You are cordially invited to
COCKTAILS AT 5:00 PM
DINNER AT 8:00 PM
DEMONSTRATION AT 9:30 PM
1 DARK HALLOW ROAD
JENSEN, NEW YORK
Everything is going exactly to plan when eccentric tech baron Winston Vise finally takes the stage in the conservatory. He has fed his guests, plied them with drinks, and whet their appetites for the technological marvels he hopes to sell them. But when the curtain goes up and the merchandise fails to perform, the night takes a sharp turn into murder.
Now, ten people and Vise’s personal assistant find themselves trapped in an isolated mansion in the New York countryside with no way to contact the outside world. Together, they must hunt a new kind of killer in the countless rooms and endless shadows of Vise Manor.
Book 7 | Science Fiction | 2022-03-01
Adelai Vaught is the owner of Adelai Associates, a high-end escort service that was mentioned previously in Brigham Plaza and Hybrid Mechanics. In the latter, which took place in 2035, human employees had been replaced by synthetics.
Carter Price appeared briefly at the end of Brigham Plaza as Jane Meade’s follow-on engagement after her time with Danny Guns Montreal. They celebrated the recent sale of his company, Dyalogued, to Vinestead International.
Jane Moretz made her first appearance in Brigham Plaza as Jane Meade, an employee of Adelai Associates.
Diya Singh is Winston Vise’s personal assistant and previously worked for Dahlstrom Academy, an accelerated learning institute mentioned in Por Vida and Veneer.
Frank Kagan is the CEO of the Kagan Group, both of which previously appeared in Por Vida as the umbrella corporation that owns Vitra Synth.
Lucas Cotton is the founder of the MESH Foundation and creator of a peer-to-peer communications technology featured in Por Vida and Hybrid Mechanics.
James Perion and his son Joseph Perion run Perion Synthetics, a company that makes the most advanced synthetic humans on the planet. Their proprietary mind-mapping technology allows organic minds to be imprinted on synthetic bodies.
Calle Cinco de Mayo was a domestic terrorism attack that occurred on May 5, 2009 and affected the United States air traffic control system. 7,507 lives were lost, and the blame was initially placed on Calle Cinco, a cipher den led by Kaili Zabora. However, new evidence was brought to light in 2019 that suggests Vinestead perpetrated a false flag event.
Vise Manor is the seventh book of the Vinestead Anthology. The events take place in 2021, following Brigham Plaza and preceding Por Vida.
On the subjects of dedication and professionalism, Rakesh Singh always complained that no one was willing to put in the hard work necessary to get a job done, least of all Americans.
“If you do a job for someone, you don’t just do it well. You do it better than anyone has ever done it before.”
The longer Diya Singh worked as a personal assistant, first for Joanne Cedillo, director of the Dahlstrom Academy advisory board, and more recently, for Winston Vise, founder of Vise Robotics, the more she tended to agree with her father. Diya’s main responsibility was to manage Winston’s life outside of work, which meant interfacing with vendors and various companies with which he did business. Sometimes, he called on her to act as a full-fledged event coordinator, as he had with the dinner party he was planning to host at the end of the week.
For two months, Diya had worked to line up food, entertainment, decorations, and a surprising number of other small items. Despite the short guest list, she had spent almost every day battling contractors and vendors to get the right stuff delivered at the right time.
None of them wanted to put in the work, even when they were being paid well.
She had even called her father a few times to vent about it. He always listened, let her get it out, and then remarked on the dark skies behind her, asking why she was working so late. She didn’t want to tell him there was too much work and too little of her. That would have sounded lazy.
“Just promise me you will get some rest,” he’d said, after she’d told him she was just finishing up and would be heading home soon.
Monday was another late night. Diya was sure everyone else at the office had gone home, but she still had emails to write and last-minute checks to perform. The dinner was on Friday at Winston’s home in the countryside, and the first of the trucks would be arriving Wednesday morning to set up. She would have to be there, of course, and since the dinner was her only concern, she’d made plans to stay a few days in what Winston had named Vise Manor, as if it were some stately mansion in the English countryside.
Winston himself was out of the country and wouldn’t be back until Friday evening, so it was just going to be Diya alone in the large house with only the assets to keep her company.
