Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Episode Thirty-Seven
Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.
-Terry Pratchett
    Glasses clinking and soft conversation, which predictably quieted as Lucas and Reimei were seated, gave the cafe a pleasantly populated feel.
    Lucas took the proffered menu. “And water please.”
    “And you miss?”
    “Coffee. Black.”
    The waiter missed a beat, gauging if the small girl was serious. “Alright.”
    Lucas smirked, straightening his tie. “I used to get chocolate milk at your age.”
    “You would.” Reimei shifted the cane to hook onto the table.
    “So you wanted to talk about the mission that turned you into a pirate?”
    Reimei scrubbed the edge of the patch. “No. You wanted me to.”
    “Does it itch?”
    “Horribly.” She looked down at the menu. “What’s good?”
    “I always get the burger.”
    One dark eye lifted from the menu then snapped back.
    “There’s a kid’s menu.”
    “You’re very close to insulting me.” Reimei slid the menu back onto the table.
    “Well. I wouldn’t want to do that.”
    “Especially if you want to know how close your current partner is to being right.”
    Lucas’ attention fell thoroughly on the small girl. The waiter came up.
    “One water. One coffee; black. Do you know what you would like or should I give--”
    “I’ll have the strawberry cheesecake.”
    “Alright. And you sir?”
    “Huh? Oh. Burger; everything on it.With fries.”
    “Gottcha.” He picked up the menus.
    “Oh and a side of mustard.” Lucas added. “Reimei.”
    “Hmm?” She took the coffee cup in hand and sipped. Her eyes closed. “Heaven,” she murmured.
    “The mission.”
    Reimei wiggled against the restraints of her brace. She took another sip then held the cup close; over the wide arm sling. “Brutal.”
    Lucas waited for an elaboration, hand sliding into his jacket pocket.
    “You know there’s no smoking in here.”
    “What?” Lucas realized embossed metal in his hand. He gazed at his lighter. “Getting harder and harder to find places that allow vice.”
    “No one smokes anymore; it's vile. It’ll kill you.” She set the cup on the table.
    “Probably not before other things.”
    Reimei glanced up at him. “We are ambushed. Like you and Marie as I understand.”
    “Not technically.”
    “There was a trap. Not a yokai trap. I mean a summoning.”
    Lucas’ brows knit. “Where?”
    “When we were helping with the evacuation in Bruton. Abraham and I did a last sweep and I registered activity half a mile south. We followed a Kimetic trail and at the end was the runic remains of a summoning. We didn’t trip it but when Abraham tried to dismantle it…” She glared at the coffee cup. “There was an explosion. And after...a lot of Yokai.”
    Remei looked up at him. “Enough to blind me, break my arm, two ribs and shatter my ankle. But I was lucky. Despite our injuries we closed the gate and contained the demons. Pretty sure death would have been next if there hadn’t been another unit looking for us.”
    Lucas leaned forward, hands folding together. “Who came?”
    “Aloysius and Season.”
    “So they saw the summoning circle?”
    “I was a little preoccupied trying to keep Abraham from bleeding out.”
    “Your order.”
    Lucas leaned back as the waiter pushed the burger in front of him.
    “Mustard on the side. And cheesecake. Everything look good?”
    “Yeah, thanks.” Lucas waited until he had gone to another table. “Rei, I’m sorry.”
    Reimei took her fork and stabbed a large bit of the velvety cake. She shoved it in her mouth, cheeks bulging and immediately stabbed the cheesecake again.
    “We are just throw away fodder,” she managed around the mouthful.
    Lucas dipped a hot fry into the mustard. “Was the circle in your report?” He popped it into his mouth.
    “Of course. And Kelly’s. And Luis’.”
    “Wait,” a new fry dangling over the plate. “What?”
    “Alts talk.” She gulped at the coffee.
    “Why haven’t I heard?” Lucas asked, dipping the fry.
    Reimei gave him the familiar cool look, which transferred briefly to the dripping fry. “The Alt for Marie Ventras? She’s as close to the inner circle as any of us have gotten.”
    “So no one trusts me now?”
    Chewing Reimei shook her head.
