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Mar talks with friends, visits a tech convention and has unexpected interactions.

5675 words | 23 min


CrystalCircuits
Did you guys see the announcement about the quantum computer?

DataStorm
yes. Tho while 1200 qubits of information is impressive compared to what came before, that will hardly shake the world.
it still will only function in strictly controlled lab environments and isn’t near being a corporate or consumer product.

CrystalCircuits
Still, progress is progres…

DataStorm
yup

CrystalCircuits
There were some public disagreements between Tumenzar’s elders and Meihian’s presidents about this project. I saw some people arguing online about it.

BlinkOnce
Why were there disagreements?

CrystalCircuits
Meihian’s government not sharing info on the project with Tumenzar’s until Tumenzar agrees to share info on the magitech.

Noodles
Yeah, people have been talking about that. My IRL friends and I have been hoping it won’t end up causing too much diplomatic tension, let alone any military tension, with Tumenzar. Our countries have worked so well together for so long.

BlinkOnce
But Tumenzar’s population is so much lesser than Meihian’s? You guys will be fine without them if needs be. And you have one of the larger militaries around.

Noodles
There are many research and trade agreements that bring wealth to both. Both would be worse off without cooperation. Tumenzar attracts bright minds and a lot of their manufacturing is outsourced to us.
Also, their military is no joke. Look at https://im.encyclowiki.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures and https://im.encyclowiki.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_military_and_paramilitary_personnel
Their military expenditure is the highest in the world even though they only have the thirteenth biggest by military personnel.

DataStorm
wow, though it’s still only 4.7% of their GDP

Noodles
4.7% is huge for a single country. World average is 2%. But most of the world doesn’t stick themselves into others’ wars.

CrystalCircuits
Imagine if wars could be settled virtually, without the loss of life or destruction of property.

Noodles
Cyber wars aren’t a thing of science fiction. Some coordinated and extensive attack could cripple pretty much any country’s economy.

CrystalCircuits
No, I meant something more like e-sports. Where they’d settle their differences in virtual battles. Never going to happen though.

Noodles
Yeah

CrystalCircuits
Anyways
You want to play some DR2?

Noodles
Sure

Mar was reading through messages that had been sent on his friends’ chat server after he’d fallen asleep. He’d now caught up on the ones sent last night, but there were more that had been sent an hour before he woke up.

C4 Hedgehog
Ugh, wage is two weeks late for the third time in four months.
Having to go into what little overdraft the bank allows me to pay rent and eat.

DataStorm
that’s so bad
isn’t there some regulatory body you can complain to?

C4 Hedgehog
Half the government cares more about themselves than us, and the other half is swamped and overworked – unable to do anything much.

BucketOfPaint
Like ???
What even??

DataStorm
can’t you look for a new job with better employers?

C4 Hedgehog
I live in a city of over 5 million people… There’s no shortage of people looking for work. I’m lucky to have a job at all, as horrid as the company treats me. Workforce here is disposable..

DataStorm
that sucks

Noodles
Would it not be wonderful to be able to get energy from light and the environment like the dragons… could save so much money on food.

C4 Hedgehog
That would be wonderful..
How exactly does that light thing work again?

BucketOfPaint
We subconsciously absorb almost all the electromagnetic radiation that hits our bodies. of course we reflect some visible light for our colours, but the sun bombards the elonth with a ton of radiation. The vast majority that hits the ground is visible and infrared or above.
If I could, id send you guys energy
But, like, your bodies wouldn’t even know what to do with it
:(

C4 Hedgehog
Thanks anyway

There hadn’t been any messages sent in the #general channel after that, but Mar had an idea. He navigated the messaging app to his private message channel with C4.

DeepBlue
Hey Yarik

C4 Hedgehog
Hello Blue. How are you

A notification appeared. An email, from rentik.jinmeng@raifal.ac.tu. The subject line was simply “Need you here”. Mar dismissed it. He wanted to finish this conversation first.

