Deliverance from Evil
The City, Eastern Coastal States
Mike walked in the back. Up a concrete ramp, slick with wear. The ramp led to a recess where he turned right and hit the double doors squarely with his shoulder. The doors popped open, and he walked through a foyer into a brightly lit space and across it to the locker room. If a head turned, he didn’t notice it. He wasn’t late, but he wasn’t early enough for the mans to be happy with him.
Everything went into the locker, all his belongings. Everything. Even his screen. The mans were strict about that. They even made emps turn their iPlants off. Seemed like a human right’s violation. All of it seemed like human right’s violations when he stopped to think.
Best not to.
He came out of the locker room naked and stepped into the showers.
They hit him with the powder. He held his breath.
The first time, he hadn’t been expecting it. The two piece-of-shit secmans had got a good kick out of that. Mike had about died choking on the delousing powder. Shit itched like all hell on the skin. He was sure it was designed to itch. It probably was entirely ineffective against any bacteria or bugs or whatever they said they were after. All it effectively did was inflame the epidermis enough to make it shed its outer layers. He was positive that was what it was really about.
Breathing that shit in, his esophagus had spasmed and he tried to retch, but that made him breathe more deeply which made him choke harder. He’d kept his feet, but his body had been wracked with paroxysms. He thought he'd cough up a lung.
The secmans had laughed and laughed.
Then hit him with the hose.
The water sprayed out of the hose hard, but not hard enough to knock him down. Not since that first time, at least, but he’d barely been standing when they’d hit him with it, then.
Now, they sprayed him from head to toe and back up again, and he tried to block the spray from hitting him directly, recoiling from its force and putting out his hands. There was no dignity. That was gone with his human rights.
They kept spraying him up and down long after he was washed clean of the powder. The pressure of the water had him against the wall, struggling to breathe. They cut the hose and tossed him a thin towel.
He toweled himself off, went and sat at the end of the bench, and they shaved his head clean again. It had been a week since they had shaved it last. Even with as little growth as he had, a week was as long as they would let it go. They shaved his whole head, not just his scalp, his face and eyebrows as well. It wasn’t too surprising. The secman who was shaving him had no eyebrows either.
When they had finished with the shave, Mike returned to the locker room to moisturize, put in his non-itch eye-drops and his catheter, strap the latter’s bag to his leg and got ready for what promised to be a long night.
Next, he put on a non-latex long sleeve top. Vented armpits, at least. That was new. The old models trapped your heat so effectively two servs had been taken out with heat stroke. The Contagindic8 hex print was newer too, but not as new as the vented armpits. The leggings still weren’t vented. Perplexing. More heat down there. Which meant it was always funky at the end of a shift too. They would never vent the lower body. They didn’t want to vent people’s funk. He pulled on the little non-latex booties and gloves.
Dressed like that, in his non-latex bodysuit, he walked to the linline, and took a shrink-wrapped pack off a hanger. He took the pack to his locker and broke its seal. First he pulled out the extremely starched white herringbone Egyptian cotton wide collar shirt, then the dove grey slacks, the red brocade waistcoat and full Windsor knotted grey silk tie.
He took the electrode lozenge off the shelf in the locker and slid it in his ear.
Mike couldn’t believe he was waiting tables again.
Waiting tables wasn’t a normal profession anymore, but he had done it all through college, so he had experience. And when his work had dried up, it had been something he could fall back on. Luckily for him, the City had automated faster than Red States, and there was little chance of most New Yorkers his age having experience. So, the dice fell in his favor that way. His career was over, but he could still wait tables.
Now days, all food service was… automated wasn’t really the right word. Everything was counter service or take away. At the higher end places, there might be two or three actual humans working. Most food preparation was automated. Some places might have some human component in preparation, a chef with a name, or something like that. Even then, most of the prep would be automated. At some point of service, someplace in the front-of-house, there may be human interaction, there might not. It wasn’t necessary, but a lot of places had someone on staff. Someone who could interact with guests, in some cases, but whose real job was to troubleshoot any glitches in the computers or machines themselves. Working in service was always stressful, no matter how it changed.
