The diner was charmingly outdated. It was the chicest place in town, ten decades ago. The once shiny white decor was now the yellowed-white of old electronics. But, its loyal patrons never left the diner empty for long and it was still thriving. Like all retail establishments, Valinay’s was always open. The dawdling Servos moved slowly along their designated paths. There were almost no AIs anywhere in the city that still only moved along pre-programmed paths like Valinay’s Servos. That kind of technology was so ancient, it was already outdated by the time the Flushing happened.
I brushed my bangs back a few times then dropped my hand to fidget with the image drive on my Wristmate. I glanced at each full table in the room. Was I the first to arrive or the last? I spotted Mrs. Bordelon lounging at a table in the far left corner with a tall, gorgeous man. She was wearing a striking, fitted jumpsuit with Sunshine threads stitched throughout. She was oblivious to everything except her companion, laughing at his jokes and leaning into his shoulder. Her hand toyed with his long black curls as he gazed warmly into her eyes. It seemed like the most intimate moment in the world. I froze by the entrance.
I stepped back, hoping to slip out unnoticed to wait for Quinn and Minnie. I backed into a pair of solid palms, my shoulders bouncing forward.
Quinn laughed. “Hey Nels! Do you ever watch where you’re going?”
I spun quickly, my relief gushing through my smile. “Quinn! How are you?” I stepped away. “Where’s Minnie?”
Quinn slipped his thick hands into his pockets and shrugged. His deep, scratched voice cut through the chatter of the diner. “Min’s at home, not feeling well I’m afraid. Let’s head on over. Don’t want to keep Maridel waiting, do we?” He strode forward, his small, compact frame effortlessly moving through the crowded space. I chased after him, drifting along in his wake.
“I’m so sorry to hear that Minnie’s sick,” I squeaked as we stopped in front of Mrs. Bordelon’s table. She was still lost in conversation with her companion. Quinn pulled out the seat across from Mrs. Bordelon before sitting in the seat to her right. He crossed his arms and smiled broadly, his lips tight. I sat tentatively on the edge of the open chair and planted my hands firmly under me to avoid fidgeting right out of it. Mrs. Bordelon’s companion glanced at me, then smiled and whispered to her. Her smile unfurled as she stretched languidly. With her hand draped across the back of her companion’s neck, she leaned forward to stare intently at me with half-closed eyes.
Quinn’s fingers were flying around the order pad, scouring through the different meal options available. He was scanning through the Americana section, traditional diner fare from a few centuries ago. His deft fingers finally settled on a turkey club with a pickle, thick cut fries, and a cherry pie. His selection ordered, he leaned back and crossed his arms over his stomach. He glanced around the table as though seeing our faces for the first time and smiled, teeth flashing.
“Feeling nostalgic, Quinn?” Mrs. Bordelon asked as she continued to stare at me. Her elbow rested on the table, supporting her head.
“Always. The foods from then seem more substantial. Even though it’s made the same as everything else, at least the flav-chems make it seem real. Like the red things actually came from natural, dug from dust and modified to fit on the sandwich.” He patted his belly.
“Oh, Quinn,” Mrs. Bordelon chuckled. “Tomatoes grew on a plant in the air. And they weren’t modified back then. Well, not the same. It was far more barbaric, just barely the stirrings of what we do today.” Her companion let his hand fall and curl loosely around her back. “Miss Ridley, this is my husband Torolus Rissen. Tor, this is our new employer, Miss Ridley. And of course, you know Quinn, dear.”
Tor nodded briefly to Quinn and then to me. In a deep baritone, he said hello. Mrs. Bordelon leaned back into his arm, her left hand suddenly holding his free one. Quinn’s food shwoomed up from the kitchen, popping out of the hole that quickly appeared then disappeared with a pop from the middle of the table. He settled the tray in front of him and steadily began eating, blowing on the steaming food every now and again.
“Are you hungry? You can order something first, if you’d like,” said Mrs. Bordelon, her hand sweeping towards the order pad glowing softly in front of me. “Or we can get right down to it so you can be on your way sooner rather than later.” Her eyes sparkled, taunting me.
I unclipped the image drive from my Wristmate and dropped it on the floor. I knocked my hand on the table as I reached for it and knocked my head on the way up. I gripped the drive tightly and reached across the table. Mrs. Bordelon was there immediately to recover it from me. She tucked it discreetly away under the table. Her eyes darted to the door, then the ceiling, then back. Her face was a thick mask. “I think it’s time we all went our separate ways.” She pushed back from the table and stood. Tor was at her side a moment later. They melted into each other like young, beautiful lovers. Her face was warm and loving, full of promise as she looked at Tor. “The bill’s been taken care of. I would head straight home if I were you, Miss Ridley. Quinn, you take care of yourself.” Her small smile was made of ice. Quinn nodded and rose as well, taking my elbow to help me stand smoothly.
“I’ll take Miss Ridley straight to the Tubes.” Quinn nodded to Mrs. Bordelon. Tugging me along, he said, “I’m sure your fiance is missing you something dreadful.” We were already halfway out the door. I turned and saw Mrs. Bordelon and Tor moving slowly, nuzzling into each other when I heard a loud, high pitched boom. All of the Servos froze in place inside the diner. Then Quinn and I were outside in the street and all the AI were frozen there too, or skipping, their holographs flashing hypnotically. There were more sonic bombs going off but I couldn’t tell where. The sky was in turmoil, the clouds a mottled and twisting blue-green. I had never seen them like that, with wisps of white in front of the bluer patches. I’d never seen blue patches in the sky before. Quinn tugged me along towards the Tubes and pushed me into the closest one. The last I saw of him were his eyes opened wide and staring up at the clouds. There were more cascading booms before the Melody took over.