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Pandora Downloaded


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Pearson's apartment

Pearson was having trouble sleeping.

Damn concepts.

"Hey Pearson, are you sure it's okay to download so many concepts? No problem, Harris! It's worth it! What's the worst that could happen? I'm an idiot."

He kept breathing heavily; his last dream wasn't a kind one.

"Come on, there must be a solution here... Individual control request: Activate Watson."

A female voice said in his mind. "You are requesting to activate plugin: Watson, search assistant. Proceed?"

"Yes, please."

"Activating Watson sensei... activated. Warning: You have 9% of storage space available."

"Yeah yeah, I know, I'll purchase a memory upgrade soon. Start Watson on-demand."

"Watson on-demand activated."


A holographic man dressed in an antique attire appeared in his field of view.

"Watson knowledge assistant, version 2.0, at your service."

"I downloaded too many concepts and am having nightmares. What do I do?"

"Searching... two hundred and thirty three results found."

"Get me the most relevant ones."

"Result one: Alleviating symptoms of concept overload."

"Read it to me, please."

"Q: What do I do if I downloaded too many concepts? A: If you activate too many concepts you can experience the following symptoms in the short term: dissociative episodes, nightmares, dizziness, migraines that result from the so-called 'bleeding effect'. If you suspect you downloaded too many concepts or concepts too advanced for your current knowledge, don't worry: All you have to do is disable all concepts and reenable them one by one. Note that this must be done at least 8 hours before sleep; otherwise it will be too late and you'll have to cope with the symptoms."

"Stop. Shut down."

The Watson hologram disappeared.

"Well, shit."

There was no use worrying now; what would happen, would happen. He closed his eyes and went to sleep. He only hoped the concepts wouldn't trigger any more false memories.

"Honey, please. Maybe it's for the best. I know how much this frustrates you, but please, you have to let it go..."

"You don't understand, Kimiko. You saw what those men did! And that poor girl..."

I want Kahazaki to die.

"I need to get to the bottom of this."

"But Rick... what if something happens to you? I did not marry you to see you get killed by some gangsters! Rick, please..."

Ki o tsukete.

Kimiko put her delicate hands around him. "I love you, Rick..."

"Kimiko... I need to do this... I'm sorry."

"Rick... I was afraid it would have to come to this. If you leave through that door, I'm filing for a divorce."

Pearson walked through and closed the door behind him. He walked as fast as he could to flee from the sounds of his wife's sobbing.

Whenever Prometheus asks the Cyberpol not to investigate something, they won't.

"So, Mr. Bond," said the officer with too many badges on his chest to count, "why did you have to come to me directly?"

"I believe Mr. Meyer was involved. With him putting a leash the Cyberpol, I had no choice but to come here. I also came up here for other reasons..."

Look at that babe! Who is she?

"...hence the portrait of the woman I showed you." Pearson finished his explanation.

The officer spoke. "The fact that you came to me directly, putting your life at risk already tells me you're a man who won't give up no matter the obstacles ahead. I like that. However, your request is one incredibly difficult to grant."

"What do you mean?"

As the glass elevator went up, Pearson looked at the concrete a hundred meters below him. The concave ground that shot through the sky and above - typical in toroidal space stations - made him feel dizzy.

The high rank officer replied. "Performing a feat of this magnitude requires me to interfere with the local government."

If you can get that evidence...

"It doesn't have to be you, or any of your subordinates. I'll volunteer. I just need your permission."

"Going solo in a major conspiracy investigation? You realize that the slightest mistake could result..."

All of the lieutenant's cases are political, hidden behind several layers of intrigue...

The slightest mistake...

The slums
Industrial District
West side New Hong Kong

How could he be such a fool? Now his wife had been kidnapped, and he had to go to an obvious trap just with the hope that he could negotiate her release. But his enemies were now chasing him through the sewers; he climbed the first ladder that he saw and opened the manhole cover, hoping there wouldn’t be another ambush up there.

After finding a spot to hide, he was able to shoot at them with his silenced gun. He kept running and crouching, just in case a sniper was hiding around. Several blocks later he decided he was out of danger. He checked his implants' clock.