There was a place Mike had heard of where the only point of human contact was an advertiser. Corporations paid the establishment for the right to spiel the guests as they ate. The guests ordered off a screen built into the tables. The food was served on conveyer belts. And since the corporations paid, the restaurant didn’t charge the guests at all. Craziest thing. “Corporations actually giving back.” At least, that was how they spun it. Wait list was two months long even though the food was shit. From everything Mike had heard.
There were also Hong Kong style eateries, which were popular on the Coasts. In those, guests sat in booths that were set against (that is perpendicular to) a cylindrical wall. The cylinder had a window for each table where the server took the order and an aperture where they slid the food and drinks onto the table. The bartender stood in a circular bar in the center of the cylinder, from where they could see all the tables, and all the tables could see them. Flair bartending had made a comeback. Sadly.
There were two HKstyle places in the City, and neither was great. One had a lot of red lighting, and, with the window on the bartender, it had reminded Mike of what he imagined an Amsterdam sex show was like. That had pretty well turned him off to the idea as a whole.
Now, Delmonico’s Twenty-First, was a restaurant. A real restaurant. Kind of. With an actual wait staff and everything. It was a theme restaurant. A nostalgia thing. For people who had a hankering for the late twentieth century.
And Mike knew service well enough to get work at this place. Lucky, lucky.
It wasn’t the only restaurant that operated this way in the City. There were three. But none charged a hundred hours for a plate like Del’s. The people who worked at Del’s seemed to think that meant something.
Didn’t mean shit to Mike. He was moonlighting. Or he was supposed to be, but are you really moonlighting if your primary job isn’t paying the bills? Like any bills.
That gritted his teeth.
What the fuck was he even doing working a job like this?
Heading to line up, asshole, that’s what.
Keep your head on straight, kid, he thought. Quoting one of his favorite songs.
Line up, the traditional pre-shift staff meeting, was in a brightly lit space, behind the kitchens. The space was something between a hallway and room, performing the functions of each just enough to make it a nuisance to the other. Aptly then, it was the co-mans center where the mans would watch the floor and all its action, the space where the staff and the mans could each do their own work just enough to hamper the other’s. Whatever.
Mike walked into line up with most of the other servs already there, fresh shorn for the shift. It was hard to guess at ages with no hair to go on, but Mike would have sworn that some of the servstaff genuinely were from the twentieth century. One or two might have even been serving back then. In the nineties.
The nineties. His mother would speak the word like it was a spell. It was a spell. A spell she wove on her own imagination. It was strange how relevant aging people could feel because of the fetishization of old shit. It was weird too, or maybe just sad, how often it was the old people themselves who tried to plant the romance, the reverence, in their own children.
Mike couldn’t say shit, though. He rocked a vintage screen, didn’t he?
“John and An4née have full sections on the floor already. Our ‘afternoon bites’ menu has been something of a success,” the agman preened. The menu must have been their idea. “Mac, you’ll phase An4née out of their servsec so they can move to the PDR for the nine o’clock reso for the IodeCorp party.”
Mike nodded, though he wasn’t sure he’d heard what had been said. Did he ever?
Not at Del’s. Here, he let everything in one ear and out the other. Otherwise he wouldn’t know which way to go except insane. There were just too many voices. Geeman, agman, efman, bevman, secmans Del’s had a manager for everything. And each of them thought their word was the be all end all. Until the geeman spoke, of course.
The agman was the worst of them all, though. By far. They wore full spectrum goggles that opaquely covered the top half of their face. The goggles plugged into their ear and into a prosthesis built into their left frontal lobe. Mike had often wondered exactly what kind of work the agman had had done. But they hadn’t broached the subject with Mike, even knowing Mike’s background, so Mike hadn’t brought it up either.
