Energia

Chapter 11: Apple Pie (Energia: Titans of Verità)

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

Anna was officially sick of surprises.

Melcroft leaned over the pastry, wafting the scent towards her. She threw her head back, wooing loudly. “Mm!” she let out a long, ecstatic moan. Anna could feel a few of the men beside her shift uncomfortably. “If that doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will! Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to see it, the next test isn’t an eating competition.” She stepped aside, waving their attention to the armored David. “Take it away, Davey boy!”

David took a step forward, holding the pie ahead of him as if it were a bomb. “Thank you, Suzanne.” He said in an elegant accent before clearing his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen! What I hold in my hand will be the central piece to your next, and most important, test!”

Despite their confusion, everyone leaned in to listen, like children telling stories around a fire. The man’s helmet spun slowly, scanning the whole room. Even twenty feet away, Anna could feel the vibrations of energy with each movement brush past her face.

When he was sure he had everyone’s attention, he continued. “To be an Operative for Order, one must know many things and have many skills. You need to know your city, know your animals, and know how to properly deal with both. Now, we will test you on the most important skill that you will need.” He raised the pie high into the air. “Peacekeeping.”

With one powerful movement, he smashed the pie against the ground. The E-Suit’s engines roared loud enough to make a biker gang blush. The gaps between the armor plates glowed with a brilliant green glow. A wave of hot, sweet-smelling air rushed past Anna and into the furthest reaches of the room. The tin containing the pastry shattered completely as if it were a thin pane of glass. Golden syrup and small chunks of soft, sweet fruit flew in all directions. His armor was splattered with the still steaming innards of the dessert.

Behind him, Melcroft turned to the hallway and snapped her fingers. Two figures immediately dashed into the room, screaming bloody murder at each other. One was a short, thin man in a white coat with an instantly recognizable chef’s hat and a clean, sharp face. The other was a much taller, plumper man in a brown suit. He had a round, red face, which Anna would have confused for a tomato had it not been for his busy blond beard. The first spoke in a clear, southern American accent, and the ladder shouted in French. Both pointed furiously at the shattered pastry, then at each other.

“As you can see” David shouted over the bickering pair, whose voices were clearly giving everyone around them the worst headache of their lives, “a fight can break out over the smallest thing in Unity! Peace has always been fickle, even when we were all oceans apart! I’m sure you’ve seen how ‘stable’ it is now that we’re next-door neighbors!”

The man put a strong, almost sarcastic emphasis on the word. Anna couldn’t blame him. Even now, the foundations the United Earth Alliance was built on could only be described as unstable. It became even weaker when the new Space Age began in 3047. When a new planet was discovered, the countries of the Alliance would squabble over who would build the first colony, thus essentially making the planet their own. This was even worse when Verità was discovered, considering how rich the resources and vast the expanses were. The in-fighting became so brutal that it nearly started another war. But even after the dispute was settled by Order, the tensions in the Alliance never went away. If anything, they only expanded when the city was established.

Then they were made worse by the first appearance of Verità’s Titans. Anna thought that fighting off a mountain-sized monster would bring people closer together. But in the end, it only drove them further apart. Lunging at another man’s throat over something as petty as a dessert was a common occurrence. She’s often seen murders on the news for even less. People would look for any excuse to kill in this city.

Several of her scars had been acquired during these fights. Her biggest scar, a deep cut that ran from the bottom of her right ear to her chin, came courtesy of a heat-knife. Over a year ago, during one of her fiascos with the police, she had bumped into an especially angry Japanese man. He took her bumping shoulders with him as an attack and drew a knife on her immediately. Had it not been for a cloaked Operative, he’d likely have taken a large portion of her face.

Her stomach churned at the memory. Forget that, she thought. It won’t do you any good. Not right now.

“Your test is another simple, but difficult task!” the small Operative continued. “Each of you will have one attempt to talk these two men down! The use of force is not allowed! If the situation gets any worse, then you’ll be disqualified! If you successfully dissuade the situation, then you’ll move on to the final test!” he moved aside, stomping with enough power to light up a city in each step. “Who wants to try first?”

A buzz of excitement rose to life, momentarily drowning out the argument. Everyone shot straight up from their seats, pushing to get their turn first. After a few shouts from the curators, everyone filed into an organized line. But there were a select few who sat and waited. Among them were Alex, the American named Tommy, the quietly muttering Eitan, and Anna.

She wanted to push through the crowds just as much as everyone else. But she was aware that it wouldn’t be in her favor to jump in unprepared. Right now, she needed a plan of attack. She leaned in, rested her chin on her knee, and observed every detail.

The first attempt went about as well as pulling the pin on a grenade and hugging it. After only a few sentences, the two arguing men erupted in a surge of anger, pushed the would-be Operative away, then started throwing fists with one-another. The two just as quickly broke apart, momentarily dropping their violent act. They looked at the poor, crushed kid, said a few quick words, and sent him on his way. Then their act resumed and it was onto the next.

Anna noticed that there were several consistent patterns from each run of the simulation. Whenever someone brought up the reason for the squabble, which they’ll likely have stepped in as they approached, the man in white would snap. If they asked the Frenchman if he spoke English, he’d swiftly increase his screaming in his native language. In fact, whenever someone would open with a question of any kind, the situation would quickly fly out of control.

