Illusion Incorporated was down market from Dream Worlds. They didn’t own their own building, they didn’t have a pretty young receptionist, and you didn’t need to be escorted around the building for fear you’d rip off a trade secret. Kyle found them on the fifth floor of the old bank building downtown. The building was nice enough, but there was a faint smell of dust in the air, and the doors were labeled with a sort of stick-on gold that had been popular in the 1980’s.
Kyle went through the one labeled, “Illusion Inc. LLC.” at 2 O’Clock. His week was starting to tell and some of the spring had gone out of his step. But he felt confident. Really, he had hit a home-run at Imaginary Worlds. Taylor had wanted to do business, really wanted to. The fact that they had some sort of preposterous contract that tied their hands when it came to anything Thomas Illusions hadn’t invented wasn’t Kyle’s fault.
The waiting room to Illusion Inc. looked more like a dentist’s office than anything else. There were some slightly sagging couches that matched the look of the high traffic carpet a little too closely, an obvious reproduction of a painting that hadn’t been that great originally, and a fifty year old woman playing solitaire at an unadorned desk. About a minute after he arrived she ran out of possible moves, looked up and asked, “Can I help you?” In a voice that suggested she wasn’t necessarily going to help, she just wondered if it was possible.
“I’m here to see Mark.” Mark was a friend from school. Back then he’d been OK grade wise, great at networking and personal presentation, and able to slam back a can of beer in under 30 seconds. They’d kept in touch, though only distantly, through social media, and the occasional chance meeting. Kyle was actually looking forward to seeing him on a personal basis as much as a professional one.
“Oh, sure, head on back. He’s in office number 5.” She looked back down at her computer and started a new game.
“Office five,” Kyle mumbled under his breath. He didn’t know where that was but he set off gamely assuming there couldn’t be that many to choose from in such a small building. In this he was proven correct. One short trip down a cramped hall later he found himself heartily shaking his old college buddy’s hand.
“Dude, how you doing? Also, who died?” Mark was dressed in jeans and a deteriorating T-shirt that advertised the wonders of some band “live and in concert.”
“Meh, I had an important meeting earlier today. I’m not going to get kicked out for looking so much better than you, am I?”
Depends on how much lip you give me. So how’s the sweatshop?”
“Magical Materials?” Kyle decided not to mention his termination, it didn’t really set the right tone for the meeting. Instead he stuck to less controversial facts, “We busted an IP violator. That was kind of fun. Two guys who looked like they’d been tweaked halfway to another species with magic boosts came in, and ran him into the ground. He shot at them a couple of times, then they blasted him with some sort of sleepy time spell.”
“OK, you’re going to need to tell me a little more than that.”
Kyle shrugged then ran him through the whole story from the point when the quantum alignment got harder and harder to cast, up through the previous day’s apprehension of Phil. “We were all pretty shocked that it was Phil. I don’t know what would have made him take the risk. Besides, the spells were hard to cast on our shift. That must mean he was working with someone else and as far as I know they haven’t caught anyone.”
“Nothing cool like that ever happens here. I’ll have to keep an eye on the news; see what happens to your co-worker turned desperado. It’s been a long time since the last big magical IP trial, hasn’t it? Anyway, on the phone you said you had something to show me.”
“Right. So I’m planning to revolutionize your industry, and I’m willing to let you in on the ground floor. Watch this,” Kyle flipped off the room’s light and closed the door without asking. In office number 5, there weren’t any windows to black out, so that was enough to make the room fairly dark. There also wasn’t enough empty space to cast the illusion such that only the two of them ended up in it, but Kyle thought that would be OK. A modern desk sitting in an alpine forest would be interesting in its own right. As always, he started by summoning his illusion of the globe.
Mark’s reaction was similar to Taylor’s; he thought Kyle had been working with some of home version of the standard illusion tool-kit and that he’d managed some pretty good work with it. He too, seemed to feel someone who could beat something half decent out of the home kit could easily take on a job in industry. The only real difference is that Mark harassed Kyle for making overblown claims about what he’d managed. Kyle just smiled and stepped the autocaster forward to the next phase of the spell, then silently showed Mark the power consumption display.