The efman was standing in front of a bank of vidscreens showing the restaurant floor in its entirety. The cameras’ feeds were seamlessly stitched into one image. An impossible image. It was almost like a panoramic picture that’s been taken angled toward the sky, so that whatever ground is in the photo looks like a tiny planet floating surrounded in the blue sky. The floor of the restaurant seemed like its own distorted planet floating in the bright lights of the ‘windows’ that surrounded the dining room.
On the left side of the vidsreens a vertically scrolling list of reservations ran seemingly infinitely, but it only repeated itself incessantly. On the right a stationary list of tables sat, each ringed in a soft color that was adjusted to indicate the stage of service in which the table was engaged. Almost rendered into silhouettes by the brightness of the ‘windows’ on the vidscreen, two secmans were sitting, tablets in hand, confirming reservations and making reservations for later services on their iPlants. The efman wore a keypad on their chest. They were constantly hitting colored buttons and speaking into the mic that hung from their goggles. Each color designated a specific staff group.
The agman was still speaking, Mike realized.
“Ora King salmon, pan-seared in eighty twenty, skin on—”
“Skin on,” the entire line of servers called back with varying degrees of give a shit.
The agman’s tone alone told the servers what was expected of them. Witnessing once was usually enough enculturation for trainees. There was only one that night, Mike noticed. There were usually more.
“Served over butter sweated leeks and pan fried Brussel greens with spring garlic—”
“Spring garlic.” Mike mouthed the call back soundlessly.
The agman droned on, “…allium, dairy, obviously meat, well, fish…” Mike tuned to the action on the vidscreen. The hostaff were purple. Not pink. Mike had been warned once. Just because hosts were usually women wasn’t a good reason to color the staff pink, he had said. They had told him that he was being sexist. The asstaff lit yellow. Mike had asked if he could call them bussers or bustaff, but he was told it was demeaning. He wasn’t sure what was demeaning about bussing or what made being part of an asstaff less demeaning, but he knew well enough not to argue. At least, not again.
The efman said something into their mic and the yellow blips on the vidscreen scurried in disparate directions. Mike could almost hear the efman’s voice saying ‘no clumping.’ Bussers always wanted to hang together.
Purple blips lit up, and the efman said something into their mic. The purple blips didn’t move, but Mike would bet everything he made that night the hostaff were sweating, sanitizing the menutabs or scrolling over their reso tablets feverishly. Mike chuckled in his head, a smile spreading across his lips. The agman noticed.
“How many eighteen ounce Wagyu, Mac?”
“Kobe or just Wagyu?” Mike asked, stalling to see if either of his neighbors had scribbled the answer on their padlets.
“Someone please inform Mac why his question only further demonstrates his ignorance.”
“Uh, Kobe is eighty six,” Norv answered. Snide. The fucking sycophant.
General pronoun ambiguity presented problems sometimes, but “uh” was probably the hardest part of how they spoke on the coast for Mike. He had a hard time getting used to it. People just sounded dumb. On the coasts, instead of saying sir or ma’am, they said uh, which stood for unspecified honorific. It was a sound that people make often enough, but. Mike hated it. He understood the reasoning behind it, even agreed with it, which was surprising for someone from Texas. But uh just sounded dumb.
“Eighty sixed since Tuesday,” the agman added with barbs.
“Six eighteen ounce Wagyu ribeyes, uh.” Mike answered, tacking on, “Still no filets, then?” He had found the answer he was looking for on Dorian’s padlet. He thought it was Dorian. Dorian always took notes. Who could tell though? Age wasn’t the only thing that was hard to guess at when everyone was shaved clean and in uniform.
The agman didn’t look too happy that Mike had the right answer. Must not have noticed him looking over his neighbor’s padlet. Awesome.
“No filets.” They said tersely. Didn’t mention since when this time.
“Two thirty six on the book tonight,” the agman continued. “We will be taking walk-ins,” (collective groan) “but only in the bar and lounge.” (collective held breath) “Dorian, we’ll be expecting you to take those covers.” (collective sigh of relief, all except Dorian)
“Uh, yes,” Dorian answered. Three people to Mike’s left. Shit. Who was this on his right?
