Chapter 10: Palace Arkman
With the party in mind, I went to my quarters to select the proper set of skill chips. The library I had could allow for any situation. I selected the traditional high society set of dance, psychology, stock market, pick lock, pick pocket, play instrument (strings), and play instrument (horns). There were still a few slots left which I put in information about art and antiques. Though there were no works of art from Earth here, it would help to have some sort of reference to use if necessary. After chip selection I went to the rec room where the other were. I took a much deserved break by spending time on a couch with a light meal of a sandwich and soda.

Cedric and Tammis were playing pool with Tharis and Aleoi. There was something between those last two and I think they were just beginning to acknowledge it. Eiran sat next to me and repeated his desire to learn how Ratchet got that car up to the roof. I laughed lightly and commented that he was pretty amazing. Then I asked Eiran what his real reason was for coming here. "Was it that transparent?"

"'Fraid so. I'm your friend, Eiran. You can talk to me about anything. Is the team still mad about the session?"

"No, it was a tough lesson, but I think we learned much from it. Did you really live there? Is Night City really that bad?"

"No, it's worse. They're gangs, low-life, and criminals there ready to make your life miserable. Neither team would have lasted long if the simulation was completely accurate. Only the quick and the lucky survive. Was that your real question or is there something else?" I could tell that it was the latter.

"How do you do it, Mr.Conners? I mean with Eliza?"

"Didn't your parents tell you about that?"

"That's not what I mean. You only talked with her only a few hours and then, you're involved, you know. How do you do it?"

"It takes skill and a bit of luck. Eliza and me, well we both know it's just a fling. Our jobs will separate us too soon and chances are that we won't see each other for some time, if ever. We both know and accept that. I'm not accustomed to teaching, but I'd say you can use my help. First thing is not to be shy, but not too overconfident either. The former prevents anything from starting, and the latter will drive any woman away from you. I'll show you. Celine, can you come over here please?"

Before Eiran could stop me, she came right over. "You need help with something, Fox?" she asked simply.

I think she, and perhaps everyone else in the room, was eavesdropping on our conversation. "I'm trying to help Eiran with his social life. Now Eiran, I'm going to ask Celine out. Now watch what I do."

I cleaned my throat and stood up. With a polite bow I said, "Ms.Attara, I would be honored if you would join me for dinner tomorrow."

"That would work. What time will you pick me up, Sweety?" she replied.

I tried to ignore the last part and hoped she wasn't serious. "Now see, I was simple, polite, and sincere. You try."

He stood up shaking nervously and did a quick bow which almost was like mine. "Ms.Att...Celine, wo would you like togooutwithmetommorow." he half stuttered, half mumbled as he turned away.

Celine paused for a minute and smiled. "Sorry, Fox." she said winking at the boy, "I think something better just came up."

This didn't exactly comfort Eiran though. I worried that either way this might be more detrimental to him. Celine didn't know, or care, that this was only practice. I suppose that was my fault. If she was serious about their date, he might be scared of making a fool of himself and retreat further into his shell. On the other hand if she wasn't serious and Eiran thought she was, he will be disappointed about being 'stood up' he might give up completely. I got him into this, now I had to get him out. "Now calm down, Eiran. Remember this is just practice. Right Celine?" I said in no uncertain terms.

She got the message and sat down on the other side of Eiran. "It was good for a first try, Eiran." she said trying to comfort him.

"As a woman, what do you think he could do to improve this?" I asked.

The more people I got into this, the more I could spread the blame if something goes wrong. "We he did sound genuine, more than you did, Fox. Eiran, you just have to learn to calm down and just be yourself."

Yeah, as if no one ever gave THAT advice before. "I know you heard that often. I don't want to say it's right, but it's necessary for a long-term relationship. If you pretend to be something you're not, it is doomed before it starts. What you need is just some more experience with women. It won't be a total cure for shyness, but some women might find that attractive."

"You really think so?" he asked.

"Your time will come. Trust me."

