1 Year After the Liberation of Malton (Malton +1)
It had been hell of a publicity stunt, that was the one positive of his Malton experience. Gabe had emerged from the undead city to thunderous applause, he and his band of fellow fighters looking rugged and battle-worn. The press had all been there, and his debut album had been guaranteed a lot of buzz, especially as it was based around his experiences in Malton. From there, it had all been uphill. The DHPD's first reunion dinner came on the eve of Gabe's first world tour. It was going well.
Still, nothing beat a good old-fashioned bar fight, and the young musician had not let himself go. Anton had made a remark about Codeist's hair, or something equally ludicrous. Moments later, food, bottles and fists had been flying, and Gabe was wondering how much make-up he would need to conceal a black eye. Deciding that he did not want to make his first stage appearance wearing more make-up than a cheap hooker, he extricated himself from the melee.
Unfortunately, Purple Cat was chatting to some blond, Vicky was flirting with another blond, and the rest of his friends were in the brawl. Gabby looked the blonds over. He didn't like them, he decided quickly. Scanning the room, he spotted a blonde waitress. Actually, the first thing he spotted was her chest, but he figured that wasn't the best opening gambit. Time to use some of his new-found sex appeal.
"Hey, sexy," Gabe said cockily, his idea of a charming grin plastered across his face. "You recognise me?"
"You're that guitarist, right? I love your music!"
"That's good to know..."
Cat sat back at her table watching whatever it was Ghost and Delta were up to. She couldn't quite decide if it was a dance or a fight. It was one or the other anyway.
"May I join you?"
It was a tall man. She'd seen him earlier, talking to Ian, but she didn't recognise him. He had short blond hair that curled ever so slightly and bright blue eyes.
"Sure, I'm Kate. People call me Cat."
"Purple Cat? I've heard of you. I'm Simon Brankin."
They shook hands.
"I've heard of you. You were with the DEM right? Did a lot of the negotiation with the authorities."
"So what are you doing at a DHPD reunion? We're a bit tightly knit, aren't we?"
"Ian and I have some projects we're working on. He invited me along."
Cat winced as Jim crashed into a table. "I can't imagine either of you are getting much work done this evening."
"I don't know. Ian's still as sober as a judge. I was actually hoping he'd relax a little."
"Ian never drinks. You might as well get used to it."
"People do keep grabbing him to talk to him though, so I figured I should do some socialising on my own."
"Well, you're welcome here. If you have fewer morals than Ian, there's also this champagne which needs finishing."
"I thought you'd never ask."
"I see those two squads are having a brawl again. What did you call them, Ian? Ghost and Dixie?"
"Delta. They're just letting off steam. It's mostly harmless, if undignified."
"Well, keep out of it, will you? I've got some TV appearances lined up for you tomorrow and I don't want you appearing with a black eye."
"Don't worry, I won't. But I'm not sure why you're putting so much effort into this campaign. It's years since a Republican won that seat."
"Things can change, but more importantly, I want you to lose well. It'll bring you to people's attention if we can knock a few points off the Democrat lead."
"Well, you're the expert Simon. This is all new to me."
"Keep away from my girlfriend."
"What?" Gabby blinked in surprise at the blond man in front of him.
"You heard me. I know your reputation and I don't want you hitting on Kate."
It took Gabby a moment to work out who he was talking about. "Cat? She's like, twice my age. We're just friends."
"You stand too close and you touch her too often, back off."
"Kate's got class and brains and you're a stupid low-life rockstar. Maybe she has some lingering loyalty from Malton but we're not in Malton any more. If you don't clean up your act around her, I think you'll find Kate is suddenly a lot less fond of you."
"What happened to the other one?" Kate hissed, leaning over to Gabby as his date sauntered to the bathroom.
"We broke up," Gabe said simply.
"That's the fifth one in two months!"
"Been paying close attention I see." Gabe smirked at her.
"Don't get your hopes up. I'm officially in a long-term relationship. Who'd have thunk it. Not BD anyway, he still phones once a month to tell me it won't last."
"And? You think you're better than me cos you're tied down? I'm still young, babe, I don't need to settle down yet. Speaking of which, I don't like him," he hissed, pointing at Simon, who was socialising with Ian and a bunch of people Gabby mentally classed as political groupies.
