My phone rang.
I grumbled. It had been less than three hours since my mother called. If it was her again, I swear, I’d tell her something shocking on purpose just to end the conversation early.
This time, I glanced at the caller ID before answering. It wasn’t my mom’s number, but it was one of the family phones. I couldn’t remember which one, since I hadn’t gotten around to entering them into my address book.
I answered with more than a little trepidation. “Hello?”
“Adam? Is that you?”
I sighed in relief. It was just Chris Clemens, my father’s head of security. We might not get along too well, but at least it wasn’t one of my parents.
“Yeah, what’s up?” I had a thought. “Is my mom okay?”
“She’s fine. But that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
I sighed. “You, of all people, are not talking to me about my love life.”
“What? No, not that, I meant your life in that city.”
Oh. Okay, that made a little more sense. “Uh…sure. What, specifically?”
“How are things over there?”
“They’re…fine,” I managed, a bit bewildered by the question. “I guess.”
There was a sigh on the other side of the line. “I’m not very good at being subtle, so I’ll just get straight to the point. Nothing comes out of Domina. The big corporations contract out their services, and people hire them to write programs and do other things that can be sent over the internet. But that’s it. We can’t see the city’s internet from the outside. What little information we have comes from people like Dale, who work for the corporations and get a few minutes to connect to the outside world.”
“Yeah,” I said slowly. “I get that. Knew most of it already.”
I was missing something, and the security chief was clearly pissed about that. “God damn it, do you know how much effort I had to go through just to get your mother a link to your phone? I had to call in favors from a rebel on Shaohao, not to mention a couple guys on Mons Agnes I had hoped never to speak to again. Even then, I’m surprised it worked.”
I kept silent, though internally I was cursing MC. This was definitely her doing.
There was another sigh. “My point is, according to all my sources, you should be dead. Killed by one of the gangs and strung up by your own entrails.”
“If you thought it was so dangerous, why did you let me come in the first place?”
“Have you met your father? He’s all about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and whatnot. He thought this was a perfect opportunity to prove the strength of your Anders blood.”
I frowned at that. “But…he was born rich. Like, stupidly rich.” So was I, obviously, but my parents were pretty good at keeping us at a sane level of spending. Just one house, albeit a pretty big one, and my monthly allowance had been twenty bucks until I was sixteen. My grandparents had been the ones with ten houses, who bought everything within sight.
“Look, I can’t argue with him if he doesn’t want me to. But I made sure to have an extraction team standing by in case of emergency—which is still available, by the way—and took the time to talk to Dale privately a few times. He seemed safe enough.”
That annoyed me. I knew Chris had always had a habit of butting into my private life. It was the job of a head of security, so I couldn’t get too mad. But Dale should have known better. “Then you probably already know more than I could tell you. I’m sure you grilled him like a fish.”
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t have time, and he was pretty tight-lipped anyway. He just said that the gangs were dangerous, but avoidable, and that they didn’t really get near the schools anyway.”
Yeah, because if anybody screwed with children in the city, Necessarius would call in an air strike on their heads. I had heard what happened at Shendilavri. Sure, the ‘Mother Monster’ was a large part of it, but the primary reason Butler had intervened was because of the child slaves.
I couldn’t mention that, though. If I did, that strike team would be here within the hour.
And they’d be dead about five minutes after that.
Chris Clemens would make sure they were all the best of the best. But this was Domina City. They would have no idea what they were walking into.
“That’s basically it,” I managed. “I haven’t had any major fights with the gangs.” I thought about it for a minute. “There was one, but I can’t remember—oh, right, there was a little tussle with some of those vampires, but it was over quickly.”
That would be when we intervened in the Nosferatu civil war, when the stupid ferrets were fighting each other instead of the screamers. And compared to everything else I had been through, it really was just a minor brawl.
“You met the gangs? Actually fought them?” Great, now Chris was interested. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. “Describe them for me.”
“Uh…” I frantically wracked my brain, trying to remember the propaganda. “It was no big deal, really. They’re just a bunch of kids who go out at night.”