The next few hours were spent getting Eiran's confidence up. I don't know how good of a job Celine and I did. The others offered some advice as the passed by, most of it contradictory. But in the end, he knew a bit more than earlier and perhaps felt a bit better about himself. At 4pm some servants came in and said it was time to get ready for the party. The women were taken off to some other floor where there was a beauty parlor. For the rest of us, we were taken to a fitting room where an array of tuxes were presented.

The tailors took hundred of measurements and compared them to what they had available. Eliza gave my dimensions to them after my first fitting. I used my extra time to examine what was in stock. I chose a mildly dark blue suit with white shirt and red tie and cummerbund. Despite being far from home, I was still an American and proud of it! It fit perfectly and had a good feel to it. Too bad I had no access to my weapons, but as Eliza said, there was no need for it. I really tried to believe her. I really did. But I couldn't help but to make sure the jacket was easily removable and the shirt easily rolled back so I could use my PUG. Old habits die hard.

The others were wearing traditional black. We were then told to take them off and put back on our original clothes. The servants hung them in a sleeve to keep them clean. They lead us to the barber for a shave and haircut. Later I rubbed by chin noticing that it was now smooth it was. The events of the past few days and my earlier fixer schedule left little time for personal grooming. In the past, such mundane chores were done only before an important meeting. As much as I disliked shaving, I guess I would have to do it more often now. Sigh. A most welcome shower was next to wash off any dirt and sweat accumulated during the day (and previous night) plus those annoying hairs that get in your shirt. Our uniforms were sent to the cleaners and we were given the tuxedos, now decorated with medals and cufflinks. We didn't look that bad actually. This might actually be worth keeping after the party. However sneaking it out, could present a problem and people will remember where I got it next time I put it on.

We were escorted to the parking lot and told to wait for the women. Along the way I was hit with inspiration to bring along some of my music disks and my player which one of the Dion scientists modified to make it compatible with Algolian sound systems. The lyrics would still be gibberish to them because a translator had yet to be developed. Five minutes later Eliza brought them out all perfumed and pretty. Eliza was wearing a stunning, near-transparent dress which I complemented. In a bold move, Eiran did the same (though it was a poor imitation). At least he was trying. Eliza warned that I might have some competition. This made Eiran feel better.

The coming party would be a trial by fire for the teenage mekton pilot. A series of fan cars were brought to us and we were taken through the city streets to the party. It was a slow ride. We got to see the sights again. The alley which I was ambushed it was closed off by the local police. I wondered why. What was there to study? It was just a simple attempted murder, not like any innocent people got killed. As we approached the mansion, I saw that it was indeed heavily guarded. There were people in powered armor. The armor was similar to those the military had developed. As a weapons dealer it was in my best interest to keep up on the latest technology. On a recon mission I caught a glimpse of the marine's powered armor. It looked more advanced and more heavily armed than these. Additionally there were two men on mektons smaller than the ones I have flown so far. They are called roadstrikers and looked like ones best used for city fighting. A few of these, and I could retire. But despite all this protection, it looked like a recent addition.

Celine, who was riding with me along with Eiran and Eliza, noticed that also. This was a topic of brief conversation as we were driven up to the door and was let out. Eliza said that it was because of the Axis attack on Fiora and that Dorian had nothing to do with it. Additionally some of the more famous guests had insisted on the added guards. The rich get what the rich want in any world. As everyone got out of the cars and walk up the stairs to the palace, we were met by a valet. She led us into a ballroom filled with hundreds of well-dressed people. She turns to the crowd and announces us, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the lady Eliza, sister to the consort of the Throne. And the Lords Cedric, Tharis, Eiran, Tammis, Fox. The Ladies, Larani, Celine, Laian, Karin, and Aleoi."

After the announcement, we see a short, rotund man and a tall, dignified-looking woman in his wake, heading towards us. The couple introduces themselves as Lord and Lady Arkman. He extends his joy that we could make it, and is glad that the invitations made it to them on Dion. With a quick wink, he and the Lady vanish into the crowd. Eliza told us that Ariel is due to arrive in an hour, and that we should mingle. I offered my arm to Eliza but she declined. "Sorry, dear, but there are certain people I have to meet tonight. Strictly business though. So I guess we are both single for a while." she giggled and went off into the sea of people.