DeepBlue
I’m good
Listen, I had an idea
I could send you enough money that you can keep yourself fed and pay your rent while you look for a new job with better employers

C4 Hedgehog
Thanks Blue, but I can’t accept that..

DeepBlue
I wouldn’t expect you to pay me anything back
My parents are rich and can happily cover all my living expenses
But said expenses aren’t even all that great
Money I’ve earnt myself gets mostly spent on devices and components, or just saved for “the future”
I’d much rather it gets put to good use than just sit around

C4 Hedgehog
Thank you again Blue, but I can’t

DeepBlue
Why?

C4 Hedgehog
It’s just..
It doesn’t feel right
I don’t want to be your charity case. If you want to help people with that money, donate it to actual charities. There are others who could use it far more than me. I’m surviving.

DeepBlue
But you’re my friend and I want to make sure you’re ok

C4 Hedgehog
I am…
It could be better, I’ll be honest, but there’s so many who have it worse than me
Skipped dinner here or there won’t be the end of me

DeepBlue
Ok, I understand

C4 Hedgehog
Problems like this will always be around when we’re in a society where the top 1% own half the wealth..
But what can I do

DeepBlue
Well, for one, you can remember that my offer still stands if you ever need it.
I want to make sure you’re all right

C4 Hedgehog
Thank you Mar
I will be ok
I’ve got to go to sleep now
See you

DeepBlue
See you later!

Mar closed the chat and opened his emails. He clicked Rentik’s one and found a message body almost as sparse on information as the subject.

Hello Mar,

Irikshan is going to need you here within the next few weeks. Will you be able to make it before the end of the week after next? Sorry, I know you just got on holiday.

Kind Regards
Rentik

This was followed by the standard business card signature, stating Rentik’s role as head of the department of nullifications and countermagics at Raifal Mage College, along with the various means of contacting her. While he typed his response, the messaging application he’d just been using played its two-tone notification sound. He quickly replied to Rentik first.

Hello ma’am,

What’s happening? Why didn’t he email me himself?

Sincerely,
Mar

He only then went to read the message he had received. It was from Zola Okonkwo, also known as IntegratedIntegrale.

IntegratedIntregrale
Hey Blue, you want to meet up a bit earlier today? I found a cafe by Nantes park. They’ve got some open-air tables and can serve younger dragons. It’s close enough to the expo that we can chat there while we wait for it to open. My ticket says they only open at 9.

DeepBlue
Sure, that sounds good.

Mar opened a map website to check the location and distance. It was only a couple blocks away from the convention centre, at the edge of a human business district. He sent another message to Zola.

DeepBlue
Can be there in 30 minutes.

IntegratedIntregrale
Awesome, see you then.

As he was about to step away from the computer, Mar saw another email notification. Rentik’s response.

Can’t say. Promise me you’ll be there for him?

He groaned. It’d be wonderful to know what this was about. He wanted his response to convey his confusion, but he didn’t want to be impertinent either. Both she and Irikshan had helped him greatly. After some consideration, he typed out his reply, claws tapping against hard plastic keycaps.

Ok… Not sure what he could need me to help with… He’s amazing at everything he does. But I promise I’ll do what I can. I will be there after next week.

He shut down the computer and petted the sleeping Kiera, her head sticking out from her pile of pillows. She stirred slightly and released a gurgled croon. He then set about getting ready to leave. Leaving his room, he strolled down the passage and into the washroom between his and his sister’s rooms. The room opposite his was subdivided into smaller ones for the van Schalks, while his parents’ rooms were opposite his sister’s. He cleaned his teeth and face, before returning to his room. He packed his wallet, tablet, one of his spare crystals, and some other essentials into a small pouch that he hung around his neck.

He was about to cover the bag with his scarf, when his tablet pinged. Digging it out, he flipped open its protective cover and found the source. Another email from Rentik, just as enlightening as the rest.

Thank you, Mar.

He put it away, and then picked up his college scarf again and tied it around his neck, the Raifal badge easily visible on one of the loose-hanging ends. He liked it. It covered the satchel and prevented it from flapping around, while also giving him a guilty sense of pleasure – proudly displaying his place of study and his rank.

