Quincy watched the woman as the door closed, spending a moment just staring at it. Woman. When he’d been a child, a woman was someone who reached her 30s. Younger than that, and they were either still a child or a young adult. It was a sad state of affairs when a twenty-year-old had the maturity and responsibilities of someone in their forties.
Finally, Sarah turned around to look at him. “What was all that about?”
Quincy shrugged a little. “Yesterday he came into my office, begging for the chance to meet with someone who had access to Miss Wilbourn.”
“Tattletale?” She was a slightly stocky woman, but Quincy knew better than to let her get her too upset. He knew she was triggered. Some people wondered why he bordered on laconic when dealing with mercenaries. Honestly? It was harder to lash out at someone who could empathize without emotion, who maintained pitches and volumes that didn’t inspire an emotional response.
“I don’t know what about, but he was pleading with me. I know the education level the two of you have, so I decided that if the you had an idea, it might be best to go with it. Besides, I handle contracts for the city, I don’t handle them for her.” He paused a moment, tilting his head just a measured hair and adding a hint of question to his tone. “I had rather thought that he was operating for both of you.”
She took in a slow breath, smoothed out her blouse, then crossed back to her seat. “Well, thank you for helping him, though I do wish that you would have allowed him to pick up his pay before issuing him out.”
Quincy cursed inwardly. That… wasn’t very smart on his part, admittedly. He should have waited long enough for that, but he’d been too focused on the time. He leaped mentally, finding a solution that would allow him to save face in front of the young mercenary. “Mrs. Kallenburger is a busy woman who skipped a meeting in order to meet with your brother. I would rather him not ruin whatever he was trying to do by having him wait on me. However, the two of you signed the necessary paperwork to have yourselves classified as a team. This puts the both of you within the realm of a private military contractor group. As such, you may sign for, and collect, his pay for him.”
He pulled out the necessary papers, setting them on the desk in front of her along with a pen. She didn’t look completely satisfied by his answer, but she did nod and pick up the pen, going over everything. Most mercenaries just signed willy-nilly, but these two had always taken the time to read all the fine print and ask questions when they weren’t completely sure about something. He liked that about them. To be fair, however, it was simply the formalities of what he’d discussed earlier, going more in-depth into how their current escort contract was at an end, how their auto-renewal of said contract would be ended, and an itemized list of where each bonus was coming from.
While she was doing that, Quincy pushed his chair back and bent down to access his safe. He gave the key on top several winds before he began to work the lock. You never knew who would have enhanced hearing or any other number of powers that would make picking a lock easier. That’s why a music box had been installed inside the safes. Only the pay that an agent would give their mercenaries would be deposited into their safes on a given day, and any that wasn’t given out would be recorded and returned at the end of the day.
He only gave a casual glance before snagging the two rings of coins from the safe and closing it again. He made sure to familiarize himself with every client’s pay when he received it, memorizing where it was placed. Small habits made things that much easier and allowed him to finish his job just a little bit faster. It wasn’t that he was a stickler for efficiency, but if his clients were in a rush, then he’d be able to help them that much easier.
While she was still reading, he got out his own ledger, marking down the serial number on the tag each ring of coins had on it, noting who was receiving it. He’d fill out the time after she signed both her contracts and the ledger. After that was the wait.
It was Wednesday, which meant that Kevin would be working tonight. That was fine. It meant that he could take Ryo and the kids out to dinner without him. Some time alone with the three of them. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Kevin; he was pretty sure that he loved him as much as he loved Ryo. But Kevin wasn’t fond of Mongolian grill, and she loved every chance she got to go to the restaurant. Tomoe and Dave loved watching them cook, too.
If someone had told him that polyamorous relationships were going to be this tricky to manage, he wouldn’t…
No, that wasn’t true. He would have. He was pretty sure it was how he was hardwired, just like his sexuality. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice or a philosophy in his mind. He simply couldn’t imagine settling down with one person without feeling like something was missing, something only the other gender could provide. Though, he also knew that it wasn’t the same for everybody. He was the outlier in society, not them.
For Kevin, it was a choice. Which was where it got tricky at times.
