The eggs were dry and rubbery and the coffee was closer to water than an aromatic beverage. He wasn’t sure whether the blacked squares on his plate were supposed to be toast or some kind of scouring pad to clean the tabletop with before he put his elbows on it. But it was still a sight better than what he had been getting before they grudgingly let him go.
After a couple of months the folks called Project Sumter had finally given up fighting in the courts and allowed those people arrested while the organization didn’t technically exist and not yet tried in one of it’s shadow courts to go free. That mostly meant those who had been arrested as part of their operations intended to find Open Circuit, of which he had been one. So while the food in that shabby little diner wasn’t everything he could have hoped for it was still more than enough to satisfy him, at least for the moment.
Still, it was time to think about priorities. A safecracker of his talents, both mechanical and electrical, had been able to make a good living before the world knew fuse boxes existed. Doing a little accounting work by day was just a way to make a little on the side. Now, it might be time to start thinking about a new line of work. No one had ever been able to pin anything on him before because he’d been careful never to do anything big enough to draw the scrutiny of people like the Project but now that talents were out in the open it might be a different story. Perhaps if he went to work for the other side of things. Businesses would need security consultants to deal with all the new wrinkles talents could put in their security.
He was in the process of spreading the thin, unappetizing contents of a butter packet onto his scouring pad toast when two unfamiliar men sat themselves on the other side of the booth without bothering to ask permission. He glanced up and looked around, wondering if the small diner had really gotten so crowded that there was nowhere else to sit. As he suspected, it hadn’t.
The two men were a study in contrasts. One was skinny, white and dressed like a typical cubicle slave. Starched white shirt, tie, cheap dress slacks, habitual frown. The other wore blue jeans and a worn red shirt with grease as an accessory, his hair and complexion hinted at the kind of messy ancestry that made census workers throw a fit when it was time to put down an ethnicity. They looked like they’d walked straight out of a stereotype handbook.
He put his toast down slowly, eating forgotten. He’d worked with conmen in the past and even the worst had been better than these two. Maybe Project Sumter wasn’t done with him after all. “Can I help you two?”
They exchanged a look, then slid into the booth one after the other. “I’m Doug Wallace,” the mutt said, sliding into the seat last, the office drone already getting comfortable and pulling a strange coil of wire out of his coat pocket. “This is Greg Davis. We’ve spent a lot of time looking for you.”
Davis set the coil of wire down in front of him and it seemed to pull at him. He reached out to take it but Davis pulled it back with two fingers. “Careful,” the office drone said, his voice smug. “This isn’t quite ready for you to handle yet. But you can tell it’s special, right?”
He pulled his hands back and resisted the urge to sit on them, just to keep them under control. “What is it?”
“There’s no technical name for it, but it’s basically a special kind of electromagnet.” Davis tapped the metal rod, about as thick as a man’s thumb, that ran down the center of the wire coil. “When it’s properly attuned to the bioelectrical field of a category of persons like yourself, fuse boxes we call them, it allows that person to use their unique talent over a distance, rather than just by touch.”
He blinked once. “That’s not possible.”
“But you can feel it right now,” Wallace said. “We can tell by the way you’re looking at it. Even though it’s not attuned to you yet, it’s charged and close enough to your frequency that you can feel it even if you can’t use it.”
Wallace was right and everyone at the table knew it. Under the scrutiny of these two men, who’s cardboard cutout personas were apparently just a front for the even more confusing people beneath, he didn’t see any reason in denying it. He licked his lips and said, “Sure. I can see that. I don’t suppose I should ask how you know I’m a fuse box to begin with?”
“Does it matter?” Davis asked, holding the magnet up between them as if letting him see it from all angles. “Ask what you’re really wondering.”
He touched one finger to the coil of wire then jerked back in surprise. The electric potential inside actually seemed to grate on him like nothing he’d ever experienced before. “How can I get one I can use?”
“It’s fairly complicated, actually,” Davis said. “Calibrating one properly can require as many as a dozen MRIs, several weeks of troubleshooting. Once one is properly configured more can be made fairly easily, but getting that first template measured and tested can cost upwards of a hundred grand. On top of that, you’d need-”
“They’re not available to the general public,” Wallace summarized, he friend glaring at being cut off. “It’d take months and thousands of dollars of medal work to get you set up for one. Why, are you interested?”
He stared at the small coil of wire and let the possibilities roll over him. “With something like that you could control pretty much any electric motor, possibly any microchip, in a city block.”
“Not quite that large an area, not with one of these,” Davis replied, tucking the electromagnet back into his pocket. “But you wouldn’t be limited to touch anymore.”
“Nothing will be safe,” he said in amazement. “You could crack practically any modern lock in seconds with the right training. Shut down electronic surveillance, hit computerized records to cover your tracks-”
“All been done already,” Wallace said with a shrug. “You’ve heard of Open Circuit, right?”
“Sure.” He scowled. “Apparently I was working for him before I got arrested. Not exactly something that appeals to a person, not knowing you’re working for a terrorist.”
“Come now,” Davis said with a condescending smile, “if you had access to technology like ours would you really want to advertise your existence?”
His expression turned thoughtful. “No, I suppose not.” Then his eyes sharpened and he was back in the present. “What do you two want with me then? I’ll tell you up front, after my last experience working for Open Circuit I’m not exactly eager for another.”
“Makes sense to me,” Wallace said. “But this won’t be like your last. This time you’re not going to be one of the rank and file. This time you get to be one of the inner circle.”
He raised an eyebrow. “And why should I believe that?”
“We need a fuse box to make these gadgets worth something,” Davis replied. “You were the easiest to find and the most likely to agree, but you don’t have to work with us.”
“You’re not doing a good job making your case.”
Davis leaned forward and steepled his fingers. “What if I told you we were building a network of devices such as the one I just showed which would allow a fuse box to control all the electricity in a city?”
There was a moment of silence as the three men stared at each other over the tabletop. Finally he asked, “And what would I do with such a thing, Mr. Davis?”
Davis answered with an unnerving smile. “Anything you want.”
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