Arc 2, Expectations 4

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After a moment staring at me, Miss Perfect just said “Oh.” and smiled behind her mask.

I swallowed a lump in my throat.  “What you did today is not what an employee does; it’s what a friend does.  Right now, I’m being jerked this way and that, trying to figure out what is going on.  Trying to find a role that I can fit.”

She nodded. “I can see that, sir.  I’ve seen it before, with… him.” She snuffled a bit.

How do supers with masks deal with a runny nose?  That’s got to be terrible.

“My friends don’t call me sir.  Call me Zeke.”

“OK, Zeke.”

I really don’t want to hurt her, but I need to know more.

“MP, I’m going to go take my morning run now.  You are welcome to relax, however you like.  Use the computer here in the kitchen if you want.  It’s a pretty good machine, but the internet connection to the house here isn’t so great.  I’ve got a multiplexer in that splits requests between satellite, phone, and cell tower connections, but it’s still going to be terribly slow compared to what you have at the lab.  I’ll be back in about thirty minutes.  You are welcome to anything you find in the fridge or freezer.  If you want to just relax on a couch, that’s fine too.  All the furniture in this house is meant to be used, and should be fine to support you in that armor if you limit its strength to human.  If you want to just pull a chair into the pantry and relax for a few minutes, that’s fine too.”

I stood up, walked to the window of the dining room, lowered the blinds, and then twisted the rod to make it so the outdoors was no longer visible.

“Thanks, Mr. Collins.”

I thumped her loudly on her helmet with my index finger.  “Zeke.  No problem.  I’ll be back in thirty minutes or so.”

“Zeke.  Thanks Zeke.”

I closed the blinds in the kitchen and the living room.  I looked around in the living room.  It might be a little too big for her to be entirely comfortable in, but I couldn’t do anything about that right now.  She had her virtual reality thing in her helmet to help her.  I strongly suspected she would be spending at least a little time in the pantry.

The price tinkers pay for their gifts.

At least I can turn my power off and on.  Usually.

I walked out the front door, and started stretching.  I touched my nose.  Still a little numb.  I did the math in my head and I was probably carrying about two or three normal beers worth of alcohol inside me right now.  I didn’t want to run buzzed.  I might break an ankle on a root or something.

I wondered if shifting could remove poisons from my system.  Alcohol isn’t really a poison, but it does damage the body to some degree.  When I was a safe distance from the house, I shifted.

No minds in range.  Good.

I shifted back, and my nose was no longer numb when I touched it.

Good, it worked.

My whole body was a bit stiff, but that’s what stretching is for.  I did a few more stretches than normal to get limber, and then ran two miles.  A short run, but I had a guest recuperating in my house, and important things I needed to discuss with her.

Need to figure out how to turn the tracking band into a belt so I don’t have to wear a loincloth.

I took it easy on myself and stuck to eight-minute miles.  After two miles, I jogged to the barn, let myself in, brushed my teeth and organized clothes while waiting for the shower to get hot water, and finally grabbed a quickie three minute hot shower.

I felt alive again after the jog and the shower.  Still a twinge or two in the left arm and right abdomen, but not enough to even break my stride or distract me when running.  There was no visible scar tissue on the arm, which hopefully meant that the healing inside my abdomen wasn’t a big lump of scar tissue either.  I probably needed to get a doctor to check that out, just to be sure.

Too many people around most doctor’s offices.

Maybe a vet?

I snorted to myself.  I felt fine.  A big lump of internal scars would certainly be extremely painful after a run tried to push blood through and around it.

A house call.  Expensive but doable.  Later.

I had decided that I needed to start carrying some tools with me, so I grabbed a big pocketknife with a five inch heavy chopping blade on one side and a marlinspike on the other.  A screwdriver with a handle that contained lots of different blades that could be inserted into it as needed was a no-brainer. After a little more thought, I picked up a half-used roll of electrical tape and a tube of superglue, and then threw in a couple feet of insulated thin copper wire as well.  The fanny pack was not full, but I didn’t want it to be so full that I would drop half of what was in it to get anything else out.  My pants pockets were empty except key, wallet, and smartphone.  I left the silly canvas mask.

I had almost forgotten the loincloth and instruction manual, and had to go back up to the loft apartment and grab it.  I needed to start wearing the thing.

