Cabal of Lies Snippet #1
Woot Woot!!! I’m sooooo excited! Opus X is my favorite guilty pleasure! And I just finished reading the first snippet for Cabal of Lies! You are going to LOVE it!
Change could often be painful, but that didn’t make it any less necessary.
Jia had learned that lesson well from Erik during their time together. If she’d never met him, she might still be the same deluded, naïve person being led around by corrupt, lazy people who dishonored their oaths and their badges.
However, understanding the necessity of change wasn’t the same thing as easily accepting it, which was why she’d waited months before purchasing a long-overdue new flitter.
Jia rubbed her chin as she strolled between the long lines of flitters arrayed in the lot. The variety was staggering. Different sizes. Two-seaters. Four-seaters. Even larger. Every color of the rainbow was present, along with every color of hair she might see at a club on the weekend.
A few colors should never have seen the light of day, and certainly not on the shell of any of these flitters. There was no accounting for taste, but Jia had a hard time believing those colors were selling well.
Four different major flitter manufacturers were represented on the lot, including the oxymoronically named Off-World Systems, the German makers of Erik’s flitter. There were no cheap brands present, but Jia wasn’t there for an economy vehicle.
A bright yellow Taxútnta MX 60 was parked a few meters to her right. The vehicle was more slender than her partner’s. She puzzled over that for a moment before recalling that a year’s worth of heavy modifications had all but turned Erik’s ride into a military vehicle.
If he could get away with sticking in a hidden turret or missile rack, he would.
He was already hauling around prototype military weapons in hidden compartments, and that was only quasi-legal. There wasn’t an MX 60 in the entire UTC like his. Probably no one else had even thought to modify one as much as Erik had. Why bother when you could just get a tank?
Babe magnet? Unlikely. She was pretty sure she knew the truth of that statement.
A bright-eyed salesman in a crisp suit trailed Jia. His smile hadn’t dared to leave his face during their short time together. “So, Jia, you mentioned you wanted a new vehicle, and you made your generous price range clear, but could you give me a little better idea about what kind of vehicle you’re interested in? I could help narrow it down. We have a wide variety of vehicles to meet a wide variety of needs. We’ll do everything we can to make sure you leave today happy with your choice.”
Jia wanted to poke him over his presumption, but there was no reason to be rude. He was just doing his job. She couldn’t blame him because of her own lingering discomfort.
She stopped and frowned at the yellow MX 60. “I need something new. My life’s changed a lot this last year, and my old flitter doesn’t reflect those changes.” She eyed him for a moment. “It’s too…boring and blue.” She shrugged. “I need something a little flashier. Sportier? It needs to fit my new lifestyle, too. I need good performance.”
Jia wasn’t sure if she was flashier and sportier, but at the minimum, she wasn’t the same person she had been previously. Replacing her flitter was a way of acknowledging that truth and of gaining a small advantage over Erik, but she didn’t want the salesman to know that yet.
He already had too many preconceived notions. She would pull the trigger on the full truth when the time was right.
A knowing smile took over the salesman’s face, and he nodded. “I understand. A beautiful woman like you deserves a flitter that can enhance her beauty. One that tells the world, ‘I’m Jia, and I’m here. Pay attention to me, world!’”
She agreed, her voice not reflecting what she was thinking. “Uh-huh. Sure. Something like that.”
Jia strolled toward a huge green flitter across from the MX 60. The green monstrosity was so large it bordered on being a cargo hauler. It made a statement all right, but not one she wanted to make. She scoffed and continued past the overcompensation-mobile.
“I understand that in today’s complicated dating environment,” the salesman began, “it’s hard to know what kind of signal you’re sending. But you’re right—your flitter should reflect you. May I be brutally honest, Jia?” He threaded his fingers in front of him.
She shrugged. “Go ahead. I doubt you’ll say anything that shocking.”
“The flitter you arrived in is the kind of thing your mother would drive.” He shook his head, a look of pity on his face.
Jia grimaced. His words struck deeper than she’d anticipated. She wanted to complain, but he was right. While her mother didn’t drive the same make and model, she had recommended it and approved of the purchase. Was she that easy to see through?
“That bad, huh?” Jia sighed.
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “You’re here now. You’re doing what you need to make the outward expression of your recent inner changes correct.”
She needed to regain control of the situation. That was what she needed to do.
While she might not be her mother, she wasn’t looking for some cutesy ride to zoom around in on dates. Her needs were particular, and it was time the salesman understood that. Form was one thing, but function was far more important.
Jia pointed to a two-seater crimson flitter to her side. “Could that survive a collision with a tower? Not like the side of a tower, but say you had to crash through a window in an emergency situation?”
The salesman let out a quiet chuckle. “Excuse me? Did you just ask if it could smash through a window?”
“I get that it can smash through. I’m just trying to get a feel for how much damage the flitter would take and if the auto-repair systems could get it up and running in a few minutes. That kind of thing.”
