Dirty Jobs, Magically Speaking

I’ve been writing a story – in fact, I think I finished it yesterday, although it needs to be edited and cleaned up from being dictated – about a janitor. It started with a discussion with my husband, evil muse, and First Reader…

What’s the most dangerous job in a magical school? Well, the maintenance guy and janitor have to clean up all those spell-infused spills, toxic blow-dart frog guts, inanimate possessed instruments, and so on and so forth. When I started to noodle around a magic school story (for another of the Fantastic Schools anthologies) I was initially working on one about a young woman who goes from being homeschooled to having to attend school. That story, involving genetically engineered Hellhounds, took on a life of it’s own and zoomed toward novella or novel. Sigh. I put it aside and started over. Only this time I had that conversation, and the janitor came into play.

Really, though, the idea intrigued me. Plus, it led to some hilarity while discussing means of magical clean-up mechanisms, tools, and would water spirits be willing to do toilets? What about a block of slime mold carefully trained to clean the dragon’s blood out of priceless Persian carpets? If you don’t train it well enough, it fastidiously eats all the dye up along with the blood. What’s caught in the drains? Don’t ask. Just send the pocket kraken down there after it, and hope nothing blows up!

Which led me to today’s post. In the spirit of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs show, what are some fantastically filthy trades you can dream up? I mean, you read stories about university-educated wizards, but who cleans up after them? Do you think they do it themselves? I think not. I have to say that Dave Freer’s Tom (which is hilarious and you should read) begins to address the dilemma of the poor put-upon assistant. Just how many of those can one Mad Scientist go through?

Undergrad chemistry lab. Now, let’s imagine this is alchemy… LOL

What about the minions? Who tells their stories? I mean, surely there are maintenance men who delve into the hidden lairs of the supervillain to explain that really, you need to flush the lines of the doohingle, or your formula for caustic bone-destroying potions are going to eat right through them. And what about the pump? Don’t tell me you’re letting that stuff sit in the pump in between batches…

Ah, this could be fun!

25 comments

  1. Odd timing.
    We will be headed for my sister’s house in a couple of hours to answer a help call that will involve snaking out a laundry tub drain line.
    Even without magic, there is horror to be found in drain lines.
    On the other hand, a drain snake that is an actual snake might be a huge labor saver.
    What do you feed a drain snake when you aren’t having it clean drains?

  2. That’s the premise of my story in Fantastic Schools, vol 2. It’s set in a trade school for blue collar workers in magical industries.

    I see the relationship between magi and magical tradesman rather like the relationship between other credentialed professionals and their assistants–doctors and nurses, lawyers and clerks, engineers and machinists. There is a long (and very expensive) course of study in order to be awarded the title of magus, and there are many things that only a licensed mage is allowed by law to do.

    Depending on the industry, however, the actual magi might do little more than write an action plan and sign paperwork, with the assistants handling the day to day operations.

    Now, how “fun” such a story is will depend on how realistic you make the operation. I have a background in OSHA and Fire/Life Safety compliance and I describe in detail the safety precautions at the Leeshore Technical College in my story “Lab Day”. In fact, it took some doing to figure out how an accident could occur–my first few ideas I had to scrap because I thought of safeguards that would be in place to prevent it.

    1. ” In fact, it took some doing to figure out how an accident could occur–my first few ideas I had to scrap because I thought of safeguards that would be in place to prevent it.”

      That’s easy from my point of view as a tester: Either through malice (trying to make it LOOK like an accident), incompetence, or extenuating circumstances (like a tight delivery deadline with someone’s head on the hopping block (literally, figuratively, tomayto, tomahto)), one or more of your safeguards gets ignored.

      1. Now there’s an area I haven’t really investigated in my Erik Rugar stories–a magical industrial accident through rushing a project through R&D. I could have some fun with that.

  3. — What’s the most dangerous job in a magical school? Well, the maintenance guy and janitor have to clean up all those spell-infused spills, toxic blow-dart frog guts, inanimate possessed instruments, and so on and so forth. —

    Are you sure it wouldn’t be the vice-principal in charge of discipline?

      1. And how seriously do the faculty take discipline as well? All it takes is “that one cool teacher who lets us get away with . . .” for trouble to start brewing.

  4. Slightly “off-topic”, in Joel Rosenberg’s The Sleeping Dragon, there was a “baby” dragon enslaved by the Powers-That-Be to live in this pit connected to the sewer system.

    He had to use his flame breath to incinerate the garbage of the city (or be drown in the garbage).

