Also, good news: I signed a new contract with Samhain for a MM contemporary thriller (because that's how I write, what can I say?) due in February! It won't come out until later next year, but I'm stoked! My editor there liked my original submission Tempest enough to ask for another story without having it pre-finished, which is awesome. *does happy dance, remembers too late to stretch before high kicking*
Title: Redstone Chapter 11, Part 2.
Garrett had seen pictures of Berengaria Alexander, of course; the entire Alexander clan was very photogenic, and while Berengaria had never been the politician or socialite that many of her siblings were, she hadn’t always been a recluse either. She and her brother Raymond actually looked very alike: the same long nose and high cheekbones, the same dark hair and height. Their mother had been Foster’s first wife, and they’d had three children together before mutually moving on.
Garrett was fairly sure she was dead now, actually, like most of the people Foster Alexander had either married or produced. Six wives, seventeen children and yet there were only four Alexanders left now, and one was doing research so far out in the Fringe it was practically the Beyond, with no interest in returning home or, indeed, in being involved in any way with his family. Garrett knew. He’d asked.
Berengaria met him in a solar at the back of the house, the room warm and brightly lit. It was full of plants, even tiny vines that had insinuated themselves into what were probably deliberate cracks in the walls. The air was moist, and scented with some sort of mint that made Garrett’s lungs feel like they were expanding more than usual with every breath. There was birdsong of some sort as well, unidentifiable but sweetly trilling, and he felt his shoulders relax.
Berengaria stood up from a replica of an ancient wicker chair as the bot led Garrett in. She was dressed in a gauzy white gown, nothing skintight, just shaped enough to give an idea of the body that lay beneath it. Her dark hair, liberally sprinkled with grey, was pulled back in a tight bun. Her face was smooth but her hands were oddly wrinkled, as though she hadn’t been in a Regan tank in decades. She couldn’t be more than sixty, though. Why did she look so old?
“Madame Alexander,” Garrett said as he approached. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
Berengaria inclined her head, as regal as any queen. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Helms. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, although I must say, even for you and your father this seems an undertaking so vast as to be a fool’s errand.”
“That’s entirely possible, but we have to try. Millions of lives are at stake.”
“Hmm. But you’re not here to talk to me about millions of lives,” Berengaria said. “Please, sit. Would you care for a drink?”
“Do you have bissap?” It felt like it had been forever since Garrett had drunk bissap juice. It was Claudia’s favorite, a part of her childhood, but without the nearness of the vineyards she’d cultivated before they’d left Paradise, her supply had run out.
“I grow it here. Some will be brought for you.” The bot left almost soundlessly, and Berengaria took a deep breath. “You want to know about Kyle.”
Garrett hadn’t been able to explain over the comms exactly what he was doing out of fear of being overheard. “I’m trying to get him out of prison and back into a situation where he can act as a foil to the president’s influence. Kyle didn’t do what he took credit for; he’s not a murderer. He’s trying to create change, and I want to help him with that.”
“So you recruited him to your little insurrection and then took advantage of him, you mean.”
Well, she didn’t pull her punches. “No. There are different branches of action stemming from the same idea, which is that the Federation is ill-served by its current ruler and his allies. I was on one branch, Kyle was on another and then we happened to intersect. I don’t want his sacrifices to be for nothing, but in order to get him out of prison and not have the courts label him a fugitive, I need information.”
“How do you even know he’s still alive?” Berengaria asked, so softly Garrett could barely hear her. “Redstone has released no public information about his status.”
“I have people on the inside ensuring that he stays alive. But I need leverage to get him out and keep him out. I need to know things that your older brother would probably rather no one knew.” Garrett didn’t miss her shudder at just the mention of Raymond Alexander. “What scares him so badly about Kyle? Why doesn’t he want to take things to trial?”
Berengaria folded her wizened hands and stared at them for a long moment. “Do you know very much about our family history?”
“More than most people do, I think.”
“And you clearly have no problem using illegal means to get your information.” Garrett opened his mouth to defend himself, but she shook her head. “I only bring it up because I assume you’ve looked over our health records.”
It was one of the first things he’d hacked into, actually. “They were mostly redacted.”
“Yes. Supposedly because we’re the first family and more deserving of privacy for security reasons than others, but in actuality, those records have been completely expunged. Everything dating back to our births, everything showing our early issues and therapies—all gone. It is relevant, though, because among other things, my older brother Raymond was diagnosed very early on with a number of psychiatric conditions. The strongest by far was clinical narcissism.”
Well, he was a professional politician. Garrett could relate. “I’d think that comes with the territory.”
Berengaria smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. “With the territory of the presidency, or the territory of being my father’s child? We all came by our self-absorption honestly, we eldest. Our father always loved himself better than anyone else in his life. In some of us, that engendered a desire to excel in order to draw more of his attention. In Raymond, it brought about a loathing so deep that it became the greatest single motivating factor of his life. My father was a military hero; Raymond shunned the military and went into the political sphere as soon as possible. My father had many wives; Raymond was determined that no one was worth the distraction from himself, and that he had no need of anyone else to share his life with. After all, no one could possibly measure up.
“That lasted until he met Haven.”
Garrett racked his brain for a moment. “Your father’s last wife.”
“And my brother’s only paramour, brief as their liaison was.”
