Nothing Short of Perfect

By: Day Leclaire

Prologue




“Can you hear me, sir? Can you tell us your name?”

Pain exploded all around him. His head. His arm. His chest. Something had happened to him, but he didn’t understand what. He sensed movement and heard a siren. What the hell? Was he in an ambulance?

“Sir? What’s your name?”

“St. John. Jus— Jus—” The words escaped, sounding slurred and tinny to his ears. For some reason he couldn’t coordinate tongue and mouth well enough to give his first name, forcing him to settle for the closest approximation. “Jus St. John. What…?”

The man seemed to understand the simple question. “You were in a car accident, Mr. St. John. I’m a paramedic. We’re transporting you to the hospital where they’ll treat your injuries.”

“Wait,” someone else said. A woman this time. Soothing voice. “Did he say St. John? Justice St. John? The Justice St. John.”

“You know this guy?”

“Heard of him. He’s some famous inventor. Robotics. Runs a company called Sinjin. A bit of a recluse. Worth billions.”

The man swore. “Which means if he doesn’t make it, guess who’s going to get blamed? We’d better call this in to the supervisor and alert her we have a VIP. She’ll want to get ahead of the media circus.”

Someone asked another question. Endless questions. Why the hell wouldn’t they leave him alone? “Do you have any allergies, Mr. St. John?” the voice persisted. Then louder, “Any medical conditions we should know about?”

“No. Can’t move.”

“We have you immobilized as a precaution, Mr. St. John.” The soothing voice again. “That’s why you can’t move.”

“BP is dropping. We need to get him stabilized. Mr. St. John, do you remember how the car accident occurred?”

Of course he remembered. An idiot driver was texting or yakking on a cell phone and lost control of the car. God, he hurt. Justice pried open one eye. His world appeared in a blur of color and movement. A harsh light struck him and he flinched from it.

“Stop it, damn you,” he growled. Okay, that came out better.

“Pupils reactive. IV’s in. Repeat vitals. Let the supervisor know we’re gonna need a neurologist, just to be on the safe side. Request Forrest. No point in taking any chances. Mr. St. John, can you hear me?”

Justice swore again. “Shouting. Stop shouting.”

“We’re taking you to Lost Valley Memorial Hospital. Is there someone we can contact for you?”

Pretorius. His uncle. An image flashed across Justice’s mind, of tawny St. John eyes set in a hound dog face and broad shoulders hunched over a computer keyboard. They could call his uncle. They’d need the phone number since it was unlisted and right now Justice couldn’t think of it through the roar of pain. He tried to explain the problem and found his tongue refused to twist around the words.

And then Justice realized that even if he could explain, Pretorius wouldn’t come. Oh, he’d want to, no question of that. He’d be desperate to. But like the impenetrable wall that prevented Justice from giving his rescuers the necessary phone number, an equally impenetrable wall prevented Pretorius from leaving their estate, his fear too great to overcome.

And that’s when it struck him. He had no one. No one who gave a damn on an intimate level whether he lived or died. No one who could take care of his uncle if he didn’t survive. No one to carry on his legacy or benefit from what he had to offer. How had it happened? Why had he allowed it to happen? When had he cut himself off so completely?

He’d lived in isolation these past years, keeping himself distant from emotional attachment, from the pain life had a habit of inflicting. And now he’d die alone and unmourned except by those who respected him in a professional capacity. He’d wanted to hold himself apart from the rest of the world, craved the solitude. Wanted desperately to just be left the hell alone. And he’d succeeded. But at what price? He could see it now, see so clearly how year after year, winter after winter, a fresh layer of ice had coated his heart and soul until now he didn’t think he’d ever be warm again.

Once upon a time he’d known springtime, had known the warmth of a summer day and the love of a woman. Woman? Hell, she’d been nothing more than a girl. A girl whose name he’d attempted to bury so deep in the recesses of his mind that it would vanish from his memory, and yet who had branded herself on the very fiber of his being. Daisy. She’d been the one who’d proved to him once and for all that emotions were an unnecessary evil. And now what was he? What had he allowed himself to become?