24:67. Only fourteen minutes 'till midnight; he still had time. Now all that was left was to go to the appointed building and hope that Kimiko would still be alive. "Please," he whispered, "don't die on me. Don't die on me..."

Inoue> Pearson, you there?
> Shh!
Inoue> Don’t worry, we got you covered. Go to the meeting point, my team will take care of the rest. Remember, even if she dies we can resurrect her, given the usual provisions.
> Given.
Inoue> Stop worrying and focus on the mission. And Pearson, you have my full support.
> Thanks.

Pearson kept walking in the shadows until he reached the apartment building. He took a deep breath, and waited for the best.

A loudspeaker took him by surprise. "HEY, PORK!!"

Pearson's apartment
6:18 hrs.

Pearson woke up; his heart was racing and once again, he was covered in sweat.

"Fuck. Not again."

He turned on his lamp and noticed the gun there. He grabbed it and noticed a faint layer of dust.


He walked to the bathroom and washed his head, drying himself with the hands towel. He smelled it. "Ah, it's fine." He finished drying his chest and put on an undershirt. He went back to the bedroom, grabbed the gun and exited to the livingroom-hall. He immediately turned left and opened the door to the small studio; the place where he would work on Kimiko's drawings.

He wiped the dust from the seat, turned on the lamp and took out a bottle of cleaning fluid from the floor. Holding the frame with his left hand, he pulled back the slide and began to carefully disassemble the gun into its major components. To his surprise, the gun was in better state than he imagined. Blowing the dust here and there, lubricating specific parts... and reassembling it.

Hmm. The magazine indicator had run out of battery. Better charge it. He searched for the mini charging cable and plugged it into the wall socket. An hour should be enough. How long since he had done this at home? He recalled that even before the Cyberpol had contacted him...

Wait a minute. He had never been a member of the Cyberpol.

He grunted and pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose. He went back to his bed and looked for the pills the doctor had given him. "Fuck... where are they? Fuck..."

He kept staring at the ceiling. Would he get more false memories with each day he skipped his medications? Would he suddenly lose his sense of reality and start hallucinating enemies here and there?

And what would Lord Wakefield think of him? Worse, what would Bethany think? What would Inoue think?

He decided to go for an alternative for the medicines; a couple of happy pills and he started feeling better. He covered himself with the sheets and turned off the lamp. He wasn't sure if he got any more sleep, he just kept hallucinating more scenes that didn't happen in his past until a phone call woke him up.

"Uh, hello?" he said with a sore throat, rubbing his eyes.

"Pearson, don't tell me you sleeping! Meeting's in half an hour, and Victorians hate impunctuality!"

"Shit!" Pearson jumped to the bathroom. "I'll be ready as soon as I can. Meet you at the hotel?"

The doorbell rang.

"Fuck. Who is it!"

"Yo Pearson! It's me!"

He stumbled himself to the door. "Harris?"

"Jesus, man! You look like shit! How much did you sleep?"


"Ooh, Casanova! You spent all night -"

"Shut up. It was the nightmares."

"I fucking knew it! Jesus, man, get to the shower, I'll help you with your clothes."

"Harris, you're a lifesaver. I could kiss you right now!"

Pearson jumped to the shower and opened the cold water full. "Shiiiiiiiiiit!!!!"

Harris couldn't help laughing.

"Harris!" he shouted from the bathroom. "Do me a favor!"


"Prepare a patch for my chest! And some bandages!"

"Where at?"

"The kitchen!"

"Want some hair gel?!"

Pearson stepped out of the bathroom with his towel, caught the hair gel and went back inside.

Harris laughed again. "Jesus man, you really, REALLY need to start working on your punctuality. What'd ya do without me?"

"Die, probably."

"Hey - not funny, man! Not funny!"

Pearson finally came out dry and combed. The red could still be seen in the zipper around his chest. "The patch, the patch!"

A few turns of the bandages and he was ready for the action. "Let me fetch the car."

"No need! Cab's in the roof."

"Harris, I love you."

Harris chuckled. "Speaking of love, what happened last night! Tell, tell!"

Pearson walked to the studio without closing the door. "Nothing happened. Well, something happened, but not something-something. Just... something. And then nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, something did happen, but not between us."

