Tripp

For three days straight, all I’ve heard is white noise: the hum of the air conditioner, the buzz from my desktop, and the little fans that cool my electronics.

Then, out of nowhere, there’s a knock at the door. It’s soft — apologetic — but I don’t answer. There’s no one I want to talk to.

I haven’t left my office since that day. I’ve just been lying here replaying what happened.

I can’t believe I was so stupid — that I went along with Wyatt and Jade’s plan.

Now they’re lying in the infirmary. Maggie is gone. Mordecai’s bots have defeated the Space Force. Ziva and my father are dead.

My job was to protect the company and uphold my family’s legacy. I’ve failed miserably at both.

My father was supposed to leave behind a story of innovation and space exploration. Instead people will remember the son who allowed a madman to take control of the space station. Mordecai’s bots slaughtered hundreds of innocents and corrupted my father’s vision.

A second later the door slides open, and Porter sticks his head inside. I can sense him hovering a few yards behind me, but I don’t get up or look over.

“What is it?” I croak.

“Um . . . “ Porter shuffles in and snaps the door shut behind him. “How are you feeling?”

“How do you think I’m feeling?”

Silence.

Then the door slides open again, and Porter hisses at someone. I hear Chaz mutter under his breath, and Porter lets out an exasperated “Fine!”

I turn my head to look over the arm of the couch and see him reach into the hallway. He produces a suit wrapped in clear plastic. They must have had it dry-cleaned.

Porter closes the door most of the way, but I sense Chaz hovering on the other side. He seems to be waiting for something to happen, though I can’t think what that could be.

Porter clears his throat. “Chaz brought you your suit.”

“I’ll alert the media.”

“But I thought you might want to shower first — before it all gets started.”

I frown. I seem to be missing something important. Shower? Suit? Who do they think I am? I’ve been wearing the same T-shirt and boxers for days. My jeans are folded over my desk chair. I certainly haven’t bathed in that time. I’m sure I smell pretty rank.

“Sir?” Chaz sticks his head in. He’s in super-assistant mode, and he will not be deterred. I can tell we’re running late for something, but I have no intention of going anywhere.

What?” I snap. I put up with Porter because he’s great at his job. I’m not sure why I tolerate Chaz.

“Do you want to go back and shower first? Before you get ready, I mean.”

“Ready for what?”

Porter opens and closes his mouth, looking awkwardly at Chaz. Chaz’s eyes grow round like saucers. Nobody wants to tell me.

“What?” I press, looking to Porter.

“The funeral,” he says. “Ready for the funeral.”

I sit up straight on the edge of the couch and get a rush of blood to my head. “Whose funeral?”

Again, Porter hesitates as if it’s some big secret. It’s either that, or he thinks I’ve lost my mind. “Your . . . your father’s.”

“My father’s?” I snarl, getting drunkenly to my feet.

I don’t expect to command much respect in my underwear, but Porter blurts out a terrified reply.

“It’s just a memorial, really,” he splutters. “The police are still investigating, so the body . . .” He glances at Chaz, as if asking for help. I am furious with the both of them.

“Who’s organizing this memorial?”

“The board thought it would be appropriate,” Porter continues, skillfully side-stepping my question.

“They probably tried to get in touch with you,” says Chaz. “Only —”

“Only what?”

“Only we’re still having trouble communicating with Earth, and Mr. Blum isn’t going to let you leave!”

I stare at the assistants dumbfounded. They cannot be serious.

The board wouldn’t be holding a memorial. Memorials are organized by the family. Sybil and I are the only family my father has left, and I haven’t even talked to Sybil.

“What do you mean he won’t let me leave?” I grumble.

Porter glances nervously at Chaz. “He says you can give a statement to the press, but no shuttles are allowed to leave.”

“It’s my father’s funeral!”

“Memorial,” Chaz mutters.

“Whatever! He’s my father. Mordecai killed him in cold blood. The least he can do is let me pay my respects. At least let me see my sister!”

But Porter and Chaz won’t meet my gaze. Porter is staring down at his shoes, while Chaz is looking anywhere else.

“How’s that going to look?” I stammer. “A son not attending his own father’s memorial?”

Porter sniffles. Great. Now he’s going to cry. “You’re supposed to tell the press that you’re staying on Elderon to finish what your father started.”

I shake my head. “When is the funeral?”

