Friend Like Me
Summary: Dev Starkhart is a Lesser Genie who just wants to get her Jinn license. In order to do that, she has to grant three wishes to a Level One client, but by mistake she's assigned to a Level Five client instead. Now Dev has to figure out how to grant three wishes to a rich and dismal human who has no idea what he wants.
"The Mix-up Part I"
The Assignment Hall
Devan Starkhart tapped her foot impatiently. She had been standing in line outside the Assignment Hall since nine o'clock in the morning and it was well past noon. She was no closer to the front desks now than she had been four hours ago. What could possibly be taking them so long? She had only graduated from The Academy with forty-seven other genies, so who were all these people? They couldn't ALL be genies!
Dev uncrossed her arms to adjust her purse over her shoulder and straighten her sunglasses. Why didn't this place have any benches? She wondered crossly. If there was one thing Dev hated, it was to be kept waiting. And waiting while standing was even worse, especially in high heels. She folded her arms over each other again and started tapping her fingers against her elbow.
A slight ripple through the crowd caught Dev's attention, and for just a moment her hopes soared. The line was moving! Only the disturbance was coming from the wrong direction. Her face scrunched up at the realization that someone was pushing their way towards the front of the antechamber; the line wasn't moving forward at all. A young man, probably in his late twenties Dev thought, was elbowing his way through the throng of people. His head was covered in thick black hair that was carefully styled to look "tousled". The dark stubble along his jaw and the half moon circles beneath his eyes suggested that he had been up and awake long before Dev had. His brown eyes twinkled though when he caught sight of her, and he smiled.
"Donut hole?" he asked cheerfully once he was standing in front of Dev, and offered her the plastic container. The sweet treats did nothing to erase the scowl from Dev's face as she stared accusingly at the snow white morsels.
"The powdered sugar will stain my clothes, Brian," she snapped and smoothed out her skirt. Brian Lampa shook his head at his former student and gently stroked the container.
"She didn't mean that," he murmured to the donut holes. "Don't worry, I still love you."
Dev rolled her eyes at her adviser and pushed her sunglasses farther up her nose. "You are such a child," she muttered and resumed her surly countenance, determined to keep her bad temper.
"Hey, is that any way to talk to the man who dragged you through The Academy?"
"First of all, you didn't drag me anywhere. I was at the top of my class. Second, I am so not in the mood for this right now, and third – who are all these people?" Dev was so tired and frustrated that she was about ready to cry. She just wanted her assignment, was that too much to ask?
"Shh, relax. Have a donut hole." Brian grabbed her wrist and forcefully put the powdered sugar pastry in her hand. "As for all the people, I'd say most of them are Common Jinn."
Dev frowned. "No Higher Jinn or genies?" she asked, donut hole momentarily forgotten, and wracked her brain. She was sure that she had learned about this at The Academy.
"Nope – oops, sorry," Brian answered around a mouthful of donut, accidentally spraying white powder in Dev's direction. "Higher Jinn have all the exec positions."
"Right," Brian continued, "they're in charge of business and politics, that sort of thing. And they hold all the seats on the Jinn Council. Most Common Jinn are field agents, so they're all here to get their fall assignments. But there are probably a few Lesser Genies here, like you. Other Common Jinn are archivists. They work in places like the Hall of Processing and Records."
"What about teachers?" Dev asked and glared at the donut hole that was making her palm sticky. She finally decided to just eat it, since she really was hungry. "Do you have a napkin?" she looked to Brian and held up the offending hand.
He smacked his forehead and winced, "That's what I forgot! Here," he flicked his index finger in her direction and a whole stack of napkins materialized on the palm of her hand. Dev gave an exasperated huff, took one napkin off the top of the pile, and shoved the rest back into his arms. What made him think she needed that many for just one little donut hole? "Now, what were you saying?" he asked and snapped his fingers. The napkins vanished.
"Teachers," Dev reminded him.
"Oh, right! Teachers are Common Jinn, too. Most of them are retired field agents."
"You were in the field?" She wasn't exactly sure why this surprised her. She supposed it was because Brian didn't really seem like the type to go around granting ordinary humans their greatest desires.
Brian shrugged. "For a while. Then I realized that I hated it. I tried my hand at archiving too, but apparently I'm not very organized." Dev looked her adviser up and down, from his wrinkled t-shirt to his dirty sneakers.
"Why would you say that?" she asked rhetorically and tucked her used napkin into Brian's front pocket.
"Very funny," he said with a mock angry look, and elbowed her in the ribs. Brian's good mood must have been contagious, because Dev actually found herself beginning to smile.
Her happiness was short lived, though.
An important looking woman in black stilettos, a white ruffled blouse, and a knee length skirt that hugged her hips came through the door towards the front of the line. She adjusted her short, curled, blond hair and straightened her very cat-like glasses, before looking down at a clipboard and then addressing the room at large.
