I’ve finished The Ruby Project Book Two: Ascendant, and am brainstorming the next book in the series, Realization, which I expect to get started on this week. I already have a rough concept of the plot but am still working out the motivations of a character who just marched into the last part of Ascendant and announced that she has Major Information About The Plot. This is a little drabble around the opening of Realization which will not be in the book (it’s all from Ruby’s POV). Nonetheless, I realized very quickly that Donna Martiniere (aka Donna-gran, the dowager Martiniere matriarch) has an important role to play…so here she is.
THE CHOICES OF DONNA MARTINIERE
It’s a brilliant blue early autumn day with a cool wind blowing dry leaves across the vast expanse of lawn around the colonial-style house behind the tall iron fence with razor wire top and regular armed security patrols pacing the perimeter. Not that the old woman sitting in a wheelchair in her ground floor office pays any attention to the outdoors. She taps a stylus against her porcelain-coated teeth as she scans the comp projections in front of her. Occasionally she pulls up the loose-fitting and slippery old green and gold silk robe she wears over her blouse and slacks for additional warmth against a stubborn draft. It slides down her arms almost as quickly as she pulls it up, but it’s one of Louis’s last gifts.
At last Donna Martiniere shuts down the comp and spins her wheelchair to stare outside, though that is not where her thoughts are.
I am so, so old. She sighs with exasperation. And this news doesn’t make her feel any younger. She closes her eyes for a moment, exhaling deeply. For a moment this past summer she had hoped to be able to finally lay down her burden and rest. Her grandson Gabriel had reappeared from almost thirty-five years of exile, still desiring to repair the corruption within the family and its associated businesses. More than that, his wife Ruby was the sort of strong woman needed to pick up the threads of family responsibilities that Donna had managed for oh so many years. Her voice fit the tuning of mind control devices that Donna and Louis had created only to see their children abuse their purposes. Ruby—and Gabriel—had been Donna’s hope to steer the Martiniere Group away from the wrong paths that Louis and Donna’s sons Saul and Philip had chosen.
Granted, Gabriel showed a tendency to attack and then run rather than finish the job. Her fault. It was how he had survived Philip’s rages. She should have been the one to take in the boy when his family had been killed in a plane crash. But Donna hadn’t felt sufficiently confident to raise a difficult teenaged boy given her health issues at the time.
My mistake. My very, very great mistake.
If Gabriel had known thirty-five years ago that she shared his distaste for the human trafficking and manipulation of indentured workers that Philip was involved with, would he have gone into hiding?
We will never know.
And past poor choices couldn’t be changed. For better or worse, she had thrown her support quite publically to Gabriel just four weeks ago. Yes, the outbreak of the G9 virus left him disabled. But his reunion with Ruby gave Donna hope that Gabriel could stand up to Philip, with her substantial support. That Gabriel, Ruby, and their son Brandon could wrest the leadership of the family and their business from Philip’s grasp.
Gabriel’s first tangle with Philip and his cousin Javier ended in disaster. Infected with a G9 accelerant worse than his initial attack. Gambling on a fringe treatment that would restore him to full pre-G9 ability. Her reports tell her that his recovery progresses nicely. But she knows the price of that treatment. Risky. Dangerous. And when it fades….
Then a booster inoculation to protect Ruby against Gabriel’s future G9 flares backfired, leaving her sick in return, her degree of disability still unknown.
Which now presents Donna with the choices ahead of her. Gabriel and Ruby have set the chain of events into action that could achieve her goal at long last.
But do they have the health and strength to actually do it now?
Donna sighs. Turns back to her desk and unlocks a drawer. Pulls out a stiff leather case that looks like a hunter’s belt bullet carrier. Taps a combination into the lock before opening the flap to study the contents.
Instead of bullets, three vials nestled in the red velvet-lined case. Three remaining doses of the twenty left after Louis’s death. Donna has kept her husband’s secret safe, only sharing it with his brother Arthur when Arthur’s wife Nora fell ill. The serum works—somewhat—for Artie, but does nothing to help Nora any more.
Philip would kill her if he knew the vials existed. Pursuit of an anti-aging serum is but one of his goals. She has done her best over the years to keep the information from him.
The serum is far from perfect. It does not work consistently. The effects only last for five years. It can kill over time. There is a maximum tolerance and a final dose that allows for one last quick return to relative youth in her case, before a steep final decline. The lesson of Nora.
Her next dose will be her final one. Donna has held out resorting to this for many years, especially after experiencing the heart attack that may have been caused by a serum dose wearing off. Philip watches her too closely and she has not been ready to challenge him yet. For her to suddenly appear years younger, even middle-aged, will let him know that the secret was real.
And it is flawed. Dangerous. Expensive. Louis was right to keep it a secret, eliminating all traces of that particular line of research as anything other than dead ends. It hadn’t even been a good beauty treatment.
But it might give Gabriel and Ruby the strength they need to confront Philip successfully. Donna has reviewed all of Louis’s notes as well as everything available about cases like Ruby and Gabriel’s. She’s mostly confident that it will work.
Donna stares at the vials. At last she closes and secures the carrier, carefully placing it on her desk. She turns back and reactivates her comp. Hesitates before calling Justine, Philip’s daughter. How safe is the girl? She has joined Gabriel and Ruby’s side. Is providing logistical support for their work.
But she’s Philip’s daughter. How closely monitored is she?
At last Donna decides. Activates the screen.
“Donna-gran!” Justine smiles at her. “A pleasure to see you. But I’m kind of in the middle of things here—“
“I need one small favor from you,” Donna says. “I need to see Gabriel and Ruby. In person. At their private ranch.”
Caution tightens Justine’s face. “They would probably prefer to meet at Moondance. That is where Gabie prefers to do family business for—reasons.”
Moondance. Gabriel’s ranch, just as the Double R is Ruby’s. A beautiful location, but despite its excellent security, not the place where she wants to do this. No. The Double R, home of Ruby and Gabriel’s best laboratories, is where she needs to be. Where they produce top agricultural biobots. Private, isolated, and secure, in remote Northeastern Oregon’s Skene County. And, coincidentally, with access to excellent human cell studies. There she can safely monitor Gabriel and Ruby’s progress.
“It has to be the Double R,” Donna insists. “I have my own reasons.” Even though she’s handed over the authority of the Martiniere matriarch to Ruby, she still is able to project her own authoritative tones to compel Justine.
Justine chews her lip, worried, clearly torn between loyalties. At last older programming overrules newer programming.
“I’ll set it up, Donna-gran.” She scowls at Donna. “But I know damn good and well that you just used a compulsion on me. I hope whatever it is you want is worth it.”
She doesn’t like to see the anger in Justine’s eyes at being manipulated, the suddenly stiff, tense body that tells Donna that she has violated her granddaughter’s trust.
But necessity is a harsh mistress, and Donna Martiniere has stared necessity in the face too damn many times over her nearly one hundred years.
“I hope it is, too,” she says softly.
As always, it is a choice.