Chapter 10

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"I'll get it," Lawrence told his wife and checked the feed from the door's external sensor. The Galaxis family, right on time as usual. He crossed the large living room and signaled the home system to open the door just as he reached the entrance hall. "Ah. The Galaxises! So nice to have you all here. Dirk, good to see you. Xia, you look exquisite as always." Lawrence shook Dirk Galaxis's hand warmly and gave his wife Xia a light hug and a peck on the cheek.

Dirk wore an elegant LumeTex white shirt, the light fabric barely touching his body. He handed Lawrence a wine bottle that Lawrence took without looking at, knowing it would be something good. "Thank you, you shouldn't have," he said automatically. Xia Galaxis wore a scarlet dress that matched her hair. Elegant but not formal, just tight enough to hint at her exquisite body. The couple's golden-haired daughter wriggled her way between the adults and ran toward the living room. "Hello, Gliese," he shouted, but the five-year-old had vanished already.

"I trust your journey wasn't too arduous at this hour?" Lawrence said facetiously. "Oh, it was quite dreadful. The elevator took forever to get here." Smiling, Xia feigned exhaustion. "I've been looking forward to tonight. It's been a while since we got together like this," she said. "Oh, yes. This is all Vesta's doing, of course - she organized everything." Lawrence replied as they moved into the living room.

A serving drone smoothly rolled over to greet the incoming guests. Its flat top balanced an assortment of alcoholic drinks. "Speaking of your lovely wife, where is she?" Xia asked. "She must be entertaining our other guests over at the dining room," Lawrence answered and handed Xia a tall glass of champagne and Dirk a tumbler of planet-side whiskey.

As they made their way to the dining room, Vesta appeared in the large arched passageway and beckoned them to join. Xia hugged her friend warmly. The two women had a lot in common - married to high-ranking executives, both had a child roughly the same age, and both filled important positions in their fields. Their looks, however, couldn't be more disparate. Xia had a fiery appearance, short and supple with a light-tan toned skin. She was the epitome of charisma and sex-appeal. His wife, Vesta, was only modestly pretty - tall and lanky, bright-haired with a fair, almost translucent, skin.

In the dining room, two other couples were already seated at the big table. It was beautifully set in an earthy theme, the plates and candelabras were made of wood, generated of course, but its look and feel practically indistinguishable from the real thing. Wreaths of verdant leaves and white flowers completed the decoration. Lawrence noted annoyingly to himself that the only one still missing was his brother Schafer.

His younger brother was often unwieldy and unpredictable. His eccentricity only eclipsed by his brilliance. Unfortunately, he took very few things seriously. Timekeeping was not one of them. Being co-CEO did nothing to dampen his unruliness. It wasn't like his brother had much of an excuse not to show up; he lived just one floor above, in the penthouse.

The guests tonight were his top executives at BRAIN and their partners. At one side of the table were Ed Simpson and his wife Wallis. Ed was the head of the Infrastructure division. Opposite them sat Cynthia Marioni and her wife Christine. Cynthia was Lawrence's head of Consumer division. Dirk Galaxis completed the top echelon as the SI division head.

Lawrence signaled Schafer's home system to query whether his brother was present. The response was negative. That didn't mean much as it could have been programmed to respond that way. Lawrence left a curt message for his brother to get his ass down. He also tried pinging him for a chat, but there was no response. "Not very surprising, Schafer is late and not answering my calls. I think we should begin." His guests murmured their agreement. They were all familiar with Schafer's antics.

Setting thoughts of his brother aside, Lawrence's attention came back to the room. Vesta outdid herself - having invited Chef Flax in-person to cook for them. It was quite a sight seeing him earlier in their kitchen, sitting on the floor with his eyes closed. His machines spread around him like a small fort. He was renowned for his mastery of the kitchen and the ability to oversee the making of dozens of dishes at once. The scents coming out of the kitchen were truly heavenly. Several serving drones rolled into the dining room and brought steaming plates filled with delicacies.

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