Free Chapter 1 of The Zen Lounge

“If ever you have been wise enough to fear anything,
Fear me.”
~ V.J.K.

Chapter One

July 2192

“…the wave of the future…”

Voryk and Hilo watched the ad-blimp zoom by with bland interest. From the eighty-seventh floor balcony, the damn things flew close enough to touch.

“Shoot me, please, if I ever resort to such clichéd and predictable advertising,” Voryk commented at length, as the blimp’s digital female voice was swallowed up by the rest of the din.

“I’ll shoot myself the day you do anything clichéd or predictable,” Hilo answered, taking a pull from the neon-orange bottle of his favorite import.

Night reigned over Matron City. Lights in every color imaginable blinked and sparkled like unattainable jewels across the cityscape of Pearled high-rises, orbit stations, holo-billboards and spirit domes. More ad-blimps competed with civic drones and media orbs above the steady stream of Hoverers that obstructed their view of ground traffic and sidewalks dotted with pedestrians.

“We’re not quite there yet, are we?” Voryk muttered aloud, thinking about the future now. Damn ad-blimp.

“The only place we’re not is in there,” Hilo pointed out dejectedly, turning to face the party happening just on the other side of the wall of glass. Frowning, he watched all of the exposed gold and silver-dusted skin he wasn’t touching—or tasting—at the moment. “I’ve suddenly forgotten the reason why we’re out here.”

Voryk glanced over his shoulder, appreciating the view, but it was also the root of a current problem.

“The EFT chip,” he reminded Hilo.

“Oh, right,” the fair-haired lawyer replied, reaching into his breast pocket and pulling the encased object out. “For as long as you want, this little gem is your new alias. I’ve ghost-linked it to a new account under the same name that has enough funds in it from one of your various personal accounts. While technically, it can’t and won’t exist if you need it not to, the money’s real.”

Voryk accepted the one-inch chip in its clear case, studied it for a moment and then slipped it into his own pocket.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Yeah, so are you going to share?” Hilo asked, arching a golden brow at him.

Voryk grinned, dark against his friend’s light. “It’s business.”

“It’s always business,” Hilo remarked, waving that away. “I was talking about the reason why we’re the only two guys on an empty balcony when there’s a flat of scantily clad women twenty feet away.”

“I just wouldn’t want you to shoot yourself, Hilo,” Voryk supplied.

Hilo laughed humorlessly. “I think I know what the problem is,” he said, pointing the bright orange bottle at him.

Now it was Voryk’s turn to arch a brow, allowing the amusement to show in his eyes. “Please, enlighten me.”

“In a nutshell, you’re bored,” Hilo stated. “That or you’re jaded. Either way, I’m contemplating assisted suicide.”

“Yours, I presume.”

“I’m not the one ignoring two-thousand square feet of half-naked women,” Hilo reminded him dryly. “Any of whom would happily bend over to inspect the carpet for the infamous Voryk Kade.”

“And we were just wondering why you’re still single,” Voryk commented, his lips twitching. “For your information, if it really were that easy, then I would definitely be bored… in a few hours or so.”

Hilo laughed, shaking his head. “Wager?”

Voryk looked at him with mild interest.

“I’ll bet that you can’t leave this building without getting at least one proposition,” Hilo continued.

“Too easy,” Voryk complained.

“Alright, I’ll bet that you can’t turn the proposal down,” his best friend amended quickly.

Voryk looked at the party happening inside the flat and considered it. “That does make it more challenging,” he admitted. “What are we wagering?”

“How about ringside seats to the Corvus-Salinas match on Saturday,” Hilo suggested.

“The sold out Corvus-Salinas match you mean?”

Hilo nodded, challenge glinting in his blue eyes.

Pulling a long, thin cigar from his pocket, Voryk lit it and let the spiced smoke roll from the slow grin of his angel’s mouth. “Deal,” he agreed.

