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199 The difference between a Demon and a lawyer...

 Zoe waited while Dave followed her advice and rushed back up to his hotel room to change into his only suit; and this time he remembered to put on real shoes. They took off for the airport in the Lambo and Dave was too distracted by the recent events to care about Zoe's driving.

After parking in the airport garage, Zoe called her uncle to tell him they'd arrived. She spoke with him briefly then hung up.

"He's waiting for us in the jet."

She led Dave through the airport confidently, going through the TSA security checkpoint and finally through a doorway to the outside. An electric cart was waiting for them, the driver tipped his cap to Zoe and told them to hold on before he stomped down on the accelerator.

They zipped across the tarmac past dozens of small jets of various makes and markings. Dave even saw a jet with the Conquest company logo painted prominently across its fuselage and tail. There was a flurry of activity and equipment around it, including a truck for refueling, but they whipped right past the Conquest jet. Dave tapped Zoe on the shoulder and pointed back at the jet questioningly. She shook her head and said something that got blown to incomprehensibility by the wind.

Then they entered an open hanger and came to a forward-leaning stop right next to a twin engined jet. Zoe explained what was happening as they got out of the cart and walked up the unfolded stairs into the business jet.

"Uncle doesn't want to depend on the opposing side for transportation. Plus, they will be off balance if they don't know when we arrive." Shrugging, she added, "No one was using the G-nine today, so it worked out fine."

'They have a Gulfstream-IX! Like it's the family car.'

Dave reminded his jaw to stay closed as they entered the ultra luxurious interior of the business jet. They walked the plush carpeting toward the rear, past high tech toys and lustrously polished wooden furnishings. Samuel Silvana was sitting in a leather recliner. He was wearing a pair of AR specs, but greeted them courteously.

"Did you bring the hard drives?" he asked, holding out his hand for them.

"I did."

Dave handed the two metal cases to the lawyer who put one next to him and the other into his briefcase.

"Good, one comes with us to the meeting, and the second goes in the security box here on the plane. Is that acceptable to you, Dave?

"Yes, sir."

"Good. I still have some preparation left to do. You two enjoy the flight." He pressed a button and spoke, "You can take off when you are ready, captain."

A voice replied over the a speaker as the engines started spooling up with a whine, "Will do, sir. Wheels up in about fifteen minutes. ETA fifty minutes after takeoff."

"Understood. Thank you, captain."

The Demon Barrister leaned back in his seat, his attention turned completely to whatever he was doing within the augmented-reality field of his glasses. Occasionally he murmured or gestured with his hand, giving commands or manipulating objects in AR.

Zoe led Dave to the two recliners farthest from her uncle.

"I'll give you a tour after we take off. Uncle has to get ready, he's in a shared space with his legal team, they're helping him prep for the meeting." She giggled, "Uncle speed-reads and has an almost perfect memory. It's not why he's the best, but it sure helps."

It was the first time he'd been in an airplane, and it was an amazing experience. There was even an ice cream bar that they took full advantage of, Zoe said it had been installed at her insistence when she was younger. He thought his discomfort with heights would make looking out the windows a Bad Thing. But it wasn't at all. Zoe said there was no reference like when he looked down the side of a building or cliff, so his brain didn't realize how high they were.

The flight was smooth and it seemed like no time at all before the captain gave them warning to buckle up for the landing.

They debarked to a waiting limo.

"I called the company to let them know we would be there in twenty minutes for the meeting. I didn't want to surprise them completely, that would just be unfair," Samuel chuckled evilly as they settled into the plush leather seats.

They drove to the middle of the city and when they arrived at the modern glass fronted building with the Conquest logo blazoned across it there was a group of four creative types waiting for them in the lobby. At least that's what dave thought because they were dressed more hipster-chic than corporate drone. A slim older gentleman with graying temples and a goatee approached them briskly with outstretched hand.

"You're Mr. Skeletal...? We spoke on the phone, I'm Emile Kada. Welcome to Conquest headquarters. I'm sorry, I didn't get your real name in all the excitement."

"I'm Mr. Skeletal, Dave Ruster."

"I'm his lawyer, Samuel."

Kada frowned slightly but shook hands with Zoe's uncle.

"And I'm his girlfriend!" Zoe jumped in. Then she blushed and ducked her head.

Dave's eyebrows went wayyyy up.

'When the hell did that happen, and why wasn't I informed?'

"Okay, follow me, we have a conference room set up where we'll join the rest of the folks."

Kada chatted amiably as they went up in the elevator, when they got to the conference room they found the missing corporate suits. Dave didn't know about minnows, these guys, both the men and the women, looked more like greedy sharks to him. Wearing the latest slimline bluetoothed AR specs, they all had blank expressionless eyes and smiles that were just brief shows of teeth. It was a very intimidating group people, Dave was suddenly very grateful that Zoe had insisted her uncle accompany him. Having her and Samuel with him was a huge confidence booster. Facing this pack of big-shots alone would have been a disaster, he wouldn't have known the first thing to say or do.

After all the introductions were made and everyone was seated Kada got straight to business.

"Now, if you'll give us the hard drive for our engineers to examine, we can start by having you tell us what happened in the game during your last session," he requested.

