Rickâs brain was beginning to ache. âWhat about the second company? The one set up to find Trent?â
âIt is limping along with no way of generating profit. She squandered most of the initial capital, partly because of the high salaries and sophisticated tech labs, but also by making lavish payments to the relatives of every person ever lost in the sinkhole. She called it salary replacement rather than death benefits for obvious reasons, but it wasâand isâa drain on resources. And she didnât dare sell more of her Sea-Mont interest for additional funding, so she went to the public for donations, assuming the role of a high-profile activist like her mother once was. But unlike her mother, she has only one cause.â
Rick knew the rest. Alexia had basically heckled David Seaton for three full years, accusing him of mismanagement and of not caring about the loyal employees who had disappeared in the sinkhole. She called upon him, angrily and often, to find Trent Montoyaâthe companyâs golden boyâso Sea-Mont could once again be worthy of the exclusive licenses it had been given by the United Nations to govern Destry and exploit its resources.
âOkay.â Rick stood and stretched again. âTell me why you think sheâs here. She always said sheâd never transit the sinkholeââ
âI suspect sheâs desperate. Every reputable scientist and mathematician on Earth has abandoned her, and her lay supporters grow weary. Donations are dwindling. And so I believe she will now turn to TJ Seaton, the only person on either side of the sinkhole who shared her affection for Trent. She will ask him to help her find her brother, but with any luck, he will help her find the truth instead, so she can grieve and move on.â
Rick nodded. âThatâs what she needs. And TJ seems to genuinely care about her, so maybe he can help.â
âAnd?â Sensieâs tone grew tentative. âDid Alexia seem to care about TJ Seaton?â
âYeah, she was all over him. Of course, she also wanted to strangle him. True love, right?â Rick chuckled. âWhich begs the question, why the fuck am I having dinner with them?â
âBecause sheâs an amazing person and she asked you to come.â
He nodded. âSheâs a Montoya. Thatâs gotta count for something, right? Plus, sheâs a babe. And if she marries TJ Seatonââ
âShe will have the last laugh.â
He grinned. âYouâve got a mean streak, Sensie. But yeahâ¦sheâd definitely get the last laugh.â
As Rick ambled across the platform toward Sea-Mont headquarters, he tried not to noticeâor at least not to judgeâthe artificial nature of the place. The âairâ, the âgrassâ, the âtreesâ. Did anyone really fall for this stuff? Even the monotonous breeze annoyed him. But of course, he was here for different reasons than the rest of the D-side residents. He intended to make it his home forever, while they couldnât wait for the day they returned to Earth.
He had visited headquarters more than once for contract negotiations in TJâs fourth-floor office, and didnât relish graduating to the guyâs personal residence. But when the lobby guard greeted him by name and activated a private elevator to take him to the penthouse, he decided to treat it like another, tamer D-side experience. And at least the guard hadnât tried to confiscate his gun belt and pistols.
Stepping off the elevator into an ornate entry hall with marble floors and a full-sized chandelier, he realized the crux of his problem with TJ. The guy hadnât come here to experience a brave new world, but rather, to turn Destry into New York City. Whereas guys like Rick had intentionally left Earth behind, eager to find independence and frontier adventure, welcoming the isolation, the simplicity and the