Dillon Calhan double-checked the itinerary that one of his assistants had provided him detailing his current travel arrangements from the soft, cushioned, red leather of the recliner in his private jet, a Sheerjet 131. He was traveling to Ri for the Festival of the Half-Year, starting his expedition by continuing the tradition of attending the Basilica DEI for a cremonial Half-Year service, and then on to see the Saturian Champion’s Cup at the LodePlex with a few colleagues for the rest of the day. The itinerary he held further detailed that he would then travel to the I-ARC in Arcterra the following morning.
Dillon Calhan was an investor and Lead Executive Committee Officer for Smudge Services. He was an aged, pale man with white hair kept short and tame. Not a single follicle on his jaw was overlooked by a razor. He was a blue-eyed silver-fox and wore a deep black R. Vulred tailored designer suit along with black Will Fadden loafers.
Ri, the capitol of Satur and holy city to DEIsts, sat astride the Teil River in the river lands, south of the marshy Bulrush Division and just east of the hilly, green Division of Eastep. It was a skip north of the Grand Branch of the Teil River; Ri’s many locks and canals (expensive for boaters to pass through) marked the imaginary line that more or less divided North Saturian Divisions from South Saturian Divisions.
Ri was and has been, for most of Saturian recorded history, a city independent of the Nine Divisions that comprised the country of Satur. It was home to the largest and oldest Basilica DEI in the world, and shared its home with the largest Lode stadium in the world: the Dostee Motor Fashions LodePlex, the official arena for the Ri Royalists. Ri was home to scores of millions of Saturians, and was home to many of the Chambers that the elected officials governed from, including the residence (dubbed the Small House) for the Secretary of Satur. The holy city attracted tourists with its many sights, among them the beautiful Six Towers of DEI, which were a millennium-old and massively built for a structure of its age, a must-see for first-time visitors to Ri.
Ri was even home to the largest airport by square foot in the entire world, the Secretary R. J. Reynolds International Airport, and was the temporary home to many tourists and pilgrims of DEI. The Basilica DEI was a six square-mile, hexagonally shaped district in and of itself, and the surrounding 36 square miles housed the city center’s downtown area. Cars had been banned from this part of Ri due to incessant Abhorrent DOME attacks on the dense pedestrian population as a matter of public safety. The entire city was contained in a plot that was a rough rectangle imposed over the Teil River, about forty miles wide at its furthest dredges and about 67 and a half miles from the northern to southern limits of the immense Ri.
“Every four-hundred days, Brothers and Sisters, we gather here as one, to honor DEI. We are here not just to repent, nor just to atone, nor just to lament. No, Brothers and Sisters, today we are here also to celebrate: to be merry, to be friends, and to please Him, He who has given us light in the darkness, life after certain death. It is our great Lord who smiles favorably upon us, and it is in His name that we congregate, in His most gracious, His most generous of gifts, in this beautiful, holy, ancient tabernacle, to worship DEI and thank him for all that he has blessed us with. And it is on this Half-Year that we join hands and look to the skies in prayer. And we pray for all that is good in this world, for all of our families, for all of our friends. And it is on this, as with every Half-Year, that DEI smiles favorably upon us as we worship unto Him. Brothers and Sisters, take the hand of those beside you. Let us look to the skies in much the same favor that DEI looks onto us as we read from His Scriptures. Today’s reading comes from the Updated Scripture of DEI: Kismet on Letter 133, Line 7. Join me as Satur’s newly elected Secretary Domhil Pomeroy reads for us what DEI has commanded about being both strong and forgiving to our enemies,” spoke Arch-Brother Tommais Jrake, head of the DEIst Church.
It was tradition for the Arch-Brother of the Church to introduce the guest reader before the Main Procession (called Ne’Ol Mefs in Felte, the language the original Scriptures of DEI were written with) at every Festival of the Half-Year, as well as for each of the six sermons for each of the six days of the Festival of the Year (typically only the most devout DEIsts attended all six sermons; most of the average folk would be too fat from banqueting and too hungover from indulging to maintain perfect attendance).
Dillon’s wrinkled, pale, sharp, old face was blank as the rest of the observers applauded vehemently to welcome the incoming guest speaker. He sat with his trusty black bowler cap on his knee, a church program in hand, and his favorite, shiny, golden watch adorning his exposed wrist. He was tossing over in his mind the topic of notoriety: Did anyone here know exactly who I am? How much pull I have over this whole ordeal?
Was this it? Was this when they make their move? Here? Now?
The aged man decides that he had nothing to worry about at this moment. Dillon had done his research. Or, at least, he had his Intelligence contacts thoroughly clear the entire city, every day for weeks up to this point, using the vast amount of capital resources that he had accrued in the long tenure he enjoyed as an, ahem, investor.
A familiar woman with cherry hair and an ivory face sits like a proud lioness to Dillon’s right. An unnoticeable man in an unimpressive, simple, black suit sits to his left. Each person beside him was the top-dog of their respective Intelligence programs, and each was feigning interest in the sermon’s proceedings, common practice for the bulk of Saturian DEIsts.
