Author’s Note: Ooops, we had some site instability there. Don’t forget there’s a mirror for this story. More in the comments.
When Jessie arrived at the office she found things had changed. At least they looked like they had changed. She didn’t remember the vast flame filled pit, nor the narrow catwalk that spanned it towards the caverns in the back of the building and a great black marble receptionist’s desk on a pillar of stone. There were, however, some remarkably couch like rock formations on a narrow cliff near the front door that seemed familiar. Kyle must have heard her come in because he emerged from a “cave” in the back shortly after she walked in the front door.
“What do you think?”
“I’m guessing this is why you asked about my old Halloween costumes? Well, uh, it’s really something.” Kyle had mostly left his own appearance alone assuming the sharp suit he wore was real, but instead of shoes he had a goats hairy ankles and hoofs, and two small red horns poked out of his hair.
“If it’s over the top, I could turn this back into an office. I just figured it was more honest to cast an illusion this way rather than just making the office look nicer without making it obvious there’s illusion involved.”
Jessie thought about that. “I don’t know about honest, but it might be better advertising. The old set-up got us out of leasing furniture, but this…” She examined the room slowly. It was impressive. Not perfect, probably not even quite as good as the old illusion, but easily good enough that she didn’t want to step off the ledge by the door. She even felt a little uneasy standing so close to the “edge” of the flame pit. They might want to make that look a little more OSHA complaint just for client comfort. “This really shows off what you can do. That’s not bad.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“I brought the costume. I’ll change, you can tell me how it looks.”
“Sure,” Kyle had moved over to a rock formation by the door, and it started to change slightly as he worked with it.
Jessie walked to the women’s restroom in the back detouring around the entirely non-existent “pit” in the floor as she did so. They were definitely going to need to change the illusion in case anyone had a fear of heights. In the restroom, she changed into her “succubus” costume from her last year of college, then eyed herself in the mirror. She suddenly regretted ever mentioning the costume. On Halloween night, with sorority girls walking around in little more than their underwear and a pair of costume ears, it had seemed like a tame outfit. That’s how she’d remembered it. Now it seemed distinctly shy of “business casual”.
The costume in question was mostly a short red column bridesmaid dress that left her arms and a few inches of leg above her knees bare. She’d matched that with stilettos, demon horns, and a pointy tail all in about the same shade of red as the satin of the dress. She’d worn bright red fingernail polish and brought matching lipstick in to the office to go along with the clothes though Kyle had never specifically said she’d be wearing the costume. The dress was slit slightly along a seam in the back so she could wear the tail under it; that served both to hide the clear belt it was attached to and allowed her to show a little more skin. Now she was really glad she hadn’t gone with an idea she’d had at the time to make the slit bigger and more risqué. It was just as well she hadn’t thought she’d had the sewing skills for the laces she’d dreamt up.
She looked at the mirror, again; considered changing back out of the costume, again, then sashayed back out to the front trying to own the costume.
Kyle wasn’t even looking when she walked back into the reception area, which sort of ruined her entrance. Instead he was standing behind the reception obelisk and fiddling with her computer. He must have heard her heels clicking because, without looking up, he asked, “Do you know how to log out of your web-mail? I want to check something in my account.”
A feeling of sick fear washed over Jessie. She had an email from Servant in her inbox. She hadn’t replied yet, she’d been trying to figure out the least she could get away with telling him, but the questions would be incriminating enough. How had she been so stupid? She’d never checked her email on that computer, but she’d saved the password in her browser ages ago and that was shared across the net. It logged her on wherever she went. She needed a distraction fast.
“What do you think? Is the dress too short?” At that, Kyle looked up. Jessie bent over and tugged at the hemline of the dress. That did nothing to alter it, of course, satin isn’t streachy, but it did draw Kyle’s attention to her legs and hopefully away from her email.
“Um… It’s fine.”
Jessie walked over to to Kyle and nudged him out from in front of the computer. Unfortunately, it really was hard to get logged out. The page had a menu for settings and appearance, another mail categories, and a third for mail actions, but no obvious log out link. She clicked over to the help page, which at least got her away from Servant’s mail, and then tossed another distraction Kyle’s way, “So hell, huh? That’s a little grim. What brought that on?”
