Jana and Nathan — aka Dreamwalker and Fox — go to The Club in search of information.
When I had brought Tilly with me to The Club — it seemed like ages ago but was only last week — she’d been awed by the deference paid to me by those within The Club. I found myself wishing she was here to see the reception Fox and I got when we arrived together.
The wannabes outside The Club parted before us in mute wonder. Inside, the elite of the slicing universe did much the same, though the susurration of quiet speculation arose as they closed ranks behind us. Paths opened to my table and Fox’s while all present waited to see our choice.
If we sat at my table, we gave notice that Fox was helping me. That was hardly unheard of considering Fox is the best. If we sat at Fox’s table we would proclaim I was helping him — a far rarer thing. So, Fox did the one thing none of the other slicers expected — he steered us to a new table.
Activating a macro so his voice carried to all in The Club, Fox said, “This table now belongs to Dreamwalker and me. We no longer need our old tables.”
Slicers around us gaped in silence for almost an entire second before the clamor of voices rose as they debated the meaning of Fox’s announcement. Were we a team, now? Or were we an item? Most importantly, what did it mean to the balance of power within the slicing community?
Watching the uproar, I mused, “What difference does it make whether we’re a team or a couple?”
“A lot,” Fox replied. “Teams can still work together after a personal falling out. Couples, not so much. If you and I had an acrimonious breakup, it could cause chaos at the top of the slicer food chain.”
“So, everyone here is hoping we’ve just teamed up, right?”
“Yep. I think we should dash those hopes immediately.”
Fox leaned over and kissed me on the lips. We both had macros running to simulate physical sensations, so the kiss felt pretty good, but real-life kisses were a lot better. Fox’s gesture had its desired effect on the crowd and we heard more than a few muttered curses. Apparently, many of our slicing colleagues feared either our combined abilities or the possible fallout from a breakup — probably both.
“Enough fun and games,” I said. “We’re here for information.”
“I know. That’s why I sent a message to Scoop right after we got here.”
I nodded in appreciation. Everyone in the upper echelons of the slicing community has their specialties. Scoop is the go-to-slicer for news and gossip. If anyone could tell us what was happening across the Star Kingdom — from the meanest streets to the most secure palaces — it was him. Or her. You could never tell with Scoop. He — or she — used an androgynous avatar and switched between male and female clothing as the whim took him. Or her.
We didn’t have long to wait. Scoop slipped through the crowd and approached our table. Or maybe it was Our Table since no one in The Club would dare sit here anymore. At the moment, Scoop’s avatar wore a very elegant, very male business suit. I always based my pronouns on Scoop’s clothing, so it was ‘he’ and ‘him’ this time.
“My, my, my. Look at you naughty darlings getting all lovey-dovey and cozy-wozy. I didn’t have a clue you silly slicers were an item! Do you have any idea what this will do to my reputation? Only the juiciest slicer tidbit in years — years, darlings — and I completely missed it.” Scoop folded his arms and glared down at us. “I’m tempted to stalk off with my nose in the air. It would be just desserts for your temerity. Just desserts, indeed!”
Smothering a smile, I said, “Please accept our most humble apologies, Scoop. If it makes you feel any better, this development surprised us, too. One minute we were talking and the next…”
Scoop brought a hand to his mouth in astonishment, “Did you darlings make the beast with two backs?”
“That’s a little too personal, Scoop,” Nathan growled.
Thinking the other slicer would enjoy an exclusive, I triggered a blush macro. As my cheeks reddened, I offered a shy smile. Scoop’s eyebrows climbed right off his avatar’s face, not stopping until they were floating above his head. As his eyebrows returned to his face, Scoop sat down and leaned toward me, propping his chin on one hand.
“Tell me all about it, darling. And don’t leave out a single detail!”
Ignoring the surprised look Fox gave me, I leaned toward Scoop. In a conspiratorial whisper, I said, “Let’s just say that slicing isn’t the only thing Fox excels at.”
“Oooooh!” Scoop playfully slapped Fox’s shoulder, “Did she ascend to the heights of ecstasy under your masterful control?”
I caressed Fox’s arm, “Under and above, Scoop.”
“Now this is more like it!” Scoop purred. “You haven’t told anyone else?”
“No,” Fox growled. Glaring at me, he added, “And I wouldn’t even have told you.”