As a belt.  I draw the line at hunter-gatherer apparel.

I walked out of the barn wearing black jeans, a dark blue polo shirt, my old riding boots, and the rawhide leather fanny pack.

I started knocking on the side of the house before opening the door, then realized Miss Perfect would be completely thrown off by it, and stopped after two knocks.  When I opened the door, she was looking towards the front door from the kitchen area with a puzzled look on her face.

I answered the unasked question.  “It’s not good for people to surprise me.  The change can happen automatically if I’m sufficiently startled or hurt.”

She just nodded.  “I understand, Mr. Collins, I think.”

“Zeke.”  I grinned.  “It’s a habit I will make you break, MP.”

“But you aren’t using my name.”

“You are wearing armor, and a costume.  You have a secret identity.  I’m not using your real name unless we meet when you are not in costume, and then I’ll call you Jane, OK?”

She thought about it for a second before responding. “OK”

I walked into the kitchen, slowly, letting Miss Perfect keep her distance from me as I refilled my glass of ice water.  She liked to keep people at a distance, normally, even though she wanted her physical surroundings to be close.  Her glass from before was still in front of Anne’s seat, but it was now mostly ice.  I filled it with the filtered water after filling my own.  While refilling water glasses, I noted that the pantry door was open and one of the kitchen table chairs was missing from the table.  I sat in Danny’s chair, since mine was apparently in the pantry.  I could smell orange in the air, which made me hungry.

My stomach took that moment to grumble. Loudly.

How long has it been since I ate?

Beer last night, orange juice before that.

An apple on the way to the SPA meeting, about this time yesterday?

Gonna carb crash if I don’t get a real meal in me.

Miss Perfect was looking at me strangely.  “What was that noise?”

“You’ve never heard a stomach growl?”

“I thought that was just an expression for feeling hungry.  I don’t think my stomach has ever growled before.”

“Well, that means you eat regularly.  It’s common when people who eat regularly miss several meals, like I have.  If you do not mind terribly, I would like to make myself a meal.”

She looked at me with something close to alarm.

I’ve never seen her eat.  I bet watching other people eat bothers her.  OCD stuff.

“I’ll eat at the counter, facing away from you, if you like, if that will be more comfortable.  Or you can sit in the living room out of sight of me?”

“I’ll sit in the living room, if that’s OK?”

Bingo

I opened the fridge and then the crisper where the oranges and apples were.  Instead of being all mixed together like normal, they were organized very carefully.  Apples on one side, oranges on the other.  I grabbed the orange closest to the top front of the crisper, and an apple as well, taking the orange and apple to the table and setting them down.  “Here’s something for you to eat in the living room, if you want.  I’ll eat the one you don’t.”

“I… would rather the pantry, if that’s OK, instead of the living room, Zeke?”

“Whatever you feel more comfortable with, MP.  I’m the host here, and you’re the guest.  If I can accommodate your needs to be comfortable while you are here, I will.”

She reached out and picked up the orange, grabbed a few paper towels and a paper plate, and walked into the pantry. “Thanks Zeke!”  I heard the light click on several seconds after she closed the door and the chair noises and light armor clanking noises stopped.  Miss Perfect was certainly an odd bird, but her heart was definitely in the right place.  Anne might be upset about scuffs on the furniture though.

Anne will probably never see this house again.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t hungry anymore.  But I knew my body was lying to me, so I made myself eat the apple, forcing myself to swallow.  After a couple bites of apple made their way to my stomach, my hunger returned, and I rapidly demolished the apple as I raided Danny’s pancake and smoothie mixes.  I poured the berries into the pancake mix until they were nearly half-and-half by volume, and then cooked up a dozen pancakes.

By the time I cooked a dozen of them, the smell of cooking fruit and wheat dough in the air was thick.

“Want some blueberry blackberry strawberry banana whole wheat pancakes, MP?”

“I ah, yes.  Just one.  A small one, please.”

I pulled one of the pancakes off the stack, making sure it was undamaged in the center, and used a small plate as a template to cut the big pancake down to about six inches across, an almost perfect circle.  Then I put the pancake exactly in the middle of another, bigger, unblemished round plate.  A real plate, not a paper plate.  I looked at our daily silverware and shook my head.  They all had little bits of rust and soap scum.  She’d probably freak out if I gave her a fork with rust and even traces of soap scum.  I pulled out a set of Anne’s formal silverware and looked at it very closely.  As I suspected, Anne had polished it before putting it back the last time we had used it.

