|The following short story happens before any of the events within the book 'The UnWorlder' and follows the character of Rook. As such, it does not spoil any crucial plot points, but may be used to give a quick glimpse into the lives of the wizards in the UnWorlder universe.
"Good night, Rook," Kade said, waving over her shoulder. "See you in the morning."
"Good night, ma'am," Rook replied, smiling. He nearly always smiled. Working the reception desk had become second nature to him at this point. Not that he was that much of a "people person". But he was perfectly happy to have fleeting contact with pretty much everybody coming in or out of the lab each and every day. Most paid him little attention, but that didn't mean he didn't have real friends. He considered Kade, for instance, to be just that.
As the door closed behind Kade, Rook got up from behind the reception desk and pulled out a small key ring. Tonight would be a relaxing night for him. For the first time in about a week, nobody was staying late at the lab. Not that he had to remain at his post the whole time people were down in the lab, running experiments. He wasn't security. But anybody left in the building increased the chance that someone would need to call on him for … whatever. And even if they didn't need him, Rook couldn't fully relax knowing that, at any time, the phone could ring, forcing him to get up out of his cot in the back and answer it.
Of course, even that slight worry never really dampened his spirits. He'd learned while growing up that happiness was a choice. You don't have to ignore the duties and difficulties and troubles of your life. Just don't let them influence your choice to be happy.
Tonight, however, that choice would be much easier for Rook. Not only did he have the rest of the evening to himself, but he had plans to actually go out for a few errands.
Growing up in the colony, he'd had plenty of opportunities to be outside. And while, for now, he was content to literally live at work, any time he had the opportunity to go outside, even in the middle of a moderately developed city like this, it really helped him unwind. The breeze on his skin. The crisp, nearly autumn air. Of course, he'd had to get used to the dry climate. Louisiana was much more humid than the dry mountain air up here. But he'd been living in Utah for seven years now and he barely needed to use his moisturizing lotion anymore.
Rook flipped off the main lights in the lobby and slipped his hex key into the lock on the door. A quick turn and the lobby was secured.
His job officially discharged for the evening, he stepped over to the right and swiped his security pass across the reader. He heard a buzz as the system temporarily unlocked the door again, long enough for him to get outside.
Once outside, he took a deep breath.
He hadn't made specific plans for the evening beyond simply going outside. However, he did notice that he was hungry. There was an all-night joint just down the street that was popular with most of the Spidech Labs employees. The food was okay, but the big draw was that the owner and manager were both wizards, which made it much more relaxing. It's one thing to simply not use your powers in public. It's another thing entirely to know that, even if you do accidentally do something, you don't have to worry about explaining yourself too much.
Of course, Epistemists tended to have it much easier. At least, that's the way Rook saw it. They didn't have to worry about accidentally changing their spoon into a tea cup like ThickHeads did. And they couldn't accidentally cause their burger to start writhing uncontrollably, like a GreenThumb.
However, his perspective may have been entirely different were he actually an Epistemist himself. As a GreenThumb, he had a GreenThumb's perspective.
But it went without saying that after ten o'clock, there wouldn't be a single wizard left in the establishment—customer or worker. There wasn't a wizard alive who could fight the Sleep. And they were all very careful to make sure they were home before they completely lost consciousness.
About halfway to the restaurant, Rook began to feel the magic pulses coming from the restaurant. Clearly there were already a few other wizards already there having dinner. Well, it was a popular spot for wizards, after all.
He turned on his vision and took a look inside as he grew closer. Inside, he could see the glowing essences of several individuals. Clearly there were more people there than just the wizards. The normals there wouldn't have any clue that it was anything more than a normal restaurant. They would simply know that it appears to be popular for some reason and want to try it out.
Rook shut off his vision and chuckled to himself. These normals would likely never know just what it was that caused the popularity. But the fact that something is popular at all tends to cause more people to take note and make it even more popular. Rook could think of about a dozen celebrities who seemed to rely on just that. The thing that makes them popular at all is that they're popular. Who's to say how it started?
Inside, Rook took a seat at the bar. The waitress—a ThickHead by the look of things—gave him a quick nod and motioned that she'd be right with him shortly.
As he waited, he looked around. He recognized several of the wizards. Many of them worked at the lab. Others had visited at one time or another. And that pretty much summed up the ways Rook met new wizards. He didn't leave the lab that often and he had no local family.
Interestingly enough, the wizards seemed to pay him no attention but he was getting a number of odd looks from many of the normals. He was used to that. It's not every day you see a black man with green eyes in Utah. His mother sometimes got the same reaction since he got his eyes from her. But the wizards in the group would certainly have seen much much stranger things in their day, so it hardly even registered for them.
The normals, however, … now that was another thing.
"What can I get ya?" the waitress said from behind the bar.
"What's your specialty burger?" Rook asked, turning halfway back toward the waitress.
"It's got a fried egg and sauteed mushrooms," she said, smiling.
"Sounds good," Rook said, smiling. "And a cup of coffee."
"Coming right up," the waitress said, returning the smile.
Rook turned on his vision and took another quick look around the restaurant, passing the time as he waited for his food. It was more of an absent-minded habit than anything else. As a receptionist, he always tried to keep track of every face that came in or out of his lobby. No particular reason behind it.