After the boring sermon of unnecessary length concluded, Dillon and party convened for lunch at a secluded, dimly lit, up-town, five-star café and bar called Bistro Lolë.
“Carmen,” began Dillon after ordering an octopus tartar, “I see we took care of that pesky Lron,” he finished.
“Yes, and it would appear that he did it himself, now wouldn’t it?” replied the cherry-haired woman in her delicate, precise manner of speaking.
The table of three laughed at her play-on-words, but for a moment.
“Very good, it is time we capitalize on your end, Mr. Baker,” said Dillon, checking his golden watch, to the man in the bland suit. “Ms. Eaves, I trust the new Representative we’ve been keeping is receiving quality training?”
“Ah, yes. S.I.R. Ilsa. His tactical abilities are quite obvious, and he is excelling at an almost inhuman rate,” replied Carmen.
“Good. Make sure that we keep this one, eh?”
“Yes, sir. There’s no way he’s getting out.”
“I’m not talking about keeping him from escaping, I already know he can’t. Just try not to crack his egg, understand?”
Dillon, Carmen, and the Mr. Baker at the other side of the tablecloth leant back as their courses were served. None of them had withdrawn their drones in front of each other, and, in truth, Dillon had no use for drones and so he never owned one. He had no true need for such a device -a man in his position with his wealth- but he did have the opportunity of playing with the earliest models of drones, the ones that had to be flown by remote-control. He had watched them evolve into the things they were now, the substitute for smartphones; the completely hands-free, stylish device that floated behind people, awaiting painfully -dutifully- their each and every beck and call.
Dillon had even seen the development of the satellite Grid, and the implementation of autonomous vehicles. It was rough, at first, for the world to accept and adapt to the incredible computational ability and lightning-fast data speeds the Grid provided. It even had the capability of resolving its own issues with latency and outages, and learned how to fix its own problems with brilliant, intuitive codework integrated by the Grid’s original software architects.
The group parted ways after their meal, and Dillon took his helicopter from the café to his river-side manor to collect himself before venturing to his private, luxury suite at the Dostee Motor Fashions LodePlex.
“Tonight, defending their home sphere and their title as Champions of Satur, please stand and help me welcome: Your. Ri. Rooooyyyaaaalllliiiists!” the booming, baritone voice of the LodePlex’s announcer declared, echoing throughout the immense hippodrome.
The million spectators attending the championship game lost their minds, at least did the Royalist fans, and the volume of the cheering could have crumbled the LodePlex. The Royalists dashed into the spherical court through their side of the arena, gliding around on their boots near their net with arms raised high to encourage their fans. Loud, electronic music rife with modulated bass lines blasted from thousands of speakers into the dense din of the audience. The air was electric.
The announcer began introducing all 21 of the Royalists, starting with the third stringers and ending with the first seven Loders that made up the starting lineup for the Royalists. They were playing the Thule Sharks from Chers Division, an underdog this year, having come from fourth place before the playoffs to the championship game now. The matchup was expected by all Lode fans to be intense, and about 700 million of the billion people in Satur were expected to watch, either by Grid-stream or by attending the LodePlex.
After some extended celebration and hoopla, the head referee called for the Royalists and the Sharks to take their Dropoff positions, and a forward from each team took center court by the ref. The referee used a special, extendable tool to set the tire-sized, magnetic ball above the opposing forwards and blew his whistle to signal the Dropoff.
The magnetic ball dropped and Stan Barnes from the Royalists shoves Cris DeLinde from the Sharks after he takes the stronger first step. Barnes turns round, pressing his back against DeLinde to keep him from getting to the ball. The incrementally smaller DeLinde shoves back Barnes, but it is pointless and Barnes uses the underside of his magnetic boot to kick the ball before it bounces on the magnetic floor, launching it into the safety of the Royalists’ formation. The home crowd cheers, and the game’s first half is underway.
The Royalists were using the offensive 2–1–3 formation, with three forwards, a lone midfielder (called a Rover), and two defenders in front of their Tender. It was a good formation that gave way to some of the season’s more interesting plays, and was met well with the Sharks’ rounded 2–2–2 formation. This championship game was a prime example of the tortoise versus the hare: the Sharks wanted to slow the pace of the game and pick their shots carefully, whereas the Royalists wanted to play on the constant attack, trying to turn every possession into a break-away.
The Royalists’ Rover, rookie Jay Veera, held the ball and was dribbling up the sphere, moving in a spiral to open up the defense of the Sharks. He dribbled the magnetic ball by throwing it directly above him, and with some skill he was able to have it rebound back to where he was headed and keep himself free to maneuver. Cat Shelby, a Royalists forward, rushes around the perimeter of the court, getting her momentum behind her to make a block for Veera as he traveled for the net. Veera pays her too much mind, however, and Parthings, a Sharks midfielder, plows into Veera at speed and removes the large ball from his arms, directing it to midfielder Lauren Kinsler to take up-sphere.