“Mr. St. John? Is there someone we should notify?”

“No.” He succumbed to the painful truth, allowing the blackness to carry him away. Allowing the painful memories to slip into some dark, nebulous place.

There was no one.





One




“What’s the status of your latest computer run?” Justice asked.

Pretorius grimaced, peering at the screen from behind the same black-rimmed computer glasses he’d owned for the past twenty years. “Based on the parameters you’ve given me, I’ve found half a dozen possibilities that score at eighty percent probability or higher.”

“Hell, is that all?”

“We’re lucky to have found even that many women considering your list of requirements. I mean, no one with black hair? What was with that?”

Justice grimaced. He had no intention of explaining any of his prerequisites, especially that one. “Well, if my choice is limited to six, then I’ll just have to make do.”

“Make do?” Pretorius swiveled his computer chair in a swift one-eighty, eyes the same unique shade of gold as Justice’s glittering in outrage. “Are you mad? You’re talking about the future Mrs. Sinjin, Incorporated here.”

Justice waved that aside. “Next issue. Are they a half dozen you can handle having here at the estate? There’s no way you can avoid running into them on occasion. It’s not like I can keep them locked up and out of sight. Something tells me they won’t agree to that particular condition.”

Pretorius shuddered. “Well, so long as it’s one at a time and not all of them together in a horde. Can’t handle a horde.” His chair drifted closer, the casters skating freely across the wooden floor. “Justice, are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“I’m positive.”

“It’s because of that car wreck, isn’t it? It caused more than memory glitches. It’s changed you. Changed your long-term goals. Changed how you look at the world.”

Justice retreated behind an icy facade, one that never failed to stop even the most pushy person dead in his tracks. Not that it intimidated his uncle. Damn it all. He’d do anything to avoid this conversation, perhaps because it sliced too close to the heart of the matter.

Without a word, he crossed the generous expanse of the computer room and picked up a silver sphere consisting of small interlocking sections, each one engraved with a mathematical symbol. It was one of his inventions, one he hadn’t released to the general public. He called it Rumi, short for ruminate, since he played with it whenever he needed to work through a problem—which was basically most of the time.

Maybe he should have called it Obs for obsessive.

Pretorius pushed off with the toe of his sneaker and sent his computer chair shooting back toward his endless bank of computers and monitors. “You can’t avoid the discussion, Justice. If you plan to go forward with your plan, I deserve the truth.”

“I know.” Justice’s fingers moved restlessly across Rumi’s surface, pushing and pulling the various sections until he’d transformed the sphere into a cylinder. Instead of smooth and flowing, it appeared jagged and disjointed, the symbols a chaotic jumble. These days the shapes were always a chaotic jumble. They’d been that way for over a year, a full six months before the accident.

He changed the topic, hoping it would distract his uncle. “Will all the women be at the symposium for Engineering into the Next Millennium?”

“Ridiculous title,” Pretorius muttered.

“Agreed. Stay on target. Will they be there?”

“I made sure of it. Two weren’t planning to attend, but I—” He hesitated. “Let’s just say I arranged for them to change their mind.”

Justice knew better than to request specifics. “Excellent.”

“Talk to me, boy. Why? Why are you doing this?”

Justice shook his head, not certain he could put it into words. He attempted to coax the cylinder into a double helix while struggling to give voice to the realization he’d made after his accident. How did he explain the nothingness that had become his life over the past few years? Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt any emotion, whether anger or happiness or something—anything—in between.

With each passing day his feelings, the drive to invent, even his ambition had slowly iced over. While each minute ticked relentlessly by, everything that made him a “normal”—and he used the word in its loosest possible context—living, breathing human eked away. Soon only a cold, hard shell of a man would remain. He tossed Rumi aside, frustrated by its refusal to assume a clean-cut functional shape.

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