"Eh-hem... Eh-Hem!" The woman cleared her throat louder, still attempting to get the crowd's attention. "If I could please have a moment of your time."
"Shh," Brian held a finger to his lips and shushed her.
"I wasn't talking!" Dev hissed indignantly.
"If I could have all Lesser Genies come to the front, please. We'll start with you." Dev, suddenly feeling nervous, hesitated. Brian gave her little shove from behind and an encouraging pat on the back. Dev, and a hand full of other genies, congregated in front of the blond woman. "You all have your identification papers, I assume," she continued. The genies nodded. "Excellent. Now if you'll follow me this way, we can get you set up with your learners permits and your first assignments."
Skirting the main doors, the blond woman led them off to the side and through a smaller, narrow door. On the other side was the largest, grandest room Dev had ever laid eyes on. A dome ceiling soared above their heads, a skylight at its center. A long row of dark wood desks stretched across the entire length of the room. It reminded Dev of those adjoined desks old bank tellers used to sit at.
"Find an empty desk, and the clerk will help you get started," the blond woman said strictly. "Good luck, and have a nice day."
Dev's heels clicked loudly against the marble floor, making her heart jump erratically. Her knees wobbled dangerously and her hands were slick with sweat.
Nothing to be worried about, she told herself strictly. You've already graduated, this is the easy part.
Now she only had to pick a clerk.
Most of the other genies had spread out. Dev started toward the last desk across the room. This corner was darker, since it wasn't directly beneath the circular skylight. The middle aged clerk on the other side of the table wore boxy glasses and clothing that fit her like her eye wear did. Her mousy brown hair fizzed out in a way that made Dev cringe. Well, it was either the frizz or the spit ends or maybe both. They were equally horrifying.
The clerk, whose nameplate declared her to be Marlene Moore, was clicking and clacking away at her computer. Dev waited patiently – well, patiently for Dev – but Ms. Moore continued to not notice her.
"Excuse me," she said tentatively. Ms. Moore didn't even glance her way. "Pardon me," Dev tried. Again, nothing. "Hey, lady!" The clerk lifted her head slowly. There was an odd combination of boredom and annoyance in her expression.
"Need something?" she asked in a monotone voice that still managed to convey the fact that she was peeved. Dev squared her shoulders and thrust her ID papers in front of Ms. Moore's key board. The woman looked down her nose at them and sniffed. She fingered through the papers disdainfully and adjusted her glasses.
"Another Lesser Genie, huh?" Ms. Moore all but sneered at her. Dev bristled under the openly disgusted look the clerk was giving her. "You rookies are nothing but trouble." Ms. Moore grumbled and went back to clacking away on her computer. Dev stood there awkwardly, wondering if that was a dismissal or if she should wait.
Finally, the clerk stood up from her stiff, high backed chair and ambled over to the dark wood cupboards that lined the curved wall behind the row of desks. When Ms. Moore returned, she dropped a thick manila folder in front of Dev and placed a silver chain bracelet next to it.
"Your first assignment," Ms. Moore said reluctantly. Dev's heart jumped joyfully, and she had to restrain herself from squealing as she snatched the folder up in her clammy hands. "Read the file carefully before you secure the Magical Restraint." Ms. Moore shoved the silver bracelet toward Dev. Dev picked it up to inspect it. There was a thin, silver plate set in between the chain links. Inscribed was the name Ian O'Connor.
"It's prettier than I thought it would be," Dev said, balancing the delicate chain in her palm. At The Academy, they made the Magical Restraint sound like some sort of clunky shackle.
"Be careful with it," the clerk said distractedly. "Once you put it on, you're stuck with that client until the assignment has been completed."
"Yeah yeah, I know." She waved her hand dismissively and just barely remembered to thank Ms. Moore, before she danced happily back to the antechamber where Brian was waiting. The front hall was relatively empty now, since the large double doors had just been opened to the rest of the Common Jinn. Dev did squeal this time, and she danced and skipped and waved the manila folder around. Brian shook his head.
"Try to look a little more excited, Starkhart. You're so dismal," he said and smiled. Dev practically flew to her mentor and threw her arms around his neck.
"This is the best day of my life! I'm going to go out, grant three wishes, and then I'll have my Jinn license. And after that, I'll never have to wear this stupid Magical Restraint bracelet ever again!"
"Speaking of granting wishes," Brian said and plucked the folder from Dev's hand, "who's your first assignment?" He stared at the printed name on the front cover. "Who's Ian O'Connor?"
Dev shrugged. "Don't know yet." Brian handed the folder back to her and she flipped it open to the first page. "It says he's a 23 year old homeless man." Dev wrinkled her nose. Brian laughed and tweaked it.
