Author's Notes: Takes place during the third season of Jem and the Holograms, after the events in "The Stingers Hit Town."
"What a dump!" Rapture peered out the window of the limo and wrinkled her nose at the desolate view outside. "Is this a joke?"
"Yes, Eric." Riot smiled, tilting his head slightly to one side. "IIs/I this a joke? If it is, it's not a very funny one."
Eric Raymond looked out at Techrat's compound and felt a wave of acid flood his stomach. The place was a dump, in the most literal sense of the word. Except for a few scattered buildings, including the garage that served Techrat as his primary lab/living quarters, the place was an empty, barren field spotted with heaps of junked machinery lit up by the dull yellow glow of security lights. Not the best first impression, he granted, but then even at high noon on a clear summer's day it would have still looked like an abandoned junkyard.
"It's not a joke," Eric said, lamely. "You wanted to meet my secret weapon and this is where he is."
"Typical weak-willed American businessman." Beside him, Minx sniffed and turned her nose up in a gesture of disdain. "He works for you, yet you come running to him? Ridiculous."
"It's not that, it's just that Techrat is…" Eric cut himself off, unable to find the right way to describe Techrat. Phrases that weren't "eccentric" or "reclusive" or "so damn smart he scares me" didn't spring readily to mind -- not that the Stingers would probably have cared either way. The three of them had been sneering at him for the better part of three weeks, ever since he'd so recklessly offered them fifty percent of Raymond Rec -- correction, Stinger Sound.
Ordinarily, Eric didn't mind deals with the devil, he just preferred being the devil.
This is what happens when you let screwing over Jerrica Benton win out over protecting your own power base, Eric, he thought. You end up kowtowing to a pack of primping, preening Eurotrash.
It wasn't fair! How was he supposed to know that the Stingers were actually smart? No, worse than that -- smart and savvy. Smart enough to have looked into his prior dealings with both the Misfits and Starlight Music and savvy enough to insist that he make a full disclosure to them about the operations of Stinger Sound? Riot had even insisted on meeting the person responsible for some of the Misfits' more "memorable effects."
At first, Eric had been reluctant to tell them about Techrat -- a guy needed some secrets in this business, after all -- but when Riot had started making noises about hiring an independent auditor to go over the books, Eric had rolled over like Beethoven.
Besides, part of him hoped that he could use Techrat to wow the Stingers, knock those smug looks off their faces, even for a minute. So, he'd bragged a bit more than he probably should have on the ride out, playing up Techrat's genius and telling them -- justifiably so -- that Techrat was like nothing they'd ever seen before. Unfortunately, that was a knife that cut both ways.
"Look." Eric gave the Stingers his sunniest 'you're not getting to me' smile, the one that drove Pizazz crazy. "We'll go in, you can meet Techrat, maybe see some of his gadgets and then we'll go to Le Klub Kool for some drinks, maybe cause a scene, alright?"
They stared at him, clearly unimpressed and he smiled until he his jaws ached. "My treat?" he added, through clenched teeth.
That did the trick. Their stony expressions brightened and Eric felt another bit of control slipping away.
"Well, since we did drive all the way out here," Riot said, magnanimously. "WE might as well see what it is you've got hidden out here."
X X X
Techrat was where he almost always was when Eric came out here -- in the main garage, sitting behind a work bench surrounded by tools. There was the smell of solder and Chinese food in the air adding to the overall shabbiness of the room. Nearby, a row of computers sat on a row of salvaged shelving. AS they winked and blinked and flashed incomprehensible images on their screens, they made the place look like a bargain-basement NASA control room.
"Techrat, I've got some people I want you to meet." Eric blustered his way toward Techrat. "These are the--"
"I'm busy!" Techrat cut him off, not bothering to look up from what he was doing. "I'm having to rebuild Stormer's Keytar again because Pizazz threw it into the mansion's pool -- again!"
Wonderful! Just what I needed! Eric sighed inwardly. He was stuck between snotty musicians -- musicians against whom he had no real leverage -- and a pissed off Techrat. It was almost enough to make him wish for the long-ago days when he worked for Emmett Benton.
"We'll get her a new one!" he snapped at Techrat, in hopes of sounding forceful and in control. "Right now, this is more important."
Techrat looked up and glared at him as if he'd suggested that Techrat's mother swam out to troop ships. For free. "I can fix it," he said.
One, two, three, four… "I know you can fix it, but you can do that later! Right now, I have people I want you to meet. People who will be helping to pay your salary from here on out, understand?"
Fortunately, Techrat did. Money meant the chance to buy more gadgets to play with. So, while it was clear from the sulky scowl on his face that he wasn't happy about doing it, Techrat still set down his soldering iron and stomped out from behind his work bench over toward Eric and the Stingers. Five, six, seven, eight…
"Thank you, Techrat." Eric gave him a nod before turning back to the Stingers. "Allow me to introduce the Stingers -- Riot, Rapture and Minx. They're the hottest new band on the charts."