"Why? C'mon, he can be little stand-offish sometimes I guess. But what's to object to, eh, Gabby?"
"He's a smarmy, ambitious, morally corrupt, arrogant little cunt. Happy?" Gabe snapped, instantly realising he had probably gone a bit too far.
"I think you should leave. I'll send your latest slut out after you," Purple Cat said frostily, avoiding Gabe's eyes.
"Don't bother. See you around, Kate," Gabe said coldly, patting her on the shoulder as he left.
"Bye, Gabby," Cat said, a hint of affection breaking through her icy demeanour. "Call me, yeah?"
"Do I ever forget?" Gabe said cockily as he pushed through the door, headed for his swanky sportscar.
Purple Cat chuckled. "Always," she murmured fondly.
Purple Cat lay on the roof of the hotel staring at the stars. Down below her somewhere came the sound of smashing glass.
"The annual Delta Ghost bar fight has started," remarked Simon, from where he lay next to her. "Sure you don't want to go down and watch?"
"I've seen it three times already. I think I can probably give it a miss this once. It's an incredible view you've found up here."
"That's what I thought," said Simon. "More champagne?"
"I'm pretty drunk already and we need to get back down somehow."
"Well before you go, I've something to ask."
Cat propped herself up on her elbows. "That sounds serious."
"Will you marry me?"
She blinked at him. "Not sure I'm really cut out for a politician's wife. You need someone with less of a past, young enough to have children and who agrees with your politics."
"Well, quite apart from the fact I like to think I'm a little less cynical than that, I'm too old to start putting together a political career, not if I want to go all the way to the top. No, Ian's the man for that. I plan to be an advisor, not the front man. The advantage, of course, is that I don't have to worry about whether my wife's suitable, only about whether I love her."
Simon leaned forward and kissed Cat gently on the lips. "So, what do you say? Will you marry me?"
"Ian! What's this I hear about you sponsoring some sort of censorship bill?"
"Calm down Gabby. It's not really a censorship bill."
"Could have fooled me. Government-sponsored AI technology to be built into all PCs sold in the US to filter out and report any inappropriate content? Who gets to decide what's inappropriate?"
"It's aimed at spammers and scammers, Gabby. The security people are losing the race against the viruses and bot-nets. This would let us automatically detect and shut down attempts to hijack personal computers."
"It'll turn the US government into the biggest bot-net creator of them all."
"No it won't. Look Gabby, Simon and I have been over the details with the technical people. The technology is really very benign."
"Yeah, right! What's next, Ian? Are my CDs going to get banned because I swear and talk about premarital sex? You gonna start burning books, Ian? What happened, man - we never saw eye-to-eye on politics and stuff, but I trusted your judgement completely! Now, you're doing all this Big Brother shit."
"Gabe, I assure you this will not be used for morality purposes. We have a lot of safeguards built into the system. If this doesn't go through, American computers will eventually all be infested, and where does that leave us?"
"He who sacrifices freedom for safety deserves neither," Gabby quoted, staring searchingly into Ian's eyes. "I know you're doing it for all the right reasons, Ian. I just worry that someone will use your heart of gold for their own ends, and then where will we be?"
"I'm in control, Gabe. Anyway, why do you have to make your lyrics so... intense? I'm not that prudish, but wow!"
"That's my life, Ian. Give a twenty-year old a record contract and a truck-load of dough... expect chaos," Gabe said with a smirk.
"I can't say I ever saw you as a political wife."
"I'm not a political wife."
"Really? What is it you do with your time then?"
"I do a lot of work with the charities. I'm not just a sleeping partner you know." Kate slapped Gabby on the arm. "Don't smirk like that."
"Ian, I hate to say I told you so."
"Yet you are."
"The whole idea was daft from start to finish. How did you not anticipate the Chinese hacking into the system?"
"There's no evidence at all that it was the Chinese."
"Oh no? Then why are you guys suddenly voting through all those trade agreements which will let China screw you over?"
"We need those trade agreements, Gabby. Didn't you see that speech Simon gave last Friday? They're not connected to the bot-net thing at all!"
