“There were some very expensive spellbooks in that Status Band,” Garth said, his damnedest to stay calm. So far the bum had showed up, showed a modest talent at Telekinesis, a fair amount of paranoia and spouted a random location. His reasons for being here were cryptic at best and involved a bet. He also seemed to harbor some kind of grudge against Garth. Mind control spells I hardly knew ye.
“You can still dive in there and save the finger paintings if you want.” Cassius said, taking a sip of his newly refreshed beer. The gem studded in the center of Garth’s Status Band split down the middle with an audible crack.
“Well, you could’ve.” Cassius shrugged.
“Charlie!” Sandi shouted, jumping out of her seat and sprinting over to the fire, kicking her status band out and daintily extracting her plant from the singed band. She cradled the carnivorous plant and cooed at it. Something about that sight niggled in the back of his mind, on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t quite put it together.
“Well at least you got Charlie out of it.” Garth said, putting his jaw on his palm. Thank Beladia all the Mythic Cores were already back on Earth. Garth was a little hesitant, but the postal service made short work of it.
“welu, oodei opela soo koi?” Sandi asked.
Garth stared at her for a moment, then glanced at Itet.
“It’ze chizi izitech zzztic,” she said, with the Tzetin shrug.
“Yeah, that’s not gonna work.” Garth said, drumming his fingers on the table. He’d been taking the translator for granted.
“You could learn their languages.” Wilson said. “Ladies dig a guy who can speak French, or whatever she’s speaking.”
“I assume she’s speaking a dialect of tentacle monster.” Garth said. Learning a new language didn’t actually seem like an insurmountable task, what with his enhanced intelligence and memory. Might even be fun. “Which ladies also dig.”
“What makes you so sure the Status bands are bugged?”
“They track your identity and location upon putting them on. They can even be used for an involuntary teleport. Whatever petty shit most people have going on is so far beneath their notice that it’s pointless, even criminals up to mass murderers and brutal regional warlords don’t really have anything to fear from them. There’s just too many people to bother spending resources on them. There are a few people out there who disrupt trade so badly, or destroy the population of one or more planets, that get rounded up by those things. Status Bands are such an integral part of our lives that no one thinks twice about them they get forcefully teleported into a sun. But if you ever become enemy numero uno, like me, well, that’s a different story.”
“Let me get this straight,” Garth said “As long as I didn’t destroy a planet or disrupt trade-“ Garth came to a sudden stop. He had spread the word across Earth to keep the Mythic Cores to themselves. Did that count?
Garth glanced at Sandi petting her potted plant. They had three days until their next deployment. Another suicide mission, of course. Clearing a salt flat of man-eating burrowing monsters. nobody even lived there.
“Tell me more about this warehouse that has our information.”
Garth stood outside the warehouse described by Cassius, an enormous stone building. It had taken a few tries with the portable Gate he’d stolen from Kine, but after a couple hours of dialing it in, he’d gotten the right continent, then the right country, then the right city, and that had been plenty.
Myriad aliens of various shapes, sizes and colors passed by without giving him a second glance as he studied the three story building that was about the size of a supermarket and apparently filled to the brim with records.
“Well, Sandi, care to do the honors?” Garth asked, motioning to the building.
“Hold Charlie.” She said, passing him the plant. The three of them wore simple silver bands around their wrists. Translators, they called them, their only function to allow communication between different languages. Without an Ethernet connection, nobody could use the simple bands to track them. Cassius had been sour about the whole thing, arguing that they should ditch all magical items made by other people entirely, but he’d reluctantly agreed when Garth had threatened not to let him come.
Garth held the plant under his arm and cocked his head to the side, watching Sandi’s hips sway from side to side, thong peeking out from her low cut jeans as she entered the lobby of the building.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that.” Wilson said.
“You and me both.”
The warehouse didn’t have much in the way of security, just a front door that led to a lobby where members of the public could make claims, request records, and add information.
Sandi was going in there to ask if the Warehouse had any records on humans from Earth. They were sending Sandi because people’s brains tended to shut off around her, which was useful.
A nerve wracking couple minutes later, Sandi came back out, waving her hands with a grin.
“We’re in luck!” She said, bouncing on her toes, her breasts nearly popping out of her tank top. “Everyone from our original teleportation is in this warehouse, including me and Itet. I told him I was looking for some friends, and he was really helpful!”
“I’m sure he was.” Wilson said. Cass stifled a cough.
“So what are you thinking?” Itet asked. “fire again?”
