Drake, p.1

Drake, page 1

 part  #1 of  The Centre of Magical Affairs Series



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  The Centre of Magical Affairs, Book 1

  Written by DM Gilmore

  © 2019 DM Gilmore

  All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law. For permissions contact the author.

  For more information about upcoming books, follow me on twitter @dm_gilmore or www.twitter.com/dm_gilmore

  Chapter 1

  Asher sighed as he hunched over his hologram keyboard, typing away on the floating holoscreen in front of him. He felt uncomfortable in the plain white shirt and grey tie, and he hated having to wear closed-toe shoes, let alone the stiff leather things he currently had on. He idly checked the pocket of his black dress pants, to make sure his ring was still within, and breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the familiar shape through the fabric. His finger twitched, and for half a second, he debated reaching into his pocket and slipping the ring on. He resisted the urge and pulled his hand away, returning it to the keyboard. There would be a time and place for the ring later.

  The cubicles of Lovecraft Incorporated’s Integrated Magic department were abuzz with activity, as a dozen or more technicians, just like Asher, chattered away on their headsets, or typed on their keyboards, all of them serving the needs of the customers on the other end of their line. Asher adjusted his headset as the woman on the other end continued to shout about him not doing his job, while he continued to look for the solution to the problem she was getting with her magically enhanced fridge.

  It had been almost a hundred years since the discovery of magic, of mana and its implementation as a power source, and yet a hundred years was still not long enough for some people to learn how to use the most basic, straightforward, and user-friendly spells on the market. Lovecraft was a company responsible for developing the majority of the world’s magically enhanced products. Everything from animated teddy bears that could walk and talk, to a freezer so cold it could flash freeze anything in ten seconds. Lovecraft prided itself on making the most consumer friendly and mass marketable magical appliances in the world.

  And Asher worked in what amounted to magical tech support.

  “No, ma’am, as long as your fridge is plugged in, it should be keeping your food fresh,” Asher said, doing his best to keep a neutral tone in his voice. It wouldn’t pay to have a customer complain to his manager about his attitude, after all. He paused as he listened to the woman screaming on the other end. “Ma’am, have you tried plugging it in?” More screaming. “Humour me.” The screaming stopped for a moment, and then the woman thanked him for his time and hung up. “Bitch,” he muttered when he was sure nobody was listening to his line.

  “Tough call, Night Light?” a voice said from behind.

  Asher leapt in surprise a bit, before narrowing his eyes and turning his chair around to face the entrance of his cubicle. One of his coworkers, a lanky man with dusty blond hair and a pale, freckled face, grinned down at him. It wasn’t the first time he’d been called the nickname before, many of his coworkers used it to tease him. Asher, unlike most people, suffered from magical infusions, genetic mutations brought on by overexposure to the magical radiation emitted by mana power stations, more commonly known as the mana flux. The irises of his eyes were bright yellow in colour and glowed visibly even in the light, while his hair was as white as untouched snow and no matter how hard he tried it refused to take any dye. With a frown, he met the eyes of his coworker, who instantly looked away from him. This, too, he was used to. Most people he met didn’t like to look into his eyes, often complaining about the glow being off-putting, unsettling even.

  “I always get the crazy ones,” Asher growled, not rising to the jeering nickname. “Piss off, Jack, I’ve got work to do.”

  “Whatever, Night Light,” Jack chuckled, sauntering off while flipping Asher the bird.

  With disturbances out of the way, Asher got back to work, answering emails and replying to messages. He quickly fell into a steady rhythm where he focused on nothing but the work before him.

  Asher was suddenly broken from his reverie as his headset began to ring. Three short beeps echoed every couple seconds into his ear. “Not a client?” he muttered, curiously, pushing the answer button the side of his ear.

  “Integrated Magic, Asher speaking,” he said into the receiver, in the monotone tone that had been drilled into him over two years of manager scrutiny.

  “Hello Asher, this is Hana Hong in HR,” the way she emphasized the H in HR made Asher very uncomfortable. “I need you to come to speak to me in my office.”

