CHAPTER 27: Frank and Charlotte

"Frank, what are you doing down here?" Charlotte queried with a look concern.

Frank Weaver was seated on the sofa in the family room of his five-bedroom promenade floor home in the Starship Berenberg. The wall monitor, across from the sofa, dimly illuminated room. A newscast was airing on the monitor, but there was no sound. Captions of what was being said traced across the bottom of the screen. A concerned Charlotte noted Frank's blank stare and his minimal interest in what was being broadcast.

"I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep," Frank mumbled in response while staring at the monitor.

"Aw, you should have wakened me," Charlotte sighed as she cuddled next to Frank.

"I didn't want to do that," Frank returned with a slight shake of his head.

"Did anything happen?" a concerned Charlotte questioned.

"No," Frank returned with melancholy.

Charlotte's question was about the periodic Radstar data dumps from the Sol System. She surmised that Frank had been watching the news for a report from either of the war-machine commanders in the Sol System. Frank's depression started early yesterday afternoon when ADM McCall's report to his employers was broadcast to the public. The Sol System transmission was relayed through the recently established Radstar Communication Network. In the message, ADM McCall reported the destruction of Basestar Goliath. Frank went into a sullen dread when he heard that report. From that moment on, his disposition was in a steady decline. Charlotte's best efforts were unsuccessful in raising his spirits, but failure was not enough to prevent her from trying again.

"Babe, you heard the report," Charlotte exclaimed with enthusiasm. "The DPG got clobbered. They lost half their starfighters. They're going to lose."

"You don't know that," Frank countered.

"And you don't know that they won't," Charlotte challenged sternly. "Stop hurting yourself," she softened. "When you're sad it makes me sad."

"So, this is about you?" Frank returned, annoyed.

"No. I didn't mean it that way," Charlotte continued. "Frank, come on, it's going to be okay. I promise. I can feel it."

"We should have made some battlestars," Frank grumbled to himself. "I knew we should have made some battlestars."

In ADM McCall's report on the destruction of Basestar Goliath and the size of the WDF02 War-Machine that was still in place, he also announced his losses. At the urging of the casinos, this information was also given to the public. The hope was that it would encourage more betting; and it did. The odds against DPG09 went down by a quarter, but they continued to stay in WDF02's favor. The information about DPG09 losses gave some consolation to most WDF02 investors, but it gave none to Frank Weaver. He had further to fall than they. The other stockholders invested what they could afford, Frank was gambling with all he had.

Eight hours after their early morning conversation, Frank and Charlotte were dressed and leaving out through the front door of their home. Since the deployment of the DPG09 War-Machine and the Radstar Communication Network, it was normal for Frank and Charlotte to spend their afternoons and evenings out of the house. Frank's work ended when the WDF02 War-Machine left the Sol System. The free time this created gave Frank and Charlotte the luxury of doing whatever they wanted or nothing at all. The deployment of the Radstar connection between BX01's Casinos and the Sol System made the gambling houses of Starship Warburg the most popular places to be in the starcorp.

The Warburg Majestic Casino was near to its capacity of patrons when Frank and Charlotte arrived arm-in-arm. Frank was attired in his usual sharply tailored tuxedo with an artsy pattern print on the jacket. His hair was cut and groomed to perfection. Charlotte was adorned with a sleeveless, triangle bodice, spaghetti strapped, backless, floor length, light blue gown with a flared skirt. Her jewelry consisted of a modest pair of stud diamond earrings, a diamond ring and a diamond string bracelet. Her hair was expertly coiffed, and her smile was the most stunning feature she had on display.

Moving through the main room of the Majestic Casino was slow going for Frank and Charlotte because of their popularity more than the anything else. They were repeatedly stopped by greetings, questions and small talk by people they knew, and some did not. Frank Weaver was the most famous person in all the starcorps. Nearly everyone in the casino wanted to shake his hand. He rebuffed a dozen lunch invitations on his way to the Regal Dining Room at the far side of the main gambling floor. Frank and Charlotte routinely lunched here while at the Majestic.

Frank's main purpose for coming to the Majestic were the news monitors. The casino's sportsbook department was constantly seeking, collecting and displaying news about the war between Starcorps DPG09 and WDF02. From the Regal Room, Frank could monitor the news coming in from a dozen different video screens situated along the walls and attached to the ceilings. The vantage point provided by the Regal Dining did not go unnoticed by numerous people of wealth and power. Frank and Charlotte often found themselves sharing their table with people of wealth and renown. The Majestic Casino's Regal Room became the meeting place for wealthy investors and gamblers who wagered heavily on the outcome of this war.

Today, the Regal Room was filled to capacity. Every table was reserved for its present and for future occupants over the next ten days. The excitement generated by the destruction of Basestar Goliath had all the inhabitants of BX01 anxiously awaiting the next update from the Sol System. The patrons of the Majestic Casino were there for the added entertainment of seeing the faces and behaviors of the winners and losers.