As he waited for his food, though, he suddenly realized that his eyes had stopped on one couple in particular. He hadn't really thought about it, but with his vision on, he'd only been focusing on the essences of the people. Which is likely what caused him to stop where he did. The woman 's essence stood out because there was something else inside. She was pregnant.
As a GreenThumb, Rook had always been fascinated by pregnancy. If he paid close attention, he could actually see the boundary where one essence ended and another one began. Of course, that was greatly influenced by how far along the pregnancy was.
For women who were so newly pregnant that they weren't yet showing, he could usually make out the shape of the developing embryo, but the essence wasn't yet strong enough for him to actually discern from that of the mother. That wasn't to say that it didn't have its own unique essence at all. Even magic would appear to fall short of definitively answering the question of when an embryo should be considered an entirely new life.
This woman, however, was clearly in the last weeks of her pregnancy and the baby inside was about as perfectly formed as any he'd seen before.
Suddenly he realized that something was up. He'd been paying so much attention to the essence of the woman and her child—albeit absentmindedly—that he hadn't noticed the man. Right now, the man's essence seemed to be coming directly toward Rook, and this wasn't a casual walk.
Rook shut off his vision and looked at the man with his normal eyes. Clearly, something had happened to upset him and Rook couldn't, for the life of him, think of what he had done.
"I said," the man growled, "do you got a problem with me and my wife?"
Rook blinked and glanced around, hoping to find that the man was actually talking to someone else. No such luck. Apparently, Rook had been so out of it that nearly everyone in the immediate vicinity—wizards and normals alike—had stopped what they were doing and were looking between this angry man and Rook, wondering what would happen next.
"Excuse me?" Rook asked, puzzled.
"Oh, come on," the man scoffed. "You're telling me you don't have a problem with me and my wife over here? What are you doing staring at us then?"
Rook looked from the man to the woman and back for a few times before he realized what the man may have been referring to: she was white, he was black. Apparently, as he sat there staring at her belly, this guy must have assumed he was passing judgment on the pairing for being an interracial couple.
"Oh, no," Rook said, holding up his hands. "I'm sorry if I was staring. It's just, your wife's pregnant."
"And, you got a problem with that?"
"No, of course not."
"You think I should find someone more my own color?"
"No!" Rook emphasized. "Seriously. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I was just thinking to myself. I didn't mean to stare. Your wife just reminded me of the last time I saw my mother pregnant. Honestly, I didn't even notice her skin color."
"Serious, bro? I'm supposed to believe that?"
Just then, someone sat down in the stool beside Rook. He didn't even have to look to know who it was. He could sense Kade's magic signature as clear as day.
"Sorry I'm late, honey," she said, placing her hand on his shoulder. "Who's your friend here?"
Taken off guard, Rook stammered briefly.
"Uh, we were just coming to a misunderstanding," he said.
Kade moved her hand down Rook's shoulder then arm and grabbed his hand, interlocking her fingers with his.
"Well, I hope it's not too serious."
Rook looked back at his accuser who just stared back at him. His eyes moved quickly between Rook and the young white woman now sitting with him.
"Yo, sorry bro," the man finally admitted. "But you know how it is sometimes."
Rook smiled back. And it was a sincere smile.
"Hey, believe me," he said. "I understand exactly how it can be. So, we're cool?"
Slowly, almost reluctantly, the man turned and headed back to his seat. As he did, Rook let go of Kade's hand and turned back toward the bar.
"Thanks for that," he mumbled. "But that kind of stuff could get you into some serious trouble. I mean, you're my employer."
"Oh, you won't sue," she said.
"And how do you know?" he said, jokingly.
"Epistemist, remember? We know everything."
Rook grimaced briefly. "Oh, if only that were true."
"Of course," Kade continued, "if I'd had reason to believe you actually were being judgmental over an interracial couple, I would have just let you fend for yourself. Not that he could have hurt you unless you let him. But I don't think Till here wants to have to clean up the mess."
"Oh, you know me," Rook said. "I'm the last person on the world to have a problem with that. I mean, my mother was black and my father was a troll."
"I know, I know," she replied. "But, I remember you telling me you were an only child."
"I am," Rook replied.
"So you couldn't have seen your mom pregnant."
"Oh, that. I was just trying to come up with any answer that would satisfy him. He wasn't about to believe 'I was taking a look at your unborn son.' I needed something that sounded a bit more plausible."
"Here's a tip," Kade said. "Next time, leave the Truth Bending to us Epistemists, okay?"
Rook nodded. "Whatever you say."
As he said that, the waitress came back with a plate and a pot of coffee.
"Here you go, honey," she said, filling his cup. "And you said your father was a troll?"
Rook smiled. "Well, close enough. I grew up in the Shreveport Mythicals Colony in Louisiana. His familiar was an iguana so he ended up with a bunch of scales and some pretty cool eyes. Before that, he was a regular old white guy, so my point still stands."
"Yes, well, you need anything else, just let me know."
As he picked up his hamburger, Kade slapped him gently on the back. "Well, I've got to get home before the Sleep kicks in. I'd say you have about two and a half hours, so enjoy yourself."
Rook nodded. "No problem. And thanks again."
Kade smiled and headed out the door.
Well, Rook thought to himself, that was a bit more excitement than I had hoped for.
And as he began eating his dinner, the ambient noise in the restaurant slowly returned to normal.