****

Two hours later, Voryk stepped into the elevator with six other people leaving the same party that Ceili Montgomery was still throwing in her high-end flat. He’d gotten what he’d come for. The tiny Electronic Funds Transferring chip sat inside the breast pocket of his suit. Voryk Julien Kade, multi-billion dollar corporate tycoon was now Rick H. Matthews, humble CPA. Content with that at least, Voryk settled against the mirrored back of the elevator and watched the frosted doors slide closed. Suddenly, their sensor was tripped and they opened again to admit one last passenger.

Voryk nearly rolled his eyes at the obvious mark, but he couldn’t help appreciating the view. The blonde was tall with legs for miles barely covered by the shimmering silver dress that flowed over her milky skin as if it were liquid. It could have been a napkin for all it covered. Connecting at the nape of her neck, the loose material left all of her back completely bare right down to the dip of her ass. Her arms, shoulders and sides – to include a tantalizing hint of her small, firm breasts, were exposed, as well.

One strong wind in the right direction, Voryk thought, shifting his gaze straight ahead again and using his peripheral to watch her maneuver through the crowd toward the back. She stopped only a few feet to his left. When the car stopped on the next floor down to permit even more passengers, the blonde moved closer to Voryk, rather than further away. Twenty floors down, the elevator slowed to a stop once more, this time to allow three of the passengers off. When the silver draped woman didn’t move with the additional space, Voryk no longer doubted his initial assumption.

A short brunette in the front of the car laughed at something her companion was saying, swaying against him in a way that spoke of alcohol more than affection. All Voryk could sense was the blonde beside him, his vision beginning to gray. Gray was fine. It was safe and coincided with the heat swirling in the pit of his stomach, fueled by the images her dress and perfume were inciting. Only sixty-six floors left to go, Voryk thought, reminding himself of the price. When they reached level forty-six and everyone except for the drunken couple in front climbed off, Voryk looked over at his wager, unable to stop himself any longer. She hadn’t budged and now she stared right back at him, unabashedly. Intrigued, Voryk let his eyes wander, openly undressing her in his mind without shame. His gaze canvassed her body back up toward her face, her nipples peaking for him under the thin material of her dress. He smiled slowly, wolfishly, completely aware that that gesture alone usually melted a woman’s legs right out from under her. Desire flashed in her hazel eyes, confirming it and sparked a new round of fantasies in Voryk’s mind.

He could take her right then and there, against the wall, with those long legs wrapped around his waist, her skirt hiked up her hips. It was practically there already. The desire to have her just that way punched the heat in his system up a few notches and it must have shown in his eyes, for her lips parted on a silent, delighted gasp. Glancing over at the two remaining witnesses, the blonde slyly moved to stand in front of the arm Voryk was gripping the handrail with and slid her own along the rail behind his back, a mirror image of his stance. In her eyes, Voryk saw that she was imagining what the rest of him looked like under the suit that was, indeed, as expensive as it appeared to be. Eyelids nearly closing, she leaned in just far enough as if to inhale his equally expensive, cologne and he hoped she enjoyed the scent or something even better underneath. Him.

Smiling seductively, she lifted her hand only to run the inside of his lapel through her fingers. Voryk was going to lose that damn wager. As the elevator plummeted toward the first floor, he was beginning to think that it would be worth it. When the woman removed her hand from his suit, her eyes were vibrant with challenge. It was his move. Aroused and intrigued by the blatant taunt, Voryk smiled. There was still a way around the wager. No proposal had actually been made thus far. He could out-lawyer the lawyer, have his cake and eat it, too, all on a technicality.

Removing his hand from the railing, Voryk pinched the seam of the woman’s dress between his forefinger and thumb, following it all the way down the side of her body and up again. Only the heat of his skin brushed over the exposed flesh of her right breast. The effect wreaked havoc on both of their systems, as Voryk’s hand itched to slide under the liquid material and squeeze that firm breast. He wanted to pinch and roll her beaded nipple between his fingers until she was quaking with need.

