The Coins were the fantastically rich, genetically engineered superhuman beings that ruled their society in all but name. The nickname was meant to be derogatory, for their gold and silver hair, along with their vast wealth, but by Tartarus and Asphodel, somewhere along the line, they had claimed it for themselves, just like they claimed everything else.
Seth found that being above and far from the structure like this allowed for a strange quiet. Like he and Adrien were totally separate from the rest of New Argent City. Utterly alone, if only for a little while. Using the rusty edge of the corrugated metal roof, Seth popped the caps off of two more beers. He passed one to Adrien.
Adrien leaned back on his elbows, only rising up again to take the beer bottle that Seth opened and passed his way. He had been looking upward, toward the Sky District, not down at the trash flowing downriver in the Argent. Argent River was silver in the right light, sure, but it carried more heavy metals and poisons than anything else.
Seth broke the silence. "Almost makes you forget, huh? Being here, away from all the smooth skyscrapers and noise, it's like we're actually alone. No one watching."
He took a long, slow sip and glanced up and over his shoulder at the floating islands where the Coins and their entourages lived, their pets (including the human ones) and their chauffeurs. "Then I look back and remember just how much they can see from up there."
Adrien sighed and smiled at Seth. "Almost makes you forget that we live in squalor while the Coins flit about like angels in the sky? It'll take more than a couple of beers and sunset for me to forget that, my friend."
Seth chuckled softly. "Well I only brought a six-pack, so you're stuck there, bud."
Adrien didn't take a sip of his beer. He just dangled his legs over the emptiness below them. "I guess we have it pretty good, considering what some of the people down there are facing. At least we have some stability, even if we’re criminals."
"Yeah, we even get the time to consider how screwed we are," Seth replied. "Especially if we get caught. Lucky us." He took another swig. Still cold.
Seth was always throwing jobs his way, so Adrien was wondering if they were just up there to enjoy the view. He doubted it.
'Alright, guess I've delayed long enough,’ Seth thought. 'Time to get to business.’
"I might have a little offer pending that could help get us that much closer to permanently stable though. Provided you budget your take, of course." He smiled. "I know it’s a bit quick and all, but are you free for a job on Friday night? I could really use someone on the ground that I can trust."
Perking up a little, Adrien pulled his legs back in over the edge. He liked where Seth was going. He grinned and shrugged. "You're asking me about this Friday? Nah, no way, no how, that's way too soon. You want to book Autolycus, you book in advance. I was planning on hitting up the Skyward Casino, spending my pay from my last job, you know, really living it up."
Seth smiled back at Adrien, then he quickly put his beer down and slapped his palms up to his cheeks in mock shame. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed that the Autolycus would be able to free up his schedule just for little ol’ me.” Seth dropped his hands from his face, and let his shoulders sag. “Well, I guess I’ll really need to make it worth your while then, huh?”
Adrien then rose to his feet, leaving the beer bottle almost teetering on the edge of the rooftop. "What's the job? Where's the job? And what's my cut?"
As Adrien got up, Seth worried he might have upset his friend. With Adrien already putting on a cocky mask, it was hard to tell. “Alright, alright. I’ll get to the point. We need info from inside the Brandywine Institute. To get it we need to have someone with sticky fingers go to a concert and its little afterparty. We need a keycard lifted, cloned, and returned. Simple.”
Seth looked out at the sunset again, squinting slightly. “Your cut is… negotiable. Of course, you can also keep any other possessions you might come across. And that’s not nothing, considering all the Coins that’ll be there.”
"Negotiable," said Adrien, crossing his arms and staring up into the air. The buildings suspended there were in shadow now as the sun ran away from the sky. "Well, it sounds like I'm taking on the lion's share of the risk..."
They dickered some about the price. Seth, or, hayak4z3 , as he was known on the holonet, was doing the bulk of the organizational work, and there was still the student to pay for their role. In the end, they agreed that Adrien would get thirty percent. That would do just nicely, he thought, staring up at the darkening castles in the sky.
Honestly, it sounded easy. Go to a party, have a few hors d'oeuvres, some free alcohol, grab a card and return it. As Seth explained it, there was a scholarship student looking to make some extra scratch who would get Adrien in. They needed to get an administrative access card that could be used to get into the computer labs to steal some data. If Adrien had the opportunity, they could do it that very night. If not, they'd go back a second time. Easy. Low risk, actually. It was a University computer lab, not some InfoSec company. And Adrien looked the part of a student. It might even be fun.
The mid-morning air was cool and crisp, and the sun shone down on Skyport Promenade in the Sky District like it had been custom-ordered and hung there to please the Coins who walked about its paths. Aris Brandywine was sitting on a charming terrace, decorated with hanging flowers, which also grew on trellises surrounding him. Each was a genetically-engineered and perfected bloom. He was seated at a glass table, speaking into an ostentatiously-decorated headset, his eyes practically glazed over underneath the dark blue semi-translucent visor that covered them.
Below the table, a dark-haired waiter bobbed up and down on Aris’ genetically-engineered cock as he spoke into the headset. Aris had one gloved hand curled in the waiter’s hair, occasionally holding him in place while the Coin thrust a little into his mouth.
Aris rolled his eyes a little as his administrative assistant went on and on about the incident that had happened at the Brandywine Institute between a student and a professor. "Yes...hmmm...you're right, of course, totally inappropriate. Yes, I thought his response to me was also inappropriate...He certainly was ballsy though, you have to admit... What if he wrote a full apology and transferred classes?"