"Cat, do you think you could swing a favour with Simon?"
"What kind of a favour?"
"He bought up Necrotech, didn't he."
"It was bought out by a charitable trust wasn't it?"
"Don't bull-shit me. The trust is an off-shoot of one of Simon's companies. It's all public record."
Cat sighed and pushed a stray blonde hair away from her face. "What do you want?"
"I'm thirty this year."
"You can't tell," she said drily. She nodded across the room to where a slim brunette was discoing with about half of Delta squad. "Still dating teenagers, I see."
"No you can't tell," said Gabby. "That's kind of my point. How old are you Cat? You must be pushing fifty. You don't look it either."
Cat laughed. "We were all checked out when they extracted us from Malton and dosed us up with that cure. No lingering effects of the disease. These rumours about side effects surface all the time, no one's found evidence of anything."
"C'mon Cat. Get Simon to double-check those files. Please?"
"OK, I'll ask. If you're serious, you should get Ian to ask too."
"Jesus, Ian. Sorry about the language, but this longevity thing, it's a PR nightmare."
Ian smiled indulgently as Gabby cornered him at the bar. The young man seemed somewhat the worse for wear, but then he often was at the DHPD reunions. "I'm not sure what you expect me to do about it Gabe. I can't legislate to get the public to accept the idea of almost immortals in their midst."
Gabby shrugged. "S'pose not. But my record sales have plummeted. My financial guy is in a tail spin."
"You have enough money, surely Gabby."
Gabby shrugged. "I don't know. I rely on the financial guy. He keeps talking about selling some of the cars."
Ian sighed. "Well, I guess, all of us have felt the effects to some extent. I'd planned to run for a Senate seat this year. But there's no way I'd get elected. We need to wait for some public acceptance."
"You'll stay on in Congress though?"
"I'm not sure, to be honest. Simon and I think it might be an idea to take a few years off. Do something else, maybe with one of Kate's NGOs. Keep in the public eye but not get anyone frightened."
"You seem to have made quite an impression in the Middle-East, Ian, from what I hear."
"It's been difficult, but the necrotech side-effects have helped. It's meant Simon and I can be that bit more confident if we're likely to end up somewhere dangerous. But to be honest, we were lucky with the timing. I'd never have guessed that so much could be achieved with a strong Palestinian leader."
"Do you think the peace will hold though? I mean, Obama achieved a lot while we were in Malton - didn't stick, did it?"
"For a few years at least. Then it depends how much stability has been built up in the interim... and we need to sort out the water situation. That's why we need the international pipelines and the desalination plants. Individual countries are going to have to cede some sovereign power..."
"OK, OK!" Gabby held up his hands. "I believe you, just quit with the technical stuff."
"Pregnant! You have to be joking."
"Try not to look like it's the end of the world Gabby."
"No! No! I'm happy for you. But shit! Pregnant! How old are you? 53? 54?"
"It's a side effect of the longevity, as far as anyone can tell. Simon and I went through a huge battery of tests before we even considered trying. But Simon always wanted a family. It just seemed foolish before, to start one when we were both in our forties. But this whole live forever thing rather changed matters."
"Well, I'm not going to pretend I like Simon any better. But you look happy, so I guess I'm pleased."
"Thanks! Talking of which. Am I mistaken or is that the same date you bought to this thing last year?"
"Hey, Ian, bad luck in the primaries."
"Not to worry, Gabby. I wasn't really expecting to get the nomination and it was a useful experience."
"The baby looked cute though. I bet half the party think Kate's your wife, not Simon's."
"Now Gabby, they always show up together and it's important for the message on family values, especially since I'm not married."
"Pressure on at all?"
Ian sighed. "Every time I go round to dinner Simon and Kate have a different Republican heiress to show off. I can't seem to get them to understand that I'm not looking around desperately for a wife."
Gabby grinned. "You have my sympathies. I've dropped by once or twice when I've been on tour. Kate and Simon can be pretty odious when they're in the middle of their `Everyone should be happily married like us' act. I'm considering flying my girlfriend over next time, just to shut them up."
"Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of marriage and I'm glad they finally decided to start a family. It's just that I really don't want to marry for political expediency and this whole longevity business makes me think twice about getting too deeply involved with anyone at all."
"Tell me about it," said Gabby gloomily.
Ian gave him a hard look. "I'm not sure your lifestyle is a viable alternative..."
"Please," Gabby held up a hand. "I've already had my annual `women are not fashion accessories' talk from Kate. Just assume I'm contrite but irredeemable and move on, OK."
"Back to the Middle East, I hear," said Gabby.
"Simon and I know the area a bit and, once again, the immortality makes us less of a risk."
"Kate going too?"
Ian sighed. "We're trying to talk her out of it, what with the baby and all. Palestine is no place for a toddler."
"Any luck convincing her?"
Ian laughed. "She seems convinced Simon and I will get ourselves killed the moment we're out of her sight. I'm going to try to persuade one of the other Dixies to come along, Snow or Marty. Hopefully she'll trust them to `watch our backs' as she terms it."
"You'd be better off taking a real officer - one who can shoot a gun. I would volunteer, but I'm on tour, and I don't think me, Simon and a country full of cheap firearms would go down too well."
"Hi, Gabby, do you mind if I sit here?"
Gabby stared up, surprised, into Simon Brankin's disconcertingly cold blue eyes. "Err... no. Please do."
"I was wanting to talk about Ian's upcoming presidential campaign."
Gabby blinked in surprise. "He's running for President? Didn't he only just become a Senator last year?"
"We're planning ahead. He made a good name for himself in the Middle East. I think the time is right."
Gabby shrugged. "I'm not American, and I'm not too clued up on the politics, but what did you want to ask?"
Simon smiled ingratiatingly. "You're friends with him and with Kate, so I was wondering if you'd be prepared to turn up for a couple of the big events, play a few tunes, you know the kind of thing."
"Ian already asked me," said Gabby. "The answer's no. I'm not American but I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be Republican, even if I were. Besides - I know how this works. Rockstars are all cool for a while - they get involved in politics - bang! Gone the way of Bono and Geldof. So, no."
"Fair enough," said Simon. "Thanks for the chat."
And he was gone. "Wanker," muttered Gabby, to his retreating back.
"I guess I should congratulate you."
Ian glanced at Gabby, surprised. "But?" he asked.
"I really didn't like some of the platform you ran on."
"Not all of it was entirely to my taste either, but we needed a consensus. Some things we had to offer just to bring votes on board."
"Yeah, but that bot-net thing again. Not to mention the New Morality."
"Look I can see you might not like the more Christian aspects of the New Morality but even you have to admit that the world needs to consume less. That implies a cultural change towards a more austere lifestyle."
"And the bot-net?"
"We've got the technology fixed this time."
"You've signed up to Chinese control."
"No, there's going to be an independent body, an international one."
"Same as with the water pipelines?"
Gabriel shook his head. "I don't like it Ian."
"Fortunately, I'm not asking you to. I value honest criticism."
"But you prefer it when it's informed, yeah?"
"Well, it helps."
"Then I'll stop talking." Gabby laughed, slapping Ian on the arm when he saw him nod.
"Shit, Kate! Pregnant again!"
"Leave off, Gabby. Three children is hardly excessive."
"I'm still staggered you got re-elected on a platform which included the word rationing."
"Well, as we stressed, there won't be any rationing domestically."
"So basically the Americans and the Chinese will stuff themselves while everyone else works off food vouchers. What the fuck about Europe? You're just fucking over the Old World now? As if fucking over the Third World wasn't enough! You've spoken to Andy, haven't you?"
"That's a wild exaggeration and I expect even you know it. I know it's not perfect, but it's a start, Gabe, and still a long way from a done deal."
"It stinks of compromise."
"What are you going to do about China, Ian?"
"Everything I can, Gabby."
"Shit, Ian, 25 years in politics, and China's human rights record is no better. If anything, it's worse! Almost forty years since Tianamen Square - what's changed? Fuck all!"
"I am aware of that. Since when do you care so much about this sort of thing?"
"If I told you I had taken a new outlook on life, would you believe me?" Gabby said innocently.