"Your first assignment is supposed to be an easy one, that's why they're called Level One clients. That doesn't mean it will necessarily be attractive."
"But a hobo?" Dev whined.
"Homeless people are easy," Brian assured her. "They almost always know exactly what they want, or need as the case may be. The rich and famous are usually the hardest. They always want what we can't give them."
Dev grumbled. "I guess I can put up with a smelly man living out of a cardboard box long enough to get my license."
"That's the spirit!" Brian grinned and slung an arm around her shoulders. "Come on, let's go to Celia's Bakery to celebrate. I'm starving!"
Site of O'Connor Mansion Ruins
It had been five years. A long five years since Ian O'Connor had seen the ruined remains of his parents' old country home. He stared at the crooked and charred door, the ash coated pillars, and the boarded up windows as he rubbed his newly shaved face. Five years of aimless wandering, and now he was back.
His new cell phone buzzed in the pocket of his jeans. Ian supposed it was his little sister Katie trying to get a hold of him, or her official guardian Mrs. Donna Evens. And then there was always the possibility that one of his father's old business partners had heard he was back in town. If that was the case, he definitely didn't wish to answer the call. Ian needed this time to himself, something no one seemed to understand. Just like no one understood why he left everyone and everything behind after the funeral all those years ago.
Ian's phone buzzed again. Annoyed, he fumbled around in his pocket and retrieved the irritating contraption. According to the caller ID, it was Katie. Reluctantly, Ian figured he'd better pick up.
"What?" He meant it to come out more like a snarl so Katie would know just how inconvenient her timing was, but instead his voice sounded exhausted.
"Well, aren't you charming," his soon to be sixteen year old sister said snootily. "Donna wanted me to tell you that dinner will be ready soon. And I need you to be back at the penthouse before my friends get here."
"I didn't think you wanted me to meet your friends yet," he said, thinking about how little his sister's narcissistic nature had changed, while the innocence that used to make it cute was gone.
"I don't, that's why you need to be hidden away in your room or Dad's office or somewhere before they get here."
Ian sighed. "Don't worry about your little dinner party, I won't interrupt it."
"Okay, but when are you going to come home?" Ian flinched. The last time Katie had asked him that question, she had been eleven and her voice had been choked with grief and heartache. Now she just sounded like one of his high-maintenance ex-girlfriends.
"I'll get there when I get there." And before she could pester him further, he hung up. Ian took one last longing look at the childhood home that had gone up in flames. That fire would never be able to touch his memories, but it had taken something far more precious from him.
The Official Jinn Academy: upstairs commons
"Take this." Brian placed something small, circular, and cold in her hand. Dev flipped it over. It looked like an old fashioned pocket watch. A sturdy gold chain hung from it and fell to Dev's elbow. It was strange though. Instead of twelve hours, there were only ten and one of them was zero. There was an outer circle too, with all the letters in the alphabet. There were six hands, not just two, and five of them were the same length while the last hand was shorter. Dev snapped the gold cover closed and looked quizzically at her advisor.
"You're giving me a weird watch?"
Brian shook his head. "It's not a watch. In fact, if you try to tell time using this baby, you'll be late to everything." He pried the watch from Dev's fingers and flipped the gold cover open again. "It's called a Pocket Porter. You just set the hands to an address, spell out the street name, city, state, and country - in that order, or you'll end up very confused - and this baby can take you anywhere you want to go." He handed it back to Dev. She examined it again, this time with a new understanding.
"But how can I use it if I'm wearing this?" Dev showed Brian her wrist which now had the Magical Restraint securely attached.
Brain smiled mischievously. "The Pocket Porter has a battery. I charged it with enough magic for about a year, if you use it sparingly." He seemed pretty proud that he'd found a loophole through the strict No Unnecessary Magic policy that bound Lesser Genies during their first assignment. Unless their client said the words, "I wish…" no genie could use their magic for anything, and the Magical Restraint bracelet made sure of that.
"Want to try it out?" Brian grinned.
"I thought I was supposed to use it sparingly."
Brian shrugged. "I'll recharge it again when we get there."
"Speaking of which," Dev frowned and flipped Ian O'Connor's file open to the first page, "why is there an address for a homeless man?"
Brian peered over her shoulder. "Ah," he said, "you see, bums usually have specific haunts. The people at the Hall of Processing and Records just give you an address that's closest to their favorite hangout or a place they frequent. Most often it's the address of a soup kitchen."
"Alright then," Dev said, clapping her hands. "Let's see what this puppy can do."
"Excellent!" Brian rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Set the five big hands to the house number. Press the button on top to save it, and then use the little hand to spell out the words."
"Now what?" Dev asked after she had finished entering in the rest of the address.
