They are Smol – and it’s a Smol World: Chapter 11

Retail – well, the vast majority of retail out there – is a soul-sucking experience. You work in a glorified box putting other boxes on shelves and talking to people about those boxes, and if you’re lucky they don’t blame you for their wife leaving them and taking the kids. One retail job is just the same as another; you can work for Best Buy and then move to Wal*Mart and not realize there was a change other than the uniform that you’re wearing. However, there are a few places where working in retail can actually build up some skills you can use later in life (either to parlay into a better job or to just impress your friends/family/that cutie at the bar):

  • Bartending
  • Beauty Care
  • Masseuse

And of course, the purview of all liberal arts majors

  • Barrista

Now this isn’t to say that you need to go into $50,000 of debt in order to be employed by Starbucks – I mean, it helps, but it’s not a requirement. It’s simply to say that you can develop a set of skills that you take with you for the rest of your life, much like the shame of getting a degree that “was your passion” and then not following up on it with a career in that field. But some people – a rare few – end up figuring out that they like working in retail, that they like doing what they’re doing, and that they like mixing drinks and little snacks for others.

Rssesnsen – nee Cheery – happened to be one of them. She enjoyed making and mixing everything from a standard hnz’sprssen for the businessman on the go or a freshly-toasted sra-flatbread with miscellaneous toppings up to picking out and hand-mixing the dozens and dozens of loose leaf teas to steep for those regulars who came in to work on their novel that was totally going to come out one day, you’ll see. After some basic guidance from the (admittedly cute) Swipressnssren on what was absolutely toxic and what other foods should be avoided for her new guests, she began to rack her brain for some sort of flavor profile that she could use.

Most of her go-to stimulants were right-out. Of the ones that were left, they either needed to be toasted in order to bring out the flavor, or powdered to all get-out so they dissolved completely in water. Speaking of, is water the only thing she could give the warmcuddles? Or would some of the oil-based drinks work too? Tolerance for thickness in their fluids – if they didn’t mind something with mouthfeel she could go with a more porridge-like consistency, but that might actually leech out the full-bodyness of whatever else she puts in!

Good challenges were few and far between, and Rssesnsen enjoyed every moment of it as she continued to think and think and think …

– – – –

“Why… is she doing that?” Luzita asked no one in particular, as the bright red giant snake-person started to writhe in place, staring off into the middle distance. What started with a simple head wiggle soon turned to full body gyrations, and now Cheery was performing loops and twirls that no human could hope to recreate – at least, with their spine still intact. It was utterly fascinating, if it wasn’t so absolutely out of place.

“[I um… I don’t know. She seems deep in thought though.]” Wiggles mused, looking at the Jornissian with curiosity. “[Maybe we just… give her some time?]”

There was a slightly-broken voice’d hum of The Streets of Cairo as a tennis ball tipped cane began to wiggle in the air just above the countertop, the Jornissian across the counter subconsciously beginning to follow it.

“Abuela!”

“Beh! I could be brewing the coffee myself-”

“Mama, give her some time-” Sofia said, lowering the cane below the counter. “And don’t be rude.”

“[OH!]”

The group jumped a little as Cheery had an epiphany, her arms a flurry of activity as she basically stayed “put” while leaning everywhere behind the bar, pulling ingredients from hither and yon. “[I think I have something for you! Give me a few moments and I’ll put that together – you want it hot, or cold?”

“Hot”

“Cold”

“Before I pass on-”

Abuela-

“[I’ll just make one hot and one cold! No worries!]” Cheery chirped, shaking up a concoction vigorously before dumping it into what looked like a flash-cooker, the sounds of drinkcraft quickly overpowering the background noise of the other patrons. With a bit of a flourish a large cup was produced, the hot drink poured and pushed over to Sofia. The human looked at the drink with pursed lips, before turning to look at her escorts questioningly.

“Uh, how-”

“[Ah! Allow me.]” Persimmon said, fishing in his messenger bag for a small cylindrical device. Popping a casing over the tip, he stuck it in the center of the drink, thumbing it on. “[Mass spectrometer. It won’t affect the taste at all, but we can see-]”

He was interrupted by a beep, and as he tilted the device’s base towards him a readout began pouring into his implant. “[Ah… Cheery?]”

