-Vestibule, veranda, New Vada
-Vest, voluminous, vagrant, villain, victory, vaudeville, velvet, violet, Victorian, vintage, version, various, vacillation, vindicate, vehicle, voice, vehemently, vitriol, volatile, vampire, vicious, valedictorian
"The Valentine’s Day Vigil"
As Tricia entered the Valley wing, she gave vent to a small sigh. The main floor of The Vestibule, Peres’ exclusive boutique, verily crawled with android attendants. Various stations around the store held everything necessary for every stage of the beautifying process.
“Good morning, Tricia! Welcome to The Vestibule,” cried a vivacious blond-haired Android with a voluminous perm and a wide, toothy smile. “My name is Sondra, I’ll be getting you ready for your hot date with President Parisian!”
The pretty young recruit gave a slight smile as Sondra projected a life-size digital version of herself in the air before her.
“First things first!” she declared, “We’ll decide the look you want, and each vendor will receive the instructions for their specific part. All you have to do is visit the various stylists and you’ll come out looking exactly the way you should!” Sondra smiled. “Before we get started, do you have a style programming card?”
Tricia obediently slid the small wafer-drive out of her wallet. Xavier had arranged for its delivery a month ago, and she had to wait until now to find out what would be on it. He hadn’t said much about it, but the gossip among the escorts informed her that he had always been very particular about the outfits his assistants wore, and whatever he had chosen for Valentine’s Day would be spectacular indeed.
Sondra slipped the card into a socket over her hip, and the “base model” of Tricia briefly flickered out of existence. When the image returned, Tricia half expected it to be something scant, like the frilly vaudeville-style outfits favored by other escort clients. Instead, the model remained the same, except a bright, flashing message displayed in front of it: “NO PREPROGRAM DETECTED; PLEASE SELECT A CATEGORY FROM THE MENU TO BEGIN.”
“Well!” Sondra sighed, “What else could one expect for the Valedictorian of all the Escort Recruits!”
Tricia felt all sensation drain from her over-pinned head to her stilting stilettos. Xavier Parisian, the man who demanded perfection in absolutely every area, was letting her choose the outfit tonight! What did it mean? She wasn’t used to such favor; she knew the rumors flying from between vicious lips: how she had secretly seduced him, how she pretended not to have money, but she was rich enough to pay off absolutely everyone involved with the competition to ensure her spot at the front, or how she might even be blackmailing Mr. Parisian with some scandal from his past to influence his favor. She heard them all, and yet she set them aside as easily as they came into her hearing, concentrating on maintaining her virtue wherever she could.
Tricia selected the “DRESS” category, and scrolled down through the “Vintage” styles until she found the one she wanted.
“Wonderful!” Sondra gushed, “May I suggest a few hairstyles to go along with the dress you have selected?”
Tricia sat in the vehicle, trying to relax amid the mounds of velvet and hoopskirts. A vague, unsettled feeling nagged at the back of her psyche. She closed her eyes and concentrated on taking slow, measured breaths, bringing to mind all the self-affirmation techniques OPHELIA had taught her: “Visualize your best self; state your goal directly and clearly; vaunt your strongest qualities to the forefront, as these will propel you toward your goals…”
“YOU HAVE ARRIVED,” the deep bass voice of the self-driving vehicle announced. The door hissed open on hidden hydraulics, and Tricia spied the location Xavier had picked for their dinner: The New Vada Lounge, also known among the escorts as “Vada-Voom” because of its exclusivity, which in turn made it a prime location for a high-profile evening.
President Xavier himself stood upon the veranda, wearing a tuxedo with a vest the same color as Tricia’s dress: a deep, regal violet. His blue eyes looked deeper than ever as he descended the steps to meet her. Tricia blushed under his stare, and curtseyed before him.
“Victorian!” He cried, gazing over the spreading skirts and the round, off-shoulder sleeves. His touch lingered along her bare shoulder, headed toward the delicate crystal riviere around her neck. He murmured softly, “I like it. Nobody’s worn that for centuries.”
