Zeke had braved the harshest Chicago winters, had stood up to multiple high school bullies, and even entered a job he was under-qualified for, but for some reason, the idea of going out to dinner with his new co-workers seemed unrealistic and daunting to him. He trailed behind them as opposed to walking in a line, only chiming in every few words so he didn’t seem like a creep just following them wherever they went. He was like a lost puppy dog.
“And she said, ‘I can’t just lie like that, it’s unethical.’ To me, that just means she isn’t motivated. She won’t get far in this city with such a high moral code,” Markus said, shaking his head as if he was disgusted by the thought. They were talking about an old friend of theirs that left the company for refusing to do something their boss told them was alright. What confused him, though, was whether the friend left on their own accord, or if they were forced out of the role.
“What was she going to lie about?” Zeke asked, raising his eyebrow as they looked back at him.
“Let’s just say she was our designated PR lady, and she was going to approach the media about a slip up one of our cloud database engineers had. Lots of sensitive info was released to the black market, but they didn’t want to sweep any of it under the rug.”
“I mean, isn’t that pretty bad? Given the nature of things?”
“Nah, nothing is private anymore anyway.”
Zeke shrugged and lowered his stare as he wondered exactly what he got himself into this time. They entered the pizzeria, loud music playing over the sound system, and large screens depicting news and games. A chaotic blend of politics and touchdowns.
So, bigshot,” Markus said after the waitress set the drinks down in front of them. Her entire right arm was metal, cybernetic wiring trailing on top of whatever skin was exposed. She winked at him as his eyes trailed up the glowing wire, tapping his shoulder before leaving the table be. “How’d you get in with the company?”
“Huh? Oh, EcoVex? Networking, I guess.”
“You guess? You don’t even have a degree, kid!” One of the girls chimed in, sipping on her cocktail with a cocked brow. Her hair was a sandy blonde, falling to the small of her back. She was beautiful, but he wondered if she was high off something. Her eyes weren’t all there.
“Well, champ,” Zeke said with an awkward smile. He was never good at banter. “I guess I had a good enough portfolio of projects? I spent a lot of my high school time coding and developing apps. My dad taught me the basics when I was pretty young, the rest came naturally.”
The girl leaned forward, her eyes narrow and her grin maniacal. “Are you like a--hacker?”
He shook his head with a grin, looking at Markus who wiggled his eyebrows at them. Zeke didn’t even know her name, and to be quite frank, he wasn’t even sure if she worked for the same company. She met them at the riverwalk and decided to tag along.
“No, I just manage some of the entry-level data for the client databases. Nothing fancy.”
“Pity.” she pouted and leaned backward. “And here I thought I was going to try and bang a hacker.”
Zeke felt like his eyes were popping out of his head before he nodded awkwardly, turning back to Markus to hopefully steer the conversation in a different direction. “So, Markus. Got any tips on surviving in this company?”
Markus chuckled dryly, taking a sip of his beer before winking. “Networking, but apparently you’re a champ at that already, huh? I have a friend coming tonight, and I think you’ll want to meet him.”
The drive was quiet. Desirae tuned out everything that was said, whether it was from Luni or her father. She couldn’t believe she somehow managed to push herself into this type of scenario. Lunivere could be taking them to a world-renowned restaurant fit with wine angels and steak imported from Tokyo, and she would still find a reason to detest the idea for spending an evening with her father.
There were a lot of reasons she hated her father. Most prominently was his vendetta against people who used augments, he was both the voice and funding behind many of the movements and political mandates that threw augmented people on the streets. He openly talked about the idea of eradicating an entire lifestyle through the use of brute force. In his time as a state congressman, more people have been arrested and removed from their homes than ever before.
When Desirae was a child, she would remember the way Nathaniel would regard augmented humans. Even if it was something as little as a chip in their pupil to help cure their blindness--he would treat them like scum. She didn’t know why her mother left, but as time went on, the answer was growing far clearer than it was in her early years.
Eventually, Lunivere chimed in and announced that they had arrived. Desirae had never hopped out of a car so quickly, separating herself from her father was the closest thing to sanity she would feel for the night. Sometimes she wondered if she was being melodramatic, but oftentimes she shrugged it away and decided wallowing in her woes was the only way to go.
“Where are we going?” she mumbled.