Thamyris Fairmount walked briskly along the Promenade. He still had plenty of energy left over after his workout, so he almost couldn’t help it. Every time the wind picked up he wondered what he looked like to passersby. He imagined his long, soft hair trailed through the air behind him like a golden contrail. Rhys liked that idea. On days like this, he wanted people to see him. To adore him. It was like he had them in the palm of his hand. Peering around as he went, he spotted Aris under a parasol. For a moment, he thought that Aris could see him, but then noticed that his eyes were staring off through a visor into the middle distance, and he was chattering. It didn’t seem important, but all the same, he didn’t want to interrupt.
Aristotle drummed his fingers on the table impatiently, his face lighting up as his friend Rhys finally strolled up. He gave a wave and shooed the waiter out from underneath the table. As he clambered out, the dark-haired waiter wiped the drool from his chin on his white sleeve. "Rhys! Thamyris! Over here, darling — you're so late, what kept you?"
He stopped and turned to Aris when he heard him calling, watching the waiter with the slightly-swollen lips rush away from the table.
“I was coming out to brunch, I wanted to work up an appetite,” Rhys replied. “The food here is wonderful. I don’t want to miss a chance to enjoy more of the best brunch in Skyport. You haven’t ordered yet, have you?”
Taking a seat, Rhys absently scrolled through the menu on the tablet embedded into the table for that purpose.
"You can come here anytime — it's unseemly to stuff yourself," said Aris mildly, watching as his handsome blond friend sat down. "And of course I haven't ordered already — how boorish. Except, of course, the mimosas that are on the way."
“You know,” Rhys began, “Just because you have less free time than I do, that doesn’t mean that I can waltz over for mimosas whenever I like.” He paused, considering what he’d said, and smiled again. “Though I suppose I could just order them delivered to me, couldn’t I? Oh, and thank you for waiting.”
Putting aside his headset, Aris ran his fingers through his hair and flipped his bangs up and backwards, opening up a menu of his own. "No problem, Rhys, darling. It's always so tempting to get the same thing once I know what's good, but I guess if I take a risk and I don't like it, I can order something else..."
Rhys shook his head at his friend’s casual display of wastefulness. He could tell that there was truth behind Aris’ statement, but Rhys definitely already knew what he wanted before he had walked up. He almost always did. "Well, I'm glad you decided in the end. I've been meaning to try the Blue Sky Omelette. Is everything ready for tonight? I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t performed in a fairly long time.”
Selecting his choice on the menu and hitting the confirm button, Aris turned his attention to Rhys' question. "Yes, it's all set up — you just have to turn up and perform...and not just musically. There'll be a small, tasteful reception afterwards. I'm hoping that you'll find someone to your liking and take them home, my dearest Rhys. It's time."
Rhys closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. “Is that why you suggested this? So you could get me into another pet market? I don’t want to force this.” He leaned towards his powerful friend and looked him in the eye. “And in any case, how would you know if I’m ready or not?”
Aris raised his eyebrows and leaned in conspiratorially to Rhys, leaning on his long, elegant fingers, which he steepled together. "My dear Rhys, I've known you for over a decade now. You have been in mourning over that mishap with your last pet for far too long. It is time that you got back on the horse — any horse."
And then the mimosas arrived, and Aris smiled at the delectable dark-haired waiter and sipped from the flute. "Mmmm, grenadine, fresh-squeezed orange juice, fresh grapefruit, and very good champagne. There are a lot of cute, demure options in the music conservatory program this year. You could have jam sessions with whomever you choose if it's one of my musicians. They're used to the conductor's baton, if you follow my meaning."
Rhys felt himself warming with anger. His voice hid it well, though his face gave hints of his discomfort. “I finished my period of ‘mourning’ a long time ago,” he replied. Then, his eyes drifted down to the table in front of him for a moment. 'My disappointment in not getting them to where they needed to be in their training… That might still be a bit raw.’
“Besides,” he continued, “I’ve told you before. I don’t want to force this type of thing.” Rhys picked up his mimosa and quickly sipped. “I’m not usually one to just buy something off the shelf. I want to be sure that we suit each other. I want to create a talented sub, not break somebody down into one.”
He paused, then glanced back to Aris. “Not that there is anything wrong with that.”
After another sip of his mimosa while Aris sat silently watching, Rhys tried to move on from his moment of vulnerability. “You planned this all just for me, did you? Tell me there will be other people of standing present who might be in the market for these people.”
Aris could sense his long-time friend's discomfort, but knew that he would never get anywhere with Rhys if he didn't push him a little bit. It had been a decade since Rhys had had to give up his first pet. The poor creature had become unstable — had not been able to handle the training regimen that Rhys had insisted upon. Aris had told Rhys at the time to be cautious about pushing too far, too quickly, but Rhys had been so young. And he had not wanted his pet to lag behind while the other Coins spoke behind his back. Aris’s voice was soft and kind when he spoke. "Thamyris..."
The waiter was arriving with the food, so Aris let himself fall silent, not wanting to spread their business in front of the help. Letting that hang for an appropriately dramatic moment, he answered Rhys' other question, plucking fruit from the plates that had just arrived. "I'm sure that someone worth mentioning will come to watch your recital, Rhys, dear."
The sun had just disappeared beyond the horizon when Rhys arrived at the concert hall. He stepped out of his long, sleek town car and gazed up above the grand entryway. The tactful rendering of the three muses in lascivious poses, singing together, drew the eye. He smiled to himself. Of course, it was sexualized. Everything Aris did was charged with sex in some way. Rhys crossed the threshold as his car departed.
The sounds of dozens of people hobnobbing permeated the space inside the atrium, but it mostly quieted down when Rhys entered the light. With easy confidence, Rhys waved and smiled at the crowd for a moment, despite them not being the sort he would usually interact with. When the first people started to clap and give overzealous cheers, he didn’t bother to slow down, and he smoothly moved past them to the coatroom.
