Saxon and Grace meet the Clients

Saxon was bursting with questions but he refused the nearly impossible urge to look at Grace unless he had to. Compartmentalize, Saxon, it’s the only way you’re going to get through this.

They were in the Cedar Room, a cozy, dark-paneled area of the hotel that was filled with heavy chairs, tables and ancient wood, all separated by discreet distances that made eavesdropping impossible. Thick carpeting and ceiling baffles insured that words spoken at one table didn’t turn into cell phone maneuvering at another. A delicate late afternoon light spilled through floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors on the room’s north side, the majestic Rocky Mountains almost close enough to touch.

Saxon and Grace were there to meet the clients from Daizu. Grace was seated beside him. She wore a black cashmere dress with an oversize turtle neck. Saxon wore comfortable jeans and a lumberjack shirt that Grace felt was entirely inappropriate for the meeting they were about to have. Somehow she knew that he had chosen it for this very reason. She could tell he was angry. Composed but almost enraged. Well, it looks like it’s time to face the elephant in the room. She turned to him and held up a hand.

“Before you ask, yes, it’s true. I am her mother. And no, I had no idea she would be here. To tell you the truth, I had completely lost touch with her.”


“It was part of my agreement with Jack.”

“Jesus, Grace. And now he’s dead.”

“None of this was planned, Saxon.”

The photographer sat back in his chair. He looked around and signaled a waiter.

“Yes, sir?”

“I’ll have a black currant and soda. Tall glass. Very little ice. Mint and lemon on the side.”

Grace finished her drink and held up the glass. “I’ll have another one of these.”

“Right away.”

Saxon brought his hands together, the points of his index fingers underneath his chin as he gazed out at the spectacular mountain vista, the character of the rock subtly changing as the sun dipped lower.

“How long until the clients get here?” he finally asked.

“Fifteen minutes. They’re very punctual.”

“Perfect. Just enough time for you to go over one more time exactly who I’ll be dealing with.”

“What about Juliette?”

“What about her?”

“Don’t you want to know–”

“No, I don’t. I can’t. Not right now. The most important thing is that she’s okay. She’s tough and stronger than you think. Much stronger. So this whole thing with you and her? It can wait. It has to if you want my A-game.”

“But my daughter…”

He looked at her, his eyes hard. “Grace, don’t use that word. I don’t think you have leave. Not with me. And certainly not with her.”

Grace’s eyes flashed and she almost snarled something nasty. Then sanity prevailed. She smoothed the front of her dress and composed herself. “You’re right, Saxon.”

“I want this to work for you, Grace.”

“Why? Especially in light of this… revelation?”

Saxon’s eyes became impenetrable. “Because I’m a man of my word.”

The waiter returned with their drinks and set them on the table so unobtrusively Saxon and Grace hardly noticed.

“Now tell me again. Who we are dealing with?” Saxon took a sip of his drink, pausing to savor its delicacy.

“Very well. As I have explained, Ling Pei is the son of Shu Shin Wei, or Three Wishes Wei, as he prefers to be called. Three Wishes is not well. And because of this, he is being forced to pass the reins of his considerable empire to a son that many believe is not yet ready. Will probably never be ready.”

“So why him? Didn’t I read somewhere that he has a daughter?”

“He does. But succession being what it is in that part of the world, unless the boy were dead, nothing would ever pass to the girl.”

“Too bad. I hear she’s even smarter than her father.”

“Be that as it may, it’s Ling Pei we have to deal with.”

“Was it his idea to hire me?”

“No. It was his sister’s.”

“Interesting. So naturally he’s against it.”

“He was, but he’s come around. Somehow the girl convinced her brother that you were the only man for the job.”

Saxon took a thoughtful sip of his drink, then set it down. “So. A Dictionary.”


“You still haven’t told me what product we’re working with.”

“That’s because no one has told me.”

Saxon settled back in his chair.

“Let’s see if I have this right. Daizu is, if I’m not mistaken, leveraged to the eyeballs. They’ve sold off some of their most profitable divisions because they needed cash. A lot of it. Thing is, no one can seem to figure out why.”

Grace smiled. “But you’ve heard rumors. Probably the same ones I have.”


“What have you heard?”

“That they’ve broken through a barrier by combining nanotech and 3D printing.”

“Go on.”

