Authors: Stephen W. Gee
“You were perfectly fine,” said the hiring manager, who had already turned his attention to the papers on his desk. “We were just looking for someone with a little more experience.”
“Oh, okay.” Gavi bowed again. “Thank you.”
“…and then I left,” said Gavi. It was several hours later, and she was sitting cross-legged on the bench in The Joker’s break room, though it was so small they called it the break closet. She had already changed into her uniform, and was now waiting for her coworker to finish getting ready as well.
“That’s a shame. It sounds like you did pretty well though, so that’s a plus!” said Derana Sic’Kotadr, Gavi’s fellow waiter and one of her best friends. Derana buttoned up her white uniform blouse, and then ran her fingers through her dark-blonde hair in lieu of a brush.
“I guess,” said Gavi. She fiddled with the stack of clothes resting in her lap as she waited for Derana to finish. There weren’t enough lockers for everyone to have one, so they shared. “At this point, I don’t know what to do. Except for get more experience, of course.”
Derana fastened her skirt and closed the locker door. “What would you have been doing anyway?”
“Clerical work, mainly,” said Gavi. “Keeping records of all the ships that come and go, checking for potential smugglers, that sort of thing.”
Derana considered this. “Is that really what you want to do? I remember you applied for that other job, that managing thing downtown. That seemed like a better fit.”
“I don’t care what I do, as long as they pay me more and I get to use my brain occasionally,” said Gavi. “I like working with you, but the only thing that gets a workout here are my feet and my arm.”
Derana giggled. Carefree, cheerful, and prone to unreasonably cute behavior, Derana was the kind of girl who was still a girl long after everyone else her age had become women. Fortunately she didn’t realize this, and wouldn’t have cared had she known.
“Well I’m sure you’ll get something soon,” said Derana as she stepped up on the bench. She teetered for a second. Gavi reached out and grabbed her arm. The two stepped down together.
“I hope so,” said Gavi.
“Out of curiosity, why haven’t you tried being a merchant like your father?” asked Derana. “Not that I want you to. I’d never get to see you anymore!”
“I thought about it, but while traveling would be fun, I don’t think I’m cut out for the whole reading-the-market-and-knowing-how-much-to-sell-things-for part,” said Gavi as she went back and retrieved her apron. “Plus it would be lonely traveling by myself.”
“Okay, good,” said Derana with exaggerated relief. Gavi couldn’t help but smile.
Together, they returned to the bar, and another afternoon of alcohol, bar fights, and clumsy sexual harassment began.
* * *
I mustn’t fall asleep. I mustn’t fall asleep. I mustn’t
fall asleep. Ugh.
Raedren shook his head, trying to banish his drowsiness. He looked down at the examination table, where his current patient was lying on her back, blissfully asleep. He looked at his hands, which were glowing a dark, verdant green with the healing magick he was directing into her covered right eye. He looked around the tiny 2x3 meter examination room, with its three pieces of furniture (exam table, the chair he was sitting in, a tiny desk) and one picture of a whimsical dog on the wall. He looked at the door, which was closed.
Raedren yawned again.
At least payday is coming up soon
Raedren opened his eyes wider, hoping against all evidence that the extra light would wake him up.
I mustn’t fall asleep, I mustn’t fall asleep, I mustn’t fall asleep….
* * *
Mazik was slumped against the bar, mewling like a tranquilized rhinoceros. There were four mugs around him, three of them nearly empty. The fourth was clutched weakly in his hand, as if it were his last link to a reality he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to be a part of. He smelled like sweat, rain, and most of all, depression.
“Yes, that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun,” said Raedren. Mazik had just finished telling them about his day with Rose, and all the “useful feedback” and “vital action steps” he received. By the end of it Mazik had devolved into incoherent cursing and drinking entire beers in a single gulp.
Raedren patted his friend on the shoulder. He noticed a spot of blood on the back of his hand, which he quickly wiped away on his trousers.
“I’d say that’s an understatement, had I not heard about your day,” said Mazik. He sat up, suddenly animated. “I mean, I know I’ve got it good compared to a lot of people, but it still sucked!” He snatched up his mug and took a long drink, somehow managing to not spill most of it.