Sarah finally signed the two papers, then signed both lines on the ledger before she finally took the coins, frowning. After a moment’s hesitation, she pulled her purse out of her pocket. It was a strange one, with a small padlock and chains. She worked the lock and pulled the pouch open, making the chains retract. Ah, chain drawstrings. That actually made a lot of sense. He watched as she worked the rings of coins into the pouch and carefully set the chains around her belt so that the pouch was tight against it before using the padlock to make sure that it didn’t go anywhere.
“What kind of person is she?”
Quincy hadn’t expected that to come out of the blue. He was about to ask who she was referring to when he realized that she was thinking about her brother. He offered her a small smile, one that barely moved his lips, the most that mercenaries usually got out of him.
“Missy is smart enough to know when to pursue something, and when to leave it behind. She knows what meetings she needs to attend, even if her presence isn’t requested, and which ones to skip out on. She’s resourceful, too. However, she’s also judgmental and a gossip hound, and completely self-centered. I’m of the opinion that she barely cares about her husband and children, except for the prestige they provide her. If your brother has something smart up his sleeve, then I think that she’ll pursue it. If what he’s bringing to the table can’t improve her job or her standing with Miss Wilbourn, he’ll be turned away politely, but you’ll have to work twice as hard to get anything out of her in the future. And your brother probably won’t even realize he’s offended her.”
The woman nodded slowly, her face unreadable. “Then he’s likely going to pull it off. Still, he did request backup plans.” She looked him in the eye. “What do we have for future prospects?”
Such confidence in her brother. The way that they traded the mantle of responsibility so easily. The two did make a good team. Quincy put the papers in their respective folders before turning to the stack, opening the one on top.
“First off, the two of you prefer long term work with breaks of at least three weeks, and where the two of you are allowed to work as a team. My first option is a guard on the other side of the portal to Bet. The pay is three hundred and fifty a month for each of you for patrolling the perimeter. Housing, meals, and medical would be provided. The contract is through the city proper, with the two of you reporting directly to members of the New Brockton Police Force. The work is one month on duty, seven days a week, one month off. Both of you meet the necessary qualifications for the job. The contract will open in two months, and you would be required to start in four. The contract has a minimum service of two years before-”
“Pass,” she interrupted. He looked up at her. “We’re hoping to be done with mercenary work within a year. We’ll pass on that one.”
“Hm.” He closed the folder and set it aside. It wasn’t the answer he was hoping for; the city wanted him to have people lined up in advance, and this was better than what the average mercenary would get. It seemed right up their alley — good work, good pay, time off to spend with their family. So much for him making his bonus early this year.
“I’ll go ahead and weed out the ones with a service requirement of more than a year, then.” That was over half of them. He made a show of sorting through them, setting the folders that were no good anymore to the side. It was partially annoyance, partially to let her see what she was giving up.
“Go ahead and weed out anything that pays less than three hundred a month, too.”
That would remove another seven. He paused for a moment before looking up at her. “We’re going to be here for some time, aren’t we?”
Susan smiled thinly. “Sorry.”
With an inward sigh, he reached for the next best upcoming offer.
He hated Phil. He hated the brutish, annoying way that he looked down at him for working behind a desk. He hated the way that the asshole thought of himself as superior simply because he was triggered and Quincy wasn’t. He hated the way the man’s mouth moved as he read the ledger. He hated the way that Phil didn’t just check to make sure that everything was right, but had to doublecheck, as if Quincy was incompetent. But most of all, he hated that it was goddamn nepotism that got Phil his job.
While Phil was looking over the ledger, Quincy went ahead and opened the safe. All the rings were on their pegs, nice and neat, the wax seals still on them. A small piece of insurance to make sure that the Mercenary Affairs Agents weren’t nabbing a bit off the top. With great care, he arranged each ring by its placement on the ledger so that Phil could check them as quickly as possible.
Stealing was a stupid endeavor anyway. There were no quotas here — the shortages were more often in work that was desirable itself than people seeking it. In the end, stealing from the pay was more dangerous to himself than it was to his job. He had no desire to piss off people who lived by the sword, and who might decide to turn that sword on him if they suspected he was screwing him. Besides, he actually liked a majority of the people who came into his office. If they were legitimate mercenaries, they tended to work hard for their pay, knowing full and well that one mistake on their part could result in their deaths.
There was something pure about that. Ugly, terrible, despicable, but pure. He remembered the military from when he was a child, brave soldiers ready to put their lives on the line against capes if need be, without the fancy special training that the PRT got. He could understand the romance there.