“Our trainee this evening is Angela. Angela, welcome to the team. You’ll be following Clyde tonight.”
Clyde nodded at Angela. From their spot to Mike’s right. Clyde? Mike wasn’t sure he’d met Clyde yet. Damn restaurant had too much staff.
“It seems that we need to review our tableside Caesar service. Quick quiz, what is the first thing that goes into the salad bowl?”
“Cracked fakegg,” Mike answered with the others with as much verve as he could muster for the moment.
“And cracking the fakegg, you must maintain the illusion of the break…”
Shit. The agman would drill them until exactly five thirty and not a moment sooner. It was the agman’s time. Well, at least the geeman wasn’t telling them again how he was looking for servs with “hoptoitvity.” Which he would lovingly explain to the trainees was the characteristic that defined how quickly servs would hop to it. Corporate restaurants might be extinct, but corporate bullshit was alive and well.
A window opened on the top left of the vidscreen showing a black aDrive arrive at the valet podium, the valets scurrying around the vehicle. Since the City had outlawed the use of manual drive vehicles larger than a scooter, the podium itself did all the work. The podium would use its Valetec identikey to access the aDrive’s onboard cpu, to tell the car were to park and to link the car to the podium temporarily, so that it could call the car back. The Valetec identikey had a two-hour limit, when they would automatically call the cars to the restaurant, and the guest would be made aware. It rarely happened. The hostaff made sure people were aware of the limit when they sat. Of course, more time was available, for a price. The purpose of the two valets in the red jackets who stood by the podium, who hit unnecessary buttons to call back cars, was purely aesthetic. They hopped to, opening doors and welcoming the guests as they descended from their aDrive.
But it was 5:26.
The efman’s eyes shot wide. “The Patterson’s are here early! We need the servstaff out now! We have to go early!”
The two secmans on their tablets pulled up new pages, one jumping up and heading to the mans bureaus quickly. The agman picked up the efman’s sense of urgency but tempered it some with agman seniority.
“OK,” they clapped their hands. “Let’s go. Goggles on, people. Earpieces are on channel eight. Click in now and get out there. Let’s make it a good night, people. Show them why Delmonico’s Twenty-First is the best restaurant in history!”
The agman fucking loved that line. Even though Mike was already through the kitchen, the voice finished directly in his ear. The words were piped in to all of their ears as soon as they clicked in. The asshole had put the channel on his headset.
The agman was the worst. The geeman could actually be chill when they weren’t talking bullshit. But they weren’t there on a Thursday night. Thursday was the agman’s night to prove themselves. The ponce. They all were. But Mike must be too if he answered to them. Whatever.
The restaurant was dimmed for dinner service, holograms of candles on each table providing most of the light. The menutab was a backlit faux-parchment tablet with pinch zoom so even the elderly could read it without reading glasses. Once they learned to use it. Long red curtains hung by the ‘windows’ and served as covers for the various cubbies that served as server or busser stations (servstaff and asstaff stays) with water service or sanitizer buckets, wine bottles, silverware, what have you.
The ‘windows’ were digital screens, 26K. They played a recording of the traffic on the corner of Second and East Sixth, May 19th 2016, every night. At least, that was what Mike had been told to tell guests. Mike had been, what, three years old then? He’d never been given a provenance on the video. But he hadn’t been given one on the Wagyu or the Ora King, either. He was only expected to repeat whatever lies he had been told. If he could do it believably, more the better, but honestly no one cared. No one, as in the mans. They couldn’t give less of a shit how convincing you were, as long as you could take a good flogging from the guests.
The guests cared, though. The guests approved of being effectively lied to. They rewarded it. Mike walked through the midst of them toward what would be his section for the shift. They shoveled food in their mouths, talking and smacking gums. Fucking eaters.
Where the hell had that come from? Mike wondered.
He didn’t eat, but that was his choice. He wasn’t usually “one of those people” who looked down on others because of their choices. His mother had always taught him that it took all kinds to make the world go around. She had been an oddity in Texas, but that had been before the devolution. Well, mostly before. After devolution, Mike had still been in high school, everything had been different.