“[Mmmmmm?]”

“[This is poison.]”

“[Excuse you, I may not make the best drinks on this rock but-]”

“[Ah! No no-]” Persimmon backpedaled furiously as the girls giggled softly, the faux pas causing him to blush lightly. “[J-just, they can’t have it. It’s not Human-approved.]”

“[Oh. What should I omit?]” Cheery sighed, stopping in mid-prep.

“[I uh. I can’t say. The spectrometer will just tell us if it’s poisonous, not what made it poisonous.]”

Cheery shared a flat look with Persimmon before dumping the half-finished cold drink down the drain, putting a broad smile back on her face. “[Well. We’ll just have to try again!]”

– – – –

The first 3 drinks were mostly experiments; one tested positive for mercury, another, cyanide. The third one had a very exotic neurotoxin that acted along the same lines as irukandji venom, so that was mainly ruled out so as to not have the humans writhing in pain for the next day or three. At the 5th drink, Rssesnsen was almost certain that she had it, only to be told that that much sodium might actually kill the humans at worst, and at best was not healthy for them at all. Drinks 6 – 12 were iterations on drink #5 until it was pointed out that the concoction smelled like a fermented shoe and that absolutely nobody was going to give that a shot. This was unfortunate because to the Jornissian palate it actually tasted somewhat hearty, earthy, with a few bright notes at the end.

Then Rssesnsen mentally smacked herself in the face because of course they wouldn’t taste things right, and tossed out almost everything she had done at that point to start over. Drinks 13 – 18 were better, but still not where things needed to be, and around drink #25 she felt her facade crack just a little.

Rssesnsen was going to serve them a drink, by Nressre-whose-eyes-are-the-moons, or die trying. If only that manic laughter would just stop for a few seconds she could think straight-

“Um.”

“Why… is she laughing?” Luzita asked, frozen in place in that I’m-too-terrified-to-move-but-I-probably-shouldn’t-be-here kind of way. Cheery had become decidedly less so as the cups started to pile up; the initial complaint her mother was simply trying to make of “this cup is the size of my torso” had morphed into… whatever this was.

“[I don’t know, but just stay calm. We’ll protect you if necessary.]” Tipo said, making it a point to slide up to the counter proper. “[Though I don’t think it’ll come to that-]”

“[Looks like a work-related mental break-]” Wiggles said, helpfully and probably a bit too loudly, catching the attention of the slightly-more-unhinged Cheery.

“[No, NO, nono, it’s fine, it’s all fine, look at how fine it is-]”

There was the crackling sound of electricity from somewhere below the counter and a very furious ‘Abuela, not yet-’, but that was enough to snap Cheery from her reverie. With an absolutely exasperated sigh, she just gripped an entire packet of powdered spice – a thickening agent, usually – and just dumped it into a pot of boiling water.

“[We begin by the process of elimination! The drink knows what it is because it knows what it isn’t-]” Cheery began to rant, stirring the quickly-dissolving spice into the thickening water. With a flourish that was mostly “splash it close enough to the target” an extra large cup was half-filled, slid over to the counter, and the preparations for the next concoction began in earnest.

She was halfway through adding in an entire bag of spoons before there was a cheery little ding as the mass spectrometer shrugged and said “eh.” She froze with rapt attention as the far-too-large cup was then gingerly picked up and wiped clean of recently-boiling water.

“So… like I was going to say before… uh…” Sofia murmured, her gaze blocked by the forest of failure before her, “can… can we get that in a smaller cup?”

“[Sure! Suresuresuresure-]” Cheery rambled, pulling out one of each size cup she had. The XXL was right out, as was the XL, the L, and the M. The small was… ok, but, much to everyone’s chagrin, the tester cup was just right. The one drink was gingerly poured into the serving-cup, and handed below the counter to the somehow-not-dead-yet-from-waiting Isabella. She sipped from it gently, her face going from inquisitive to sour.

“Bleh.”

“[Hahahahahahaahahaaaaaaaaaaa is it bad? Of course it’s bad, of course it’s-]”

“Bad, yes. This means it’s good.”

“[W-what?]”

The little old lady steeled herself and in one swift gulp downed the entire concoction.

