One last piece about Yellow Rose Industries (part 1) before we move on to a whole new world 🎼.
YRI is a cyberpunk-style human augmentation and prostheses company run by young genius Aciano Mercier and his assistant, Krishna Bhola (part 2). While simultaneously plotting Aciano’s ascent to mayordom, Krishna also hired him a dominatrix (part 3). Part 4 is, naturally, entirely NSFW.
Content Warning: swearing, drug use, discussion of possible past assault.
** ** **
“So… I get that it’s called Just Desserts… but is it… just… desserts..?” Aciano said, flipping the menu over. The café patio was bright and cheerful, abuzz with the coffee-and-mimosa-fueled conversations of weekend brunch-goers. Krishna sat across from him in reflective, triangular glasses that covered half her face. He supposed it was fashion.
“All you ever eat is dessert,” she pointed out, sipping her macchiato. Her glasses gave him a taste of her view: his own (tamer) style choices – vibrant t-shirt, fresh haircut – the café’s groomed little trees, and the bike path, the quiet street and ocean beyond, already dotted with sailboats. “Great cut, by the way. I told Shuta you should try some colour.”
“He mentioned that. I’ll do it if you shave your head.”
Krishna lowered her menu.
“You tryna be cute?” she said, and he could see the dangerous arch of her eyebrows even over her glasses. He smirked, and Krishna switched from her espresso to her caesar. “You’ve changed, Mister Mercier. So slick now that you’ve let a lady beat the shit out of you.”
“Shuddup,” Aciano grumbled, rolling his eyes. Their waiter arrived – crêpes, fruit, cinnamon bread. He took their menus, and Krishna smirked at him over her drink.
“You gonna see her again?”
“Sun-Ah?” Aciano said, and when Krishna’s frown suggested he should stop playing dumb, he shrugged as casually as humanly possible. “Yeah. Already scheduled.”
She nearly dropped her drink.
“What! Aciano – are you serious?” Krishna said, her mouth falling open in a mix of shock and delight. “When?! Did you call her?! Tell me everything!!”
Aciano flushed, no longer able to maintain his cool. He looked out at the water.
“I texted her. It’s not a big deal.”
“Not a big–oh, motherfucker,” Krishna said, sitting up straight. “Shit, A, I forgot to tell you, but–”
“Blaise,” Aciano gasped, watching the reflection in Krishna’s glasses. A tall, well-dressed man had just exited a car parked along the street, and was headed straight for them. He walked with the casual confidence of an athlete and an heir, with just enough swagger that he could have passed undetected in less sophisticated crowds merely by changing his clothes. Aciano’s chest tightened. “Should we… go..?”
“Too late,” Krishna said through a false smile, and when Blaise le Roi walked right up to their table, she said with painfully false cheer, “Blaaiise!”
He ignored her completely, and her smile turned into a sneer.
“Aciano Mercier,” Blaise said, removing his own sunglasses to reveal his signature cerulean eyes. They were like sapphires in his perfect, ebony face, images of which were plastered all over Alporte’s metro stations, buses, digital billboards and beyond. His smile was almost as fake as Krishna’s. “Been a while.”
“It has,” Aciano said, and resisted adding that forever wouldn’t have been long enough. Krishna was fuming, while the diners at nearby tables were murmuring Blaise’s name. Some were already taking pictures. Blaise deigned to give them a little wave before focusing on Aciano again.
“I stopped by your office last week, but I must have missed you. I thought we might take a drive?” he said, and motioned back, where a woman with a visible handgun was leaned against the car they’d pulled up in, smoking boredly. Zelda Hart, Blaise’s longtime right hand – her own right hand an illegally-modified version of YRI’s best prosthesis. She was impossibly pale given the longtime existence of the sun.
“Strange,” Aciano said. “I think I’d have heard if you’d come by, considering you’re still on our security watchlist.”
“Ha. Speaking of security, I don’t see Ever lurking about – are you old enough now to step out without him?” Blaise said, making a show of scanning the crowd. He winked to a few nearby admirers, who took to whispering excitedly, then he fixated on Aciano and said quietly, “Does he still come running when you cry?”