I know, Tricia thought to herself. That’s why I chose it for this occasion.
Xavier nodded his approval. “I knew you would choose wisely; that’s why I let you. Out of all the other girls, Tricia, you have this air about you--I wish I knew what it was!”
How much easier it would be if she could tell him! But no; she remained silent for now. She could speak when the time was right.
He led her around the corner to a separate dining area with tall windows, a single table, and a wide dance floor. Tricia felt her scalp prickle under the sleek updo studded with tiny amethysts when she saw the figure standing anxiously at attention near the door: Herman Haggerty, the Vice President of the whole Peres Corporation. He appeared vastly less confident today than he had before, but she didn’t see any cause to assume that his vendetta had lost any momentum. The investigations and the trials were still well underway. This would be her last chance to save whatever innocent souls she could before the axe fell.
For now, Xavier led her to the table. “I thought we’d have something to eat first,” he said, “and then a bit of dancing before dessert. I hear you’re quite the vivacious little pixie when there’s music playing, my dear little Trixie!”
Tricia maintained her silence through the whole meal. Inside, she wailed at the top of her voice, begging God for mercy and forgiveness, asking Him for the words to speak before this volatile man. It seemed only a few moments had passed before the sweet lilt of the violins drew her from her musings. Xavier stood and took her hand, leading the way as they meandered out to the dance floor. Even Herman joined them, as he had enlisted the services of one of Tricia’s fellow escorts, by the name of Heather. They swept around the space as the hidden music played at a measured pace.
Xavier leaned in close, his voice traveling right into her ear as his breath tickled her neck.
“So why don’t you tell me what this is about, eh, Trixie? Three months, three dates, just like you wanted, right? Now will you tell me what is bothering you? That promotion is still yours for the taking. Tell me you want it!”
Tricia still held her lips closed. It wasn’t time--why wasn’t it time?
Xavier stopped dancing. The music ceased as soon as he did.
“Tricia.” His voice was low, with a dangerous edge to it. “You cannot violate the one place in the vicinity where I can truly be myself—and simply not say why. What was so important? Tell me.”
She looked into his eyes.
Now; ah, now she had his attention.
Carefully, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “Vindicate me.”
He stepped back from her, but did not release her hand. “What?”
She licked her lips and plunged ahead. “I’ve just received a court summons to appear on trial for acts I did not commit, based on the testimonies of people I do not know, supposedly under the orders of supervisors I never worked for—“
“Stop!” Xavier raised his hand with a frown. “When did this happen? Recently? Are you sure it is not some kind of misunderstanding?”
Tricia held her ground. “Oh, I assure you, my accuser stands upon a mountain of blackmail, fraud, slander, and deceit that he has built for himself. There is no vacillation of malicious intent on his part.”
Xavier’s face flushed to a bright vermillion as his anger flared. “Does your accuser not know that accusing you is equivalent to disparaging me, because I chose you, Tricia Carson?”
By now even Herman stood rooted to the spot, staring in abject horror at the scene unfolding before him.
“There is something else, Xavier,” she went on, licking her lips and sending up a quick prayer. “My name isn’t Tricia Carson. It’s Vanessa; Vanessa Decker. I used a cover identity to fit in with this culture better, because I was vulnerable as the daughter of a former Integra employee.”
Silence engulfed them like a vacuum at the declaration. Vanessa (my, but it felt good to use her own name again!) heard a strangled choke from behind her, and knew that victory over the villain was not far off.
She reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out a portable video projector.
“If you don’t believe me,” she said, “I have proof.” She opened the display and activated the clip, a news blurb that had already aired on screens and surfaces all around the corporate city. There, they saw the long file of employees in prison-issued jumpsuits, fed one at a time through the doors to the courtroom, where they faced the vitriol of people conditioned to despise Integra and everything it stood for, since not a one of them actually knew anything about the company. The vigilant reporter went on to inform the audience that the one responsible was none other than recently-promoted Vice President Of Human Resources, Herman Haggerty, a man vehemently opposed to what he called “dead weight in the company.” It was his vigorous efforts, said she, that resulted in the suspension and accusation of hundreds of Peres employees, all in the name of President Parisian. The reporter affirmed that all Integra employees and their families were affected by this vendetta, as they were all slated for imprisonment in an administrative prison facility in Florence, Colorado.