My stomach growled again.

“You better feed that thing, Zeke, it sounds angry.”

Good, she called me Zeke.

I laughed.  “Soon.”

If you were more normal, I’d be eating right now.

Not fair.  Guest.  Stop with those thoughts.

I considered what to do with the fork and knife.  I ended up laying them to either side of the pancake.

“Do you want any butter or syrup?”

A moment passed. “No. Thank you though.”

“Open the door at least a foot wide to get the plate.”

The pantry door opened, and I handed her the pancake on the plate.  She looked at it and smiled.  “Thanks, Mr. Collins!”

“Zeke.” I reminded her.

“Oops, thanks, Zeke!”  She pulled the plate in, and closed the door.

I made sure the stove was off before placing all the cooking dishes in the sink.  Then I carried the plate of pancakes, including the remnants of the pancake I had cut up to make Miss Perfect’s pancake, to the kitchen table, grabbed the butter and syrup, and demolished the pancake stack.  Anne would have probably been upset by my table manners at that point.  It was almost certainly for the best that Miss Perfect hadn’t seen it.

I was still hearing the regular sounds of Miss Perfect’s knife and fork on her plate when my plate was empty.  I put the butter and syrup back in the fridge, carried my dishes to the sink, washed the table, and then dried off the table with a rag, making sure to get all the stains up.

As I was finishing up washing the dishes I had dirtied, Miss Perfect came out of the pantry.  I turned around, flicked my hand for a moment over the sink to shake most of the water and soap off, and then, without thinking, held my hand out for her plate.  She just stared at my soapy, wet hand for a second, put her dishes on the counter closest to her, and then backed away from my hand, her eyes not leaving it.

I was hoping to have her relaxed by now and I screw it up.

“Sorry, MP.  I wasn’t thinking there.”

“It’s OK,” she declared, a bit weakly as she walked back into the pantry and closed the door.

I finished the dishes, grabbed a couple dishrags and spread them on the table, making sure they were clean ones, and that they matched.  I took the loincloth off the counter and put it on the table, and then started reading the instruction manual, mumbling to myself, making sure to say a technical-sounding word loud enough every now and then that it would be heard in the pantry.

After a couple minutes, I heard the sound of the chair in the pantry shifting against the floor, and the scrape of metal on wood.  I smiled.

Time to set the hook.

I pulled my knife out of the fanny pack and put it on the table, thumping it just a little more than necessary on the dishrag.  Then I pulled out the screwdriver and shook out all the heads from the handle into a pile on the dishrag, selecting one small flathead screwdriver that the instruction manual said some adjustments would require.  I put the remaining heads back into the end of the screwdriver, more loudly than I needed to, and picked the knife off the table and put it back in my pouch.

The pantry door slowly opened, squeaking just a tiny bit.

Do not laugh at the tinker.  Do not laugh!

“Zeke, I hear tools, I think?”

“Yes Miss Perfect.  I’m trying to adjust this tracking band to make it into a belt.”

“Oh.  Ah.  Can I help?”

“I think I know what to do,” I lied, “but I’m sure you can do it better, I’d be happy if you would help.”

Miss Perfect walked up behind me and looked at the belt over my shoulder.  “That’s a model with an always on power damper.  They want you to wear that?”

“Yes, it doesn’t stop me from shifting.  My power is at least partly magical, apparently.”

“Oh, that makes sense.  It gives you a weapon of sorts that might be unexpected.”

She picked up on that quickly, for a noncombatant.

She reached over my shoulder and picked up the belt, actually touching my arm and not recoiling from the touch.  “A loincloth?  Or a belt?  Did you already change it?”

“A belt, please MP, one that will fit like a normal belt to hold up  men’s slacks and jeans, if possible.”

“OK, that’s easy.  Don’t need tools.  I remember the code, even though it was before I could tinker.”  She paused a moment, thinking.

Damnit, I forgot Gorgon said he had one of these too.

I didn’t move, barely breathing, letting her do what she wanted to without startling her, or drawing more attention to who it was that had a belt like that before me.

A few seconds later, she reached over my shoulder again and set the tracking band, now in the shape of a belt, on the dishrags in front of me.

