Written by Deft Beck
Illustration by Janiko.
“Morning,” Tito replied to Kate. Kate unwrapped the cloth that overlapped her clothes. She stood at the same height as Tito, but her skin was brown, much like her mother’s. She moved her bangs out of her eyes and she sat down on the stool.
“Mind if I steal some coffee?” she said.
“I’d have to make another pot,” Tito replied.
Kate leaned on the counter and smiled at Tito. Even if he said no, she wouldn’t take that for an answer. It was like someone trying to pay for their take-out noodles in the old, non-digital currency. Sure, it was a nice gesture, but it wasn’t going to work.
“I’ll put another pot on,” Tito sighed.
“Thanks,” Kate said. As Tito prepared another pot of coffee, she folded up her cloth wrap and put it next to her, before pulling out her mobile. For Kate, there was always another place to be, whether she arrived there on her scooter, her mobile, or any other form of physical or technological transportation. She scrolled through her dozens and dozens of text conversations. Tito was lucky if he had even a couple at a time. And that number was dwindling.
“How’re things with Mom?” Tito asked.
“Fine,” she said, not looking up from her mobile. Tito put his hand on his hips.
“ ‘Fine’ for her is the happiest I’ve ever seen her.” Kate snorted at Tito’s comment.
“Well, you know. It’s better that she’s angry and busy instead of bored and restless.”
“If she isn’t behind a desk, with a mobile against her ear, then she’s not fulfilling her purpose.”
Kate looked up at Tito.
“Purpose?” she said.
“Yeah. Everyone’s got a purpose. Look at me, I’m a noodle chef.” He feigned a smoulder. “I ain’t got the face to be a model or something.”
“I’ll say,” Kate said, trying not to smile. She fidgeted in her seat. Though it was slow for now, she’d have something to do soon. Tito listened to the coffee percolate in the burner beside him and the gentle blowing wind nearby. Just outside, too, was that odd visitor. Perhaps they were far away by now, or perhaps they were rummaging through the dumpster in the alley. Could be that they were around the corner, waiting for their opportunity to rob the place. He wished the human luck in getting their valuable bowls and cutlery. Tito tried to get Kate to return to the real world.
“How’s your other work going?” Tito cooed, trying to get a reaction out of her. Kate rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“It’s work,” she sighed.
“How many jobs are you at, now? 3? 4?” She glared at him. “I guess if it keeps you busy. How’s the dojo?”
“Ugh, Keet’s been having me do a couple of classes each week. Two blocks a day, morning and evening. Double teaming with Rook.” Tito grinned.
“A class taught by two sisters? A lot of people wouldn’t mind that.”
“Yeah, they can look all they want, and then I’ll kick them in the skull.” Tito held up his hands.
“Whoa! At least teach ‘em how to block, first.” Kate held up her elbow, blocking the imaginary line of attack. By reflex, Tito copied her, and she smiled.
“Looks like you remember your lessons.”
“My skull does too, yeesh.” Tito rubbed his head to deal with an imaginary source of pain. Kate didn’t seem to catch it as she stared off in another direction, her eyes lidding. She shook herself awake and looked back at Tito.
“Do you know when the noodles will be ready for the early lunch orders?”
“Dunno. Maybe I’ll let my thoughts simmer a bit so they don’t get all mushy.”
Kate drummed her fingers on the table.
“So you realize that you’ve been overcooking them.” Tito flinched.
“What? I swear, I have it down. It’s three minutes to boil, no more, no less!”
Kate smiled at him, making him grit his teeth.
“You just wanted to get a rise out of me, huh?”
“You’re just like Otto.”
While Kate looked satisfied, Tito grumbled.
“Anyway, did anyone skip out on their rent this month?” Tito asked. “If they did, Mom’s not gonna be happy with them.”
“The weapons place tried to barter with me instead of paying for their lease. I told them, no, I wasn’t going to accept a cyclopasian cutlass as payment.”