She was in the middle of writing a follow-up email to the flower company that was doing the table centerpieces when one of her gopher assistants, Bradley Hollinger, knocked softly on her office door. He was younger than Diya and looked almost skeletal in his thinness. He hadn’t yet grown into his tall frame, which made his white Oxford billow around his chest like the sail of a ship. As usual, he had his sleeves rolled up on his skinny forearms.
Diya liked that look on men. Formal but hardworking—a far cry from the meme t-shirts and flip-flops most of the software engineers wore around the building.
“Got a minute?” he asked.
“Sure.” She minimized the email window and pushed back slightly from the desk.
“I printed out those delivery confirmations you asked for, and I also sent digital copies to your inbox. It looks like all of them were delivered except one. It was marked Return to Sender for some reason. I don’t know if we want to try again or what.”
She beckoned him into the office and pointed to a chair on the other side of her desk. “No, Winston wasn’t expecting everyone to come.” When he dropped the papers on her desk, she picked them up and began leafing through them. “We’re overbooked by two couples, so we need at least that many to decline. All I see are addresses here.”
“I have the names on my palette, hold on.” Bradley sat down in the chair and pulled a palette from his breast pocket. His dirty blond hair fell around his face in little curls. “Want to go down the list?”
“Sure.” They might as well. Rakesh Singh wasn’t going to fault her for doing a thorough job, not when someone else might have succumbed to fatigue and simply gone home.
Bradley traced a finger down his palette. His eyes narrowed, eliciting a single age line near his left eyebrow. “Alright, so the RTS we got was from Wade Vunak in Austin, Texas.” He looked up. “He’s the founder of Nixle Chronos. They do augmented reality, nothing public at the moment, but they’ve got a satellite office in Umbra where they do demos, and people say it’s pretty impressive tech.”
“You did your homework.”
“Of course.” He smiled. “I learned from the best.”
Having her own team of assistants was one of the perks of the job and part of the reason she’d left Dahlstrom Academy. There was something about the prospect of educating someone else in the teachings of Rakesh Singh that intrigued her.
“So did I,” she said, nodding to his palette. “Continue.”
“We got delivery confirmations and digital signatures for the other seven packages. Robert Hargreaves in Houston, Texas. Elias Shaw in Sacramento, California. Lucas Cotton, Los Angeles. Adelai Vaught, New York City. Carter Price—he’s the neighbor. And last but not least, Reno Cardenas, Ciudad de MX.” He read the last part in a poor Spanish accent.
“Tell me about the MX national.”
Bradley tapped a few times. “Not much on the net about him. Some conflicting stories that he was either cartel or military, but in the last few years, he’s been making noise with synthetic soldiers—Máquinas, they call them. That’s Spanish for machine. Nobody’s really sure what’s going on down there, but it looks like Mr. Cardenas got a leg up from somewhere, and he's probably looking to make another leap forward. It makes sense Mr. Vise would want him there.”
The mention of synthetic soldiers set Diya’s arms itching. She rubbed them with both hands. “How do you feel about that?”
“Selling the assets to an international arms dealer. I mean, that’s essentially what Cardenas is, right? Who exactly do you think his Máquinas are fighting?”
“Fine, it’s a moral gray area,” he admitted. “I don’t know if we’re paid to worry about that sort of thing.”
On this point, Rakesh Singh was uncharacteristically silent.
She dropped the papers on her desk and folded her arms. “Okay, so of the remaining seven, which do you think we’ll get RSVPs from? I’ve already got nameplates printed and everything, but it’d be good to know as soon as possible if we’re overbooked.”
Bradley furrowed his brow again. “Well, I think Carter Price is a lock. It’d probably be rude of him not to accept. Adelai Vaught is probably ninety percent; what New Yorker wouldn’t want an excuse to get out of the city for the weekend?”
“I don’t know about the rest. Robert Hargreaves runs a stable of businesses under the Hargreaves Group, so he’s probably interested in checking out a potential acquisition. Elias Shaw owns the only stateside manufacturer of cortical implants. I think I read even Perion Synthetics uses them sometimes when there’s unrest overseas. Lucas Cotton strikes me as the wildcard. He’s more of an engineer than a businessman, so you’re looking at professional curiosity more than anything. Reno Cardenas will be interested in the assets for obvious reasons, so I think that only leaves Stanton Blumenfield.”
Diya nodded. She eyed the open dossiers on her computer screen. Nobody had asked either of them to do deep dives on Winston’s invited guests, and yet they had both done so on their own.