I slowly reached out to put my hand on it, to give her a chance to realize where she was before saying “Thank you, MP.”

She had moved back towards the pantry a bit, but then stopped and walked around to sit in Anne’s chair.  “Was that one of the things you needed help with?”

“Nope.  You tried to call me about the Tinker Market, yesterday, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Zeke.”

“Yes, Zeke.”  Her shoulders shrunk inwards a little bit, other clues in body language told me she was embarrassed.

“No being embarrassed. You’ve been calling me sir for what, seven years now?  Eight?”

“Seven years and two hundred eleven days, Zeke.”

She does ordinal dates in her head?

“That’s a long time to build a habit.  I’ll irritate you about it, but I am not going to get upset, even if you never really remember.”

“I’ll get it right sir, err, Zeke.”

I smiled at her.  “Just so you know.  I’ll eventually stop bothering you about it, if you can’t change.  I do understand, I think.”

She gave me a level stare.

Aw crap, I just directly challenged her memory.  I hope it doesn’t backfire.

After a second, she smiled again.  “Zeke, the reason I called you about the Tinker Market is because I have a conflict of interest.”

Bad, Bad, Bad.

Does she really understand what that means?

“What is the conflict of interest, MP?”

“I, ah, already run a marketplace like that for Tinkers.  Perfect Market.”

Oof, yes, in this case she understands.

Let’s explore this.

“I see.  That is a problem for Tinker Market.  But maybe not a problem for Exactitude.”  She looked a little confused.  “Are you running it as a for-profit?”

“No, I created the market so I could get all the pieces and bits I needed for this armor and all the gear I have.  The membership fees only pay for the bandwidth and rack space at the data center.”

“You too, eh?”

“Wait.  What?” She looked really confused. “Me too, what?”

“That’s exactly why I wanted to create a market.  I want gear and light armor for myself.  I have two bodies.  One of them has no gear or clothing at all.  The other is just me.  I’m slow as Strangest, and not much faster as my human body.  I need tools, equipment, and short-range teleportation gear.  Escape gear, because I can be trapped.  Long-range weapons to immobilize people or pull people to me that are too far away for my power to reach them.  Equipment to immobilize unconscious people.”

“In other words, you want armor a lot like mine, and you want to get it the same way I did.”  She paused.  “A lot of tinkers won’t trade for money, you know?  I usually don’t.  Most of us can make as much money as we want selling equipment to governments and large companies.  It’s more of a barter system.  If I need a suit, I trade a bunch of sensors to the suit guy.  He gets sensors to make better suits, I get a suit.”  She paused.  “You can certainly start with just cash, but it will take longer, and more trades.”

I tapped my fingers on the table a couple times.

Miss Perfect’s head instantly tracked to my fingers as they tapped the tabletop.

I stopped moving my fingers and her gaze returned to my face.  “I figured that, but something is better than nothing.”

Back on track.

“If we wrote something up to guarantee that Perfect Market was going to remain non-profit, membership fees would be reduced to nothing, and you would continue to run it, do you think the current user base would stay if we moved it into Exactitude namespace?  The company would certainly compensate you for ownership if you wanted to sell, or let you retain ownership, and just have you do what you are already doing, except with the server in the Exactitude datacenter?”

She shook her head.  “Why do all that?  If I’m going to run it anyway, and I don’t want to sell it, why change anything?”

“You already consult with Ben and his team, as well as the Dan and the physical security staff for our datacenter.  Is Perfect Market’s server in a safer location?”

“No, Exactitude’s datacenter is much more secure, electronically and physically.”  She looked pensive.

Need another hook.

“Have you ever compared your customer base to Exactitude’s customer base?”

She shouldn’t have, but I bet she doesn’t realize that.

She nodded.  “I have.  There’s a significant overlap.”

Thought so.  Now is a bad time to chastise her.

“What is the overlap?” I asked.  “Percentages, not exact numbers or names.”

She relaxed a bit.  I was pretty sure she had been about to recite names at me.  “About sixty percent of my customers are Exactitude’s customers.  About twenty percent of Exactitude customers are my customers.”

“What would happen if we make the Perfect Market completely free for you to operate, physically locate it in the Exactitude datacenter, and allow you to maintain full control over its development?  If you choose to leave the company, you can take the Perfect Market with you.”

“Like an incubator business?”

Very good.

