Chapter 175: Where Credit Is DueAlexandraErin on August 16, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which The Coach Tanks One For The Team
“That willowy bitch isn’t trying to sink my idea,” Coach Callahan said. “She’s trying to steal it!”
It made sense… her real line was in creating new products, like the phantasmal beer keg she’d brainstormed. A box that could mock people was a revolutionary idea, and one potentially worth a lot of money.
I had no idea what the patent status was, but there were always foreign markets. And there were probably so many individual breakthroughs and innovations that went into the basic effect that a clever person could figure out ways to spin them into new uses where they wouldn’t be recognized.
“Her supposed safety concerns must be a screen to hide her real agenda… it gives her a perfect excuse to ask around about them without anyone suspecting why,” I said. I thought about the circumstances that had brought Acantha to MU: a professor who was one of her protégés had taken a sudden, unexpected leave of absence. How hard would that have been for her to arrange? “In fact…”
“Before you say anything, think very hard about where your loyalties are here,” Coach Callahan said. “Think about who you want to be friends with.”
“What? You threw me upside down and kicked me into a wall for something that wasn’t my fault,” I said. “And that’s not the most violent thing you’ve ever done to me for the least cause. And… okay, I’m fully aware that you could kill me, which isn’t a small thing, but I only have to survive you for a few more years and Acantha could either hurt or help my career. Not that I’m sure I’d want her help now, but…”
“But you don’t want her in your way. Me? Let’s get real: there’s only about a one in four chance I could get away with killing you and keep my job, and I’m not ready to retire. I can give you a passing grade, you’d better know damn well that loyalty isn’t going to get you it because I don’t work that way,” she said. “There is a very short list of enchantment complexes I could probably get you a job with, but my letter of recommendation would put you on an even shorter one. You’d be an idiot to take my side automatically, when there isn’t anything else I can do to or for you.”
“…are you saying the smart thing would be to side against you?” I asked.
“That is the dumbest fucking question I have ever heard,” she said. “One in four, Frybaby… I’ve crunched those numbers a lot. If you were involved in something that looks like a criminal act and the university stands to lose from it, I’m pretty sure I could double my odds.”
“You’re saying I shouldn’t do anything,” I said.
“I’m not telling you what to do,” she said. “I’m just saying it would be terminally stupid to cross me, but that doesn’t make it smart to cross her.”
“So when I see her in class tomorrow I say nothing? Pretend that nothing happened?”
“If you were anyone else… and I wanted to give you advice… I’d say sure, why the fuck not? As far as she knows, she pulled it off,” she said. “Though if she got everything she needed in one go, I wouldn’t count on her coming back for class. The only reason she’d stick around is if she needs more intel. Fuck!”
“I’d say she probably wouldn’t be able to do it all in an hour and a half, except she’s also had access to the specs,” I said. “Which wouldn’t include anything like detailed instructions on how to make the thing, but might be enough that she could fill in a lot of the gaps with educated guesses after getting a good, long look at the thing.”
“There you go telling me things again,” Coach Callahan said. “That’s why I said if you were anyone else… you don’t have a face for bluffing. You might as well tell her that I’m on to her, because if you walk into the room with any other intention she’ll see it on your face. It’ll save me the trouble of trying to figure out a way to let her know that can’t be construed as an act of violence.”
I didn’t bother to ask her if she meant “threat of violence”… I’d probably more than used up my allotment of stupid questions for the week.
“She’ll have to be more careful if she knows she’s under suspicion, which will slow her down,” I said instead, to show that I wasn’t completely slow on the uptake.
“Might even motivate her to take what she has and run… to tell you the truth, I think she’s a little bit scared of me,” she said. “Hopefully it’s not enough for her to put her own version together any time soon. I don’t care if she makes some damn money off the secret inner workings… plenty of people stand to make money off my babies, anyway, and if she makes a profit off other people’s work, that’s their problem.”
“Then… why do you care at all?” I asked.
“I will be honest, Frybaby, I really don’t give half a firebreathing fuck about the money, or who gets the credit … well, okay, that’s just it. I do care. I don’t mind those I.R. Assholes who made it and the university sharing all the rights and titles or what the fuck ever, but that’s because they were never going to pretend it’s not my idea. I don’t believe in legacies, and I’ve seen enough monuments toppled to know a hundred years after I’m gone no one will know or care, but as long as I’m kicking around, damn it, I want what’s mine to be mine.”