He gestured back at Techrat. "This, is Techrat. He's been my secret weapon against Starlight Music and the Holograms for years."
Techrat grunted, hunching his shoulders forward as he stared at the Stingers with blank-faced sullenness. "Hello."
Riot smiled at Techrat, preening like a peacock as he usually did when someone praised him. "Greetings, Techrat," he said, looking down at Techrat from his full height. His entire demeanor that of a noble lord mingling among the grubby peasants. Eric thanked whichever saint or deity watched out for talent managers that Riot didn't offer to shake hands.
Riot continued speaking to Techrat, as if giving a proclamation from an ivory tower. "Eric has told us some marvelous things about your abilities and I have to admit that I'm looking forward to seeing what, if anything, you could do to improve our already incredible stage presence."
Techrat looked Riot over and smiled a predatory little smile, the kind that Eric knew from long experience meant he was getting annoyed with the 'talent'. "How do you feel about dinosaurs?" he asked.
Flashing back to a nightmare image of a very angry and very hungry dinosaur chasing him through a fetid primeval swamp, Eric whipped his head around to stare wide-eyed at Techrat. He wouldn't -- what am I saying? He would. In a heartbeat. He looked over at the computers, searching for any sign that Techrat had rebuilt his time machine.
"Dinosaurs?" Riot frowned, confused by the question and the lack of fawning adulation.
"Oh, I've done some amazing things with them in the past -- or perhaps you'd like the chance to perform with Johnny Beldrix?" Techrat looked over at Eric, his eyes sparkling with a dangerous combination of mischief, spite and low blood sugar. "What do you think, Eric?"
"Isn't Beldrix dead?" Rapture asked. "Eric, where did you find this creep?"
"We didn't come here to be insulted." For the first time, Riot's regal posture faltered as he stared at the now-smirking Techrat. Eric saw his fists clench and didn't blame Riot; Techrat had certainly had that effect on him more than once. "If this is what you consider appropriate behavior for your employees, Eric, perhaps we should reconsider our arrangement. I'm fairly certain that a reasonably competent attorney could get us out of our contract -- and I have a feeling that Starlight Music's technical staff are more respectful of their betters."
"Betters?" Techrat barked a laugh. "You?"
"No! No, just give me a minute to talk with him." Eric motioned for Techrat to follow him, moving over toward what had once been the garage owner's office/waiting room and which now served as Techrat's apartment.
"Are you out of what passes for your mind?" Eric asked, struggling to keep himself from grabbing Techrat by the lapels and shaking him until the other man's teeth rattled like a maraca. "They own half the company now! If they walk, I'm ruined and if I'm ruined, where do you think you're going to end up? I'll tell you, you'll be back in Vegas doing lighting effects in that grimy little third-rate strip club I found you in!"
"They're just another band." Techrat hunched his shoulders again, face twitching as he forced himself to meet Eric, glare for glare. "You'll get tired of dealing with them and find a way to buy them out just like you did with the Misfits."
"I nearly went broke doing that! And I only got that chance because Harvey Gabor got tired of footing the bill for them and let me buy him out. The Stinger will fight and if they fight, that means an investigation. There's a limit to how much I can protect you, Techrat -- do you really want to go up against a grand jury? Or go to prison?"
Techrat paled, then looked away momentarily. He opened his mouth and started to make a reasonable sounding noise, but whatever he was going to say was cut off by the sight of Minx leaning over his work bench and reaching for his soldering iron.
"Don't touch that!" Techrat's outraged howl cut through Eric's soul -- which, contrary to the belief of many, he was pretty sure he had -- like a power cord through an empty theatre.
As Techrat tore over toward Minx, fresh images flashed through Eric's mind: the Stingers pulling out of the company, the resulting investigation sending lawyers and accountants and those bastards from the IRS swarming like wasps. And, once especially as certain expenditures and dealings came to light and, ultimately Eric Raymond ending up managing the strippers at the grimy little third-rate strip club where Techrat would be doing lighting effects.
What did I ever do to deserve this? Eric asked himself as he saw Riot's face cloud over like Florida in hurricane season. Other than well, okay, so I do deserve it but does it have to happen right now?
"Why shouldn't I touch it?" Minx drew herself up and looked haughtily at Techrat, seemingly unconcerned by the fury of his expression. "I certainly can't make more of a mess of it than you already have."
Eric saw Techrat's fists clench and didn't quite whimper. He was fairly certain that Techrat wouldn't hit a woman -- he'd never decked Pizazz, after all and she'd certainly given him plenty of reason to want to -- but as Riot came up behind Techrat, rushing to Minx's defense Eric was also positive that the singer neither knew nor cared to know that fact.
"Nobody touches my tools but me!" Techrat was so fixated Minx that he wasn't looking as Riot came up behind him. "And what do you mean I screwed it up? Where? Show me!"
Minx tossed her hair back over her shoulder and waved Riot off as she pointed into the inner workings of the Keytar. "Here," she said, her know-it-all sneer a mirror of Techrat's own. "Unless, of course, you are such a technological genius you meant to put this circuit board in backwards?"