When the elevator slowed to a stop again, Voryk let his hand fall back to the railing, aware that the gray around the edges of his subconscious was getting darker. The car stopped on the third floor and their drunken witnesses stumbled off. As soon as the doors closed, Voryk had the blonde caged between his arms. Her body automatically bowed into his, her lips parting, but Voryk ignored her mouth and slid his hands up her thighs to grip the thin, lacy straps of the thong she was wearing. Twisting the material around his fingers, he simply flexed his wrists the right way and they snapped. She nearly came right there on the spot, her breath hitching in, eyes widening.

“You won’t be needing those,” Voryk promised huskily.

Turning away from her, Voryk gripped her hand and began walking forward, as the doors slid open on the first floor. He stopped dead in his tracks on the threshold, coming face to face with an equally sexy brunette eying him as if he was the next best thing since the candy-flavored A.I. Sex doll. The blonde slipped past him and kissed the brunette right on her mouth, before they both looked at him expectantly.

“So, your place or ours?” The blonde asked.

Hilo Octavian Mehnce, you fucking bastard.

****

Sadly, it was only two and a half hours later that Voryk found himself standing on yet another balcony looking out at a much further away skyline of the city. This one was his own, stretching across two of the three rooms that made up his master suite. Putting another thin cigar between his teeth and lighting it, Voryk swirled the single malt whiskey in his hand and stared out at nothing. He’d showered, donning only a pair of black drawstring pants, so that the warm breeze could help settle his exposed flesh. A dark, foul mood had taken root in his brain and was attempting to thrive. A deep-seeded pit of dissatisfaction gnawing away at his insides, increasing the hollowness it left behind. Maybe Hilo was right. Maybe he was jaded.

And how fucking pathetic was that?

Below him and stretching for thirty full acres, were the gardens and lawns of the Kade Estate. Ponds, a tennis court, a driving range on the west ridge, a racetrack. It was July 20, 2192 and despite all of the spiritual, medical and technological advancements the ‘Enlightenment’ had brought to the world, like a plague, human nature had proved resilient as ever. In this day and age, where Artificial Intelligence had already replaced eighty-percent of the jobs, getting and staying rich had become a gamble only the most ruthless and cunning could afford to play.

Voryk enjoyed being rich just as much as he enjoyed being irresistible to women. He viewed both with equal importance and critical refinement. The simple, blatant fact was that he loved sex, he loved making money and he was damn good at both. Women grew hot and wet with a single knowing look from him, a brief touch or a muttered word. Why? Hell if he knew. They just did and they always had. Voryk didn’t necessarily ever want that to change. More to the point, he couldn’t control it. It was as much a part of him as his skin, his numerous bank accounts and unfortunately, the darkness.

Yes, he’d always known that it was the latter that drew women to him more than anything else. Voryk was danger incarnate and they simply couldn’t resist that, but given even a taste of how harsh that darkness could be, they would run screaming to the closest civic drone. Voryk never let it control him, especially during sex. He didn’t seek out women who could handle it, either, because frankly even he wasn’t certain of its limits. Besides, it wasn’t like he was a complete sadomasochist. He didn’t need to tie a woman up and flog her in order to get off. It wasn’t about the control, it was about the pain. He simply wanted to fuck so hard it hurt both of them. A lot. But he didn’t and he wouldn’t.

More often than not, the restraints Voryk put on himself were misconstrued as an inability to commit. He never brought women here. Not to his home. He never gave them his phone number, either, because no matter how many times they might have sex in one night, one night was all they ever got. Voryk never slept with the same woman twice. Ever. But he loved everything about them. From their scents, their tastes and sounds to their complexities and simplicities. He enjoyed their company just as much as he desired their bodies, because women were simply beautiful, wonderful and fascinating creatures. He’d just never met one he felt the need to include in his personal life. And he’d already come to terms with the fact that he probably never would.