“Yes.  Even though you are already established, that’s a good description.  You would, of course, be paid a little extra for the work you do integrating and maintaining the market.”

“What if I decided to sell it?”

“I would like you to guarantee that Exactitude could buy the company for 10% more than the best price you can get from anyone in writing.  If someone is willing to pay crazy money for it, we’ll do without.  If someone wants to pay a solid price for it, we’ll pay a solid price plus premium.”

“That sounds pretty good.”

Too fast to agree.  I need to be the cautious one here for her or she might balk later.

“It is pretty good, and I’ll give you the funds, personally, to take any contract we create to a lawyer, of your choice, that has no dealings with Exactitude so you can have them verify that it’s a good deal for you.  I’ll even go with you to ratify any changes that need to be made.”

She shook her head.  “My mom is a business lawyer.  She won’t take a case for me because she says she wouldn’t be able to be objective, but she’ll consult contracts if I ask.  That’s the only reason why I didn’t get messed up with Perfect Market.  Mom helped me set it up.  I don’t know if she would agree to see you since you know who my father is.”

“I do not need to meet her directly, my lawyers can work with her.  Shall we move forward with it then?” I asked.

“Sure, sounds like a good deal for me.  It keeps me out of any conflicts of interest, protects what I’ve already built, and allows me to reduce the workload associated with it.”

“I’ll get you and my lawyer together then.  He will ask you for information about your other company, and work to create a contract like we just described.  Ted is a friend of mine, and I’ll make sure he knows you are too, and that this is supposed to be a friendly contract.  However, he can be very aggressive on my behalf.  If he gets aggressive with you, you let me know, and I’ll straighten him out.  Just remember, he’s my friend too, let me argue with him if it seems like he’s pushing you.”

I pulled out my smartphone and sent the email to Ted and Miss Perfect’s corporate account, audibly dictating to the phone because my fingers were simply too big to hit single keys on the phone screen.

Before I hit send, I asked “What I said was what we agreed to, right?  Anything else I need to add?”

She paused.  “I think that was right, Zeke.”

“If your mother objects to any of it, you let me know what, and we’ll fix it up, OK?”

“OK, that sounds good.”  She looked relieved.  Then her brows furrowed under her mask.

“You understand that as a non-tinker, you probably aren’t going to really understand what other tinkers are saying in the market, right?  We sort of speak in code there.  Lots of abbreviations and acronyms and not a lot of whole words?”

Tinker-speak.  That’s one thing I need you for.

“That brings up another thing I needed to talk to you about.  I need someone to put together that suit and tools and such for me.  Do you know someone I might be able to ask to help me do that?”  I grinned at her.  “I would be more than willing to compensate you for your time if it’s more than a minor inconvenience.  I really do not know how hard it will be for you.”

She looked at me, and shrugged.  “It won’t be hard for me at all, just a little embarrassing at first.  I’m really good at fitting things together and getting the right size components for a job.”  She paused.

Embarrassing?

“First thing I’ll need are your measurements.”

I told her my measurements.  “Thirty-six inch inseam, twenty-six inch waist, forty-four inch chest.  One second, I might have to get a suit coat for my arm length.”

“I’ll need more detail than that, Zeke.”  Her body language and voice both indicated she was embarrassed.

“How much detail?  What do you need?”

She touched one of the gizmos circling her head, and then pointed at me.  “I need you to strip.  These suits are highly customized, much more so than formalwear.”

The gizmo started orbiting me, making annoyed sounding chirps.

Miss Perfect quickly walked past me into the pantry and closed the door.  From inside she said “The scanbot orbiting you now will take measurements.  I’ve transmitted instructions to it.  I will translate it’s needs to you.”

I guessed the annoying chirps meant it wanted me to take my clothes off.

After a brief moment of consideration, I stripped.  The probe started scanning my body with lasers and occasionally touching me, apparently to do ultrasound measurements.

The probe started making annoyed beeping noises again.  Miss Perfect told me through the door that I needed to do stretching exercises so the probe could get my full normal range of motion.  It started bumping joints that it wanted me to show it range of motion on.

“If these suits are this tight, how do you breathe in them?”

“You have to be able to breathe in them, and fight in them.  The shell is hard, the inside is normally a gel harness, and adjustable, but you want the greatest range of motion that you can.  It also needs to consider biological day-to-day variation.  The probe wants to know how much you’ve eaten and drunk recently, and how long ago.”

