People were starting to gather outside the phone booth, with a couple younger kids pestering their parents. I wanted to imagine they were trying to get someone to be brave enough to ask for an autograph, but knowing my luck they just wanted to use the phone. I ignored them for the conversation I had to take care of.
“Twenty percent is unacceptable.” I doubted the captain believed me, but that was the nature of negotiations. “If you can’t agree to thirty, then we can always take our business elsewhere. Our team’s powers are uniquely qualified for identifying and collecting samples from deep ocean shipwrecks.”
“You have to understand, there are a lot of operation costs in the salvaging business,” the woman said. Her measured, even amused, tone was enough to tell me she knew she had the upper hand in this negotiation. “Normally we wouldn’t consider partners, let alone at the rates you’re asking, but the abilities you claim to possess are, as you pointed out, uniquely qualified.”
Shows what you think I know. “I the vast majority of finds will be of historical significance, which won’t require salvaging at all. They are landmarks, in as much as the term applies to the ocean. Donation funded, as we both know, and the ability to get results is the ability to get more donations.” Now that I made the case, I went with my final bartering chip. “Thirty percent, and an exclusivity clause. We will not work with any of your regional competitors, with region defined as the United States coastal waters in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.”
That promise alone could save them millions in the long run, given the money which went into research to find probable locations. Any ships they may have been looking for and a competitor found would be a complete waste of resources. I was promising we would never be able to undercut them, and that was almost priceless in the business world.
“Just the Atlantic and Gulf?”
“Your company has no vessels in the Pacific, ergo, your interests do not extend there. We may be willing to negotiate a separate contract, should that change.” From what I understood the American Pacific was threadbare for undiscovered shipwrecks, but I wanted to leave the window open. “And we have no interest in international salvage at this time. Perhaps that will change some day.”
“I think thirty percent and five years of non-competition sounds fair, don’t you?”
Ouch. I had considered going into business on our own after this trip, but a five year contract may as well have said ‘eternity’, for the effect it had on those aspirations. With Domenic’s range, he could sweep hundreds of square miles of ocean per day. Either we found a different source of income, or we stayed with this project and might run out of places to sweep before we could go solo.
The smart businesswoman I was raised to be screamed to reject the offer, and I would have if not for a single, key detail by the name of Cecelia. “Make it a thirty-three percent cut, and you have yourself a deal. We’d prefer to get started at the earliest opportunity, to avoid hurricane season. Speaking as an Imbued, I don’t trust Clear Skies’ weather controllers to be half as good as they say they are.”
The woman chuckled. “Speaking as someone who’s spent most of her life on boats, you’re being optimistic. Just give me a moment to check the logs, please.” Whatever keyboard she used made quite the racket as she typed. “The Last Horizon is docked for a refit in New York, but under the circumstances we can have her in North Carolina in five days, and ready for a week at sea by the next morning. My apologies, but I don’t see us committing to more than that amount of time with an unproven group.”
“I understand. You’re taking all the risks in this endeavor, after all.” Probably better this way; I don’t see Nanna agreeing to Dom vanishing for a month long ocean voyage. Perhaps if the trial run goes well, he’ll convince her with the money he’s made. “We’ll be there, say, ten in the morning, the fourteenth? Do you have a place we can store a vehicle? It would be a bit of a trip, going alone.”
“There are private parking lots, we’ll make certain you have room for your vehicles. Just a moment.” A few more clicks went by. “Hmm, if you get here by nine-thirty, I can get you a complimentary ferry ride. You said you’re coming from Raleigh, right? We’ll be saving you about an hour of driving this way.”
“We’d appreciate that.” I didn’t ask why we’d need an extra hour to get to the boat in a car, for fear of looking ignorant; there was nothing a good businessperson could exploit better than an uneducated customer.
“I believe that covers the basics. I’ll draft a contract, and email you a copy by the end of the business day. We can negotiate specific details tomorrow.”
Betraying your eagerness for the deal, there. Damn, I might have been able to haggle her up even higher. Nothing I can do about that, now. “Make sure to include a nondisclosure clause. You or your employees aren’t to reveal anything about our abilities or identities learned while working with you. You’ll find it’s a standard part of any contract with Imbued. As well as the usual costumed privacy laws.”
“I see no difficulties there,” she said over the clicking sounds. “We’ll want a similar NDA in regards to our operations. We are one of the best in a very competitive market, and we prefer to keep it that way.”
