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Chapter Four

Toke sucked in a panicked breath as he listened to the clock’s chiming.  That smiting Sorakine girl had made him late!
A quick glance around revealed the way back to the school, and he took off once again.  As he ran through the city, the irony of the situation struck him.  There were only two things in the world that could entice him to run: danger, and his parents.  And, as his luck would have it, he had encountered both today.
He saw his parents stepping out of a taxi just as he rounded the corner leading to the school gate.  His father, dressed in a heavy black suit and jacket that looked entirely too hot for the weather, turned back to the autocarriage and handed over a fistful of bills to the driver.  Even from thirty feet away, Toke imagined he could see the look of regret his father always got when he spent money.
“Oh, there he is!” his mother said, spying her son.  She tugged her husband’s sleeve, and they both turned to watch as Toke approached them.
“Sorry…  I’m late…” he gasped when he finally reached them, putting his hands on his knees to catch his breath.
“You couldn’t even change out of those filthy rags?” his father demanded.  “Just because you wear them in the workshop doesn’t make them acceptable to wear in public!”
“Good… to see you too… Dad,” Toke replied, curtly.  He managed to stand up straight, but his heart was still hammering on the inside of his chest like a drum.
“And you’re all covered in sweat,” he went on, pulling out a handkerchief to dab at his own brow, being careful not to mess up his slicked-back hair.  “When was the last time you showered?”
Toke grimaced.  This was going about as well as he had expected, except that he had hoped to have a new set of clothes to stave off their initial wave of complaints.
“Well,” his father said at last, after a few more disapproving glances, “since you’re dressed like that, you may as well take us to the workshop and show us what you’ve been working on.”
Toke shook his head.  “Guests aren’t allowed in the classrooms,” he told them for what must have been the twentieth time.  Every time his parents visited, they demanded access to where Toke did his work so they could evaluate it themselves, and they had been denied every time.
“Just take us there,” his father ordered him.  “I’ll deal with everything else.”
Toke gave his mother a sideward glance.  Sometimes, depending on her mood, she would give him an apologetic shrug.  He liked those, even though she never actually did anything, because it told him that he was not alone in thinking his father’s ego was just a smidge too big.  Today, however, she just waved him onwards, as if to say, get moving, child.
“All right,” he agreed at last, and turned to lead them into the school.
As they walked, his mother tried to make conversation with him.  “How have you been, sweetie?”
“Fine,” Toke answered, deciding it was in his best interests if he didn’t mention the previous night’s mugging or his Sorakine stalker.  “How are things back home?”
“Oh, you know,” she replied, “nothing much happens in Kassfar.  The other week, though, Miss Bramnal’s daughter…”
“I still can’t believe they let you students walk around in such horrid outfits,” his father interjected.   For once, Toke was grateful.  His mother had a tendency to claim nothing was happening, and then spend up to an hour describing all the nothing that was going on.  “This is a good school.  There’s no reason they can’t have you all wear a decent uniform.”
His comments drew the stares of a few other students they were passing, and Toke’s face turned red again.  His father took no notice of them, however.
“It can’t be good for the school’s reputation to have its students running around like they live on the streets,” he gave a sour glare at a passing young woman whose shirt was cut to expose her belly button.  “Or working on them, more like.”
“Dad!” Toke hissed.  “I still live here, you know.  Can you try not to make everyone hate me?”
“You watch your mouth, young man,” his father retorted, drawing himself up defiantly.  “I’m still the one paying your tuition, so you had better show me some respect.”
“Dear, he’s graduating tomorrow,” his mother reminded him.
Toke’s father gave her a sharp look, and then bit his lip.  “Right, right, of course he is.”
Toke took some encouragement from this.  If there was one thing his father hated, it was when somebody pointed out how empty his threats were.  He was saved from more awkward discussions, however, when they arrived at the door to Professor Navras’ workshop.
“What do you all want?” Virkhul demanded from his desk, looking like nothing so much as a vulture perched outside the classroom.
“We are the parents of Cassitoka Gnasher,” his father answered, folding his arms self-importantly in front of him.  Toke flinched.  Brin knew how much he hated being called that.  And of all the people he could have said it in front of…  His father continued, unabashed, “We would like to go inside and see what our son has been working on.”
Virkhul turned his head to glare at Toke.  “I suppose you didn’t bother to tell them they’re not allowed, did you?”
“I assure you, everything is all right,” Mr. Gnasher insisted.  “Please let us in.”
“It’s against the rules,” Virkhul snapped, and he gestured gruffly at Toke.  “He shouldn’t even be here.  His class ended an hour ago.”
It was almost comical, Toke thought, watching the two most stuck up people he knew argue with each other.  He wasn’t sure who he wanted to win…
“What’s going on?” a voice asked from behind them, and as one the Gnasher family turned around to find Professor Navras, himself, standing there.
“Your student’s trying to get his parents into the workshop, Professor” Virkhul immediately tattled on them.  “I’m just upholding the rules.”
“Professor Navras, I presume,” Mr. Gnasher said, wasting no time in stepping up to shake the teacher’s hand.  “Brin Gnasher, I’m Toke’s father.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Navras greeted him, accepting the handshake.  He then turned to Mrs. Gnasher and bowed to her.  “And you must be his mother.”
“Evanya Gnasher,” she replied.
“We were hoping you would be willing to let us into the workshop,” Mr. Gnasher said, drawing the professor’s attention back to him.  “We would like to see our son’s invention.”
Navras raised his eyebrows, and Toke waited for him to tell his parents that that was, indeed, against the rules.  Instead, he thought for a moment, and then nodded.
