Chapter 39

Zap leaned back in his chair and looked out of the mess hall’s window, quietly admiring the view of the woods outside that it provided. He lifted a piece of buttered toast and took a bite out of it, then surveyed the room behind him. The cafeteria didn’t have too many people in it; it was too early for the hard partiers to come seeking food but late enough that the early risers had already come and gone. Zap turned back to the picturesque landscape.

Several minutes later, he heard someone approach his table and turned around. Steve pulled out a chair and sat down. “Hey,” she said, more cheerful than Zap could remember Steve being since she found out about Pazi.

“Hey,” he said.

“It’s a really nice morning,” she said, looking out of the window. “We got really good timing for the concert.”

“We did,” he said. “Thanks for coming, anyway.”

“Sure,” she said. “I haven’t seen that much of you. It’s nice to spend some time with you.”

Zap looked at her suspiciously, then studied her face. He leaned back, smiled and nodded. “I know that glow.”

Steve blushed.

“I guess things went well with Mike,” Zap said, smiling.

“Yeah,” Steve said. “We really connected. It was good.”

She paused and sniffed once.

“And ’yesu was it a relief,” she said, grinning. “Do you know how long it’s been since I got laid?”

Zap laughed. “Okay, good; you’re not possessed,” he said. “I was beginning to wonder if it was really Steve in there.”

“Hey, shut up,” Steve said. “How were things with Pazi?”

“Pretty good,” Zap said. “Pretty good. Oh! How was the sting operation?”

“Successful,” Steve replied. “Creepy Don’s probably been sterilized by now, if Sir Erdrick was serious. If he’s feeling benevolent, they might extradite him to New Washington to give him a ‘fair’ trial.”

“He’s in Malachi Park, though, isn’t he?” Zap asked. “That’s … what, Precinct Eight?”

“I think it’s Eighteen now,” Steve said.

Zap shuddered. “He’ll be lucky if he gets just forced sterilization and exile.”

“Hi-def,” Steve said. “Did you hear about the executive they caught embezzling from the municipal funds?”

“Didn’t they throw him into the Labyrinth?” Zap asked.

“They did,” Steve confirmed. “And gave him a pistol, just to add insult to injury.”

“Barbaric, man,” Zap said, shaking his head. “Remind me to cancel my Merc District vacation.”

“Your Labyrinth vacation, too?” Steve joked as she got to her feet. “Hang on, I wanna get something to chew on.”

Zap nodded and Steve left, curls bobbing behind her as she strode away. Zap watched her ass as she went, formless though it was in the overalls she’d worn to the cafeteria. He turned back to the window and surveyed the landscape.

“We should go to the lagoon,” he said to no one, “before we have to go home.”

A few minutes later, Steve returned with a food-laden tray. “Ping,” she said.

“Pong,” Zap replied.

“You know who I didn’t see last night but expected to?” Steve asked.


“Click,” Steve said. “I didn’t see him at all.”

“That is weird,” Zap agreed, though he didn’t turn away from the window.

“I wasn’t surprised to see that Loren hadn’t come…”

“Now that’s something,” Zap said, now turning to Steve, “I have been wondering about. Do you really think that any New Washingtonian could possibly be as boring as Loren is?”

“Well,” Steve said. “Sure, maybe. Some people just don’t want excitement.”

“But Loren just has nothing going on. It seems weird, doesn’t it?”

Steve rocked her head back and forth for a moment. “You think he’s a Guardian?” she asked.

“Maybe,” Zap replied. “But usually they have more colorful identities.”

“A dragon?”

“No dragon could voluntarily be so low-profile.”

Steve tapped her chin. “Maybe he’s an ancient mage.”

Zap nodded. “It’s possible,” he replied. “I have thought about that one.”

“Maybe he’s just a normal guy,” Steve said with a smirk.

“I suppose that should at least be in the pile,” Zap agreed.

“Oh by the way,” Steve said, “Mike said that the Rose Street employees are planning a Suite Party tonight. You wanna come?”

“Possibly,” Zap said. “I’d kinda like to know what else is going on. Has Violet mentioned 11th Street planning anything?”

“I haven’t seen Violet since the concert, Zap.”

“Oh yeah,” he said absently.

“You should come,” Steve said, then turned around and looked around. “Oh hey, there’s Click.” She indicated a table at the far corner of the mess hall.

“’zat right?” Zap asked without looking. He picked the toast up from his plate and bit into it again.

“He looks pretty down,” Steve said. “I wonder if something happened to him.”

Zap shrugged and continued his breakfast.