Tila brought the steaming brew to her mouth and daintily sipped the contents. At first she had hated the thing called a cappuccino but after her fifth cup she found that she couldn’t get enough of the addictive substance.
The trace of movement caught her eye and she saw her master enter the cafe, he was quickly followed by a tired looking Cyme, an awestruck four armed woman, a handsome man in a yellow suit and a familiar looking woman in a toga.
“Wait long?” Frank asked Tila. He looked to the handsome man, “Want anything Throat Punch? My shout.”
The man with the odd name looked at the black slate with all of the writing on it. Unlike Tila he seemed to be able to read the symbols. “I will take a quad-concentrated expresso, no sugar.”
“Hard-core as ever.” Frank looked to the blue skinned woman who he had recently saved from poverty. “Coffee, juice?”
“Um.” The four armed woman grit her perfect white teeth, “Do they have… I’ll take a coffee.”
“Wine.” Cyme growled as she fell down onto a chair next to Tila. The Orian looked as if she had just spent the day rolling a boulder up a mountain.
“No alcohol,” Frank said apologetically, “I’ll get you an orange juice. Urus, milk? Juice?”
“Milk will be fine so… Frank.” The familiar looking woman said.
Taking Cyme’s lead she too a chair at Tila’s table while Throat Punch moved to a table next to theirs. The monster named Kimie looked at all the funny humans and decided to take a seat opposite to Throat Punch.
As her master retrieved their drinks, Tila asked Cyme, “How did it go? Was Frank able to bet the invaders?”
Cyme gave her a tired look, “I got punched into the clouds.”
“I have been meaning to ask about that?” Kimie said, “It should have just been a simple throw.”
“Booster rockets and anti-gravity generator.” Frank said back. “It’s called a HALO system. You were both completely safe.”
“I was thrown into the clouds,” Cyme said with building frustration. “I still don’t understand why we needed to do a fake fight in the first place. You said that no one could enter that black bubble.”
Tila didn’t understand it either, but she was willing to put faith in that her master knew what he was doing.
Frank gestured to Throat Punch, “You tell them.”
Mr Punch opened up the black case that he had been holding and took out several documents. “I am guessing that if the other dimension was insured with a rival company an investigation would be made. My competitors would then speak to the locals to ask what happened.”
He gestured to Kimie, “Your people did not see an army of invisible shadow people invade your world but a four armed giant rambling on about her armies taking over. With the conflicting reports the investigation team would be stuck doing an expensive search across multiple worlds.”
Frank raised a finger, “And before you say that it was the other guys at fault. The bastards had permission to enter your world, thanks to Nikolajs. They can say that I illegally mined the rift or that I stole it. That it was some diplomatic shit. When while they can blame the deaths of millions of their people on the Abstract not being up to code. It would be like a thief breaking his toe on a golden idol that he was in the process of stealing from you, and suing you for it.”
Tila, Cyme, and the robed woman wore twisted expressions of confusion on their faces. “That is insane.” Cyme said.
Kimie nodded, “It happens. Especially around companies that don’t like the publicity. I once heard of this one dickhead who sued a hospital for mental anguish over being told he had a haemorrhoid. It is disgusting the scam artists out there.”
Throat Punch laughed but there was no humour in it, “I could tell you stories. But, as I am busy I will just give Frank the paperwork. I am sorry that you lost the insurance on your bar, Frank. Blowing up your business to stop an invasion voids the warranty. I do appreciate you bringing me along.”
Tila scrunched up her face and stood up, “That isn’t right,” she raised her voice and was ready to throw her scolding coffee in Throat Punch’s face. “He saved the world. Master should get a feast and…” she attempted to think about what else heroes in stories got.
Frank signed the contracts. “It’s fine Tila. I kind of screwed myself on this one. If I put the door someplace secure instead of using it as a marketing tool this probably wouldn’t have happened.” He looked to Throat Punch, “I am liable and responsible for my dimension after all.”
“Yes,” Throat Punch said in the affirmative. “I wish you would have called me before you siphoned the rift. If you went for our platinum plan, you would be fully insured.”
“But I’m not allegeable for a platinum plan. Small time prospector, business owner, and my lease on the dimension only lasts two years. You saw the statistics, this was a baby rift. Hardly worth a consultant fee.”
Throat Punch gave Frank a raised eye brow as if to say, “That baby rift just cost you a fortune.”
The inter-dimensional insurance agent took his papers back and looked to Kimie who was staring at a creature with six tentacles and wearing a skirt so tiny that Tila assumed it was a belt. “Can I offer you a ride home Ms Chrysopoulos?”
The four armed woman directed her attention back at Throat Punch, “Uh, sure. I’m still getting paid the other half of the…” she closed her eyes and shook her head, “What that was all of that anyway?”
