing."

"Oh?"

"Where is the Surge, Mr. Maxwell?"

The question caught the older man off guard. His relaxed posture was suddenly rigid and his face no longer displayed a congenial passivity. "Excuse me?"

"He is here, isn't he?"

Maxwell sat back in his chair. “That would be rather difficult. I thought only children believed in such stories. As you are not a native, I must tell you that the Surge is just an urban legend,” he said, feigning ignorance. It wasn't a surprise, but it made things harder on Riyad, who did his best to laugh and keep the tension low.

"Come now, Mr. Maxwell. We both know all evidence points to his existence. Even the government admits he exists, which is saying something." Riyad eased even further towards the edge of his chair. “I'm not challenging you here, Mr. Maxwell. I'm just a very curious young man."

"I'm afraid I can't indulge your curiosity."

Riyad turned his smile toward Cross. "You see how Mr. Maxwell handles things? I hope you are learning a lot from him."

The petite woman nodded, her face stuck in a half glare. "Oh, I'm learning quite a lot. I wonder how much Surge has learned."

"Probably quite a bit. He is also a very talented man, like Mr. Maxwell here. They are a good pair, I imagine, whether they are oriented toward similar or opposite goals." He knew he was getting into progressively more dangerous territory as he pressed, continuing to engage the two of them in a casual tone. "The Surge would of course take the opportunity, once within the Maxwell home, to learn as much as he could. But his prolonged absence from the job he's given himself will result in heightened corruption among small-time men, making it more difficult for people who are actually good at what they do to get things done cleanly and efficiently. Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Maxwell?"

If he did, he was set on not letting it be known. Whatever hint of a smile he’d worn before had vanished. They were no longer welcomed guests.

"You know that you have more to gain from the Surge as an ally than as an enemy, don't you?" he inquired, but Maxwell was completely closed off and unmoving except for whatever workings his mind had.

Riyad, you've got him cornered. That's not good.

Riyad blinked in surprise as Cross's voice invaded his mind but forced himself to remain relax.

You know more than you should and he prides himself on leaving no loose ends. You represent a vulnerability in his system. He's more interested now in how you know what you do than in the conversation. You need to get his attention back to letting Surge go.

Riyad took a drink from his glass, filling his silence with movement. What happened to gently pushing him towards resolution? You were supposed to make this easy.

His thoughts aren't guarded, but I can't get any deeper than the surface. Something's keeping me out. Just keep smiling and don't push any further. He's scared and that's not good for us.

Riyad nodded, setting the glass back down and sinking back into his chair to grant their host dominance. It didn't seem to put Maxwell at ease, though. His eyes were harsh and seemed to have the ability to make Riyad shrink to half his size. He was formidable, that much was becoming clearer by the minute.

Maxwell rose from his chair like a thunderhead, arms crossing over his chest as he began to slowly pace from the chair back to his desk. He said nothing. The silence did not bode well. Leaning against his desk he turned back and stared at them. "You have come into my home under false pretenses and unprecedented as that is, I am still more amazed at your ability to compile information you should not have ever been able to access. Regarding your family connections, which I can only assume are true on the basis of a worst case scenario, you will tell me how you came to this information and we shall devise the next move from there." His voice was thick and cold.

"I already told you, I have no intention of challenging or threatening you. I just want you to understand that the Surge is important to this city and deserves respect as a human being." Riyad kept his own voice level, though his confidence was shaken.

He means to kill you if you don't tell him what he wants to know.

Riyad mentally cursed. Cross, I think I'd rather guess at his intentions then know for sure at this point. Just tell me if he's going to pull a gun or something, I can deal without the other commentary. He would have liked to believe in the immunity of his family name, but Maxwell had already proven himself to be less predictable than Riyad had anticipated.

Cross did not reply. She looked off to the side instead, brushing her fingers through her hair. The lights overhead flickered.

"We will discuss the Surge, at length I assure you, after you tell me how you know about me and my business."

Riyad had almost missed Maxwell’s agitated words in the midst of his mental conversation with Cross. He hesitated long enough to be sure he had heard correctly. "If you can have your secrets, then I think I'm entitled to mine, Mr. Maxwell. My sources are inconsequential. No one important to you has betrayed you, that I can promise."

"And yet information leaks," Maxwell said. "This isn't permissible."

"That isn't my concern here."

"It should be."

Riyad opened his mouth, poised to try again to diffuse the situation, when the smell of ozone sparked into the room and an unfamiliar man appeared, lounging in Maxwell's vacated chair. As soon as he appeared, Cross launched herself towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck as she pressed herself against his reclining form. Her hair frizzed out around her head, the sound of static bubbling in the air while the Surge welcomed her with confusion, his arms still in his lap, and made no effort to return her embrace.

Maxwell's displeasure was at least focused on someone else for the moment. Riyad allowed himself to relax. He'd thank the Surge later.