“I believe that would be acceptable,” he agreed with a polite smile.
“But Professor,” Virkhul protested, getting up from his seat, “the rules say—”
“I am aware of the rules,” Navras cut him off.  “But it is my classroom, and I may allow my finest pupil’s parents to come inside if I wish.”
Virkhul glared at them for a few seconds, and then sat down.  “Yes, Professor,” he grumbled, looking down at the stack of papers in front of him.
“Excuse me,” Navras said, brushing past Toke and his parents to get to the door.  “Please be done sorting those request forms before you leave, Virkhul.  I will want to look at them personally.”
“Yes, Professor,” Virkhul said again, his mouth a thin, pale line in his anger.
Navras unlocked the workshop door and held it open for his guests.  When they were all inside, he closed it behind them and spoke in a softer voice, “My assistant is correct, it is against the rules to bring anybody who is not a student into the classrooms.  I must ask that you touch nothing while you are in here.”
“Not to worry, my good man,” his father said, a smug smile still on his face from being favored by the professor.  “We won’t touch a thing.”
“Very good,” Navras said, and turned to Toke.  “Well, let’s show your parents what you’ve been working so hard on, shall we?”
“Yes, Professor,” Toke agreed, and made his way to his locker, from which he produced the small metal cylinder he’d left in there the previous night.  He brought it to his usual workspace and set it down for them to see.
“Doesn’t look very impressive,” was the first thing that came out of his father’s mouth.
“I’m sure it works fine, dear,” his mother chastised her husband.  She looked at Navras, “How does it work?”
“I believe that,” the professor said, motioning towards Toke, “is a question to ask your son.”
“It has a jido crystal inside it,” Toke explained.  “I forged the metal tube so that it would be held inside without the threat of exploding.  When you connect it to a machine, it’ll—”
“Yes, yes,” his father interjected dismissively.  “Does it work?”
“I’ve powered a small motor with one before,” Toke answered.  “It took me a few tries to get it right, but eventually the motor worked the way it was supposed to until the battery was completely drained.  This one should last a lot longer, and it has enough power to fuel a lightbulb for over a month.”
Mr. Gnasher rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and Toke could easily imagine all the money his father was envisioning dancing in front of his eyes.
“And how much will they sell for?” he asked at last, directing his question at the professor once again.  “Five hundred each?  A thousand?”
“That’s very difficult to say,” Navras answered slowly.  Though his father was blind to it, Toke could clearly see the professor’s disapproval.  If there was one thing the old man could not abide when discussing inventions, it was the talk of money.  “But surely you agree that the good your son’s invention will do far outweighs its monetary value.”
“Of course it will,” Mr. Gnasher said absently as he reached out and picked up the battery.  He bounced it a few times in his palm.  “It has a good weight to it.  People will always pay more for things that feel sturdy.”
“I’m afraid,” Navras said, reaching out and taking the battery from Toke’s father as politely as he could, “that I cannot give you an estimate until after the Permissor has approved it.”
“See that you do,” Mr. Gnasher said, and fished a business card out of his inner pocket.  “I own a store over in Kassfar, a very successful one.”
Toke choked with laughter, but managed to cover it up with a cough when everyone turned to look at him.
“I would be happy to stock and sell my son’s invention once it has passed the Permissor,” he went on as if he hadn’t been interrupted.  “Contact me as soon as you can so I can determine what a proper price would be.”
Navras looked at Toke’s father as if the man were speaking backwards, but then took the card and placed it into the inner pocket of his own robe.  “I’ll see what I can do.  Now, if you will all excuse me, I have a class coming in a few minutes.”
“Of course!” Mr. Gnasher said with a grin.  “I would never get in the way of a man and his work.”
With that, he took his son by the shoulder and steered him toward the door.  Toke knew the professor had been lying.  He wouldn’t have a class to teach for another three hours.  Still, he couldn’t blame him for wanting to be rid of the Gnasher family.  It was one of the reasons Toke had wanted to go to school away from Kassfar.
“Well, that went very nicely,” Mr. Gnasher said when they were back in the hallway, with Virkhul giving them wicked glares behind their backs.
“Did you come here just to do business with my teacher?” Toke demanded.
“I’m only looking out for your future, son,” he shot back.  “If you want to be an inventor, you have to know how to make money off of what you make.  Otherwise, it’s all for nothing.”
“It is not all for nothing!” Toke argued, on the verge of shouting.  “If I can make Yasmik a better place, then who cares how much money I make off of it?”
Mr. Gnasher shook his head ruefully.  “You’re still so immature.  Making the world better is all well and good, but none of it will matter if you’re living in a vermin infested hole in the wall with nothing to eat.”
Toke was about to argue again, but his father shook his head.  “I know what I’m talking about, Toke.  I’ve been out in the real world a lot longer than you have.  Trust me, money is more important than you think.  Now, go take a shower, put on some decent clothes, and meet us at the hotel down the street.  Your mother saw a restaurant she wanted to try on our way into town.”
Toke tried not to glare at his father, but failed.  Finally, Mr. Gnasher sighed, and stepped forward to give his son a hug.
“I am glad to see you, Toke,” he said.  “And I am going to be proud of you when you graduate tomorrow.”
With that he turned and, hooking arms with his wife, made for the doorway.  Toke watched them go, unsure whether he should be angry at his father, or grateful.
NEXT TIME: Man, I just want to pat Toke’s dad on the head… with a boulder.  And the torment’s not over yet.  He still has dinner with them to look forward to.  Not to mention his Sorakine stalker somewhere out there in Jerulkan.


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