“That’s as far as I’ve been able to get,” he lied.

“Then let me tell you what I know. Someone in their Material Sciences Division stumbled upon what is essentially the universal nano-material.”

“Your kidding. The nanobe?”


“If that’s the case, they now have the means to completely bypass conventional clothing manufacturing and have the consumer do it directly. Anyone would be able to 3D print their own clothing from the comfort of their home.

“Needless to say, they have some very powerful enemies who stand in their way.” Grace sucked a vodka-coated ice shard into her mouth.

“So Three Wishes Pei finds himself cornered. Again. Just the way he likes it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every time Three Wishes has been on the ropes, he’s managed to turn the tables on his enemies and in some cases, even swallow them whole. He’s as dangerous and amoral an operator as I’ve ever heard of but even for him, this is big.” Saxon was beginning to understand that the stakes for the Dictionary were even greater than he had imagined.

“A paradigm shift.” Grace rattled the ice in her glass but that didn’t magically refill it. The sound did, however, get the waiter’s attention.

“Without question.”

“He needs this to land with the force of an atom bomb so he can scale up so fast any competition would be completely marginalized.”

“He needs Daizu to become a platform.”

“Yes. Proprietary hardware and a proprietary app store. But the real question is where is he going to get the cash?”

“I thought you said he was selling off assets.”

“That will get him to market. But it won’t allow him to produce. To do that, he needs a thousand times that amount.”


“Because he needs to set up manufacturing from scratch. Otherwise…”

“Everything gets stolen.”

Saxon came to a startling revelation. It’s all about the cash. The Dictionary is secondary.

“The Chinese government must be very interested in this. There is no way they are going to allow this tech to escape the mainland. Even if he gets the cash from somewhere else.”

“Do you know him personally?”

Saxon let that hang a moment. “I know him. That’s all.”

“Amazing how you conveniently forgot to mention this little fact when I first presented you with this job.”

“So now you know. How many of these nano printers do they have?”

“Just one, Mr. Payne. Just one.”

Saxon turned in his chair and found himself facing what he first thought was the teenage child of one of the guests. A look at the youth’s companions quickly disavowed him of this.

“Ling Pei,” frothed Grace, “what a pleasant surprise. You’re early.”

Ling Pei smiled at Grace and gave her a small bow. “Apologies, Ms. Banks. I could not contain my excitement at the prospect of meeting the legendary Saxon Payne in person.”

Ling Pei looked like a professional video game player and dressed like one too. He was small-boned and lanky, with a slouchy way of standing that said he spent far too much time sitting. He wore a neon green and black satin jacket, complicated white jeans and oversized sneakers. A pair of Thom Browne sunglasses were perched on the brim of his Tokyo Giants baseball cap.

On the boy’s left stood an enormous sumo-mountain bodyguard who strained at the confines of his Kevlar suit. He stood slightly taller than Saxon, who could feel a black energetic vortex about the man, as though he’d made some dark deal with an entity that had given him power far beyond the physical. His bald, bullet-shaped head seemed to have been screwed on to his neck. His lips were turgid and colorless, his mouth a knife wound in a corpse.

An exquisite girl who looked like she’d just stepped out of an anime movie posed more than stood on Ling Pei’s right. Doubtless the girlfriend, thought Saxon. Then he looked more closely and instantly revised his opinion.

She’s the bodyguard!

The girl was dressed in black, a black that absorbed all light, a black so unnatural and complete, it seemed that her head floated above her silhouette. Jesus, she’s wearing the nanotech! A generous diamond cutout revealed the orbs of breasts that barely touched. His eyes were drawn to her face, framed by night-black hair that held the slightest shade of blue in its sheen. Her eyes were large and almond-shaped, bottle-green flecked with bits of pyrite, the slight teardrop shape of her face leading the gaze to her full lips, their natural pink burnished only by gloss.

He felt himself stir.

As though she were quite aware of the effect she was having on him, she graced him with a small, blade-like smile, there and gone as though it had never been.

Saxon slowly pushed back his chair and stood. He extended his hand to the boy.

“A pleasure to meet you, Ling Pei.”

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Payne.”

The boy’s grip belied a surprising tendon strength that took Saxon a moment to understand originated from time spent manipulating a controller.

“Who are your companions?”

“This is Shin Yu, my father’s liaison.”

