Lieder had risen before the vague glow that precedes dawn. Sleep had temporarily cured the vulnerable feeling he’d gotten from his first exposure to the room’s virtual transparency feature, so he’d turned it back on to survey the darkened cityscape.
He gazed down through the faux-transparent wall on the rear side of the house. The city below was largely obscured by the platform supporting this neighborhood, though a huge square hole revealed the houses and streets on the outer edge of the platform hundreds of meters below this one. The isometric angle provided a backdrop of skyscraper midsections and tangling roadway in the gap between terraces.
The enormous window was perfectly square, its perimeter illuminated to reveal a variety of indeterminate machinery positioned along the edge and near the rear exits of the surrounding buildings. Numerous tunnels were carved into the vertical faces of each side, spaced in a manner that suggested they were used as sockets for something.
Lieder paced back to his jeans and reached into the pockets in turn, looking for his expander. After pulling it out and opening it, the screen displayed an alert in large font.
You have 2 new messages.
Would you like to view them now?
He frowned and scrunched his forehead. Who would send him a message, especially during the hours that these came? Further, how had they gotten his number, e-mail address, or whatever convention they used to isolate a specific person’s device in this age? He’d certainly never set one up himself; could it really be tied to just his name? On the opposite, scarier extreme, could the messages follow his genetic trail wherever it went?
His concerns were promptly forgotten as he realized these might pertain to the reason he was resurrected. The thought hastened his finger’s way to the ‘yes’ button.
First message from:
Duchess Angelica Virtuoso
Lieder did not recognize the name, but this was hardly a surprise. He tapped the ‘view now’ box. The screen changed seamlessly to display the face of a beautiful young woman looking back at him. He couldn’t help but be stricken by the quality of her silky brown hair and whatever she’d done to so accentuate the silver in her eyes.
“Salutations, Lord Lieder. I am Duchess Angelica Virtuoso, but perhaps you’d know me better as the employer of a certain Sapient that was accosted yesterday outside a Humor’s Hobby outlet.”
Lieder now understood why she had contacted him. This was about his involvement in the incident with the teenage Peer that assaulted the Sapient woman near the Cool N’ Airydiner.
Angelica smiled, an expression saturated with a melancholy sincerity. Again, Lieder was overcome with an unfamiliar emotion. Her face, the expression on it, and the voice behind it all seemed inhumanly perfect; part of him wondered if she might really be an angel.
“Lina told me what you did, and both the Triage and the Comptable family confirmed it; I don’t think I could possibly thank you enough. You’re a testament to your title, to act when so many of our Peers simply watched. I’d wager that a majority of them don’t understand that sometimes a certain Sapient can mean more to their Peer than even another Peer could, but your actions suggest that you know this of what I speak. To not understand it is naiveté, and to ignore it is both lazy and ignorant.
To make matters worse, those vainglories gave that child a set of rakes?! A sign that full Peerage privilege should have to be earned, if I’ve ever witnessed one!”
Lieder smiled. Perhaps things weren’t as bad as he’d feared. He watched empathetically as she struggled to muzzle her rage.
‘Vainglories,’ she’d called them. He liked the term, and hoped it was a recognizable insult among the Peerage. He felt like the system exemplified the word perfectly.
“Apologies for my angry digression. My hope is to have the spirit of this message be one of gratitude, especially since your actions suggest that you already understand my anger. We are a humbler family in the Peerage, but regardless, know that you have all the respect and admiration that the Virtuosos have to offer. Thank you, Lord Lieder, and I wish you the best of fortunes. You truly are a person of Lordly caliber.”
Her face disappeared, and in between the replacing text Lieder could see the dim reflection of an expression he had thought himself incapable of wearing. Smiles had never been very different from scowls in his old age.
It hadn’t been even one full day since he’d awoken, and he’d experienced a person of good integrity. This was a sign that such a phenomenon could be more common in this era than it had been in his own. Such an encounter had been rare beyond measure back then.
Perhaps he wasn’t being fair to his generation, but it was hard to be when he spent so much of his life in unscrupulous company.
His mind lingered on Angelica’s appearance. She was beautiful, so remarkably so that Lieder doubted she could have been born that way. Cosmetics had likely evolved just as much as every other industry did during his stasis. Lieder couldn’t remember most of the nameless faces of the Peers he’d seen since awakening, but if Percius Tombs, Ronald Broker, and Angelica Virtuoso were any indication, the Peerage likely went to great lengths to ensure they looked more attractive than the natural human.
His smile grew nostalgic for a moment. “Person of Lordly caliber.” She had used the exact wording as the subtitle for an outstanding video game he had once played. He wondered if there might be a way to find a surviving copy.
His attention returned to his expander.
Second message from:
Baron Étienne Comptable
Again, the name was not one he recognized, and Lieder suspected that this would message would be regarding the same subject as the first. He tapped ‘view now.’
The Comptables hereby offer our humblest apologies for our child’s part in the incident outside the Hobby’s Humor down on number 13. Understand that we feel your actions were justifiable.
Please rest assured that Bertrand’s Quintessence received no significant damage during the struggle.
Lieder could hardly believe that there wasn’t more to the message; all that remained was a long number at the bottom of the screen, which he assumed to be a tracking, channel, or other such functional number.
The apology was substantial enough, but to include the status of the boy’s robes without any information regarding his injuries? Of all that someone might worry about after such an incident, they assumed he would fret over whether the boy’s clothes were ripped?
He would have thought better of them if they hadn’t sent any message at all.
He retracted the expander and put it away. Perhaps he’d politely dismiss Angelica’s compliments later, but neither of the messages had added anything important to his agenda.
Glancing outside, Lieder caught a glimpse of movement through the hole in the suburban platform. An enormous pillar of jet-black material slid up through it, its size and shape clearly indicating that the hole was cut to accommodate it.
It stopped upon reaching full height, and a number of horizontal supports emerged and slid into the various sockets cut into the vertical faces. Lieder could see how this would provide extra support to all of these suspended neighborhoods, but if that was the only purpose, why wasn’t it permanently raised?
Considering the time that the obelisk had risen, the answer seemed obvious. This probably doubled as a method to bring supplies into the neighborhood.
He wondered if the length was collapsible, or if its retracted housing was dug this far underground. It was also a marvel that they’d managed to connect something this big and heavy to his platform without him hearing or feeling it.
This train of thought reminded him.
“Attendant,” Lieder called spontaneously.
“Are you able to determine whether Beri is awake or not?”
“I can confirm that Beri is conscious and ready for duty. Shall I summon her?”
“No, I’ll go down there in about thirty minutes. Please alert her to that.”
“Oh, and turn the transparency off again, would you? I can’t see the closet.”
As soon as the city was obscured, Lieder located the door and briskly approached. He didn’t know what this day had in store for him, but he was eager to get it started.