Sandi’s clothes reappeared as if by magic, and without waiting for Garth to get dressed, she opened the door and fled the room, her face bright red, forgetting to take the tray with her. Garth just barely managed to pull the covers over himself before Tyler strode inside, craning his neck to follow Sandi’s Lure down the hall as long as he could.
He whistled, “Damn, didn’t think the girl doing the walk of shame would be that hot. You know where I can find a bitch like that?”
Wilson gave Tyler a glare that would have melted rock if it weren’t all in Garth’s head.
“Don’t do that.” Garth said, taking his hands away from the blankets and growing himself a cannabis Christmas tree with an emphasis on pain-killing and prolonging the endorphin rush. Marijuana was nothing if not flexible.
“Do what?” Tyler asked, his brows furrowed.
“shame women for having sex. It makes it harder for for nice guys like me to get laid." Garth exhaled a plume of smoke toward Tyler's face, guiding it along with Telekinesis.
"With the end of the world, I figure we got a good shot at reshaping society's mores, so why would you want to be an asshole?"
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but it made you sound like a bitch.” Tyler said.
“Whatever.” Garth rolled his eyes and plucked a painkilling cigar, drawing a deep breath of smoke, waiting for the aching in his side to go away. He’d tensed a bit too much there at the end. “What do you want?”
“That trick with the pot, can you do it with anything?”
“As long as it’s made from a plant, yeah.”
“How about this?” Tyler asked, pulling out a little plastic bag filled with white powder.
“The hell is that?” Garth asked.
“Cocaine. I thought you were Captain Contraband or some shit.” Tyler said with a sneer.
“Believe it or not, before the world went to hell, I wasn’t a drug dealer. And I can’t make jack shit from a purified chemical in a bag, I’d need a partially alive Coca branch at the very least. You got one of those on ya?” Garth returned his own sneer.
“Nope, but I could. The place I was before I got dragged to this shithole had a couple fields within branch-snagging distance. Not very well guarded since half the people that ran ‘em started eating the other half, you know. They’re actually dying out on account of a lack of farmers. I heard the aliens are planning on sending everyone back to the outpost closest to where they came from, so maybe you and I could work something out, what with you being a portable growing operation.”
It seemed like Tyler wanted to make Garth into his drug-dispenser bitch after all.
“I’ll stop you right there.” Garth said, pointing at Tyler with the lit cigar. “Nobody’s treating me like a portable growing operation, and I’m not interested in growing a drug that ruins peoples lives. I’ll agree to do two things if you’re still on board.”
Tyler’s face soured, but he asked, “What two things?”
“I’ll tweak the plant to grow in more adverse conditions so you can grow it wherever you want, I’ll give it a higher concentration of cocaine, and…”
“And I’ll make it less addictive, and remove withdrawal symptoms completely. From what I’ve seen so far, I might be able to do that. The chemicals in plants aren’t actually chemicals anymore, exactly, they’re an expression of intent.
The skinhead blinked.
“That’s just stupid. Coke being addictive is where the money comes from.”
“Caffeine is only mildly addictive, and caffeine withdrawal is not life-destroying. Pepsi and coca cola made billions a year, and it wasn’t just because of the sugar-water.”
“If you wanna make it for pussies, just use caffeine, then!”
“I never said I was going to dial down the effect,” Garth said. “Matter of fact, I might be able to make it last longer, and let you come down easier, rather than feeling like a used condom when it runs its course.”
Tyler stared at him like he was crazy, fingering the knife on his belt.
“Think about it this way. Fifteen years from now, there are two brands of coke on the market. Tyler-coke, and Garth-coke, respectively. Garth-coke lasts longer, you feel better afterwards, the high is better, you don’t have to be afraid of getting addicted, it’s legal, and it’s cheap. Tyler-coke is illegal, expensive, underperforms in every respect, and you can get addicted, and Tyler-dealers are known to take advantage of their customer’s desperation to get their dicks wet.”
“I like that part,” Tyler said with a grin.
“I’m sure you do.”
Then Tyler’s face turned serious. “Besides, it’s a chemical, cocaine is cocaine. You can’t change that. If they’re both pure, it’ll be the same.”
“I guess you’re right.” Garth admitted. “I won’t be making coke. I’ll be making something better than coke. Something coke can’t compete with. Are you interested?” The thug thumbed his chin for a minute, watching Garth speculatively.
Garth had never been particularly good at reading people, but every part of Tyler’s body language screamed ‘I’m gonna betray you!’
“We’ll see. Where you at?”
