Chapter One

“The most powerful and beautiful worlds – and the most terrifying – are born within our dreams… Why should they all stay there?” – Edgar Gehring, Professor at Ulysses Central Academy.

“Evan…”

Elene’s nose sleepily nudged the shoulder she’d been using as a pillow. The summer heat filled the room and the humidity gently urged for her to return to sleep but somehow she persevered.

“Evannnn,” she repeated, annoyance twinging at her now. “you snoozed the alarm! Get up…”

“Hrrmmwad…”

“You can’t be late…Up!

There was nothing this time save his slow, steady breaths. Elene was unconvinced that his first protest could even be regarded a real response.

She lowered the arm around his neck and gently caressed his chest with her fingers. This time he began to stir despite his mouth still hanging open. Her light strokes began to trail downwards and were met with small appreciative noises that encouraged her expectantly.

Those expectations were shot down by a sharp poke to his rib cage.

Evan jerked up with a spasm and a sharp yelp. He rolled away from her and she shifted her way to the center of the bed, smugly smiling to herself.

Evan sat himself up with a groan, holding a hand to the pain in his side.

“Urgh…” He groaned. “I’ll get you for that kiddo…” Resting his elbows on his thighs he leaned forward, feeling sorry for himself as he gathered the will to begin another day. Turning to the bed he gave a sharp glare at Elene who was already fast asleep again.

Lucky woman… Despite himself he smiled. His cruel awakening didn’t make him feel any less the lucky one.

He reached for the bedside table with a clumsy hand and closed it around a thin pair of designer glasses. Placing them on the bridge of his nose, he looked up and squinted as his eyes resisted the bright glow that shone through the skylight above. His vision began to clear and his eyes flickered to the clock on the wall.

“Shit!” Elene gave a small start at his outburst but Evan ignored her. He had already sprung off the bed and into action.

He scooped up a used white shirt from the floor and gave it a quick smell. It would have to do. Throwing it over his shoulders, he grabbed a can of deodorant and sprayed the vital points before buttoning himself up. Next was a pair of pressed work trousers that hung over the bathroom door, followed by a fight with a pair of damp socks which received the same deodorant treatment.

Professionalism at its’ finest…

Slipping on his shoes, Evan checked himself in the mirror. A quick tousle of his long blond hair and he began to look less like he’d been dragged from his bed. He grabbed his keys from the dashboard and fished his phone out of his coat pocket. Judging by the light shining in from above, the coat wouldn’t be necessary today.

The final glance in the mirror was no more helpful than the first.

“Eh. You’ll do.” He said to himself before dashing out the door.

Thousands had gathered in the streets of the Northlight District, home to everything ‘tech’ here in the city of Ulysses. Roads were separated from the pedestrian walkways by a long line of barricades and a sparse group of security guards who stood at the ready behind them. Only those working within the district were authorized to traverse the roads today.

It seemed like someone had neglected to read that memo since the guards were physically forcing some poor idiot’s leg back over the fence from whence it came. It all seemed strangely hostile to Evan. He grabbed his work identification out of his shirt pocket and held it out the window for the sour-faced guard blocking his way.

Doctor Evan Rothman, ID 02819
Imminent Dreamer Technologies
Chief of Virtual Science Analysis

The guard raised a handheld scanner to the bar code and began observing the picture, clearly comparing it to Evan’s face. His eyes darted between the two as if there was any doubt to be had so Evan attempted the same photogenic smile as his photograph to assist.

The scanner gave a high pitched tone and the guard stepped back.

“Busy day for you doctor.” He called out joylessly, motioning for Evan to get moving.

“Not as busy as yours I hope.” Evan muttered to himself, setting off deeper into Northlight.

It was the easiest commute Evan had ever taken. The streets were empty save for a few company cars on the road ahead. All of them traveled in the same direction, turning the same corners with no oncoming traffic to delay them. Looking to each side Evan noticed that the hordes on the sidewalks were moving with the same organized unity now. Usually that would be considered abnormal, especially during rush hour. Today though, there was only one place worth going to in Northlight.

The IDT tower was no mere office building; it was a technological wonder. While not the tallest building in the world it was certainly the most provocative Evan had ever seen, taking up several district blocks for itself.
By day, stainless glass reflected piercing sunlight in every direction. As evening drew in, the lights came alive around the edges of IDT, forming a myriad of neon around it that could be seen for miles. The very building seemed to be screaming for attention.

The main entrance to IDT was being kept clear by scores of security guards that had been hired especially for the Northlight Science Expo taking place today. Crowds filled the Plaza Square outside the tower, eager to see what exciting technologies would be on show today. A variety of stalls and stages were set up around the plaza by some of Ulysses’ most intelligent entrepreneurs seeking to get word of their inventions out into the world.

