Chapter 42

Zap cracked his knuckles and leaned forward. He let his fingers dance over the keyboard, opening his e-mail client and composing a new message. He chewed his lip for a moment, then began.

Dear Mom,

The second week of the retreat is flying by. They’re keeping us busier than a mind flayer at a MENSA meeting, and it’s making the time go fast. I guess a two-week retreat isn’t that long, is it?

Anyway, we’ve gotten back into exercises and training, so I’ve had very little time to hang out with the new friends I’ve made. Luckily, the Rail is there for us and I’ve already gotten over a dozen new ethadds on my contact list.

“Weren’t you going to get some food before the impro magic seminar?” Arden’s voice came from the bathroom. “You were really enthusiastic about this one. Wouldn’t want you to faint or something.”

“I’ve got 45 minutes,” Zap replied. “I can eat fast.”

He resumed typing.

I can’t type for long; I’ve taken it upon myself to pick up a few seminars that I thought would be good for me. Makes me even busier, though.

Everybody’s mind is on the Store vs. Store combat exercises near the end of the retreat, and the subsequent retreat party. The exercise seems like a more intense version of our fight with the Rosebuds, which is a bit scary. If the party’s anything like the concert was, though, it should be a lot of fun.

Anyway, I

“Do you know if Miss Steve is planning on attending the firearms modification seminar?” Arden called again.

“I think so,” Zap replied.

His train of thought derailed, Zap stared blankly at the shell’s monitor for nearly a full minute. He cautiously raised his hands to the keyboard and began typing again.

Anyway, I have been doing well and it hasn’t been too hard on me. The exercises nearly kill me every day, but I’m dying a little less each time. This is a good incentive to start really exercising once I get back.

I hope things are working out for you at the Atelier. Let me know if you have any interesting new components come in.


Your Son Zap

Zap hammered one the shortcut keys that sent the message into the ether, then whirled in his chair and stood.

“Right,” he said. “Food.”

“Oh, you’re finally getting going,” Arden said.

“Yes, yes,” Zap said. “I wonder if I’ll get to cite my use of the Three Martini Lunch combo from Friday’s exercise.”

“Not sure what you’re talking about,” Arden said, “but I could go for a three martini something.”

“Want to meet up at the pub after your seminar?” Zap asked.

“Sure,” Arden said. “Sounds like a plan. Save a martini for me.”

“I’ll make sure they don’t run out of olives,” Zap said as he slipped through the door.

“I guess that I relied on my band members as friends a little more than I realized,” Alan said. He tore a chunk off of his bread bowl.

“You’re missing them?” Steve asked, a chopstick-held bundle of noodles halfway to her mouth.

“Yeah,” Alan said. He ripped smaller pieces off of the larger chunk, placing them one by one in his soup. “It’s like I got here, and I went to parties, and I suddenly got all shy. That’s not really like me.”

“I agree,” Steve said. She took a large bite of sesame noodles.

“I think that’s probably why Paru took me to the concert as her date. She knew I needed a direction. Shouldn’t I be doing that on my own, though? I’m a shift supervisor.”

Steve mumbled something through the mouthful of food.

“Exactly,” Alan replied. “It’s a learning experience like everything else here. Oh, hey Zap.”

“Hey Alan, Steve,” Zap said, approaching with a tray full of food. Zap took the seat next to Steve, who scooted over a little bit to accommodate him. Zap set his tray down and took his seat.

Alan continued. “So I think it’s something I’ll learn from. How’s everything going for you? Picking anything up?”

“Hell yeah,” Steve said with a nod. “I always figured that I could do with a little more time on the range, but I didn’t realize how much it would help. My marksmanship scores have shot up, and my quick draw’s faster than ever.”

“How about you, Zap?” Alan asked. He took his spoon and dredged through his french onion soup to find the now soup-soaked bread. He soon extracted a piece, catching a thread of cheese as he lifted it.

“Well, I have to admit that being in AP wizardry, the magic practice here isn’t much more than practice,” Zap said as he laid out his place on the table. “Even the improv magic seminar only taught me a little. What I’m really doing is getting in shape. Exercises don’t tire me out quite as much.”

“You could have fooled us,” Steve teased. She gave Zap an impish grin. “You still look like you’ve just crawled through the Northern Wastes every morning.”

“Not all of us are of hardy peasant stock,” Zap said a bit sourly.