“My first instinct is usually arson,” Garth said, inspecting the warehouse. “But stone walls, and the scrolls protected by glass cases…I’m not sure we could get it to spread very well.”
“I’m thinking…shipping mistake?” Garth said. “Big old bureaucracy like this…stuff gets mixed up all the time. He turned to Cass. “Give me some money.”
“Why?” the beggar flinched away from Garth’s outstretched palm as though it were a poisonous snake.
“I can’t access my bank account because of you.” Garth said.
“Fine, but I’m keeping a tab.” He said, five ten thousand credit coins manifesting on his palm. He handed the gold to Garth. “And I charge interest.”
“Good, this should be enough to get what we need for the job as well as getting Cassius a bath and a new set of clothes.”
“What?” The wizard paled.
“Get off me you motherless curs!” Cassius shouted, thrashing wildly as Garth, Itet, and Sandi tried to force the skinny naked man into the tub. He was much stronger than he looked.
They had taken Cassius to a bathouse in the center of town, owned and operated by three families of succubi. The main attraction was being bathed by naked women more beautiful than words can describe, but when Cassius had lashed out at one of them and given her a bloody lip, they’d threatened to kick them all out if they couldn’t keep Cass under control.
Garth promising to bathe the man himself and a generous bribe kept them inside the walls of the bath house.
“You…could’ve…been attended…” Garth grunted as he peeled Cass’s fingers away from the copper tub. “By beautiful naked women.” He peeled away another finger as Cassius babbled in fear. “With sponges!”
“I’m losing my grip!” Sandi shouted, holding his kicking feet.
“Use your real body!”
“But he’s so gross!”
“Just do it!”
Sandi made a disgusted face and Garth saw her faint real hands as wide as Garth’s chest clamp down around Cass’s legs. His wildly flailing legs and flopping cock went still.
“You bastards are trying to kill me! I knew it!” Cass shouted at the top of his lungs.
“I’ll die! You can’t do this! I’ll die! You’re killing me!”
Cass’s last finger slipped off the edge of the tub.
Garth, Itet, and Sandi plunged Cass downward, pushing him into the soapy water. The beggar was submerged completely, going deathly still. They stood above the tub, panting with exertion as they held his arms and legs, but there was no more struggle to be had. He wasn’t moving at all.
“Is he…” Sandi said.
Wordlessly, the three of them backed away from the bathtub. Had he been telling the truth about a bath killing him? was it some kind of alien thing that made soap deathly poisonous to him or something? That couldn’t be it, the doctor had said everyone was affected the same in this reality made of thought. Soap was a cleaning agent, and no more.
“Is he dead?” Itet asked. “I did not believe him. It seemed like a lie. Clearly I have much to learn.”
Garth bent over the tub and began fishing around for the back of the man’s head. He should get his airways above the waterline. “Before we go writing him off, we should check to see if he’s actually dea-“
Cass’s limp arms began to flail, and he seized the edge of the tub with his good hand, rising out of the water with an ear piercing wail of terror.
“AAAAAIAIIIII!” Cass screamed, sitting up straight.
Garth tensed, thinking the shaggy man was about to bolt, and he’d have to tackle him and toss him back in the tub. Instead, Cass’s face went red, and he began to shiver all across his body. His head shook wildly as if he was in the midst of an epileptic seizure.
Cass’s eyes rolled back in his head as his arms and legs began to thrash the water, sending splashes up and over the three of them. Blood appeared at his nose, then began to stream out of both nostrils at an alarming rate, mixing with the soapy water in the tub.
“We’ve gotta get him outta there!” Garth shouted, trying to wrangle the man’s wildly swinging arm. After a few seconds of desperate grasping, Garth finally got a hold of his arm and was about to pull him out when Cass went limp. Crap.
With a grunt, Garth pulled the stick-thin man out of the tub and onto the tiled floor, the water and blood draining into grates beneath them.
“Cass, are you okay?” Garth bent over the man, Applying Heal to his head. Maybe he could help an aneurism. Maybe.
Cass’s eyes rolled in his sockets for a moment, half lidded, before they snapped open.
He sat up, panting and shivering.
“Apparently some jackass thought it would be funny to put a construct in my head that gave me ablutophobia.”
Cass got up and daintily stepped into the steaming bathwater, sliding down the edge of the tub and throwing his arms over his head with a sigh.
“Yeah, when you get as old and awesome as me, you start to carry around a lot of battle scars. Some stranger than others.”
“So you’re okay then?” Garth asked.
“Yeah, I found the circuit making me afraid of bathing and broke it. It was really wedged in there good. Must have been a critical…Hey!”