    One of the Heroes freed the “baby” dragon who was very grateful but the wizards of the city were a “bit” annoyed. Now one of them would have to use their magic to do the dragon’s job. 😆

  5. In nearly thirty years I may have had *one* clean job. So can relate. And I will second Snelson134- the safeguards *will* be ignored. Some few times through malice, but often enough not.

    How many of you folk have had to endure safety meetings? Most everyone I expect. And how close to reality *are* said safety topics? By that I mean how likely is it that reasonable people that want to get the job done right in a timely manner will follow the rules?

    Also not that those rules are most certainly and emphatically *not* there primarily for safety reasons. They are there for economic reasons, first and foremost. So add to your story magical lawyers that necessitate said safety topics. And magical HR (horrors!) to complexify as well.

    This isn’t to say that the lawyers and the HR folks are evil, per se. Or malicious, seeking to slow down and complicate the job of a working spell slinger. They have their jobs, and maybe they even *want* to keep folks safe. That’s quite a good motivation there. But with so many things, good intentions can go awry.

    In the field you will find situations never discussed or even dreamed of in air conditioned offices. So what I train my little worker bees to do is more along the lines of risk management than safety. Because if I wanted to be safe, I’d work in an office.

    So your working sorcerer can summon a toxin eater with a can of coke and a napkin. It’ll look like a careless stain in an hour and it gets the job done. He doesn’t use the standard issue spell tools, his are modded to have fewer limits and more flexibility if he’s any good at his job. He’s seen how things can and do go wrong, and knows how to set things aright so the snootiest inspector would find no fault- once he’s done.

    There may be good reasons for the rules. Often are, in fact. But sometimes he has to do unsafe things in the process of his daily work. It can get bad when someone ignores the rules too much, though. And someday, it might be *him* that has to clean up a mess while bleeding and half-conscious because of a simple error…

    1. I recently did a campus-wide walkthrough with my local fire department inspector. He’s an old school smoke-eater who worked his way up to fire chief, and he knows the codes, but he also knows the real world. People like that are why the codes are all written with the provision that the LAHJ (Local Authority Having Jurisdiction) always has the last word.

      I don’t have an adversarial relationship with him–we are completely on the same page with our primary goal of making sure that if the worst happens and we have a structure fire in an occupied dorm the students will be alerted promptly and be able to get out of the building quickly.

      So when he points out a violation, it’s a not a “gotcha” thing–most the time he’ll just say, “Get that out of the way of the exit” or “Fix those emergency lights” and trust that I’ll make it happen. In fact, he usually only writes up a violation if I need leverage to get a project approved by administration.

      I can imagine an old working magus as a magical inspector in the same spirit–as long as the lab is taking common sense precautions he’s not going to get out a tape measure and make sure that every cauldron is the proper distance from a fire extinguisher.

      1. “Well… technically, of course, you should have separately warded containers for antagonistic alchemical reagents, but I see what you’re doing here, keeping each element on a different shelf and having an empty shelf between them, so I’m not going to write you for it today. But, seriously, look around, you can find a small warded container used relatively cheaply.”

        “Now, I see you took my advice about shutting down that center circle–it was just too close to the others. But I’d like to see it taken up entirely. Just remove the conductive sigils–I’m not concerned about repainting the floor or anything. As long as the sigils are in place there’s a chance of getting some bleedthrough from other workings, and then your whole grid is compromised. So just pull them up, okay?”

        “I know you’re working on a budget here, and I’m willing to work with you as long as we’re seeing progress. Just remember that it’s your safety I’m concerned with. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous these forces are. Neither one of us wants an uncontrolled summoning, right?”

      2. Well said. I’ve met and worked with inspectors of that caliber on occasion. Sadly they are getting rarer these days. Or perhaps they were rare always and I just had some luck when I was a wet behind the ears young buck.

        When I was working for the state there were a few of those around. Taught me a good bit about my job, the things that aren’t put in the manuals and suchlike. Practical workarounds, when to use them, and when to run like my arse was on fire. *chuckle* Folks like that are gold, pure and simple.

  6. Because of what I’ve been reading most, I tend to think of this most in terms of generic LN fantasy, LitRPG with dungeons, etc.

    Once, I wanted wizards who were university trained professionals, and who at the same time invested a lot in their personal homes, to the point that after they passed the inheritances tended to be tied up for lack of funds to pay the necessary experts (adventurers) to go in, bypass the security features, clean up the hazards and recover the valuables for distribution to heirs. One of the things I want to figure out is the different university trainings for different wizard specialties, the associated trades and how they work, and the adventuring specialties. Haven’t figured out how to make the economics plausible either.