"The Chinese are censoring your records again, aren't they?"
"Oh, c'mon, Cat! You never come out with me anymore. It's been six months since we last did anything! I can't be seen alone at this gig, and I don't have a date at the moment!" Gabby whined, pacing around his flat with his phone held up to his ear.
"Aw, I'm touched to be your option of last resort."
"No, no, I really want to hang out with you, Cat, but you just keep blowing me off. Last week you actually stood me up!"
"Simon needed me at a press conference."
"Fuck, he always does. Fine. See you at the reunion then, Cat. Have a nice year. I'm moving back to London next week." Gabby was about to slam the phone shut when he heard Cat's voice coming from the tinny little speaker.
Gabby moved it back to his ear.
"Gabby, OK, OK, I didn't know you were leaving. Given up on Hollywood then?"
"Yeah! It's all a little..." Gabby searched for a word, "sparkly for my taste. I was meant to be a rock star, not an actor."
"Ach! What's the worst Simon could do? It's not like he's going to shoot us or anything, is it? I should be able to sort out a baby-sitter, even at this short notice. I'll meet you at JFK? When does your flight arrive?"
"6-ish. See you there, babe," Gabe said lightly, hanging up, a delighted grin on his face.
Cat looked harassed, but happy, as she opened the door. "Ian!" she pecked him on the cheek. "How does it feel to be a normal citizen again?"
"Strange, every time I see something on the news I start planning how to react."
"You'll get used to it!" There came a crashing sound from above them somewhere. "Tim!" Cat shouted up the stairs. "Ian, I swear that child is more trouble than the others put together. Simon's in the living room."
She dashed up the staircase, shouting. Ian wandered through the hallway and into the living room. Simon was seated in a chair, reading papers, he looked up as Ian entered.
"Ian! I thought you'd be at the reunion tonight?"
"I'm going to drop by later. I thought I'd come here and say hello to Cat. Andy said she couldn't make it."
"We've a fund-raiser later. I really need her there. She's good with the wives and it's pretty critical."
"You don't think it's too early to start putting a campaign together?"
Simon shook his head. "There's a lot of ground to cover. I wasn't ever really planning on this, but there was so much we didn't manage to do in the last eight years. Four years' time, I need to be right there on the Republican ticket, to carry on what we were doing."
"Look, Simon, about that. I've been thinking. I don't think the US alone can tackle most of the problems we were working on. We need to think bigger."
"So Simon's not running for the Republican nomination after all? I'm surprised."
"He's never really been a front line politician, Gabe. That's why he was my chief of staff not the vice-president. I know you've always thought he was a power mad egomaniac..."
"You proposed a toast to him in those terms just last year!"
"Did I? Was I drunk?"
Ian sighed. "Yes, Gabe, I do believe you were."
"So what are the two of you doing instead? What's all this International Government shit?"
"OK, let me explain."
"Hey Cat, how come you're getting a ride with me? Simon taking his beauty sleep? Or will he just be wearing make-up on telly tomorrow?" Gabby smiled cheekily as he let Cat into his flat.
"Pot calling the kettle black, Gabby. You're hardly in a position to make fun of Simon for his TV make-up. The last time I went to one of your concerts, I could see the eye-liner from the ground - and I could swear you had lipstick on!"
"It's all a persona, Cat, it's all a persona."
"You say that," Cat said sceptically, looking Gabby up and down. "But I see you're wearing tight leather pants, a silk shirt, and more jewellry than me. At home! You're not even on-stage!"
"There are always paparazzis at the reunions, I gotta keep up the fade. Besides, I've caught you looking twice, so stop whining." Gabby sauntered over to the bar, smiling contendedly.
"Cheeky bastard. Oh, you got those pictures printed up in the end. Did you have to put up the worst one? Look at my hair!"
Gabe finished pouring his drink out, and turned to look at Cat, the smile gone from his face. "You look beautiful, P-Cat," he said quietly, his voice oddly sincere. Blinking quickly, he knocked back his Jack Daniels, slammed the drink onto the bar, and clapped his hands.
"Right, shall we go then? Don't want to arrive late. Simon might have one of his little hissy-fits," Gabe said brightly.