Given your sudden five year monopoly on superhuman ship finding powers, I doubt there’s any danger of that. “That seems reasonable.” I looked at the growing crowd around the booth, and despite my armor I felt naked. I considered putting up a privacy screen, but then they’d make all kinds of assumptions. “I believe that covers everything for now. Thank you for your time.”
“No, thank you.” The phone clicked, and began making that ever-so-subtle hum that signaled it was time for me to leave.
I smiled for the crowd as they took a step back, unsure of what came next. Part of me found it annoying as hell, but I had been just like them before I got my powers.
Has it only been a month? Starfall, Mom, would have stopped to talk to her fans. She always was an expert at working the crowds. A bitter sensation formed in my stomach, killing any possibility of me trying to be like her for the near future. I took off into the sky with as gentle a burst of light as I could manage.
My new pattern of burst flight mixed with running took about twenty minutes to make the journey to our secret HQ. The slowest part of the trip was getting out of the city. Once in the countryside, I could fly almost without rest until I made it to the base.
RecognitionRelief DelightLove. The distraction of my Pairbonds returning to my mind almost made me run face first into a tree, which would have been a problem. A human shaped imprint was the opposite of what we wanted out here. After all our work this week, having to leave because I hit a tree would have been the worst.
With one last burst of flight, I weaved through the dry stream bed and up to our secret entrance, then allowed myself to fall down the tunnel, then in the passage to our living area. My eyes had yet to adjust to the dim light of my own power when Domenic’s arms wrapped tight around me.
ReliefDesire DismissalAnnoyance. “How’d it go?” Domenic squeezed me as hard as he could. I barely felt the pressure, but the gesture was nice.
As if you need to ask. “Better than I hoped. We start in a week, with a full third cut.” JoySuccess ApprovalHesitation. Of course Cecelia felt my doubts first. “I had to agree to noncompetitive and nondisclosure clauses. We’ll be signing away any real chance of doing this without them in the future.”
ReluctantAcceptance. “Well, it’s not like we were planning to make a career of it, anyway.” I hated that Domenic was so cavalier about throwing away a business opportunity. He leaned down to give me a soft kiss on my forehead. “You did a great job.”
AnnoyanceFrustration. Cecelia’s head popped into view, from above. It seemed she was using her powers to climb on the ceiling for whatever reason. “I’m telling you, there’s always mercenary work. The three of us could go around the country stomping peeps for money. We have great powers for it…” HesitationFearRegret.
RejectionCertain. Domenic took a breath. “No, we can’t. If we start playing bounty hunter, people will ask why we didn’t collect on you, and they’ll find answers.” The fact that he didn’t want to be a hero went unsaid. RealizationComfort. “Uh, that’s not to say we can’t still do the local hero thing, once things calm down. We still have a week before we can debut our team, anyway.”
I forced myself to smile. “Yeah, we do have time to kill. So, uh, what’d you guys do while I was gone?”
DisquietApology. Domenic was about to say something, but Cecelia cut him off. “Oh, we broke in the house, college style.” ShockNegation. What? Cecelia waited for a moment, then sighed. “You don’t get the joke, do you?”
ReliefTired. Domenic shook his head. “All we did was fix a few things, and set up the pipes. There’s about two tons of dirt at the bottom of the shaft where we cleared space. Congrats, we now have running water. All the comforts of home, long as you don’t care about heat or lights. Still gotta set up the septic system before we use it, though.”
AnnoyedBored. “The walls have plenty of juice in them, go ahead and use that. I’m going to get some fresh air.” Cecelia scrambled out into the tube without ever touching the ground. I still wasn’t comfortable giving her so much freedom, but as Dom said, she’d have thousands of opportunities to escape that we couldn’t do anything about.
After she left, I floated up and gave Dom a real kiss, then wrapped my legs around him the same way Cecelia did the other day. DesireLove. He liked it better when I did it.
“So, I ruin a good day, but how did things go with just the two of you?” Cecelia had been alone with me while Dom was out of range a couple times, but this was the first time we’d left her with him. We didn’t have much choice, if we wanted our plans to work out.
AnnoyedTired. Domenic took a breath while his face rested on my forehead. “Oh, the usual flirty stuff she does. I ignored her.”
Well, it’s better than coming here to find her covered in his blood. Or other fluids. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Like I said before, she’s just acting out for attention. When she realizes it doesn’t work, she’ll give up.” He wrapped his arms around my back, then pulled me into a kiss that seemed to last forever. “I missed you, by the way.”
I wriggled my hips. “Yeah, I noticed. So, let’s get the rest of the job done. What’s a leach field?”