Bringing out his small glass device, Frank made a swiping gesture. “You will find the money on the kitchen counter, just like last time.” He hesitated for a moment, “Would you be interested in becoming a waitress?” he looked to Cyme, “I think I will having a position opening soon.”
Tila glanced over to Cyme who was looking at Frank with tired fury. Tila didn’t know how she would feel with Cyme gone, true her rivals would drop but the warrior had been useful. She knew that the Orian would never be her friend but she was a good distraction. With the large and aggressive woman around none of the Thebes had seen Tila as a threat, much to their own risk.
Kimie declined the but said that she was interested in working with Frank again.
The agent and the actress vacated the cafe together leaving Frank, his assistants, and the robed woman to their own devices.
The robed woman put down her milk and admired the alien surroundings. “I must say Frank that you have played us all very well. Given enough time and you may have the entire country in your grasp.”
Cyme, ever the verbal and brutish woman asked, “Wait. Who are you and what do you mean he could have owned the country? All he did was make a few statues and filled the harbour with fish.”
Tila held back the urge to throw the savage through the window. Did she yet realize that she saw only what their master allowed her to see. That she was nothing but a game piece in a larger game.
The robed woman seemed more shocked if anything. She turned her incredulous eyes on Frank, “They do not know of your ambitions?”
Frank smiled, “She still thinks that I am a dumbass who thinks with his pecker.”
Tila didn’t need to look at Cyme to feel the intense hatred that rolled off her strong body. While the statement was most probably true Tila doubted that her master knew how good an actor he was.
To Cyme he was an oddity that did not make sense. A merchant would never have given away entire mountain of gold as Frank had. A slaver or any man in her world would have used her and Tila as sex slaves, and to Tila’s frustration the most that happened was a little nudity and touching.
Tila felt somewhat sorry for the dull witted woman. The Orian wasn’t aware that Frank knew exactly how much a ser was worth when he spoke to the owner of the Triplets, or that he had spoken to the buyers of the dragon cups before the auction, promising them a special deal before hand.
Every move. except for Nikolajs had been calculated. Frank had underestimated the things that he had sealed behind his door and the sick boy’s madness.
The Orian spoke through her teeth, “How about you explain to me how I am so naïve?” Her eyes turned to the woman who was acting far too familiar with Frank for Tila’s tastes.
Frank and the strange woman looked at one another until the bartender smirked. “I told you, you aged badly.” Frank said and gestured to his partner, “Ladies, may I reintroduce you to Urus, High Priestess. You might remember her as being old and having passed out under her bed.”
As Frank sad it came like a lightning bolt. Tila gawked at the woman who was causally checking her reflection in a spoon and patting her hair. “But you were… How… When…”
Cyme was still not seeing it. She looked to Tila, “The only high priestess that I know…” then it came to here. “No. When did you have a chance to meet? I was with you for nearly the entire time. And no offense priestess but I doubt that you would have gone to a temple of Jupiter.”
Before everyone’s eyes Frank had created two more copies of himself and they were all smiling at one another, “I don’t think she knows how hard light works.” One Frank said.
“Too bad, it makes orgies fun.” A second bartender laughed.
“Don’t remind me. That Jana priestess wouldn’t stop complaining until she had ten of us. Our bodies are fragile and takes a lot of power to hold it together.”
“We were hoping all over that city.”
One of the Franks turned into a little girl that Tila didn’t recognize, “Guiding.” The girl said.
Another turned into a staving street urchin, it took a moment for Tila to recognise the boy who stole Frank’s bag. “Manipulating.” The boy said.
The two children disappeared, leaving one Frank who was getting a lot of funny looks from the cafe’s customers and staff. He gestured to Urus, “As I can’t return to your planet for a while, the High Priestess is the last of my dear customers. Urus, how goes the school?”
It took a moment for the high priestess to regain her senses. “It is still early, Lord Frank. I and my sisters are still assessing the large fortunes that you provided us. If… when this public school is built, you of course will be able to bring students.”
“I suppose that is to be expected.” Frank sighed, “Will you be able to get it going without me?”
“Yes, it will take time to build this new school and gather the necessary staff and…”
Growing sick of the madman’s babbling about nothing, Cyme smacked the table with her palm and stood up, “Enough.” She pointed at Frank with boiling hatred in her eyes, “You cheated me.”
One of the cafe’s patrons raised his clawed hand, “Check please.” Other customers no longer hid their interest. Tila guessed that to them this was entertainment.
Frank gave Cyme an odd look, “And how did I cheat you?”
“You put me in that… that armour. You took control of my body. You made me fight that… monster.”
Tila coughed, trying to get Cyme’s attention to settle down, but she might as well have been flattening a mountain with a feather.
The whole fight had been nothing but a choreographed dance. The sword was nothing but what Frank called a highlighter, and the Orian’s suit had not only protected Cyme but it had also stopped her from doing any damage. The sparks of light as her fists seemingly hammered into Kimie’s stomach were nothing but illusion, a reaction to Cyme touching the personal shield of force that Frank had supplied the giant.