Strolling down the stairs, he was struck by how silent the house was. He didn’t sense anyone in any of the other rooms. Ireka and Anna had left for their own outing. Lyntarr was off to some business meeting. Lars and Palesa would be tending to the farm. The wyverns were doing whatever they pleased. Electromagnetic radiation still abounded, but the artificial signals – blasting out data at unimaginable speeds – were far fewer. It never got this quiet in the cities. A gentle warm breeze wafted in from their open front door, bringing with it soothing rustling. He’d missed home.

Fairly confident that Ilres was still at the house, he began his search for her where he most expected to find her. Entering his parents’ office-room, he did indeed find her – drawing with a stylus on an art tablet connected to her computer.

“Morning mom!” he said for the first time in forever.

“Good morning, Mar.” She glanced over to him, “You leaving too?”

“Yes. That tech expo with that friend. The Tumensuid Innovation Showcase. Before I go, though…” As he rounded her comparatively massive body, he saw displayed on the large screen before her a mountainous wave looming over an abandoned beach. Toys, towels and umbrellas adorned the sand. The flat colours had been done and she’d begun on the shading.

She paused her work to look to him, tilting her head quizzically.

“I got an email from Rentik, asking me to be there to help Irikshan with something during the week after next. I just got here yesterday and was hoping to get some time to rest and be with my family, but I guess I could do that after I’ve helped Irikshan with whatever. These vacations are two months long.”

“When you going to leave?”

“I was thinking of flying up next Wednesday or Thursday, so I can spend a little more time here but still be there before the weekend.”

“Sounds fine. Should I let your father know if he’s back before you?”

“Sure. I’ll see you later. Love you!”

“Love you too, my hatchling.”

Mar turned to find Kiera poking her head into the doorway. He petted her for a moment, before making his way out the house. She followed him out, then flew off – presumably looking for her siblings who would be somewhere on the farm.

Once he was a small distance from the house, within his dad’s immaculately kept garden, he turned to face the city behind it. He crouched down, belly almost touching the grass thanks to his short legs, and leapt into the air.

Up into the sky he climbed with each beat of his powerful wings, until he flew above his house and then over the farmlands – towards his destination.

The sprawling draconic city expanded and disappeared into the haze of the gentle morning fog that had rolled in from the great lake under a southerly wind, far denser than the usual ultraviolet haze that permeated the air. Dragons flitted about, in and out of the mists.

Now passing over human residential areas, he began to look for his destination in the city’s eastern business district. Swathes of this one were oriented towards the human populace, with far denser and more compact buildings than the majority of the city. The sidewalks of main roads within these districts were the only things that provided enough space for adult dragons, except for the occasional open courtyards that doubled as locations for takeoffs and landings.

Mar’s destination was one of the larger parks – right on the edge of the district. Through the thinning fog, he could see many humans and dragons strolling or sitting about under the trees and on the open grass. He came in for a landing on an open patch of grass and looked about.

Humans’ colours were dull and they knew that. They covered up their boring hides, various shades of brown, with patterns, hues and shades that went beyond those of Mar’s kind. Even so, the dragons gave them stiff competition. In front of him, a middle-aged Hauntes couple spoke with a man dressed in business attire. Not managing to resist the temptation to stare, he marvelled at their bright plumage; reds, greens and blues in complex jagged patterns formed by their feather tips. The male even had some white and yellow mixed in. Some Scriven blood, or natural colour mutations, Mar wondered. The Haunte opened his wings, the great big feathers that overlapped his wing membranes gently stirring in the breeze.

Mar felt a presence brush against his mind, carrying with it some sense of pride, and realised the male was now looking at him. He reciprocated as an acknowledgement, imparting some of his admiration. While most humans weren’t capable of exchanges like this, he’d read that strangers sometimes nodded at each other in a wordless communication that only crudely approximated this.

