Going back to where it all started. An interview with Lucius a few days before Lilian entered the cartel. For the full text with illustrations, visit Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/18497973-character-panel-the-cartel-s-lucius-mercio
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I gaze up past the futuristic cityscape and in the distant sky a blue and disconcertingly familiar planet comes into view. “Um… is that earth?” I ask aloud. Not sure where the heck I am, or how I got here, a welcoming voice jolts me from my confused state.
“Hi Rachel, Welcome to the Twelve Systems, Metricelli Prime, and Crevasse City, home to Serengeti headquarters.”
The author, E.G. Manetti, guides me toward the entrance of one of the city’s towering skyscapers.
“I’m going to walk you in and give you a little background,” she explains. “Lucius Mercio is the preeminence of the Serengeti Group, making him one of the richest and most powerful warriors in a society of 50 billion. Not all of those people are warriors, of course. Only 10% of the population can trace their genetic line to one of the Five Warriors that founded their society a millennium ago. And Lucius is in the top two dozen.”
Nodding absentmindly as I follow her through the opulent lobby, we head past the front desk to an elevator.
“Not only is he super rich and powerful. He’s also clever, ambitious, and dangerous. He was thirty-eight when he took over Serengeti six years ago after his father died. Which is young in this galaxy where life expectancy is 110-120. At the time, Serengeti and large sections of the Twelve Systems were being raided by pirates. The Twelve Systems hadn’t known serious war in nearly eight hundred years. It’s not a peaceful or pacifist society. They have crime, some civil unrest, and an occasional skirmish between cartels when competition escalates, but nothing on the scale of years of violent conflict between nations. Of course, they don’t have nations. The cartels pretty much run everything.”
The elevator doors open without a sound and we step inside.
“Getting back to my story,” Ms. Manetti continues and steadies me when we head up at a speed I wasn’t expecting. “When Lucius took over, between the pirates running rampant along the major supply routes and Serengeti competitors grabbing whatever they could in the confusion, the cartel was in trouble. Everyone thought Lucius’ biggest rival, the wily and experienced Monsignor Sebastian Mehta would stage a coup. Turns out, he underestimated Lucius. Lucius gathered an army, wiped out the pirates, and negotiated a reward from the governing council that gave him the leverage to consolidate his control and restore Serengeti. In fact, he’s been so successful that it’s rumored he sold his soul to the Shade of the First Warrior, Socraide Omsted.”
The author smiles. “Not that I believe that for a minute. Here we are, his office suite is through those big onyx doors. Did I mention he’s attractive? Tall and muscular. The paparazzi like the word ‘virile.’ Those black eyes don’t miss much. He’ll know if you lie. They say he can read minds, but I think he’s just really good at reading people. He’s had to be. He may have inherited his position, but the only way he has kept it was through ruthlessness and cunning.”
“Here we are.”
“Welcome, Mistress Rachel,” Lucius rises from behind his desk to greet his guest. “Let us sit by the windows. Would you like tea? Water?”
Dark and deliciously intimidating, I stare at him for far longer than socially appropriate and give Ms. Manetti an awkward wave as she takes her leave.
Taking a seat opposite me, Lucius relaxes into the plush chair, legs extended, fingers steepled. “Whenever it pleases you.”
“Right, yes. So sorry.” I follow his lead and accept a glass of water. “Ms. Manetti advised me earlier that I should address you as Monsignor Lucius? That here it’s customary for only close friends and family to use given names?”
He nods slowly, and I can’t shake the impression he’s reading my every word and move.
“Let’s uh, let’s just get right to it then?” I push my bangs behind an ear and pull out my notepad.
“Which is your wish that is not yet fulfilled?”
Lucius sits back, completely at ease in his office. “I believe it’s well known in the Twelve Systems. I wish to see Serengeti advance from fourth to third among the cartels. Not only for the sake of my family, but because as one of the three, we will be able to influence the course of the Twelve Systems, bringing new opportunity to all its inhabitants, not only those of warrior descent. If we learned one thing from the pirate actions, it is that the Twelve Systems has become complacent. We have lost the drive and passion that brought order out the anarchy of war. I wish to see Serengeti lead a renaissance in warrior values and virtues.”