  Asher droned a long umm as he pretended to shuffle around the papers on his desk, as if looking for something to write on. “Oof, sorry Ms Hong, I just don’t think I can fit you in today, I’m really busy after all, lotta work to do.”

  “Now,” she hissed, and Asher winced as he could feel the venom in her tone and the sneer on her lips.

  “Yes ma’am,” Asher whispered, as he heard the phone click, signalling the end of discussion. With a groan, he hung up the phone and pushed his chair away from his desk. He had a feeling he knew what this was about, and he wasn’t looking forward to dealing with it.

  As he headed for the elevator, he got a few passing stares from the other workers of the IM department, including Jack, who winked coyly as he shuffled by. Asher rode the elevator in nervous silence up several floors, before walking down a hallway and entering a room at the end.

  Hana Hong’s office was neat and organized. The walls were painted an eggshell white, just a shade darker than Asher’s hair. She had a nice glass dresser pushed up against the wall on one end, and a glass bookshelf lined with non-fiction, mostly the memoirs and biographies of big business types, on the other. Her desk was also made of glass, polished to a shine both on the inside and outside. The effect was rather unsettling, as it allowed anyone sitting in the chairs opposite her desk to get a full view of her sitting posture as she leaned back in her chair with her legs and arms crossed. Hana Hong, much like her office, was a neat and organized woman. Her ebony hair was trimmed into short bangs at the front and tied up at the back so as to stay out of her face, her white pantsuit was cleanly pressed and perfectly creased, and her face so expertly made up that nobody would ever be able to tell at a glance that she was in her late forties.

  Asher sat uncomfortably in the thick, plush chair opposite her desk, doing his best to match the neutral expression on her face. There was a file folder on her desk that he occasionally shot a glance at, but never for more than a few seconds before once again meeting Hana’s gaze.

  “So,” Asher began, finally trying to ease the tension, “Ms Hong, you wanted—”

  “Asher Samuel Itzkovitch,” she interrupted, dragging out the pronunciation of his last name, as if it stuck in her throat. “You must be wondering why I called you down today?”

  Asher shut his mouth; the phrase already half-formed on his tongue, but he said nothing. The sunlight from the windows behind Ms. Hong cast her in an ominous backlight that made her seem more powerful, more imposing. Casually, she took a sip from a steaming paper cup on her desk, marked with an elaborate green logo. Written along the side was the order, six milks and four sugars. Would you like coffee with your milk, Asher mused, though the sight of the coffee made him wince internally. A cup of coffee these days cost close to thirty dollars, depending on where you bought it, and given the logo on the cup, it definitely couldn’t have been cheap.

  “Yes,” he finally answered, although he swallowed the need to elaborate the question.

  Hana Hong’s mouth almost seemed to tease itself into the idea of a grin as she lowered her cup back down to her desk, but Asher figured it must have been a trick of the light because as soon as he noticed it, her fac
e immediately returned to a state of emotionless passivity. “We are here today to discuss your lifestyle choices outside the company, and how they have been affecting your performance within our organization. You can think of this as a sort of… evaluation.”

  The red light in Asher’s head started blinking furiously. That wasn’t good.

  “As you well know, we rarely hire people of,” she paused a little bit to flip open the folder on her desk, gazing down at its contents for a second, “infusions,” she finally said, casting her dark eyes up at Asher’s hair, catching his eerily glowing eyes on the way. “We have made an exception in your case, because you came highly recommended by references, and due to your family situation had no control over the acquisition of the aforementioned infusions.”

  Asher swallowed and resisted the urge to run his fingers through his hair. It had never escaped his notice that even an infusion as mundane as white hair was enough to make normal humans uncomfortable. Truth be told, he counted himself lucky. Other people were cursed with infusions that did a lot more than his own.

  “But,” Hana continued, snapping Asher out of his momentary reverie, “we are not in the business of hiring people who use draquartz to become a drake.”