Backpedalling and turning back towards his destination, a shout came from behind Mar. “Hey, watch it! I’m reading here.”

He had almost walked into another dragon. A Tumenzarian that couldn’t have been much more than a century old, reading a book under a tree. His lemon-yellow hide with orange wisps was pretty standard, but he had his mind shut off from the outside world, rather than open as was the norm. This was why Mar had not noticed him. He’d be able to sense others touching his mind, but they’d not be able to greet him in the manner the Haunte had acknowledged Mar. Some draqui were just more concerned about their privacy.

Mar apologised and turned back to his destination, a cafe that sat across a small street from the park, he spotted a familiar human marching along the sidewalk towards the shop.

“Mar! Good to see you again!” Zola offered his hand to Mar once he had crossed the street. For a moment Mar stared at it, uncertain of what to do, besides resisting the temptation to bite it. The moment passed and, at the same time, one retracted his hand while the other sat down to dust off then offer his paw. They shook while Zola laughed. “Brr, your hand is freezing. You stick it into an ice bucket?”

“Good to see you too, Zola.” Mar couldn’t help but chuckle.

As they approached the cafe, a waitress addressed them, “Table for two?” When they indicated in the affirmative, she led them to one of the tables at the edge. She moved one of the chairs out of the way, then hurried off. Moments later she was back with a pillow big enough for Mar to sit on. While she did this, Mar and Zola went to the counter to order their drinks.

“I’ll have a medium mocchachino,” declared Zola.

“Are the smoothies dairy-free?”

“Naturally.”

“I’ll have a mango.”

“Dragon?”

“No, large is big enough. Thanks.”

“Anything else?”

“No thanks.”

They paid and moved down the counter to the collection point while the baristas worked.

“Did you have something you wanted to talk about that you wanted to meet earlier?”

“Wanted to check in with you before we went to the convention. We probably won’t be chatting that much about ourselves while we’re there.”

“Fair enough. Although we do chat about ourselves plenty in private messages. I’m not going to tell you any more about that project in person, nor can show you my illusions.”

“You can’t show me?”

“No. It got a class 4 mental rating. I can’t use it in public.”

“Oh, ok. Forgot to ask what class you got when you said you’d gotten your licence. My neighbour has a friend whose cousin who moved up to Tumennoord. She can make things glow or absorb light. Without changing their temperature, if she handles the energy. Got a class 2 physical.”

“Interesting… Unusual knack for a human. Well, I guess all knacks are as a rule unusual magical abilities. I wonder how it compares to my kind’s natural EM absorption.”

A barista brought their drinks and the waitress appeared to relocate them to the table that had been prepared. The pair followed and sat down. Zola quickly raised his mug to his lips, then winced and lowered it. “Mar, would you mind?”

“Not at all.” Focusing on the liquid, he quickly removed just enough of its energy that it would be comfortable for his friend to drink. “Try that.”

Zola raised the glass and took another sip, then nodded in approval. “Thanks.”

“How’s the airforce treating you?”

“Eh, it’s been nothing but training and combat simulations. Nothing exciting going on, thankfully. Excitement in the military is never good. I think I told you, but this month is my squad’s leave-time. I heard rumors of war games with Gordieva, Aruyun and Ciniki sometime in the next three months. I guess there can be some good excitement in the military.” He shrugged.

“I can only imagine what it’s like rocketing through the skies in those fighter jets.”

“Well, surely you could figure out how to simulate something like it in your dreams?”

“Maybe.”

“As little as I distinguish between the jet and myself when I’m in the zone, I can only imagine what it is like to fly with my own wings.”

“Hmm, might be quite some time before I can help with that.”

“Hey, so I finished that game last night after you went to sleep. Seeing as you don’t really play games much, would it be safe to share the story with you?”

“Yes, we’ve got time.”


The convention centre was a massive building, even compared to many of the others in the dragon business districts. The central exhibition hall was so big that several adult dragons might be able to fly inside simultaneously. It had two floors, both able to fit dragons of all ages down the isles between the rows of stalls and displays. The stalls themselves varied in size, depending on their staff and sometimes target audience.

