Zenyatta could not take his eyes from the man’s watch.
“Do not think that I will take no for an answer, Mondatta.” Although he scarcely moved as he spoke, the gilded arms ticked across the surface of the watch-face so that each second winked extravagance back at him. It struck Zenyatta, not for the first time, that it- like the Italian shoes, and the designer suit- was intended to impose upon the two monks a sense of power and authority.
It was not working.
“Mr. Shimada,” Mondatta began, and a part of Zenyatta cringed internally at what he recognised all too clearly as his chastising voice, just a fraction deeper and crisper than usual. “Your tenacity is to be commended. But every omnic here chose the Shambali order because they believed that they were more than mere possessions. This place is a sanctuary. What you are proposing is counter to everything for which we stand.”
As if in protest, a fat drop of snow-water fell from a crack in the ceiling and plopped unceremoniously into Shimada’s untouched cup of tea.
Shimada’s eyes narrowed, but Zenyatta still caught the unruly flash within them. He wondered, briefly, what his wan, handsome face would look like twisted with the rage that simmered beneath its surface. His fingers rapped impatiently on the table, inches from the contract he had placed there fifteen minutes earlier.
“I am not buying you, I am hiring you. If you look at the terms, you will find that they are more than fair-”
“For an omnic,” Mondatta interrupted evenly. “Under the law, an omnic performer cannot be signed- only procured. I will not be an instrument.”
“You will be paid,” Shimada persisted, “more than any larger label would ever dream of paying an omnic.”
There was, now, the faintest touch of colour upon his cheeks. He leaned over the table with his thunderous eyes and his hands slammed flat upon its surface, as if they were the only things keeping him from vaulting over it entirely.
Plink. Zenyatta edged his own cup, already placed in anticipation next to him, just a fraction to the left.
“Do you think they will be so lenient when they realise that you are here?” Hanzo hissed. “There are only so many of your model in existence. Your specifications are perfect. As soon as Ryuujin or Talon realise that there already exists a specimen with your level of charisma and physical discipline, they will not hesitate to track you down, and they will take you, contract be damned!”
Zenyatta’s optics flickered momentarily to his brother. Until Hanzo Shimada had appeared on the monastery steps earlier that morning, he had not possessed even the faintest notion of the supposed rarity of their builds, much less the value they had in the entertainment industry of all things. Yet if Shimada were telling the truth- and Mondatta’s silence spoke, in that respect, volumes- his warning rang uncomfortably true. Without thinking he slid the contract closer, skimming its contacts.
Shimada, meanwhile, seemed to be reeling himself in. He smoothed a loosened hair back into his temples, visibly tense but steady nonetheless. “If you are as successful as I predict you will be,” he continued, “you will earn more with me in a year than you could dream of receiving in a lifetime of donations. Your temple is falling apart. How long do you think you can survive on charity alone?”
Mondatta, still, said nothing.
“Then you have sealed your own fate,” Shimada barked- but there was, this time, none of that sparking anger that had marked his tone before. Frustration, yes, and most certainly annoyance, but he seemed already to have resigned himself to rejection.
Something twisted in Zenyatta’s core as he watched the man rise and reach for his coat, those dark eyes passing over them like a sentence. “I give you three months at mo-”
“I will do it.”
At what point he had risen to his feet, Zenyatta could not rightly ascertain. Yet here he stood, staring defiantly down at Shimada, still half-seated but now wearing a most satisfying look of bafflement. It fuelled him like nothing else.
“Mondatta and I were built to the same specifications,” he continued. “It is our bodies you wanted, was it not? I should make a fine substitute.”
“Zenyatta.” Mondatta’s hand landed on arm, his voice low and warning. “You do not have to do this.”
Zenyatta paused. “I know,” he said, carefully. “There would need to be changes, of course.” With one hand he ran his fingers over the black and white of the contract. Not once had his optics left Shimada’s face, watching for even the smallest reaction. “But I think, perhaps, I would like to.”
At last, their eyes met.
And, little by little, the man began to smile.
From signature to release, the process has been, by Zenyatta’s estimation, breathtakingly swift. By his new manager’s they are already late, hampered by what he calls “creative liberties” and what Shimada- what Hanzo- calls “meddling”.
But performances have been recorded, audio edited and produced and mixed to within an inch of its life, photographs taken from every conceivable angle, previews released on every conceivable social media platform… and all of a sudden, in just two days, the first single from a signed omnic artist will drop, and he will be at the centre of it all.
Strictly speaking, this party is not for him- supposedly it is in honour of some anniversary or another- but Hanzo has decided that it will make the perfect stage for his coming out, and now that they are here Zenyatta cannot say that he disagrees.
As much as Zenyatta dislikes to be paraded before an ever-increasing circle of executives, agents and journalists, all of whom speak over his head to Hanzo as they probe him for his precise specs and software, this engagement seems to host a rather more promising crowd. Even the briefest of glances about the room makes it clear that this is the event of the season. Talent both new and old can be spotted in almost every corner; Hanzo will have to forgive him for drifting away as the conversation turns fiscal. At the very least, he thinks wryly, he can claim that he is circulating- or, better yet, seeking a photo opportunity. Who would pass up the chance to be seen with the newest star in ARASHI’s sky?
The party appears to be in full swing. Conversation and alcohol alike flow freely, nowhere moreso than at the bar- open, as Zenyatta recalls. Their hosts had taken great pains to point out the array of omnic alternatives on offer, and, kind though the gesture had been, Zenyatta had not had the heart to tell them that his manager had strictly prohibited him from drinking. At least one patron seems to be taking full advantage. With a glass of amber whiskey in hand and his trademark hat on the counter beside him, there is no mistaking country legend Jesse McCree. Perhaps he is at long last releasing new music? His presence here is as welcome as it is intriguing- and judging by the way the man winks and raises his glass in greeting the very moment their gazes meet, the interest is mutual.
Of course, McCree’s eyes are not the only pair to find him in the room. But Zenyatta can sense attention from somewhere else entirely, prickling along his receptors as if their influence were a feather on the back of his neck, and it is not the kind he has come to recognise in his first steps towards stardom. It is intense, acquisitive, unwavering- and swiftly traced back to a tall, broad stranger standing alone in a battered leather jacket. Although his face is largely shadowed in his hood Zenyatta knows almost instinctively that his stare does not waver, not even when it is returned. It may not be wise to confront him as such- he doubts Hanzo would like him to mix with mysterious faceless men here- but Zenyatta cannot contain the swell of curiosity that rises within him at the thought.
On the other hand, he knows that Hanzo’s tolerance for networking is questionable at the best of times. As he glances back to his manager he can see the veins stood in clear relief on the back of his hand as he adjusts his tie, the tension drawn clearly along the line of his jaw all the way down to the set of his shoulders in their immaculate tailoring. It would probably be kind to rescue him from his audience before his patience runs dry and his glass mysteriously refills itself more times than is strictly necessary or healthy…
a) Join Jesse McCree at the bar?
b) Confront the stranger?
c) Rescue Hanzo?