“If you get a branch, or better yet, a seed, to L.A. alive, that’s where I’m headed.”
“L.A.? What’s there?”
“Beachfront property and a bunch of multimillion dollar mansions in need of new owners.”
“Ah, cute, you planning on setting up shop on nine oh two one oh? Palm trees, bikinis, and shit?”
“I like it.” Tyler said, his hand creeping towards his knife again. You know I can see you, right? “But I think your plan is shit.”
“Oh? I guess fifteen years from now we’re gonna see my little hypothetical play out.”
“Not if I take you back to Mexico and put a bullet in your head unless you do what I tell you.”
Welp, this took a wrong turn somewhere, Garth thought to himself as the grinning drug dealer advanced. Now he had to put the fear of Garth in him, which wasn’t on Garth list of favorite things to do. Making people afraid of you was stressful, ulcer inducing work.
“Oh, why don’t you try then?” Garth said, motioning to his supine form under the bedsheets. “I’m sure you can carry a hundred and eighty pounds no problem, ‘less you’re even more of a bitch than you look.”
“With pleasure.” Tyler said with a grin, pulling his knife. “Minus that smartass tongue.”
Garth put up a palm sized Force Shield in front of Tyler’s nose, focusing on getting all the power he could with his meager skill into that tiny space. The thug obliged by lunging forward and smacking into the invisible plane of force with all his forward momentum.
“Fuck!” Tyler shouted, recoiling backward, dropping his knife and clutching his face. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Garth snatched up the knife with Telekinesis and pressed the blade against Tyler’s neck.
Tyler went stiff, his own blade pressing into the skin above his jugular.
“Now Tyler,” Garth said with a calm, measured voice, making every effort not to allow the panic he felt to seep into his speech. Garth could still only move five or ten pounds at a time, and If Tyler put his hand up to the knife, he could wrestle it out of Garth’s control in a fraction of a second. After that, things would get complicated.
“I want you to understand that I’ve got more ways to kill you than an illiterate thug like you can count.” For emphasis, Garth summoned a flickering bead of fire above his right palm, and summoned Woody with his left. The use of three spells simultaneously ignited a blazing headache as Garth divided his attention between them.
Tyler’s gaze flickered to the knife under his chin, the young treant glaring at him, and the flickering bead of fire. It wasn’t supposed to be flickering, but Tyler didn’t need to know that.
“Three?” He said, raising a brow.
“You don’t see the fourth one?” Garth asked incredulously, tilting his head as a little ditty played in his head. Bluff, bluff, bluffity bluuufff! It sounded a bit like Wilson. If Tyler decided to take Garth, he’d drop everything except Woody and hope the noise of them fighting attracted enough attention to save his skin.
Tyler must have bought it, though, as he turned pale and his eyes began scanning the room, looking for the mysterious fourth threat. Excellent.
It was in the middle of this standoff that Itet opened the door, drawing their gaze. She glanced in, taking in the scene. As usual, her Tzetin body language seemed completely unreadable to a normal human, but Garth could make out Anger/Protectiveness in the way her antennae twitched.
“I guess it was five.” Garth said.
“You want me to kill him?” She asked. “If I hung him upside down in the larder, I don’t think the shinta would be able to tell he was human until after we leave. Or maybe just feed him to Sandi.”
“Thanks, Itet, but Tyler and I were just resolving our differences. Right?”
Tyler nodded, and his knife lifted away from his neck and sheathed itself.
“Keep this in mind, Tyler.” Garth called after him. “You didn’t make the business decisions before the world ended, I can tell. I think you should stick to what you’re good at.”
The skinny thug straightened his jacket and walked out, staring at Itet for a moment on the way out.
“And you’ll always have a job opportunity with me if you want it! Just come to L.A. with the right plants.”
“We’ll see.” Tyler said, stepping out of the room.
Itet waited a moment, her head cocked as she listened to the fading footsteps. “He’s gone,” she said, turning to look at Garth. “Why offer him a job when he obviously wants to kill you?”
“In business you gotta work with people you don’t like, so I left the door open. Tyler could be an excellent connection to a lot of interesting plants from the south, and I don’t think he wants to kill me so much as scare me into doing what he says. Probably. By the way, thanks for playing along by offering to kill him. I think that was the last straw that changed his mind.”
“Nevermind.” Garth said. “So what are you doing here?”
“I heard there’s going to be speeches given by the apostles tonight, and if you’re still bedridden by the time that happens, you’ll be excluded.”
“Why should I care about that?” Garth didn’t want to give a speech. Hell, the opportunity to skip because he was wounded was a blessing in disguise.