Capes… It had been a long, long time since he’d even thought the word. Maybe a decade, perhaps more. The Wardens had quietly tried to put that word to rest, removing both the connotations of good guys and bad guys. The polite term was now “triggered.” He regretted that his kids would never know what a cape had been. Even when the Protectorate had been falling apart, the heroes back then had a certain quality about them that you didn’t see anymore. A larger than life nature. The excitement that a person felt just by seeing one.
The Wardens had more numbers than the Protectorate had, seemed to have less corruption, but it had lost something. Perhaps it was the number of people triggering, but the Wardens just seemed more normal somehow. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was an adult, and understood the responsibilities that they held.
Not that he looked at the past completely fondly. The hammer he had hidden away on his desk reminded him of that. Things were harder now, but they were also easier. The weight of a person’s word had meaning again, and nothing showed that better than his job. The Dragon’s Teeth and the local police force were vital to the community, and especially this new world. Even still, people lived and died by the skills of these mercenaries, by their ability to keep their word. Liars weren’t well received here, and Quincy had no qualms about teaching people just how badly they’d fucked up with a harsh word and a dismissal. Those who maintained their reputations, however, were worth their weight in gold.
The beeping of his phone broke him from his nostalgia. He plucked up the receiver. “Yes?”
“There’s a phone call for you on line four,” Janine droned. “Melissa Kallenburger. Use it as an excuse to get the putz out of your office.”
“Thank you,” Quincy said, a genuinely warm tone to his voice.
“Whatever.” The line went dead. Janine was a hard person to like, but he couldn’t imagine the office without her. If only she had more professionalism…
He turned his eyes up to Phil. “Please hurry. I need to take this call.”
Phil looked at him for a long moment, as if to drive the point that Quincy had no control over him. Fine. He wanted to play like that? Quincy could play hardball. “It’s an associate of Miss Wilbourn’s. I suggest that you hurry.”
There was a brief moment as Phil tried to decide if he was lying or not before he started putting the coin rings into the lockbox. “I didn’t know you were so well-connected.”
“I know most of the mercenaries Miss Wilbourn employs,” he said flatly. To underscore it, he quickly added “I direct some of them to her.”
It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it wasn’t technically a lie either. He didn’t have any real contact with Tattletale that he knew of. He didn’t even know what she looked like offhand. But he wrote detailed reports about the mercenaries that he dealt with, mostly as a way of being able to fit them with jobs more easily. On slow days, when he had the ability, he’d personally get in contact with their supervisors for more information than what their reports gave. His notes included far more than just skills; their behavior, professionalism, appearance, visible scars… Everything had some sort of metric that could be used.
Soon after he’d started storing this information on his computer, he’d gotten a raise. He’d simply thought that his efficiency here at work, and the way he accepted and dealt with the responsibility that his job forced upon him, had earned the notice of his superiors. It wasn’t until he found out that some of his mercenaries were being headhunted that he realized what was actually going on. The Christmas cards that started arriving from her didn’t hurt matters, either.
He didn’t mind, though. His coworkers thought he went a little overboard, but it was nice that someone at least recognized the effort he put into his job. He might not ever meet Miss Wilbourn, but she appreciated him on some level. Enough to send a card, too. He might not get paid as much as if he worked for her directly, but this was where she needed him. That came with more than an ounce of pride.
Phil, thankfully, took the hint and moved faster. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Quincy.” With one last glance, Phil made his way out.
“Good day.” Asshole.
Quincy closed the door before moving back to his desk, picking up the phone and hitting the button. “Munteanu.”
“Quincy.” Missy’s voice was cheerful as always. He was fairly sure she faked it all the time. “Where did you find that young man?”
That made his eyebrows raise, even as he moved to put folders away. “Jordan? He’s a good merc. Bright and capable. Young, but he wouldn’t have asked to meet with you if he didn’t have good reason. It went well, I take it?”
She laughed a little. “He’s offering us a way to make our own crude oil.” That was… surprising. He couldn’t help but notice that she said oil and not gas. Interesting. “But he’s also an idiot. He knows the talk, knows the walk, but I’m pretty sure that he’s only interested in getting his old contract back. If I understand what he said right, the same basic technology could be used for water purification and who knows what else. He walked in here without even realizing what he was offering me.”