Every few attempts, one person would succeed in the negotiations. That person would then push through the line, exit through the door opposite of where they would come, and disappear. When it came to the next in line, they would change how they structured their act. But the basic foundations of their characters never so much as trembled.

Plans started forming in her mind. First, she’d shut them up with a firm, overly loud voice. Then she’d offer a few solutions, narrow them down with the two, then reach a compromising solution. This was going to be easy.

Confident, Anna finally stood up and entered the line. The few people still sitting eyed her as she passed. But only one took action: the tall American, Tommy Decker. Smiling, he made his way into the line just behind her.

The line shifted forward at various paces. One moment she’d be moving quickly, the next they’d be sitting as still as a mountain. In these long stretches of waiting, the American would lean in and whisper in Anna’s ear. “You’ve got a plan, haven’t you?” he asked in an indistinguishable accent. “You look like someone with a plan!”

Anna considered simply ignoring him. But the only sound she’d heard in the last twenty minutes were the screams of two infuriated grown men. A civilized conversation would make for a great change of pace. “I might.” She whispered in response. “What’s it to you?”

“It won’t work.”

“Excuse me?” she turned to face him. He had a sly smirk on his face. Part of her wanted to slap him. The other wanted to sit there and take in his features.

“Trying to plan something like this is a waste of time. People aren’t that easy to work. If you go in with a plan, then you’re gonna fail. This is the kind of thing that you just need to work with as you go along. Go with the flow, right?”

“Then why did you sit around for so long?”

He shrugged. “Just seemed like the right time, that’s all. I didn’t really think about it.”

Clearly. She almost laughed. How could someone so short-sighted get to this point? “Whatever. Let’s see how that works out for you.” She turned from him and scoffed. She was the next in line; it was time to concentrate.

The person in front of her didn’t last long. Almost as soon as he stepped forward, he was sent packing. She barely had time to turn on the translator app on her holo-phone before she was called forward. Time to do or die.

Holding the translator high, Anna stepped between the shouting men. “Alright, quiet down!” she shouted over them in a firm, calm voice. She thought back to every time she saw these disputes on the news; why hadn’t they ever put a mic on the fights? “Let’s be adults about this, alright?”

In her head, that sounded quite firm and cool. Unfortunately, neither of the two men shared that sentiment. “Like adults?!” shouted the chef. He jabbed a spindly finger in the Frenchman’s face. “This animal threw my work onto the floor for the dogs! Without even paying for it! Do you call that adult?!”

“Oh, as if you are any better?” the Frenchman screams translated quickly and smoothly onto her device. “You serve me this crap” he gestured wildly at the cold, shattered crust beneath his heel “and expect me to pay you for it?! You are a joke of a baker if you expect customers to take cold food! Oh, and did I mention the quality of the apples?! Are you trying to give me worms?!”

The baker’s eyes turned crimson. “The hell did you say to me?!” he took a large step towards him, fist raised.

She could smell blood in the water. “Hold up!” she planted herself firmly between them, hands raised. “There’s no reason to get violent! It isn’t the end of the world! We can settle this nice and-”

The baker turned his fury on her. “Not the end of the world?! This is my livelihood! My life’s work!” a tear came to his eye. “I will stand here and watch as it is spat on by a tasteless French pig!”

“Tasteless?!” the Frenchman growled. “Says the man who can’t distinguish a peach from an apple! You are a disgrace to the art of cooking! If you tried serving this in the French sector, they’d hang you like we were in the dark ages!”

The copper scent filled the air again. “Okay, that’s enough!” Anna shouted. Desperation crept into her voice. She was well familiar with the signs of a devolving negotiation. Part of her flashed back to the numerous times she’d been trying to talk out of an arrest. None of them had worked. Stay in control, she panicked. Or at least look like you are! “Don’t make me do anything I’d- ”

The regretted the words the moment she said them. She tried to stop herself midsentence, but it was too late. Both men turned on her this time. “Are you threatening us now?!” Demanded the American.

She didn’t know what it felt like to step on a landmine, but she imagined it was very similar to what she just did. Anna felt her head pound. One more wrong step and she’d be sent home. Her mind flew faster than the city trains, searching every corner for a solution. But she couldn’t find it. She could hear them rejecting her already. There had to be something she could do…

“Gentlemen!” a cocky, indistinguishable American voice suddenly spoke up. “Come on now, let’s not be rude! We’re all adults here!”

Silence fell on the room for the first time. A firm hand suddenly grasped her shoulder. There, bearing the cockiest grin Anna had ever seen, stood Tommy Decker. She shot him a scowl. “What are you doing?” she whispered.

“Winging it.” He winked, then turned to the two men. “Now, gentlemen, my partner and I aren’t here to take sides or threaten anyone. We’re peacekeepers, that’s all. So, are we gonna solve the problem together, or are we going to keep going back and forth like children on the playground?”