    I like the idea of a dungeon or other fantasy structure as an investment needing upkeep, and businesses developed around those necessities.

    But what I first thought now, seeing the title, was black magic on an industrial scale, by societies largely uncaring of consequences.

    1. “…black magic on an industrial scale, by societies largely uncaring of consequences.”

      I have one of those on the go right now. From current WIP, “Coffee with Kali the Destroyer”:

      After a little while of standing still with the Goddess looking at him, George’s mind turned up a random thought. “Do you think they have Halloween in North Korea?” he wondered out loud.

      “I suppose we could look it up,” she said tolerantly, shifting her position a bit so she wasn’t quite taking up his entire field of vision. “What evil plan has Monkey King thought up?” she prompted him.

      “I was thinking that the only reason those idiots in Korea are screwing with necromancy is that they’re afraid of us. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t risk it.” said George.

      “Personal power and gain would not tempt them?” asked the Goddess.

      “It would, but they’re cowards and they already have everything they want,” replied George thinking out loud. “I looked into these guys, I know them pretty well. They want a nice stable situation and a steady supply of new ‘mistresses.’ They’re terrified we are going to screw up their sweet deal. I was mapping out a plan so they would all suffer a spectacularly fatal accident the same day, because they’re scum and deserve to die.”

      “So what about Halloween?” she asked.

      “Well, I was wondering what would happen if they might have a ‘lab accident,’” he said making finger quotes. “They know there are demons, right? If demons exist, why not the whole Halloween thing?” He gestured to the others in the restaurant. “We’ve already got a real werewolf and a real elf, and you are a real alien. We have killer robots too.”

      “And a real Hindu goddess of death,” agreed the Goddess. “And a kitsune!”

      “Yeah,” said George. “Maybe a little oopsie might happen and they suffer an unfortunate demon containment failure.”

      “Didn’t I hear Nammu tell you this already?” asked Mabel raising an eyebrow at him.

      “Yes you did,” said George. “Mea Culpa, I kept right on planning to kill them all. Nammu puts up with a lot of crap from me.”

      “You humans are very funny,” said the Goddess indulgently. “You particularly, George. So adorable.”

      “I’m, um, a bit different from the usual,” he admitted. “But since you mention, how would your guys like to work with the Eldest’s marines?”

      “Why?” demanded the Goddess suspecting a punch line.

      “Well, if the necromancer jackasses have a containment leak there will be scary monsters running around, right?” said George innocently. “Somebody will have to go rescue them.”

      “You little monkey!” she exclaimed loudly. “That’s diabolical!”

      “Isn’t it?” he said beaming.

    1. And why would anybody work for a supervillain who has problems “making money” because the Heroes are always stopping them.

      Oh, one of the Batman animated series showed Joker having problems paying his bills. 😈

      1. Worse still, why would anyone willingly go to work for an employer who does things like kill the contractors after the job’s done so they can’t talk, or just mind controls/zombifies/mutates them into monsters because that way you don’t have to pay them?

        1. “Ah yes, that’s very foolish” says the Rogue Ultra called Grey Cat. “While I’m not a world-conqueror type, I found it so much easier to use alternate identities to get work done on my secret lairs and give the contractors no reason to think that there’s anything illegal involved.

          “They give me good work and even if they talk about the job afterwards, it’s only gives me (in that identity) the reputation of a person who expects good work but pays well for the work.

          “But then I’m not so foolish as to want to conquer the world (or even a small part of it), I just want to quietly steal from people who can afford to lose some of their wealth.”.

  7. The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove.
    Inspired by a comment at a panel discussion that all technology produces its own type of toxic waste.

  8. Ah… I have a slight advantage. One of my summer book talks was a collection of entertainingly written description of independent business opportunities, most of which required no college.

    Roach farmer. Also scorpion, snake, and flesh-eating parasite farmer. Who raises the (live) magical ingredients and get a them to you safely and, as the young he’s say, sustainably.

    Septic pumper and waste disposal. And the guys who police the fly-by-night cheapo version of the same.

    Bikini waxer and toe cleaner. There’s always people who need swanky body parts cleaned up (think of the poor folks who literally cannot clip and maintain their own nails.) … And the large and small veterinary version of same.

  9. I’m seeing something like an “undo” spell – but only the caster remembers what needed to be undone (and presumably why); very reminiscent of the TV show Seven Days.

    Wildly off topic, but that’s why I don’t believe time travel will ever be common: If anyone/everyone could go back and change things, time would never move. Someone, somewhere would always be going back to “fix” something. We’d all be living the same day (with minor variations) over and over again.

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