Burgers & Fries

By Shane Kennedy

 

Back when people still knew his first and his last names, the Kommissar was willing to do every godawful job that came along. The pay was always lousy, but that hadn’t worried him since he had no dependents and knew that this was the way a career was built up over time. Besides, with advancement came wealth. Now, looking around at the bluish landscape, he was certain that he had been dealt a professional sucker-punch by an unknown someone. Inventorying three colony planets was an assignment that should have been dumped in the lap of a newbie or ― his thoughts stalled ― an oldie whose career was mired down.

Still, he had himself a plan. It might have been vile, but when he was done with it he would be in a position to atone. He’d be wealthy and would retire to live the life of pious man. As he moved through the landing port’s security, his position allowing him to be waived through after a cursory look at his identification, he knew his assessment was correct. It would be impossible to get a live Gliesen off the planet. Just as improbable would be locating one and removing its pheromone sack. Even if the rumors were true that there were still a few hiders, such an operation would never be taken voluntarily, and his plan depended on him acquiring a pheromone sack.

Moving through the exit door of the port, the Kommissar slowed to a stop as he pulled out his handheld. Setting the device’s Wi-Fi to search, it took only seconds to sync to the frequency of the planet so that he could make his calls. He swirled through the icons on the screen of his device and brought up his database. There were over a hundred colonists that would have to be interviewed for his report, but he had a feeling about subject 81. A young, marginalized type that would easy to intimidate. He stuffed his handheld back into his pocket and looked about for a taxi to ride over to the government’s central office where he would sign in before picking up a transport from their vehicle pool. Once he was mobile he would start making his rounds.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I worked in a call center?”

“You said you were going to talk about the Gliesens. Instead of bouncing around from story to story, could you just remain focused on one topic?”

“Sorry.”

The Kommissar felt bad hearing the mousy apology. He hadn’t meant to snap at subject 81, who was still more boy than man. It had to be difficult being homeless on a frontier planet.

“Never mind, just go back to how you came to sell your transporter.”

“When you’re hungry, it’s hard to think. I guess I’m not very good at explaining myself.”

The boy drained off the last of his soda and looked about the diner, “Would it be possible for you to buy me another burger and fries? I’m really, really hungry.”

The Kommissar looked the boy over. The kid was filthy and needed a haircut.

“Finish your story, and I’ll buy you another two burgers and big fries.” The Kommissar knew the promise of food always worked with these types; still, he hated cajoling someone so young.

“So, as I was saying, it was the first winter after I arrived on this planet, and there was no way I could camp out in that crappy blue snow ― people have frozen to death in it ― and I scratched off staying in the government shelters with all their rules. Selling my ride gave me some bank, but it wasn’t going to be enough, so I took a job at call center for a parts-ordering plant. The pay sucked, and they stuck me on the graveyard shift, still it paid the rent and most of my expenses.”

Exasperated, the Kommissar rapped his fist on the table, “You’re back at it again. What does this have to do with the Gliesens?”

“A bunch of them worked in a sorting factory next to the call center.”

“Nice story.”

“This was four years ago. They supposedly went extinct two years ago when the plague hit them.”

“They’re extinct; don’t fool yourself.”

“Would it be worth something if I could prove they weren’t?”

“Just finish the story.”

“It was four years ago when Gliesens weren’t restricted to reservations and they could hold down jobs like regular working stiffs, although they were only ever hired for manual labor jobs. Plus, the Preservation Act hadn’t been passed, so they could marry Earthlings if they wanted. The only thing restricted was…”

“No selling them crank,” interrupted the Kommissar, thinking the boy might not be lying.

“That was a mistake, without the crank they could be really aggressive. Messing with one of them trying to get his crank is what got me into trouble.” The boy pushed back from the table. “Never liked them wogs anyway; they always gave off that angry smell around me.”

“It was said they were highly pheromonic. I was told that during the ‘Love Me Trail,’ the scent of the female Gliesen became so powerful that everyone in the court room started crying.”