Jia narrowed her eyes at the flitter, trying to imagine crashing into a tower filled with terrorists, gangsters, or yaoguai. Her life had gone from boring to colorful. An image of a Tin Man with a blade arm ripping through the top popped into her head.
“If it runs into a tower?” the salesman repeated. He coughed into his hand while his eyes searched around the lot. What he was looking for, Jia had no clue. “Am I hearing you correctly, ma’am?”
Jia slammed her fist into her palm to demonstrate the collision. “Yes. Like that.” She held her palms up and slowly moved them away from each other. “I’m presuming a decent-sized window, maybe a long, wide hallway that could accommodate the flitter inside, but if you had to crash through,” she looked at him, “how much damage do you think it’d be able to take? I’m just trying to figure out if I’d be able to take off again, or if it’s more of a last-ditch desperation move.”
“That’s a very unusual question. Have you had to crash into a tower before?” Confusion and doubt dripped from the salesman’s voice. “I can’t recall any other customer ever asking me something like this.”
“I wasn’t the one who crashed the flitter, but I was in the flitter at the time. Stuff happens.” Jia considered her question. “I’m not asking for the technical information, but you know, extrapolations from crash tests.”
This was what she got for not doing her research ahead of time. She should have shown up at the emporium with a specific vehicle already in mind, but she’d thought picking one out without excessive preparation would be more spontaneous and in the spirit of why she was purchasing a new vehicle.
“I see.” The look on the salesman’s face suggested he didn’t believe her, but his smile returned. “I will note that every vehicle here has top-notch safety features, whether you’re colliding with a building or getting into a crash with another flitter, and the autodrive in all of our vehicles is the best on the market. If you’re having trouble with accidents, don’t worry. This flitter can assure you’ll never hit anything ever again.” He shook his head. “I almost never fly on manual. Why take the risk? If you ask me, it’s insane that it’s even legal for people to fly their own flitters.”
“I don’t fly most of the time,” Jia replied. “But every once in a while, I don’t have a choice. Sometimes you don’t want to trust your life to an AI.”
The salesman chuckled. “I’d rather trust my life to an AI than a human.”
Jia couldn’t ask him how well the flitter would operate when controlled by a military-grade experimental AI, but she doubted she needed to.
Emma had demonstrated little trouble adapting to everything from Erik’s flitter to a lunar transport. She wouldn’t have trouble running Jia’s new flitter. For that matter, properly interfaced, Emma could probably handle multiple flitters at once, but Jia wasn’t sure she wanted to rely too much on the AI in a situation where transmissions could be jammed. There were other, more immediate vehicular concerns anyway.
She tapped her lips. “You didn’t explain if it could take the crash, but more importantly, how resistant is it to small arms fire?” Jia asked. “I’m not saying it has to be perfect. I just want to make sure it can take at least a few shots. I don’t want the thrusters or grav emitters cutting easily. It’s a long fall around here.”
“Excuse me?” The salesman blinked. “First, crashing into buildings and, now, if I understand you, guns?”
Jia walked over to the flitter and squatted. “I will say there’s a nice, narrow profile on the grav emitters. That makes for a harder target. You should read up on why the military doesn’t use many flitters versus dedicated ground or air vehicles. I was dubious for a long time, but now I’ve lived it.” She clucked her tongue. “And yes, guns. I’m talking basic pistols, rifles, and slug-throwers, not stun weapons. Any decent flitter can defend against those already. I just don’t want to plummet to my death because some idiot street tough gets a lucky shot. There’s only so much grav fields can do when you fall straight to the ground. I’ve seen it.”
The salesman didn’t respond. She could almost hear the gears turning in his head.
“So, you want to know how resistant the flitter is to getting shot?” the salesman inquired. “In addition to if you can crash it through large windows?”
She wondered if flitter salespeople had panic buttons, and if they did, was he pressing his like a maniac at the moment?
“To be clear, I’m not planning to crash it through any windows.” Jia offered a quick bob of her head before hopping back up. “As for the guns, yes, exactly. I’m not expecting it to take rockets or military-grade EMP, but I’m wondering about random gunfire. Think lucky punks rather than heavily armed Tin Men.” She furrowed her brow and tapped her lips once more. “Or yaoguai? But they wouldn’t be using guns. These things have to be pretty resistant to acid attacks, though, you’d think.”
“I…honestly don’t know the answer to that.” The salesman glanced at the door leading into the building, licking his lips nervously. “Every vehicle we offer has top-of-the-line self-repair for standard damage. Is being able to take, uh, small-arms fire something you’ll anticipate needing on a semi-regular basis? I’m sure the general anticorrosive capabilities of the vehicle would help you with any acid-spitting monsters you might run into.” He blinked several times, realizing what was coming out of his mouth.
I’m still laughing! That poor salesman! Can you imagine asking those questions today when you go car shopping? Ha!
If you’re half as entertained as I am, then check out Cabal of Lies, on pre-order now! Live on April 17th.