You mean your father’s watchdog, thought Saxon. Even more likely, the CPC’s.

The enormous man glared at Saxon with barely disguised contempt. Saxon held out his hand. The giant seized it and began squeezing. Saxon open his hand, expanding it slightly, and thought about how easy it would be to apply a Chin Na to the other man’s thumb and dislocate it. Probably not the best way to begin things. Instead, he tickled Shin Yu’s palm with his index finger. The giant jumped back as though electrified, unconsciously wiping his palm on his pant’s leg as he glared at Saxon. Everyone except the girl pretended not to notice. She smirked.

“And this is Persephone.”

The girl stepped forward and extended her hand. The instant it touched Saxon’s, he felt her power and Qi, in a measure far beyond what her outward appearance would suggest. Jesus! Her training is off the charts!

“Rumor has it you know Kung-fu, Mr. Payne.”

“Don’t believe everything you hear.”

“Persephone is my assistant,” Ling Pei enthused.

As well as someone you are desperate to sleep with, Saxon almost let slip. She’d break you in half without even trying. Or throw you a fuck you would never recover from. He was having difficulty taking his eyes off the girl. He could scent her now. Blood, iron, a clean animal sweat, all of it overlaying something he could not identify, but that for some reason he imagined what the spice Melange would smell like.

Grace watched this exchange, not quite sure what was really going on.

“Perhaps we will have some time to train later, Mr. Payne?”

Saxon smiled noncommittally. “Perhaps.”

Grace couldn’t help herself. “You know Kung-fu?”

“I am but a humble beginner.”

“Isn’t that more of a male activity?”

Persephone looked at Grace, her very stillness providing the perfect answer.

Grace knew that somehow she had just lost considerable face. Damn it! I shouldn’t have had that third drink! She squared her shoulders and addressed the trio. “Now that we’re all here, perhaps we can talk about what you would like for the Dictionary.”


They were all seated, drinks ordered, Ling Pei and Grace going over contractual details. The boy was casually eating pistachios, the table littered with shells. He saw Grace glance at the mess with distaste. He’s testing us, thought Saxon. He felt Persephone’s eyes on him.

“Why do they call you Sex and Pain?” she asked innocently.

Saxon almost choked on his drink. She timed that! He wiped his mouth, taking his time. “The answer you seek cannot be put into words. It is something you have to experience,” he managed lamely.

“Really.” She moved a bit closer to him. Somehow her scent was stronger than this new distance between them should have allowed. “And how does one go about gaining this experience?”

“It’s not available right now.”

The girl made a small moue of disappointment. She faced him square on and Saxon found her silhouette effect extremely disconcerting.

As if she had read his mind, Persephone snapped her fingers. “Is this better?”

Her outfit slowly changed, became more reflective, the top light contouring her now, revealing the curves of her breasts and torso, her small waist.

“That’s quite an effect.”

She leaned back in her chair and laughed, a disconcerting yet beautiful sound, like some ancient wind chime, musical and mad.

“Are you speaking of what I am wearing? Or me?”

“Why, both.”

“So, Saxon. What do you think?” Ling Pei had chosen this moment to interrupt.

The photographer turned to him, clamping down the irritation that was about to come into his voice. “Persephone’s outfit was printed by your 3D nano printer?”

“We prefer to use the term ‘fabbed’.”

“It’s disconcertingly… disconcerting. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like you’re witnessing the bending of every law of physics imaginable.”

“Ah, Mr. Payne, what Persephone is wearing is only the tiniest example of what our nano printer is capable of creating.”

“What is your plan?”

“To put one in every home on the planet in five years.”

“And sell proprietary patterns on a dedicated app site.”


“And you need me to humanize it.”

Ling Pei tossed another pistachio into his mouth and rearranged himself on the chair. The sole of one of his sneakered feet brushed the arm of Shin Yu. A murderous expression appeared and disappeared on the giant’s face like a flash of lightening inside a cloud. The youth did not notice. But Saxon did. There’s something not right with that one.

“Yes, that is correct,” said Ling Pei.

“How does it work?”

“It’s very simple. Your front, back and sides are laser-scanned. Then you look through the library and choose an outfit. Or you can let the device choose one for you by tapping into your cloud-based Profile.”

“The one I have no control over.”

Ling Pei laughed. “Privacy is such an antiquated concept. Yes, the one you have no control over.”