"So she's the leak," the businessman conjectured. "You never told me you had a girlfriend, Surge."

Surge scowled in his direction. "I don’t. She's my co-worker. I told you, I have no one close to me."

"That you can say that with a straight face while she kisses you is a wonder." Maxwell rubbed at the bridge on his nose. "Well, Surge, these people want me to release you."

"If I may, sir, I would suggest you do it."

Maxwell looked over at Ashe, who stood with a tray in his hands, collecting the empty glasses. "You and I will discuss this later, Ashe," he warned him, dismissing his advice. Ashe grimaced and continued with his task.

Though her hands still caressed Surge’s hair in a comforting motion, Cross stood like a guard beside the captive Shard. Surge, for his part, looked only at Maxwell as he moved back to the sitting area.

"Do you know who this man is?" he asked, gesturing to Riyad.

Surge looked at him blankly, though Riyad forced a smile. "I know of him. We've never met, though."

"Well, then you'll know that your friend there has a rather influential acquaintance in the D'sen family." Maxwell paused and let his arms fall to his sides. "It seems I've few options at this point. Therefore...you're free to go."

Riyad watched Surge's face for some sign of elation as he congratulated himself on a job well done. He was surprised to see him just as impassive at news of his freedom as he had been since entering the room.

"When can I come back?"

The tray of drinking glasses was slammed down on the bar behind them, but no one seemed to really be paying any attention. Riyad only barely recognized the sound for what it was over the slight shock and confusion in the air.

"Come back?" Cross echoed.

Surge turned his face to look up at her but offered no explanation, before turning back to Maxwell with the same questioning look. For his part, Maxwell seemed more amused than shocked. He covered a smirk with his palm, rubbing at whatever stubble had grown in since he had last shaved.

"Whenever is convenient."

Surge nodded. "Okay. I'll have to come by to get my coat back, after all. I can't just go around dressed like this." He tugged at the collar of his pressed dress shirt as he stood.

"You enjoy looking a mess." Maxwell chuckled, at last diffusing the tension completely.

"Well I'm a busboy. That happens."

"Are you now?"

"Yes."

Maxwell laughed again. Surge scowled. "I'm definitely leaving now. Ass."

He headed towards the door without waiting for Cross or Riyad to join him. Cross was the first to hurry to catch up while Riyad took his time, rising at his own leisure and stretching to pop the stress from his back. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Mr. Maxwell." He waved as he walked by, not surprised by the lack of response. He was rather proud of himself, though, whether anyone else was or not.

Downstairs in the lobby, Julian and Ath'ran were waiting for them. With microphones and headset connection, there was thankfully no need for a debriefing; Riyad wasn't sure how well he would have been able to summarize what had happened. It was over and had been a success, so the rest hardly mattered anymore.

"Hello, Surge. I'm Ath'ran Mukshah, I run the Protectors of Antiquity. I've been hoping to meet you for some time now." Ath'ran extended his hand and shook Surge's briefly.

"Hello. You've been taking care of my cat, right?"

"Of course. We can go back to headquarters right now and have you pick him up, if you'd like. I have tram passes for all of us."

Surge nodded. Riyad hoped they’d be able to tear the cat away from Du'shan; the two had seemed to grow quite fond of each other.

"You're going to take the cat home on the tram at this hour? It's almost ten o'clock." Julian sounded concerned. "You'd be better off staying in the area. Besides, you're coming back here for some stuff, aren't you? You can stay at my place for the interim."

Though he seemed uncertain, Surge nodded. Sands help him. Riyad tugged at this tie until it hung loose around his neck. "Well, if you'll be around, don't be a stranger. I feel I owe you a drink or something for intervening when you did. That was great timing."

Surge shrugged. "She called me. I came."

"She did?" Riyad grinned and wrapped an arm around Cross, pulling her close. "Have I told you recently how amazing you are? Marry me."

"Sorry, pretty boy, but I'm already engaged." She laughed and leaned against him, his arm comfortable around her waist.

"Well I guess I'll just have to pine after you for the rest of my life and you'll have to just think of me when you're with him until death reunites us."

"You're terrible." She laughed harder, patting his chest affectionately.

Riyad gave her one last squeeze before letting her go and turned to Ath'ran. "So, we can go now, right? I doubt he'd change his mind and come after us, but if I look this good, I either need to be out and about or somewhere I can change."

"A little full of yourself, aren't you?"

"I totally earned it. Were you not listening to me up there?"

"I listened to you accepting alcohol on the job."

Riyad pouted. "I was being a good guest. I needed it and now I want to go home."

At least they all agreed on the need to move along. Cross took Surge's arm again, hugging it close as she pulled him to walk beside her and he went without a fuss. The rest of them followed, blending right in with the well dressed men and women of the upper levels as they stepped back onto the street, gladly leaving the complex behind them.