That… did sound like the boy, sadly. “I wouldn’t be so happy. His sister will most likely be at your next meeting. She’s the negotiator of the two, and she’s no slouch. She probably already knows what she wants as far as terms and conditions are. It doesn’t matter if you offer her the moon, if she doesn’t like where you’re putting the moon, she’ll walk away without hesitation.”
“Hm.” He heard a faint tapping at the other end of the line. “Why didn’t she come with him, then?”
“Because he was making a pitch.” He had no problems lying to Missy. “Who do you send to make a pitch? The one who can crunch cold, hard numbers and make you sweat? Or do you send the one who’s passionate and can get your mouth watering? No, they planned this down to the last detail. With those two, you could have the final negotiations at a burlesque show and they wouldn’t bat an eye, rolling with the punches.”
“Is it true what they say about the armor?”
Ah, the brother was how they were going to make the oil. Good on them, putting their non-combat skills to use and involving their family. A noble cause. Still, he’d have to tread carefully. Missy was trying to mine him for information.
“There have been several offers for them to provide sets for interested parties, but so far they haven’t accepted. They’re still in the testing and refinement stages, trying to add new aspects to it while stripping out everything that isn’t necessary. Every six months or so, they show up in new iterations of it. If possible, I’d like to introduce them to someone who has contact with Dragon and Defiant or that Takada fellow so that their armor can be integrated into the Dragon’s Teeth suits. It would drastically close gap between the Teeth and parahumans.”
“Oh, wow.” Quincy hated to admit it, but he hoped that Missy used that same tone with Sarah. He could see the young woman walking away and telling her to send someone else the next time. He’d pay good money to see that. “So you really think they can provide it?”
He jiggled his computer’s mouse, waiting for it to exit sleep mode. So very slow. “They aren’t con men. If anything, they consistently downplay their abilities. So if they walked in here tomorrow and told me that they had a plan to assassinate the Teacher, I’d lead the way to Miss Wilbourn’s and fight to get them an audience. You’re damn lucky that I sent them to you instead of contacting her myself.”
“Right, right. Well, thank you for that, Quincy. Will I see you at the next meeting?”
“Of course.” Unless she skipped out again.
“Excellent. Then I’m going to have to let you go. I’m going to see Tattletale in a half an hour and I have to do some things before then. Cha!”
As soon as he heard her phone click, he hung up perhaps a bit harder than he wanted to. Quickly, he opened the email program and entered in Wilbourn’s email. The computers weren’t as good as the ones he’d had when he was a kid; they were built more with 1980s specs, built for durability and longevity than processing power.
It has come to my attention that Melissa Kallenburger will be coming to you with a proposal that was pitched to her by a mercenary. Jordan (ID# 101131, see the first attached document) has offered her a possible way to create crude oil. His sister (Sarah Abrams, ID# 101130, see the second attached document) will most likely be present during all following meetings.
I urge caution in allowing Mrs. Kallenburger to deal with these two. Ms. Abrams will most likely detect her false sincerity and will be highly offended. Ms. Abrams is the type that knows when someone is playing her, and is willing to burn bridges with those people. I warn you about this because I do not wish to see what they are bringing to the table be discarded due to personality conflicts.
The source of this is their brother, a tinker who seems to specialize in exotic materials of some sort. I know that we’re avoiding reliance on the technologies of tinkers, however his systems seem to be free from need of parahuman maintenance. Please see my notes in their files about this brother for more information.
He paused for a moment, flexing his fingers. He went back through and capitalized the use of Tinker, edited a few sentences, and added a couple to make it more professional. He could have left it at that, but there was a part of him that demanded… Fuck it, he only lived once.
I’d also like to state that she will most likely claim that she was the one to discover this pair in order to improve her standing with you. While I’m sure that your powers will tell you that this isn’t the truth, I know that thinkers can experience undue stress from using their powers too much and would prefer to avoid that if necessary. I directed them towards her.
I don’t want credit or any preferential treatment for this, but simply wish to provide you with the best information possible. Should anything be muddied due to her spinning the story to her favor, again, it could lead to possible dismissal of their offer. Should this be a waste of your time, I claim full responsibility. I was not made aware of the full details of their offer until Mrs. Kallenburger called me, however I stand by my decision. Any opportunity that I have to improve our city is a valuable excursion to me.
