Chapter 57

“Hey!” Alan said as Zap walked into the store. “How nice of Mr. Bradshaw to deign to join us!”

“Please don’t shout,” Zap said, his voice tired.

“Only forty-five minutes late, even! On a Friday!” Alan said.

“Alan,” Zap said. “Please.”

Alan gritted his teeth. “Could you please call next time?”

“If I’m awake next time,” Zap said, “yes.”

Alan made a noise of irritation and walked away. Click, who had been standing nearby, walked up to Zap. “What’s the deal, man?”

“I was up really late with Pazi,” Zap said. “Really, really late.”

“Oh!” Click said, and gave a thumbs up. “Awesome! It seems like you’re really rekindling things with her!”

“Yeah,” Zap said, not sounding terribly excited.

Click frowned. “You’re beat, man. You want me to take your deli shift?”

“Please. I will give you sexual favors,” Zap said.

“Don’t make offers you don’t intend to follow up on,” Click warned. “But you got it; I’ll cover for you.” He clapped Zap on the back and walked away.

Zap made a noise of exhaustion.

Click approached the deli counter and noted that the employee currently behind it was To’mas.

“Speaking of sexual favors,” Click said with a grin.

Click went through the counter’s gate and joined To’mas, who had just finished making a sandwich for a customer. He handed it to the customer.

“The rush is late today,” To’mas remarked.

“I’m noticing that,” Click replied. “Hey To’mas, how’s your couple?”

To’mas smiled. “Things are going great with them. I don’t think things are going to work out long-term with us and my retreat roommate, but at the very least we’ll let him go with a lot more experience. And fewer hangups.”

“Keep the faith,” Click said.

“Amen,” To’mas replied.

“Hey guys,” Loren said, entering the area behind the counter. “Looks like the rush is late.”

“Yeah,” To’mas said.

“Hey Loren,” Click said. “Have you got a girlfriend?”

Loren blinked, caught off-guard by the question. “No,” he replied.

“Have you ever?”

“Yeah,” Loren said.

“Who was your last girlfriend?” Click asked.

“A girl named Sally, from school,” Loren responded. “Why?”

“Don’t you have any stories, man?” Click asked. “Any embarrassing anecdotes or wacky adventures? C’mon.”

Loren stared, then shook his head. To’mas and Click looked at each other and shrugged.

Matt walked up to Zap with his shell in his hand. “Hey Zap, listen to this.”

Zap looked up from his restocking task.

Matt read aloud. “‘Mayfield Limited Withdraws Forces’. That’s the headline. Aight. So. ‘This week, municipal company Mayfield Limited withdrew its militia forces from a number of fronts, all of which were directly related to recent expansion efforts. Mayfield has repeatedly been criticized for its governing practices, which include unrestricted corporate monitoring of citizens, relaxed requirements for search warrants and police raids, and an alleged business connection to nearby drug lord Iwato Blumgardener. There are speculations that the cause of the withdrawal—’”

“Wait—” Zap said, holding up one hand. “Wait. Why are you reading this to me?”

Matt shrugged. “Thought you’d be interested.”

Zap knit his brow and shook his head. He was quiet for a few moments, then said, “I really don’t know what you’re getting at, Matt, but I can’t deal with your head games right now. If you think I should read that article, just forward it to me. Now please leave me alone.”

Matt shrugged again and walked away. Zap muttered curse words under his breath.