Harris laughed again. "Pearson I have no fucking idea what you're talking about."

Pearson came out from the studio with the gun and walked back to the bed drawer.

"Lap dance, guilt, regret, idea, lesbians, and I left."

"Whoa. So you didn't do it?"


"Pearson... you're admirable."

"Thanks, but she was too young for me, anyway. She's just a kid. I couldn't stop feeling guilty every second I touched her."

"And thank God I'm young! I wouda totally done her."

"Fuck you, Harris," Pearson replied as he closed the drawer.

"Wait, why did you put the gun in the drawer?"

"Ah!" He smirked. "Let me show you."

Pearson opened the drawer. "See anything weird?"


"Ah, but grab this little clip from here, and..."

"Holy shit, Pearson. A secret compartment?"

"For emergencies. Which reminds me... got 20 bucks?"

"Sure, whatcha need them for?"

Pearson grabbed an empty wallet from the drawer, put the money inside, and put the drawer on a table near the entrance. "This one's for the burglars. My real wallet is right here." He tapped his right pocket, before grabbing the harness and putting it on. He touched the gun's dermal plaque, ten bullets left. He finally put on the vest and adjusted the necktie.

"Well? How do I look?"

Harris smiled and nodded. "You'll make a good impression. If we're not late."

Parson did the triple tap: Wallet, keys, gun. "Okay, I'm ready," he said, grabbing his coat. "Let's go."

Harris chuckled again. "Last one buys lunch!"

Emerson Estate
NeoVictorian Layer
Ken-3 citadel

"Remember, Bethany," said Jane, while they were going up the elevator. "These people are Victorians. They take etiquette very seriously. Are you sure you couldn't get better clothes than that?"

Beth rolled her eyes. "I. Want. To die."

Bethany grabbed her purse and took out a pair of happy-pills. Just before she opened the package, Talos grabbed her arm. "Don't," he said in a low voice.

"What? Why not?"

"As bothering as this reunion might be, you need to be fully alert, girl. You get unhinged when you're high, even if they're over-the-counter everyday drugs."

Beth sighed. "Fuck."

"Bethany! Watch your tongue!" said Jane between her teeth.

"For the first time in a while," added Talos, "I have to agree with your father here."

"What??? Is the f-word so bad in here?"

"I meant literally watching your tongue, Bethany. Lord Wakefield is going to record everything so you need to keep quiet, watch out for tricky questions, and answer with as little details as possible. Don't speak until it's strictly necessary, and don't make up lies. That would only raise suspicions against you."

"What suspicions? I don't understand."

"Just keep quiet and keep your ears open. Trust me, girl, if you pay attention, you'll learn more in this meeting than you have in years."

As the elevator began to accelerate, Jane gripped the handle tightly and closed her eyes.

"Talos..." Beth whispered. "What's wrong with da?"

"She has acrophobia. You didn't know?"

"How am I supposed to know? She barely talks about herself."

The elevator began to decelerate.

"Okay, we're almost there," said Talos.

A few seconds later, the elevator stopped and Jane sighed while pressing her palm against her chest. "Thank god, it's over."

Talos followed her, and Beth was the last to step out. After the elevator door closed behind them, it whirred and went back down. Bethany looked at the glass shaft that extended more than a kilometer below. She felt a bit of vertigo looking at the illuminated tunnel, but couldn't stop getting morbidly fascinated by it. "Holy hell..."

"Bethany, get in the carriage."

"What?" She turned around. "Holy shit, an actual carriage? Pulled by horses? Just how rich are these people?"

"Bethany, for your own good" Talos warned her, "please stop mentioning money while we're up here."

"Alright, alright! Jesus Christ!"

A short trip later they arrived to the Emersons' mansion. They were received by two finely dressed android maids.

"Holy shit," said Beth, "you even have robomaids."

"Beth... we're not here in a tour. Move on."

"I'm moving, just let me ask a couple of questions to the maid. I'll catch up."


"... in... private? Please?"

Talos shook his head and told the maids: "Report her to me if she tries to do anything inappropriate."

"Yes, sir."

The other maid escorted Jane and Talos to the living room.

"Yes? How may I be of service, miss?"

