June 22, 2006
So there we were, sitting in an undesirable corner of Crystal Hall, the school cafeteria, relaxing after our final finals with some really fine food. Our little outcast group of socially undesirable misfits of the devisor subcategory. At least none of us were in traction after this year's combat finals.
"Man," Understudy moaned out loud after a bite of apple pie that left a crumbly trail down his no-longer-white labcoat, "I am so going to miss having food this great. It was bad enough on the summers, but now I don't have anything to look forward to. My mom can't cook worth shit, and if you try to gently nudge her about it, she goes after you with a frying pan. Dad lives on big Macs, and I don't know how I'm going to survive."
"You're joking, right?" Goggles goggled at him.
"Why would I be joking about it?" Understudy looked puzzled.
"She means, don't you have an autochef?" it was Decker, peeking up from his wristcomp.
"Yeah, I mean, doesn't everyone? What have you been doing with yourself, the last four years?" I asked, genuinely confused. "If you don't, haven't made some money? Enough for decent meals, at least?"
"Not everyone in Workshop came out fat and happy," Porcupine sneered at me. "Still," the prickly fellow conceded, "I mean, you really don't have an autochef? Didn't you go through Household Support Mechanisms? Doctor Greys is an absolute genius. Damn, the universal remote solution..."
"The superpaint TV..."
"The couch massager..."
"The bug hunter..."
"Hey, remember what Hydroflux came up with? Man..."
"Don't forget the instant clean-dry-iron-fold machine, I mean, wow!"
"Man's got a point, that one was serious stuff. Pity she couldn't turn it into a gadget smaller than a truck."
"Yeah, I could totally use something like that."
"Guys, gals, come on!" Understudy shouted, attracting a number of unfriendly eyes from nearby tables. There was only one gal sitting with us, but no one quibbled. Goggles was still put out about having to join our little group, really sensitive, and her auto-targeting system was very nasty. Never mind the payloads. "Ahem," he lowered his voice, "Are you telling me that all of you have an autochef? Really? You just program in recipes, and that's it?"
"Well, mine is about microwave sized, with an intake tube, but it doesn't get recipes, you need to feed it a sample of the dish. Then it gives you a really exact list of ingredients, and it can reproduce a reasonable facsimile."
"Hey! No jokes about my name," Fax groused.
"Hmm? No, it wasn't a joke. Well, not this time," I conceded. Really, Facsimile? What a stupid codename. Letting everyone know you're a shifter? The kind of mutant nobody trusts? Even telepaths have a better rep.
"Okay, that's enough grousing about food and shit like that. In and out, it's just fuel," Dirk interrupted. "So what's everyone going to do now? I mean, we exchanged contact addies, but maybe we can work together on something, or help with ideas? I mean, I could use some help. I've got some money, but not the big kind, and I'm not real eager for college and four more years of shit-study, not to mention dealing with baseline morons. I thought about marketing the stuff I make online, but not much beyond that."
"Well, I've got a company making lenses, contacts, armored glass and shit like that. With my devises, the costs are significantly reduced," Goggles put in her two cents. "If you need marketing, talk to the Hutt. Yes, I know he's disgusting," she cuts through the groans, "but he's professional about business, and he knows his stuff. If you wanna shop your stuff out, talk to him."
"I'll do that," Dirk nodded, obviously unhappy and concerned about bargaining with our dearly disrespected classmate.
"It'll be fine, Dirk. We've got your back, and Hutt ain't gonna mess with a gadgeteer. In Whateley, we may squishy and unimportant, but out there, we rule. Don't let the Alphas or the Future Superhero crowd shape your view of the world. Tech is everything, and we rule tech. Hey, just look at who the Syndicate big shots are. Amos Mazing, Dr. Thunder, and I could go on," Commlash whacked his roommate on the shoulder.
"Thanks for the pep talk," Dirk winced.
"So, guys, what are the rest of you planning? Hash, Comm, Crane, Fax, Decker, Perky? We already know Understudy needs some help planning his future," Goggles giggled.
"I've got a large server farm going, I'm gonna capture more of that biz. Efficient storage, faster Internet connection, better buffers and... , well, lots more. Commlash Solutions Inc."
"Mmmm? Oh, the future," Decker nodded. "I've got some biz from stock exchanges and the FBI, on detecting and blocking mutant type transactions. That'll take a while. After that, I figure I'll take on some other interesting project."
"Hadn't figured on you working for the MCO," Porcupine remarked, as snide as ever. Nobody picked up on that nasty little barb, but personally, I found myself in agreement with the Pork, for once. Not that Decker was going to get anywhere without magic. With everyone looking at him, Perky squirmed in his chair, "Ah, I've got a five-year deal with the CIA and the Army, making them devises. Should set me up for life, plenty of spare time to cook up things to sell. I think I'll go with you, talk to the Hutt," he nodded at Dirk. "And you, Hash?"
