The Grey Destiny, Chapter Five

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The casino was two stories, the second largest of all of the ones set up in the party. The entrance was covered with spotted triple-bloom flowers reminiscent of hibiscus, the walls in flowering vines of neon pink sweet peas and ebon black double bloom chrysanthemums. The room was set up for gambling, a novel pastime in the era, considering a century before was the vice of choice. Various tables were set up: craps, poker, roulette, keno, etc. The staff, various droids scattered around the tables in the livery of card suits, helped the crowed win and lose thousands of credits while others floated around with platters of hors d’œuvre and trays of champagne.

At one table, someone was playing baccarat.

He was dressed in a rumpled trench coat, a white button down shirt, and a dark blue thick tie. He was smoking a cigar, a habit that, according to him, has lost him three girlfriends. His lined face frowned in thought as he scratched his head. He adjusted his half-moon spectacles and peeked at the cards, then, with a slight smile, flipped them over.

“It is a nine,” said the droid in an emotionless voice, seeing the cards in front of the man, a nine of hearts and a smiling, yet pointless, queen. The other set of cards turned up to show a pair of solemn kings. “It is baccarat,” the droid announced. It then moved a small pile of chips to the man.

“A tidy set of winnings, if I may say,” someone said at his shoulder. “How much is that? Fifteen thousand? Twenty?”

He turned to meet a White Queen. “Miss Aretha Phillipe. What a pleasure.” He motioned the droid to continue with the game and asked to have his winnings sent to his credit account. “It is actually twenty five thousand, to be honest.” He got off the stool and gave a quick handshake. “Enjoying your birthday celebrations?”

She nodded and smiled. “Of course,” she said. “I have been enjoying myself immensely.”

“As well you should. How old are you now? Or should I take a guess?”

She laughed. “Knowing you, you would be on the mark.” She took him by the elbow and escorted him out of the chamber.

“I have a certain person to introduce you to,” she said while they were going through the crowds of people trying to woo Lady Luck. “I am sure you know of Conway Forrester Alazhar?”

The man thought for a moment. “Did he not have a showing in the downtown museum?”

“That is the one,” she said, nodding. “Apparently, he invented an interesting holographic form of clothing. I saw it, and I instantly thought of you.”

His eyebrows went up in surprise. “Really now? That is mighty decent of you.”

She smiled, then noticed Con and Billy coming into the building. “Ah, there they are.”

“Here we are,” Con said as the man turned around to face the couple. “What is going on?”

Duchess motioned to her companion. “Let me introduce you to Mister Guilotti, head of–” She broke off due to Billy’s dropped jaw. “Is something the matter, Mister Vane?”

He swallowed deeply. “Guilotti?! THE Guilotti?”

“Babe, what’s going on?” Con asked, confused.

Guilotti sighed in resignation and raked a hand through his graying mop of hair. “He is just a bit agog over me, that’s all.”

“Agog would be an understatement,” Billy said, taking Guilotti’s hand and shaking it. “We are talking to one of the brightest, if not the brightest, mind in the continent.”

“And here I thought we were here to party,” Con said, smirking.

“Now, now,” Duchess said. “Let us not get too riled up,” she gently pried Billy’s still pumping hand from Guilotti’s. “No doubt you are familiar with Mister William Vane.”

“Oh, so you are him, hm?” Guilotti’s acute gaze swept from Billy’s face to his boots. “I thought you would be dressed more conservatively than this, considering your family.”

Billy laughed. “I am, as the old-circle phrase so put it, a ‘black sheep’. And I am sorry to act like that,” he continued. “I just was not expecting you to be here, that was all.”

“Nobody expects me,” Guilotti said, a slight smile forming on his face. “They would expect the Spanish Inquisition before expecting me.”

“No doubt sent from that Python guy,” Con said, reaching over to shake Guilotti’s hand. “Conway Alazhar. I think Duchess already mentioned me.”

Guilotti nodded, returning the handshake. “The holographic clothing. I take it you are wearing it now? If I may…?” He motioned to the suit.

“No problem.”

Guilotti looked closer, peering through his glasses. “Hm. I do not see anything wrong with it. Quite classy, if I say.”

Con fiddled with his wrist, and the suit flicked off, displaying a psychedelic tie-dye shirt of intense neon green, yellow, and red with the words “I like big balls! And they are such big balls!” emblazoned in the front in bold, black lettering. A dingy-blue set of slacks and black sneakers completed the set.

“Good grief!” Guilotti said, backing away and shielding his eyes from the colors. A few guests around him followed the action. “The hell happened?”

“Just turned off the suit,” Con said, fiddling with his wrist again, making the suit appear back to its usual splendor.

“Unbelievable.” Guilotti reached out and grasped an arm, meeting flesh instead of fabric. “A topological holographic projection wrapped around a three dimensional grid. However did you get this covering your frame?”

Con, blinking at the high-circle tech speak, extended a wrist, showing a slim metal band. “One of the contacts of the suit,” he said. “The other is at my ankle.”

Guilotti focused on the band. “Hm. Looks like a miniature quantum flux-light generator.” He looked at Con. “Duchess said you use these for your artworks.”

He nodded. “I got inspired to make the suit after one of my latest works. I thought it would be an interesting diversion.”

Guilotti nodded back. “Interesting, indeed. And quite fascinating.” He looked at Duchess. “Well, Miss Aretha, I think this might be a worthwhile subject to look into. I also think that with a bit of tweaking, we might be able to use this as a body suit instead of just for clothing.” He smiled, making him look like a mischievous young boy.

“Really?”

He looked back at Con. “Indeed, sir. It might take a few more of those generators, but I am very sure we can reverse tech it.” He focused on Con’s face. “Hm. Maybe around the neck and head. Do not know, though.” He patted around his pockets, and he took out a small paper notebook and a pencil and scribbled something on it. “Yes. I think we can help out with this.”

In the concert hall, trumpets flared out brashly. A trio of singers started singing about a bugle boy as the band and DJ went into a splurge of 40’s boogie-woogie. The dancers on the floor erupted into a flurry of movement.

“Hm, not bad,” Con said, snapping his fingers to the beat. He turned to Duchess and Guilotti. “Sorry, folks, but I want to dance all of a sudden.” Then, grabbing Billy’s wrist, he dragged him back to the dance floor, a loud complaint of “But I do not know how to dance to this!” still hanging in the air.

“He is going to be the death of him,” Duchess said, shaking his head and smiling.

“I think so too,” Guilotti said.

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