AmusedPatient. “Oh, it’s a sort of drainage system for people who don’t have sewers. Don’t worry, people do this sort of thing all the time, there’s no risk of endangering yourself or the environment as long as you’re not flushing mercury down your toilet or something. Ordinary waste won’t contaminate the ground water.”
Well, that’s good to know. “I guess that’s fine. Other animals just go wherever they want, right?”
“Yeah. So we gotta finish that. First thing is for you to pull the dirt out of the bottom. Save it, though. We might need it to cover our work, I’m not sure yet.”
“Okay.” I squeeze myself around him one more time before letting him go, then floated back to the tube. Out here, surrounded by nature and the extra power Cecelia left in the walls, I could use my powers without running out of strength. The walls shifted around me, taking away the rungs that Domenic used, and made it a lot easier for me to pull the garbage can of dirt at the bottom out of the tunnel.
By the time I got back, Dom was at the bottom of the hole, with several more gallons of liquid metal. “Okay, so we’re standing in our septic tank, now.” He tapped the wall just a bit above his eye level. “What I need you to do is push this tube through here as I create it, until it gets too hard for you to push further.”
It wasn’t as cramped as it would have been above, and now I understood why he wanted the base to be so much wider than above. I just had to grab and push the steel pipe as he created more of it, until he ran out of metal. It only took us a couple minutes.
SurprisedImpressed. “Well, that was a lot further than I expected we’d get. Uh, are you sure we didn’t break out into open air at some point?”
I shook my head. “No, there was resistance, so we should still be underground. I’m pretty sure we’re good.”
“We’ll have to do a visual inspection later, anyway. For now, I need to shape this so it promotes drainage and runoff.” He held up a plastic tube about as long and thick as my leg. It was shaped like a half circle, and had a bunch of ridges and stuff in it that I didn’t understand.
“This is the kind of stuff professionals use for these pipes, I’m making copies with my metal.” I watched as a lot of metal spilled out of the metal pipe. ConcentrationCare. “Okay, that does it for this tube. We’ll make another on the other end, and a pair the other direction, and then we should be good.”
By the time we finished, I was starting to worry about my reserves. It hadn’t occurred to me how much energy pushing metal pipes through dirt cost. PriceSuccess. Domenic hugged me. “Alright! That’s perfect! We have about three times the drainage length that they recommend in total, anyway. It won’t be too hard to make more if we have to, with our powers.”
I wrapped my arms around him as well. “So, going up?”
NervousTrust. “Yeah, still gotta see if we punched a hole into open air.” Even after all the times I’d taken him flying, he was still afraid of heights. Cecelia found it annoying, but I thought it was sweet how he let me carry him despite his fear.
It turns Domenic’s measurements were right, and we had a completely buried set of pipes. By the time we got back, Cecelia was standing outside our home covered in blood.
DisgustDread. What metal Domenic had on him shifted into combat mode. “What did you do!?”
AmusedDismissive. “Brought home lunch. Meet Wilbur.” She stepped aside, to reveal a dead, blood-soaked animal that looked like a very large dog with a giant curved fang. SurpriseRelief. “Formerly-living proof that the worse an animal smells when it’s alive, the better it tastes when it’s cooked.”
I took a step back. What the hell is that thing? “Uh, are you sure we should?” I looked at Domenic, who seemed a lot more calm about it than I was. “Aren’t there hunting laws to worry about?”
UnconcernedAcceptance. Domenic took a couple steps closer to the wild animal, and her prey. “It’s a wild boar. They’re an invasive species, and an environmental nightmare. You can kill as many as you want, whenever you want, and the game wardens will thank you. Some states even pay bounties on kills.” ConfidentProud ConcernDisquiet. “Not sure how they’d respond to killing them with your bare hands, however.”
“I didn’t kill him with my bare hands.” She held up a long, curved, bloody dagger. “I ripped out one of his tusks and carved him open with it. Bastard tried to bite me. By the way, his brother Pumba’s out there somewhere, but I let him live. Until we get a freezer to stuff him in, it’d be a waste of meat.”
“A-and you’re going to eat it?” My stomach churned, and I considered converting to vegetarianism on the spot.
DismissiveAnnoyed. Cecelia tossed the tooth-dagger to the side. “If they don’t want me eating them, why do they taste like bacon?” She started to peel her blood-soaked shirt over her head. She was too covered in gore for it to be revealing. “I did the killing, you guys can do the cleaning and cooking while I’m in the shower.”