“I couldn’t sleep last night.” He sighed, “I couldn’t sleep and I was in a fairly bad mood. The guy who came in yesterday evening thinks there’s going to be an IP bounty out on me fairly soon.”
“I don’t really know what that means.”
“It mean’s big men with guns and bad attitudes come and drag me off to some form of indefinite detainment.”
“You’re going to be arrested,” Jessie asked, still distracted. She searched for ‘log out’ under the help menu and found instructions. Really? That’s where they’d put the link? No wonder we couldn’t find it.
Kyle shrugged. “Perhaps, eventually, but IP bounty hunters aren’t cops.”
“So you’re going to be kidnapped? Because that’s not legal, you can call the cops if someone tries to kidnap you.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t. Before you learn any important spell you sign a magical license. It’s typically a site license with some fairly specific clauses about where, when, and how you can use the spell. Violate any of that and they can have the bounty hunters drag you in. It’s to stop you from casting the spell anymore, because that’s like a sort of ongoing theft.”
Jessie stepped away from the computer, and was finally able to fully focus on the conversation. “Still not legal. You can’t sign away your rights like that. It’s called an ‘unconscionable contract’ we learned about them in biz law.”
“It is a legal grey area. I looked it up when IP investigations were done at my old job, but companies are careful. The clause that lets them grab you is known as a “Preemptive Employment” rider typically they have to pay you time and a half for any time they hold you while it’s activated. It gets activated two ways. If your company is rich, your spell is expensive, or the number of people under investigation is tiny they might put everyone up in a nice hotel and monitor them while they scramble to figure out who misused the spell. That’s great, I’ve worked with two guys who went through an investigation like that. Both of them loved to talk about how much money they made for sitting in a hotel and resting. The other approach is less great, that’s the one I’m worried about.”
Then they were interrupted. The door opened, and a college aged guy walked in, noticed his surroundings, and stopped standing with his mouth open. He didn’t look like he needed an illusion performed. He had long matted dreadlocks, a bad sunburn, and a big collection of tattoos.
“May I help you?” Kyle asked, starting to step around the reception stone.
The guy actually jumped. “Oh geez! No! Man, no! I don’t need nothin’ from you! Am I there?”
“Here! Here! Let me out, I just wanted some bud.” The man spun on his heel and bolted out of the store obviously panicked.
Kyle looked over at Jessie and shook his head, “What just happened?”
Jessie looked at him for a long moment then broke into laughter so hard she nearly fell over. After a couple of minutes had passed she recovered enough to answer. “I think your illusion might have spooked him a little bit.”
“If he wanted an illusion maybe I should go after him.”
“I think he was looking for the hydroponics place next door.”
“Really? He didn’t seem like he would be the sort to get into hydroponics.”
Jessie had to bite her knuckles to stop from laughing again. She felt a little mania in the emotion. It had been close with the email. She needed to do something about her situation. Once she’d gotten it under control she asked, “And what’s the ‘other approach’ that you’re worried about?”
That banished the distraction of the terrified pot head from Kyle’s mind and his expression grew worried again. “Whoever owns the spell can have IP bounty hunters stalk everyone who knows the spell and investigate secretly. Once a good case has been built and an arrest warrant has been issued the IP bounty hunters grab you off the street and it’s directly to jail. It’s not a big payday as such.”
“What do you do about that?”
“The same thing you would if you were accused of any other crime. Call a lawyer, CYA, and try to get on with your life. I guess you could run for the hills if you’re guilty. I called a lawyer yesterday, the best CYA I can swing is arranged for the end of the week.”
“So are you going to run for the hills now.”
“No!” The response came out with more anger than Jessie had been expecting. She must have reacted because Kyle swept a nervous hand through his hair and explained, “I didn’t do it. Anyway, If I run I’ll just look guilty, and I’m not going down without a fight.”
“So, for now, just business as usual?”
He shrugged, “Pretty much.”
“In that case, you’ve got a couple of appointments, and I’ve got some people to call.”
Kyle nodded then walked out of the room apparently forgetting both her dress and his email. Jessie took great care ensuring her email password was no longer saved. She had to do something about her situation. Soon.