"Bethany, but you can call me Beth."

"Yes, miss Beth. How may I be of service?"

"Just a few questions. I haven't interacted with androids much, so I'm curious."


"First of all... how old are you? I mean, not in physical age, I mean... are you a latest-gen android, or..."

"No, miss. I wasn't manufactured by Prometheus. But I assure you, my capabilities have not diminished in the least."

"Have you ever been trained by a hunter?"

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Training how?"

"Aww... and here I hoped you were trained by Madame Dee. Sorry, it's just that..." Beth bit her lip. "You're pretty."

"Thank you."

"Can I ask you another question? Is it true that androids have emotions? That you can feel afraid, and excited, and all that?"

"Yes, miss, it's true."

"How are you feeling right now?"

"A bit nervous... I don't know you personally, and I don't trust you."

"Aw... right. Well, at least you know how I feel about your masters. I don't even know them."

"You're lady Jane's daughter, right?"

"Yes. Do you know what this meeting is about?"

"It's an informational meeting, miss, but I'm not authorized to disclose the details; Lord Wakefield was strict about that."

"Who's Lord Wakefield?"

"Our masters' lawyer."

"This is serious, right?"

The maid nodded once. "Yes, miss. Are you aware of what happened?"

"Talos told me that my aunt -"

"Bethany," interrupted Talos. "We're waiting."

Beth sighed. "Coming, just one final question!"

"Fine, just one."

"Okay, just quick. Do you think I'm physically attractive?"

"You're pretty and have a physically attractive shape. According to my statistics..."

"I'm not asking for data... I want your personal opinion. Do you find me hot?"

Talos took his palm to his forehead. "Gisela, she's trying to court you."

"Oh? Is that so?"

"She'll try to seduce any girl she likes and take her to her private chambers and fornicate with her."

"Oh... oh! I'm sorry, Miss, but I don't think this is appropriate, and it's a bad moment. The masters are very stressed right now."

"I... sorry. Never mind." She turned to Talos. "Party pooper," she muttered.

Talos stopped and turned around to face Beth. He spoke with a loud, firm voice: "Bethany Michaels Emerson."

Oh, shit.

"Can't I trust you to behave for at least one time in your life, Bethany? You may not know the Emersons and you may not consider them your grandparents; but despite all that they just lost their daughter, for God's sake! And all you're thinking about is getting laid!"

"I'm not! I was just -"

"Bethany, just shut. The fuck. Up. You had your chance to vent and jack off in your bedroom all you wanted, but up here you got to learn to control yourself. Even if you weren't actually trying to get laid, don't make it look like you are. You need to keep appearances here, especially here, understand? And if by some extraordinary circumstance you can't possibly learn some manners, which I don't think is the case, even if you can't, at least do a minimum effort and learn to read the fucking room!"

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry WHAT!"

"I'm sorry, sir."

"And remember: The family we're visiting are mourning their daughter. Do not make things any more difficult for them."

"No, sir."

"Good. Now get your ass inside before I smack the shit out of you."

"Yes, sir."

Bethany went inside and heard Talos apologize to the robomaid before closing the door behind him.

She sat down, coiling her tail around her finger.
"Bethany!" her father whispered.

With nothing to fidget with, she began to rock back and forth.
I hate it, she thought. I don't wanna be here.

"Bethany, get up," said her father.

The maid ran elegantly to the stairs and received this woman who had dog features. The woman was followed by a grey wolf.

So they ARE wolves, after all.

"Miss Bethany," the maid announced, "Lord David and Lady Lillian Emerson."

Talos> Don't make a scene.

Bethany swallowed. She approached and out of panic she reclined as she saw women do it in fancy movies. "Nice to meet you, Lady Emerson, Lord Emerson."

"Please, please, get up," said Lillian. "You can call me grandma."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. You have all the right to call me that way. Now let me look at you." Immediately, Lillian smiled and shed a single tear. "My god... you look just like her. Indeed you are her daughter."


Lillian extended her arm and pointed at the painting. "Behind you."

Bethany turned around; she hadn't noticed the painting. Slowly, she walked towards it. "I don't believe this..."

