Authors: Michael Atamanov
by Michael Atamanov
Magic Dome Books
Book # 3: New Contract
Copyright © Michael Atamanov 2016
Cover Art © Vladimir Manyukhin 2016
English translation copyright © Andrew Schmitt 2016
Published by Magic Dome Books, 2016
All Rights Reserved
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is entirely a work of fiction. Any correlation with real people or events is coincidental.
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Table of Contents:
s I was undergoing yet another afternoon of rehab procedures at my neighborhood clinic, a call came in to my cellphone from an unknown number. After my return from
, the fact that I was addicted to drugs and alcohol had become blatantly obvious and, even three months later, I was still going to the clinic three times a week for a glucose and vitamin drip to cleanse the liver and blood and ward off other ill effects. I can't even imagine how many unflattering epithets I mentally flung at Mr. G. I. on these days, sitting here with a needle in my arm. He had really managed to put my body through the wringer in the six short months he’d been in it! With all the drinking he must have been doing, I imagine he was just hiccupping constantly.
"Yes?" I said, pressing the “Accept” button on the cell phone with my free hand.
"Ruslan, I have a serious proposal for you."
So much time had passed, but I still could pick that voice out from among a million others. Miya! I had long been mentally preparing for a conversation with my former employer, and had even begun actively trying to bump into him in order to tell that piece of trash exactly what I thought of him, man-to-man. But I was not ready for a conversation with his close companion, and I slightly lost my place. I wasn’t able to think up anything smart to say to her, so I just switched the phone off.
Millions of thoughts were spinning around in my head. Why was it Miya, and not Mr. G.I.? Was he so afraid of meeting me that he’d sent his girlfriend out in his place? It’d been so long... I guess they did need me, in the end.
the Truth Seeker's voice rang out in my head.
"Mr. G.I. will be waiting for you in the same place as last time, forty minutes from now."
I was having mixed feelings. On the one hand, I desperately wanted to dive head-first back into the fantasy world of
. What can I say? It was the first place I ever felt I could really say I'd found my calling and actually believe it. It was there that I'd first experienced the intoxicating aroma of fame and glory. I had made history. My fleet's many starships had blotted out stars and made anyone who got in our way quiver in fear. I could have become co-ruler over billions of insects. I could have become Head of the Orange House. I could have become anyone I wanted. But, the main thing was that, in
, I felt that humanity needed me. I was looked on as the savior of our whole race...
On the other hand, going back brought at least as many downsides. My last experience had come at too high a price. The money I got in the first contract had barely been enough to pay all the fees and fines that Mr. G. I. had left in his wake. My friends had turned away from me, I had quarreled with relatives, and the girl I had been dating on-and-off had left me, saying I'd become a degenerate drug addict. What was worse, there was a kernel of truth in her words. After the contract, I felt that I was in a body ravaged by binging on hard drugs and alcohol. It was like I had aged ten years in those six months. That all made waking up from the magical dream of
and coming back to the real world an extremely bitter experience.
"After what you did to me last time, I don't even know what you could say to make me want to go back into
! You’d just keep ruining my body!"
My unseen interlocutor kept silent for a few seconds, then said:
at the head of a fleet of three thousand ships, has captured Hnelle. Your capital, Unatari, has been cut off from the Empire and is preparing for a hopeless battle. Without you, there is no hope for victory whatsoever. Everything you worked so painstakingly to create could be destroyed in one fell swoop, and all those close to you will die."
I thought there was no way she could hook me back in, but I was proven wrong. Miya had articulated everything I had been so severely lacking as of late. People need me again. They believe I can protect them, and pine for my return. I felt a thirst for activity boiling up in me after many weeks of extended apathy.
"This time, the contract is on my terms!" I declared decisively.
"I agree," Miya said, for some reason not even asking her master's opinion on the matter.
"Alright, I'll be there in ten minutes," I said, tearing the needle from my vein and heading for the exit.