Power practically resonates from this man. I take a drink of water in an effort to cool off.
“If you could witness any event past, present or future, what would it be?”
“There is not an event in modern times I cannot attend, if I will it. Past or present? That is more difficult. If the Five Warriors will it, I will live to see my great grandchildren win their warrior blades. For the past, I wish what we all wish. To have been there the day the Five Warriors ratified the Code of Engagement and ended three centuries of stellar warfare.”
My mind spins at his answer, unfamiliar with the ways of his world. “If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?” I ask.
“Fly,” he replies with a smile. “I have always wanted to pilot a flyer in the annual moon races. When I was young, my father would not hear of it. Not the danger–he thought it frivolous. Now, even if I could find the time to learn, I’m well past the thirty-five-year limit on eligibility.”
Eying his physique, I seriously doubt he’d be anything but phenomenal at any form of physical activity. I clear my throat and ask my next question.
“Have you ever had something happen to you that you thought was bad but it turned out to be for the best?”
“To me? Naught that I am willing to discuss. I can say that I have turned difficult challenges to my advantage. This past month, the woman I waited two years to take as my protégé was nearly sentenced to death. The loss of her talents could have delayed some of my plans. As it is, I have succeeded in negotiating a trial by ordeal and will take her as my apprentice. I will have her talents and a great deal more control than I would if she were protégé.”
I narrow my gaze, just by a fraction.
“You look skeptical,” he asserts correctly. “I realize many consider an apprentice a warrior’s plaything, and not an asset. I assure you, I have acquired Lilian for her intellectual accomplishments. That she is comely is naught but a bonus.”
I scribble some notes and continue the interview. “If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be, and why?”
“I would be present for my grandsire’s passing. We knew Jonah was reaching his end of days. My father refused to allow me leave from my protégé posting on Socraide Prime for a final visit. Had I to do it again, I would defy him and attend my grandsire.”
“Any religious views?”
“I am Lord Patron of the First Warrior’s sect. It is my duty and privilege to ensure that his shrines are well maintained and funded. Without the guidance of the canons and warrior honor do we have any hope of maintaining order and resisting the return of warfare and anarchy?”
My head cants to the side, a slight motion I wouldn’t have ever thought he’d even notice.
“I have surprised you.”
“Perhaps a bit,” I admit.
“I assure you, I am not superstitious. I do not share the commoner belief that the Five Warriors interfere in our daily lives, only that the spirit and the wisdom of their canons provide the guidance we need to continue to thrive and advance as a society.”
“I understand. What has been your biggest challenge?”
“You expect me to answer ‘waging war on the pirates’. That was difficult and violent. The bigger challenge was persuading the governing council to join its forces with the Serengeti Militia to create an armada sufficient to defeat the pirates.”
“And your biggest success up until now?”
“Success?” he asks. “Triumphs are fleeting. I prefer to recognize my greatest honor–ascending to Preeminence of Serengeti.”
Lucius’ pride shows on the hard planes of his face and I suppress a smile before moving on. “What is the most evil thing you have ever done?”
“Evil? Do you question my honor? I have made difficult decisions. Sent honorable militia to die in the pirate actions. It was not pleasant, but it was necessary to restore order.”
“Sacrifices must be made for the greater good, I realize that of course. Believe me Monsignor Lucius, the last thing I’d do would be to question your honor.”
He nods again, a measured tilt of his head, and gestures that I go on.
“Why did you choose your profession?”
“I was born to it.”
“I see. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?”
“I can travel anywhere in the world. Or the Twelve Systems, for that matter. When I can I manage it, I enjoy my citrus plantations near the sea on the southern continent. The plantations have endured nearly a millennia and the sea is ageless.”
“That sounds quite beautiful. Last question, and thank you kindly for agreeing to this panel. What do you look for in a potential lover?”
“The usual,” he answers, his dark eyes almost unnerving. “Charm, intelligence, wit, and a reasonable amount of physical appeal.”
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