For now though, they would have to wait. The attention of the crowds seemed to be focused on the gigantic LCD screens on each side of the building above them. Even as Evan parked his car in the staff park around the corner, he could hear the voice of a reporter echoing through the speakers around the base of the building.

“Imminent Dreamer Technologies is the leading computer software company of the era who first made their mark on the world with their groundbreaking range of ‘V-Ware’ products; the most advanced and affordable Virtual Reality software available on the market. From virtual classrooms and online stores to immersive gaming simulations, co-founders Elliott Fyres and Lance Lawson are mostly known today for bringing the world into the ‘Golden Age’ of virtual technology…”

“Elliott is bound to love that…” Evan smirked to himself.

“Earlier this year, Fyres and Lawson invited some of the world’s richest faces to visit IDT for a sneak preview of their latest technological breakthrough which they have so far kept very close to their chest.” The report continued on. “The presentation will be hosted personally by Mister Lawson in hopes of acquiring shareholder interest before the product is revealed to the public later during the week-long Northlight Science Expo. Whether they’ll be presenting the newest range of V-Ware or something new altogether, you can rest assured that it’s going to be a big one!”

“You don’t know the half of it, buddy.” muttered Evan as he flashed his identity card at the doorman.

Lance Lawson’s penthouse was located eighty floors up on the top floor of IDT yet the noise from below still faintly reached his ears. He was tempted to take a peek out the window to see exactly how many people were gathered…but that would require moving from the nest he’d built around himself here on the couch.

-Ding-

The sound of the hallway elevator signaled trouble for Lance. The door behind him opened and violently slammed shut again. Lance didn’t need to turn around to recognize the walking tantrum that stormed towards him.

“Are you fucking kidding me Lance?”

Lance arched his neck over the arm to see his oh-so-lovable partner standing over him scowling, a slick layer of sweat glazing his balding hairline. Behind him stood Victoria Yale who had been worked as Lance’s personal assistant for almost a year.

“How’s it goin’ Elliott…” Lance said, completely unperturbed by Elliott’s huffing.”Miss Yale, good to see you! Would you kindly switch to Channel 5 News for me? I can’t seem to find the remote…”

“Certainly Mister Lawson…” Miss Yale replied with a curt smile as she approached the television and changed the channel. A pair of news anchors appeared on the screen and were in mid-announcement.

“…now going live to George Marlow who’s hoping to catch some of the action in the big reveal. How’s things down there George?”

“Lance…” Elliott warned, leaning over him but Lance put a hand over Elliott’s mouth to stifle him.

“Hold up Elliott, they’re talking about us!”

Elliott growled but his curiosity got the better of him and for a moment his head turned to the screen where a reporter with a peculiar ginger afro was bouncing from foot to foot excitedly.

“Thanks Stacey! I’m standing outside the IDT Tower and I am not alone! People from all over have gathered for a look at the big reveal which CEO Elliott Fyres has claimed will ‘Change our world forever!’ If co-founder Lance Lawson has been overseeing this development personally then that claim may not be exaggerated…”

Lance looked up at his partner.

“What do you think Elliott?” He asked with a mischievous grin. “I think they like me!”

Elliott’s attention shot back to Lance, his anger instantly reignited.

“Tell me you’re joking…You realize you should be downstairs, yes?”

Lance shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the television.

“Elliott, when am I ever serious?” He asked, holding back the urge to roll his eyes. “Can’t we save this until after I’ve finished my coffee?”

“You’re not drinking any coffee!” Elliott spluttered.

“Exactly!” Lance retorted, swinging his legs round and sitting upright. “Miss Yale, would you kindly fetch me a coffee?”

Miss Yale silently made her way towards the espresso machine. Elliott looked ready to stop her but decided against it. Instead, he stepped in front of the television blocking Lance’s line of sight with his stout, beefy frame. The frown he wore seemed at risk of eating his eyeballs.

“Lance, some of these investors have been here since business hours began! They’re all waiting for your presentation!”

“Well that was stupid of them,” Lance said, cocking an eyebrow. “My presentation wasn’t to begin until twelve.”

Lance!” Elliott shouted, finally snapping. “Marissa Günter is threatening to leave and she won’t be the only one if you don’t move now!” He didn’t need to indicate to the clock, they both knew it was long past twelve.

“Here you are sir…” Miss Yale offered a small steaming cup, heedless of the bickering happening in front of her. Lance reached over and took it with a grateful nod before proceeding to rip open the sweetener packs on the side of the saucer. After adding his sixth sweetener, he looked up at Elliott who was still visibly seething.

“One coffee, Elliott;” Lance sighed, raising his index finger. “Just one coffee and I’ll be ready for action, okay?”

There was a visible struggle going on in Elliott’s mind but he wasn’t going to start a real argument today. He wouldn’t risk having Lance walk out on the presentation. It certainly he wasn’t above that kind of behavior.