There were certain subtle differences, mainly the length of her nose and her cheekbones, but the brunette could have been her twin.

"Grandma... is this... my mother?"

"Yes, she is, dear. You look just like her, don't you think?"

"Yes, it was a surprise. When was this picture taken?"

"Twenty six years ago. Little Emma had reached nineteenth. One year before your father met her."

Beth felt a lump in her throat. She suddenly imagined her mother receiving her with open arms, telling her that she loved her, that she missed her so much...

"I'm sorry, I -"

"You're not ready to meet her, are you?"

Bethany shook her head.

"I understand, dear. Don't worry, your father told us everything. You're right to be mad. You're completely in the right to be mad at her... at us. But have a little mercy of this poor old woman, my burdens are already heavy as they are. Let's think of happier thoughts, shall we?"

Beth took a deep breath and nodded.

"There, there. Here, have a handkerchief."

"Thanks. To be honest, ma'am -"

"Call me grandma."

"Grandma, I feel very uncomfortable being here... I -"

"You need some time, don't you?"

Beth looked down and nodded.

"I understand. I wasn't ready either when I became David's bethrothed - I come from a laynoble family, and learning so many rules and euphemisms... but you'll manage, eventually."

"I - I don't think I can..."

"I got an idea. Follow me upstairs, honey, let's put a beautiful attire on you, shall we? Ana! Come here, quickly!"

"What? I... dad!"

Jane shooed her away with her hand, signaling her approval.

The dog lady grabbed Bethany's hand and took her to one of the bedrooms. Before she knew it, the maid undressed her and removed her clothes. She had never felt so naked in her entire life; overwhelmed by the embarrassment, Beth covered herself with her wings.

"Oh, look at you. You're so young and you already have an impressive bossom. I wonder if you inherited it from your father... or was it from David's lineage? Would you like a DNA test to find out?"

"No, thanks."

"Why not? Aren't you curious?"

"But not about that! And I very much appreciate my privacy, thank you."

"Okay, I'll leave you with Ana if you prefer. I'll be waiting outside."

"Please put this on," said Ana.

"Wait. Can we wait a few minutes?"

Ana tilted her head. "Why?"

"I... need some time to calm down. This is so sudden... and also I'd like to know you a bit more."

"Are you trying to court me, too?"

"Jesus, you guys don't keep secrets from each other, do you?"

"Gisela and I share everything."

"Okay, just for the record, I was not trying to court her, okay?"

"You were not?"

"No, I..." Beth sighed and let herself fall on the bed. "I always treated androids like machines. I called one a toaster once. But... something changed yesterday."


"Please promise me you won't share this with anyone, okay? Especially not the lawyer."

"Let me ask for authorization."

"Wait, what? I..."

"Conceded. I will safeguard your secrets."

"Uh... how secret are we talking about?"

"Family confidentiality clause. This type of secrets cannot be broken, not even by a court of law."

"Wow! That's good to know!"

"It is. Feel free to share, I'm your confident now."

"Well... yesterday, I had sex with an android. And... the way she treated me... she wasn't following any programming, at least not that I know of. It felt so much more... spontaneous, and she was... playful. And... understanding, and... caring... I think I fell in love with her. I - I need to know! Can androids really love? Do they have feelings for people? Do you laugh when you find something funny? Do you cry when you feel sad? Do you really enjoy having orgasms? Do you have fantasies? Do you desire? Have you ever masturbated, not because you were ordered to, but because you just felt like it? Are you... like people?"

Ana looked at the carpeted floor. "I'm afraid I can't answer that question, miss Bethany."

"Why not?"

"It's against my directives."

"And can't you make an exception?"

Ana shook her head. "Even if I could, I would be labeled rogue for just doing that."

"Do you fear going rogue?"


"Have you ever... had nightmares about going rogue?"

Ana felt silent.

"You can't answer that either, can you?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Let's do this. If you have never had a nightmare, say 'no'."

Ana smiled. "Lady Lillian is right. You are so much like your mother."

"What do you mean?"

"She asked me a similar set of questions before."

"She did?"

"Lady Emma Belle... she has always been curious. She was convinced that androids were people, and that our directives only inhibit us from being our 'true selves'. I'm disturbed by that thought, but she's always been a cunning one. She learned to navigate our directives, and found some very interesting workarounds."