He swung the keys to his newest sportscar around his index finger and grinned. This one had been the reward for his last tour. He headed for the door. Cat lingered a moment and her hands brushed the frame of the photo: the two of them, twenty years ago, at another reunion, grinning at the camera. Gabe had a friendly arm thrown around Kate's shoulders. She looked up at the other photos on the wall. They stood together surrounded by rock-stars. Wherever the rest of his personal photos were, they weren't here.
"Hi Gabby. How you doing? No date this year?"
"Not this year, no. No children this year?"
"Not this year, no."
"Figures, no election campaign after all. I imagine there'll be another along in time for this new UN organisation thing Ian and Simon are cooking up."
"Cynic!" But Kate smiled fondly. After thirty years she'd become used to Gabby's jibes at Simon. In a way it reassured her that someone, at least, didn't care about the everyday realities of politics and was still prepared to be idealistic about things.
"Gabby, about the UN thing."
"Uh oh! I sense a plea for a favour coming on."
"Well, it won't be an American party any more."
"But it'll still be right-wing, won't it? Whatever this new political party is going to be. Ian and Simon will be at the forefront. We're talking tough on crime, family values, reduced government spending, work for welfare and tighter censorship laws - if you think I'm gonna support a government that will turn around and censor my music..."
"But it's Ian, Gabby. Take a look around you. Whatever you think of Simon, you know Ian wouldn't have got involved in this if he didn't think it was necessary. The world's a mess. Everywhere you look there's shortages and rationing and it looks like it's only going to get worse. Something has to be done."
"The answer's no, Kate. I'm not even sure why you guys keep bugging me about it."
"Take a look at your own PR material sometime. You're the definition of a rock legend. Your fan following spans the age ranges from teenagers to people in their fifties. Of course they want you backing their campaign."
Gabby sighed. "No, Kate. I keep out of politics."
She smiled back. "Oh well, I told them you'd say that, but I promised I'd ask anyway. Let's talk about something else."
Gabby was struck by a sudden idea. "Look, tell you what Kate. I'm not going to do a political event. But I'm touring next year and Wembley's on the list right about this time. I'll donate half the proceeds to one of your charities if you'll play something on stage with me: a DHPD reunion live."
"You what Gabby! I can't play rock music, let alone at Wembley."
"You've been faffing around with piano lessons for thirty years. You've got a year to put something together. I'll send you a Guns N' Roses piano arrangement. All you have to be is competent. The crowd will love it. It won't be overtly political, but I'm sure Simon can spin it somehow."
"What's in it for you?"
"Maybe I just want to do a favour for a friend?"
Gabby caught sight of Kate's expression. "OK, so maybe the charity angle would do me good as well. Is it a deal?"
"I'll talk to Simon."
Gabby felt a pang of disappointment that she wouldn't just agree. "You do that."
"Alright, Wembley? It's been a long time since I played here. It's nice, I tell you that. Now, for this next song, I would like to bring on an old friend. She saved my life a number of times, and broke my heart even more often. So when she told me she had learnt a Guns N' Roses song on piano... I had to bring her out!" Gabe turned to face off-stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Kate Brankin!"
The applause was enthusiastic but not ecstatic. Most of the audience had come to see a rockstar some of them had idolised since their teens. The duet had been widely publicised but Bad Apple fans were not, in general, sympathetic to the Ian Carlyle campaign.
Purple Cat swept on the stage, looking radiant in an extravagant midnight blue gown. Gabe smiled broadly, and signalled to the drummer to begin the count in. Kate's tinkling piano led the band into November Rain, the two ex-DHPD officers taking turns on the vocals. The song culminated with Gabe on top of Kate's piano, tearing through a solo while she hammered on the keys. As their instruments lingered on the final notes, Gabe leant over and planted a kiss on Kate's lips.
A hundred flashbulbs simultaneously illuminated the stadium, and as Gabe leaned back, he had a satisfied grin on his face. Front-page coverage guaranteed for at least a few days, with the added bonus of pissing Simon off. Kate slid her piano stool away, looking shocked. Gabby wondered if he should have asked her first, but then she would have said no. She'd get over it, he reasoned. It would all be OK.