Elliott seemed to realize it too. Stepping to the side he beckoned to Victoria with his hand.

“Miss Yale, the list if you will.”

Lance sipped his coffee, casting a knowing grin at Elliott as Victoria pulled a sheet of paper from a clipboard that Lance could swear had appeared out of thin air.

“Everyone who is waiting downstairs is on that list,” Elliott began. “you won’t have time to get too friendly with them… but try your best to be…”

“…an ass kisser?” Lance suggested, crinkling up a corner of the list absentmindedly.

“How about approachable?” Elliott corrected him, his eye twitching slightly.

Perfect. I hate these high class meet and greets.

The look on Elliott’s face told Lance that he suspected exactly what Lance was thinking. It was no surprise really; the two of them had been in business together for almost twenty years despite there being a gap of fourteen years between them.

Lance felt a small shred of guilt ribbing his elder partner.  Elliott would be fifty this year but looking at him now, he seemed much older.  They’d always had minor conflicts like these but it was far too easy to beat Elliott around on a day so important for the company. It was no fun when it was this easy.

Lance finished his coffee and place it down on the stand next to the couch. Miss Yale moved to collect it but Lance raised a hand to stop her.

“Miss Yale, you will be joining today’s presentation.”

Her face exhibited more shock than Elliott’s.

“Sir,” she began. “I’m supposed to be helping out in Imaging today, they…”

“Will make do without you.” Lance interrupted. “Get down to Floor Forty and inform our guests that I’ll be joining you all shortly.”

Miss Yale was uncharacteristically hesitant to move. Instead, she turned a nervous glance to Elliott who nodded and gave a small noise of assent.

“You’ve been here a while now Miss Yale, I suppose you’ve earned it.”

It seemed to take a moment to sink in but hesitation quickly turned into elation.

“Oh! Yes sir…I…I mean, Thank you, sir!” She said it with such eagerness as she made for the door that both Lance and Elliott shared a smirk. Not that she noticed; she had already left the room.

Once the door was closed behind her, Elliott turned once again to Lance. Now that things were finally in motion his demeanor was gradually relaxing.

“You should get down there too Lance… Please don’t keep them waiting any longer.” The calmness and sincerity in the request was the final straw to unravel Lance’s cockiness. Lance took a breath, glancing around the room as if he expected someone to be listening in on them.

“Elliott… I’m sorry…I know how important this is to you…” He struggled to look Elliott in the eye but the grumpy sod deserved that much.

The creases on Elliott’s forehead softened but he still wore his grimace.

“Lance…It’s not just me. This is important to the company, to all of us! If these investors don’t take the bait then the cost of this project, it… It could ruin us…”

Lance was all too aware of that but the severity of things rarely affected him much. Still, he empathized with Elliott who had taken on the brunt of the CEO paperwork on Lance’s behalf over the years while Lance tinkered with his toys.

Thinking of those things weighed on Lance more than he’d expected them to. He placed a comforting hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“They’ll bite Elliott.” He said with confidence. His guilt didn’t change the fact that they’d be mad not to want a piece of the pie.

Elliott nodded weakly, saying nothing but Lance persisted. He was eager to end the talk on a high.

They will and you know it…” he grinned, tapping the sheet of paper in his hand. “This is what IDT has been working towards from the very beginning… and now we can finally do it Elliott!”

“We can finally change the world…” At that, Elliott finally cracked a smile to match Lance’s. They began to laugh and for a moment the bond that had held them together so long was proudly showing itself.

“You go ahead Lance…Think I’ll grab myself a coffee too and see what the news has to say about us while you get things on track.”

“No problem. Don’t listen to a thing they say about me, chief.” Lance said, raising his hand in a mocking salute. “You and I know who’s really running things around here…”

As he approached the door he began skimming the list of names that he was about to get acquainted with for the big reveal.

Until a name caught his eye, freezing him in place. A name that didn’t belong.

Lance turned back to his partner. Elliott must have heard the list crumple in Lance’s fist for he was already sitting up straight watching Lance, his breath held.

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Lance asked. A disbelieving laugh escaped his lips but a quiet fury was rising within him.

“Lance…Ju-just listen…” Elliott began to stammer. At least he had the decency to look ashamed of himself.

“No Elliott, you listen!” Lance retorted. “You…you just…don’t even start!”

“…What are you going to do Lance?” Elliott asked, a hint of fear in his voice. Any moment of confidence and camaraderie they’d shared was instantly forgotten. There was only anxiety and raw anger between them now.

Lance tapped the crumpled piece of paper, mouthing wordlessly. Finally he gave up on providing an answer and simply turned away.

“Lance!”

Lance closed the door and made his way to the elevator.
“In charge,” my ass.

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