The students, these aspiring pets, were trying to measure up to what they thought was expected of them. They wearing their “finest” and following the crowd, but it was easy to see that they were not who they pretended to be. Ill-fitting “little black dresses” and unpracticed tie knots alone gave most of them away. Still, he was performing tonight, onstage and off. He’d have to be more diplomatic. Rhys wondered how many fawning would-be pets he would have to fend off tonight. He tugged his cuff down to get his shirt sleeve into place and stepped back into the atrium.
'I suppose it is time to get started,’ Rhys thought, resigning himself to perusing the local wares. 'If Aris went through all this trouble, the least I can do is… What do they call it again? Ah, yes... “Window-shop”.’ Aris was right though. There were a lot of young attractive people here tonight, and a good deal of them were eyeing him with hunger. Or desperation, depending on who. Rhys walked across the open floor towards the refreshment bar. 'Let them see.’
'Ah, there you are,’ Rhys thought when he spotted Aristotle. Aris gave Rhys a small wave and smile, then returned to laughing with whoever he was deep in conversation with, holding a glass of something sparkling in a narrow fluted glass. His white coat-tails curled with delightful whimsy behind him, and his silver-grey hair was neatly brushed down his back, held back from his face with two small silver branches at the temples, filigreed and embellished, almost like deer antlers. He chattered away with the students and administrators. There were a few other Coins amidst the crowd, and each already had their own little entourage. It was only a matter of time for Rhys.
Rhys almost had to laugh. His most gracious host already had a number of people trying to bend his ear. All trying to curry favour, most likely. If it were any more obvious they’d be in a line, and Aris would be sitting on some throne. Rhys would no doubt go visit his friend soon enough, but for now, he would leave him to his fun.
Adrien had arrived with Fawn, the scholarship student who had agreed to have him as his plus one, not ten minutes before Thamyris Fairmount, the Coin musician who would be playing tonight, made his overly-casual entrance. It looked forced to Adrien, who immediately stopped looking and pretended at boredom once his mind registered who it was. The Coin was handsome — of course — they all were, in that perfectly genetically-engineered way. Their features were all a little eerie in their ethereality. At least, that seemed to be the trend, these days. Angelic beings, coming down from the heavens to save the worthy. What a joke.
And yet...if he could swing it, Adrien reflected that he would prefer living with the rich to dying with the poor.
Adrien's cover was that he was a prospective student — a piano player, specifically, and that Fawn was his cousin. Adrien had jokingly suggested that he go by Buck, but Fawn had not seen the humour. So, Adrien was going by Jasper, calling to the green of his eyes or the red in his brown hair, depending on how you looked at it. He was wearing a dexterously-tied ribbon tie and a simple black suit. He wasn't trying to stand out. If anything, he wanted to blend in.
His marks were the administrative staff, but they weren't near drunk enough yet. Toward the end of the reception — that was when he'd lift the key. When they'd all had a chance to get at least a little drunk.
It was open-bar, of course. Adrien approached the bar, intending to take some advantage of that, not realizing until he did that the Coin harp player was sitting there, maybe six or so stools down from where he was ordering. He glanced over at Thamyris Fairmount briefly, then glanced back to the bartender without reacting to the Coin's presence. He was handsome, sure, but Adrien would never willingly choose to be a pet, and he didn’t want to call attention to himself during the job.
The bartender finally came over, and Adrien ordered a whiskey sour with one of the only top-shelf whiskeys he could name. Probably meant to be a sipping-whiskey, but Adrien was feeling fancy and the Coins could afford him the indulgence.
Thankfully, no one had run up to try to start a conversation with Rhys on his way over to the bar. 'I probably made a bit too much of an entrance to approach straight away. Oh well. Suits me fine.’ Taking a seat, he leaned on his elbows and waited patiently.
Looking into the mirror behind the shelves of bottles behind the bar, Rhys could see his luck starting to sour. Already people were staring at his back, working up their courage to come talk to him. He’d seen this before.
When one finally did walk over and sit, they did so fairly far away.
'How odd,’ Rhys thought. He looked over at the newcomer, and when he finally looked back, there was a look of genuine surprise. 'So he’s not actually here to talk me up… This could be useful.’
Rhys kept watching the younger man gaze around the room. He was clearly looking for someone or something. Or maybe he was just trying to avoid Rhys. If he wasn’t interested, then maybe he could convince him to talk a while and keep the desperate masses away. Besides, he was certainly pleasant to look at.
“That’s a fine choice,” Rhys said, just loud enough for the young man to hear. “It’s a little odd to mix with that particular whiskey, but still.” He turned his head back to the bartender. He and the bartender both knew this one was a little out of his element. No one who knew whiskey would mix that brand. “I’ll have a glass of ice-cold champagne. I’m celebrating, after all.”
Adrien groaned inwardly when the Coin took notice of him — this wasn't a gambit — he didn't want the Coin's attention! But outwardly, he gave a pleasant smile. He wondered what would leave less of an impression — changing his order to match the Coin's advice, as if he in fact gave a shit about his opinion, or going through with things as planned. The bartender moved to pour the champagne before he moved to mix the drink, so Adrien had the opportunity. He raised two fingers to the bartender. "Excuse me — I'll take the gentleman's advice and have the whisky neat instead."
A glance in the mirror again told him several people in the room were absolutely outraged. And, more importantly, no one had moved towards him. Rhys smiled and allowed himself to be excited. This might actually work! He turned his body slightly towards the whiskey-drinker. “Tell me, what are you here for, mister…?”
Adrien turned to the Coin — Fairmount, was it? Fairmount was performing tonight. Adrien studiously avoided providing a name. "Here for...? I'm here to watch the recital — isn't everyone?"
Of course they fucking weren't. They were all here to try and catch the attention of someone with deep pockets and loneliness. Or, failing loneliness, unfulfilled horniness.