“That would’ve been cool to put on the wall,” Tito snickered. “Oh, or you could use that to defend yourself from street thieves!” He held an imaginary sword and made swooshing sounds as he approached Kate. She held up her own imaginary sword and parried his. They stood their guard, brandishing the weapons they held in their minds. Tito jolted a little, but Kate didn’t flinch. She struck out and delivered a punishing blow, knocking Tito down to the floor. They laughed.
“Trust me,” Kate said, “I‘ll be fine doing deliveries as long as I have my taser.” True enough, next to the holster for her mobile, there was a taser attached to her belt, along with a couple of other pouches full of whatever she needed in order to do her variety of tasks.
“Y’got enough pouches on that belt?” Tito teased.
“Sometimes you need to give a thug a handful of sand instead of a handshake,” Kate sighed. Tito folded his arms.
“You ain’t dealing again, are you?”
Kate tried to avoid Tito’s line of sight. “I guess you never really stop.” She felt her pouches. “It’s easy money, And half of this stuff you can bundle along with the noodles. You’d be surprised at how much the leaves spike your appetite.”
“Maybe we should advertise like that,” Tito said with a grin. “Come on in, have your bowl of noodles and your bowl of hash! Combo deal, fifteen credits!”
“Otto would totally do that.”
“Yeah, but Ray would never let him,” Tito said, stifling a yawn. “Lemme get that coffee.”
Tito stepped away from Kate to get her some coffee. Instead, he found Rocky seated down, helping himself to some. He didn’t even have his uniform on yet.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Tito teased. “That’s for Kate.”
“Can’t she just get it from Uncle Bru?”
“She’d have to pay for that.”
“Not if she works there for a shift. That’s worth a couple of coffees.”
Rocky’s exchange rate of labor hours to goods was way off. Brudon would have you work a couple of hours, and then you’d take one step out the door, when Aunt Konbi would see you had come to visit. She’d have you do a couple of more errands, and before you knew it, the day was over. Even with the time you wasted, Konbi would send you home with some of her homemade pom fruit cake to share with who you pleased. Well, whatever of it was left after their teenage kids got through it. They had their father’s appetite.
“That’s not how it works,” Rocky said with a shrug as he sipped his undeserved coffee. He winced and stuck out his tongue. Tito studied Rocky’s pained look.
“Too hot?” Tito lilted.
Rocky nodded, his tongue still stuck out.
“It’s way too strong.”
“Kate likes her coffee strong.” Rocky gave his coffee to Tito, whereupon it became Kate’s coffee again. “You get that flyer designed?”
Rocky nodded, pulling out his mobile. He showed Tito an orange flyer with the Nicor Noodles logo and a scannable code.
“So, people’ll scan this and they’ll get into the beta?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
When he wasn’t washing dishes, Rocky fancied himself an app developer. Though if you asked Rocky last year, he wanted to be a DJ. How he would do that, he wasn’t sure, since he didn’t have any of the fancy equipment that DJs usually had. He couldn’t afford that on his pay unless he found a good deal somewhere in the sector, but the shipping would kill the deal. Whatever the case, Rocky did what he wanted, even if what he wanted to do changed whenever he faced some minor setback. He was young enough to make mistakes and figure himself out. His hobbies got him out of the house long enough to interact with people, so it worked out, for the most part. Tito scanned the code with his mobile and the app downloaded right from the network. The start screen for the app looked basic, but had various buttons to order food and to check on the status of the food.
“This looks great,” Tito said, tapping around.
“There aren’t any animations yet, since I just wanted the basic functions down. I need to put a display in the kitchen to show the mobile orders separate from the regular ones.”
“That’s gonna be another power draw,” Tito said, folding his arms. “We’re already pushing it with our power bill as it is.”
“I know, I know. I wanted to talk to Otto about putting in solar panels on the roof.”