    “Fantastic.” Lucas’ back hit the booth’s cushion. “So it’s only around the rumor mill then.”
“No one and nothing should be able to run open and waiting jaws.”
    Lucas sighed, taking up the hamburger. “What’s the play book for this?”
    “Not one.” The little Alt shoveled another giant bite into her mouth.

    Esther sat in a low gaming chair watching Ro and Simon battle it out in a robotic ninja girl game. The way their fingers skipped back and forth, while a thumb twisted and turned the toggles, Esther couldn’t tell if the movements were skill or luck. Two kittens played near by, one a dusty grey, the other with dark stripes.
    “Where are the chips?”
    “Those cheese things are over here,” Ro said, rolling from her stomach to sit up right on the floor. The small gray striped kitten hopped into her lap.
    “Those will work.”
    “Just a sec.” Ro hit a quick combo and her character charged in a burst of blue. “Here!” She tossed the bag at Esther’s head, hurriedly going back to the game as her character attacked.
    Esther giggled. Tugging at the bag she winced.
    “Fingers?” Simon asked.
    “Yeah. Still really hurt.” Esther glanced down at the darkening nails. Two were puffing up and pressure was building.
    “Hey!” Ro jolted forward, kitten tumbling from her lap. “Oops! Sorry Anges…”
    Simon reached for the chips.
    “Thanks.” Esther messaged her knuckles as he opened the bag with a pop.
    Simon nodded. “Count of three.”
    “Ok! I’m ready!” Ro sat up on her knees, staring down the large screen.
    “Ugh! What the hell?” Ro’s fingers dashed over the controller but her character missed a block and Simon’s character completed a combo.
“No way.” Ro slumped as the Game Over screen flashed. “Man. I almost had you that time. If you hadn’t bloody paused it! Much cheating.” She scooped up Anges. “It’s he a big fat cheater?”
Simon sniffed and reached for the Kleenex box. Esther leaned forward and nudged it closer.  
    “Cats getting to you, Si?”
    “A bit.”
    “It’s been a few hours; you could take another allergy pill.”
    He stood, going behind his chair to his backpack.
    “There’s options in the fridge.” Ro stretched, holding Anges over her head. “Kitty!”
    “Want anything?” Simon asked, glancing at Esther.
    “That lemon lime soda with the ball on top is really good.” Ro rocked forward and stood. She pressed Anges into Esther’s t-shirt. Esther fumbled to cradle the kitten. Anges mewed and climbed up her shoulder, tiny claws hooking through the thin cotton. She stroked the kitten’s back, half listening to Ro and Simon argue playfully about the game in the media’s room small kitchen. Tiny claws. Soft purring at her ear; like fast fluttering wings.
    “That wasn’t the overdrive combo.”
    “Dude. It was.”
    “Not for that character.”
    “What? I’ve been playing Sonica Dolls a million years, Si. And that was Mizumi’s overdrive!”
    Esther leaned forward, elbows on her knees. The kitten swiped at her hair. She scratched his neck. The blinking of the screen blurred, the theme music mixing dully with the chatter behind her. Gold shimmered. Wings scattered the tone. Esther shuddered. The kitten hissed and leapt from her grasp.
        Ro and Simon gazed down at her, Simon holding three soda bottles. Ro glanced at Simon then sat next to Esther.   
        “Oh! I’m so sorry. I must have been too rough.”
    “Everything ok?”
    Esther ran a hand through the ends of her hair. “Oh yeah, just startled the poor thing I guess.”
    Simon sat and offered her a bottle. She took one, then he offered one to Ro.
    “We can talk about it. You know you’re supposed to talk about it, remember?”
    “Yeah. I just…” Esther’s face grew warm as her gaze flicked to Simon.
    “I can go.”
    “No.” Esther lifted her head. “No, I just mean it's hard to talk about.”
    “The girls at school?” Simon prompted.
    Esther took a breath. She turned up to him and smiled. “Show me the overdrive? What?” she added as Ro’s look. “Games and fun and kittens, right?”
    Ro chuckled. “Games and fun and kittens. Now.” She took up her controller.  “I’ll show you that was an overdrive.”

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