When the man changed his drink order, Rhys almost laughed. Instead, when he felt that genuine smile coming on, he turned away for a moment. Just enough so more people could see it. He may as well keep stirring that pot. It was then that the bartender looked a bit… disappointed. Remembering the empty seats around him, Rhys realized that if no one came to the bar because of him, then no one tipped. He almost felt as if he was stealing. He knew how to fix that though. When the champagne came a moment later, Rhys reached into his vest pocket with two long, elegant fingers, and pulled out a small credit chip. Then, he placed it on the bar and slid it out a few centimeters. Rhys tried to remember how much was on that chip, but couldn’t. 'Hmm. In any case, that will at least cover the usual tips for a few nights.'
Without waiting for the bartender to act on the chip, Rhys turned more towards the out-of-place man.
“Are you so certain of that?” Rhys asked. “You were surprised to see me just now. If you were truly here for music, you would have recognized me before you sat down.” He made a show of eyeing the copper-haired man up and down for an instant, smiling all the while. “People rarely attend these for the music anyway. They tend to use these events for two reasons. To socialize and impress their colleagues or teachers, or to further their interest in becoming pets.” Not wanting to make him too uncomfortable, Rhys turned back to the bar. He took a slow sip of champagne. “So which is it?” he asked again, “Are you a people lover, or a people pleaser?”
Trusting that the Coin had given plenty for the tip, Adrien didn't take out anything of his own. The Coin hadn't even thought twice about how much money was on the chip — smug, rich bastard. It wasn't his fault that he was trapped in a conversation now, and he had just been intending to take his drink and leave. He tried not to visibly squirm, and accepted his glass from the bartender. He decided to be honest-ish. "To be honest, I wasn't looking at who was sitting at the bar before I walked up — just looking for a free drink. I would have avoided you otherwise so that you didn't waste your time on me."
Adrien stuck his nose near the rim of the glass, smelling the fancy whiskey. "I've no interest in becoming a pet. I'm touring the school to see if I want to attend here. Piano."
'Wait,’ Rhys thought, 'Did he just try to use that glass like a nosing glass?’ He held in another laugh. He decided not to push that point. That might drive him away, and things were actually starting to get good.
“Ah, I see.” Rhys nodded slowly. “So you’re only evaluating to see if you want to socialize here.” He grinned at his champagne glass, slowly tilting it in a circle, idly watching the bubbles. “You must be quite the talent then, if you’re able to pick and choose your university, but still need to look for opportunities for free drinks.”
Adrien took a swallow of the whiskey. It looked like he wouldn't be extricating himself from the conversation easily, so he decided to participate a little more fully. "I am quite the talent. My fingers are very dexterous, I'm told. And only fools pay for what they can get for free."
He bit his tongue, thinking of the credit chip that Fairmount had just handed over. "Tipping is important for those who can afford it, though..."
“Is that so?” Rhys said. He let the man’s comment about his own talent slide by. The cocky musician probably wasn’t nearly as good as he pretended to be, though he sold it well. Rhys was also fairly certain that the man was… less than wealthy. “It seems to make a good deal of sense. I suppose I’m just lucky enough to not have needed to worry about it.” He swirled his glass again as he considered what it might be like to truly be in need of simple resources. It was hard for him to imagine. “At the very least, I do agree with your tipping philosophy.” He gave a discreet knowing wink to the bartender. “I may not always be able to understand the issues of others, but at the very least I can help out here and there.”
Rhys didn’t believe his new companion. He had to be here for some other reason. But, he didn’t care. He just wanted someone to help keep the jackals away. “And what, pray, tell, makes you think I’m in the market for a pet?” Rhys said casually. He wasn’t offended or feeling caught out, only intrigued.
The truth was, Adrien had to find and clone an administrator card before the opening reception ended. Why was the Coin keeping him here? Surely now that he knew that Adrien had no interest, Fairmount would end the conversation so that he could bask in the adoration of someone who actually wanted to suck his dick.
Adrien took a glance around the room, gesticulating to the many people near Aris, and those that seemed to be surreptitiously observing them. "Didn't say that you were looking for a pet anymore than I'm looking to be a pet. But you implied that I was either here to impress my peers, or that I wanted to be a pet. The truth is that I'm hoping that someone here will impress me. But if you are in the market for a pet, you could probably do worse than some of these. Maybe one of them will be able to jam with you — you on the harp, them on their whatever. Do you classical musicians jam?"
The tall man turned in his chair to face the younger man directly. “You may be in the wrong place then,” Rhys answered. “As impressive as I can be, I’m not actually part of this school. Though, not from lack of effort from the staff.” The Coin shrugged. “Most of these people aren’t the type that I’d normally associate with very much, so I don’t have much of an interest in ‘jamming’ with them, though we don’t really call it that.”
“I’m not interested in the others. I definitely think that it would be more interesting and productive to chat with you.” Rhys said, motioning to the other with his drink. “At the very least, it would keep the… ‘adoring fans’ at bay.” Narrowing his eyes slightly, warily, he looked the man over again. “What is your name?”
Well, shit. Fairmount had chosen him to be his...shield...from these others. It seemed unfair, really — why agree to this reception with all these hopefuls and then focus on just one person?
Adrien doubted that this meant anything more than distraction, and like the man had said, a way to keep others away, but a faint flush — mostly of frustration — still came to his cheeks. The Coin would have to leave before he did, Adrien reassured himself. He had to prepare for a performance, and performers usually arrived backstage before the crowd surged in, right? Timing would be tight, but Adrien trusted himself. He didn't need very much time to get the job done. And maybe Fairmount would get bored of him soon. Unfortunately, Coins rarely tired of the sound of their own voices. This one was bragging that he was being headhunted to teach at the school and that he had no interest in the people around him — well, that was typical Coin-thought, but it was strange to hear it said aloud.