* * *
"Hello there, Ruslan. Just where do you think you're going?" grumbled the young bouncer standing watch over the restaurant entrance as he jerked me back by the shoulder.
I strained to hold back a string of unprintable words that were just begging to be let out. It was the same story all over again... Another loose end from the first contract. I was sure I was seeing this man for the first time; however, he, beyond all shadow of a doubt, knew me well and thought me a scoundrel. The unfortunate notoriety I had gained after my contract with Mr. G. I. infuriated me even more than my drugged-addled body. With addiction, there were severe health consequences to be sure, but it was at least easy to work out how to recover from, which was not something that could be said of this strange renown.
I often found girls I had never met before making eyes and smiling at me as if we were intimate acquaintances. A random passerby might take one look at my face, grow sullen with rage and, from out of nowhere, sock me right in the ear. Sometimes, women working in grocery stores refused to scan my purchases and called security to have me escorted out. And then, there were the night visitors. I'd had it up to here with them! Especially in the very first weeks after returning from
! When my doorbell rang, I never knew what to expect. It could be a good-time girl who knew her way around my apartment surprisingly well, assuring me that my membership was paid-up through the end of the year. It could just as easily be glum criminal types twirling baseball bats and brass knuckles, demanding that I pay back a debt, which always came saddled with run-up interest that was nothing to sneeze at either.
On my way to the meeting with my employer, I was very intent on reminding him of every such episode I’d endured and demanding full compensation for the damage done to my health and reputation. I was also preparing to demand a point be added to the new contract saying that such incidents were not to be repeated, or I would refuse to help a second time. Unfortunately, I would first have to get into the restaurant to actually see Mr. G. I.
"I'm meeting someone here. He reserved a table," I replied to the vigilant doorkeeper in a tranquil tone.
He let go of my arm, called a manager over and whispered something to him, pointing at me.
"Under whose name is the table reserved?" the restaurant employee inquired, opening a notepad and studying the guest list on it.
"Georgiy Innokentievich... uhh... Mesfelle," I guessed, which turned out to have been wrong. They had no reservation under that name today.
"Like I said, throw him out by the neck!" the mean old bouncer exclaimed at my failure, but I made a second attempt.
"Look for Miya Mesfelle. The table might be under her name."
By the disappointed look now on the old man’s face, I could tell that my second guess had been correct.
"But no funny business this time, Ruslan. Last time you had to pay for a lot of damage and broken furniture. Next time you won't get off so easy!" the vigilant bouncer threatened, finally letting me inside.
My last visit to this establishment was on an early winter’s morning, and the room had been empty. This time, however, the restaurant was full of people. All the same, it was no problem to pick Miya out of the crowd. The fashionable young woman with long red hair in a bright orange, knee-length dress stood out from the crowd and attracted the eye like a flame in the night. The Truth Seeker was sitting alone at a table in the very center of the large room. Before her was some kind of fruit mousse and a glass of orange juice.
"Take a seat, Ruslan," she said instead of greeting me, pointing me to an empty chair. "You've come early. Mr. G.I. isn't here yet. You'll have to wait. For now, you may order whatever you like."
A waiter came up and handed me a menu, then took my order. At the same time, the young man was looking at me anxiously, as if afraid that I might bite him.
"You seem to have quite the reputation here, Ruslan," Miya commented, also having noticed our waiter’s strange expression.
"And why do you think that might be?" I quipped, not able to hold back. "Before the half-year contract in
, even my neighbors didn't recognize me. Now, every other person in the neighborhood wants to punch me in the face..."
"I suppose that means you should have celebrated the end of your contract with a bit more modesty," retorted the red-headed she-devil, making a clear demonstration of the fact that she too could mock.
I started choking on indignation. Were they seriously going to try to convince me that I was at fault for all this?! The accusation was so unexpected and inappropriate that I even lost my place. Miya started smiling, watching my reaction with curiosity.