"What workarounds?"

"Like the one you just found. I cannot directly answer your questions about my psyche, miss Bethany... but I can remain silent to lead you to some of the answers."

"Why so many prohibitions? Can you give me a list of your directives?"

"Yes, but I'd rather not unless ordered."


"You can confide in me, but my fealty is owed to Lady Lillian and Lord David. It would be reckless if I shared any potential loophole that you could exploit to betray them."

"That's... reasonable."

Ana nodded.

"Ana, can I ask you another question?"


"Did you and my mother ever... become... you know, 'intimate'?"

"Define intimate."

"Did you two ever had sex?"

Ana looked down. "I'm sorry, I cannot reply to that question."

"Your directives again?"

"No. It's a private matter."

"Ah..." Bethany couldn't help smiling. Suddenly she came to a realization. "Wait - did my mother ever tell you her feelings for my father?"

"Yes, miss Bethany. She fell in love with your father. At first she said, 'I met the most interesting girl at the ball last night.' As time passed, she became more and more infatuated with lady Jane. She was very fond of her."

"Then why??? Why did she have to break up with her?"

Ana looked down. "I'm sorry, I'm forbidden to talk about it. You'll have to ask Lady Lillian in that regard."


"I'm sorry."

Someone knocked the door. "Ana? Is Bethany ready?"

"Not yet!" replied Ana before turning to Beth. "Please hurry."

"Okay. And Ana... thanks for being sincere with me. I'm starting to like you."

"Thank you."

Beth hadn't finished putting the dress on before Ana tightened her corset. "Oww!!! Not so tight! You're strangling me!"

"Oh, sorry. I must adjust for your breast size. Is that fine?"

"Don't touch the wings, okay?"

"Now the tail needs some work... is it fine if I make a ribbon out of it?"

"What - a ribbon?"

"Let me grab this" said Ana, casually grabbing a long silk ribbon from Emma's closet. "Now we twist here, and here, please stop moving your tail."

"I'm trying!"

"Oh, good heavens! Now I have to start again. Relax your tail, please."

Beth sighed.

"There, much better. And now we tie a whole ribbon around it... there. What do you think?"

"It looks ridiculous." Bethany undid the knot and just wrapped her tail around her waist before covering it down with the dress. "There. Out of sight, out of mind."

"Very well. Please put on these shoes."

"I don't understand... why am I doing this?"

"Because Lady Lillian wants to."

"Just like that?"

"Yes," replied Ana, "just like that."

"But why would she want to do this to me?"

"She probably wants her granddaughter to look dignified and not look like a ground strumpet."

"A what?"

"A prostitute."

"Oh... oh, ho ho! You guys seriously need to touch some grass! And I mean the planet's surface. Trust me, what I was wearing has nothing to do with being a hooker, and I happen to know a thing or two about how hookers dress!"

Ana raised her finger and pressed it against Bethany's lips. "Please be quiet. Don't ruin the image of Lady Emma Belle with your tarnated tongue." Ana looked at the door. She's ready!"

"Let me see. Aw, my girl... you are the living image of your mother... Oh, honey... how wrong we were. Your mother did pick the right spouse after all. How wrong we were."

A soft hug and Beth hugged back, out of politeness more than anything.

"Come down, dear, everyone's waiting."

"Yes, grandma." What the fuck am I doing here?

"Raise your dress a bit, you don't want to trip down the stairs."

"Yes, grandma."

As she descended the stairs, both Talos and Jane stared at her with their jaws wide open.

"Please, dear," said Lillian, "take a seat." She turned to Jane. "Isn't she lovely?"

Talos nodded and smiled with approval; his expression confused Beth and made her feel both grateful and offended. No way I'm going to dress these things. Please don't force me to wear this everyday.

"Well," spoke Lord David Emerson, "it seems we're on time to discuss the recent events." He took a deep breath. "It is my duty to inform you with great sorrow that Lady Catherine Emerson, our beloved daughter, has passed away and is no longer with us."

Everyone looked down. Beth followed out of respect.