The lie came easily to his lips. He had practiced — he was a professional, after all. "I'm called Jasper. No need to ask who you are — you're on the posters for the event, Thamyris Fairmount. Don't you think it's a little unfair not to give all your adoring fans a chance?"
That tiny bit of redness that came to Jasper’s cheeks was absolutely adorable. It seemed like Rhys had the man off-guard. He didn’t want the conversation to end just yet. Besides, Jasper was so much more endearing when he was starting to scramble. “I suppose you’re right.” Rhys said. “I was advertised quite clearly, and I am not an unrecognizable figure.” He looked Jasper up and down again. “Your name is quite fitting though. And not common. I don’t know how many Peridots I’ve met, and so many Jades. Jasper is new though.” That was about as close to an open compliment as Rhys would get, so he raised his glass just slightly and said “It seems to suit you. Did you pick it yourself, or did someone else choose it for you?”
It was clear to Adrien now that the Coin was openly flirting with him. Maybe it was just a game to see how much of a reaction he could get from an innocent young poor boy, or maybe the Coin was trying to be kind. Adrien was caught a little off-guard either way, and cast his eyes down so that he would appear demure and shy rather than calculating and shrewd. What would Jasper do and say?
"I picked it myself...Some people are into that, where I'm from. Giving their friends pet names for a joke, or whatever. I figured if I let someone else name me, I was in for a Granite or Shale, given my sparkling personality. And it seems like having a plain name counts against you in this world. I won't tell you mine."
It was true. The poor named their children as close to prosperous, wealthy names as the government would allow. But many names were just reserved for the Coins. As an alternative, people who wanted to climb the social ladder often adopted pet names to let others know that they were open to it. It was also true that Adrien had no intention of revealing his real name.
Rhys couldn’t help but enjoy seeing the uncertainty and vulnerability in Jasper. He tried not to make it overly obvious. In fact, maybe it was time to calm things down a bit before he drove Jasper away.
"Don’t worry, I’m not asking for your real name. Jasper is just fine. Although, I don’t see those other names as plain,” Rhys countered. “Granite is prized for its strength and for its many rich, beautiful colours. Shale is sharp and dangerous, but it is a useful tool, in the hands of someone who can manage it.” He took a long, thoughtful sip, then looked back to Jasper. “I like the sound of those, actually. If you don’t want them, I might use them myself one day. If I find the right person, that is.”
At Rhys' words about the worth and beauty of Granite and Shale, Adrien had found himself looking up sharply, intrigued that the Coin was able to draw that type of connection. He reminded himself that Coins could be clever and ruthless, and that while many just floated by on intergenerational wealth, there were the ones that kept things running smoothly, too. The ones you had to watch out for. Was Rhys one of those?
Adrien swirled his drink and sipped at it again, trying not to be uncouth or unseemly. Time to keep the Coin talking so that he didn't have to. Best to avoid having to tell more lies. "You said I'm in the wrong place to get the lay of the land for the school. Who do you find impressive here? Who is worth speaking with?"
Rhys shrugged softly. “I didn’t mean to imply that there are no impressive people here. Only that I don’t really know them. And, since there is bound to be considerable ego-stroking tonight, it won’t be easy to get a good read on these people anyway.” He turned and gestured with an outstretched hand to Aris, still off to the side, charming a half-dozen students. “I can tell you that that one over there is definitely impressive, and one to talk to when it comes to this school.”
Realizing that he might be giving implicit permission for handsome young Jasper to leave, Rhys quickly caught himself. “Though I think you’d have a difficult time getting his attention right now.” Looking over Jasper again approvingly, he added, “Or maybe you’d manage. Who knows?”
Adrien had been about to down the rest of his drink and leave — that would have been sensible. But there was something in the Coin's — Thamyris' voice that made him stay. The Coin seemed almost vulnerable when he spoke that way. It was...interesting. And Adrien didn't need much time to accomplish the job. "Oh...maybe I'll try to catch him later. Or maybe someone else can introduce me to him..."
'Seems like you might be interested in talking with me after all, eh Jasper?’ Rhys mused. “Maybe... Provided you met someone who would be willing, and make your ca—” It was then that Fawn took his courage in both hands and dragged himself over to the two of them, leaning onto Adrien rather obviously. "Jasper...flirting with the soloist already?"
Adrien pressed his lips together in a neutral expression. "Mr. Fairmount, this is my cousin, Fawn."
This was annoying, but at least now Rhys knew how to find Jasper in the future, if he wanted. Rhys turned to the new arrival. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Fawn.” He said in a carefully neutral tone. “Are you a musician as well, or are you just trying to get Jasper to apply here?”
While annoyed at being interrupted, Rhys managed to smile and placate the utterly uninteresting Fawn. He found himself making excuses so that he could leave quickly and prepare for the show early.
Fawn's intervention, though vapid, was welcome. It brought Adrien back to his Jasper persona. He let Fawn take the lead on the conversation, and Fawn was more than willing to talk the ear off of a willing Coin. Fawn and Thamyris managed to fill the time until the Coin had to leave to prepare for his performance. He gingerly shook the Coin's hand before he departed and turned to Fawn. Fawn had probably helped the encounter fade into less memorable territory with all of his talk, and Adrien wondered if that was intentional. If so, the kid might be smart enough to consider for future jobs.
He thanked Fawn either way, and it took all of five minutes for him to grab an administrator card from one of the event's facilitators with a well-directed distraction or two. Then, he skipped out of the performance to sit in a quiet alcove and copy the card before using the card on an administrative door and dropping it there, returning to his seat. Maybe there would be time after all to check out the research lab that he was supposed to search after the show... Right now, everything was on lock-down except the bathrooms, with ushers everywhere to direct errant guests.