Zola had insisted they start on the second floor on the side where there was a much larger focus on gaming. While there were some displays advertising new games, the majority focused on tech. The latest and greatest gaming rigs, peripherals, gear, and so on.

“Come on, it won’t cost you anything to try them!” Zola was trying his best to entice Mar to try out a demo of some brand new “ultra-high fidelity and comfort” virtual reality headset that had a model designed to ergonomically fit dragons.

“I’m ok, thanks.” The dragoness who’d explained the device to them had already started talking to some new arrivals. Meanwhile, the man that was assisting her stood, holding the headset, waiting for Mar to decide to try it or to walk away.

“It’ll be like your advanced ability, but you don’t have to go to sleep.” Mar glanced at the handful of humans and dragons with the headgear on their heads, swinging controllers wildly at the air. He turned to continue exploring the convention centre.

“What’s his knack?” The man asked as Zola grabbed Mar’s wing-arm to prevent him from walking away.

“A sort of lucid dreaming, but he can make and control the dreams entirely if he wants. And he can do it to others. It’s classed as an illusion ability.”

“Well, I can’t say this would be as immersive as that, but it would certainly be less effort and probably more entertaining if you don’t have to do the creating yourself.”

Zola gave Mar’s wing one last tug, urging him to make a decision. “Fine, you win.”

The assistant directed Mar to sit on a pillow, handed him two controllers and strapped them to his wrists, and then attached the headgear to Mar’s head – straps looping around his head and behind his horns to keep it stable. The built-in headphones were adjusted to rest over his ear-holes.

The assistant loaded up a sort of tutorial game, which he bumbled his way through at first – but he eventually got the hang of it. Once he’d played for a bit, Zola had the man load up a game where the entire objective was to violently disassemble rouge robots. Mar found himself getting killed rather frequently but had to admit it was still far more enjoyable and less stressful when he couldn’t actually feel the bullets. After some time, he ended the game and thanked the assistant. The experience had pleasantly surprised him. He even enquired about the price, but ultimately decided he wasn’t yet ready to spend that kind of money on a device he’d rarely use.

The pair then continued their exploration of the hall. They had apparently reached the Internet of Things section, as they passed by displays of smart-home devices that allowed people to control almost every aspect of their houses from central locations. Following this was business automation – machines that could automate manufacturing, material handling, quality inspection. None of these companies seemed to be expecting to make sales now, rather seeming to desire to get businessmen or -dragons interested enough to view their catalogue of machines that were too big to bring to a tech convention. A couple managed to catch Mar’s curiosity even though he wasn’t in the market for this stuff.

A drone buzzed overhead, and the crowd parted somewhat as a bipedal robot walked through, nimbly navigating past those that did not notice it. Its inner workings had been covered up by sleek fibreglass, but the innards could still be glimpsed through the gaps at the joints. A purple and green robotic dragon head logo was emblazoned upon the chest piece.

“I recognize that logo,” Zola commented. Mar nodded knowingly.

The sound of drone rotors grew louder again, and the robot turned to face directly towards Mar, and approached him – much to the confusion of the crowd around him.

“User Sterkvleuel identified. Awaiting command.” A monotonous voice emanated from the robot.

“You remember me – eh?”

“Invalid command.”

“I didn’t tell you to enter command mode.”

“Invalid command.”

“Return to station.”

“Acknowledged.” The drone hovering overhead returned the direction it had came. The biped followed the drone. Mar followed the biped, and Zola followed Mar.

Ahead, between people, he managed to spy an exhibition with a logo that matched that on the biped. A familiar woman there was waving in their direction. Behind her, two dragons he immediately recognised. The one was about two centuries old, covered in deep purple plate-scales with mint-green highlights – a halfbreed like Mar. She was speaking to a small crowd. The other watched a laptop connected to a large display that faced the crowd. A grassy yellow and green Tumenzarian, he was past his first century of age.