None of that changed what was happening with him at the moment, and Voryk simply refused to believe that a man could grow tired or bored with sex. That was just absurd and borderline insanity. Why, then, did it not seem to be enough lately? Where in the hell was this jagged feeling of unsatisfied need coming from? Voryk was afraid of the answer, because if he was right, than it would never go away. Flicking his cigar over the ledge, he downed the rest of his whiskey and stepped back into the warmth of his master bedroom. Pulling the EFT chip out his jacket flung over the back of the chair, Voryk turned the case over and over in his fingertips. Since the entertainment portion of his evening hadn’t gone so well, perhaps it was time to move onto other important matters.

For months, Voryk had been gathering as much information as possible on a new business that had recently opened its doors. For weeks, that information had been weighing heavily on his mind, like an infectious ulcer festering away. It wasn’t just that a competitor had out-bid him for the piece of prime real estate; it was the fact that it was T. R. Rigo, Voryk’s largest competitor. It was also the fact that Rigo had turned the building into a luxury whorehouse. That both baffled and intrigued Voryk, neither in a good way.

Pleasure temples were indeed good investments, but it was so far out of Rigo’s norm that Voryk couldn’t help raising a brow over it. Especially considering that for that particular location, there was an entire list of other types of businesses that would rake in triple the amount of revenue in the long run. Rigo wasn’t known for making such blatant poor choices when it came to long-term profits. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be good enough to even be considered one of Voryk’s competitors. Activating his palm-holo, Voryk set it on his bed and paced away. He was a mover and a doer, when his mind was working so was his body.

“Password alpha red, two nine seven delta,” he said aloud. “Activate audio only.”

“Authorization accepted. Good evening, Mr. Kade,” the programmed female voice greeted in a clear, precise tone. “You have six new voice messages, ten emails and two holos, would you like to view these at this time?”

“No,” he answered, pouring another two fingers of whiskey into the snifter. “Locate new entry, The Zen Lounge.”

“Entry located,” his holo responded almost immediately.

It was time to gather intel through good old espionage, Voryk thought. He couldn’t explain why this one seemed more personal than all of the other business quarrels he and Rigo were constantly in, but Voryk hadn’t been able to bring himself to delegate this task to anyone else.

“Set privacy blocks and transmit call,” he ordered. “I want this recorded.”

“Processing, please hold,” the female voice said. “Audio record activated.”

There was no preamble to the connection. No tones, rings or even music.

“Good evening, welcome to The Zen Lounge, how may I be of assistance?” A sweet, somewhat sultry voice answered.

Even through the phone, Voryk knew it was an AIDE, an Artificial Intelligence Droid Employee, not human. They always had a slight chanting quality to their voices, as if they were getting ready to walk someone through meditation or hypnosis.

“I’d like to inquire about your services,” Voryk answered, his mood dropping even further into the murky abyss.

****

“I’m going in,” Voryk announced the next morning, snapping the linen napkin out and laying it across his lap.

He was still sifting through the information he’d obtained from his conversation with the AIDE receptionist the night before. The Zen Lounge was a full service pleasure house, it would seem, that allowed their clients to personalize everything from the amount of interaction they wanted with either human, A.I., or holographic companions, to the same option for which privacy level they preferred. It was still illegal to fornicate in public, but not in a room shared by other exhibitionist, apparently. The Lounge was a fetish fountain of possibilities with a professional face. All barely within the laws, of course, though he’d been thrown when the receptionist had asked him about the virginal status of his companion. Voryk avoided virgins like they bore diseases. It was safer that way. He didn’t know what his darkness would think of it and personally, he preferred his lovers to have some kind of experience without the messy emotional ties that usually sprang from being someone’s ‘first’.

The breakfast meeting was casual, just between Voryk and Hilo before either one of them had to be at their respective offices. They dined alfresco on the terrace of the Un Posto al Sole Cafe in Little Italy’s Piazza Delle Arti. The cafe was momentarily living up to its name, as Voryk had yet to take his sunglasses off. Hilo, who already looked like a walking reproduction of Apollo without the halo of sunlight, gave Voryk a blank expression. His light blue eyes were unshielded due to the shade cast by their table’s umbrella.

“I should have placed a wager on it,” the man sighed, glancing toward traffic in order to get a clearer view of an attractive redhead crossing the street in their direction.