“That’s what you get for marrying one of those freaks. The wog became so jealous of her Earthling husband that she exhausted him to death in the bedroom in a sad attempt to drive off any other female competition.” The boy sniffed before wiping his nose on his sleeve.

“That’s a poor simplification.”

A waitress interrupted the conversation.

“Can I fill the tea?”

The Kommissar slid his cup across the table towards her. “Please.”

“Bring me two more burgers and large fries,” the boy interjected.

“Will do.” She deftly filled the Kommissar’s cup before turning on her heels. Both Mason and the boy watched as she sashayed away.

“Anyhoo,” the boy continued, “a wog selling crank at the sorting plant tried to kill me.”

“That seems out of character from what I’ve been told about Gliesens.”

“Let me tell you my story, then you can be the judge. When I was at the call center, I worked four nights a week, midnight to morning, but the computer systems went down every night for maintenance: two hours, from three to five. I could do whatever I wanted, just couldn’t leave the building. I was alone in the entire building. There was a security guard, but the old bugger used to take off all the time. Sometimes, I would go down to the underground parking and throw a basketball around. It was pretty dull work.

“One night, I went out on the balcony to get some fresh air. The balcony was on the second floor, not too high up from the ground. It overlooked a public space with tables where you could eat your lunch and stuff like that. Well, that night, it was about four in the morning, and I noticed one of the wogs from the factory standing around by himself in the public space, so I decided to spy on him. He was acting real nervous, and I knew he was up to something. Sure enough, another wog shows up, but he isn’t wearing factory overalls like the first wog. I know they were trading crank for credits, so I decided to have fun with them.”

The boy hesitated while the waitress dropped off a plate with his order on it.

“Just as they’re getting ready to make the big exchange, I yelled out. The factory wog got scared and ran off, but the crank-dealing wog started swiveling his head around. I didn’t duck down fast enough, and he spotted me. He got mad. Angry mad. He started yelling that I was dead and that he was going to get me. Of course, like an idiot, I start making fun of him, but he starts climbing up the side of the wall using a venting pipe. It didn’t seem possible, but there he was, coming up after me.”

“You didn’t call the security guard?” The Kommissar asked.

“Nope, I waited till he climbed up and was level with the balcony, then I hit him with a chair. He fell straight down and split his noggin open.”

“That’s gross.” The Kommissar’s thoughts filled with a horrible mental image of the dead Gliesen.

“Anyway, I knew I was in trouble, so I ran down the stairs to where the wog landed. Once I was sure he was dead, I poked through his pockets and found almost six thousand credits. Smart guy that I am, I took them and ran. No more call center for me.”

“And yet, here you are ― homeless again,” the Kommissar said.

“I ran into some problems,” the boy answered.

“Six thousand credits should have lasted you longer than four years. You shouldn’t be living like you do ― hand to mouth.”

“Listen to you, the big man from the government. Guaranteed job security and a good wage. What did you say your report was all about?”

“I have to do a comprehensive survey of the colonies on Gliese, Kepler, and Tau Ceti E. Right now I’m reviewing the homeless problem, but later I’ll study the Gliesens.” And take one’s sack, he thought to himself.

“So you really don’t know much about the wogs do you?”

The Kommissar felt he had spent enough time on the boy and it was time to move on. He scooped up his handheld device and slipped it into a pocket. “I think I have what I need. Enjoy your food.”

He started to stand, intending to pay the bill at the front counter, but halted when the boy blurted out, “Did you notice our waitress is a wog or at least has some wog blood in her?”

The Kommissar slid back into his seat. He was ready to dismiss the boy’s comment as an attempt to get more credits out of him when the waitress returned and placed their bill on the table.

“Could you settle a bet? My friend says this restaurant has been around for a long time, but I’m sure it only opened a year ago. Who’s right? Me or my friend?”

“He is.” The waitress pointed at the boy.”

“Really, so you’re saying he’s right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Guess you earned your burgers,” the Kommissar said to the boy. Then to the waitress said, “Oh, and is the men’s washroom to the left of the front counter or to the right?”

The waitress nervously pointed to the right before hurrying away. For the first time, the Kommissar noticed her slender fingers and very round eyes.