“Wh-”

“Mom-”

“[Nice-]” Wiggles said appreciatively.

“[Um, are you – we don’t know how that’s going to affect you -]”

“Bah!” The voice-below-the-counter said dismissively, the cup being Kobe’d back onto the countertop. “Tonight we live forever!”

Cheery looked at the two other women, who just shook their heads. “We’re fine, thank you.”

Tipo shrugged and ordered a drink.

– – – – – –

So it turned out that “tonight”, “forever”, and “immortal” were all very flexible terms. Once the countertop was cleaned out of the various failed experiments and a few normal drinks were ordered (as well as a sly exchange of contact information) the next step was finding some place to park and enjoy the ambiance of a couple-dozen Jornissians staring at you with laser focus.

Not the most relaxing thing to happen, but, close enough. The real issue was that the options were a divot that already proved too smooth for the humans to settle into (although it was amusing for Luzita to slide around in the pit for a while) or a booth. The booths were comfy, in a word – cozy. This was not just because they were tastefully enclosed save for a single entrance/exit, but you were also sticking in three massive aliens who had to be very mindful of their various limbs as the humans nestled in between them. Awkward silence gave way to light chatter, and eventually the conversation flowed naturally. Simple, mundane questions of ‘what’s good to eat here’ and ‘what’s the weather like? Do you have seasons?’ turned into more pointed ‘stay out of this section of the city’ and ‘this company is a scam’ and all the other juicy gossip that a local can drop on a new neighbor.

One voice started strong in the conversation, but as the night drug on, became more and more rare, until a light snore broke a very pointed conversation about the universal merits of animal fat.

Isabella – Abuela – had fallen asleep against Tipo.

“Oh! I’m sorry-” Sofia smiled, touching Tipo’s arm. “It’s been a long day for her. We should probably get going back.”

“[Y-yeah. But… but I can’t move.]”

Sofia furrowed her brow as Luciana continued to make small talk with the other two guardians. “What do you mean?”

“[I mean-]” and he gave a pointed look to the little old lady currently burrowed into his side. “[If I do I’ll wake her up! I can’t move.]”

“It’s fine – look. Mama!” Sofia called, sliding her legs up to stand on the seat, leaning over the counter to shake Isabella. “Mama, let’s go now. Come on.”

Her efforts were met with a murmur and a much louder snore. Sofia pursed her lips and looked up at Tipo. “Can you shake her?”

“[No.]” Ngruzren said, surprising everyone at the table including himself with the intensity of his rejection. “[N-no. It’s fine. This is fine.]”

“Well you can’t very well just sit here for the next 8 hours!”

Tipo looked around at the rest of the cafe who were all very much ok with this idea, eventually locking eyes with Cheery who was over-enthusiastically nodding.

“[I mean-]”

“No. Come on, just… just pick her up and let’s go.”

“[But that could be unsafe-]”

Sofia rolled her eyes and turned to the other two chaperones. “Can one of you…?” She let the question linger as she motioned over to her mother, who was dead to the rest of the world.

“[I mean, we have installed comfort pods around this section of the city specifically for this purpose.]” Persimmon mused. “[We could just deposit her in one of them, let her rest, and then come back when she’s awake.]”

“[No.]” Sofia said, surprising everyone at the table including herself with the intensity of that rejection. “We are not leaving mama on the fucking street!”

“[Ah, ah… ok]” Persimmon said, raising his hands in a placating gesture. “[Well, the other option is to carry her, which could be hazardous – seeing as how she’s elderly and humans’ muscles relax to a startling degree when unconscious.]”

“Well we’re not leaving her on the street-”

“[And I don’t feel comfortable carrying her it’s fine really we can just stay like this it’s ok-]”

“Por que no los dos?”

The table turned to Luciana, who just shrugged a bit. “They’re comfort pods, but they had to have been installed somehow. Let’s just… uninstall them and carry the pod. Between the three of you, you can do that, right?”

The three aliens shared a curious look with each other, as well as a few subconscious flexes.

“[…sure. We could do that.]” Wiggles said, slowly, and was met with no opposition.

“Great!” Luciana clapped her hands, placing them on the table. “Now let’s get outta here.”

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