“Okay,” Michelle-Bear said, “so let’s try another example. Somebody wants a roast beef sandwich with lettuce, mayonnaise, sprouts, horseradish, and activated fi-root on wheat bread. Go.”
Steve sliced open the bread and began to make the sandwich; she spread horseradish on one side, mayo on the other, placed several slices of turkey and some shredded fi-root—
“Stop!” Michelle-Bear said. “Okay, you’re going to cause a fire. Why?”
Steve stared at the sandwich.
“Because,” Michelle-Bear said, “horseradish should not be activated. It’ll catch fire when you put it in the activator. You need to put the horseradish on after the fi-root so that you can activate it on the sandwich.”
“Oh, riiight,” Steve said.
“Okay, so let’s say that a customer wants the same sandwich but with fennel bread.”
Steve paused, then looked up. “We … won’t serve that.”
“Because fennel will also catch fire in the activator?”
“Yes,” Michelle-Bear said.
Steve shook her head. “I wonder if making sandwiches was this dangerous before the Snowfall.”
“I dunno,” Michelle-Bear said with a shrug. “Probably.”
“Hey Zap,” Click said.
“Yeah?” Zap replied, looking up.
“You’re looking better today.”
“Thanks,” Zap said, smiling. “I got more sleep.”
“How’re things with Pazi?” Click asked.
“Pretty good,” Zap said.
Click frowned. “D’you want to go snag a drink after work and talk about it?”
Zap paused, then sighed and shrugged. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess that’d be a good idea.”
“How about Dog Street?” Click proposed. “It’s in the arcade district, but the H Rail goes more or less straight there.”
“That sounds fine,” Zap said, then smiled. “Hey, man, I’m impressed. You’re really doing a good job of turning over a new card.”
Click laughed. “You have no idea,” he said, “but yeah. I’m really trying. Thanks.”
“Um,” Zap said, “by the way, your deli shift’s on. I think that Michelle-Bear’s done training Steve.”
“Whoop,” Click said and skipped away.
Zap smiled and crossed his arms, then turned toward the front window of the store. His smile dropped from his face as he noticed a dark, mysterious figure in a wide-brimmed hat standing directly in front of the window. After a moment of staring, Zap tapped his earbud.
“Alan,” he said, “that guy in the wide-brimmed hat is back.”
“I’m calling the cops,” Alan said. “Just ignore him.”
Zap turned and hurried down an aisle, thoroughly unsettled.
“What’s going on?” Loren asked.
Zap, who was standing near the end of an aisle, had been watching Alan give a report to the police officer who had arrived on the scene. The stranger was gone, having left before the police arrived.
“Alan’s giving a police report. I’m going to give one too, in a second. There’s been this creepy guy stalking the store.”
“Weird,” Loren said, and began to walk away.
“Yeah,” Zap said. “Wide-brimmed hat, dark coat, big wide buster sword.”
Loren stopped in his tracks and turned back. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” Zap said. “He looked like a Shadowflame, if you ask me.”
“Did you get a look at his face?” Loren asked.
“Uh, no,” Zap said. “Come to think of it, I think he might have been wearing a mask.”
Loren looked at Zap for a few seconds.
“You okay there, Loren?” Zap said. “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever asked a detailed question about anything.”
“Yeah,” Loren said. “Just curious.”
Zap, Click, and To’mas (who had caught wind of plans and insisted that he attend) approached the entrance to the Dog Street Bar. A bouncer was posted directly outside of the building: a fit-looking bovine morph, whose unusually-patterned black-and-white-furred skin made her stand out even more than her unusual clothing and piercings might have.
“Hey,” Click said to the bouncer as he passed her. She gave him a quick wave.
Once inside, To’mas let out a low whistle. “I know who that is!” he murmured to the others. “She’s an associate of Oddzer’s!”
“Who?” Zap asked.
“Oddzer!” To’mas said, exasperated. “The Shadowflame.”
“She sort of looks like a Shadowflame herself,” Zap said.
“I’d hit it,” Click said appreciatively.
“She’d hit you,” To’mas said. “And you wouldn’t get up.”
The three took seats at the bar.
“Memory dump, user,” Click prompted Zap. Zap looked a little apprehensive, glancing at To’mas..
“It’s cool, Zap,” To’mas said. “Mum’s the word. Promise.”
The bartender appeared from out of nowhere. “Get you gentlemen something to drink?”
“A Faerie Dust,” To’mas said.
“Something Shiny and Green,” Click said.
“Uh,” Zap said. “What’s on tap?”
“Guy, Guy Lite, Cooper, Cooper Lite, Guinness, Sing-Sing-Sing, Trout, Lyre, and Fishhead Dog IPA.”
“I’ll have a Sing,” Zap said.
“All right,” the bartender said.
Zap turned to Click. “You ordered ‘something shiny and green’?”
“I ordered a Something Shiny and Green. Melon Liqueur, sour mix, seltzer water and a lime wedge.”
“Sugar shock,” Zap said, shaking his head.
“So,” Click said. “Mind shedding a little light on the Pazi subject?”
Zap sighed. “Okay,” he said. “It’s like this…”
Two hours later, the three stumbled out of the bar. After they had gone their separate ways, Click drew his shell and tapped it several times.
He held the handpiece to his ear and waited several moments. He then grinned and said, “Hey! Have I got some really interesting news for you.”