The performance was ethereally-beautiful. More beautiful than it had a right to be, Adrien thought. The acoustics were perfect, the pieces melancholy and dramatic beneath Thamyris Fairmount's skilled fingers. Adrien found himself engrossed despite himself. Time passed quickly, and all of a sudden, the performance was over.
Drawing his attention back to the job at hand, Adrien decided that it was important to be seen at the reception before he disappeared — that way, anyone keeping track would just think that he had left. Thamyris, not having to make his way through a crowd, was out in the reception hall before Adrien was. He was already surrounded by admirers, which was a relief, because it meant that he wouldn't have time for Adrien...or so Adrien had thought.
Rhys took his time during the concert. The clever use of lighting and a small amount of holograms meant that he could capture the attention of everyone in the room, including Jasper. He seemed to be enraptured in Rhys' music. Rhys couldn’t help but smile at him.
As he feared, Rhys was swarmed the moment he stepped back into the atrium. He smiled and shook hands, as was expected, but desired nothing more than a little distance. Glancing around for an opportunity, Rhys spotted Jasper walking through the atrium. He immediately seized the opportunity and called out to him. "Oh, Jasper! Please come over here for a moment. I found someone I think you'd like to talk to." Rhys excused himself as he gently pushed through the crowd, and passed their groans of dismay.
Unluckily, Adrien had been glancing in Thamyris' direction when he had called out to him, and could not convincingly pretend that he had not heard. Well, that was the Research Lab pushed off to another night. He allowed Rhys to come toward him rather than running like some simpering hanger-on toward him.
He did take a step or two toward the Coin for politeness' sake. "Oh — Mr. Fairmount. Congratulations on your accomplished musical skills. I enjoyed the concert. Is it that fellow you pointed out earlier? It's nice of you to take an interest in me, but it isn't necessary. I don't want to put you out for my sake."
“You’re too kind.” Rhys answered in a tone that implied no gratitude. “I do my best to please the audience. Now, as I was saying…” Rhys placed a hand on Jasper’s shoulder, then gently turned with him toward the far end of the room. He let his voice gradually lower in volume as he spoke “You aren’t putting me out at all. I’m happy to help a graduate of, where did you say you learned to play again?”
It was like being led away in a holovid...the receding tone, the beginning of the conversation that others would not be privy to...Adrien had to hold back from laughing at the theatricality of it. He did his best to re-inhabit the role of earnest Jasper.
"I had a private tutor," Adrien said vaguely, before Rhys almost-but-didn't interrupt him with the true reason that he had hailed him.
When they had gained a little distance from the other people in the room, Rhys leaned into Jasper a bit and nearly whispered, “Thank you for stopping for me. You just saved me from that teeming mass of hormones and greed.” Through the whole interaction so far, Rhys never lost that gratified smile. “I hate it when they swarm you, trying to curry favour. It may not seem like you did much for me, but I’m grateful nonetheless. I suppose you could say that I ‘owe you one’ now.”
As Rhys leaned in, Adrien could smell a delicate scent on him. It was vaguely sweet, but with a sharper undertone — vanilla and...maybe cardamom? Adrien found himself surprised by the scent and the intimacy of the conspiratorial lean. "Oh — really, think nothing of it. I barely did anything. And I mean...I can understand not liking crowds. But you have so much — all of you Coins — and they have so little. Of course they want to touch a piece of heaven and hold onto as much of it as they can."
For a brief instant, Rhys could have sworn that he saw a hint of a smile on Jasper’s face. He didn’t realize it, but he was deeply warmed and pleased by the sight. “Yes, that is more than understandable.” Rhys answered. “But just because we have it doesn’t mean we enjoy being hounded for it. Attention is nice, but it can be tiring.”
“In any case, I do appreciate it.” Rhys went on. “And as much as you have been successful with a tutor, you’d go even further with a proper teacher. Being that the owner of this fine academic institution is a friend of mine, if you do want to apply here, you already have a foot in the door.” He gave Jasper a conspiratorial wink.
Trying to change the topic, if only briefly, Rhys asked, “You seemed to be enjoying the show in there. Tell me, what were your favourite and least favourite moments? Don’t hold back, I can take criticism.”
Adrien had no idea what to say about the concert — it had been good, but he didn't know what to call any of the parts. Maybe he should have chosen a different cover story — not that it would matter in an hour. He would likely never see the Coin again, and he didn't teach at the school, so there was no danger of him being recognized at a later date so long as Adrien checked the concert dates and made sure Thamyris wasn't booked for part two of the heist.
"Honestly, I was riveted throughout — but I'm surprised that you could see into the darkness of the crowd through the glare of those bright stage lights," said Adrien carefully. "Coins must have better eyesight than us plebes."
Jasper must still have been processing the concert, since he had to take a few seconds to form a response. It couldn’t be that he was lying, since he was so enraptured during the performance. Rhys almost felt flattered. “Mine are a little better than the average, but it was more due to creative use of lighting.” he answered. “I’m glad you enjoyed it, at any rate. I don’t know when the next time I perform will be, so it is encouraging to know that it was well-received.”
Rhys didn’t want the conversation to end just yet, and there was only one way to ensure that it went on that he could think of. Give Jasper exactly what he came here for. “I’m getting another drink before I head over to speak with Aristotle for a few minutes. Should I introduce you?” he offered. “One way or another, between the two of us, I’m sure we will be able to impress you.”
Ah, fuck. This Coin was once again unintentionally messing with Adrien's plans. Honestly, Adrien would have been flattered by the offer if he hadn't been thinking about the job. It seemed that Thamyris was interested enough in him to want to continue the conversation. He would be a fool not to take him up on it if he was actually applying to the university. So Jasper had to be a fool — a stubborn one. He put on a bit of a stammer.
