75. Wingmen

As Alex stood in the doorway, Quentin scrutinized his eyes. Alex saw that Quentin had gotten his hands on one of the hacked plaques from the public assembler library before LakiraLabs shut it down, and was trying to read his mind. Quentin had actually ventured from the coddling confines of his personal hotel suite to read minds of strangers, and to hit on women. He’d pulled some amateur tricks, such as convincing girls he’d met them before, or pretending to have the exact qualities the women looked for in men. Despite this advantage, his winning personality had driven them away.

Now, he’d invited Alex over on the pretense of drinks, only for Alex to suffer this eyeballing at the door.

“Damn…” said Quentin. “I’m not getting anything.” He leaned closer as though that might solve it.

“You sure?” said Alex. “You want to try for a few more minutes while I stand in the hall? Go ahead. There are a few more years of your childhood I haven’t yet perused.”

“What the hell, man?” Quentin broke eye contact. “Fine, come in. I finally get a chance to use these powers and they don’t even work on you.”

Alex stepped in. “I’ve told you before, I have a shield.” A brand new one too, since his last one broke this morning from his little excursion in Lyons.

“Unfair. Can I have one too?”

“I’ve got the only one that’s not inside an exemplar plaque, and Sakhr doesn’t want me giving one to anyone else.”

Quentin shrugged. “You know, I should be able to make a copy of yours now, right? I mean, it’s a shield glyph, but that wouldn’t stop me from copying it if it were on the table.”

“Sorry. Strictly forbidden.”

“Come on. Sakhr doesn’t have to know.”

“He would find out. His paranoia regularly has him scanning me.”

“Gaaay.”

“Yeah. Gay.”

They went to the kitchen. Quentin had bottles of liquor on the counter.

“What’s all this?” Alex asked.

“Pregame. We’re going out tonight. Way I figure, these glyphs are going to be common in a day or two. We gotta take advantage now.”

You gotta, you mean. I’ve been taking advantage of it for centuries.”

“Yeah?” Quentin looked through the bottles. “Did you ever have a wingman? Hmm? How bout it? You and me on the prowl.”

Alex pretended to consider it, although he’d made up his mind at the door when he saw this half-baked idea in Quentin’s head. “I’m sure we’d make quite a pair: a middle-aged doctor and a teenage girl.”

“That’s not my fault. We could go body surfing, but his royal tight-ass has the monopoly on that. But we could still pull it off. Who doesn’t want to hook up with a rich-ass doctor who knows how to have fun? And you could get yourself a little girl-on-girl. Have you tried that yet?”

“I’m sure that’d be delightful, but I’m afraid we can’t go out.”

“What? Why not?”

“Now that anyone can copy a flair, Sakhr doesn’t want to risk anyone getting a hold of yours. You’re under house arrest until further notice.”

What the fuck? Who does he think he is?”

“The queen?”

“No one would even know how to copy my power. I tried. I sat in front of a mirror all afternoon. Do I even have the right glyphs for it?”

“Yes. It’s just tricky. It took Paul an entire summer to figure it out the first time.”

“So what’s the big deal? No one’s going to copy my power.”

Alex shrugged helplessly. “Not my call.”

“Then just give me a shield glyph then.”

“Can’t.”

“Oh, fucking come on! For one night. I’m not going to copy it.”

“In the wake of this leak, Sakhr is more paranoid than ever.”

“Hold on.” Quentin held up a hand. “You said earlier that my glyph doesn’t even work well for other people. You said that’s why Victoria kept me around?”

Again, Alex shrugged. “I know. I know. But I’m not the one calling the shots around here.”

“Fuck that guy. Seriously.” Quentin poured Alex and himself a shot of Scotch. “I guess we’re staying in tonight, hmm?”

Alex held onto his shot as Quentin downed his. “You know… Maybe we could go out. One last time before your lockdown goes into effect. Like you said, hardly anyone has any glyphs out there.”

Quentin looked up at him. “You sure?”

“Yeah. I’ll give you a temporary shield. For tonight. I’ll have some exemplars watch over us.”

“They won’t tell?”

“They know who recruited them. How bout it? I’ll show you how you’re supposed to use telepathy.”

“Yeah? All right!”

“Lift up your shirt.”

Quentin blinked. “What?”

“I’m going to draw the shield glyph on your back. That way you can’t lose it. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but…”

“Yeah. Yeah. It’s cool.” Quentin took off his shirt. Alex took out his laminated shield glyph and doodled on Quentin’s back with a pen. At the end of the night, he’d be wiping it off and checking Quentin’s mind for any foul play, and even then he knew that taking this risk would make Sakhr ballistic. But all investments had risks.

When Alex finished the final stroke, Quentin’s aura faded away like an afterimage. “Done.”

“Awesome. Pre-game then?” Quentin poured himself another shot and held it in toast. “Two men on the prowl.”

Alex toasted, but merely sipped his drink. “Don’t know if I’ll partaking tonight, but I’ll try not to let you embarrass yourself like you did this morning.”

“You saw that, huh?” Quentin chuckled. “Well, I’ve been out of the game a little while.” He poured himself another shot, but seeing Alex’s drink untouched, he waited. “I bet Sakhr is freaking the fuck out right now with all this glyph stuff.”

“He’s been better.”

“Is the empire going to shut these glyphs down?”

Alex’s eyebrows raised. “How? They’re in the wild now.”

Quentin thought about it. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s like a virus, isn’t it?” He took his shot. Wincing, he thought of something. “What are ya’ll going to do about the new flairs popping up?”

“Hmm?”

“You guys said there are flairs hidden over the world. It’s just about finding them, but that’s what this glyph is, right?” He took his glyph card out and pointed to Christof’s glyph. “I mean, I can see my own flair now too. Won’t that mean that if any more flairs are out there, they’re going to be found out real soon?”

“Ye— yeah.” That was… actually a good point. In the rush to catch Katherine’s elusive flairs, Alex hadn’t stopped to think about what others might be out there. Not even Sakhr had thought of that. Based off Christof’s old estimates, there might only be a couple in all the world, but still.

“I guess you guys will find out when their glyphs start circulating,” Quentin said.

“No,” Alex said. “They won’t. Copying another glyph is one thing, but like you found out, creating a glyph from a flair is something else entirely. People might sense there’s a flair inside them. They might even figure out they have a power, but I doubt they’ll figure out how to copy it. They probably won’t even realize it’s possible.”

“But you would, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah. I could.” Alex gulped his Scotch.

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