Irene looked up from her desk, then did a double-take. “Doctor Ecchs! You didn't say you were coming down! Is there something I can do for you?”
“No, no.” Doctor Ecchs looked distractedly around the Malefico lobby. “If I wanted something, I’d buzz down, you know that.” He frowned. “Has that plant over there always been that green? I thought we were going for an autumn theme.”
Irene frowned worriedly. “Um… no, sir, all the plants have always been green. Could I ask…?”
“Spencer, darling!” The sliding doors whished open, and a tall blonde woman sashayed into the room. She was wearing a heavy white overcoat, and was in the process of pulling it off to reveal what could charitably be described as a labcoat, although it could also have doubled as an evening dress in a pinch – made from white silk, it hung down beautifully, clearly made specifically for her. Her hair was cropped short, and a long cigarette holder dangled from her mouth as she looked around the lobby. “It’s so good to see you.”
“Sylvia!” Crossing the floor in record time, Ecchs leaned in to give his sister a kiss. “How was the flight?”
“Quick, at least.” Sylvia Ecchs said cheerfully, folding her coat over one arm. “And your man was simply an amazing driver. Does he always act as your chauffeur?”
“Usually I prefer to drive myself.” As Sylvia walked past, Ecchs gave a big thumbs-up to Josh, who was following her in the door wearing a proper worksuit. Josh smiled tiredly and returned it, and Ecchs turned his attention back to his sister. “He’s my secretary. Used to be a pizza boy, can you believe it?”
“At the speeds he drives? I certainly can.” Heads were turning as Sylvia looked up at the arched ceiling. “Spencer, I love what you’ve done with the place. So much more open than when you bought it. Has Harold seen what you’ve done with the place?”
“Harold and I…” Ecchs trailed off. “Let’s just say no, and avoid that particular conversation.”
Sylvia paused, looked down and over. “He is coming, isn’t he?”
“Not as such, no. Bryce is.”
“Ah.” Sylvia nodded after a moment. “Harold did take that rather hard. Father was much more understanding. Oh, he says that he will certainly make it – he just has a few things to wrap up first, and it’s becoming difficult to get transit visas from Yocan worlds ever since that whole Sayleen business.”
“Ah, is that where he is right now? No wonder my emails were bouncing.” Ecchs chuckled. “Here, right this way. I’ll give you the grand tour.” He waggled his finger at her. “It’s been years since you’ve been in town, after all.”
“Transatlantic flights, darling, I hate them. You know that.”
As their elevator opened up on the top floor, Ecchs led the way into his office. “So this is where I work.”
“Who’s this, Doc?” Nightshade, who had been lounging in a chair checking messages on her PDA, stood up pleasantly, holding out her hand.
“Sylvia, this is Nightshade, she’s…” Ecchs started. Sylvia cut him off.
“Ah, perfect.” Sylvia placed her coat into Nightshade’s hand before she could react. “Be a dear and put that away, and fetch a martini for me?”
“… my Vice President of Operations.” Ecchs finished lamely, as Nightshade’s normally pale skin flushed.
“Really.” Sylvia stepped forwards, not taking back her coat. She looked at Nightshade quizzically. For her part, Nightshade remained perfectly still, except for a slight twitch in one eye. “Rather young, aren’t you?”
“I’m very good at what I do.” Nightshade managed to grate out.
“Oh? What you do clearly isn’t getting me a drink, then.” Sylvia responded, while Spencer watched in fascinated horror.
After several seconds of uncertainty, Nightshade shrugged. “Fine.” Walking over to the wall, she tossed the coat onto the back of Ecchs’s chair, opened a cabinet, and grabbed a bottle. Popping the cap, she reached for a second bottle, poured a dollop into the first, returned the cap, and turned back to Sylvia. “Catch.” She said, lobbing it at full strength.
As Ecchs winced, the bottle flew end over end towards Sylvia, who raised one eyebrow elegantly. She twitched a finger, and a ray of purplish energy shot out from her ring, catching the bottle out of the air. A second tendril lanced out next to Nightshade, grabbing one of the glasses and pulling it over to Ecchs’s desk. Sylvia considered the bottle. “I usually prefer mine stirred, dear, and with rather less volume, but thank you for the effort.”
“I… you… urrr…” After a moment, Nightshade clenched her fists, and growled an approximation of, “It was very nice to meet you, Ms. Ecchs.” With that, she stalked from the room with what remained of her dignity.
“I rather like her.” Sylvia commented.
Ecchs wiped his brow. “That is a bottle of Hendricks gin, Sylvia. Don’t be so cavalier with it.” He sighed, and then chuckled. “I rather like her too. But don’t tell her, it’ll go straight to her head.”