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Creator (I Made You)

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"Fuck off," says the boy, and the man grins at him.

The boy makes like he doesn't give a shit, because that's what he's best at; like he's going to stand up and walk the fuck outta this shitty-ass diner and go home, go to the streets -- go back to his life.

But the man's grin is the self-assured arrogance of someone who has the power and money and sheer balls to back up everything he says. Really has it, doesn't just think he does like the punks who rule the slums. Hari's never seen that grin outside of a cube -- on anyone but an Actor. It keeps him in his seat.

"You get that one," the man says, "because I haven't hired you yet, kid, and I still want to."

"Yeah, whatever," Hari mutters, voice sullen as that of a Leisure teen being told he can't take Daddy's private jet on a day trip to New York. But the spark in his eyes betrays his interest.

"Number two," the man remarks, with an edge that suggests, three strikes and you're out, kiddo.

Hari tilts his head. "You want me, Biz'man, you already know I'm no pushover Worker, yeah? I'm not gonna roll over and let you fuck me just for a free meal and a little life assurance on the streets."

Biz'man shakes his head. "You're not going back to the streets, kid."

Now Hari's interested. Wary, too. He squints.

"I say I got a job for you, I'm not talkin' about the one you already got."

The job Hari's "got" is that of thief, courier, and general street thug. Not bad work for someone his size, all things considered, but not exactly stable employment. Still better than Temping.

"Got a proposition for you," Biz'man continues. "When I say I want you to work for me, I mean for me, not some street lackey, you understand? Go where I go, do what I want you to do. Front line."

Hari's had a sudden thought that brings a frown twisted with nausea. "That part about letting you fuck me wasn't--"

Biz'man dismisses this with a wave of his hand. "It will involve a lot of the skills you use now, let's be honest here. Vilo Intercontinental ain't exactly built from a bunch of lemonade stands. But you'll be officially employed -- you'll have a contract -- and there'll be bodyguard work, some, eh, debt collection ... plus, you're smart. I know you're smart."

Hari grunts non-committally.

"Kid like you's a waste on the streets, am I right? Waste in jail, where you'll be within five years. Two if you're not as smart as I think."

Hari shrugs.

"Kid like you..." Biz'man's voice lowers just slightly, enough that he sounds like he's sharing a secret. Something the Universe isn't allowed to know yet. "Kid like you, after a couple years' honest work, with a decent Patron ... kid like you could be in the Studio Conservatory."

Hari freezes.

Biz'man smirks like he's won already. Hari thinks he probably has.

"Don't fuck with me," Hari says eventually, his own voice low with threat -- and something that doesn't dare be hope yet. Biz'man's fucking with him. Biz'man's telling him what he wants to hear, shit, goddamn amateur letting anyone know he wants to be an Actor. Kid like him's not supposed to have dreams. Ambition. Hope. Goddamn amateur if Marcus Vilo knows. "You seen guys who fuck with me."

"Three," Biz'man Vilo says, but doesn't add you're out. "Yes or no, Michaelson?"

Hari grits his teeth as he thinks for a second, then lets out his breath in one long sigh. "Shit," he murmurs. "Dad's gonna fuckin' explode when he wakes up and my stuff's gone..."

(If he's lucid enough to notice, he doesn't add.)

There's that grin again, and Vilo leans across the diner table to hold out his hand. "Welcome to the business, kid."

After a moment, Hari shakes it.

Shit, okay.

The business.