Both men’s faces inflated like red balloons. Anna braced herself for another outburst. But Tommy continued before they had the chance. “How does this sound?” he turned to the chef. “You, sir, will let bygones be bygones. Then, you will have the right to refuse this man service in the future, given his prior behavior.” He nudged Anna with his elbow.

Roll with it, she decided. Maybe fate would smile on her and this wouldn’t screw her over. Hey Lady Luck, can you lend me one more favor today? She forced her gaze to the Frenchman. “And you in turn,” she said with as much confidence as she could muster “will apologize for your curt behavior and leave.” An idea came to her. Before anyone could say anything, she pulled the holo-phone back and slid her finger across the translucent blue projection.

Using the scan feature, she got a list of every ID of every holo-phone in the building. Normally, this wouldn’t do her any good. But Order Operatives had a lot of special privileges. Including their own ID. Which would be marked by the first numeral: zero. Considering there were four members in the room, all she had to do was push her luck a bit more. Thankfully, her first attempt was enough. The Frenchman reached into his own pocket and pulled out his own holo-phone. He scowled in confusion.

Now that she had found the fish, all that was left was to throw the line. With a few more taps of her screen, she gained access to her bank account. One minute later, she transferred the last of her funds to the man’s ID. Just enough for an apple pie.

“Take that cash and buy a new pie from another shop,” she told him. A confident smile returned to her face. “Consider it my treat!”

“Seems fair to me.” Tommy agreed, turning to feud pair once more. “Unless you two would prefer to stand here all day and bicker at each other. But I get the sneaking suspicion that you’ll both go hungry if you do.”

The two looked at each other, still clearly furious at one another. Then, in the blink of an eye, their faces brightened. “Sloppy, but acceptable.” Said the Chef. “Your use of cooperation was a smart call. Although frankly, you should have opened with that play. Both of you pass.”

The Frenchman nodded sagely. “I find your methods and compromise aren’t fantastic, but they would do the job decently enough.” He frowned at Anna. “Also, try to avoid bribery. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll work. But you’ll mark yourself as an easy target for desperate people. Still, a job well done!” He pointed to the door on the other end of the room. “I concur. You pass. Get going.”

Anna stared down at the translated text in awe. This had to be a joke. That was all it took? Was all her planning for nothing? She dismissed the thought. The American must have been lying about his lack of a plan. There was no way that would have worked if he hadn’t planned that out! She just wasn’t thorough enough, that was all. If she had thought it through more than she had, then she wouldn’t’ have needed his help.

Tommy leaned over her shoulder, scanning the screen. “Well, that was easy, wasn’t it?” he lightly tapped her head, flashing her a wide grin. He jabbed a thumb at the door. “Come on then! Let’s not keep them waiting.”

It took her a moment before she remembered what she was doing. She darted after him, doing her best to ignore all the angry stares she was getting. She had the suspicion that she’d get a few more of those by the end of the day. “Hey!” she called after Tommy. “Hold up!”

He paused for her at the doorway. “I mean, I guess I can. Though I’d definitely prefer we get a move on.” Behind them, the two actors began their routine again. Tommy’s face twisted into a grimace. “Frankly, I’m more than a little sick of those two.” As soon as she was caught up, he went into the hallway, and the two left the screaming behind them. He let out a long, relaxed sigh as he locked his hands behind his head. “So, what did you want to ask? No offense, but you don’t seem like the type to make friendly small talk purely for the sake of it.”

She decided not to tell him that he was right. “Why did you help me? You do know that we’re competitors, right? How does saving me benefit you?”

“I told you earlier.” He shrugged. “I was winging it. I saw opportunity knocking, so I answered the door. Besides, they never said we couldn’t work together! If my help could make sure we’d both move forward, then why not?”

“That can’t be the only reason!” She pushed. What was he thinking? There had to be more to him than he was letting on.

“You’re right. It’s not.”

She was taken aback by his sudden honesty. He seemed like a simple man, but she still thought this would be harder. Part of her thought that she wouldn’t have even come close to succeeding. “Okay, so? What is it?” she prodded.

“I think you’re cute.”

Heat shot through her face instantly. Of all the things she had heard today, that one took the cake. “E-excuse me?!” she stammered. What was this man’s problem? Did Americans function on a different mental plane of existence?

He laughed at her response. “Relax. I’m not going to pester you about it. At least not right now.” He winked. The gesture simultaneously made Anna want to swoon and vomit. “Name’s Tommy Decker.” He said, reaching a hand to her. “But you already knew that huh? And you are?”

She reluctantly took his hand and shook it. “Anna Ironchase. In case you didn’t know already.”

Tommy gave her a wide, white grin. “I did, but my pops always taught me that manners matter.” he lifted her hand to his face and laid a gentle kiss on it. “The pleasure is all mine, Anna Ironchase!”

You aren’t wrong there, thought Anna. She brushed the back of her hand off against her pant leg furiously, making no effort to be subtle. Tommy watched her as she scraped away any trace of his kiss. He seemed to shrink down for a moment. But he quickly recovered.

When they finally came to the next room, Tommy wheeled around to her and gave a small bow. “I’ll see you later, Anna. Good luck!” Then, with a small flourish, he left her standing in the doorway, relieved, confused, and as red as a sunset.

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