“How long does it take to print something?”

“Twenty minutes for a simple outfit. Up to three hours if it is a more complex ensemble.”

“Shoes too?”

“No. Shoes, gloves, hats and glasses will all be dealt with by separate machines.”

“What’s the price point?”


“That’s it?”


Saxon’s face betrayed nothing but inside he let out an enormous sigh of relief. He had guessed right. What they would see on the rooftop tomorrow was perfect.

“What do you have in mind, Mr. Payne?”

This was now a poker game with no one aware that Saxon held a royal flush.

“What you need is a way to marry the idea of what you have with the reality of what it can do.”

“You put it very well.”

“In that marriage, if it’s handled right, lies the way forward.”

“Towards what?”

“Unquestioning acceptance.”

Persephone clapped her hands with delight.

“Persephone was of the opinion that the great Saxon Payne would have at his fingertips an instant solution to our dilemma, as instinctive and perfect as one of his nudes. It seems she was right. So please, let us in on your secret. How do you propose to accomplish this?”

“I will show you just before we begin shooting.”

“What if I don’t like what I see?”

“I guarantee you will. In fact, I would bet on it.”

Ling Pei sat forward and rubbed his hands. No one looked at Grace but even if they had, her expression would have revealed nothing. Fool, she thought.

“What sort of wager did you have in mind?” asked Ling Pei.

“Perhaps you could suggest something?”

“Let me see. How about your entire fee plus expenses?”


“0.1% of our stock, non-voting.”

“That hardly seems fair. From what I’ve heard, Three Wishes has gambled everything on this device and by extension, on this photo shoot. If I don’t deliver something extraordinary, your company will vanish beneath the waves and you with it.”

“This is not a secret, Mr. Payne. What then do you propose?

“10% of your stock, voting.”

“You arrogant dog!” Shin Yu finally spoke.

Ling Pei looked at the other man. “This doesn’t concern you. I have full authority - ”

“The Party has the only authority,” the giant spat.

“Our company has not taken the Party’s money yet and so you have no authority over anything,” Lei Ping seethed. “You forget your place. You are here as a courtesy. That is all. Perhaps it is time to for you to retire to your room. Your presence here is no longer required.”

“You do not –”

“Shin Yu.” The words were spoken very quietly by Persephone. They cut the air like the sharpest of swords. “Do as you are told.” This as though speaking to a dog.

Saxon Payne saw the most incredible expression contort Shin Yu’s features. It was one of abject terror mingled with an incendiary hatred and the briefest flare of a deep and unrequited lust. It flashed through his features so quickly Saxon almost didn’t see it.


Who the hell is this girl?

The giant abruptly shoved his chair back so hard in nearly fell over. Then he stormed off. Ling Pei watched this unfold, his expression never changing. Inwardly, he was dancing with joy. They bought it!

Persephone was casually inspecting her nano-black nails. She looked up briefly. “Please. Continue.”

“3.5%. Non-voting,’ said Ling Pei. “And this only because of the misplaced love my father bears for you.”

“5% voting and an exclusive to do your next three shoots.”

Ling Pei hesitated, as though he were actually considering the photographer’s counter offer.

He’s a terrible actor, and probably a worse card player surfaced briefly in Saxon’s mind. He was ready to concede that and probably more if I’d really pushed. Why?

“Done. Ah, Mr. Payne. You drive a hard bargain. I agree but only because I know you will lose.”

They reached across the table and shook hands.

“Are you not impressed, Persephone?”

“Truly, Ling Pei, you are a master of negotiation,” she replied, in the bored tone a prostitute might use to heap praise on a customer’s genitals.

She discreetly flicked a pistachio at Saxon, who made it disappear.

No one else noticed.

“Is anyone hungry?” asked Grace.

“I think we will eat in our suite tonight,” said the boy. He then untangled himself from his chair and stood. “Good night, Mr. Payne. Come, Persephone.”

The girl rose gracefully, winked at Saxon, then turned to accompany Ling Pei. Saxon watched them go, the girl a full head taller than her charge, the movement of her muscular legs and backside bespeaking a lethal athleticism Saxon found himself hypnotized by.

As though she knew his eyes were upon her, she raised her arm, waited just an instant, then snapped her fingers. Once again all he saw was her black silhouette, like a hole punched in reality.

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