(Part of The Station 17 Chronicles, this sequel to Underneath swapped around the influences. Instead of The Thing with hints of The Shining, I saw this as more The Shining with hints of The Thing. Either way, a less pulpy, more gritty horror yarn. Not too much in this opening though, grab the book for the twists and bloody turns… Hope you enjoy – OJ)

His mind’s eye was a mess. A swirl of images and sounds that collided together without form or focus, yet still persisted in engaging him, keeping him aware of their existence. They were horrible, confusing assaults on the senses which came to him every morning, and wouldn’t let up until he was shaken awake.

When the alarm sounded, signalling the automated opening of his curtains, Kent Hawks was almost relieved. The curtains opened, revealing a floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking the city. The sunrise pulling itself above the skyscape like a benign ruler, and as the light shimmered across the room toward his bed, Kent was already out of the covers and sat on the edge of the mattress.

His head hurt, remnants of the bad dreams from the morning’s daze. The fog made him unaware of his current state, and it wasn’t until he stood up and took in the day that he saw it. The usual fallout of a night on the town.

Half-empty champagne bottles littered what basic furnishing was around, some tainted by the white powder of a good time had. The superior signifier of this though was certainly the discarded lingerie, belonging to the beauty still asleep in his bed. Kent took a moment to look at her, blonde hair cascading off the pillow and a form as slender as silk. For anyone else she would be a dream, a personification of perfection that most blue-collars would sacrifice their families for. Just for one night.

For Kent, she was just another girl.

He threw on a dressing gown and made his way out, stopping to hear when she stirred in bed. The curtains were now wide open, and the world was bidding him good morning.

He wished the world would go back to bed.

There was no ‘back to bed’ for him though. Since his father’s episode, Kent had been made joint CEO of Hawks/Carpenter, a resources company that Hawks Senior had formed with his old friend Alice Carpenter. However, years of workaholism and ferocious ambition had destroyed his old man, turning him into a wreck. Now, Kent was left with the responsibility.

Of course, some said it had nothing to do with the job. Some said that Old Man Hawks was a long time mad. The rumours were that there was some sort of neurological disorder within his brain, something that made his synapses short circuit and for him to lose it. Alice Carpenter didn’t help either, instead seeing it as some sort of power grab, hoping to take the company as her own and mould it in her steely image.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t banked on Kent.

After a quick freshen up, Kent made his way into the main part of his penthouse apartment. Awaiting him, as always, was his bodyguard Hatcher. A mountain of man who looked to have been raised on steroids, Hatcher was hired by Hawks Senior back when a little trouble with environmentalists kicked off. Amid the flurry of threats and dark intent, the giant was hired and the Hawks family never worried about security again.

Of course in retrospect, some say that Hawks Senior was paranoid, and this was one of the first signs of his mental degeneration.

Either way, Hatcher was a constant presence in the life of Kent Hawks. At first he had been wary about the laconic hulk, but in time he found him to be a useful tool. Intimidating enough to get rid of any problems, and obedient enough to take care of the rest. In this instance, that meant a good cup of coffee.

Kent took the cup, and had a good drink of the brew, taking in the caffeine it provided. The more awake he was, the less the headaches hit him.

“There’s a girl in my room,” Kent murmured. “You know what to do.”

Hatcher nodded. There had been many girls over many years. The younger Hawks had gained a reputation before being put into his lofty position, and since becoming king he hadn’t let up. He didn’t think he had to. The company knew the package they were getting and if they didn’t like it, then they’d have to deal with it.

Besides, in his short reign he’d already made several deals to prove himself as a valuable commodity. The old heads on the board suggested he had inherited the ‘Hawks Charm’, a stupid superstition that claimed Kent, like his father, had the gift of the gab needed to secure top level contracts. Everyone from the Asians to the Yanks had fallen under his spell, and he’d made a lot of money for Hawks/Carpenter as a whole.

“Let’s hope you haven’t inherited anything else,” Alice Carpenter had once drolly quipped.

But right now Kent didn’t want to worry about Alice Carpenter and her dried up brand of business dogma. It was the beginning of a long week. There were agreements to tie up, people to schmooze and most of all, problems to sort out.

And one problem weighed heavier than most.

Kent almost fainted thinking about it, the pain in his head stabbing away and reminding him that it hadn’t gone quite yet. He told himself that more coffee would help, gulping down the current cup he had and pouring himself another. The more he drank, the easier it got to cope with. Out of all the drugs he had in his system, coffee was always the most effective.

As he let the pain subside, Hatcher appeared with the now clothed girl. She was even prettier outside the ruffled confines of the duvet, and she gave him a little wink and wave as Hatcher escorted her out. Kent thought she said something, but the sound was just white noise in a world full of it. It looked like she wanted him to call her, but that was never going to happen.

In truth, all she was to Kent was an object. A tool to be used and then discarded. It wasn’t because she was a woman, or even the sex, it was simply because she was a person. All the years of privilege had numbed Kent to the world around him, seeing human beings as nothing more than numbers and statistics in a world full of instruments. This depersonalisation had worried some execs when he had been appointed, but he passed a psych exam with flying colours.

Mostly because he knew exactly what to say.

It was a better world for him anyway. No emotion, no concern. Just the cold, hard reality of people and their uses. This wasn’t a world for sentiment any more, this was a world to get things done. And nobody got them done better than Kent Hawks.

When Hatcher returned, Kent mumbled something about breakfast and before he knew it, Hatcher was at work producing some over-stylized collection of fruits and proteins. Kent didn’t care though, taste having long gone from his tongue. Instead, he poured himself another coffee and went to get dressed.

His week was starting with a bang, with a meeting with the board.

And his favourite cunt, Alice Carpenter.

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