Chapter 17

He had muddy brown hair that was thinning on top and carried himself with a pronounced slouch. A simple Wakizashi 9mm was on its standard-issue holster on his belt, obscured slightly by the Precinct 11 Sharks team jacket he wore. He was leaning over one of the self-checkout units, poking at it savagely. His face registered obvious irritation.

Zap passed by as the customer continued his futile struggle with the checkout machine. He saw the customer’s face and approached, asking, “May I help you?”

“This damned thing isn’t showing my Data Deal,” the customer growled.

“Which Data Deal would that be?” Zap asked, looking at the screen.

“On Spun Glass Soda,” the customer said.

“Hmm,” Zap said, knitting his brow. “I don’t … recall there being any Data Deals on Spun Glass Soda.”

“It was on your ethsite,” the customer growled.

“I don’t keep an ethsite, sir,” Zap said, keeping his voice mild. “But if you mean the store’s, I can check for you.”

“This is stupid, I just want the discount!” the customer said, irritated. Noticing the customer’s raised tone, Steve appeared from around a neighboring aisle to watch the altercation.

Zap kept his cool. “I know, sir,” he said, his tone placating as he pulled his workshell from his belt. “Let’s take a look at the store’s ethwork.”

“You’re useless,” the customer muttered. “Just like all the staff at this damned store. I don’t even know why I have an account with you.”

“Of the current Data Deals running,” Zap said, looking at his workshell. “Spun Glass doesn’t seem to be one of them.”

“It’s on my account! I just downloaded it!” the customer shouted, raising his voice. Alan had appeared at one end of the store’s front, his tabletshell tucked under one arm. He, too, seemed content to watch the scene unfold rather than to take action.

Zap sighed. “Please ping my shell with your contact information, sir, and I will take a look at your account downloads.”

“I can’t believe this,” the customer said, but produced his shell and pinged his address to Zap’s workshell nonetheless. “You’re all totally useless. The machines and the fucking employees, all of you. I might as well be hunting and gathering in the Great Western Forest.”

“Please mind your language, sir,” Zap said coolly as he tapped his workshell, sifting through the customer’s data.

“Fucking useless,” the customer said. “All of you.”

“Okay, sir,” Zap said. “It looks like there was a Data Deal on Spun Glass Soda that ended about a month ago. You downloaded the Deal the day before it expired, according to your account.”

The customer’s face rapidly turned beet red. “That’s wrong!” he shouted. “That’s a lie!!”

“If the Deal were still on, I’d gladly reinstate it but—”

“It’s wrong!” the customer roared. “I want my Data Deal! Take the money off!”

“Look, I can’t—” Zap began, his tone a bit more strained at being interrupted.

“Take it OFF!” the customer interrupted at the top of his lungs. To’mas, who had clambered up to the top of one of the walls dividing the aisles, now crouched there and watched.

“It’s one cred eighty—”

“Take it off, curse you!” The customer reached to his side and grabbed his pistol with both hands, jerking it halfway out of the holster.

He was stopped abruptly by the sound of multiple safeties being turned off. Steve had advanced several paces and had Polaris leveled at the customer’s head. Alan, somewhat further away, also had his Waki 9 drawn and pointed straight at the customer. To’mas’s Katana .45 heavy pistol, too, was trained on the customer.

The scene was very still. The customer, finally realizing his situation, had frozen in place with his gun half-drawn. Zap gently reached out and placed his hand on the customer’s elbow. He pushed down, and the customer reholstered the gun and let go of it. The other employees did not lower their weapons.

Zap cleared his throat. “As I was going to say, that Deal is expired; however, there is currently a Data Deal on the Too-Kann frozen dinners you purchased that would total to more than the Spun Glass Deal you’d downloaded. I would have happily uploaded it to your account to make up for the difference, but…” Zap trailed off, letting his eyes trail over to Alan.

Alan holstered his pistol and approached. “But you’re banned from the entirety of the Securemarket™ chain for attempting to draw a weapon with hostile intent and no provocation.” He held up his smaller workshell and tapped the shutter button, capturing the man’s image. “Any creds still on your account will be refunded to you.”

“You can’t—”

“I assure you I can,” Alan said. “Get out. My employees’ arms are getting tired, and I know for a fact that at least one of them has an itchy trigger finger.”

The customer watched, stricken, as Zap canceled the transaction on the self-checkout unit, humming and smiling.

The customer looked back and forth between Alan’s stoic face, Zap’s pleased one, and the two pistol barrels still trained on him. “But—”

“You really should go now,” Alan said in a weary tone. “At this point we can legally shoot you.”

The customer started walking off, and the closer he got to the exit the more his shock and fear turned back to anger. Right next to the door, he turned back and shouted, “You just lost yourself a customer!”

The employees, baffled, stared at him.

“Yes,” Alan finally said. “Yes we did.”

“You’ll regret this!” the customer shouted.

“BANG!” To’mas shouted. The customer started violently and rushed out the door, hitting his head on the frame as he pushed his way through.

Once he was gone, Steve finally relaxed and holstered her gun, and To’mas did the same. Alan looked up at To’mas. “For the fifth time, To’mas,” he began.

“I know, I know,” To’mas said, leaping down from the wall. “Walls are for separating, not standing on.”

“They are,” Alan replied.

“You know something?” Zap said, smiling and folding his arms.

The employees all looked at him. “What?” asked Steve.

“We are going to kick ass at the retreat.”

“Yeah,” Alan said, smiling. “We are. Now everybody get back to work.”