Kinsler dribbles past her mark, narrowly avoiding the speeding Shelby, and passes the ball far around the court to the opposite side of the sphere to Sharks forward Nadia Fry. Fry fumbles the hard pass briefly, and Barnes levels her, knocking the ball into limbo. Royalists Forward Daniel Callahan and DeLinde vie for the ball, each gliding as fast as they could toward it. They collide violently, and the crowd roars at the impressive hit. As Callahan and DeLinde collect their wits, Fry and Barnes struggle over the hovering, motionless Lode ball. Neither will let the other have it outright, and the two teams collapse on the pair, each trying to wrench the ball from the opposition.
A referee stops play with a whistle after it is clear that neither side will let go of the ball, and they back away from each other as the first clock stoppage of the game is recorded. The Grid-stream goes to a commercial break while the ball is placed in the nearest Dropoff location, a few meters from the Royalists goal, and the crowd is somewhat quieted by the lack of action as each team resets their formations and makes a few substitutions in preparation for the Dropoff.
“Has a winner already been picked?” asked Arch-Brother Tommais Jrake of Dillon Calhan from his cushioned chair in a quiet, private suite at the Dostee Motor Fashions LodePlex.
Dillon shook his head.
“We wouldn’t waste our time with such a trivial thing, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. It’s less conspicuous to tilt the odds as much as possible, place large bets, and cut your losses. Tell me,” said Dillon, swirling the strong brown in his glass, “how goes your latest, ahem, children’s group?”
Arch-Brother Jrake looked surprised at how direct Dillon was being. He was expecting to be romanced a bit before getting to business, but Dillon cared little for personal relations. He was worried more about the deal.
“Are we under surveillance?” asked the dark-skinned Arch-Brother, who looked around the suite at the armed guards and gulped audibly.
“Always,” answered Dillon.
“And that doesn’t bother you, Mr. Calhan?”
“Who do you think is in control of the surveillance, Jrake? Is survival so evil?”
Arch-Brother Tommais Jrake looked to his feet sporting Strata alligator-skin oxfords, darting his eyes here and there as he contemplated an answer to Dillon’s original question.
“It’s growing, Mr. Calhan. I didn’t know you were aware of the Church’s darkest secret. Should the, er, Church be worried?”
Dillon’s face became serious, grim. He shook his head no.
“No, the Church needn’t worry. You, however,” began Dillon, rising from his chair. “You are to be part of my plan. The Medium’s protectors are rising again, and the Order grows with every passing day.”
The crowd, almost inaudible in the private suite, erupted as Cat Shelby scored the Royalists’ first goal of the game against the Sharks.
“Your circle will be infiltrated, Jrake. You are to allow this to happen, should you discover them, and the infiltrator will take the fall after he discovers the Church’s initiation ‘secrets’,” said Dillon, using air-quotes when he said secrets. “If you choose not to abide by my plan, it will be much, much worse for you, as well as Mrs. Jrake,” said Dillon, who looked menacingly toward the wide-eyed, silent Arch-Brother.
The Sharks’ forward Nadia Fry answered back to tie the game with an amazing, unassisted goal of her own, moments after the post-Royalists-goal Dropoff.
“You may leave now, Arch-Brother Jrake,” said Dillon, showing his guest to the door.
“Just one last thing, Mr. Calhan. How will I know the infiltrator when I see them?”
Not a goal was scored for the remainder of the first half, and the teams retreated to their lockers for a star-studded half-time show on a hovering stage in center-sphere.
After the show that seemed to want to accomplish more than its performers were capable of accomplishing ended, a stranger knocked at the door of Dillon’s private suite and garnered his attention. His most trusted guard in a black suit answers the door.
“Is he here?” he heard the voice — one of Secretary Domhil Pomeroy’s assistants — ask.
“What do you want?” Dillon’s employee asked in return.
“We wanted to thank him for his, er, help in the election. And to give him a gift. Secretary Pomeroy says he’ll understand,” answered Domhil’s assistant, who pushed a small cart, the ones used for suite-service, with a covered platter toward the guard and walked away.
The guard stepped out of the suite and shut the door to safely check the contents of the gift and momentarily returned, pushing the service cart in front of him.
“What is it, Von?”
“I think you should look for yourself,” the guard responded, lifting the platter’s lid away to reveal what was beneath: a bite-sized, metallic cube resting on a soft, white handkerchief.
Dillon used the kerchief to pick up the object for closer examination, and found a single, familiar, I-shaped indention on one side of the cube.
“Ah, so they kept up their end of the bargain. Very well, I’ve had my fill of this barbaric Lode game for a Year. Let’s go, Von, I’d like to leave for Arcterra as early as possible tomorrow morning,” said Dillon.
Von nodded and left the stadium suite to ready the helicopter for departure without a word.