"That's crazy! I didn't put anything in backwards! You don't know what you're talking about!" Techrat moved behind the worktable, twisting sideways to avoid even the possibility of accidentally brushing against Minx. "I never did any such thi-"
There was a moment when no one spoke and then, in a voice of quiet awe better suited to a church than a grimy garage, Techrat said: "She's right."
Now it was Minx's turn to sneer and she did so the way only a good German badgirl could. "Of course I'm right!" she said, her tone dismissive. "I'm always right about these things."
"But, but you're a musician!" Techrat stared at her, the way another man would stare at a three headed dog or a fish riding a bicycle. His tone suggested "musician" was clearly synonymous with "moron."
Instead of scowling at the insult, Minx threw her head back and laughed, loud, long and mocking. "Please!" she said. "I've been building my own synthesizers since I was fourteen! I could take that piece of mass-produced junk apart in my sleep -- any idiot can see that it's not even worth scrapping it for parts, let alone playing it!"
Techrat nodded, all but bobbling his head in agreement. "I know! I've told her I could build her a better one, but she likes the way this one sounds!"
"Typical American idiocy," Minx sniffed. 'I wouldn't settle for anything less than…"
What happened next was hard for Eric to follow -- Minx and Techrat were both technically speaking English but the words Eric actually understood were so mired down with terms like "RAM" and "motherboard" and "electron flow" that their dialogue sounded more like outtakes from "Star Trek" than anything to do with music. And, judging by the glazed over looks on Riot and Rapture's faces, they were feeling the same way.
Minx and Techrat were oblivious to the others as they chattered on, having moved over to a nearby dry erase board where they were now diagramming circuit boards -- or possibly drawing a map of downtown Beijing, for all Eric knew.
Eric had never seen Techrat this happy in anyone's presence. It was almost inspiring, like seeing the little crippled kid get up and walk on those cheesy revival shows on late night TV. Or seeing the nerd get the girl at the end of "Revenge of the Nerds" -- not that he'd admit to that out loud.
And then, it happened: Techrat and Minx both reached for the same dry erase marker at the same moment with Minx's hand landing on top of Techrat's.
The world -- or at least the portion of it that was Eric -- held its breath. In a Disney movie, say "Lady and the Tramp," the two would have blushed and looked shyly away, then back again. In a romance, say "Gone With The Wind" they'd have stared into each other's eyes, waited for the music to swell and then kissed passionately.
In the horror movie that was Eric's imagination, this was the moment where Techrat became Godzilla to Minx's Tokyo before being brought down by the US Army as played by Riot's fists.
Eric waited for the fireworks that he knew were coming. He waited for Techrat to throw his usual full-blown tantrum. He even closed his eyes and took a breath as he tried to think of a way to explain to Riot that Techrat was great with machines, lousy with people and that if Riot really wanted to kill him and bury him in the yard, he, Eric knew where Techrat kept his shovel.
"Don't!" Techrat barked, then faltered, cutting himself off. When he spoke again, his voice was softer, almost meek. "Don't touch me -- please?"
Please? Did he just say 'please'? Eric opened his eyes in time to see Minx smirk and mock-pout at Techrat.
"Am I that horrible?" she asked, batting her eyes at Techrat in a way that would have made Eric drool down his tie.
"No." Techrat, as usual, seemed oblivious. "I just don't like being touched."
Minx stared at him a moment, then shrugged. "Fine, whatever," she said. "As I was saying, if you do it this way…"
"Ri-ot!" Rapture's whine echoed off the walls. 'She's going to go on all night at this rate! I'm bored and I'm hungry and I want to go someplace where it doesn't smell like--like computers and feet!"
"I heartily agree." Riot clapped his hands. "Minx, darling, play time is over -- say good-bye to your little friend and come along now. It's time to go be seen and spend Eric's money."
Minx sighed, turning from her diagram with visible reluctance before shrugging and handing Techrat back his marker. Techrat hesitated a moment before taking it, as usual being careful to not let his fingers touch her. "Coming darlings!" Minx chirped, rushing over to Rapture and Riot's side.
"Well, Eric, it seems our little Minx has found someone to talk shop with," Riot said, sounding as if his good humor had been restored as he put his arms around Rapture and Minx's shoulders, hugging them close. "Perhaps this may be the beginning of a wonderful partnership after all?"
Eric allowed himself to breathe again. Maybe, just maybe, this would work. If Techrat actually liked one of the Stingers, chances were better that he wouldn't build anything that might oh, crash land on them or send them back to One Million B.C. Minx's interest in electronics might just have bought Eric the wiggle room he'd need to get some of his own back.
"Sounds like," he said. "Techrat, if I send over the Stinger's latest album, think you could come up with a few effects for me?"
"Have it couriered over tonight," Techrat said, already turning back to Stormer's broken Keytar. "I'll have plans for you in the morning."