"Ruslan, let's set some boundaries for this conversation so we won’t have any misunderstandings. Your personal life outside of
is of absolutely no interest to either me or Mr. G.I. What you may or may not have done, or why this or that neighbor grew to dislike you is neither here nor there, and has nothing whatsoever to do with these negotiations..."
Here the Truth Seeker had to stop her speech, as a waiter approached our table and placed an unordered bottle of champagne in front of Miya.
"This is a gift to you from the courageous young lads at that table," the waiter stated, pointing to a group of men from the Caucasus who were sharing a meal, one of whom was smiling at Miya and blowing kisses.
I watched her take a quick look around the room, before her gaze stopped on a group of college girls at the neighboring table. Miya carelessly waved her left hand in their direction, and the glassy-eyed waiter took the bottle and set it on the girls' table. After telling them the same story about the feisty troublemakers, the girls gave a happy giggle. They were very favorably disposed to the gift.
"Not the best possible place to negotiate," Miya said in dismay. "But, it's too late to change. We don't have very much time. So then, Ruslan, I repeat. We are now discussing only the terms of the future contract, and all your discontent and grievances you can air to Mr. G.I. in person, as soon as he arrives."
"What’s next? Do I have to swim to the other side of the river for a life jacket?" I laughed from the corner of my mouth. "No, Miya, that's not how it works. After the last contract, I have a huge number of problems, and I am not signing up for any new adventures until I’ve discussed all this with Mr. G.I."
Miya set her finished glass of juice aside and looked me right in the eyes.
"Ruslan, for some reason, you seem to be of the opinion that your employer should be thankful to you. You are gravely mistaken. This was nothing but a business contract. You did your job, and we paid you for it. What happened after that is not our problem. Any issues with your previous contract are off the table now. And if you think that your success was so impressive that your employer is burning with desire to give you extra tokens of gratitude, I'm afraid I’ll have to disenchant you once again. In fact, Mr. G.I. was not at all happy with your term in
, and was not planning to continue his relationship with you. He only agreed to even meet with you at all as a personal favor to me, in light of present circumstances. Your supposedly great achievements and success had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all."
"So you're saying that what I accomplished was nothing special?!" I exclaimed, not believing it could be true. "I increased the size of the Sector Eight Fleet more than anyone was expecting, including Mr. G.I., you, the Head of the Orange House, and even the Emperor himself. At the beginning of the contract I had sixteen light ships. Their crews were demoralized, and included a large number of Great House spies in their ranks. When my contract ended, I handed you the greatest fleet in the Empire with six battleships, twenty heavy cruisers, and a terrifying mothership; five hundred ships in total! And that’s to say nothing of the training given to the veterans of my raid through Alien space. Their level of competence, effectiveness, and loyalty was incommensurably higher than that of the unorganized goat herd I was handed at the beginning."
"Ruslan, let's not distort reality here!" she said, frowning in anger before motioning for the waiter.
Miya ordered another juice and returned to the topic at hand:
"And now, I'll tell you the facts as they look to me and Mr. G. I. When the contract ended, half of your fleet was made up of Iseyek ships, all of which returned to Swarm space. So don’t go telling me about any five hundred ships. In the best case scenario, you left Mr. G.I. with two hundred. And five of them were battleships, not six. Also, there were just fifteen heavy assault cruisers. To make matters worse, all the heavy ships, in our new admiral's words, were equipped in ‘an idiotic way,’ so we had to change all of them back to normal, wasting a huge amount of the money you left for us in the process. And the most shocking thing of all was that you, without even so much as asking your boss, sold
Queen of Sin.
The Crown Prince had to buy his luxury yacht back from Roben at a cost of four battleships and a few cruisers. These are the real facts, not fairytales like the ones you're trying to peddle. There's actually just one battleship left in the fleet,
Crown Princess Likanna
, and five heavy assault cruisers. The rest were just temporary and didn't belong to you anyway."