Frank and Charlotte had taken seats at their usual table inside the Regal Room. They were waiting on their lunches and began consuming cocktails when Ryan DeWitt arrived. Ryan went to his usual table on the far side of the room. He and Frank exchanged glances and nods. Ryan included a sly smile with his gesture. He was accompanied by one of his seven male consorts, Michael Hardwick. They were both elegantly attired and Michael's appearance had a decidedly effeminate flare. They walked into the Regal Room arm-in-arm. Michael was attended to by Ryan like any cherished female consort. Brian Hayes, and his consort, Adele Marsan, frequently shared a table with Ryan for these outings.

There were many more DPG09 and WDF02 Directors present today—far more so than usual. WDF02 Director Ronald Dryer and his consort, Tonya Richardson, joined Frank and Charlotte a few minutes after them. Other WDF02 Directors present were Marvin Purell, George Felton, Peter Karrenbauer and Joel Bobrov. They too were accompanied by their consorts. These gatherings in the Regal Room were social by design, but the mindset was all business. Radstar provided three data dumps daily. Everyone was expecting the second data dump within the next two hours.

After about an hour, Charlotte left the table to mingle with friends on the main casino floor. Ronald and Tonya did the same a few minutes later. Frank contented himself with the play of Keno through the tabletop computer interface while occasionally sipping on his Whiskey Sour. Waiting for news from the Sol System would not allow him to engage in any of the social practices that he generally enjoyed. Twenty minutes after Charlotte's departure, Frank's losses were twelve times his winnings, his Whiskey Sour was melted ice and Ryan DeWitt was rejoicing at the news someone was giving him through his commlink.

"Yes! Yes! Send it to them," Ryan insisted in a jubilant voice.

A dozen pair of eyes in the Regal Room turned toward Ryan in response to his joyful laughter. They watched as he ended his call and wound his commlink wand around his wrist with a wide smile on his face.

"What is it? What happened?" Michael queried.

Ryan DeWitt gave no answer other than a broad smile that stopped at the border to a grin. After a short stare into the eyes of his consort, he took his face into his hands and gave him a strong kiss on the lips. Ryan then pushed him away and stood up. The chatter of multiple conversations came to a stop as all attentions fixed on Ryan. His statuesque stance and his stare across the room had most believing he was about to say something. Frank knew that his stare was a message to him, and it terrified him.

After several seconds of silence among the Regal Room occupants, the music video on the monitors suddenly switched to a live newscaster. A large caption at the bottom of the screen displayed the words BREAKING NEWS. The newscaster cleared his throat, looked up into the camera and began to speak.

"We have breaking news out of the Sol System. The executive office of Starcorp DPG09 has sent us the video message they received from Admiral McCall, commander of their war-machine deployed to the system. We are just now getting this, so we will be viewing it for the first time with you."

After this statement, the image on the screen changed to the video recording of ADM McCall speaking from his Basestar Orion space capsule's escape pod.

"This is a status report to the Starcorp DPG09 Board of Directors from Admiral Kenneth McCall Commanding Officer of the DPG09 War-Machine deployed to the Sol System. Be advised, WDF02 Basestar Colossus, the last enemy capital spaceship of war in the star system, has been destroyed. At present, we are scouring the vicinity for a sizeable number of enemy starfighters, but we anticipate the surrender of all active enemy spacecraft within the next 10 to 15 hours. Basestar Orion is intact and undamaged. Starfighter and battlestar losses are high. These losses and the continued presence of active enemy starfighters notwithstanding, be advised, Starcorp War-Machine DPG09 has achieved its assigned objective. The WDF02 War-Machine has been eliminated. The Sol Star System is now under Starcorp DPG09 control. Additional reports will be sent as events here evolve. I await your orders on how to proceed with regards to the Sol System Union. This is Admiral Kenneth McCall, out."

An assortment of applauses, cheers, screams and howls erupted throughout the Regal Room and casino floor. Frank was devastated by this report. For the first time in his life, he felt a pronounced sensation of fear. He was stunned into silence. From across the room Ryan DeWitt watched Frank with a smug look of satisfaction. For Ryan, this moment was the crowning achievement of his life. For Frank, it was the single greatest anguished of his existence.

A minute into this celebratory commotion, Frank stood up and began a slow walk for the casino exit. His movement went unnoticed by most of the patrons. They were either elated by their winnings or despondent by their losses. The patrons who did see him thought it better not to intrude on his thoughts. It took Frank a few minutes to reach the front exit of the Majestic Casino. He saw more cheering and excitement in the less congested promenade of the Starship Warburg. At a bewildered pace, he made his way to a transit portal and inserted himself into the first available transport pod. He took the pod to the Warburg docking bay and boarded the next shuttle going out to Starship Berenberg. During his travel, Frank said as little as needed with anyone he had to deal with and nothing to everyone else. Twelve minutes later, he disembarked from the shuttle and made his way to the suite of offices he maintained on the 74th floor in one of Berenberg's six central towers.