Aciano grimaced and Krishna was silent – either too intrigued to interrupt, or too distracted by fantasies of scratching Blaise’s eyes out.
“If you want a meeting, you can call the office on Monday,” Aciano said. “But there’s no way in hell I’m getting in your car.”
“Scared?” Blaise said, laying his hand on the back of Aciano’s chair. “Maybe a drink would–”
“I said I’m not getting in your fucking car!” Aciano repeated, drawing stares. His throat was tight. Blaise smirked and opened his mouth, but Krishna spoke first.
“Get lost, Blaise, I can’t taste anything over shitty cologne.”
“Shut up, slut,” Blaise said, rolling his eyes. Krishna palmed the table and stood up; there were gasps from the patio. “Control your bitch, Mercier.”
Krishna grabbed up her butter knife like a shiv, and Aciano jolted into action, placing his palm on Blaise’s chest and stepping between Krishna and her would-be victim.
“Krish – hold on – Blaise, can we–?”
“You little fuck – did you just push me?” Blaise said, and Aciano turned.
“What? No, I–”
His respectable Streetbrawler score couldn’t have prepared him for the back of Blaise’s hand, which staggered him sideways and nearly dropped him. His cochlear transmitter went skittering across the patio tiles, and the café came alive with people standing to take photos. Drooling blood, the whole side of his face stinging, Aciano collected himself just in time to watch Krishna lower her knife – probably because Zelda had moved like a gun-toting ghost to the sidewalk.
“Get the fuck out of here or I’m calling the cops!” Krishna screamed. Blaise lifted his palms, still – infuriatingly – smirking.
“Hey, I just wanted to have a conversation,” he said. Aciano picked up his transmitter, fitted it back behind his ear. Blaise pointed at him. “Another time, dajanjo. We have some catching up to do.”
He gave a wave and a stupid, sheepish shrug to their audience on the patio, then put on his sunglasses, slipped his hands oh-so-casually into his pockets, and walked back to his car. The restaurant erupted in chatter; Krishna returned her knife to the table and came to Aciano’s side.
“Jesus, your face – are you okay?” she said, and Aciano caught his reflection in her glasses – red cheek, bloody nose and mouth. Probable shiner. He turned away, pawing at the blood, just in time to be accosted by the manager.
“I’m very sorry, Mister Mercier, but I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.”
“Are you kidding me?!” Krishna shouted. “Did you even watch that or are you–?”
Aciano held up a hand.
“Let’s just go.”
“I can’t eat now anyway,” he said, and although Krishna looked about ready to murder someone, she didn’t argue. Blaise’s car roared away along the street behind them, needlessly loud, and Aciano tossed some cash on the table. They left without another word, and they were a block away before either of them spoke. “Sorry.”
“Why the hell are you sorry?” Krishna ranted, balling her fists like a comic book villain. “Uuggghhh Aciano! This is not your fault! Blaise is a fuckface with a–!”
“He is a fuckface, but he’s after me – not you – and I don’t want you to get dragged into this again,” Aciano said. “All he wants is for me to release that Second Sequence patent. I’ll call Eric later; he can handle Blaise.”
“Fucking with my boss and my best friend has everything to do with me,” Krishna said as they walked. “Augh!! What the hell is he doing here anyway? Doesn’t he have a job?”
“The Argonauts are out for the season, actually.”
“How do you know that?”
“Dad,” Aciano said, and when Krishna suddenly halted, he stopped too. She pulled off her glasses, looking fretful. “What’s wrong?”
“You. You look like shit,” she said, as gently as possible.
“…considering last time he broke my jaw, I feel like I got off relatively easy,” Aciano said. Krishna grabbed his arm.
“Come upstairs? I can make brunch, and I have frozen peas for your face,” she said, and it was only then that Aciano realised they’d arrived at her building.
“…I’m afraid to ask what kind of stale cereal you’re going to feed me…”
“I have weed and ice cream?” Krishna offered instead, and Aciano nodded. They turned into her building, Aciano dragging his feet and Krishna tapping away at her phone.
“No, I’m obliterating Just Desserts. You’re already a hashtag. Not a clever one. It’ll die quick,” Krishna said. Once she’d finished leaving whatever scathing messages would incite the rage of her followers, she stowed her phone and summoned the elevator. “You’re still bleeding, by the way.”