Voryk saw, noted and dismissed the redhead without appearing to do more than take a sip of his coffee. Hilo Mehnce had been his best friend since elementary. Even though he hadn’t come from money, Hilo had proven to be a child prodigy and had been awarded a scholarship to Corrington’s All Boy Academy. When he’d proven he was not only a genius, but a good scrapper, Voryk had taken him on and they’d been inseparable ever since. Now, not only was he a high-powered criminal defense attorney for Bonn, Hawthorne and Mehnce, but their youngest partner in history.

With his brains, Hilo could have been anything, but since he also happened to be a closet hacker, he’d wisely decided to take up law just in case he ever got caught hacking into the International Pentagon Council of Interplanetary Defense and Intelligence system someday. Of course, he’d actually accomplished that – without getting caught – before the ink on his law degree was dry. It turned out that Earth already had satellites in orbit near the Gorgacian Galaxy in the Baxxon Quadrant. Things men like Voryk enjoyed knowing in advance. It gave him a leg up on future business opportunities.

“No one would’ve bet against you, so the idea is moot, as is the remark,” Voryk easily countered. “You might want to talk to someone about your gambling addiction. I think it’s getting serious.”

Hilo’s lips curved. “Awfully defensive this morning, Ryk.”

When Voryk didn’t reply, Hilo’s smile faded and he cleared his throat. “So, you’re going in.”

Voryk nodded shortly.

“And you’re pissed.”

“And I’m pissed,” Voryk agreed.

Sitting forward, Hilo pinched off a section of his hazelnut cinnamon roll, keeping the redhead in his line of sight now that she’d take a seat at the table diagonally to his left, just beyond Voryk’s shoulder.

“You know you could always send someone else,” he pointed out, before following that through with, “But you won’t and that’s why you’re so pissed.”

“It’s a miracle you win any cases,” Voryk said dryly. “Do the prosecutors get to argue their own side, or do you do it for them? I have to be the one to go in, otherwise I wouldn’t be satisfied that all of the information I want is gathered. Even you might miss something that I would find critical.”

Hilo grinned unrepentantly. “Once my companion was with me, I would no longer be worried about what you’d find critical.”

“Precisely,” Voryk smirked.

“So when are you going?” Hilo asked.

“Friday night,” he answered. Catching his best friend glancing in the redhead’s direction for the tenth time in less than a minute, he added, “Would you like me to leave?”

Hilo sat back, wiping his fingers on the napkin in his lap. His platinum watch glinted in the sun for a moment, nearly catching Voryk in the eye. Yet another reason why he continued to wear his sunglasses.

“Do you really think it matters?” Hilo asked with another cocky grin.

Voryk merely reciprocated with a grin of his own. With his chiseled looks and healthy income, Hilo had just as much ease with women as Voryk did, for all of the opposite reasons. Or rather, they attracted women from opposite ends of the spectrum. The redhead was definitely a catch that Voryk had no interest in. Though the competition would be fun, there was no glory in winning a prize he didn’t want to begin with and losing was never an option. Of course, none of that meant that Voryk had to make it any easier for his friend. He did owe him one. Glancing at his watch, Voryk placed his napkin on the table and stood, automatically buttoning his suit jacket.

“I need to get into the office early at any rate,” he admitted.

“Still working on that Bryant-Lymner merger?” Hilo inquired, looking up at him and believing that his friend’s mood had to be really bad if he was giving up that easily.

Voryk nodded. “And I have a nine o’clock with Javier Salinas,” he added, smiling darkly to see Hilo pale at the name. “Ciao.”

****

Before Hilo could even recover from that, he watched as his best friend strolled past the redhead’s table and then purposely sent her a smug, appreciative look over his shoulder. Even wearing sunglasses, the message clearly stated ‘You’re doable and now you’ll be thinking about me all day’.

Asshole, Hilo thought, even as he stifled a laugh and came to terms with the fact that his chances with the redhead were shot to hell now. Ah, well. He probably deserved it after that little trick with the tag-team duo the night before.

###

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