“When I think of how many dreams could’ve been that are forgotten, it infuriates me… It should infuriate us all.” – Lance Lawson aged seventeen.

The guests sitting around the conference table were visibly tired. Conversation had died out between them although it was clear by their expressions that there had been dissent in the ranks prior to Victoria’s arrival.

All eyes had turned to her when she had first entered, unsure if her appearance was a sign of development in the day’s events or just another IDT Rep sent by Mister Fyres to apologize for the delay. In retrospect she wasn’t much different from the latter.

“Mister Lawson will be arriving shortly ladies and gentlemen,” she said with a hopefully convincing smile. “He thanks you for your patience!”

The entire table seemed to slump in unison. Some did so with relief but most seemed unconvinced and impatient. Victoria was thankful that the energy of the room was too low for anyone to take that impatience out on her, for now at least. The image of Mister Lawson stalling any further and leaving her to deal with the consequences left a nauseous sensation in her stomach.She distracted herself with a quick head count on those present.

It was part of Victoria’s job to know who was who in the business world. Her close work with Mister Lawson suggested that she would cross paths with many big names in due time. On the contrary though, Mister Lawson tended to leave most business networking to Mister Fyres while he focused on directing the practical work of IDT’s Science Division.

This lack of interest in the politics of business showed in the duties he allocated Victoria, teaching her to document the findings of experiments and actively encouraging her not to concern herself too much with “all that other crap.”

Still, it hadn’t stopped her memorizing the names of the eighteen potential investors invited here today. Each one of them was a well known name within the business world…and every one of them filthy rich.

All eighteen seemed to be present but Victoria recognized less than half of them by appearance. She quickly checked their names on her mental list as she went clockwise around the table.

Sam Jensen, Marissa Günter, Gabriella Avellino, Zakhar Runov, Gorman Stoltz. Alma Fuller, Harold Li, Jennifer Randall and Alexandro Conti.

The most notable was Ms Günter who was the heiress to the greatest business empire in the world. Her father Lukas had partnered with IDT in the past to plan the development of properties embedded with V-Ware technology. His poor health had allowed for Marissa to take the reins of the company these days and she had quickly proven herself a much more difficult business partner than her father to deal with.

Other members of note were Ms Avellino and Mr Stoltz who were owners of the two largest virtual markets in the West. Their rivalry was fierce but with a little luck, that would benefit IDT when the time came to negotiate the investments they would make. There was also Doctor Runov who was arguably the biggest name in medical science today.

The nine remaining faces were lost to Victoria but judging by the names on her list, she was standing in a room with some of the most powerful people in the world.

The door opened behind her and Victoria turned to greet her employer but her smile soon faltered when she saw his expression. The agitation of the investors was nothing compared to Mister Lawson’s right now, though he was hiding it well. What had happened in the short time that she’d been gone?

“Is everyone accounted for Miss Yale?” There was no hint of anger in his voice but the tension in his jaw was visible.

“Yes sir…Is everything-” He didn’t seem to hear her for he was already striding to the head of the conference table.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen!” he began.  “My name is Lance Lawson, CEO of Imminent Dreamer Technologies – or IDT for short – and Chief of Staff here on Floor Forty which I will be taking you through today to witness something that has never before been seen in history!”

The words rolled off his tongue flawlessly. Every face in the room lit up in shock at the sudden change of pace.

“This here is my lovely intern, Miss Victoria Yale who will be joining us for what will also be her very first immersive tour of what we have to offer today…although God willing not her last…”

Victoria blushed slightly as she was introduced but raised a hand in greeting. She circled around to the side of the table in order to keep out of Mister Lawson’s way…and to observe the people he was dealing with. Some of the group looked like they wanted to complain of the wait he had put them through but their curiosity and eagerness to have things move along overruled their indignation. Still, many of them seemed to be straining their features for the sake of looking visibly unimpressed. 

“Now before we begin I would like to remind you that you have all signed non-disclosure agreements to get here today and I don’t just mean the private tour! Everything you have witnessed since arriving on Floor Forty, even the color scheme of this room…” He waved an arm casually towards the smooth ocean blue wall on his right “…Quite lovely isn’t it? – are most likely included in a clause somewhere in that big old NDA! Any evidence that the companies you each represent have revealed information regarding Floor Forty outside of any future business agreements with IDT will result in your instant arrest and bankruptcy… which I imagine is an imminent nightmare for you all!”

He spoke so casually that it took some of the group a moment for the information to sink in. Shock and outrage sparked on the faces of many who had clearly neglected to read the agreement in detail, presuming it to be standard paperwork. The more shrewd members of the group gave small trickles of nervous laughter or simply nodded in agreement silently.

Marissa Günter who had been the most audibly irritated about her wait was quite literally ruffling the feathers on the extravagant coat she wore.

“Now hold on just a sec-” She began to splutter.

“Good, so we’re all clear!” Mister Lawson cut her off without hesitation. “Now, a second point of business before we begin…”

The easy dismissal of Ms Günter seemed to rattle the group as a whole. Some were exchanging wary glances but their attention remained quickly refocused back on their host.

“…can I ask which of you would be ‘Walter Velmont’?” Victoria watched as he scanned each of them with a predatory glare.