Tharis made a bombing sound, "Looks like you got dumped, pal!"

"No big deal. I expected this. Now if you'll excuse me.... I got contacts to make, businesses to match, and finder's fees to collect!" I said as I headed off in a different direction than Eliza.

I looked for the nearest business leader. I could always recognize them despite their varying backgrounds, motives, and business practices. Everyone had a pin of their national flag and many had pins with their company's logo on it. Even I was given a pin of the Algolian flag and one with the Overwatch insignia. This person was Elaran. He looked like Lord Arkman with a handle bar moustache. I introduced myself. "Ah yes, the cyborg isn't it? I am Mr.Ashton, electronics manufacture. Wonderful party isn't it?"

This small talk went on for a short time. I remembered how he was disappointed that even though the war ended, he couldn't get any of his products to other nations. He then saw an old friend and went to go see him. My next target was a Kargan. I soon found one who wasn't talking to anyone. She was medium tall with an aging, but still mildly beautiful, face surrounded by green hair. As we talked I learned that her husband had recently died in an accident and that she inherited his shopping chain. Business was down and bankruptcy was only too close. I asked if foreign merchandise would help. She enthusiastically agreed but didn't know how to get it. I told her to follow me and I went off to find Mr.Ashman. It didn't take too long because I made sure to keep an eye on him.

I introduced the two and said what the other did. It wasn't long before they were talking business. A deal was made and they both offered me their generous thanks. Mr.Ashman said it was customary to offer a small reward which I accepted. The woman regretted that she didn't have much to offer, but Mr.Ashman said he'd take care of it in return for dinner the next night. The transaction didn't take but a second and they went off together chatting about this and that. I checked my card, 50,000 credits had been added. So far so good.

The pattern continued of matching suppliers with sellers from different nations. I didn't always get as lucky as the first time. The second time, it took me five tries to find the right person. As for rewards, they were always offered by both parties, but the amount was usually smaller. Mr.Ashman must have offered a bonus for finding him an available woman. I hope he got lucky, for my pocket book's sake. As I searched for new customers I learned, by who was in what, that the Ettarans were good transporters and both Kargans and Elarans needed a boost to their post-war economy. I seemed to be doing some good here. All these deals will bring in new currency to each nation, and all these deals will bring in new currency to my bank account heh heh heh. No matter what planet I am on, the Fox can turn a profit!

An hour had passed and I had a new total of 274,000 credits in the bank. I'll have to find out what I can buy with this much money. I had just found a Kargan mining company that refined metals needed for a Ettaran production plant. Both parties were desperate for new sources so each could enlarge their already vast fortunes, plus they were of opposing genders. The common ground of greed could be the start of something big for both of them. As a macho thing corps have, they had a bidding war to see who could offer the greatest reward for my service. I'd be lying if I said I didn't encourage it.

Soon the man offered to 150,000 credits and to name his children after me. Then the woman offered 160,000 and to actually have my children. But then the man made a counter offer of 200,000 credits. Good thing she wasn't my type. I'd hate to lose 40,000 credits for a night of OK sex with an average looking woman who also just happened to be a ruthless, soulless business shark. The man looked smug as he tapped his pocket computer. As I left I heard the man ask if she'd actually sleep with me just to show him up. She responded by saying I was pretty cute and that she would do it even if I didn't just help her business. Then they started another contest about how ugly a person would have to be for them not to sleep with to get ahead. It wasn't long before the man called her bluff and ask if she'd sleep with him in return for a better contract. She agreed and they left the party arm in arm.

They were made for each other. I pulled out my card to stare blissfully at the large number on the screen. It was all there. Just then the number increased by 250,000. The depositor screen said it was from Taylor's Mining in Karga. Must be the woman's company. The message light was flashing. I pushed the message button and, "Don't tell him I sent this. Thanks a lot! He looks like he'll be good in the sack. You do too. Give me a call soon, Sexy!" scrolled across the screen followed by a telephone number.

"Thank you, Miss. Whoever you are!" I said to the card as the last word shifted off the screen.