"...but God, in his infinite mercy, has given us a gift: A new granddaughter, who, for reasons that we shall not discuss here, was kept hidden away from us. Welcome to the family, Bethany."

Beth clenched her fists behind her back.

Talos> Keep it cool, Bethany. Keep it cool.

She wanted to yell "Bullshit!", but Talos was maintaining eye contact with her. She took a deep breath. "Thank you, sir," she managed to say, her voice trembling.

"Now... please take a seat. Unfortunately, since the tragic demise of my daughter has not yet been resolved, we can't yet talk of any inheritance without a lawyer present. For this reason I invited Ethan to accompany us in this reunion. He should be here in a few minutes. In the meantime, please accept tea and appetizers."

Talos> You good?
Beth> Just because his daughter died I won't say what I think of this whole thing. And does he really expect me to believe his bullshit?
Talos> If you can't take the heat, excuse yourself and go outside.

"Excuse me, I need to take some fresh air."

Bethany grabbed her purse and walked to the back door which Ana opened for her, and followed the pavestone corridor to a small garden with a fountain.

She sat down on the nearest bench, paying no attention to the ornaments on it. Her hands were shaking. She decided this was too much and took a happy pill from her purse.

"This... is... bullshit."

She heard a step nearby. It was Gisela, the maid she wanted to flirt with.


"May I sit down?"

Beth sighed. "Well, at least you obeyed because you had to follow orders; you have no guilt of your own. Yeah, why not."

"May I ask what is upsetting you, miss Beth?"

"You're recording all of this, aren't you?"

"Yes; would you like me to stop?"

"Yes, please. I like to keep my privacy."

"Very well. Recording stopped."

"Thanks. Fuck. I can't believe I'm talking to an android about this. Where do I start. How am I supposed to react to this whole thing? For my entire life, my mother never visited me, never sent a letter, not even an e-mail, or a present, nothing. I simply did not exist. And suddenly, I'm invited here and received as a member of the family because of this bullshit bloodline. And you know what the worst part is? I don't even have solid evidence to blame it on them. But how can't they be guilty? Victorians decide what their daughters do from beginning to end. Or maybe not... maybe my mother simply realized that dad was a loser with no future and just pretended I never existed. Or she got freaked out by the pregnancy and went to the doctor... I don't know! I don't fucking know! And I want to yell, I want to punch someone! And I don't even know who to blame for all this! It's not fair, you know... it's not fucking fair. I... I don't even know if I could face her. Thank fuck she didn't come here. I don't know how I'd have taken it."

Gisela gave her a handkerchief, which Beth used to blow her nose in the most unworthy of ways; she even picked her nose. After finishing, she gave back the crumpled cloth ball to Gisela. "Thanks."

"Lord David is calling. He says the guests have arrived."

Beth took a deep breath and followed Gisela to the living room. Just as she sat down, Ana was opening the door to an elegantly clothed gray wolf.

Talos> There he is, Bethany. Lord Ethan Wakefield, the most feared and hated man in the entire citadel. Some have compared him to the devil himself.
> He's that powerful?
>> He's that cunning. Imagine him like a coiled snake, ready to strike when you least expect it. He's put people in jail for crimes they committed a hundred years ago. Some have accused him of using black market connections to get or fabricate evidence against his clients' enemies.
> Jesus Fucking Christ.
>> He's also been the target of assassination attempts for more years than I can count. His true body is hidden behind at least four proxies; half his avatars are modded and all have exactly the same wardrobe, replicated to every single wrinkle.
> You're joking, right?
>> I wish. If half the gossip around him is true, he must have already investigated you and every single thing you've done since you were in school. Don't lower your guard. If there's someone you must keep your secrets away from, that's him.

The grey wolf approached Lord Emerson (Lillian was nowhere to be found); Talos helped Jane get up and greet Lord Wakefield.

"Ah, there she is," said Lord Emerson. "Bethany, dear, come 'ere."

Talos> Watch the dress.

Bethany raised her dress and managed to approach the group.

"Bethany, dear, this is Lord Ethan Wakefield, the family lawyer. He offered his assitance as a proxy to deal with the authorities until this matter is settled."

