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On One Foot

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“If I asked you to explain debugging azi psychsets while standing on one foot,” said Yanni, “what would you say?”

Justin barely hesitated before extending his arms to the sides and lifting one foot of the ground; he might comply as thoughtlessly with half-a-dozen capricious and humiliating demands before breakfast on any given day. Yanni put his head in his hands and sighed. “It’s a figure of speech. It means, briefly and concisely--in one sentence, if you will.”

“Oh.” A flicker of relief passed across Justin’s face, and was gone before his foot touched the floor again. “Well, it’s a question of identifying the problem, making sure your fix works with the patient’s sets and not against them, and that it’s self-reinforcing.”

“Wrong!” Yanni slapped his desk, and that got a reaction; Justin’s pupils dilated, his breath came visibly faster. “You say I’m an idiot. Years of study, lifetimes of theoretical work--you can’t condense that into some platitude from a children’s entertainment tape.”

Justin’s laugh was ragged, slightly forced. “That’s bullshit, Yanni. It’s true, of course, but--it’s like Jump physics. It might take a Special to work it out but the principles aren’t hard to understand. Compassion isn’t.”

“Compassion, hell,” Yanni growled. “You want people to take you seriously, son, have some goddamn respect for your own work. Or you could go into children’s entertainment tapes, you’ve got the aptitudes--”

“God damn it--” Justin started, and swallowed down whatever he’d meant to say next. Hands clenched, and relaxed, an old tic.

There was a soft knock on the door, and Grant walked in, a sheaf of paper in his hands, and looked from Justin to Yanni. “I’m sorry, ser--I have those GN sets you wanted, and Marge sent me in--is everything all right?”

Justin let his breath out on a sigh; there was self-consciousness there, but also an easing of tension. “It’s all right. Yanni and I were just having a conversation about philosophy.”

Grant raised an eyebrow. “Philosophy.” He handed Yanni the papers. “Are you trying to make Justin angry, ser?”

“Say I’ve got a running bet with Denys,” said Yanni with a tight smile. “And say I’m going to have to buy him dinner. Again.”

“You’re better off,” Grant assured him. “Better off buying Ser Nye fifty dinners, than making Justin angry.”