I described my recent diet.

“One last thing, Zeke, the probe needs you to become aroused.  That’s a very important measurement for fitting armor for males.”

I am very glad Anne is not here.  She would either be howling in laughter, or trying to beat me senseless, I’m not sure which.  Probably laughing.  I think.

“Ah, you stay in the pantry.  I’ll see what I can do about, umm, getting the probe a good measurement.  In another room.  It will follow me?”

“I am staying in here, Zeke.  I’m afraid this is a hands-off operation for me.”

Hands-off?

I started laughing.  “Understood.  I don’t need help, I just need the right memories.”

Though knowing a twenty-three year old young lady is watching me through her little probe certainly adds a bit of spice.

It took less time than I thought it would to manage to get myself into a head space where arousal was possible.

The probe got its measurements.

I got my clothes back on.

Miss Perfect came out of the pantry, and wouldn’t look directly at me.

I did NOT laugh.  I could see she was blushing again, by the skin under her eyes, not covered by the mask.

Young normal humans are so funny about bodies.  I guess young tinkers are too.

“I think that’s it then, Miss Perfect.  I do not know how you got here.  Do you need any help returning to the lab?”

“No, Zeke, I’ll be fine.  I have return teleportation.  Teleportation tinker tech is cheap, especially for small scale movement less than fifty or so miles.”

Wait a second.  When she first started talking to me, she asked for Danny.

“Actually, there is one more thing that I’d like to ask you about.  I noticed that even though you called Anne’s phone, you asked where Danny was.  Why?”

“I’ve, uh, been tutoring Danny for the last two years for his physics and calculus classes, until you moved away.”

Alarm bells went off in my head.  “Oh.  I didn’t know that.  Physics and calculus?”  I raised my right eyebrow, and she blushed again.

Danny took physics three years ago.

“I think so.  Maybe it was chemistry and calculus?”  She was floundering.

Danny was sixteen when this started, and she was twenty-one?

Danny is NOW eighteen going on thirty, and she’s twenty-three going on sixteen.  Maybe.

You didn’t know it was happening.  Not a clue.  Why was Danny hiding it?

My face was apparently expressing some of my irritation as I stared at her.  She looked a bit frightened.

What was the name of the girl he said he was dating?  Melissa?

We only saw her twice.

I want to trust Danny on this one.

Right, because I was so responsible at his age.

Miss Perfect started to speak.  “Mr. Collins, I’m sorry.”

“MP I am not angry.  I am upset.  I’m trying to figure out how upset I am.  Let me think it out in quiet please.”

I turned my head slightly, and focused on the clock on the wall, instead of her face.  That seemed to relax her a bit.

There’s no possible way he’s missed her quirks.

Depends on what else he might have seen first.

Still none of my business what they do.  Especially now that Danny is eighteen.

I rubbed my temples with my thumbs.  “MP, I can’t really say much about what you two choose to do.  I won’t be a hypocrite.  Anne and I certainly can’t claim to have been smarter about our relationship, and we started when I was seventeen and she was sixteen.  Eventually I’ll want to know why you two hid it from me, though.”

I would, of course, also want to know why Anne hid it from me.  I strongly doubted Danny managed to sneak this past both of us.

Do you trust Anne’s judgment enough to include yourself in it?  Maybe she left you in the dark and was right to do so?

I rubbed my temples some more, and unclenched my jaw.

I do need to warn Danny who her father is though.

Why not ask her if she told him?

I looked at Miss Perfect, who was watching me cautiously.

She’ll break down if I ask her if she has told my son who her father is.  I know it.  I’d be willing to bet she hasn’t.

Dammit I really need to speak to Anne about this.

Right.  Add that to the list of things to do.

I hadn’t said anything for thirty seconds, just staring at the clock over her shoulder, and Miss Perfect was looking at me with an expression close to panic.

I reached my right hand slowly across the table to put just my index finger on the back of her right palm.  She flinched.

“Jane, I’ll trust you to not intentionally hurt my boy.  I do not like it that I wasn’t told a relationship was happening, but if it works for you and Danny, I’m not going to stand in the way.  Unless you and Anne really dislike each other a whole lot, Anne isn’t going to get in the way either.  After I tell her what you did today, I doubt she’ll have any problem at all.”