Chaz looks down at his watch, relieved. “The memorial begins at two p.m. Pacific, which is twenty-two hundred our time . . .”

“We have a live feed set up,” Porter adds. “It’s streaming from the war room. He wants you to make a formal statement to the press, and then you can give the eulogy.”

“What time is it now?”

“Twenty hundred.”

Two hours?” I growl, my voice rising in fury. “You expect me to get ready to deliver a eulogy at my father’s memorial in less than two hours?”

Porter and Chaz look suddenly panicked. I want to knock their heads together.

Deep down, I know it isn’t their fault, but right now they’re the only place to direct my fury. They’ve all been tiptoeing around me for the last three days, and no one bothered to tell me that there would be a memorial.

“I’ll help you,” says Porter.

“I don’t need your help.” I snatch my suit and stalk out of the office, elbowing past a spluttering Chaz.

“Your pants!” Porter yelps. But I pretend not to hear.

I storm down the hallway through the Maverick offices, ignoring the pity and panicky stares. I know they all think I’ve given up — or that I’ve gone into hiding and lost my marbles.

I don’t care. If it weren’t for my father, they wouldn’t even be here. None of us would be here. He wasn’t always the perfect dad, but the man was a visionary. I looked up to him. I spent my life trying to please him. And just when he was beginning to respect me, Mordecai electrocuted him in front of me.

Fuck dignity. Fuck leadership. I deserve to be sad in my underwear.

I ignore Porter and Chaz trailing behind me but stop dead outside of Maverick. I’m staring down at an enormous crater flanked by blackened walls. Two bots are standing guard on the other side, staring at me with cold dead eyes.

“What are you lookin’ at?” I mumble, flipping them the bird as I jump across the crater.

It’s a physical reminder of everything we lost — and of everything that’s changed.

I head directly for my suite, ignoring the stares of the people I pass. I know how I must look to them, but I do not even care.

I reach my suite and slam the door, climbing into the shower. I turn the water on as hot as it will go and let it pelt my skin raw. It’s a little painful, but it feels cleansing — almost as though I can wash off this mess.

My father . . . My father. What can I say? All I want to do right now is tell the world that he was murdered. I want people to know that he was proud to a fault — that he wouldn’t sacrifice his company to save his own skin.

Feeling dizzy, I turn off the water and climb out of the shower. I grab a towel off the hook and bury my face in the fabric. I can’t go out there right now. I can’t make myself put on a show, playing the part of the CEO’s son.

I can’t give a eulogy. I can’t leave this room. I think I’m having a mental breakdown.

“I know this is difficult for you.”

I nearly have a heart attack at the sound of that voice. It’s coming from inside my suite on the other side of the bathroom door.

Instantly, all the blood rushes to my face and arms. The sound fills me with rage. I wrap the towel around my waist and step out into the room.

Mordecai is sitting on my bed wearing a somber black suit. The shoulders are a little too wide for him, and the suit hangs off his frame. His oily hair is slicked back with gel, and he is looking at me with pity.

There are two bots standing inside my door, tracking me with their eyes.

“You must have a death wish,” I say in a rumble.

“I know how you must be feeling . . . Anger is only natural. But someday you will get past this. I need you to remember that.”

“You know how I must be feeling?” I hiss, wishing I could strangle the man. “Did someone murder your father, too?”

For a second, Mordecai stares — trying to produce a real human emotion. “I just lost my sister, you know.”

“Your sister killed herself because she couldn’t stand you.”

The skin around his mouth tightens in anger, but Mordecai doesn’t take the bait. “I know you see me as the enemy, Mr. Van de Graaf. But you have not had enough time to consider that we both want the same thing.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

“You wish to preserve your father’s legacy. That is something we have in common.”

“You don’t care about my father’s legacy,” I growl. “You only care about yourself. Your father didn’t love you, and you took that out on your sister. Now Ziva is finally rid of you, and you’re taking it out on me.”

“I’m not the enemy you think I am,” Mordecai snarls, staring up at me with bloodshot eyes. His voice is low and gravelly. I’m treading in dangerous territory.

“You’ve got some nerve,” I growl. “Cutting us off from the rest of the world so you can stay in control.”

“That is for your own protection. You may not understand it now, but someday I think you will.”

“My protection?”

“You are rash and impulsive, Mr. Van de Graaf — so unlike your dear father. You may think you need to tell the world all the ways you’ve been wronged . . . but that would only damage your reputation and that of Maverick Enterprises.”

