“I’m back,” Vector sing-songs at me, sauntering up to my desk.

I grin up at her. “Chair’s taken. No room for feet on the desk, this time.”

She shrugs. “Oh, well, I’ll just go then.”

“Alas,” I say, “you will be missed.”

She hooks a thumb over her shoulder. “Are you coming to dinner, or not?”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” I tell her, waving a hand at all the files I have laid out on my desk. “However would I get through all of this?”

She glances down at them. “What the hell are you looking through all that shit for?”

“Training in emotional manipulation,” I explain. “I’ve got two, you know.”

“What, and you think someone’s figured out all the secrets to it, and it’s lying in wait in some half-assed old paperwork?” Vector shakes her head at me. “You need to eat, Trav, starvation is doing funny things to your brain.”

“Found a few good pointers,” I tell her, but I get up anyway, stretching carefully when I get caught short by the cramps in my legs.

“And still reluctant to take a break,” she says, tsking at my foot – the one that’s turned out to have fallen asleep – and shaking her head. “You can’t be waiting for Darren, I know he’s still in chambers with the Hush-Hush Brigade.”

“Actually, I thought Hunch might show up again,” I tell her.

She raises an eyebrow. “Why?”

“To tell me to eat fast and change faster,” I say.

She makes a face. “I thought surveillance was tabled until Monday?”

“Who knows?” I shrug. “Could be we find enough null mirrors by tonight.”

“No,” Vector says, grinning.

“No, probably not,” I agree.

“Come on, they’ve got pot pies tonight,” Vector says, “you love pot pies.”

“I do not love pot pies nearly as much as everyone keeps telling me I love pot pies,” I remind her, “it’s not my fault we showed up the same time as a chef obsessed with them.”

“They’ve got the mashed potatoes on top,” she adds.

My stomach grumbles. Of course it does.

She grins at me and waits for me to break.

They’re actually really good; they’re the only thing you can guarantee just from reading the menu won’t be microwaved. (Obsessed.)  “I couldn’t finish reading that book, by the way.”

Vector crosses her arms at me. “That book is amazing and you know it.”

“Slow in the middle,” I say, and scoop potatoes off of my pie.

“Yeah, it was a little,” she agrees. “Do you want the other one? It’s faster.”

“Maybe,” I tell her, and give her the look she knows means I don’t like the author.

“Bah, you’re no fun,” she says, and quickly adds, “don’t look up. General Pain-in-the-ass just walked in.”

“Is he heading this way?” I mutter to her as, sure enough, I see Sunspot out of the corner of my eye, sauntering into the cafeteria.

“Why the fuck would he be heading this way, Travis, you didn’t actually pee in his shoes, did you?” she hisses back at me.

I give her a Look.

She shrugs.

“He wants me to switch teams,” I inform her.

She snorts into her soda. She quickly regains her composure, but she snorts into her soda first.

“Really, Vector?” I sigh. “Really?”

She stifles a grin. “Well, I mean, you have to admit, that was just too funny to pass up.”

“Well, it’s true,” I say (a little testily, maybe).

She snorts again. “I know. That’s why it’s funny. He really wants you to sit C-string on Flagship?”

“I do not know what he wants,” I tell her, “I never know what he wants. No one does, I’m sure.”

But he doesn’t actually walk over to us. He doesn’t even notice us (I actually think he doesn’t recognize me without a label, and I’m sure he never thinks twice about Vector). He goes to sit with Artemis and Apollo instead, across from them, so he doesn’t have to deal with Apollo’s glare (even though he still inches protectively towards her). And they continue just talking to each other. I’m getting a little dizzy watching things in my peripheral vision by the time I find myself relaxing.

“Are you really training memetics?” Vector asks me, finally.

I shake my head. “Just emotional manipulation, and it doesn’t even look that fine-tuned.”

“Too close for comfort,” Vector grumbles, “what sort?”

“As far as I can tell, Jailbait can do them all,” I say, “she seems to have an affinity for calming.”

“Girl needs a new name,” Vector says.

“Psybeam does something or other with psychosomatic bullshittery,” I add, “sort of like a taser and a flash-bang at the same time, but, you know, psychosomatic.”

“Can he separate them out?” Vector asks.

I waggle my hand.

“Is Jailbait any good at explaining how to separate them out?” Vector asks.

I waggle my hand.

Vector tilts her head. “You may want someone who actually has that kind of power, you know, notes may not be doing it.”

“Awesome if you could find me one,” I say.

“I can look into it,” Vector says, looking way too serious for me to take her seriously.

“Yeah, I’ll put out a stickie,” I tell her, running through my mental list of everyone who works with emotions. “I doubt we’ll find much help.”

“Oh!” she says, “I’m finally on the reserved list for real. Just got the email, like, an hour ago.”

“Hey!” I say, hi-fiving her.

“At the bottom, though,” she adds, “probably next litter.”

“Is this for the Australian Shepherds?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Decided to go with a Border Collie, so people won’t make me explain what my freak dog is. I hope it does the funny eye thing.”

“The funny eye thing is adorable,” I agree.

She opens her mouth to add something.

“Allergies,” I remind her.

She snickers. “You should get one of those ugly hairless dogs, you know, Chinese Crested.”

“You know, they used to be used like hot water bottles?” I tell her.

“What, really?” She laughs. “Yeah, I can see that. St. Bernards make great foot warmers.”

I glance up when Artemis and Apollo walk by, and he shoots me that stare like he’s planning on asking what my intentions are, but then they just nod at us. Sunspot doesn’t even notice.

“Also, they’re not ugly, they’re cute, even if they do seem afraid of their own shadows,” I tell Vector. “They just have sort of a weird haircut.”

Vector fluffs her hair. “Yeah, I feel for the little guys. I always get mask-hair.”

“I’d say use the adhesive ones, but they give me rashes,” I tell her.

“The thing that makes it conform to your face is a beta test away from being able to adhere to your face,” Vector says, “although I’m sure they could move up the production schedule if every single techie didn’t seem to inherently distrust the thing.”

“I don’t know what that’s about,” I tell her, “it’s techie tech, right?”

Vector shrugs. “Could be aliens.”

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