As long as we don’t mention suit measurements.

“Thank you, sir.  Anne and I get along fine, sir.”  She paused and winced.

I thought so.

“Zeke.”  I paused.

Do I want to know more?

Not from her.  Not right now.

I’ll ask Anne about it later.

“Well, that was uncomfortable.  Glad that conversation is over, aren’t you?”  I smiled at her.

Miss Perfect just nodded, saying nothing.

I lifted my index finger off the back of her palm, pulled my hand back, pushed my chair away from the table, and then stood.  “I will set up a draft account for you to use for cash purchases to get my armor.  If I needed to do it all through cash, how much would it cost for a suit like yours, sized to me?”

“Cash only?  Three million if you are lucky.  Maybe as much as five million if there are a lot of sub-optimal trading chains.”

I whistled.  “OK, expensive, but worth it I suppose.  I’ll set you up with seven million, just in case.  I have some potential tinker trade items as well, in the barn.  Can you carry about eighty extra pounds with you when you teleport to your lab?”

She nodded.  “Eighty pounds is no problem.  I have plenty of suit charge left, and it’s a short jump.”

I considered the size of her suit, and the size of my belt.  “How does this little belt take me so far?”

“Remote boosted signal.  Quantum channel, I think, based on what looked like the receiver and transmitter when I scanned it.  I’d have to take it apart to be sure.  Even then, it’s not my specialty.  If it’s something really strange I might not recognize it.  It’s also bigger on the inside than it is on the outside – I’m certain of that.”  She shrugged.

“I’ll be back in five minutes with some tinker trade goods then.”

She nodded.

I walked quickly out to the barn, grabbed my wheelbarrow, put the lifters in the wheelbarrow with a twenty-foot piece of rope, and then returned to the porch, pulling the wheelbarrow up the three brick steps.

She’s not going to come out to the porch willingly.

I propped the door open, pulled the wheelbarrow in (pushing the wheelbarrow over the door’s sill might have damaged the sill), closed the door, and then pulled the wheelbarrow down the hall to the kitchen.

Anne would kill me if she saw the wheelbarrow in the house.

I stopped the wheelbarrow where she could reach into it, and Miss Perfect picked up one of the lifters.

“Hmmm, I’ve seen these before.  They aren’t worth a whole lot, but people like them, so they are solid trade items.  They will help.”

“Remember that you can use the draft account to buy Exactitude products with your employee discount to use as trade items.”  I reminded her.

“I get an employee discount?”  She looked puzzled.

I face-palmed.  I couldn’t help it.  “Yes, MP, you do.  You always have.  It’s in your original contract.  Figure out how much I owe you back for what you have bought from the company, I’ll set it straight.  Ever since ninety days after your hire date, OK?”

She smiled “OK, Zeke, Thanks!”

My belt started beeping, slowly.

Miss Perfect looked at me, and then at my belt.  “Looks like you’re going somewhere.  You said you wanted mobility.  Take this.”

She handed me something that looked like a pineapple-style grenade.  “Put the ring on your finger, and pull it like a grenade.  Throw the grenade-like part, and wherever it hits, you will teleport to.  You can pick up the grenade again and throw it again, if you can find it.  A total of one mile in teleportation for up to three hundred pounds at sea level.  You have to put the ring back in between throws though.”

The belt was still beeping slowly.  I put the teleport-grenade-thing into the fanny pack.

“You can teleport from inside the house here without doing a lot of damage to the place?”

“Yes.” She assured me, calmly.  “Good luck, Zeke.”

I walked quickly to the front door, and managed to lock it before the belt started beeping rapidly.

On the tenth rapid beep, my vision went black, briefly, and then as my vision cleared, I saw that I had been teleported into a building.  A room with lots of beds.  Some of the beds were on fire.  I could barely breathe.  I dropped to the floor, it was easier to breathe there, but the floor was hot as hell.

Great. Fire.  Almost as much fun as electricity.

I heard the yell of a man in great pain followed by the sound of shifting rubble.  Then I heard the high-pitched screaming of children.  Lots of children.  I crawled towards the yelling and screaming as fast as I could.

Prior Chapter      Next Chapter

26 comments

  1. thomas

    Unless I missed it, I don’t think you identified MP’s father. Sort of implied he is someone nefarious, so I am guessing Gorgon. Btw, why did you give him a female name? Just because of his power, or does he have snakes for hair too?

