:: previous – The Thing Beyond the Clouds
“Hey, Mili.” Dad says over my office intercom.
He can wait. Misa’s visiting me for lunch.
“So, I was reviewing our financials…” I secure the cap on my pen and look at Misa. She’s on the couch watching TV. “With my income from Grim Systems alone, we’re solid.”
I picture her in a bridal gown, strolling towards me. She carries a lively arrangement of flowers with a smile bright as the daylight flooding the venue, glittering across her sun-kissed skin.
The weather is a perfect mix of pleasant temperature and refreshing breezes, carrying sweet wildflower scents far and wide.
Like the day we met.
“You wouldn’t have to work at the library, or anywhere. I know you want to, but… Or, you could stay here at Grim?” I drum my fingers on the desk, but her eyes remain on the screen. “Either way, these numbers are great…”
She doesn’t respond.
“We’re set up for success… No worries.”
“With my income, that would cushion our future more, right?”
Hm. She speaks.
“It would, yes.”
I see our outstretched hands waving from the truck window, catching a summer evening breeze.
We board boats and planes together, eat new foods, attend festivals and celebrations, since they’re not as annoying as I thought they were.
There’s camping, fishing, hiking.
Things to do around the house, yardwork…
“Emilian!” Dad snaps from down the hall.
“It’s okay, you can go.” Misa channel surfs. Every station is talking about the hourglass. “Doom. Everywhere…”
I peek through the blinds. It’s still up there, in a black sky at noon.
“At least reporters aren’t lurking around the house anymore.”
“Ugh. Don’t remind me.”
Because of SkyGrim, their presence kept us locked inside the house. We were mentioned in news flashes and articles. Everyone wanted to get pictures of us. Misa went stir-crazy without our daily walks.
After four days of torture and zero comment from either of us on SkyGrim, the press finally left the neighborhood.
She turns the TV off and stretches across the couch in her long flowery dress.
I kneel beside her.
“It still scares you, huh?”
“Yeah…” She presses a pillow to her face, grumbling into it. “It was hard driving today.”
That’s why she took longer than normal to get here.
“Hey…” I stroke her dark curls sprawled down her chest. “If something were going to happen, it would’ve happened by now.”
She moves the pillow away. Her gray-blue eyes sink into deep pools of hurt.
“That makes me feel worse.”
“You’re okay…no matter what. I got you. Forever.”
That doesn’t sound confident.
I see him grab Misa from the path of SkyGrim’s descent again… He moved fast.
The sight of them on the ground together still haunts me. All that squeezing against Misa from behind, arms coiled around her, crossing her breasts. His face buried in her hair, inhaling… Knowing her sweetness that I wake up to every morning.
On our lawn.
I could’ve lost her…
Some man I am. Couldn’t save my fiancée in time.
But the old man did.
I owe him.
“I know.” Misa’s voice is a whisper.
She slides her hand over mine and I see her ring, three hugging diamonds on a gold band representing our past, present, and future. Bright as her eyes the day I asked her to marry me.
She kisses me softly.
I can taste the tears on her lips.
They drip down my fingers when I caress her face.
“EMILIAN!” Dad roars.
“Go, Mili. I’m okay.” She pulls away to grab tissues. “I’ll be here.”
She pats her face dry and lies down.
Her forever sunflower quietly lowers beside her, flat as paper and dull.
. . .
Dad’s office is packed with the suit-and-tie law firm power of my uncles Ehren Nightbell, Easton Grim, and family friend Thomakos Myers.
Here we go.
“Finally!” Dad shakes his head. “Thom, you go on and tell Mili. I gotta…” His voice trails when he waves East over to him. “Hey man… show me that message from Tehanie again.” Dad says. “She said she’s comin’ back home?”
“Heyoo!” Thom extends his long brown hand out to me, blocking my view of Dad.
“Myers! Hey…” We shake and I can’t help but look into his eyes. It’s difficult not to—he’s a lanky man with two lime-size black holes stuck to his face and a shiny bald head. “Good to see you, sir. Life treating you well?”
“Aw, you know, life. Heh, yeah, yeah… But I’m faring well, considering that stuff.” He motions to the window. “Heh heh, look at you! You’re as big as your pops now!”
“Almost.” Dad fires back.
“I remember when you’d run around here with my Tom, both of you… knee-high balls of energy!” Thom holds his hand near the floor. His wide smile is infectious. “Oh! And West tells me you’re getting married. Congrats man!” He pats my shoulder, keeping a tight grip on me. “Speaking of which, Tom sends his best, too. We all have to get together sometime, yeah?”