“Yeah, and turn our roof into a big griddle. Think we can cook some chibbuk and loap up there?”
Rocky rolled his eyes.
“Ha, ha. It’d save a lot of money.”
“Sure.” Like he knew anything about money, Tito thought. All he had to buy was entertainment. “I’m glad we didn’t have to hire a programmer. We didn’t have to put any money into R&D, either. It all came out of your little brain.” Tito poked Rocky in the head and Rocky shooed him away.
“You’re welcome, smartass.”
Tito pocketed his phone and cocked his head.
“Get dressed. We open soon.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.”
“I wasn’t sure if you lost all frame of reference for normal waking hours.”
Rocky made a smug face and went to put on his uniform. The coffee was making him a little more lucid, but it still couldn’t penetrate his thick head. He had better shape up before the start of the lunch shift, Tito thought. Nicor Noodles needed their best dish washer to be awake and alert. Well, given all that had been going on as of late, that was more of a benefit than a prerequisite. Just show up, and do your best.
Tito returned to Kate and handed her the coffee, which she started drinking before even checking how hot it was. If she always drank it that fast, then she must have lost all feeling in her tongue by now. Tito leaned over the counter.
“Rocky tested your coffee for poison, just so you know.”
She pretended to gag.
“Blugh, I’m feeling faint…”
“You’re pulling a feint, that’s for sure.”
She pulled out her mobile again. As he stared at her, the edges of her figure went out of focus for a moment. He shook his head and tried to refocus his eyes. She glanced up at Tito.
“Hey,” Kate said, waving her hand in front of Tito’s face. “You okay?”
Tito rubbed his forehead.
“Sorry,” he yawned, his forehead feeling tense. “I’m kind of lit right now.”
“Lay off that stuff when you work,” Kate said. “If Mom caught me lighting up when I was on the job, she’d kick me out.”
“Yeah, like she isn’t doing the same.” Tito handed her the flyer. “Scan this,” he said. “It’ll get you the app Rocky’s working on.”
Soon enough, she had it downloaded and open. She must have scrolled past a dozen or more orders, and the restaurant hadn’t even opened yet.
“Got a lot of orders in the queue?”
“Oh yeah. It’s a lot of the same people, though.”
“Rocky said that it’s a closed beta.”
“So? It’s gonna be the same people for a while.”
“Right. Open beta’s coming in a week.”
The way she looked at her phone, all focused and dull-eyed, she didn’t seem so impressed. But if you were to show her the literal ascension of the dead, she’d just groan and attach a garbage can lid to the front of her moped to help mow down the zombies in her way.
“Why’s it just black?” She said all of a sudden. “It should be brown and green, like the restaurant colors.”
“Still in beta. I’ll forward your feedback to the programmer for the next version.”
“That’d be great,” she said as she settled her coffee cup down with a clink. If she had her way, she’d splash herself with it like she was at a marathon. She began to re-wrap herself. “I gotta run one more errand before my shift.” Tito peeked into the cup, seeing that half of the coffee hadn’t been consumed.
“You didn’t finish your coffee.”
“No offense, but you buy the cheap stuff.”
“I ain’t gonna go overboard on the caffeine vehicle. We spare every luxury around here to make the noodles stand out.”
“No kidding,” she said with one final flip of a wrapping over her shoulder. “See you in a bit,” she said as she went to the windscreen over by the glass door entrance. A gust of wind blew by just then, and one of her wrappings flew back behind her, like it was taking flight, only to get caught in the doorway. She was yanked backward, almost making her lose her balance. In that split second, Kate’s perfect composure was ruined by sudden clumsiness. Tito opened the door a crack to release the fabric before shutting it a half-second later. They exchanged waves as she departed for the moment. If she was having that much trouble, then how would that human be doing any better? It looked like it hadn’t prepared for this kind of weather at all. Maybe Kate would lend it some of her cloth wrappings.
To be continued.