Mazik finished his beer and added it to the pile. “A whiskey. Double straight.”
“Would you mind finishing these other three before you order something else?” asked Gavi.
Mazik peered into the other mugs. “Oh, yeah. Thought they were already done.” He drained the dregs of his previous brews in three quick slugs. “There ya go.”
Gavi scooped up the mugs and exchanged them for a small glass. Right now she was playing personal bartender for her two friends, and herself as well. After Mazik came in steaming mad and Raedren shuffled in half-numb, Gavi’s coworkers had cited her unsuccessful interview and suggested she stick around for a few drinks on them. Gavi thought that was nice of them, even if it was mostly because they were afraid Mazik would go on an angry, alcohol-fueled rampage.
Gavi put a glass filled with a generous amount of whiskey in front of Mazik, but didn’t let go. “Sip this or I’m not giving you another.”
Mazik nodded. “Thanks.” He picked up the glass and, true to his unspoken word, took only a sip.
“What about me?” asked Raedren.
“You can drink whatever you want at whatever speed you want,” said Gavi, setting a full mug in front of him. She leaned against the bar, cradling a drink of her own.
“The thing is, the reason I was messing up so much today was because he was right there, staring over my shoulder,” said Mazik. He turned to Gavi. “I mean, how would you react if your boss was looking over your shoulder all day?”
“Well, I don’t hate my boss, so it’s not quite the same,” said Gavi, “but I know what you mean. That’d be pretty annoying.”
“I know, right?” Mazik slumped. “The reason I kept messing up was because he was there. It made me so self-conscious I couldn’t focus.”
Raedren pointed at Mazik. “He can get self-conscious?”
Gavi shrugged. “News to me.”
“Yes, I can, and also shush,” said Mazik. “Honestly, I wasn’t even doing that badly. Was just a little rough….”
Gavi pulled a newspaper out from under the bar and tossed it to Mazik. “Here. I haven’t gotten a chance to look through them yet, so you can go first. Maybe you’ll find something better.”
There was silence for a while as Mazik read the job listings, with only the sound of Gavi rearranging some mugs marring their peace and quiet. That and the usual crowded roar of a busy bar, but they had long since gotten used to that. It’s remarkable what people can adapt to.
A representative at a trading company. Part-time at a bank. A salesman. Two generic office jobs so boring they made Mazik’s eyes water. A merchant’s assistant. Some kind of number-cruncher with the government. Two more sales jobs.
Mazik set the paper down. It was all the same. The job descriptions were all different, but when you got right down to it they were all the same. Work for a company, have a boss, make the boss money, and get screwed over when you stopped being useful. Had anyone ever become happy doing that? Happy despite it, perhaps, but not because of it.
So why am I trying to do the same thing all over again?
Mazik recalled the definition of madness. Inwardly, he winced.
“It’s no good,” said Mazik, slumping against the bar again.
“What’s wrong with them?” asked Gavi.
“They’re all the same,” said Mazik. “They’re all the same bullshit! I feel like if I take one of these, I’m just going to end up in the same situation I’m in now, just hating my job and being miserable.”
Raedren picked up the newspaper. “Well, why not try something different then? Like this.”
Mazik read the job description Raedren was pointing at. “A construction worker? I don’t know, that seems so…”
“The pay’s good though, if you’re a caster,” said Raedren. “Sounds like they need someone who can do all the heavy lifting, enhance their workers, that kind of thing.”
“I can’t use enhancement magick on others. You fit this job description better than I do.”
“But I don’t hate my job,” said Raedren.
“Yes you do,” said Mazik.
Raedren shrugged. “It was just an idea.”
Mazik waved his hands. “No no no, you’re right. I should definitely try to think of something different I could do. It’s just, a construction worker…”
“Well, why not get paid to be in a place you spend all your time in anyway?” said Gavi. She waved around her. “You could become a bartender.”
“True, but I hate customers,” said Mazik. “How fun is it to deal with drunk people all the time?”