“Tilt your head back? Isn’t that supposed to help..?” she said. Aciano humoured her, but he was still faint and covered in blood by the time they stepped into Krishna’s serial-killer-tidy apartment. He laughed despite himself, and he was immediately handed a black cloth for his face. “Shuddup – you always laugh. Go clean yourself up.”
He peeled off his shoes, made for the showroom-ready washroom, and tried not to make a mess (failed). At least the bleeding stopped. When he emerged, Krishna handed him a clean shirt, a bag of ice and a pipe. She steered him into the kitchen, sat him at the counter and poured him a glass of wine.
“You serious?” Aciano said, but she was already putting on her apron. He fought a laugh. “Do you want help?”
“I can make a damn sandwich with an egg on it,” Krishna said. She set about collecting her ingredients while Aciano smoked. Just as he was starting to relax, Krishna said, “Can I ask… how Blaise heard about Second Sequence..? He knew about it before we were dating, obviously..?”
“His dad owns Croissances Humaines.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“We were at Al-U together,” Aciano said. “Well. Not together, but at the same time. He was in some frat that I… visited. I did some work for a few of them.”
“You mean homework?”
“…I’m not proud of it.”
“Don’t tell me you were trying to get into a frat?”
“I was trying to have friends,” Aciano said, and admitted, “Trying to be cool. I was sixteen; I’d just got my implant. The idea that people could talk to me was second only to the idea that they would, and the fact that I was a sixteen-year-old TA didn’t really endear me to anyone. You certainly wouldn’t have been friends with me if we’d met in real life.”
“I might have for an A+,” Krishna said, cracking the eggs, and succeeded in making him laugh.
“Anyway,” Aciano said, “I was working on Reboot and Second Sequence at the time – Reboot for a trans friend – for Red – and Second to help people with mobility issues. Both Sequences rely on similar mechanics, so it was useful to design them both in tandem. They weren’t secrets, and… honestly the fact that Blaise was interested was really encouraging, at first. I’d toured Croissances in Toulouse – super cool – and YRI was nothing but an extra bank account for my parents at the time. I thought Croissances might buy the designs. But then Blaise started talking about how to weaponize the augments.”
“How do you weaponize genderswapping?”
“Multiple identities,” Aciano said, and shrugged. He removed the ice from his face, gingerly felt that the swelling had gone down. “Not an unmanageable or terribly dangerous concern. But Second Sequence had more possibilities. I’d designed it to help paralysed individuals gain control of their limbs, but… modifications could have meant control of a lot more: electronics, signals, other people’s minds and bodies, especially people with augments. With a bit more development, rudimentary mind-reading.”
“Mind-reading? Are you kidding?” Krishna repeated, glancing sideways at him as she grilled the bread and cheese.
“Only in close proximity,” Aciano reasoned.
“That’s not really a comfort.”
“That’s why I patented them, and… why Remus has been helping to mire them in legal issues. Patents don’t last long, but they can be extended if testing and other approvals are delayed. …possibly indefinitely.”
Krishna turned to look at him, halfway through plating everything, forgotten spatula still in hand.
“You’re doing that? …I’m assuming Red doesn’t know?”
“Fuck no,” Aciano said, and let out a nervous laugh. Krishna brought the plates to the counter and sat down at the adjacent edge. “I’d happily fight Blaise in a cage match before letting that slip.”
“Ugh,” Krishna said. “I’m really sorry I forgot to tell you he was back. I saw him at the carnival – avoided him, thankfully – but… other things… happened… and I forgot about it.”
“It’s fine, K. Seriously. If I’d known, I would have just worried about it,” he said, and after swallowing, “Wow… this is delicious.”
“Is it, or is that the weed talking?” Krishna said. “Did you smoke that whole bowl?!”
“…might be that,” Aciano said, fighting a smile. “Doesn’t really change the fact.”
