Chapter 23

It was 17:30 on a Friday, deep in the heart of the week’s densest dinnertime rush. The employees were all busy; Zap, Alan, and Click were at the front of the store, assisting customers with their purchases. Steve and To’mas were trolling the aisles, performing a combination of roving help and loss-prevention. Loren moved to restock items that were growing scarce on the shelves, and Matt acted, as he usually did, as a ‘floater’, performing whatever tasks he saw fit (or was directly ordered) to do.

Business had picked up at the Securemarket™ with the rapid onset of spring. The nicer weather had drawn more people out of their buildings and off of the Rail, and many of them decided on a daily basis to spend their time perusing the Securemarket™’s wide selection. There were easily a few dozen customers in the Securemarket™ this Friday, but the store’s newly-expanded roster was able to keep up without much trouble.

At the front of the store, the employees bustled back and forth, busy but unhurried. At one point, Zap and Alan found themselves in the same area. Alan noted that Zap was back to looking half-dead, monotonously helping a customer with her bags. Alan finished assisting the customer he’d had, who was having trouble getting the checkout machine to recognize a bag of tamarind, then turned to Zap.

“How soon are the precert finals?”

“Less than a week,” Zap droned. “I’ve been getting most of my sleep on the Rail for the past few days.”

“Well, we need you in working shape,” Alan said, “so be careful. The retreat’s in two weeks, and it’s gonna be at least as hard on you as this is.”

“I know, I know,” Zap said.

“Excuse me,” a little old man standing near Click called to Alan, “could I have some help carrying these bags?”

“Click, would you?” Alan asked.

“Sure!” Click chirped, and moved to help the old man.

“Ah,” the old man murmured, “could someone else do it?”

Click’s smile turned stale and he held up his hands helplessly. He moved back to surveying the customers.

“Yes, sir,” Alan said coldly, and nodded to Zap.

Zap trudged over to the man, took the bags, and carried them out of the store. Alan went back to looking over the customers, seeing that most of the transactions were going through smoothly.

Zap reentered the store, his tired face looking sour. “Old racist bastard,” he muttered. “I don’t know why he thought I’d appreciate him going on about how mean and childish faeries are when I work with one.”

“Maybe he thought you’d commiserate,” Alan replied.

“Maybe,” Zap agreed. “Hey, Alan, have you heard the rumor that Paru is planning on putting a food counter in the store?”

“Well, I’ve heard Paru’s thoughts on it,” Alan said. “Word is that I have a position of authority in the store.”

“What were they? Her thoughts, I mean?”

“I’m really not at liberty to say,” Alan said, “but you know what I think?”


“The restaurants near here are going nuts,” Alan said. “The arts development in the area is drawing more people who’re interested in getting ready-made food, I think. Also, we’ve got that office park that’s changing hands across the street, which means a lot of people who want a healthy and inexpensive lunch.”

“Uh-huh,” Zap said.

“What’s more,” Alan continued, his eyes on the customers scanning in their purchases. “Our regular staff for this shift is bigger than it’s been in a couple of years. If we get a deli counter, we get more customers, we make use of that extra manpower.”

“So you think it’s likely to happen?”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Alan corrected. “I really can’t say what is or isn’t likely.”

“Huh,” Zap said. “Will we be able to apply our employee discounts to the counter?”

“Unless corporate decides to change policy specifically for our store, yes.”

“Then I think it’s a good idea too,” Zap said, smiling.