  Drakes. The big lizard in the room that nobody wanted to talk about, let alone acknowledge existed most days of the week. Since the early days of using mana as a power source, drakes had been a persistent shadow at the back of the conversation. Sometimes it would be a fashion statement, to turn oneself into a dragon person through the use of draquartz, one of the few waste products produced by mana stations. Sometimes, if a woman got pregnant while exposed to manaflux, their child would be born that way, and never have the choice of being human. Regardless, drakes had been a topic of contention ever since they had started existing, and Asher knew that wasn’t about to change any time soon.

  While it technically wasn’t legal to discriminate against someone because of their race, drakes as a whole tended to be more aggressive and prone to violent outbursts than humans. Even humans that swapped back and forth between forms had a statistically higher rate of violence than those who spent all their time in human form. While most drake rights activists touted that studies to prove this were unfairly biased against drake-kind, most companies chose to err on the side of caution, and chose not to hire drakes due to the risks involved. There were creative solutions for getting around the laws, too. The law prevented companies from discriminating against drakes outright, but it could not stop them from having policies against the use of draquartz.

  “We hired you because you were near the top of your class at the University of Toronto,” she continued, “admitted with a full scholarship to their Integrated Magic program, with high grades in all four years. Graduated with distinction. Your transcripts are impressive, as you are undoubtedly aware?”

  “Thank you, ma’am,” Asher croaked, choosing to take the compliment at face value despite her condescending tone.

  “Then why lie to us? You are a smart man, Asher Itzcovitch, so you must know of our company policy? No employee of Lovecraft is permitted to own or use draquartz,” she continued, ignoring his comment to pull a paper from the folder. No, not a paper, Asher quickly realized, a photograph, printed on paper like they did in the old days. Ms Hong slid the page across the desk until it was close enough for him to see. “So why did you think you would be any different?”

  The photograph was of a dark grey reptilian humanoid, a drake, with pearly white horns exiting a dingy old apartment building. Asher breathed calmly, doing his best not to show his concern. A very familiar drake, with eyes that glowed a faint yellow even in the blur of the photograph, with a flexible, snow white, crest stretching from his forehead to the base of his neck. He held his breath, and kept his eyes trained on the photograph, pretending to scan it for anything that appeared out of the ordinary. He didn’t need to hear Hana Hong say it in order to know what this was about. She was accusing him of being this drake, and she wasn’t wrong either.

  Asher lived in a broodtown, a kind of neighborhood that popped up around mana stations that was so densely polluted by the manaflux that only drakes, with their natural immunity to its effects, could safely live in it. He wasn’t always a drake, but as far as he was considered, his human shape was nothing but a disguise that allowed him to work outside the broodtown, where jobs were scarce and success even scarcer.

  He couldn't lose this job, not here, not now, not like this. If he lost his job, he wouldn’t be able to afford to pay his rent. There were a few things he could do to help bring in some extra cash, but really all they did was pad the income. The bulk of his earnings came from Lovecraft, and if he lost that, he’d be so utterly screwed.

  “That could be anyone,” Asher said, finally looking Ms Hong in the eyes, in his best attempt to conceal his accelerating heart rate as his mind flashed with all of the worst possible outcomes this conversation could lead to, “what makes you think this drake is me?”

  Without another word, Ms Hong slid another photograph across the desk. This one was of Asher’s car pulling into the company parking lot, the same dark grey drake sitting in the driver’s seat. Asher couldn’t hide the bulge in his eyes as he stared down at the photograph. He had always parked in the back of the building, near the dumpsters, where there had never been any security cameras, and no one to see him change out of his drake form and clothes into human shape and attire. The photo was marked with a timestamp, taken a few days prior, when Asher had been late for work due to staying up all night working on a project and oversleeping his alarm.

  “Private investigators, new security cameras,” Ms Hong said, counting off the list of things she had done to trap him. “They tailed you back to the Scarborough broodtown, which is funny, because our records have you living,” Ms Hong paused as she flipped to another paper in the folder, “in Markham, not Scarborough. So not only have you been lying about your use of draquartz, but you’ve also been fraudulently filling out documents?”

