Chapter 26:


Grime in the Gears: Create, Read, Update, Delete

"Dinzai, Frank!" Conor said. He and his brother-in-law were in the mortician's office at the funeral home. "How did this even happen?"

Frank told him the story, adding in the details that Cammy had provided. "She said she'd try to descramble it, but if I can go the rest of my life without knowing how I died, I could live with that."

Conor passed his hand through Frank.

"Please," said Frank. "Stop that. It's getting annoying."

"I just can't believe it," Conor said. "You're here. You're alive."

"And I hear that we're in trouble," he said. "I mean, other than the fact that the socks-and-sandals brigade is probably putting a bounty out on my dead head."

Conor nodded. "Yeah. We took a big hit when you pressed the Big Bad Button," he said. "Boxter put out a recovery plan, and we were able to win back most of our customers' trust, albeit with some pretty hefty bonuses. We might be able to keep afloat, but times are going to be tough."

Frank listened and nodded.

"Then this guy from Araiguma came by. He offered us a nice deal, but while it would help keep us solvent, it would mean we'd have to let Syd and the AIs go. And probably Cammy too."

"Then it would be just you. And what would you do?"

Conor shrugged. "Oversee the branch of the company that created tiny drones."

"That doesn't sound like they'd need you for long either."

"Yeah," said Conor. "Maybe they'd put me somewhere else."

"Like in a room full of deadly nerve gas?"

Conor blinked. "Do you think they did it?"

Frank shrugged. "I don't have very many enemies," he said. "Or any, for that matter. Sure, I did do the occasional hand buzzer or pull away the occasional chair, but nothing a good laugh and a cold drink couldn't fix. I have no idea who else would be motivated enough to do it."

Conor nodded. His mind wandered briefly, entertaining this idea. He wondered, if this were true, if they took Frank's status as a bachelor into consideration when they decided to kill him. He thought about his own apartment, his own family, and having them trapped in there while it filled up with a designer poison. Sure, it would have only killed him, but that wouldn't have been good for everybody else in the same room to see. He gripped the edges of his suit jacket and swallowed.

"Well, that settles it," said Conor. "Especially since you're back, we're going to handle this on our own."

"Don't you worry they might try something else?" said Frank.

Conor hadn't thought about this. Now he did. He gripped harder on the edges of the jacket and swallowed again. 

"We'll just have to risk it," he said, his tone of voice less convincing than his words.

Frank nodded.

Both their phones chimed at the same time. They looked down at them.


"What's this?" Conor asked.

Frank shrugged.


Conor looked up at his brother-in-law. "Do you think it's..."

Frank shrugged. "I have no idea, but don't tell Cat."

"Do you think we should listen to it?"

Frank re-read the message. "I don't know if it's advice or a threat." He looked at Conor. "But I don't want anybody going through what I went through. I say we do it."

Conor let his mind wander again, to a room slowly being filled up with deadly green gas, to his family, unable to do anything to stop it. Or maybe they'd use an explosive, and blow a hole in the side of the building, taking out everything and everyone he cared about.

His palms were sweaty, and his breathing uneven, but he gave a slow nod. "I think this is the only way we can prevent further tragedies from happening," he said. "I'll get in touch with Mr. Taito from Araiguma in the morning."

Frank nodded.

"I know it's our company," he said. "And it feels like a kid or something, but we can always make a new company, keep our heads down, and make a decent living."

Conor nodded. "Yay for mediocrity," he said.

"That's the ticket. Now, we'll want to add a few more things to the negotiations, considering that I'm still here."

The two talked on, solidifying their plans. Syd sat just outside the office and listened. He didn't mean to listen. He just stopped there and sat on the bench to rest. But he heard every word. He knew what it meant, not just for him, but for Jeannie and Boxter too.

He got up and left, bidding a good afternoon to Conor and Frank's family, waiting for them to finish their conversation before heading off to get something to eat. 

"Strangest funeral I've ever been to," said Frank's mother as he passed by.

A few minutes later, Frank and Conor emerged from the office. They all left as a family and made their way to a nearby restaurant. Conor called ahead to reserve a table for eight, and make absolutely sure that they didn't serve alcohol. 

It was within walking distance, so they took to the streets, passing by a Mithraist with a cardboard sign and several gearheads staring into space. Barry clutched tightly to Rabbit, and Rabbit was glad to be able to observe the outside world as they walked down the sidewalk.

Conor took Cat's hand and gave it a squeeze. She was looking at Gloria, and Gloria was glowing walking next to Frank. Frank had a smirk on his face as he walked alongside her.

At the restaurant, they got their table pretty quickly. Conor offered to pay for everybody's meals, considering he was already paying for more than half of them. Mrs. C. thought this was fine, until she asked for the wine list, and was told that this particular establishment did not serve alcohol. Then she made some noisome comments about the nature of a restaurant that would deign to not serve a simple assortment of wines.

Midway through the meal, the waiter returned with his cohorts. He carried a cake frosted in black with several sparkling candles burning on it. The wait staff sang their requisite birthday song and placed the cake down in front of Frank, who up to now, had ordered nothing to eat or drink.

He looked at the cake, looked at Gloria, then smiled. "You little trickster," he said before trying to blow out the candles and failing, considering he had no lungs to force air across the candles to extinguish them. Gloria laughed, and tried to blow them out, but only managed to blow out one. Barry scrambled over and climbed into Frank's chair, passing through him. Gloria picked him up and held him aloft while he and Rabbit blew out the rest of the candles.

Rabbit, also having no lungs, was unable to blow any out, but Barry managed to get the rest of them.

"Did you make a wish, Uncle Frank?" Barry said.

Frank smiled. He looked around the table, seeing his family. His gaze ended on Gloria. "I already have everything I could ever want," he said.

"Except a body," said Renny.

There was a silence, then Frank shrugged. "Well, then I guess that's what I'd wish for," he said, taking it all in good stride.

Gloria cut up the small cake into quarters and gave a piece to each of the kids, keeping the last one for herself.

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