“Now now, girls,” Alan said, his mouth full. “You’re both pretty.”

There was a minute of silence as everyone ate, which was interrupted when Loren, carrying a tray with only a single plate of food and a glass of water, arrived.

“Hey Loren, how’s—are you eating plain pasta?” Steve said.

“It’s not plain,” Loren replied, sitting at the table. “It’s got butter on it.”

“That’s the loneliest tray ever,” Steve said mournfully.

“Anybody else try the french onion soup?” Alan said. “It’s awesome.”

“Yeah, I got a bowl,” Zap said. “It’s good?”

“Plus one delicious,” Alan replied.

“HD,” Zap said, pulling his cup of soup to him. He began blowing on it to let it cool.

“Steve,” Loren asked, “how is your new boyfriend?”

“We’re doing great,” Steve replied. “It’s been ages since I got l—since. Uh.”

“Since you had a boyfriend,” Zap filled in.

“Since I had a boyfriend,” Steve agreed.

“Congratulations,” Loren said with a smile. “You deserve somebody good.”

“Why thanks, man,” Steve said, surprised at Loren’s vote of confidence. “I think so too.”

“Where does Mike live again?” Alan asked.

“About a block north of Rose street. It’s only ten minutes on the Rail,” Steve replied.

“Iyesu!” Zap exclaimed.

Everyone turned to look, surprised by the outburst.

“This soup really is awesome!” Zap said.

“See?” Alan said.

Steve and Alan stayed at the table for fifteen minutes after they had finished their food, but when Loren finished his plate of spaghetti the three decided to part ways. This left Zap alone at the table, poking at the last of the food he had taken and debating whether he was hungry enough to eat it.

After a few minutes of deliberation, Zap forgot about what he was trying to decide and set about playing with his food instead. The remaining mashed potatoes on his plate became a canvas on which he began drawing. Humming to himself, Zap practiced runes in the surface of the mashed potatoes.

Zap was soon so absorbed in the action on his plate that he failed to notice Click’s approach until the faerie set his tray on the table with a loud clack!

The young wizard started violently, looking up into Click’s eyes. Click, who had dark circles under his eyes and looked very frayed around the edges, stared back at him. The two remained in this tableau until Click finally spoke.

“Zap,” he said. “I’m Unseelie.”

“Hur dur,” Zap said, drawing from a richly empathic part of his soul.

“I didn’t know it, is the thing,” Click said, sitting down at the table. “The fae … we do our own thing, really, and introspection isn’t really much of a thing we tend to do. I hadn’t seen my card in months until Friday night. I used to be Seelie, Zap.”

Click’s wild-eyed desperation sent a twinge of sympathy through Zap, who sighed. “Who was your card?”

“Mab,” Click said.

Zap winced. “Oogh,” he said. “Not even Kallisti?”

“I half-expected her,” Click said, “but not Mab. I can’t have come this far.”

“Well, Click,” Zap replied. “You were in the middle of a plan that entailed destroying a girl’s self-esteem so you could get with her. That’s pretty … that’s pretty scummy, man.”

Click put his head on the table.

“Well,” Zap said, somewhat uncomfortable, “only thing to do is start checking yourself, right?”

“Right,” Click said, his voice heavy. He picked up his head and looked at Zap.


“I’m going to try to avoid using Granfalloon magic at all,” Click said.

“And,” Zap prompted.

“And I’ll take a more direct hand with anyone I feel like trying to influence.”

“And Steve?” Zap asked.

“Steve…” Click thought about it for a moment. “I mean, if she breaks up with this guy, I can try pursuing her like a normal person? I guess? And if not, I’d better leave her alone.”

“Ok,” Zap said. “Good words. If you can actually do it, you should be okay to switch back by Yule.”

“Big if,” Click said.

“It’s in your hands,” Zap said. “But whatever the case, you’ve got to stop moping. That won’t help anybody. Get some sleep, think on it, fly right.”

“Why did you have to say that,” Click said.

“Say what?”

“Never mind,” Click said.

“Look,” Zap said. “There’s another suite party tonight. I’m not going, but you should. Just loosen up a little bit, just … not too much.”

“Okay,” Click replied.

“Anyway, work on that. I’ll see you later, Click.”

“All right,” Click said, still looking pathetic. “See you later.”

Zap stood and picked up his tray. Once several paces away, he shook his head. “I threaten a guy once and all of a sudden I’m his fucking psychiatrist.”