Dave opened his mouth to speak, but Samuel put a hand on his arm to stop him and answered Kada with an easy smile.

"I thought I was clear about why I'm here. I am Mr. Ruster's legal representative, if you want to discuss business with my client you need to explain through me."

"I see. We simply need to look at the files in Mr. Ruster's hard drive and hear from him the details of what happened in the game."

The corporate sharks stirred unhappily at the developer's phrasing. But Samuel sat back lazily in the leather executive chair, and smiled.

"I see. That is most puzzling. You have the original server-side records of my client's user files and presumably at least one secure backup, as any responsible tech based company would. Hence you should be able to see and hear everything that my client experienced in your company's virtual reality game, and much more besides. So I have to wonder, why are you interested in the contents of my client's hard drive and why do you need him to tell you what happened in the game?"

One of the shark-minnows, who'd been introduced as vice president of legal, spoke up.

"Who are you? I handle the legal matters for this company, I've been practicing for fifteen years and I've never heard of you. What kind of legal representative are you?"

Zoe's uncle looked at the suit with a feral grin, like a predator eyeing prey that had just made a fatal mistake.

"Oh my, how embarrassing for you. Isn't your legal team listening to this meeting, doing your due diligence? I already told you my name. I'll state it again and add some information to narrow the search down for them. I'm Samuel Silvana, I'm a criminal trial lawyer for the state of New York, some people refer to me a bit dramatically as The Demon Barrister.

The other side of the table paled, and the legal VP muttered angrily at his bluetooth, then looked up.

"You're a criminal trial attorney, this is outside your expertise, Mr. Silvana."

"Well, I like to think I am an expert in more than just criminal law, including human nature," Samuel added pointedly.

"What does that mean?"

Samuel looked across the table at each member, like a disappointed parent at misbehaving children who'd been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They all looked back calmly or defiantly, but Mr. Kada had the decency to look embarrassed.

"Come now, you know very well what I mean. A first-year law student would tear you apart for what you are trying to pull. Imagine how much worse I would do. So let's just lay our cards out on the table, shall we?

"I'll tell you what I and my team have inferred from your actions with a bit of research.

"Something happened that destroyed or prevents your access to the server recordings of the events that precipitated the expulsion of my client from your virtual reality game, Conquest."

The suited-sharks stirred uncomfortably at this revelation, and the VP of legal went red in the face.

"That is ridiculous! You're making things up, pure supposition, smoke and mirrors!"

Samuel waggled a finger at the lawyer and continued, "You are trying to find out what happened in the game from my client's hard drive. Rather under-handedly I might add. The terms of service contract state that your company has the right to examine the contents of a user's equipment for malware or foreign code. But the wording specifically grants ownership of the contents to the user, not your company. Understandable because your company would normally just use the original copies of the files if there were a need or desire to see them. Who would have thought that secure servers with multiple backups would be LESS safe than a simple removable hard drive?

"You have the right, of course, to check the hard drive for malware or 'hacks,' but we all know my client did nothing wrong, there were no corrupted files, no misuse of software, or addition of 'hacks' and other malicious code. And while the 24 hour ban is arguably legal, I suspect the ban was kept in effect solely to intimidate and manipulate my client into giving up the rights to his property, without fully informing him of the situation or compensating him. Although none of what was done was strictly illegal, it was quite unethical in my opinion."

"You can't prove any of that! And if you make any such specious claims in public, we will SUE your client into the poorhouse!" The corporate lawyer was sweating, almost yelling across the table at the smug visage of Samuel Silvana.

Samuel snorted, "Yes, you've performed so admirably as a legal-ace up to this point. Although I think it would be fun to take you to school, taking this dispute to a civil trial would simply be a waste of everyone's time.

"Allow me to clarify for everyone in the room why we are here. My client has no interest in harming your company's reputation or its bottom line, quite the opposite. But he will not allow himself to be taken advantage of, or accept blame for things he did not do, nor is he willing to let his livelihood or the fruits of his labor suffer due to incompetence or negligence."

Several faces around the table flushed at the last comment.

Samuel opened his briefcase and removed several copies of a document and pushed them across the table to the suits.

"I have spoken to the legal department of CCN, a media company that has a binding, registered contract with my client to broadcast his in-game footage from Conquest under his character's nickname 'Mr. Skeletal.'"

"WHAT?! You-"

Samuel held a hand up and continued.

"The broadcasts to date have been record-breaking successes. By contract law CCN's rights to Mr. Ruster's video files clearly supersede anyone else's, including your company.

"The executives and board members of CCN and I have spoken with expressed willingness to go to court to enforce those rights. My point is, if you think you can waste my client's time and money long enough to make this all go away, you should reconsider.

"I will also add that my legal services to Mr. Ruster and CCN with respect to a lawsuit in this matter would be contingent on a percentage of the settlement, not a per diem basis. Which means I would be highly motivated to see any lawsuit to the end and ensure your company pays a settlement large enough to compensate me very well for my valuable time."

The Demon Barrister smiled, showing his very shiny, very white teeth to the suddenly pale corporate faces across the table.

Strangely, Mr. Kada was looking down at the table and shaking, if Dave didn't know better he would think the developer of Conquest's undead expansion and the Legion was laughing at the corporate minnows.