“So, can that change the industry at all?”
Mark looked at him for a long moment with his mouth half-open and his eyebrows raised. “Dude,” he finally supplied.
“You like it?”
“Which spell did you use?”
“One of my own devising, and it can do other things. It can manage a near perfect black, power requirements are low enough to hand cast it, and I don’t think we’ll run into non-scalar effects.”
“That’s unbelievable,” he smiled and seemed to consider. “And I literally mean I don’t believe you. I’ll take your word on it because you’re an old friend, but I won’t really believe you until you prove it. But you’ve either hacked that ‘caster or come up with enough new spells to constitute an entire illusion suite.”
“We can run it on your own equipment if you’d like. So do you think we should talk to your boss?”
Mark’s face fell. “Yeah my boss. I don’t know if management is going to go for it. I mean, I might be able to swing you a job if you show him that. They’ve been kicking around bringing on a couple of new people so we can handle bigger jobs, but I doubt they’ll want to do anything with any spell we don’t already work with.
Kyle managed to hold onto a poker face, but it took effort. “You just told me you thought if the spell could do, uh, like one one hundredth what I say it can its great.”
“What can I say? They’re fools here. Obviously you’ve been working with illusion enough to know that making a good solid black is pretty hard.”
Kyle nodded, the eye wanted to see things, and the brain wanted to find patterns. That made fairly weak suggestions, say the man in the moon or shapes in clouds, sufficient to build pictures. It worked against laying down a flat black, the eye and mind behind it would pick out any flaw and fixate on it.
“Well, OK. I was fooling around with variants on Medifast’s curse, you remember learning that one back in school?” Kyle nodded and Mark continued, “I didn’t realize it in school, but practically no one knows that anymore. It only exists in the old-school form, Latin chanting and arm waving. I managed to reverse engineer it; it does some funky stuff with photon propagation in gaseous nitrogen. Once I worked out the math, I could trigger it by writing equations or code it into an autocaster program. I tried to pitch it to the bosses here, but we’re apparently bound up under some totally uncool contract that won’t let us use anything but this package we’ve got licensed. Not even stuff we came up with in-house.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“That’s what I said to them. Actually, they got a little pissed that I was even trying to change how we did our illusions. I don’t know what the hell was up, but I backed way off.”
“Well, it turned out OK. A few days later I got a call from the office of Thomas the Illusionist, they offered me 30K for my work. They flew me out to Hawaii, and gave me what was basically the best vacation of my life while I taught a guy in their research office how to do the spell. Then they smoothed everything over here, and I got a promotion right after. I guess my boss thought I must be sharper than he realized to come up with something like that.”
“And you just let it go?”
Mark laughed. “I got enough to make a down-payment on a new house! What would I have done with a spell for darkness anyway? I hardly just let it go, I made out like a bandit. But, anyway, I don’t think our best bet is going straight to the boss with this. Next time we have some client that wants the illusions up faster, or done cheaper, or needs to spin out something in seconds and we have to tell them, ‘No,’ I’ll mention to them that I know a guy who could help us.”
“You think they’ll go for it?”
“I think we’ve got a seriously wacky license agreement, and they might not be able to even if they want to. But I think it’s our best shot. Geez, don’t look so much like a basset hound that’s been beat! We’ll have an insane client in the next week and I’m going to do my best for you then. You want me to give them your home number and such?”
* * *
That basically set the tone for all of Kyle’s meetings. When he saw someone with enough authority they could have helped him he was flatly refused. When he saw a peon he was told they’d help all they could, but the company was somehow unable to pursue new technology.
There were variations. Most frequently it was the hated, and particular, contract that somehow disallowed all spells except those licensed by Thomas Illusions. In one place he was told the clients were unwilling to accept anything else. In two others the company was part of a referral program that got them a lot of business, but required the spells used on those jobs were very specific ones. In one last place they were working with a totally new set of tech that rivaled what Kyle could do, though its power requirements were non-scalar, and it was phenomenally expensive. They were impressed, but they weren’t willing to bet on the dark horse. By the end of the week every illusion firm he had any contact with had refused him.
He needed a new plan, he just didn’t know what it was quite yet.