“See how she can’t use the letter R?” the boy said.

“Classic rhotacism,” the Kommissar muttered. He left some credit chips on the table, then stood up to leave.

“Get a whiff of the perfume she’s splashed on to hide her scent? Are you going to report her?” the boy asked.

“Sure, I’ll report her to central office,” the Kommissar answered as he stood.

As soon as he was outside, he took a swig from a flask he had hidden in his coat, and decided to return to the diner just before closing. The waitress was young, working a late day shift, so the chances were high that she would still be around for the nightly clean-up.

The Kommissar climbed aboard his transporter and drove off looking for a watering hole where he could lose himself for a couple of hours. He considered whether he should call the hatchet doctor that would do the operation and warn him to be on stand-by, but decided against it. It would be better to wait till the subject was in custody.

Five hours passed.

Sneaking in through the dinner’s back door was only too easy. It had been jammed open with a stopper, presumably to make it simpler for whoever had the task of taking out nightly bags of trash out to the dumpster. The Kommisar pulled out his weapon. He slide along the wall listening for voices to determine how many workers were still in the building and was startled when he rounded a corner. The waitress was standing right before him, a garbage bag in each hand, her eyes widening as she came to a halt.

“Shhh.” He briefly raised a finger to his lips. “You know why I’m here. Not a sound, if you don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Though the garbage bags fell from her hands, she remained glue to the spot. “The boss has shut down the till for the evening, not possible to steal funds.” Her misshapen eyes locked onto him, and she took a step back. She started to take another step backward when he leveled his weapon at her.

“I didn’t come for the credits.”

“Then what?”

He gestured towards her torso. “You have something I want… something inside of you.”

Realizing his intent, she turned, ready to flee, but the Kommisar’s hand shot out to restrain her.

“Don’t.”

“No.” She shook her head. “That would be the end of me.”

“Wrong. I have a doctor to do the work. It’ll be like when an Earthling has a gallbladder out. You won’t miss it.”

“Not how you say. Without a scent, I would be nothing.”

The Kommisar pulled her closer, “You’re already a nothing, but at least you’re a live nothing.”

He marveled at her calm and was ready to force her out the door when a thought popped into his head, a ridiculous thought ― Fiji, the dog he had as a child that had been run over by a transporter. He had been almost irreconcilable, weeping for days. He exhaled hard before focusing his attention back on the Gliesen. Her face had been void of expression, but now little streams of tears flowed from her eyes.

“Stop it,” he barked, trying to keep his voice low. “You cut that out. I know what you’re up to, and it won’t work.”

The Gliesen started whimpering.

“Stop it, now.” The Kommisar’s weapon dropped to the ground. He grabbed the Gliesen by the wrists and started shaking her, but his strength gave way, and he hung off her as he began crying and shuddering uncontrollable.

“You not a bad man. This is not something you need to do. Go home. Go home now.”

Gently, she pushed him out the door, kicking his weapon outside after him. She gazed at him for a moment then shut the door. He heard the deadbolt click as the door locked. Now his tears flowed freely and it was hard for him to think. He retrieved his weapon, shoving it into his holster.

Walking towards his transporter he tried to wipe away his tears and caught a whiff of something that was on his hands, and his pain intensified. There was something moist on his fingers that was quickly drying. Climbing aboard the transporter, his sorrow vanished and for a moment he contemplated going back to the diner.

“Home,” he muttered, as he fired up the transporter’s engine. He drove away from the diner while the last of the suns sunk behind the horizon, and dusk slowly enveloped the planet.

 


Shane Kennedy is of Empire Loyalist stock and was born in Burnaby, British Columbia. He has served as both a director and a consultant to several private and publicly traded companies after graduating from the University of B.C. with a bachelor’s degree. His first book, Highbinders, was inspired by a television documentary on the arms industry in North America. When he is not involved in civic politics or doing charity, he can be found working on his next novel, The Summer Girl, and his trilogy, Life on the Jupiter Moon.

 


Featured image via Liz West, Flickr; Creative Commons license 2.0

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