  Asher swallowed again and looked from the photographs to Ms Hong and back again. Without thinking, he reached his hand into his pocket and began to reach for the comfort of his ring, but halted himself before his fingers touched the metal. If he so much as brushed against it, the mana inside the draquartz inset would flood into his system. He would turn into a drake in a matter of seconds, and any hope of salvaging this situation would disappear, along with his humanity.

  “I don’t know who this drake is,” Asher said, slipping his hand out of his pocket and doing his best to remain as calm as possible, “but I do have a legal residence in Markham.” This was technically not a lie, as it was his grandmother’s house. Despite personal differences he had with her, he continued to use her address as his legal place of residence, and she continued to forward his mail to his apartment in the broodtown, and that was as close to a connection as they had. “That address is not a lie.”

  “And yet we have video of you being followed back to the broodtown, where you pulled over just outside its boundaries to,” Ms Hong swallowed imaginary vomit in disgust, “change into your drake form.”

  As if on cue, a hologram screen manifested in the air between them with a crackle of mana. The screen played a quick video of Asher stepping inside a coffee shop with a familiar black backpack over his shoulder, and then the drake from the photo stepping out a few moments later, dressed in shorts and a denim jacket. The drake got into Asher’s car and drove away.

  Asher swallowed. That was empirical evidence, alright. He could argue that it was forged, but based on the information Hong presented to him, he was caught in their trap. He knew Lovecraft policies well, and had known co-workers who had been fired for a lot less. If he denied the accusations, they’d simply lay him off so as to avoid wasting money on further investigation. If he confirmed them, he’d be fired for breaking company policy.

  To put it mildly, he was screwed. The only chance he had was to come clean with his transgressions and maybe
if he was lucky, they’d be lenient on his punishment. There’s no way he wouldn’t get fired, but maybe they’d at least allow him to continue working in the IM sector? Maybe they wouldn’t spread the news of his transgressions to other possible employers, making him unemployable?

  “So, Asher,” Ms Hong said, the screen vanishing from the air, “was that not you?”

  Asher nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he croaked, his throat dry and his hands shaky, “yeah that was me.”

  Hana Hong’s mouth really did turn into a grin this time. “Then you understand that I have no choice but to terminate your employment, correct?”

  Asher nodded, doing his best to force back the tears coming out his eyes.

  “You have broken company policy: no employee is permitted to use or own draquartz of any kind. Since this is a core tenet of our company, this is termination with cause. By law we do not need to pay you anything, no severance, no pay in lieu of notice, but the company is feeling generous today.”

  Asher blinked as a tear rolled out of his glowing eyes, as Ms Hong pushed a trio of identical legal documents in front of him. “What’s this?”

  “If you resign quietly, remove yourself and any personal effects you may have from our property without a struggle, Lovecraft Incorporated will agree to pay you three months of salary, provided you do not go to the media about our policies and what have you, as well as usual termination clauses. You cannot sue us, cannot work for competitors for a span of fifteen months, usual things.”

  Asher looked down at the documents, then looked up at Ms Hong. She was still grinning that malicious smile, showing only the slightest bit of teeth as she did.

  “Break the terms of the contract, and we will not only be forced to cease paying you, but we will also take you to court for defamation and breaking of a legally binding contract.”

  Asher wiped his eyes on his sleeve and noticed that Ms Hong was holding out a shiny silver pen. “You’re a bunch of assholes,” he growled, narrowing his eyes at her. Without another word, he snatched the pen from her fingers and signed the triplicate documents, initialling in a few spots before writing his name in Hebrew on the dotted lines, his version of a signature. With that done, Asher pulled himself to his feet and tossed the pen on the desk, where it bounced and rolled a bit before Hana Hong stopped it with her fingers. He grabbed the document labelled Employee’s copy off the desk and rolled it into a tube, shoving it furiously into his back pocket.

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