Mark Caten was busy typing an e-mail as Carthage and the guard stopped at his desk.
“Hey, Great Lord and Majestic—-”
“Busy. Go away.”
Carthage studied him.
I wonder what sort of elemental he’d be. I don’t think he’d make a good XQ. Maybe an earth elemental?
He took note of Caten’s designer suit and trim figure.
No, that would be too ordinary for someone like him.
It’s too bad the experiments with the metal elements never quite worked out. He would make an interesting silver.
“And send.” Mark Caten looked up. “Are you still here? I thought I dismissed you.”
“Sorry, Great and Majestic Caten. But this guy here wanted to have speaks with you.”
Carthage cleared his throat. “Mr. Caten, I am from The Institute in Pinkerlee.”
Mark Caten leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk. “So?”
“I was one of the scientists in charge of the Elemental Project.”
Caten smiled. “Ahh, yes. The Elemental Project. From what I’ve heard, it was quite a success.”
“Yes. We’ve created fire elementals, water elementals, earth elementals, and air elementals.”
Caten waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I know all of that. After all, I am Mark Freakin’ Caten. I know everything.”
“Mark Caten is a raging egomaniac.”
Carthage cleared his throat again. “Then, I suppose you know that people were willing to pay quite a lot for our elementals.”
“Bored. Look at the puny boring man talking about things I already know. Why don’t you go take a flying leap off my cliff? I have better things to do than to be bored by you.”
“But I’m not done yet.”
“Ohhh.” Caten drama-posed with his hand covering his face. “And he insists on boring me further.” He lowered his hand. “Seriously, just go away. I don’t need—-”
“One of our XQs burned down The Institute in Pinkerlee. I bet you didn’t know that.”
A thoughtful expression came over Caten’s face.
“Our elementals are powerful creatures and they have the advantage of being immune to their own elements. Fire elementals can’t burn. Waters can’t drown. Earth can’t be harmed by rocks or anything made with rocks. Airs can walk through tornados without being blown away. We were in the process of making Airs immune to suffocation.”
“That is interesting.” Caten gave him a long, considering look. “What exactly are you trying to sell me? I know The Institute is burned down. So, you can’t be trying to sell me your little experiments.”
“The Institute is burned down, but I have that knowledge inside my head. I know how to make another XQ. Fire elementals were my specialty. If you give me enough equipment and a place to work in and enough test subjects, I can create them for you. With enough test subjects, I could create metal elementals.”
“I know all about the Failed Metals. What makes you think you can do it?”
Carthage hesitated. “I don’t know if I can do it. But I’m willing to try. I want to succeed where The Institute failed.”
“For fame and fortune, no doubt.”
Carthage shook his head. “In memory of my fallen comrades.”
Mark Caten smiled.
And Carthage saw it.
A slight glint of madness lurking inside his eyes.
“Mark Caten is evil incarnate.”
“Mark Caten is the spawn of demons.”
“Mark Caten is insane.”
“Mark Caten is mentally unstable.”
Maybe there is truth to those rumors, after all.
Caten’s smile grew. “Yes, that is a very interesting business proposition. But there’s a problem. You’re afraid of me.” It wasn’t even close to being a question.
Carthage shook his head.
“You are. There’s no point in pretending. I’ve seen fear on men’s faces before.” He folded his hands and tucked them under his chin. “I see it on your face.”
I can’t trust him with my secrets. I can’t trust him with my elementals.
I can’t trust him at all.
“So. Do you want to work for me?”
I’m standing on a trapeze wire. One answer will keep me safe. The other will make me fall to my doom.
Which is which?
Yes or no?
Mark Caten unfolded his hands. “If you aren’t going to answer me, you can just get out of here. I do have better things to do with my—-”
“I want a job.” The words escaped him before he was fully ready to say them. “I need a job. I have nothing to do. The Institute is gone.”
I’m moving my foot. Will I step on the wire or empty air?
“I want.” He took a breath and exhaled. “I do want to work for you.”
I put my foot down. Where is it? Am I falling?
“Of course, you do. Why wouldn’t you want to work someone as divine as me? It is a privilege and a blessing to work for me. Just ask my other workers. They’ll agree with me.”
Carthage had a lot of doubts about that, but he said nothing.