“Stanton Blumenfield,” she said. “Not a businessman. Not an engineer. Just a moderately decorated writer.”
“Futurologist, according to his Wiki page.”
“Futurologist. He’s probably not in any position to purchase the company or even one of the assets. So just like Lucas Cotton, it would be pure curiosity that brings him to the house. I don’t know if there’s enough there, even with Winston’s unusual invitation.”
Bradley shrugged. “Have you read any of his books?”
“I read the summaries.”
“So then you know, he’s big on synthetic transcendence. I read the first few pages of The Soul of the Mechanical Man, and I think Mr. Vise invited him simply to show off, like a pride thing. He wants to be seen by an artist so he himself can feel like one. That’s my theory anyway.”
Diya hadn’t considered that. Maybe Winston was just looking for validation.
Bradley hugged his palette. “Someone like Blumenfield, he would be asking himself the same kinds of questions. Why the invite? What does Winston Vise want with someone like me?” He chewed his lip for a moment, then smiled. “He’d see right through it. He’d know his presence would only be to serve Mr. Vise’s ego, so he’d refuse.”
“So that’s your pick then?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He blinked. “You don’t agree?”
“I don’t not agree… I just think Winston overestimates his drawing power sometimes. Wade Vunak’s a great example. He didn’t just respond with regrets; he straight up refused the package. I don’t think he likes Winston, at all. And if you go back through the records for the State of the Net conferences in Umbra over the last ten years, you’ll find Vunak has spoken at every one of them. And who else do you think sat on the same panel with him every single one of those years?”
Bradley scanned his palette again. “Lucas Cotton?”
“That’s the one. You see them on the feeds together all the time, so if anyone else isn’t going to respond, I bet twenty bucks it’s Cotton. He may keep the invitation, but I doubt he ever walks through the doors of Vise Manor.”
“I’ll go for twenty,” said Bradley. He leaned forward to offer his hand. “I still say it’s Blumenfield.”
“Then it’s a bet.”
“What if neither of us win?”
Diya shrugged. “Then, my friend, we’ll have to give up our dream of opening our own detective agency. Singh and Associate, Private Detectives.”
“Joke’s on you. I’ll just legally change my last name to Associate and tell people it’s French.”
“Well, Monsieur…” She typed rapidly into a translator app on her computer. “…Associe, I think we’ve had enough fun for one night. You should get out of here while you can.”
“You sure you don’t need me… to stay?”
She smiled, turned back to her computer. “No, I don’t need you, Mr. Hollinger. You’re wonderfully helpful, but I could get by just as easily without you.” She started typing gibberish into the translator to give the appearance she was working.
“Okay then.” He stood to leave, paused at the door. The low light cast dark shadows over his cheeks. “You know, I was thinking about you heading out to Mr. Vise’s place on Wednesday. You’re gonna be there alone for a couple of nights. You sure you don’t want some company? I know he doesn’t want me there the night of, but I could hang out for a day or two, help with the setup. I’m sure he’s got spare rooms already lined up for the guests, so…”
Diya leaned over her desk and supported her chin with her hand.
“You just couldn’t resist, could you?”
“Resist what?” Half of his mouth rose in a smile.
“You’ve fallen in love with me.”
“What?” He chuckled nervously, adjusted his tie.
Diya pushed her purely decorative glasses up her nose and returned her attention to the screen. “My father tried to warn me about American boys.” She lowered her voice, effected a weak Indian accent. “You be careful, Diya. American boys are only interested in one thing, and it’s disgusting.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Are you sure?” She refused to look away from her screen. “Because either you’re in love with me, which I understand, of course, or you’re implying I can’t handle a couple of nights alone in a big scary house because I’m just a little girl and I need a big burly man to protect me from the empty halls and creaking floors.” She pulled her glasses down quickly and shot him a glare while doing her best to hold back a smile. “Which is it, Brad? Are you trying to dip your pen in company ink or are you just a misogynist?”
He stared back at her for several seconds and didn’t relax until the edges of her lips began to tremble. He tapped his palette against the doorjamb twice.
“Goodnight, Ms. Singh. Go home and get some beauty sleep.” He turned to leave and muttered under his breath, “You need it.”
Diya let out the laughter she’d been holding in. She called after him as he disappeared down the hall.
“You can’t run from your feelings forever, Bradley!”