“They said it was some kind of recruiting drive. Apostles use the time between missions to build a following.”
Garth took a deep breath and dragged his palms down over his face while heaving an enormous sigh. Of course there were recruiting drives, why not? Everyone had seen who had preformed the best, and would decide whose camp they wanted to join at the end of the campaign.
“What is this, prom king and queen?” Garth groaned. No, he knew it was real politics, where you had to go out in front of people and make a splash, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference. I can’t afford not to get whatever extra man/womanpower I can, though, so I might as well. There’s also some debts I need to pay.
“Okay, new plan,” Garth said, pulling a coin out of his Status Band. “Take this ten thousand credit coin, give it to Sandi and see if she can bribe one of the healers to get me ambulate before the speeches tonight.”
“I think I could do it.” Itet said. “I would like to try.”
Garth wordlessly drew a second coin from his bank account and handed it to Itet. “There you go, give one to Sandi, then the two of you can see who convinces someone to get here first.”
Itet gave the Tzetin smile and nodded as an afterthought before turning away. “I’ll get this right to her, than we compete!”
“Sure,” Garth said, waving her out.
“If she’d really learned, she wouldn’t tell Sandi at all.” Wilson said beside him.
“Shush, she’s trying.”
Happy to help, Ms Sandi!” the shinta healer said, poking Garth’s ribs with the scissors he was using to remove Garth’s bandages. His eyes were drifting to where Sandi was leaning over to watch in rapt attention, her breasts swinging low in her nearly-transparent black shirt.
Garth was almost too distracted to notice the scissors jabbing into his side, but it pulled him out of his stupor.
“Watch it!” Garth hissed.
Itet was in the corner with her arms crossed, her antennae showing Confusion/Anger. “I don’t understand, he said he’d be right over after getting his things!”
“I’m not going to ask you for that ten grand back, as long as you learned your lesson.” Garth said, stretching and peeling the rest of the bandages off his torso before throwing on a shirt.
“Yes, watch the person I bribed until they do as I requested!”
“Wanna field this one Sandi?” Garth asked.
“You gotta make sure they’re the kind of person that takes bribes normally, and follows through with them before you do anything, and sometimes it’s best to pay after they do what you ask, like so. Here you go sugar.” Sandi handed the healer a hefty ten thousand credit gold coin and kissed him on the cheek. The shinta gave the three of them an odd look before stumbling out the door, his knees weak.
“It doesn’t hurt that Sandi’s incredibly attractive to whoever’s looking at her.” Garth said
“This is so complicated.” Itet shook her head, looking at the floor.
“You’ll get a handle on it, but right now I gotta go make the scene.” Garth handed them a few hundred credits each. “Go have fun, dolls.”
“I am not a doll.”
“Can’t I come watch?”
“Whatever you wanna do,” he said, tromping out the door. “I’m late!”
Garth almost missed the opening, and they relegated him to the last seat of the night, which wasn’t too bad of a position to be in as long as he could make a shocking enough entrance to wipe the other speeches from their minds.
Jim’s speech was well rehearsed. The kid had plenty of practice with stuff like this. Leanne’s was a bit shakier, but she seemed to be able to sway the crowd and target the specific things that they cared about, until they were cheering like rabid fans. Interesting. Erik’s speech was awful, and the poor guy seemed to have stage fright in front of the couple thousand assembled humans. Poor guy, guess he had some weaknesses after all.
Finally Garth’s turn came around, and general Kenra waved him up onto the stage. “And finally, the most powerful Apostle of Beladia, goddess of Hearth, Nature and Love.”
Garth eyed the shinta general as he passed. The blue-skinned general didn’t give any indication that he knew Garth was onto his dirty little secret. Probably didn’t care either. If a general was in on it, chances were the problem went all the way to the top and there wasn’t a damn lot Garth could do about it. Not yet, anyway.
He turned his gaze away from the bastard and eyed the stand in front of him, bracing a thin spiderweb of some silvery substance woven around a tiny marble of enchanted dungeon core, designed to catch and magnify vibrations. Oh, look, a microphone, neat.
Garth swept his gaze across the assembled men and women, who looked up at him without much expectation. Most of them hadn’t seen him except in passing when they took breaks in the castle. Matter of fact, he saw quite a few people giving him hard looks. Probably because they thought he was able to avoid most of the danger by being the stockboy, which was true.
Garth glanced at Wilson, who gave him a thumbs up. He winked back. I’m gonna do it.
Garth leaned into the microphone and said, “Quick show of hands, how many of you are into Minotaur cock?”