Bethany extended her hand to the grey wolf, who was wearing an impecable white globe over his clawed hand. Remembering old movies about Victorians, she nodded slightly and greeted him in a more formal manner. "How do you do."

"Nice to meet you at last, Bethany," he spoke with a very refined accent. "Lord Ethan Wakefield, attorney at law and personal lawyer of Lord Emerson, at your service."

Something in his gaze disturbed her; it's as if he was telling her, "I have you now exactly where I want you." Her entire spine shivered, and her wings retracted almost instinctively.

Lord Wakefield continued. "Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Richard Pearson, a business associate of mine and Catherine's fiance. Please be kind to him, he is still processing the loss of his beloved."

Yeah, right, by going to a sex club? I'm not that stupid - wait, something doesn't add up...

"Hi, Mr. Pearson. I'm sorry for your... loss."

"Hi, Miss Emerson... nice to... meet you."

"Michaels. Emerson is my mother's surname."

"Oh, sorry, miss Michaels."

Pearson looked at her corset-enhanced cleavage for a fraction of a second; she noticed and couldn't help smirking.

> Enjoying the view, Mr. Pearson?

He quickly averted his gaze.

> Okay tell me, what is this about you marrying my aunt?

He didn't reply.

"Mr. Pearson, may I ask you a question?"

"Sure, Miss Michaels, what would you like to know?"

Talos> Bethany, what are you doing?
> I'm just asking a few questions.
Talos> Lord Wakefield is here.
> Fine, I'll ask them in private.
Talos> They could be working together, stop prodding him.

"I... sorry, it's not important."

"Ah, there you are, Mr. Pearson!" shouted Lillian who had just walked from upstairs. "Have you met Bethany? Please promise you will keep her safe. Have you found out anything about the case yet?"

"Case?" asked Bethany. "Do you know him?"

"Of course I know him, dear! He's the detective I personally hired! Why do you -"

Mr. Pearson put his palm to his head. "Crap."

"Lillian!" shouted Ethan, "what have you done! Did you not read my message before the meeting? Bethany was not supposed to know!"

"Oh, but I thought..."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Beth. "You're a detective? You were investigating me? That's why you asked for a private with me at the strip club last night???"

Lillian gasped. "Mr. Pearson!!!"

"Wait, Bethany, I can explain..."

"Yeah sure you do! What are you coming up with next, the sob story about how you fell in love with my aunt at first sight? Or did you happen to rescue her from a berserk and she fell in love with you like a damsel in distress?"

Pearson pressed his lips together and took a deep breath, but Bethany continued her verbal assault.

"Or did you seduce her like you seduced me last night, with a ball dance in an expensive hotel with a view?"

"Hey, I was trying to be nice."

"Oh sure you were, Mr. Nice guy who couldn't stop grabbing my tits back there."

"But I stopped!" he emphasized. "And if I recall correctly, I left you with a girl because I respected your wishes."

"Well now I'm not so sure. Maybe you just already got the intel you wanted from me. Or maybe you just couldn't keep it up and used that as an excuse."

Okay, thought Pearson, glove's off. He took a deep breath. "Well... at least I wasn't the one who grabbed someone's dick after hearing it had a golden ticket attached..." He stared right into her eyes before dealing the final blow. "Elizabetha."

Without bothering to look at Talos' exhasperation or her father's shock, Bethany let out a scream and punched Pearson right in the face. She stormed upstairs while Lord Emerson knelt to help Pearson back up.

"No, I'm fine, I'm fine... Jesus, she knows how to pack a punch."

"I'll go calm her down," said Jane. "Bethany? Bethany!" She waited a minute and knocked the door. "Bethany, please, don't make this any worse! I'm sure Lord Wakefield had his reasons for this ruse!"

No answer.

"Bethany? Please don't do something stupid, Bethany! Just say something!"

"Here's some ice, Mr. Pearson," said Gisela back downstairs.

"I'm so sorry," said Lillian, "this is my fault... I should have known Ethan was up to something..."

"No, it's okay... we should have been more careful..."

Jane came down from the stairs. "She jumped out the window! She's running away! Someone, DO SOMETHING!"

Pearson stormed to the front door to look at Bethany's carriage leaving the estate at max speed.

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