Chapter 60

Aggie was already waiting in her alley when Steve arrived on the scene. Steve held out her pack of cigarettes, and Aggie reached forward and took a cigarette from it. Steve reached out a finger and ignited Aggie’s cigarette.

Aggie took a drag. “Horizon’s roiling with clouds,” she said. “There’s a bond ’bout to break, if it hasn’t already.”

“Whose?” Steve said.

“Be ready for it,” Aggie said, “because it was more binding than it was freeing, but someone newly-freed may stumble into others.”

“Huh,” Steve replied.

“Also—did you read the news?”

“Yeah,” Steve said.

“I’m worried about all that,” Aggie said.

“You’re ‘worried about all that’?” Steve asked, somewhat incredulous. “That’s a weird thing for an oracle to say.”

“You know,” Aggie said, “I never said I was an oracle. I’m just a good listener. You could stand to pick up that skill.”

“Whatever,” Steve said, annoyed. “Why are you worried?”

“How many Knights have you seen walking the streets this week?” Aggie asked. “Where is our army?”

“…okay,” Steve said. “Um, anything else?”

Aggie stared at Steve, took a deep drag of the cigarette, then said, “Being impulsive isn’t always being wrong.”

Steve nodded slowly. “D’you want a cup of coffee?” she asked.

“Fuckin’ One I do,” Aggie said. “And a sandwich. Get me those. And a bottle of whiskey.”

“I’ll be back with coffee and a sandwich,” Steve said.

“Hey guys,” Zap said, looking up at To’mas and Alan. He passed by and moved toward the deli counter. A few seconds later, he came back and looked up at the two. “Uh, Alan, aren’t we not supposed to sit on the aisle dividers?”

“If you can’t beat ’em…” Alan began, still reading the news on his shell. “Be a dear and prep the deli, okay?”

“Where’s Steve?” Zap asked.

“She came in, bought a coffee and a sandwich, said she’d be right back and walked out,” To’mas said.

“Ok,” Zap said, then turned to walk away.

“Hey Zap,” To’mas said, prompting Zap to turn back. To’mas gave Zap a questioning look and Zap nodded. To’mas nodded back, then Zap walked toward the deli.

A few minutes later, Alan put away his shell. “Okay,” he said to To’mas. “Down.” The two vaulted to the floor just as Steve returned. “Hey guys,” she said. “How’s stuff?”

“Not too bad,” Alan said.

“Hey Steve,” To’mas said. “You should talk to Zap.”

Steve tilted her head. “Why?”

“You just should.”

Steve shrugged and walked off. To’mas smiled to himself and walked down the next aisle over, leaving Alan, who was booting up his work tabletshell, alone at the front of the store.

Matt appeared without warning and with an expensive camera slung around his neck. Alan scarcely had time to look up before Matt raised the camera and took a picture. Alan blinked.

“What—what was that?” Alan asked.

“Taking photos today,” Matt said.

“So it seems,” Alan said.

Matt walked off.

“You’d better actually do work while you’re carrying that thing around!” Alan shouted after him.

“Hey Zap,” Steve said, approaching the deli counter.

“Hey,” Zap said.

Steve leaned on the counter. “To’mas said I should talk to you about something. What’s up?”

“Oh,” Zap said. “Um. I broke up with Pazi last night.”

Steve was stunned silent.

Zap shrugged. “I just … I wanted to be in love with her, I guess, but wasn’t. So I talked to her and we broke up. She took it well. I think she’ll like me better when she doesn’t have to think of me as a boyfriend. And vice versa.”

“I’m sorry…” Steve said.

“No, it’s a good thing,” Zap replied. “I hope I can be her friend. I feel like I couldn’t have been a good boyfriend to her, even when I was trying. There was nothing behind it.”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “…so, um.”

A shutter noise interrupted her; Matt had arrived and taken a picture of the two of them talking over the counter.

“Uh,” Steve waxed eloquent.

“Matt,” Zap asked, “why do you have a camera?”

“For taking pictures,” Matt replied.

“Oh really?” Zap asked.

“Yeah,” Matt replied. “Really.” He walked past them.

“What do you make of that?” Zap asked.

“I have no idea,” Steve said.

Zap looked at Steve. “Do you…”

“What?” Steve asked.

“…mmm,” Zap said. “Never mind. I’m not in a great place, I’m sure that’s all it is. Today just … feels weird.”

Steve knit her brow. “Have you read the news lately?”

“No,” Zap said. “Why?”

“No reason,” Steve said.

Michelle-Bear approached the two, a bemused look on her face.

“Ping, Michelle-Bear,” Zap said.

“Ping,” Steve echoed.

“Pong, guys,” Michelle-Bear said. “Do you know why Matt is carrying a camera around and taking pictures of everybody?”

“No,” Zap said. “We were actually sort of wondering that too.”

“Maybe he’s picking up a new hobby,” Steve said.

“I asked him why he took my picture, and he said, ‘For the epilogue.’ I was like, ‘What epilogue?’ and he said ‘Of the story.’”

“Weird,” Steve said.

“Textbook Matt, though,” Zap said.

The girls both nodded and murmured in agreement.

To’mas wandered up the aisle with Alan’s tabletshell in hand, taking inventory of the store. He was humming Ellis Manteaux’s Rule of Threes along the way and taking about twice as long as he needed to.

He was interrupted by Matt, who stuck a camera in his face. To’mas grinned photogenically and Matt snapped a picture.

“How does it look?” To’mas asked.

“Gar!” Matt said, giving a thumbs-up.

“Schveet,” To’mas said. “What’s the occasion?”

“Gotta wrap it all up,” Matt replied.

“Wrap what up?” To’mas asked.

“It all,” Matt replied with a shit-eating grin.

“You’re a trip, man,” To’mas replied, laughing.

“Hey guys,” Loren said. Matt immediately whirled and took his picture.

“Uh,” Loren said, “why did you just take my picture?”

Matt’s expression grew perturbed. “I don’t really know,” he said.

“Okay,” Loren said, rolling his eyes a bit.