Brian smiled in anticipation. "Double click the button and hang on."
13307 Briar Avenue
Dev staggered in her heels and clutched her stomach, trying not to vomit. She had never been transported quite like that before. As soon as she had activated the Pocket Porter, she had felt an intense pressure all over her body. She had been squeezed tighter and tighter until suddenly there was nothing. It was like jumping head first into a cold pool. The sudden pressure was instantly lifted, leaving Dev feeling light headed and sick.
From what seemed like a distance, she heard Brian laughing. He patted her on the back as she bent over, and nearly sent her sprawling across the pavement.
"You may have figured this out," he said chuckling, "but it's best not to use the Pocket Porter on an empty stomach."
Dev straightened up and shot Brian a dirty look. "Handy information. Thanks for sharing." She took the time to look around then. They were standing on the corner of a busy intersection in a bustling city. Bright lights flashed and lit up the night sky, obscuring the stars from view. Taxicabs weaved in and out of traffic, public buses hissed, drivers blasted their horns, and pedestrians chatted on their cell phones while waiting to cross the street. Dev wrinkled her nose.
"Smells like big business. Why are humans so content to live in their own pollution?"
Brian stared at the written address again and looked around. "Just be thankful you're not in the Middle Ages," he said distractedly. The light changed and a sizable crowd flooded the intersection. Brian grabbed onto Dev's wrist to keep her from being swept away. "I once knew an ancient Jinn who used to work the field in Medieval English towns," he went on. "Now those people lived in their own filth, literally.
"This is so weird…" Brian frowned at the manila folder and looked around again. "Usually, the Pocket Porter drops me off right outside the front door."
Dev had been so distracted by her nauseous stomach and the overwhelming presence of the big city, that she had completely forgotten what they were there for. Now that he mentioned it, Dev also glanced about, turning herself in a circle. She stopped and stared at the tall building that she and Brian had had their backs to. A dark green awning with gold trim stretched over the double doors, with the numbers 10337 carefully and elegantly written in gold paint along the side. On the front of the awning was written Le Lumineux.
"Hey, Bri," Dev nudged him with her elbow. "Is that it?" He turned and appraised the expensive looking building with her. "That doesn't look like a soup kitchen to me," she said.
"This can't be right," he said and checked the address on Ian O'Connor's file once more. Dev tapped her foot against the sidewalk while Brian awkwardly rummaged through the folder, propping it up on his knee, and looked for another possible address. A cab pulled up in front of the building, letting out a tall man sporting a blue sports jacket, worn jeans, scuffed sneakers, and scruffy blond hair. He started heading towards the front door, and Dev couldn't help but think he looked at odds with the apartment building he was entering.
Sudden inspiration struck Dev, and she left Brian to fumble with the O'Connor file and curse the Hall of Processing and Records. She ran as quickly as she could in heels and just barely caught the man's shoulder before he made it through the door. He pulled away from her, recoiled almost, at her sudden and unexpected touch.
"Excuse me," Dev smiled up at him through her lashes. "This might sound odd, but do you live here?"
"For the time being," he said bluntly and uncomfortably shifted his feet as if preparing to flee. "Why?"
"Would you happen to know if an Ian O'Connor also lives here?" she asked, wondering if this was pushing her luck.
The stranger looked taken aback, like he'd just seen a ghost. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out at first. Dev waited, wondering if it was something she had said. Finally, he managed to say in a rough, strangled voice, "The penthouse, I think." before he darted inside.
"Penthouse?" Dev said disbelievingly as she turned back to Brian. "I wonder if this is the right Ian O'Connor." But as soon as she spotted Brian's horrified face, she knew something was wrong.
"That was your guy!" Brian thrust a photograph, one that Dev hadn't seen. Sure enough, it was the stranger she had just been talking to, only in the picture he was wearing a black suit standing over two caskets next to a little girl, a graveyard sprawling out behind them.
"What? I thought he was a homeless bum!" Dev cried, snatching the photo.
"He is! Or, he's supposed to be!" Brian shook his head, "This has to be a mistake. This never happens."
"Brian! What am I going to do?"
"Calm down," he said and stopped her furious hands from crumpling the picture. "I'll go to the Hall of Processing and Records and get this whole thing sorted out."
"Good, I want to give them a piece of my mind!"
"Let me rephrase that," he said, putting an arm out to stop her. "I'll be going to the HPR, you'll be staying here. Until this is fixed, he's still your client."
"You have got to be kidding me," her jaw dropped.
"Afraid not, kiddo," he smiled sympathetically. "Try not to worry, though. I'll be back soon. Until then, good luck." Brian waved to her and then disappeared in a heartbeat.
Dev grimaced. She had a feeling Brian would be needing more luck than her.