Crap. Chris might not be quite as good at spotting lies as my mom, but I still needed to tread carefully.
“Look, like I said, it was no big deal. I didn’t even get hurt.” I was careful not to mention that I had killed three or four vamps that night, not counting the zombies. That strike team was still weighing on my mind.
“Well, that’s some good news at least. But I want more on these gangs. I’ve been hearing weird rumblings, about the toy maker.”
I swallowed. “That…military gene mod thing? What about it?”
“You tell me. You mentioned to Sophia that you met Isaac Clarke.” Of course. Mom probably didn’t realize it was important, but Chris… “How did that happen?”
Oh boy. This was going to be tricky. Chris was ex-FBI. In other words, exactly the sort of person Butler did not want knowing about how widespread use of the toy maker was.
“It just came up,” I managed. Okay, what was it that Ling kept saying about lying? Something about telling the truth…that was it. “He has a daughter, Robyn Joan. She’s a friend of my roommate, so…” I shrugged. “I sorta bumped into him.”
“I’m sure.” Didn’t sound so sure. “What did you talk to him about?”
I chuckled. “I didn’t really say anything. I think I managed to get my name out, and then he was rambling about organ rejection and removing necrotic tissue and…uh…what was it? Oh yeah, Anomalous Foreign Tissue Rejection Syndrome.” That was Clarke’s name for lutum informis, more commonly known as being a clay. No one used that name though, and apparently the outside world had a longer one for it that ended in ‘itis.’
Thankfully, Chris didn’t seem any more versed in toy maker terminology than I was. “What exactly is that?”
“How should I know? All I know is I said I wanted wings, and he said no.”
“You wanted wings?”
“I—well, maybe. But you haven’t seen any use of the toy maker?”
I was going to have to step carefully here. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I mean what I mean. How much are people using that thing?”
“Well, there’s some minor uses here and there. No big deal.” What had Laura said…damn it, if I had paid more attention to the city’s propaganda before I got here, I’d have an easier time coming up with a decent lie. “Hair color, eye color, getting rid of freckles, that kind of thing.”
“That’s what I thought, but I just wanted to make sure. Don’t want to give your mother a heart attack, after all.”
“No, I understand,” I said, trying to hide my relief that it had been bought. “It’s not exactly paradise over here, but it’s livable.”
I turned around at the sound of someone yelling. What the hell—
Two giants, carrying a couch between them, were hustling down the sidewalk. The one in front was the one yelling.
“Out of the way, boy,” he called. “Coming through.”
Oh, right, I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk. I stepped aside, and the giants nodded in thanks. I murmured a quick apology before turning back to my phone. “Sorry about that. I have to go. Stuff to do.”
“What’s a baseline?”
I felt my heart skip a beat. “What?”
“I heard what they said. What, exactly is a baseline?”
“It’s just a word for—” I couldn’t think of anything.
The voice on the other end of the line was iron-hard. “Adam, if you’ve been lying to me, I swear, I’ll lead the team myself, even if I have to tear that city apart to find you.”
I sighed, giving up. “Yeah, that won’t work.”
I rubbed my forehead. “Look, Chris, I appreciate you trying to watch out for me, I really do. But I’m doing fine over here.”
“Adam, don’t you dare lie to me again—”
“No more lies,” I interrupted. “I’ll say it straight: If you send your team to Domina, the gangs will chew you up and spit you out.”
There was a pause on the other end.
“Good God, you’re serious.”
“As I said, I’M fine. I’ll be home for Christmas and everything. I promise.”
Another sigh. “Well, I can tell you’re not lying now. Of course, that almost certainly means you’re insane.”
“I’m hanging up now. Say hi to my parents for me.”
“Any chance you’ll tell me the truth about the toy maker now?”
“Nope,” I said, and clicked my phone shut.
Behind the Scenes (scene 160)
Chris Clemens will be an important character later. Adam did promise to go home for Christmas, after all.
Assuming he’s still alive by then.