“Just follow me,” her father sighed and waved his hand. They winded through a few crowds, walking along the riverwalk for a while. She adjusted her jacket as they passed the club she had met DeVile at, her lips pursed into a thin line as the idea of coming up empty-handed on Friday dawned on her. Right now, he was nothing but a nuisance she had to try and swindle. Nothing but a gangbanger who was way too cocky and knew he had her in the palm of his hands. However, the idea of tempting that type of monstrosity was not what she wanted; she knew if she made him upset, or proved to be unreliable or untrustworthy, it could cost Desirae her life.
Shaking her head, she kept her head down and hoped none of DeVile’s goons were hanging around outside. Surely, they all knew her face by now and were keeping a close eye. She knew he wouldn’t be as sloppy to let his newly appointed messenger loose.
Her father pushed the door of a pizzeria open, letting it close as she tried to follow behind him. Huffing out a breath of frustration, she lodged the door open with her foot and glared at the back of his head. Pushing it back open, she shoved her hands in her pockets and shimmied past a large group at the entrance of the restaurant. From here, she could hear her father's obnoxious and booming laugh over the loud music and chatter.
“Mark, what is going on!”
Rolling her eyes, she made her way past the last of the standing crowds and eyed the group he was standing next of them. All of them were younger, probably maxing out at twenty-five and some as young as twenty. She knew her father had friends of varying ages, but the idea of her dad hanging around people closer to her age irked her. It was the worst type of midlife crisis possible.
“Guys, this is my daughter.” her father introduced, placing his arm around her shoulders like they were as close as could be. She recoiled inwardly, trying her best to hide it with a smile. She kept her gaze on the ground to hide her discomfort, surely looking awkward as her father introduced her. “Desir--”
“Desirae!” A familiar voice chimed. Snapping her gaze up, her mouth parted as Zeke looked her up and down with shock. “What are you doin’ here?”
“Zeke!” Her father greeted him with glee, dropping his arm and reaching out the other to offer a handshake. “It’s been ages, how have you been?”
She stood quiet, her lips now clamped shut as she pinched her palms. The entire room felt still now, her brain buzzing with the idea of Zeke being involved with anybody her father was acquainted enough to grab a slice of pizza with.
“Just fine, Mr. Abernathy. Just fine!”
Desirae pulled the sleeve of her jacket down to cover her palms before exchanging glances between her father and Zeke. He didn’t look at her again, but she could tell he felt awkward. They hadn’t really spoken since she closed up on him.
He pulled a chair at the edge of the table so he could sit with them, leaving the only empty spot next to Zeke. He reluctantly scooted over before patting the spot. She sat, folding her hands across her lap as she looked around the group, furrowing her brows as she observed one of the girls across the table. She had sandy blonde hair, and her pupils were practically the size of her iris. Something glistened in the light, almost metallic in nature, but Desirae was too distracted by her constant fidgeting to think too hard about it. Nobody seemed to pay mind to it, anyway, they all kept conversing amongst themselves. Desirae spent time with all sorts of gangsters and drug lords, and almost all of them were high. The way this girl was acting, though, was strange.
“I want you to know that I’m sorry about whatever happened the other day,” Zeke whispered as he leaned over closer to her. She snapped her gaze away from the girl, looking at him with wide eyes.
“Sorry? Why are you sorry?”
Zeke pulled his shoulders up in a shrug, a small smile twitching at the corner of his lips before he turned his stare away. “I prodded. I probably shouldn’t do that.”
Desirae nodded slowly, staring at him for a moment. He was wearing a button-up shirt, the sleeves rolled to the bend of his arm and the top button let loose to give off a more casual appearance. His dark hair was a little messy, but she could tell he had it styled for his first day at work. He looked good, a completely different version of himself that Desirae wasn’t used to.
“It’s fine, Zeke.” Desirae started, looking at the glass of water the waitress set in front of her. “Don’t worry about it.”
Just as the waitress walked away, her father scoffed under his breath. Nobody paid mind to it, but it drove Desirae up the wall. All she could do was sit, smile, and hope this dinner was over before she chopped anybody's head off.
“So, Nathaniel,” the boy her father had greeted upon arrival said, “got anything nice for us?”
“Well, Mark. I have a proposal for you. I think it’ll have to wait until after we get some pizza in my mouth. Where’s that augmented freak at, anyway?”