Garrett frowned. “How did that come about?”
“Have you ever seen a picture of Haven?” Berengaria reached out to the table between them and shuffled the computerized top back and forth until she’d brought up the image she was searching for. The girl was…well, exquisite. She reminded Garrett a little of his own mother, possessed of a beauty so exceptional as to render her almost alien. People could shape themselves into almost anything these days, but every so often someone came along who still blew people’s minds. Haven was one of those people.
“She’s very beautiful.”
“Mmm, yes.” Berengaria lifted her fingertips and the picture faded away. “Her parents were low-level aristocrats on Firenze who spent all they had getting her to Olympus to make a good match. Haven wasn’t much of a student, but she had aspirations, insofar as they went. She and Raymond met at a dinner hosted by her planet’s ambassador, and he decided he wanted her. Haven was amenable.”
“They sound like a very odd match.”
“They were quite compatible in their mercenary natures,” Berengaria said. “She gave him the attention he wished for, and he had the one person who had ever intrigued him on his arm. For Raymond, it was everything he’d ever wanted.
“And then she met my father.” Berengaria sighed. “I loved my father when I was a child, but as I grew I could see just how poorly he had done by his families. He was far from a perfect man, and this was exactly the sort of incident he could have avoided and actively chose to pursue instead. He had Raymond’s good looks and far more vivacity, and he seduced her away from my brother in the space of a single evening. They married two weeks later.”
Garrett winced. “Ouch.”
“Ouch indeed,” Berengaria agreed. “It broke Raymond’s mind; not his heart, because I’m almost sure that he wasn’t in love with her. But he couldn’t conceptualize how anyone could throw him over after he had deigned to notice them. He was a god and there could be no others, and yet the devil had swooped in and plucked his acolyte right out from under him. He couldn’t allow such a trespass to stand.”
Now they were getting into the meat of things. “You think he killed your father, then?”
Berengaria sniffed derisively. “I know he was behind that attack. The same way I know he’s responsible for killing almost all of the rest of us, the same way I know that no evidence of that can be found. The only concrete evidence of Raymond’s wrongdoing rests in Kyle, which is why he’ll fight to the death to keep Kyle from undergoing close psychic probing or trace searched for genetic manipulation.”
Garrett frowned. “What do you mean?”
Berengaria’s chuckle was so sharp it should have cut him. “No one was supposed to survive the attack that killed my father. They were traveling in the nearest thing to an empty zone that exists in Federation space. I was more paranoid than Raymond had suspected at this point, though, and I’d affixed a tracker of my own to my father’s ship. When it stopped broadcasting I extrapolated their last position and roused rescuers. Kyle was the only one left. Our other siblings…” She looked away. “Their escape pods were too close to the blast, and had been damaged. They froze to death. My father, Haven, and the crew were lost instantly, of course.
“I petitioned the courts for custody of Kyle and won. I knew it wouldn’t last. Raymond would try to finish his work. I was prepared to fight him for it, but then…my accident occurred.”
Garrett watched her smooth her hands over each other. “Some sort of malfunction in your Regen tank?”
She nodded. “You’re very insightful, Mr. Helms. Yes. There was a very targeted malfunction in my personal tank’s software which caused cellular and DNA damage instead of repairing it. By the time I was removed, I had aged almost a century, and one of my aides had permanently disappeared.” She held her hands up and looked at them critically. “Such damage takes time to repair if you want to protect your mind. I’ve been at it for twelve years now, and I’m perhaps halfway back to normal.
“I thought Raymond would kill Kyle, but I was wrong. I had spies of my own at the time, and before the most loyal of them was found and killed, she told me what Raymond had done. His obsession with Haven had never died, despite his killing her. With Kyle, Raymond saw a chance to both have a piece of Haven and to expunge the last of our father from his life. He had his personal doctor endeavor to replace the parts of Kyle’s genome that came from Foster with Raymond’s own, to make Kyle into the child he had never had, and never truly wanted before he was denied the opportunity.”
Garrett knew his mouth had fallen open, but he couldn’t quite get it to shut. “He…that sort of manipulation is…”
“Illegal? Imperfect? Dangerous? Yes. And when it didn’t give him the worshipful child he had expected to get, it was too late to quietly dispose of Kyle; he was in the public’s eye by then. So Raymond sent Kyle away, and told me if I attempted any contact with him I would regret it. I believed him.” She shrugged. “I created this place to heal within, and shut out the rest of the universe, including my younger brother. There’s only so far you can extend yourself before the thread of your will snaps. I reached that time when I found myself in a body I no longer recognized.”
“And this genetic manipulation could be proven?” Garrett pressed.
“Absolutely. It stems to a time that Kyle has no memory of, and that would be enough of a red flag to a behavioral psychic or psychologist that the necessary tests could be done. Raymond won’t be easy to overcome, however.” She tilted her head slightly as she looked at Garrett, and he saw the weariness in her eyes, the hopelessness that still pervaded her. “Be careful he doesn’t draw you out too far, Mr. Helms. You have vulnerabilities that would be far too easy to take advantage of.”
Cody. Jonah. The girls. “He can’t come at me without consequences.”
“For some people, ‘consequence’ is just a word,” Berengaria said.
The juice finally arrived, but Garrett wasn’t thirsty anymore.