“That’s fine, dearie. Your smarter half knew better.” Scoop looked thoughtful. “I’ve always wondered whether your avatars matched your real-life sexes. I don’t have to wonder anymore.”
“You don’t?” Fox asked.
“Absolutely not, darling. You are male and the lovely Dreamwalker is female.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Simplicity, itself. A man will tell the most outrageous lies about his sexual history but wouldn’t dream of discussing real sex with a real woman he loves.” Scoop smiled triumphantly at me. “Whereas a woman is just the opposite. You talked. Fox growled.”
“Yes, you’re very smart,” Fox growled. “Can we shut up about our love life now?”
“Certainly, darling. But you really should thank Dreamwalker. She gave me such a yummy morsel that I’ve completely forgiven you for keeping your surprising relationship a secret.”
“Does that mean you’ll answer our questions?” Fox asked.
“That’s what I just said, dearie.” Scoop smiled at us, “How may I be of service?”
I asked, “Have you heard of any…odd…developments over the last couple of days?”
“Besides the news that a mysterious slicer tops the Royal Intelligence Agency’s most-wanted list, darling? I do so hope it isn’t one of you. I’d miss both of you terribly. Quite terribly indeed!”
I shouldn’t have been surprised Scoop knew about that, but I was. “Yes, I’m sure everyone in The Club hopes the slicer — whoever he or she is — evades the authorities.”
“That is so true, darling! I do hope they don’t catch either of you. Oopsie — I mean if it’s one of you. Budding romances simply should not be nipped by government agents.”
“On that, we agree wholeheartedly,” Fox said, “but we aren’t the ones the RIA is looking for.”
“No doubt, Foxy. No doubt, at all.” Scoop’s eyes unfocused, “But you want news of the strange, the odd, and the unusual. I believe I have just the thing!”
Fox and I thought Scoop would go ahead and spill the news, but he just sat there with an expectant look on his face.
After a couple of seconds, I realized Scoop wanted us to ask for the information. Widening my eyes, I asked, “What could it be, Scoop? Please do tell us.”
Damned if Scoop didn’t look away as if embarrassed, “Oh, I couldn’t, darling! I swore I’d keep it secret.”
Before Fox could growl again, I wheedled, “Oh, Scoopsy-Whoopsy, you simply must tell us!”
“Well, if you insist!” Once again leaning toward us conspiratorially, he said, “Something happened among the nobility last night. I don’t know exactly what caused it, but every Recognized noble on Xapreathea had a strange nightmare — the exact same nightmare, darling! Can you imagine? They all awoke at the exact same time, all of them crying out and frightening the servants. As you might guess, many of them called their medical practitioner for advice.”
“What about the nobles who were awake?” Fox asked. “Like the ones on the other side of the planet. Most people don’t have nightmares when they’re awake.”
“You are quite correct,” Scoop replied. “They got…testy. Irritated. Even angry. And all for no reason. And all at the same time as the sleeping ones had their nightmare.”
Fox and I exchanged glances, then I asked, “You don’t happen to know what time that happened, do you?”
“Of course, darling! I am Scoop after all. It was—”
“Two twenty-six in the morning, local time,” I said.
This time Scoop’s astonishment wasn’t feigned. “How did you know, darling? Unless… Are you Recognized?”
No, I thought, I caused the nightmares. Or, more accurately, Fox and I caused them. I almost said as much, but Fox spoke first.
“No!” he blurted, his denial much too forceful. He pretended a laugh, “Heh, that’s one you sure got wrong, Scoop.”
“Well, you can’t fault a slicer for trying,” Scoop said. Struggling to hide a self-satisfied smile, he added, “I do hope my news proves helpful, but I simply must be going. News doesn’t collect itself, you know!”
“Of course, Scoop,” Fox replied. “You’ve been very helpful.”
“Tootles!” Scoop sang before sashaying off into the crowd.
“That was quick thinking, darling,” I said. “Though Scoop may never forgive you for sending him sniffing down a false trail.”
“That’s his problem. I think we’ve got what we came for, though.”
“I agree. Let’s go see what the others have found.”
Once again, the crowd parted before us. Soon after, we disconnected from the network.
What have the others discovered while Jana and Nathan were at The Club? Find out in Chapter 40, coming Friday.