Krishna rolled her eyes and double-tapped the countertop, which lit up to display her home controls as well as myriad feeds, messages and alerts. With a series of taps she adjusted the blinds to let in a little more light, turned on some soft music and dismissed the recently-viewed croque-madame recipes. While they ate, she sorted her mail, showed him the pathetically desperate apology from Just Desserts, and flicked away the photos of what people were calling a ‘fight’. Eric had already messaged her about it. It wasn’t until the display was almost clear that she spoke.
“…what’d he do to you?” she said, her eyes still on the counter. Aciano looked up.
“Blaise. In school.”
“That was a separate thing entirely.”
“As separate as proposing to me to gain access to YRI?” Krishna said, skeptical. “Or trying to turn me against you? Or–?”
“Yeah,” Aciano said. “It was before he even knew about the patent.”
“…aaanndd..?” she said. She’d asked before, but must have figured that this was better timing. “He’s clearly still interested in fucking with you, and if he’s got something on you, we should tell Eric – maybe even Iliza or Lily – or we’ll end up in another whole mess just like–”
“It’s nothing like CR-X-55,” Aciano said. “And Eric already knows.”
“Eric knows?” Krishna said, clearly insulted. Aciano sighed.
“Eric was there,” he said. He feigned distraction when another Flitter alert appeared on the countertop, but Krishna flicked it away. He shrugged. “There’s not a lot to tell, since I don’t really remember. We were both at a frat party; I saw someone put something in a girl’s drink. Told her, and she ditched the party. I guess whoever had tried to drug her blamed her exit on me, because a bit later, I started… feeling weird. I pinged the campus security app to get an escort back to my dorm.”
“Oh shit. They drugged you?”
“Rohypnol, confirmed later. I went to wait outside, and started feeling really fucked up. Just… really weak, couldn’t focus, couldn’t use my phone. Couldn’t remember who I was waiting for. Three guys showed up – the dick who’d apparently been after this girl, some other guy, and Blaise. I don’t remember… if they convinced me to go with them, or… what… but I went back upstairs with them… …obviously I don’t remember what I was thinking – probably not much.”
Krishna didn’t talk, but she didn’t move either, and when he glanced at her, it was to find another worried expression. He shook his head.
“Nothing… bad happened,” he said, and looked away again. “They dressed me up in some wig and lipstick – there were photos all over the next week – and… that’s it..?”
Krishna was looking increasingly horrified. Aciano fidgeted, shrugged again.
“I don’t remember. I know Eric showed up – he was Al-U security at the time – shut the party down. Made me really popular. I only kinda remember being in his car, and I remember the hospital, because they kept me for a while to take samples and stuff. Took forever to convince them I wasn’t just shitfaced and didn’t need my stomach pumped. Then Eric took me home. I think it was about a month later that he quit campus and my parents hired him.”
“You were roofied and you’re shrugging it off?”
“Can’t say who drugged me; can’t say anything happened after,” Aciano said. “Hospital got nothing, and I wasn’t really… roughed up or anything. I hardly remember, and Blaise is the only person I recognized. Obviously, he can’t say anything without implicating himself, so..?”
“Aciano doesn’t that freak you out?!” Krishna said, and he let out a painful laugh.
“Of course it does – why do you think I hadn’t told you? I don’t like to think about it. It was ten years ago and it lives in a part of my brain with other shit that doesn’t matter. It’s… like… okay: when I was a little kid, I wandered out into the desert by myself. It was dark and I was sleeping by the time my mom found me. I have this scar on my arm from who-knows-what, and I can’t remember the event at all – I only know because she told me. Does it matter? Does it matter why I left and how I got hurt? Does it matter what might have happened?”
“Maybe it does?!” Krishna said, and Aciano shrugged again.
“I have enough to worry about in the present. Like where is that ice cream you promised, and do you have sprinkles, and what flavour is it?”
“Does that matter?”
“As my personal assistant and best friend, having my favourite ice cream on hand should be a top concern.”
“It’s chocolate,” Krishna said, standing up. She collected their plates and hid them in the dishwasher. “Your favourite is disgusting.”
“Fight me, Tiger is delicious,” Aciano said, and Krishna snorted. She pulled a pint of ice cream from the freezer, handed him the whole tub and a spoon.
“I don’t think you need a second black eye.”
“Sun-Ah’s gonna think you’ve been seeing someone else.”