He nodded once before hitting send, not waiting for cold feet to set in. Damnit, they were his mercenaries. His. He was not going to let some prissy bitch screw them over just for her own blind ambition.
Quincy sighed softly as he set down the figure he’d been working on. The small room was full of them, some of them painted, some of them not. His father had gotten him into wargaming as a kid, before they’d evacuated to Earth Gimmel. There weren’t a lot of players anymore; there weren’t any companies that made wargaming figures these days, so there wasn’t a good entry point for people. Most folks just stuck to role playing. But there were still players out there, all of them either paying scavengers good money for any figures they found or making their own.
He preferred to make his own, carving them carefully from wood. Truth be told, these days he didn’t even mind if he didn’t get to game, he just enjoyed making the figures and coming up with the backgrounds behind them.
Ryo and Kevin understood, but the kids didn’t. Dave was getting old enough that he at least was understanding the patterns. Every day after work, after spending so much time forcing himself to look people in the eye, sometimes telling half-truths, sometimes just the act of negotiating putting strain on him, Quincy just needed time to decompress. To unwind, to be at peace. For an hour, he’d hide in here, his cave, and work on these. Nobody was allowed in here except himself. It was his own tiny little haven in the world. The window even had a partial view of one of the portals to the other worlds, but he wasn’t sure which one.
He glanced at the clock, mulling it over for a moment before standing. Sure, he wouldn’t mind another ten or fifteen minutes, but the kids deserved some time with their father before they all went out to eat. With a sigh, he stretched his arms, before unlocking the door and stepping out into the house proper.
There were advantages to their lifestyle. A three-person income meant that they could afford a larger house, for example. He found himself smiling broadly as he marched through the hall and down the stairs. Yes, he had a lot to be proud of.
He found his wife in the living room… but no kids. A small frown formed on his face. “Are the kids playing in the sandbox?”
Ryo smiled, nodding a little. “I thought it was a good idea to let them work a little energy out before we went to dinner.”
That made his face split into a grin. “I told them I married a smart one.”
His wife giggled a little, sticking her tongue out at him. Quickly, though, she regained her composure. “Actually, there was another reason.” She set down her book and offered him an envelope. “I didn’t want to bother you while you were in your cave, but this came by courier. Adult courier.”
One of the few times that he ever snapped at the kids was when he was in there, and he always felt so bad about it. He had, admittedly, gotten better than when he was their age, though. His room had been his, the mess came up to his waist, and if his parents dared enter and touched anything, he’d go absolutely ballistic. His privacy was sacred, just like how he respected everyone else’s. Though, to this day he couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t like that.
“Thanks,” he muttered as he took the envelope. All that was written on it was ‘Quincy Munteanu’ in nice script. Much, much better than his own handwriting. Without hesitation, he ripped the envelope open and pulled out the note inside.
Thank you very much for your concern. I agree that Mrs. Kallenburger can rub people the wrong way, and I’ll be taking steps to ensure that even should she cross a line with these two, we will be able to continue dealing with them.
I would also like to say that your humility is misplaced. You continue to make records which are unnecessary but help me greatly. Your attention to detail helps me use my powers to greater effect, and there’s some things to your reports that remind me of an old associate of mine. Kinder, more mentally stable, and without an obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I value greatly. Your thankless work means our city can prosper, and that my own efforts are easier. You should be proud of your work, and you should know just how much your reports make my life easier.
As such, I would like to invite you and your spouses to a small get-together that I’m having for various people on Tuesday as a way of showing my gratitude. It isn’t mandatory to attend, but if it sweetens the deal at all, I’m willing to provide you with a babysitter for this time. No formal attire is necessary; I’d just like a few moments to get to know you a bit better, and perhaps better understand your value to New Brockton.
Please let me know if you’ll attend.
Quincy stared at the note for a long moment before handing it to Ryo. With shaking legs, he collapsed on the couch trying to process this. On one hand, he was offended. He’d specifically said that he didn’t want anything for what he’d done. He had just been doing what should be done. On the other hand…
He looked up at his wife, and felt his face splitting into a grin so wide all his teeth were showing. “She sees,” Quincy whispered. Ryo became blurry in his vision as he fought to find the words. “One of them finally gets it…”
As he swept Ryo up into his arms, he knew he’d attend that meeting. He’d have to talk to Kevin, but he knew they’d both say yes. Finally, after so many years… someone outside of his friends and family understood.