“It’s not bad,” said a voice from the side. They turned to the lanky man filling mugs from a fresh keg. He nodded to them.
“Well, you would know,” admitted Mazik. “The real question is, how much are you lying right now because customers are within earshot?”
The bartender smiled tightly and said nothing. His name was Tielyr Fer’Andel. A tall, lanky man with deceptive strength and a certain way with words—in that he didn’t use them often. He found that talking got in the way of listening, and more importantly, getting tips—he kept his brown hair long and gathered into a ponytail. He also had a face Mazik would have charitably called “jagged”—and uncharitably called “butt ugly”—though that didn’t stop him from getting lucky with a certain type of lady. Specifically, the really drunk ones.
“Personally, I always thought your current job of lying to people for profit seemed perfect for you,” said Raedren. “If you’re tired of that, why not become a politician?”
“Thanks, but I’m not sure I want to become even
hated.” Mazik scratched his chin. “I’ll keep that as a possibility though.”
They all thought for a while.
“A bouncer, then?” said Raedren. “Or a guard of some sort. All you’d have to do is look menacing and possibly hit people, which you’re good at. You even have the training
“If I can do it, it ought to be no problem for you,” said Gavi. “You’d probably enjoy it more too.”
“What kind of—how exactly do you
me?” asked Mazik.
Raedren considered this. “Accurately.”
Mazik sighed. He was trying to remember how he got into this mess. He was a pretty smart guy, he went to a good school—or at least
school than most people, higher education being a luxury most could not afford—so he should have had his pick of jobs. But then he graduated, and there was a recession going on, and it was hard to find work. Soon he was running out of money, and he needed to take
or he would starve. Then he interviewed with AIW….
Mazik sighed again. “I’ll figure this out tomorrow. Gavs?”
Mazik tapped his glass. “Another, please. I still have things inside me I need to kill.”
* * *
Hours passed, and night fell. With their labors done and homes to go to, the good, hardworking people of Houk had long since retired, ceding the streets to those whose business was the night. The murderers, the cutthroats, the thieves, and the whores were out in force tonight, slinking through the shadows and weaving through crowds of ordinary citizens out for a good time, or a bad time well enjoyed. Through all this, the light of their lanterns casting a bubble of hardscrabble justice in the midnight air, walked the erratically valiant members of the city guard. They were out patrolling to keep the peace and maintain order, though they were willing to settle for one of the two.
Yet compared to how it usually was, the night seemed somewhat … barren, as if even the criminals had decided that tonight was not safe, or at least that it was less safe than usual.
Down a wide avenue, nearly empty save for the light of oil lamps sitting atop their posts and flickering like mad regents relishing in the power of their absent lord, walked a conservatively dressed businessman.
Though he usually went straight home after work, today the lone businessman got caught on his way out by his boss, who was determined to take a customer out for drinks, and even more determined that he wouldn’t be doing it alone. Unable to argue with the man who gave him the money that put food in his children’s mouth, the businessman agreed.
He walked unsteadily down a street emptied by fear and good sense. His body was totally wrung out, the weight of life, responsibilities, and too many drinks weighing on him. That’s why he wasn’t paying much attention to his surroundings. A thief could have snuck up behind him, knocked him unconscious, and made off with everything he owned, and he would have been none the wiser until he woke up.
Ahead, there was an alley.
Hands shot out of the darkness, clamping around his mouth and neck. His scream was smothered in his throat.
The businessman flailed, but to no avail. Other hands joined the first, wrapping around his arms, his legs, his chest, his head.
Unseen and unheard, the businessman was dragged kicking and attempting to scream into the alley. Then something hard struck him on the back of the head, and the darkness that had been threatening to take him reached out and swallowed him whole.
* * *
“You were an adorable kid, clearly,” said Gavi.
“Thank you!” said Mazik.
“Also, probably a pain in the ass.”
“Yup!” said Mazik. He laughed. “Who’s next?”
“I’ll go,” said Gavi.
“Rae, would you like to do the honors?” said Mazik.