Since Tom lives in the District, we don’t see each other as often.
I should call him.
“That sounds great. And thanks.” I smile.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great. But you know, Emilian…” he leans into me, his voice lower, “Your Dad… He isn’t doing so well. He’s stubborn stock, heh heh, am I right?” He isn’t wrong. “Listen, I want Khiana back. We all want her back, yeah? But make sure West knows he already has what he’s looking for. You understand?”
He pats my back. “Good, good. Yeah…” He sighs. “Crazy times, huh? Heh heh.”
“Lots of uncertainty.” I shrug. “I’m not afraid.”
“Ah! There it is! That’s the Grim spirit. Chin up! That strength is contagious.” He pats my shoulder again. “Okay, let’s talk. Serious business.”
“Here’s the deal, Emilian. The Crown has decided they want to play games with House Grim. So we’re considering becoming a player and use the inquiry…” One of his law minions hand me a thick piece of paper. “We’ll use this inquiry the crown sent you as leverage to make queries of our own.”
I skim over the text.
An inquiry has been raised against you. Read the information below.
You have 3 DAYS (after the date of this document) to file a response. A letter or phone call will not suffice. You may want to contact an attorney right away.
In light of recent atmospheric phenomena… Information captured by the SkyGrim drone and components within the drone could play a pivotal role in ongoing research.
House Grim is a long-standing leader in technological innovation…
Your assistance in this matter is desired.
“They want data from SkyGrim.” Dad says. He’s lounging on the couch, staring out the mighty picture window across from him.
“Heyoo. Is there any?” Thom asks me.
Dad’s hard blue eyes meet mine. He nods.
“Perhaps.” I answer.
“Good.” Thom turns to dad. “So, we’ll make our position clear. SkyGrim info for the crown’s help in Khiana’s disappearance, including access to her office at the Crown House.”
“Snake broad helped us at that press briefing.” Dad chuckles. He lights a cigar.
“Instructor Inga?” I ask.
“Mm-hm.” Ehren grins. “A reporter buddy of mine showed me up-close shots he got the moment she opened that sweater.”
“Heyoo?” Thom grins.
“Well, hey,” Ehren’s smile is greedy. “I’d get to know her…”
The crown has said little about Inga’s outburst, only that an unbalanced university instructor attended the press briefing and caused a disturbance.
Mom wasn’t mentioned again.
And Inga made me replace her table in class when I put my fist through it. Then she loses control at a press briefing.
Wish I could’ve been there in person when she flipped.
“Inga’s friends with Khiana.” Ehren continues. “Since they were kids.”
“And still crazy,” Dad says, exhaling a puff of smoke. “We’re gonna get her in here for a private word soon. The way that press briefing went when they brought out that shadow boy said a lot about their intention to control whatever kind of narrative they got going on. We could use all the help we can get to find your momma.”
“Where’s the SkyGrim wreckage?” East asks me.
“Here on site. Secured.”
“Keep it here. As for Thom’s exchange proposal, SkyGrim and its data is Grim Systems property we shouldn’t give up so willingly. I mean, there’s a fucking hourglass in the sky that no one else has answers to. What if we’re the only ones that do?”
“So you don’t want my sister back?” Ehren snaps.
“Did I say that?” East stares at Ehren like he’s stupid. “Let’s play this smart… We have Inga who could be a significant benefit to us. And it sounds like she knows what we know about the King. Squeezing the snake with info on Khiana now will help shape our next steps with the crown.”
“Good thinking, brother.” Dad says.
Thom looks at me. “Heyoo?”
I re-read the top of the inquiry: You have 3 DAYS (after the date of this document) to file a response.
“What action can the Crown take if I don’t respond?”
“Nothing, because it isn’t stated on that important piece of paper you’re holding.”
Thom’s eyeholes remind me of the gaping one between Inga’s breasts.
“So I get this inquiry, but Inga isn’t arrested for what she did. Why?”
“It’s part of the game, starting with this inquiry. A sprinkle of kindness wrapped in subtle legality. No arrest of the person who attacked an entire press briefing after asking about your missing mother. Heh, they know what they’re doing. Everything happens for a reason.”
Fuck the crown.
I hand the inquiry back to Thom.
“We’ll talk to Inga first, before someone decides to arrest her.”