    Great get-to-know-you chapter. Z obviously is out of touch but this SOP for most fathers.

    Errata
    • What you did today is not what an employee does, it’s what a true
    Semicolon instead of comma
    • Right now I’m being jerked
    Missing comma: Right now, I’m being jerked
    • welcome to relax however you like
    missing comma: welcome to relax, however you like
    • I did a few more stretches than normal to get limber, then ran two miles.
    • opening the door, then realized Miss
    • I made sure the stove was off, then set the cooking
    Needs an and before then
    • things I needed to discuss with them
    Plural vs. singular: her instead of them
    • pocket knife
    pocketknife
    • and then threw a couple feet of insulated thin copper wire as well
    and then threw in a couple feet of insulated thin copper wire as well
    • The fanny pack not
    The fanny pack was not
    • even though she her physical
    even though she knew her physical
    • half and half
    half-and-half
    • carried my dishes to the sink, and washed the table, then dried it with a rag
    carried my dishes to the sink, washed the table, and then dried it with a rag
    • After a couple minutes I heard
    After a couple minutes, I heard
    • Long range
    Long-range
    • Have you ever compared your customer base to Exactitude’s customer base?
    Quotes?
    • twenty foot
    twenty-foot

    • farmerbob1

      And much literary surgery was performed.

      Gorgon was identified fairly clearly (I thought) in the last chapter when Miss Perfect told Zeke about the phone call to Anne’s phone. He’s mentioned a couple times by name, but never aloud by Zeke, not by name. Miss Perfect also avoids using his name.

      Gorgon’s name is power-based.

      • thomas

        I just read that section again but I don’t see it. He was identified as the person on the phone when she said Gorgon recognized her voice and Zeke mulls that tidbit over just a little but he never concludes anything – externally or internally. Since it is almost a logical conclusion in this chapter, I would leave it alone. Leave a bit of mystery for the reader.

        • farmerbob1

          It’s intentional that neither of them directly identify Gorgon as her father out loud. Zeke never internally makes the statement either. It was intended to be clear, but not directly referenced. Two people talking around a delicate topic.

          When Miss Perfect gives Zeke her first name to use to pass a message to Gorgon, I thought that clinched it?

        • Mian

          farmer,
          That just clinched that it was someone she knew. Boyfriend? Son? Anything…
          Father puts a whole different spin on things than “friend of any stripe.”

        • farmerbob1

          OK, I took a look at it again, and touched it up some. I don’t want it to be said straight up. I want the reader thinking as Zeke and Miss Perfect both dance around it a bit after they both know the other knows. Miss Perfect because she doesn’t want to talk about it, and Zeke because Miss Perfect obviously is very uncomfortable talking about it. If anyone does miss it, it will come up again, soon.

    • farmerbob1

      Zeke is the major stakeholder in a highly successful moderately high profit margin multinational corporation. Seven million isn’t pocket change, but it won’t hurt him much to spend that much once or twice. After that, he might have to start raiding long term investments and selling stock.

  2. underwhelmingforce

    That huge pillar of internal dialog was hard to read. I’d chunk it into larger segments so it’s more coherent and less fragmented. I think this comes from your habits of having multiple people conversing in one head, but people don’t tend to think quite the same way.

  3. Oniwasabi

    A burning building with children in it has got to be about the absolute LAST place I would ever teleport someone who turns uncontrollably transforms into a ‘human bug zapper.’ Even more than the cliffhanger resolution, I REALLY want to see what kind of rationale is given for putting him into a situation where his only easily apparent purpose is to make things MORE dangerous for everyone.

  4. Bart

    In the following, should be “I had” instead of “had I”.
    I had decided that I needed to start carrying some tools with me, so had I grabbed a big pocketknife with a five inch heavy chopping blade on one side and a marlinspike on the other.

  5. Jesp

    I’ll go on the record that my reaction was “Nani?!?!!” when it was casually mentioned as if it was already a well established fact that Gorgon was MP’s father.

    I think it depends on the type of person you are. Do you analyze your relationships, surroundings, etc. all the time or do you take things as they are. I’m definitely the latter. I suspect as a writer you have to do (if not be) the former. Now I know I need to analyze the story more.

    Great story! ^_^

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