I shake my head. Unbelievable. He wants to keep me from damaging the company’s reputation after he kidnapped those CEOs and killed my father? After he hijacked my space station and drove his sister to suicide?

I would kill him right here and now, but his bots would snap my neck.

“Stay — away from me,” I growl. “I mean it.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking. You are not thinking clearly. You and I are partners now. We must work together to rebuild Maverick Enterprises.”

“Get out of my suite.”

Mordecai rises with a sigh but stops inside the door. “I had your people prepare a statement. Please read that statement and nothing else. Your father worked hard to build this company. I would hate for you to tarnish its reputation in your moment of grief.”

My chest starts to quake as he walks out. I feel as though I might explode. I grab a porcelain Buddha off my dresser and hurl it at Mordecai’s back. The statue hits the edge of the open door and shatters into a million pieces. Mordecai pivots to look at me, but his eyes are cold and unfeeling.

His bots whisk him away, and the door snaps shut. I’m left alone in my suite.

My heart is pounding inside my chest. I can hardly breathe.

Somehow I get myself dressed and stumble into the hallway. The suit is a dark charcoal number that fits me to a T. There’s also a silvery-gray shirt and a black silk necktie. I look as though I’m headed for the philharmonic.

Porter is waiting outside in the hall to fix my collar and straighten my tie. He hands me a stack of typed notecards, which I slip numbly into my pocket.

I’m not fully aware of my actions. I’m just going through the motions.

He leads me slowly down the hallway but stops when I head toward the defense sector.

“I thought the feed was in the war room.”

“You need to make your statement first.”

I stop, incredulous. He’s leading me to the newsroom. They seriously want me to make a statement? To take a vacation from my grief to make nice with the press?

In that moment, I want to scream. I feel like a bomb that’s about to explode.

“They’re all ready for you,” says Porter. “You just have to read those cards.”

I stare at him blankly, searching for a response. I know Porter is just doing as he’s told, but this is cruel and unusual punishment. My father’s corpse is barely cold, and they want me to go on camera.

“Fine,” I say, clearing my throat. I just want this to be over.

Chaz is waiting outside the newsroom. His eyes grow wide as soon as he sees me. He grabs Porter’s arm and pulls him to the side, whispering into his ear.

I catch the word “shave” and scratch my jaw. I’ve got a serious five o’clock shadow. I would have shaved when I got out of the shower, but it completely slipped my mind. I was so distracted by Mordecai’s visit that I didn’t even put on deodorant.

Porter whispers something to Chaz and quickly schools his expression. “It’s fine,” he says, ushering me inside.

At least someone is treating me humanely.

I search the room for a glimpse of Maggie before remembering she’s gone. The newsroom is empty except for an IT guy — some pizza-faced teenager that Mordecai spared.

Porter leads me to the glass box in the middle of the room, where they’ve set up a camera in front of a large green screen. The IT guy leads me to my mark behind a tall gray podium.

I catch a glimpse of my face in one of the screens. They’ve superimposed a futuristic background that’s supposed to look like Elderon. I’m pale and sickly-looking under my stubble. I really wish I’d shaved.

“Ready when you are,” says the kid.

I look up, a little startled. “What?”

“We can roll whenever you’re ready. The networks are standing by.”

I clear my throat. So this is it. What am I supposed to say? That Mordecai Blum murdered my father? That I’m a prisoner on my own space station?

“Hang on,” I say, digging around in my pocket to locate Porter’s notecards. They fly out of my hands as if I’m an amateur magician, and Porter dives to the floor to retrieve them.

The room wavers in and out of focus as he quietly puts them back in order. He sets them gently on the podium shelf and gives my arm a squeeze.

“Ready?”

I nod.

The kid starts to count down, and I glance at Porter’s remarks. They’re typed out neatly in black and white, but the words look all fuzzy.

Then the kid points a finger at me, and I know that we are live. I can see the red light on the camera and feel Porter’s anticipation.

I clear my throat and prepare to speak, skimming over the notecard:

Good morning. Today is a very hard day for me and for my family . . . My father’s death came as a shock to us all . . . I think we can all agree that the tech world lost its brightest star, a man who —

I shake my head and look back at the camera. I can’t say any of that. I don’t know what I’m going to say, but I’m not going to insult my father’s memory.

I swallow and clear my throat, aware of the protracted silence. I can almost sense the rest of the world watching, wondering if I might start to cry.