“I think she’d have a pretty hard time making a case that she was first,” I said. “I mean, I think the school and the makers would have a pretty open and shut case if she tried to take credit after having seen and even handled the boxes without saying a word about an earlier version.”
“Have you ever heard of this Acantha before she showed up in your class?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “What, you think that’s a false identity?”
“Maybe, but I doubt it,” she said. “I just don’t think her business depends on people knowing who she is. If she sells the idea to someone else under the table, they can rush it through testing and then claim they were working on it all along. There would probably be a big legal battle… the least interesting kind of battle… and in the end there would probably be concessions on both sides.”
She pointed at the crystal.
“I don’t think this is going to be taken as proof of anything other than the fact that someone, possibly her, was doing a bunch of diagnostic tests on the thing, and she has the university’s permission to do that,” she said. “I’m going to try to have her pulled off of that duty, though.”
“I think you’ll have an easy time convincing the university brass to do that, since they’ll stand to lose money if someone steals the patent out from underneath them,” I said.
“Yeah, but with no proof,” she said. “I have some influence with the top man, but so does she, and hers might win since he likes her.”
“…more than he likes money?” I asked, the surprise making me blurt out something I probably shouldn’t have about Vice-Chancellor Edmund Embries. That sort of chance remark wouldn’t be enough to let anyone who didn’t already know that he was a dragon in on his true nature, but to anyone who did… and Jillian Callahan was certainly among that number… it was enough to signal that I knew.
“Maybe more than money that’s not his,” she said. “But it’s still prestige, and that counts for a lot… on the other hand, he’d hate to think he’d been manipulated. But that might just put us back on an equal footing and I can’t go to him with anything but suspicions.”
“Okay, nothing we have might hold up in front of a tribunal…”
“Nothing I have,” she said. “You’re not on my side, remember? Or do you want me telling that tarnished teapot that you’re the chief witness?”
“…no,” I said, shuddering.
“So I don’t know that she ordered you out of the room with her while she left a duplicate and invisible golem behind,” she said. “Which means that all I know is that there are funny things in the records, evidence of tampering, and I think she’s a little too interested in the finer details. I’ll have someone relay the same thing to my friendly contacts at I.R. Automatics… I have a feeling they might have extended her more professional courtesy than they should have, already.”
“And I keep going along like nothing’s happened?”
“No,” Coach Callahan said. “I can’t kick her off the project, but I can kick you anywhere I want to. If she gets kicked off and you stay, her next move will be to try to go through you, and then you’ll have a choice. And if you both stay, sooner or later you’ll notice something else weird and then you’ll have the same choice. I’m removing the choice… she’ll probably figure it’s because you’re too friendly with her and too easily played.”
“You think I can pull that off?”
“Like a dwarf pulls off short,” she said. “Anyway, I just screamed at you in front of a room full of people for slacking off and letting her mess around with my babies, so there’s that. Don’t ask me what this does to your grade. I mean, it’s not doing anything to your grade. Dark fucking herald, I hate grades so much. You know, this is the longest I’ve gone in my life dealing with problems without cutting them in half or walking away from them when they weren’t worth that much effort.”
“Why don’t you?” I asked. “Walk away, I mean.”
“Over this? This is frustrating, but it’s not the worst of it.”
“Well, yeah, I’m getting that,” I said. “I meant more in general. Why haven’t you ever quit?”
“I only know three things,” she said. “Fighting wars and teaching are two of them, and the third isn’t something I’ve even managed to pull off more than once, so really it’s just two. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed the state of the world lately, but we’ve gone a while without a decent full-scale war… none of the kind that would last long enough for me to get there or stick around long enough if I did.”
“Okay, but… and this is just a guess, but there was a time when it was just fighting wars,” I said. “You had to start teaching at some point.”
“Yeah, but first, I’m teaching what I know. There aren’t a lot of fields this knowledge applies to. Second, I had the benefit of making that transition at a time when people frowned less on a little death and dismemberment along the way,” she said. “And third… why the hell is an enchantment major trying to give vocational advice to the most badass fucking warrior in the world like we’re some kind of peers?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Why is the most badass warrior in the world trying so hard to protect an enchanter?”
“Khersis fuck! Don’t you know anything, Frybaby?” she said. “Give me some credit… what kind of warrior would I be if I couldn’t even keep a stupid novice wizard safe?”