"That's — that's really kind of you. I'm sure you're even more impressive together. I'll join you for a drink, if you like, but... I want to get into the school on my own merits as a musician, not because I know the Headmaster or the owner of the school or whatever he is," said Jasper, raising his green eyes to find Thamyris' as he finished the deluded little speech. As if merit had anything to do with the way that the world was run. "You understand, right?"
'That is just too adorable.’ Rhys thought with a pained smile. 'He thinks that merit still has something to do with success in this day and age.’
He sighed and pulled a small, hexagonal business card from his pocket, holding it out to Jasper between two fingers. “Yes, I understand. Regardless, here. Take this. For when you want to take me up on that drink.”
Adrian took the card with an acquiescent nod. “Thank you.
“Thank you , Jasper. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.” Rhys said as he turned away. He kept his face carefully neutral as he got another champagne and headed over to Aris. Rhys could already feel the people around him waiting for an opportunity to speak with him, despite his efforts to ignore them. However, Rhys could not ignore the look Aris gave him when he finally got through the crowd.
“Holy shit, man!” Seth yelled as Adrien finally jumped in the van parked across campus. Seth’s heart was still racing from listening to Adrien’s exchange with the Coin via wireless transmitter. “What just happened?”
Adrien groaned, climbing into Seth's car as the hacker freaked out a little and tried to figure out what it had been like based solely on the audio feed that he had been listening to. "Well, you heard everything, didn't you? That Coin would scarcely let me get away... What happened is that we had to delay the job another night. Don't worry — as you probably heard, I didn't give him much to go on. He did meet Fawn...that could be a problem. But he also said he doesn't teach at the school."
"And thank the Titans for that!" Seth's face was still a bit read. "This whole job could have been sunk in an instant, with Fawn getting expelled or worse." With a press of a button, there was a soft tone as the electric motor turned on. "He seemed pretty interested. Are you sure we're safe?"
Adrien shrugged. Coins were powerful. That was understood. The question was really whether the risks were calculated and acceptable. "I'm unlikely to see him again."
A part of him felt like it was kind of a shame that he wouldn't see Thamyris again. He had been amidst the nicer Coins that Adrien had met. Even thinking that made him feel like a class traitor, but...if he was being honest...well, who wouldn't trade a life of hardship for a life of ease? It wasn't like things were going to change in his lifetime.
Seth finished plugging their destination into the Navcom and looked back to Adrien as they started to move down the road. He looked unhappy. Maybe disappointed? "Are you sure? Those Coins can be smart, which makes them extra dangerous."
"If I knew for sure, I'd be one of the Fates," said Adrien, settling back into the van. "You're not used to these undercover missions, but trust me — this is fine. Anyway, what can we do about it? We can only minimize risk. If jobs in our line of work were risk-free, then everyone would be doing it. Let's just get back to the school as soon as we can and get this done."
Aristotle waited until he was alone with Rhys to talk to him about the young man that he had spent almost every free moment with that night. He didn't want to accidentally make too much of the fact that Rhys seemed to take his advice seriously and make an effort to connect with someone. It would be like sarcastically praising a child who finally turns up to dinner after a tantrum. The last thing that Aris wanted to appear to his friend as was smug.
They stood on Aris' apartment balcony, easily long and wide enough to seat a hundred, having caught a cab from the performance hall. He approached the situation delicately. Aris was on to water now, but still swirled it as if it were the finest ambrosia. He tipped his glass back and drank, staring out over the city below them before turning back to his friend. "So, do you feel like telling me about the young man that you were chatting with tonight? No pressure."
Rhys leaned on the railing of his closest friend’s balcony, staring off into the distance at nothing in particular. The night had gone well. The performance had been a hit, and he didn’t have to have any asinine conversations. All thanks to that Jasper fellow. As Jasper’s face drifted back into Rhys’ mind, Aris pulled him back to reality. “Mmm? Oh, yes. Jasper.” Rhys shrugged. “Sure, I don’t mind.”
“I found him when I was sitting by the bar. Or, maybe he found me. He sat across the way from me and seemed genuinely surprised, and even a bit embarrassed that I was sitting nearby.” Rhys sighed and put his empty glass on the railing. “I thought that if I gave most of my attention to one person, all alone to the side, people wouldn’t feel comfortable swarming me and vying for my attention.” He smiled, though not with his eyes. “It worked. That was much more pleasant than I feared, without the crowds.”
Aristotle suspected that there had to be some attraction there, but didn't mention it directly. He began to count the ships on the water that he could see from their high perch. "Ah, it's convenient that you met someone to be your cover story that didn't have any interest in you, then. Must have made the whole ordeal that I set up for you a lot easier. Thank goodness you didn't have to run the gauntlet of eager, fawning pets. But you must have talked about something."
With an exaggerated eye roll, Rhys turned around and turned to Aris. "Yes, yes. Of course we talked. I wouldn't have stayed around him if he was boring." He paused, reflecting. "I feel like I may have been driving most of the conversation though. I asked him about himself, and he was very cagey about it."
"That makes some sense," said Aris, smiling. "Would you want to reveal that you lived in extreme poverty to someone like us? Even if we can already tell, it would be embarrassing to be that poor, right? He probably spent his youth gathering scrap metal in the river and selling it to feed all his many siblings. So...he wasn't boring, and he didn't want to use you, either? In your shoes, I would find that promising."
"I suppose it was promising," Rhys answered. "But I'm not so sure it would have worked out anyway. He seemed very intimidated by me for some reason. More than normal, that is." He looked back out over the city, toward the concert hall they just left. "He did seem to loosen up near the end of our conversation. Right before I gave him my card, I think." Rhys immediately regretted saying that part out loud. Giving someone a business card to contact you was so... so...gauche.