“Mar! Good to see you again! I didn’t know you were back.” The human greeted as he approached. He got some glances from the assembled crowd, but their focus was on the robot which held hand up above itself. The drone landed on said hand, and was then lowered and clipped to the back of the bot.

“Good to see you too, Georgia.”

“Adanna was explaining the GenOp while Jaco gave it commands. It identified you in the crowd – so we thought that we would use the opportunity.”

“I see you’ve guys made it look a lot better now. Also sorted out the synchronization kinks and implemented that back-holster idea. Anyways, how have you been? How are things going at AMAS?”

“I’ve been doing well. Work’s going great. Lots of improvements under the hood, though GenOp’s conversation-making capabilities still haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. Got some new investors who want functions to suit their needs. Even the military has taken an interest, but that’s rather hush-hush. I guess being a general-purpose robot capable of learning to do many things humans can do also includes those types of things.
“As you probably figured, Adanna made Jaco the leader of your team after you left. AMAS is not quite the same without you. But tell me about yourself! I haven’t heard much other than you were hospitalized because of an advanced ability that had left dormancy, and then that you had moved to Tumennoord to get training in controlling it. Next thing I see a clip of you alongside the Northern Elder in some news about that magitech project.”

“Well, my knack is to create dream worlds. When I was hospitalized, I got stuck in a world for what seemed like three years to me, but was actually only several days. A doctor who tried to break me out of the ‘coma’ ended up trapped there. Didn’t help that the world was the one from a post-apocalyptic book I had been reading.
“After I woke up, I was taken to Tumennoord and introduced to Elder Irikshan, who has an illusion-class knack too. He’s been the one training me to control my advanced ability. I have also been working a bit with the team on that magitech project after Rentik introduced me to them. Took a while for some of them to warm up to me, and I was doubting how much I could help, but Rentik and Morne have been quite supportive.”

“Who are Rentik and Morne?”

“Rentik is one of the department heads at Raifal College. Department of Nullifications and Countermagics. She’s a Scriven, probably about two and a half centuries by her size and what I know of her history. Her ultraviolet stripes look dark blue on pictures, so I guess that’s what you’d see. She was, alongside the college, the principal investor in the project. She’s been helping me out a lot as well.”

“Oh, Jinmeng! Saw her on the news too! She’s that Scriven who is always wearing so many crystals. I’ve heard rumours that there’s something between her and-”

“Mar,” Zola tugged his wing for his attention. “I’m going to go look around while you lot catch up. We can meet up once you’re done.”

“Sure.” Mar turned back to Georgia while Zola walked off into the dispersing crowd. He realized that Adanna and Jaco had finished their presentation, and Adanna was turning her attention to him while Jaco answered questions. “There is certainly something between them,” he quickly replied to Georgia, “but I expect that a romance would have surfaced by now. Oh, and Morne is a member of the research team.”

“Hello, Mar. Would have been nice if you could have visited us since you’re back.”

“Hello, ma’am,” he greeted the large dragoness as she loomed over him and Georgia. “I only arrived yesterday.”

“I told you to stop calling me ma’am.”

“Yes ma- I mean, Adanna.”

A deep chortle escaped her. “Why you scared of me?”

“I’m not.”

“Your body-language says otherwise. Put your wings back and stop crouching like you’re about to fly away.”

“I just feel bad for having left you guys like that. Must have been a mess trying to handle it.”

“We managed,” Jaco interjected, “Your documentation and planning was very thorough and made my life so much easier.”

“We don’t blame you Mar, it was beyond your control. By that blue scarf and your presence, I figure you have got your ability under control now. Got a couple of stripes already, too. You plan to continue studying after the holiday ends?”

“Yes. I… I am enjoying my studies. Irikshan has been a great mentor. Also, I have found some work in Tumennoord with a research team. They were the ones behind that energy manipulating machine project you probably heard of? They’ve wrapped up on that project for now, but… they’ve invited me to work with them more when they begin their next project. I hope that you-”

“I’m glad you’ve found people who can use your talents. I’d have been upset if you wasted them. I’m happy for you and encourage you to keep doing what you do. But! If you ever decide you’re moving back here and are looking for work – I’ll gladly hire you again.”

