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Cutting Slack

Mason still didn't have a handle on the pre-decimal coinage system, but that didn't matter, the druggist had been quick to accept Mason's old-- er, future-- wristwatch as payment. It was waterproof, digital, and the battery was good for at least another year. God knows it would be quite a while before the recharger was invented. Not that the druggist knew that. The poor man probably assumed it would just need to be wound.

Mason managed to find Ernest's home after getting turned around a few times in the backstreets. The way the door was recessed, it practically blended right into the bricks making up the alley.

"You're sure it's safe?" asked Mason. At Ernest's eye-roll, he amended, "You're sure it won't kill me, then? I don't know about you, but I would prefer to stay alive."

"Get it through your skull, nothing here is safe. That's the point."

"I thought the point was to, you know, forget about that, for a while," he mumbled.

"The point of you coming to this time, I mean. We don't really have the best reputation." Ernest swung his feet up from the floor to settle them on a nearby crate, nearly knocking over the lit candle, and making Mason flinch. "In fact, you practically threw yourself into a gutter as soon as your schoolmaster turned his back." Ernest settled further into his strange chair, feet already higher than his head. "Do it or don't, but it'd be a damn shame to bow out when you're already here. You might think I'm some dumb piece of shit--"

Mason opened his mouth to object, but Ernest glared hard, candlelight giving him the eerie appearence of a bodiless head, his ratty black coat having melted into the shadow.

"As I was saying, you might think I'm the clueless one, but you're not the firt pullet I've seen. You're here to get high without getting thrown into some saccarine rehab plan. You're here because you're jealous of us, of me. You don't want to be saved, but you're not suicidal, you just don't care, not enough, anyhow, but you'd like to care even less, the less the better, right?" At the blank look, Ernest slowed down. It figured that this one couldn't keep up yet. "You want to feel good, because that's the only important thing in the world, yeah?"

Mason opened and closed his mouth a few times, a bit like a fish. "Yes," he croaked out finally. He straightened in his chair, locking eyes with his new friend. He still wasn't sure on how this relationship was supposed to fit into the rigid grammatical structure of this period, but gave it a shot anyway. "Yes.... sir?"

Ernest smiled. "Now, listen carefully. I'm going to give you a shopping list, and it's all you'll need to get free of that school."


On Monday, Mason showed up to his exchange class a half hour early. He was on the ball, as they say, and stayed afterward to ask a few questions of the lecturer, thanking him for his time afterward.

As instructed, he then went about buying a newspaper, a clay brick, and a pair of horribly cheap slacks, not that anyone in the class would likely be able to tell them apart from his original ones. His new ones were thin and scratchy, and unlike most garments of the era, seemed like they'd wear out in a jiffy. Probably because of that, Ernest insisted on being the one to wash them, each time Mason brought them to one of their meetings.

On Tuesday, Mason was prompt and accurate with how he addressed each person, but made sure to 'accidentally' call his future-born teacher "Sir" exactly once, even stuttering a bit afterward, really sending home that he was embarrased to have made new habits in just three days.

Wednesday was much the same, though he made sure to call his teacher the correct name, and the rest of the week passed without much incident. The once-scratchy slacks had softened significantly by Ernest's diligant washing. Mason slowly but surely pulled his social life away from his fellow future-borns, and stuck himself firmly to Ernest's side as much as possible. Mason had a lot to learn, after all, and Ernest had a lot to teach.

Come Sunday, Mason presented his schoolmaster with a letter of business correspondence, done up in the most egregiously bad handwriting Ernest could muster, that stated Mason was welcome to take up and rent some lodgings on the other side of town. Mason made sure to lower his voice, saying "I know this guy, and he's got an attic thats halfway well insulated, and I--"

The schoolmaster interrupted him immediately. "How on Earth could you have enough money to lodge there? Even a closet-sized-space on that side of town is a hard bargain, and the prices won't fall until the 1940s." Of course, other students had taken odd jobs in either menial labor or certain kinds of dry datakeeping like transcribing paper-based chequing accounts from one logbook to another, but none of them made enough for even modest accomidation. Mason was claiming he struck a deal for an entire attic to himself. Out of the corner of his eye, something caught the teacher's attention. He looked down at his student, up close, seeing where Mason's uniform slacks had started to show wear in a very, very telling pattern. Each knee had the very beginnings of a hole, but the material was thinning in bits and pieces down both shins. He grabbed Mason by his shirtcollar, standing suddenly. "Mason," he hissed, low and seething with moral outrage, "do you have a death wish?"

Mason was genuinely bewildered. "What?" he squeaked. "I thought I was doing so well, I, I, what did I do wrong?"

The teacher stopped throttling his student, collapsing back into his chair at the head of the mostly-empty classroom, while Mason found his sealegs once more. "Mason," the teacher/schoolmaster said under his breath.


Holding eye contact, and glad to not hear an honorific, he continued. "Were you planning on going native?"

Mason paled rather tellingly. "Um," he attempted.

The teacher closed his eyes. How was he going to break the news to his superiors, or Mason's parents?


"I just don't get it," sighed Mason, bare feet next to Ernest's head, in their shared bed. There was nothing couple-like about it, instead their heads were at opposite ends. Ernest had told him it wasn't uncommon for siblings to grow up sleeping in such a configuration. Mason thought it was rather annoying, and didn't like it when Ernest kicked him in the throat 'on accident' in the middle of the night.

"That's nothing new," commented Ernest. "If you ever used that brain of yours, it'd made headlines."

Mason barely scoffed, used to the insults. He'd grown to lean on Ernest like a pea vine, and knew he couldn't argue his way out of a wet paper bag. "Why'd he let me stay?"

Ernest knew who Mason meant. That old schoolmaster of his. "Do you really want to know why he couldn't drag you home?"

Mason sat up a little.

"Because he thinks you comitted a capital crime, or close enough to one, meaning it would be illegal to help you escape."

Mason could have sworn he had a heart attack at that moment, but the panic passed quickly. He'd gotten better at putting his shock away lately. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Macey, he thinks you're a bitch, specifically, mine. If that got out, we could both hang." Satisfied that Mason got the picture, Ernest explained his methods. "All I had to do was scrub a brick across the knees of those Godawful slacks of yours a few times each night, and presto, you were the very picture of a whore. I even saved your old pair, so there would be no need to burn something valuable."

The dimunitive went in one ear and out the other, as did the implications of just about that entire hairbrained scheme. All Mason could think about was the amount of danger he'd unknowingly been in. He was panicking again. "If he'd told someone...!"

"As if any self-respecting, open-minded man of the 2040s would report someone for the crime of... love." Ernest grinned, clearly taking the piss. "I do wonder if he had any idea what a more appropriate price would have been, for your hypothetical services. I was grossly overpaying you in the letter."