“Good morning,” I say, my voice low and hoarse.

I look down and clear my throat. Someone thought to put a glass of water beside me. I pick it up and take a drink, very aware of the blinking red light.

I set the glass down and try to gather my thoughts, but my mind is completely blank.

“I don’t really know what to say,” I begin. “It has been a horrible few days.”

I want to tell them all that my father was murdered. I want the world to know.

I glance to my left and see Porter watching. Chaz is standing behind him. Hundreds of thousands are watching this broadcast, and thousands more are watching from Elderon.

“I wish I could be with my family right now . . . My sister Sybil, the Maverick family in Mountain View . . .”

My throat itches when I think of her and all of the people depending on me. Mordecai didn’t hesitate to kill my father. What’s to stop him from killing me?

If I were gone, there’d be nothing in his way — nothing to stop him at all.

“I’ve been leaning on my Elderon team a lot over the past few days,” I continue. “Words cannot express how I’ve been feeling. I feel like part of me died.”

I take a deep breath. I can’t believe I’m talking to strangers when I haven’t even talked to my sister. I should have called her the day he was killed. Instead I got lost in my spiral of misery.

“I’ve been really torn about what to do . . . how I could carry out my father’s last wishes . . .”

I swallow.

“We decided it would be best for everyone for me to remain on Elderon. This space station was my father’s dream, and it feels right to be here now. Elderon was my father’s greatest achievement, and I will do anything to protect his legacy.”

I don’t know what I say next. I think I talk about my dad. Or maybe I ramble about Maverick’s commitment to the space program my father started. It all just sort of tumbles out. I’ve been playing this role for so long.

When it’s over, all the strength drains out of me. I want to go lie down. Instead, Porter rushes in and takes me by the arm, ushering me out of the newsroom.

“Do you want to give your father’s eulogy?”

I think I shake my head no. I feel as if I might throw up. My feet are heavy as I shuffle toward the war room. My head is spinning with dizziness.

I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want it all to be over.

We don’t see anyone until we reach the defense sector, which still resembles a war zone. The bodies are gone. The wounded have been moved, but the mood is dark and somber.

Men and women are milling around, trying to salvage a broken army. Every operative we pass stops and salutes me. I’m too numb to acknowledge them.

Porter hustles me into the war room, where the funeral is being played on the screen. It’s being held in some big stuffy hall and broadcast on all the networks.

There are rows and rows of people in black, but I can’t make out any faces. Someone has already muted the newscast — they’re probably commenting on my statement.

There’s a big leather chair at the end of the table. I collapse into it. The overstuffed cushions seem to swallow me whole, and I feel as if I’m a kid again.

Then the camera pans over to Sybil, whose arm is linked with a man’s. I’ve never seen the guy before. He looks boring, nice, and clean-shaven.

Sybil is a vision in a black silk dress. She looks just like our mother. Her long dark hair is pulled back off her face. She has our mother’s inky black lashes. She moves with an ethereal grace. She doesn’t even have to try.

As I watch boring guy lead Sybil to her seat, I get a tug of guilt and sorrow. I should be sitting beside Sybil today. Instead I’m hundreds of miles away.

A few minutes later, some guy stands up — a member of the Maverick board. I feel a tightening in my chest. I should be giving that eulogy.

Instead I’m watching the funeral from space like some pathetic spectator. I’m ashamed that I’ve given up, but I don’t have the strength to fight.

The screen splits to show the speaker and Sybil’s teary reaction. She buries her face in her guy’s shoulder while a woman pats her leg. Sybil looks over and whispers something, all teary-eyed and smiles. It feels like a sucker punch to the gut. Sybil doesn’t need me.

She and I used to be close, but we grew apart in the last five or six years. While I was working on the colony project, Sybil remained in New York. She partied and went to school and would call once a week, and then once a week became once a month.

Eventually, even those calls fell off. Messages went unanswered. I never meant for it to happen. Life just got so busy.

The more entrenched I became in Maverick, the more I became like him. Father was always cool and aloof, and as a kid I never knew why. I spent my whole life trying to please him, and in the end I became him.

I didn’t understand that this business takes everything — that there is no room for family. I didn’t know what I’d have to give up to build something extraordinary.

Sybil has her own family, I realize — a family that doesn’t include me. She has this whole other life that she built in my absence while I was building a colony.

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