"I'm doing very well, financially," Hash smiled, displaying teeth that desperately need some orthodontal work. "Everyone's looking for protection from EMP, disruptors, stuff like that. My kits are selling like hotdogs, the good stuff. I've got patents, and I'm in the MOD procurement pipeline. It'll be a while, but it's gold. Figure I'll be able to retire in six to ten years."
"And now we come to our one retiree," Fax pointed at me with a fork. "So, little birdy, what are you gonna do?"
I rolled my eyes at him, and replied, unfortunately very truthfully, "Not much. I've got magic to practice - getting better with that is a lifetime's study. I've designed a home, but I'm not even sure where I want to put it."
"Huh!" Understudy snorted. "Given his tastes in literature, Crane's gonna open a chain of whorehouses," he started laughing at his own joke.
"Bah," Fax waved a hand at him dismissively. "Don't be stupid, Crane can't get ten minutes with an attractive woman. No way he can run a whorehouse. Maybe use one," he rubbed a couple of fingers in the classic 'cash' sign.
"Oh really? And just how much would you bet on it?" I spat out venomously. A couple of Exemplar bitches had tried to use me as their golden ticket last year, while laughing it up behind my back, and I was still totally pissed off with female-kind.
"Ten million," Fax adopted a hoity-toity upper class British accent. He was no Siren, but he'd perfected accents and mimicking.
"You don't have ten million dollars to bet," it was my turn to be snide. "Wanna bet something else?" I gave him my very best supervillain smile.
"Oh? What? Anyway, how do you know how much money I have?"
"That's a trade secret. As for the bet, I get six months from the day we leave, not inclusive, and if I win, you work for me. On your back. For five years. That's two million a year, probably more than you can make and keep, even dishonestly. A win for me means at least ten whores who work out of a building I own. So, are you in?"
"Are you really gonna do it?" Goggles looked at me. I wasn't sure if she was disappointed, disapproving, grossed out, or clinically interested. Those goggles made her really difficult to read, and my voice-wave analyzer and posture slash body-language reader had no conclusive analysis to offer. Fucking useless devises.
"Why not? It's not as if I have something special in mind. First visit's free for you, after that half price," I offered her generously. "Well, Fax? Do we have a bet, or are you afraid? Not so certain of your own judgment when push comes to shove, are you now?" I taunted, and pushed a bit of essence into a rune that flared and faded away, a little trick I kept up my sleeve (literally) for tricky negotiations with the profane. The "Hasty Unfavorable Decision" nudge. Magic is my really big edge against people who see just another devisor.
"Oh, yeah?" he flared at me. "You know what, you're on," he stretched his hand out across the table, shaking mine a bit forcefully. The flare of magic was visible.
"What the fuck did you do?" Dirk demanded.
"Well, I just laid in a not so little penalty for dodging the bet," I shrugged as everyone looked at me, eyes wide. "We have ourselves a Sorcerer's Contract. I take it none of you took the introductory magic course? Well, the results of breaking a magical contract is a severe backlash of fortune. Seriously bad luck, the killing or life destroying sort. The kinda curse no sane person wants to face. Speaking of which," I took out my phone, and started typing. "There, just put away ten million in a closed fund, just in case something happens to the rest of my money. If I don't break the account in the next seven months, Fax gets it all."
"So," Hash broke the frozen silence, "I'll put up fifty big ones on Crane. Anyone?" he looked around, finding no takers.
"Fuck you!" Fax spat out at me and rose to his feet, growing larger. Not that much larger, and it was a good thing his clothes were designed for his shifting limits, but it was still an impressive seven foot looming presence. In his default shape, Fax is a ruddy cheeked, Germanic looking blond guy of above average looks, with grayish-green eyes. In his tiny giant superhero form, he's got Exemplar good looks and serious muscles, real muscles at that.
It wasn't remotely intimidating, not for Whateley.
"No, darling. I think I'll be the one doing the fucking," I grinned, and waved as he stomped off.
"You might wanna read that 'Making Friends and Gathering Influence' book again," Comm suggested drily.
"He's been pissing me off since forever," I shrugged. "Besides, now I have a mission!" I tried to copy Megadeath's Diedricks-inspired voice and mad laugh, with limited success. "Anywise, besides Fax, who's gonna spend five years as a prostitute, we still have Understudy. I take it you have no idea? Not many options?"
"Ahem, yeah," he was obviously embarrassed about that, but four years' experience in being embarrassed stood him in good stead. He no longer blushed or stammered.
"So, what advice and help can we offer our good friend?" I asked with fulsome joviality.
It proved to be a good distraction, everyone drawn in for an acrimonious discussion.
Oh, Dear Lord in Heaven, how the fuck does one go about buying or setting up a whorehouse?