“You’re just upset that she’s a better actor than you are. It’s not her fault that you suck as an actor.” Frank said.
Kimie might have her anger issues but her performance had been passable, which was more than he could say for Cyme’s acting abilities. If Frank hadn’t taken control of Cyme’s suit it was possible that she might have actually hurt Kimie.
Cyme’s jaw dropped, “She threw me into the fucking clouds.”
“No, those were your suit’s boosters kicking in.”
“Enough!” Cyme shouted. Feeling drained and close to the breaking point, she shook her head. “I can’t take it anymore. I cannot do this. I’ll do what ever you want. I give you permission to have my body, but please free me of this insane place.”
One of the women in an adjacent booth whispered to one another. “That’s sick.”
As far as Cyme was concerned, the bartender had finally done what no man before could boast. He had broken her. Not with violence or trickery, but because of all the nonsense that he had assaulted her with. If Cyme had known what she had gotten herself in for she would have paid for her princess’s drinks with her body and be done with the mess quickly, instead, she had enabled Frank’s insanity.
Tila gasped. Her eyes moved to Frank and she paled at the idea that this muscle bound he/she would beat her into her master’s bed. A thought crossed her mind, “No. Master, I will take Cyme’s debts. Let her go and I will let you…” she blushed just thinking about all the fun things that they could do, alone.
Frank gave Cyme a raised eyebrow as if asking, “Where in creation did this come from.”
“Fine,” Frank said, exhausted by the Orian’s outburst. Sucking in a breath he put his hand into his pocket pulled out several crude gold coins which he plopped down on the table. “It has been fun working with you Cyme. Here is your severance pay and here is a lifetime discount on coffee.” He took out a card and put next to the coins.
“Yes,” Tila jumped, so pleased was she that she was finally rid of the woman. “I mean, I am sorry to see you leave Cyme. Please, don’t worry about me.”
The women in the other booth whispered to one another, “Ooh, office romance.”
Cyme scrutinized the handful of loot on the counter, “You are letting me go, just like that?”
“Well I can’t hold you against you will now that you paid off your debt.” Frank said.
Both women were shocked at this revelation. Choosing her next words like she would her battlefield, Cyme asked, “I have paid off my debt? I thought that the drinks that Exlia bought cost a fortune.”
“They were but you paid them off.” Seeing the confusion on his employees’ faces, Frank explained. “You never really asked how much you two earn an hour.”
Cyme thought about this for a moment. Now that he had mentioned it she hadn’t asked about pay and had signed the contract without thinking.
“Cyme, I use a currency called Ucredits. The going currency rate is twenty thousand, sixteen hundred, and ninety-two sar for every one Ucredits. Lucky Luke cost seven hundred Ucredits, which your princess’ advisor bought two of them. Which, if you need a maths lesson is thirty million sar.”
Cyme held her heart and had to use a table to hold herself upright, Tila sat down as well as the thought of all that money was enough to put anyone to gasp and cry. Urus just looked as though she would throw up. Thirty million of any currency was enough to bankrupt a country.
Frank had not been lying when he said that his drinks were a bit on the expensive side.
“You. You tricked her. Us. Exlia would have never bought those drinks if she knew how much they really cost.” Cyme said.
Frank waved his hand as if deflecting the insinuation that he was some common hustler. “Why do you think that I have been buying immaterial things like youth? While it is not a stable market, a human year can be worth up to fifty thousand Ucredits. At the very least seven grand. There are beings with the lifespan of a toddler on a trapeze wire that pay top credit just to live for an extra day.”
“Likewise there are creatures out there that eat memories like you would eat a salad. Horror, fear, pain, love, pleasure; they are nothing but ingredients. I know a few chiefs that would pay generously for the sweet taste of revenge or the bitter taste of a broken heart.”
Trying to shake off the shock of much she owed the sorcerer, Cyme tried to redirect her thoughts to her pay. “How much are you paying me?”
“About ten Ucredits an hour.” Frank said and thought it through. “You did do a lot of overtime. That was another reason that I was trying to get of you. Time and a half and all that. I could put you down as doing hazard pay with Kimie.” He looked down at the coins on the counter and then added a hundred more silver coins to the pile, “That should even it out.”
Cyme couldn’t believe it. She had paid off Exlia bar bill. “So, I can go now?” she asked, still not entirely trusting the cunning bartender.
Frank pulled out his glass device. “Sure, I’ll just get Throat Punch’s interns to drop you and Urus off home. And done.” He put his glass device back and returned to consult the head priestess about the new school.
Tila and most of the cafe’s occupants turned to look at Cyme who slumped back in her chair. Despite finally getting what she wanted she appeared to have a defeated look about her.