Holding back a wince at the desperation of the business card move, Aris decided to call this one a win. "Hey, even if it doesn't work out with...Jasper, was it? Even if it doesn't work out with Jasper...if there's one like him out there, it stands to reason that there might be others who aren't so bad either, right? We'll keep looking."
Seth — rather, Hayak4z3 , for the duration of the job — was in Adrien’s — Autolycus' ear. The small transmitter matched Autolycus' skin tone exactly. It would allow Hayak4z3 to guide Autolycus through the school to the appropriate door and offer any other guidance that might be needed during the job. A small mole on Autolycus' jawline was in fact Hayak4z3 's ears — a disguised microphone, miniature and sensitive enough to pick up Lycus' speech and anyone who might be speaking to him.
Hayak4z3 set himself up in the same lot as last time, but in a different vehicle. He had asked for one from his employer, just to be safe. As soon as Lycus was out and moving he was popping in his HUD contact lens to keep a careful eye out. Then, he simply tried to look casual, leaning back in his chair like he was watching holovids. That was always a common sight around campuses like this, so it was a safe “camo” for the moment.
When he crossed the threshold of the school building, Lycus was single-minded. They had chosen today because the digital calendar for the lab said that no one would be there for a precise, two-hour window that had started fifteen minutes ago — they were playing it safe in case a meeting ran long or something like that. But the researchers were confirmed to be due elsewhere for that time. He acted like a typical student, but did not pause or look around at anything as he entered. That was how, as he made his way down a corridor that he had no business being in, he entirely missed Rhys coming out of the Master class that he had just finished teaching as a favour to Aris.
A couple of hallways later, Lycus reached the door of the lab that he was meant to nab the data from. When he entered, he found himself facing a smooth wall full of safety signs about biohazards and lasers and other warnings. Wasn't this supposed to be computer lab?
Turning right at k4z3 's direction, he found himself passing a room with a broad observation window. Inside was a full VR hookup — including a 16-direction treadmill and, also, a weird-looking gamer chair that was shaped like a scorpion’s tail, articulated so that the back rest could be set in a wide variety of positions. That was more what Lycus was expecting from a computer lab. He passed it by and headed toward what k4z3 was calling the "data analysis room."
As he began to download the files to a data-drive, Lycus accidentally opened a video file. He moved to close it but was immediately fascinated by what he saw. Someone, wearing a thin VR suit, strapped to that gamer chair. Restrained. His eyebrow quirked and he put on the nearby headphones, one ear still exposed toward the door so that he might hear anyone coming unexpectedly. This wasn't what he had expected. The voice on the tape was asking the...test subject? to recall something... As he watched, it quickly became clear that they were trying to modify the test subject's memory. And they seemed to be succeeding. Scrubbing through the footage, the ending of the video had a brief voice memo talking about the cumulative concussion-like damage effect on the subject's brain...
It had only been two classes, but already Rhys was getting tired of teaching. The setting was impersonal. A dozen people staring up at him, acting like they understood even when they didn’t. Too uncomfortable to ask questions and talk back and forth with the teacher. Aris would owe him for this.
Eager to get outside and to freedom, Rhys already had his jacket on when he caught a glimpse of a familiar profile pass by. No, it couldn’t be. He didn’t believe what he saw, but despite himself he had to see if that was really Jasper.
'I suppose he really was serious about coming here. I wonder if he’s just meeting Fawn again.' Rhys moved to catch up to whoever it was, rather than call out down a hallway.
From behind, it wasn’t easy to tell if it was Jasper. He was dressed differently, but that meant little. It could still easily be him. But, his actions didn’t make sense. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. He didn’t look for any signs, or slow at any corners. How would he know the layout so well if he wasn’t even a student? Also, they were quickly reaching research labs. Labs that were not part of the music or arts departments.
Concerned, Rhys sped up to close the distance, and whenever his quarry turned a corner, Rhys would quietly run to the corner to get even closer. After two corners and a long hall he was sure. That was Jasper, though he did look different. But what was it… Maybe the hair? That mole? With his genetically-optimized memory, Rhys brought an image of Jasper’s face into his mind. He went over the image in detail again, just as he had several times the night they met. It was the mole. That was absolutely not there before. Rhys would have noticed, even with makeup.
So much of this was odd. So many red flags were raised in Rhys’ mind. He couldn’t ignore it. What if he was here to get his hands on the research coming out of Aris’ labs. With a thought, he illuminated his internal ocular implant and searched for the campus’ security information.
By the time Rhys had sent the message off to security, he was certain that Jasper was up to no good. He’d just slipped into a post-grad research lab and from what Rhys could hear around the corner, he was using a computer inside the room. Rhys updated security, then sent a message directly to Aris.
A few moments later Rhys heard Jasper whispering something, but it was too low to make out. A few moments more, and he could see Security headed his way. Rhys raised a hand to get their attention, and pointed at the door Jasper had entered.
Lycus whispered to k4z3 furtively. "Shit...this tech...they can alter and falsify memories...and using it causes brain damage-- fuck, there's someone in the lab..."
The files had just finished transferring. Autolycus ripped the drive out of the computer and inserted it into his shoe. He then ripped off the disguised microphone and earpiece and threw them under the desk. He stepped on the earpiece, grinding it into the floor. Hopefully, k4z3 could still hear what was going on. Finally, he shut off the computer screen.
That was when the Security Guards burst in and surrounded him. "Hands up, on the ground!"
They had him dead to rights. Lycus raised his arms in surrender. He didn't really have much of an excuse here. If someone had called Security on him, they had seen him come in here, and they had likely seen his suspicious behaviour. Lycus began to slowly kneel, not wanting to get shot for his troubles. "Okay, gents, no need to get overexcited..."
He knelt with his arms up, wondering how much of this he could deny.