Garth, Itet and Sandi were already leaving. They had their own shit to take care of.
Garth threw his arm over Sandi’s shoulder as they went out the door, ignoring Cass’s protests.
“How about I give you a thank-you sponge bath?” Garth asked.
“Yes please,” Sandi said, wiping her hands on her pants with a shudder.
Sounds like a win-win.
“Explain to me again, this Con-art.” Itet said.
Garth groaned and rubbed his temple. He was explaining the plan to the three of them. Sandi and Itet were watching him intently, while Cass was playing with the wood grain of the table in front of him, making the grain pop out and turn into a tiny replica of the room they were in.
“Why can’t I go again?” Sandi asked.
“Because they’ve seen you before.” If the people running the place were at all observant, they’d put two and two together when the exact same woman showed up. She could make her clothes change somewhat to disguise herself, but they would still be incredibly arousing.
“Why can’t you go?”
“Because humans have only been around for four months. There’s no way this guy is gonna believe a human is deeply entrenched in the government. There aren’t even any human citizens.
“Except your brother.” Itet corrected.
“He doesn’t count. I don’t know how the…” Garth clenched his fist, and the tiny Garth on the table clenched his fist. “I don’t know how he did that, but navigating the political scene was always more his shtick than mine. But we’re getting off topic.”
“Itet, the reason why we’re going to send you in is because you’re perfect for the job.”
“How?” Sandi asked incredulously.
“Tzetin are famous for being totally honest. If we can coach Itet through this, the guy will buy anything she has to sell him.”
“Why would I be selling things to him?” Itet asked.
“It’s an expression, but it does lead into what a con is, and what a con artist does.” Garth pointed to the table.
“Sandi, did you know this table is an antique made of a rare wood from the inner Spheres that’s been logged nearly to extinction?”
“Really?” Itet said, leaning forward. Cass rolled his eyes and pulled a jewlers lens out of his pocket and began scrawling on a sheet of vellum. Sandi looked a bit confused.
“Yep, the owner got it from an estate sale, he doesn’t know…” Garth leaned forward and whispered. “That it’s worth millions.”
“Yeah, and I convinced him to part with it for one of your swords!” Garth said.
“Oh, I get it.” Sandi said, crossing her arms with a frown.
“Wow! My sword’s only worth two hundred credits!”
“I know, if we sell the table we can buy you as many swords as you want, just give me the sword and I’ll go trade the owner for the table right now!”
“Okay!” Itet said, unsheathing one of her swords and handing it to Garth.
“And that, Itet, is a con, in its simplest form,” Garth said, resting the oversized blade on his shoulder.
“I sold you that table, in exchange for your sword. You just got conned”
“But that’s the owner’s table.”
“The word con comes from confidence. I acted like I was sure the table was worth a lot of money. I acted confident. Then, I sold you the idea that you could make a lot of money, if you just hand me something of yours first.”
“The table isn’t an antique made of rare wood?”
“So why take my sword for it?” she asked.
Garth groaned and massaged his temple again. This was more work than he’d thought.
“Listen you’ve got to extrapolate and learn the technique. Lie and convince your mark they’ve got a lot to gain in exchange for something of theirs, then when they give it to you, you leave and never come back. That’s a con.”
Itet’s antennae twitched in deep thought as she stared at the table.
“So…I tell him his desk is made of rare wood and trade it for the Scrolls?”
“I appreciate your efforts to improve, but I’ve got a new plan.” Garth said, standing. “We’ll put a wire on you and coach you through it on site.”
Guntar was tallying the numbers when a ringing came from the front desk for the second time this week. Another person interrupting his work. Jines waved dismissively, expecting his subordinate to take care of it. Guntar would probably have to work late again because of this.
It had been no trouble for the beautiful orc woman who had obviously been in heat, though. She had been swollen in all the right places, eager for any male to come and claim her. If Guntar had an ounce less self control, he would have asked for her to come into the back where they could be alone.
Alas, he was at work, and already had one gravid female to deal with, so his professionalism had won out. He hoped it was her again, but he knew chances were he’d never see the woman again.
Guntar stepped out into the lobby and squinted against the light streaming in through the front windows. It was much brighter out here than his little cubicle where he endlessly stamped out the names of the dead.
“Good morning,” A Tzetin said. She was dressed in the uniform of a government official, standing perfectly still in front of the desk, antennae twitching wildly.
“Do you have some business with records?” he asked.
“Oh, man, she’s freaking out.” Garth said, watching her madly twitching antennae with the Floating Eye spell.