Vanessa looked up from the visceral footage when she heard the door close. Xavier headed down the verdant garden path—did he believe her? Would he act and save these people for her sake? Or were her efforts in vain?
“Madam!” Whimpered a voice behind her.
Vanessa turned as Herman slumped to his knees on the vinyl wood flooring. He clasped his quivering hands.
“Please forgive me! Don’t let him be too harsh on me! I—I had no idea you were one of them! I would never have been so broad in my verbiage if I had known—“
She couldn’t even look at his face anymore. Her father was awaiting his turn to be sentenced to one of the most violent and hellish prisons in the country. She turned away without a word, to hide her tears.
“No, wait! Please!”
A tug on her skirt stopped her, and she turned around.
Herman had his vile grasp on her hem, and he stood, keeping a hold on it. “Please don’t—“
“Let go of me!” Vanessa cried, trying to pull away, but he had caught her off balance, and she didn’t have the traction to gain momentum. Her heel slipped on the smooth vinyl, and she toppled to her knees amid a cushion of velvet.
Immediately, the door burst open and Xavier rushed in, tuxedo disheveled and eyes full of fire. He made straight for Herman, his hands closing around the man’s neck as he shoved him back against the windows.
“YOU DARE!” He roared. “YOU DARE TOUCH THIS GIRL I HAVE CHOSEN, AFTER THREATENING HER LIFE AND BESMIRCHING MY NAME FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR OWN EGO?”
Herman struggled and strained for breath, but Xavier’s grip was too strong.
“Men like you are nothing but vicious, insatiable vampires,” growled the President. “Sucking dry those around them in a vain attempt at slaking your own desires, but never finding the satisfaction.” His grip released slightly, but only enough for the traitor to take one thin gasp. “It’s you who are the dead weight in my company, taking funds, time, and energy and wasting it on yourselves.” Xavier shoved Herman down to the floor again, signaling his guards forward as the villain lay retching for breath.
“Call up the embassy in Thailand and arrange for transport,” Xavier grunted. “I hear they have a prison vicious enough to hold this viper.”
Herman let out a strangled whimper; he knew from his extensive research (or rather, the research he had Heather do) exactly where he was headed.
Once the guards departed, Xavier summoned another android.
“Tell me, is there a prison transport caravan headed for Colorado?” He asked.
“There is, Sir,” she replied.
“Cancel it immediately,” he declared. “No one from Peres Corp is headed that way. As for the trials...” he pressed his lips in thought. “Let the Legal Department know that as of this moment, they have all been reassigned to the defendants’ cases. Also, if they would like to retain their current employment and maintain their impeccable reputation, they had better win.”
The android blinked her eyes. “Understood, Sir.”
Vanessa felt all the tension in her body evaporate. They were saved! Xavier turned and helped her to her feet.
“Well, I would say that this night has been the most productive Valentine’s evening I have had in a long time!” He declared. “I feel like this deserves some kind of victory celebration.” He smiled at her, his vibrant eyes twinkling. “And it looks like the office of Vice President Of Human Resources has an unexpected vacancy. You wouldn’t happen to know anyone you could recommend, hey, Tri—I mean, Vanessa?”
She returned his smile and slipped her hands behind his neck as he placed his about her waist. “I do know a man who would make a venerable Vice President.”
They swayed together as the violins resumed their music.
This story is a scene from an as-yet-unfinished project, based on the story of Esther, called "Focal Point." It is planned as part of a series called "The ReBible" series, adaptations of Biblical accounts, written in a modern storytelling style as either historical fiction or sci-fi cyberpunk (such as this one.) Click the hyperlinked text, or choose "The ReBible Series" from the menu bar across the top of this blog to read more excerpts from this and other books in the series.
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)