“Thank you, Adanna.”

“Now go find your friend. I’ve got a demo to run. You must organise to meet with us some time we can actually talk to you properly.”

“It might be a while. Irikshan needs me north again soon. But I will let you know when I can.”

Mar verbally bid Georgia adieu, and then did so mentally with Adanna and Jaco. He wasn’t quite sure when he’d see them again and he hadn’t the chance to say goodbye the last time he left Tumensuid.

Wandering through the crowds, he now wondered where Zola had gone. He did a loop of the second floor, then descended the divided staircase to the first floor. As he descended, tailblade tapping against the steps behind him, he scanned the crowd – but he still did not spot his friend.

Sudden vibration against his chest caught his attention, and he reached under his scarf and dug his tablet out. Zola was calling. He answered and asked, “Where are you?”

“You got me on speaker?”

“Yes, why?”

“Just head to the toilets, and I’ll call again.”

“I have a wireless-” Mar began to say before Zola ended the call. He dug out a small pair of headphones, unfolded them and connected them to his tablet, and then slid them over his head. He called Zola back, but got his call declined. Sighing in annoyance, he put away the tablet and searched the walls of the hall for the exit, having gotten turned around. He sighted one of the exits, then located the bathrooms. As he neared them, his tablet began to vibrate again. He answered. “Hello. What’s this about?”

“You there yet?”

“Almost, but I’ve got my headset on. Are you going to tell me what this is about?”

“Yes, in a bit. Just come back to the expo hall.”

“But I just left!”

“Just do it.”

“Fine.”

Mar turned back and retraced his steps, feeling as if he needed to mumble some excuse to the random passers-by even though they cared not a whit. He made it around a couple of corners before encountering the lemon-yellow and orange Tumenzarian from earlier – poking at his own tablet – and Zola approaching Mar from the other side.

As they neared each other, Mar opened his mouth to complain – but Zola turned towards the other dragon at the last moment. “Excuse me, could we please speak to you in private?”

“You can speak here.”

“Very well. Why have you been following my friend?”

“Following him? We’re at a tech convention. There are hundreds of draqui and people here.” Both the stranger and Mar were looking incredulously at Zola.

“You were outside the Cafe we met at. You followed us to the convention. At said convention, you were almost always in sight of him, even when he was walking around looking for me. Even when he left for the bathroom.” Mar now turned to look at the dragon, examining his expression. He seemed more annoyed than anything else.

“So what? Chances are I was almost always in sight of other people at the convention too.”

“I have photos of you and-”

“You were taking photos of me without my consent? Remind me who’s stalking who?” Mar mentally reached out to very softly touch the stranger’s mind. He found it still blocked off from the outside world. This earned Mar a snarl. “Leave my mind alone, halfbreed. Go away. Both of you. Otherwise, I will file for harassment.”

“Yes sir,” Mar quickly interrupted Zola’s coming objection. “I apologise for my and my friend’s behaviour and any offence we might have caused.” He hastily and forcefully led his companion away. Once they are out of earshot, he asked, “What was that about?”

“He’s been following you.”

“Could it not have just been random chance?”

“No, I highly doubt it was random.”

“What if he was just some reporter that was hoping to ask me questions?”

“Then why did he not ask any when we approached him. He gave no verbal indication he was intending to follow or approach you. I have officers I am supposed to report suspicious activity to. Obviously, they won’t care about civilian matters – but I wonder if your connections to the northern elder and a project that has been made a state secret would merit me bringing it to their attention.”

“Zola. You’re overreacting. It’s probably nothing. Let’s go back to the expo. Even if that guy was following us, he won’t anymore.”

“He might not be alone.”

“Then we can keep our eyes open. Come on.”

“Fine, let’s go back. But keep an eye out, even if no one follows you today. Tell Irikshan or someone you trust about it if it happens again.”


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