It was normal for Frank's suite of offices to be locked and empty. His lease was only three months old. Personnel had yet to be hired. Frank's financial investment plans had yet to be developed. This center tower office was Frank's future. This was where he was to become a super wealthy investor and entrepreneur. This was the location where he would run his business empire. This was the dream he now had to give up.

Frank spent the remainder of the afternoon looking out over Berenberg's promenade floor. He watched the distant specks of people move about far below him and mused about their lives. He watched the overhead promenade lights dim to evening dusk. He ignored more than a dozen incoming calls while ruminating about his future. Most of the calls were coming from Charlotte, but Frank was in no hurry to entertain that conversations. He was eight hours into his brood over what could have been when that conversation came to him.

"Frank, are you okay?" Charlotte questioned as she walked into the office.

The large office was mostly empty. A large desk with an equally impressive chair behind it was the only furniture in the room. When Charlotte entered the office, the back of the chair was facing the desk. There were no decorations for the walls and floor, no freestanding lamps and all the built-in lighting fixtures were off. The lighting in the office was dimmed even more by the artificially produced moonlit night created for the promenade. Frank was seated in the chair behind the desk facing the ceiling-to-floor window that provided a view of the Berenberg Promenade. He swiveled his chair a quarter of the way around to the left so that he could look at Charlotte.

"I'm fine," Frank softly responded to Charlotte's question.

Charlotte walked into the middle of the office and stopped to look around at the vacant room. She took a moment longer to note the silence.

"What are you doing?" Charlotte asked with worry.

"Not now, Charlotte," Frank dismissed with a shake of his head. "I don't feel like talking."

"You can't just sit here," Charlotte quickly disputed as she moved toward Frank.

Charlotte walked around the large desk and gently spoke to Frank. "Come home."

"I don't have a home," Frank insisted. "I don't have anything."

Charlotte knew that Frank was speaking of his financial losses and how that would cost him his promenade floor home. She knew how much he cherished all the things he had accumulated as a result of his WDF02 Starcorp success. And because she knew Frank, she understood how painful this loss was to him.

"This is just a set back," Charlotte declared with an optimistic flare. "You'll find something else. You always do."

"No!" Frank countered with vehemence. "This was my chance. There will never be another opportunity like this for me. It's gone."

Charlotte held her poise against Frank's forceful expression. She knew he was hurting, and that he would not hurt her. She wanted to help him. She wanted to say something ease his pain. After a moment of thought, she found her words and began to speak.

"Yes, you will, Frank. I know you. Selling and making deals is what you do. Trust me, you'll be back on your feet in no time."

Frank's pain was not eased by her words. He knew Charlotte did not understand the extent of his loss. In his mind she was naïve about business and did not understand he had borrowed against anticipated future earnings to create the life they had been living for the past two years. He suspected she did not understand bankruptcy would likely be a part of his near future. He gave his thought a snicker and a shake of his head.

"Don't you get it?" Frank asked in a soft voice. "I'm over my head in debt. I'm going to have to sell everything to pay off my loans. It's all gone."

"Okay, its all gone," Charlotte decried. "But it's not the end of you."

"Just go away, Charlotte," Frank returned with a dejectedly. "Let me have this time to…"

"No," Charlotte interrupted with insistence. "I don't want to leave you here alone. You need to come home."

"I don't have a home!" Frank argued. "It's all gone!"

"They're just things," Charlotte returned in frustration. "They don't matter. You're still you. I'm still me. We'll deal with tomorrow when it comes."

Frank had no reply. He bowed his head down and shook it in despair. Charlotte took a moment to note the depth of his anguish and then went down on her knees in front of him so that her head was on the same level as his and inches away.

"Come home with me, Frank," Charlotte softly pleaded.

Frank turned his face up and looked into Charlotte's eyes with a mournful expression. He gave her a hint of a smile and shook his head slightly.

"I can't afford you anymore."

Charlotte smiled in response, and then she cupped Frank's face between her hands.

"Aw Frank," Charlotte returned with an affectionate stare. "You couldn't afford me when we were living in HL02."

Frank noted the sincerity in Charlotte's eyes and voice. Despite an effort to contain it, he released a quick chortle. Charlotte responded with a brief grin followed by a wide smile. She then leaned forward and placed a kiss to Frank's lips. A swell of affection rose up within Frank and he leaned forward for a second kiss. Charlotte extended her arms out and around Frank's neck and pulled him deeper into the kiss. Moments into this kiss, Frank took Charlotte's waist into his hands and pulled her up off her knees. Still locked in their embrace, Charlotte climbed up into Frank's lap as they continued to kiss.