Xander’s bike flew over the crowded streets of Oberon City. It was midmorning, as far as Jameson could tell from the slanting rays of sunshine over the city.
The wind whipped through his hair, making a rat’s nest of it. He was going to look a mess when he arrived at the OberCorp Headquarters, but there was nothing to be done for it. He mollified himself with the thought that it was the company representative’s fault.
Jameson clung to Xander’s waist, uncomfortable at being so close to the other man, but terrified all the same to loosen his grip. The man’s wings settled in around him like a feathered blanket.
Xander Kinnson had wings—he was a skythane man.
Sure, the whole wings thing had been in the briefing, but reading it and seeing it in person were two very different things. They were beautiful, running up from his shoulder blades into the sky when he had them extended, and powerful. The dark feathers glimmered with an iridescent sheen in the sunlight.
Jameson didn’t think he would have the courage to fly—hoverbike flight was unnerving enough. And yet… wings.
They whipped past heavy armored transports and automated delivery trucks that rode the streets below them, mixed in with pedestrians and even some wagons and rickshaws, as strange an assortment of traffic as he had ever seen in one place.
“We’re going to Oberon Corp Headquarters, right?” he shouted at Xander over the noise. He hated shouting.
“What?” Xander shouted back.
“Sorry. Can’t hear you!”
Jameson gave up. He settled in to observe the city around him.
The huge arcos formed a virtual blue metallic wall ahead that began to block out the sunlight as the hoverbike moved closer. They were impressive in their uniformity, reminding him of the statues of Easter Island he’d visited during his trip to Old Earth.
From this vantage point, the city seemed much bigger than it had looked from the shuttle flying in, but outside of the impressive architecture of the arcos, the rest of Oberon City was made up of much less impressive, shorter buildings, with the tallest of these topping out around fifteen stories. They were in varied states of decay, with broken windows and rusted stanchions, some of them overrun by wild vines. The city looked like it was badly in need of an urban renewal project—a few buildings were in such bad shape that Jameson was amazed they hadn’t already collapsed under their own weight.
After about fifteen minutes, Xander’s bike slowly dipped down to the ground, coming to a landing between a couple of low buildings. They arrived at a nondescript three-story, concrete-slab structure that would have fit into almost any urban cityscape. It was made entirely out of prefab plascreet panels like all the other ugly buildings around it.
Xander palmed a sensor next to the metal roll-up door and it chugged up noisily, revealing a storage space maybe three meters wide by about three times that length deep. He pulled the bike inside and parked it, beckoning for Jameson to dismount.
Jameson did as he was told, though he was starting to get worried. When it came right down to it, he knew nothing about this man, having taken Xander at his word that he really was a representative of OberCorp.
How could he know for sure?
The idea nagged at him.
The man might be a pirate who preyed upon unsuspecting arrivals at the immigration center. He certainly fit the profile—standoffish, antisocial, certain he was always right. Jameson had seen that many times before in his practice. Then again, most sociopaths were more social.
At least he’d made it to the city now. It might be best to get out of here and find his own way to OberCorp.
Jameson started to back slowly out of the storage unit, away from Xander. He could make a run for it.
“Stay right there,” Xander said without turning, his voice sharp. “This is a bad part of town. It’s dangerous, especially for off-worlders who don’t know any better.”
Jameson looked out onto the street nervously. Oberon City was a lot grittier at ground level than it had appeared from the shuttle—the pavement looked petrochemical based, and it was uneven and black, so different from the beautiful marble streets back on Beta Tau. Some dark fluid flowed in fits and starts down the gutters, and it gave off a nasty smell: part urine, part hydrocarbons, part rotting food.
He was overdressed for such squalor. “Are there any good parts?” He stepped back inside with a sniff.
Xander snorted. He’d set aside Jameson’s suitcase, and was now rummaging around through some plas containers at the back of the storage unit. He pulled out something and threw it over the back of the bike.
It looked like the saddlebags that Jameson’s parents used with horses on their estate to carry supplies or foodstuffs for picnics or hunting trips into the Holywood.
Xander pulled out a knife and used it to pry open Jameson’s suitcase, setting off the luggage’s alarm. Xander snarled and kicked it until the sound died down to an irritated chirp.
“Hey… what are you doing?” Jameson reached out to stop him, but Xander pushed him back, knife in hand. “You can’t wear that where we’re going.” He indicated Jameson’s clothing with the same disdain Jameson himself had used for the hoverbike. He rummaged through the clothes in the suitcase. “None of this will do.” Xander turned to size Jameson up, head to toe. “I think I have something that will work.” He returned to going through the bins at the back of the unit.
“What do you mean, this won’t do? I’ve met with upper-level management in the Psych Guild on numerous occasions, dressed just like this—”
“We’re not meeting with management.” Xander returned with an armful of clothes. “Here, put these on.”
“I must insist that you take me to OberCorp Headquarters right now and—”
Xander dropped the new clothes on the dirty floor and ripped Jameson’s button-down shirt right up the middle, exposing his bare chest. His wings flared out behind him, and he gave Jameson an evil grin. “Change. Now.”
Jameson tried to stare him down, but there was an angry gleam in the man’s eyes that he decided he didn’t want to challenge. He lowered his eyes and picked up the new clothing. “Is there a place for me to change, at least?” He was not getting naked in front of this barbarian.