All heads turned to a well groomed young man in his mid 20’s at the far end of the table. His hands were clasped together and he was shifting uncomfortably in his chair. Mister Lawson’s eyes fell on him before motioning towards the door.

“You can leave now, thank you for stopping by.”

“Excuse me?” Mister Velmont proclaimed, his eyes widened in surprise but his expression of shock seemed somewhat unconvincing.

“I said thank you for stopping by. As for everyone else…”

“Leave?” Interrupted the young Velmont. “Why on earth would I do that?”

Mister Lawson looked at him with indifference but Victoria saw something she had never seen on the laid back features of her boss. Disgust.

“Your father is Howard Velmont, CEO of Velmont Industries which deals in the production of military armaments and specializes in experimental warfare… A company which has no use for what we have to offer you today.”

Suddenly it all made sense to Victoria. Though Mister Lawson left public appearances of IDT to Mister Fyres, everyone knew that it was Mister Lawson who had actually invented the V-Ware, the most immersive and realistic virtual reality equipment the world had ever seen. The potential of the V-Ware seemed limitless, with today’s programs being capable of holding a simulation that could span the size of Ulysses itself.

As a matter of fact, Victoria was fairly certain that there already was a simulation available containing a perfect replica of Ulysses, a city that held a population of almost eight million.

This discovery had sparked frenzy in the business world as companies offered large sums of money to have V-Ware products created that tailored to their own business needs. The most lucrative of these offers came from the military, and private contractors that dealt closely with the armed forces such as Velmont Industries.

It made little difference how much was offered. Lance Lawson denied any application for a V-Ware product that immersed people or trained them in simulated violence. No matter what.

There were rumors that these companies had even tried to sway Mister Lawson through sinister means such as blackmail, corporate sabotage and even death threats. Nothing had succeeded, though only a select few would possibly know how he or the company had survived. Still, if there was one thing the world understood about Lance Lawson, it was that he would never allow his work to be used for violent means.

It seemed that the Velmonts were the exception. Walter Velmont was visibly irritated but tried not to show it in his voice. Giving a small cough, he tried to compose himself.

“Forgive me Mister Lawson…I think you misunderstand!” He began. “The applications your science could be used for…”

“No Mister Velmont,” Mister Lawson raised a hand to silence him. “I think you misunderstand so I will put it simply…You are not welcome at Imminent Dream Technologies.”

His casual tone was gone now and was replaced with something much more dangerous. Leaning forward, he rested his hands on the table as he stared down at his unwanted guest. The others in the room were completely silent but Victoria could see that others were beginning to understand just how serious Mister Lawson was about this.

Walter Velmont understood it much less it seemed. His face had turned a deep shade of red, his fists now clenched.

“Who the hell do you think you are? I have been here all day awaiting an organized tour of your facilities!” He barked. “My presence here was authorized by Mister Fyres himself-”

“I assure you, Mister Fyres regrets that decision.” countered Lawson. “Anyway, the point is moot. I have an issue and I am the one leading this tour, not Mister Fyres.”

Walter Velmont seethed with anger but made no move to leave.

“I would expect more tact and professionalism from a fellow businessman!” He uttered through clenched teeth.

Before Mister Lawson could respond, an older gentleman that Victoria did not recognize decided to cut into the argument.

“Oh, for God’s sake man, show a little dignity, why don’t you!” He bellowed, much to the young Velmont’s surprise. “The man says you aren’t welcome so get the hell out!”

Marissa Günter joined the fray, clucking her own disapproval.

“That’s right! You’re holding this up for the rest of us! We’ve waited long enough without you causing more problems!”

Others began to chime in, calling for Velmont to be tossed out. The voices grew louder and Victoria turned to Mister Lawson, expecting him to regain order.

Instead he seemed to be enjoying the spectacle.

Velmont slammed his fist on the table, silencing the room before he stood from his place at the table. Grabbing his green suede jacket off the wall, he marched around the table, buttoning it up slowly and deliberately.

He stopped not two feet away from Mister Lawson and glared at him. Victoria was unsure which man seemed more deadly at that moment.

“You think you can hide your little inventions away in this… eyesore forever?” He spat. “You won’t always be able to pick and choose who you sell to Mister Lawson, not with the toys you like to build!”

Victoria felt a chill in the air. The others were also tense now. Victoria couldn’t tell what Mister Lawson thought of it all but there was no hint of hesitation in his voice when he turned from Velmont to speak to her.

“Miss Yale, please have security escort Mister Velmont out of the building…Immediately.”

Victoria opened the door and signaled the two burly security guards out in the hall. They entered the conference room, taking position at each side of the unwelcome guest who grimaced.

“You could have made a lot of money today Mister Lawson.” He said, holding his head high. “I can assure you, things will only get worse from here.

Victoria expected some witty response from Mister Lawson but he said nothing as the guards led Velmont out.

The door closed behind them and Mister Lawson turned back to the guests. The other members seemed wary to even look at him. Doubtless they were cautious to anger their host and share a similar fate to Velmont. The group waited with baited breath for what could possibly happen next.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” Mister Lawson began. “I think it’s about time we began the tour, don’t you?”

Mister Lawson smiled widely as if the past five minutes had never occurred.

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