Mike didn’t like eating, or eaters, very much honestly. Honestly, he couldn’t think of anything as repulsive as the sound of someone eating. Even himself. It had nauseated him enough times before he’d known that supping was even an option, that when he found out it was, he went for it without a second thought. Now, he didn’t have to eat at all. He rarely even had a shake. Only once a week or so, if he felt faint. Otherwise, pills and his nightly drip had him covered.
But, he had been good enough at compartmentalizing to do the work. He was surprised to find himself thinking anything like “Fucking eaters,” even in the privacy of his own mind. He shook his head at himself.
Get your head on straight, kid, he thought. Was that going to become a theme of the night? He looked up from the tables he was walking past to the ‘windows’ beyond.
He didn’t call them screens because they couldn’t interface as far as he knew. They just played the same video night after night. There were tables on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant being served by people in the video. The uniforms the servers wore in the video were perfect matches for the ones worn by the servs on the floor. The only difference was the actual servs’ lack of hair. Apparently, the health code hadn’t been quite as stringent twenty years prior. Eighteen years, but who was keeping count?
The pollution laws obviously hadn’t been as strict either. People were driving cars up and down the street. Most with only one person in them. One of those old lumbering combustion engine buses gasped and wheezed its way to its stop across the street. Cyclists were out. And pedestrians. Not as many as these days, but without masks or any protection. No goggles or even ear buds back then. Not as many skaters. Only one, on a classic board, trucked down Second Ave. Showed up at 7:13 and was off the other end of the window by 7:15. On the windows, the same pedestrians walked the same New York night every night.
Mike felt like he knew them. He knew their patterns well enough. He knew the skater would olley off the curb in front of Block’s Drug almost as soon as he appeared. He knew the when the guests at the al fresco tables would show, what they would be served and when. It was almost like a metronome. Mike set his timing with his own tables by the patterns of the people who crossed the window May 19th, 2016. He knew these people, on that night, better than they had themselves. Better than they remembered by now, that was for sure. Unless one of them was a regular.
Mike had wondered that before. Looking over the few guests yet in his section, he let his imagination play with the idea. Which of these people had come here after eighteen years, only to see their digital avatar walk out of the past to sit at a table and be served. Mike wanted it to be a regular. A person who came every night and sat in the same seat, watching their night pass over and over. In Mike’s fantasy, the night of the 19th wasn’t a special one. It was just a night, like any other when it had happened. Only special now, in retrospect. Now, it was a crystallization of a moment: a time before the world broke, or the guest’s life broke, or maybe when everything had been simpler, or at least seemed so, or maybe, best of all, just a moment from before, forever lost, no matter what it held, even if it had no significance other than of having been before. Now, it was the kernel of everything. Memory. A moment.
Now, forever attached to waiting tables at Del’s Twenty-First. For Mike. Because of the damn ‘windows.’ Mike wasn’t allowed to call them that out loud, obviously. Copyright infringement. But he refused to think of them as ‘outside,’ which was what he was forced to say with tables.
Mike flipped his scowl into a smile as he approached the first table of his night.
Four top. Two couples. All adults, one couple might be old enough to be parents of one of the younger. He stepped up to the table with the reso information playing out on the inside of his goggles. Firs-tie. The Gideckis. Looked like they could be tourists.
“Uh, good evening.” He smiled broadly, including everyone at the table.
They smiled back and responded. Might be a good night, thought Mike. He spieled them specials, and held the yellow button on his padlet when he repeated their water order. His feed went directly to his assigned asstaffer, one for every two servsecs. Allergy information Mike sent back to the kitchen with the blue button. There were no buttons, obviously, just button icons on his padlet. Before Mike stepped away, one of the guest said, “I love your accent, where are you from?”
“Uh, I’m from Texas.”
“A cowboy, huh? That’s great! What’s your name?”
“Well, Mac, it’s good to meet you.” The guest gave a head nod, dismissing Mike.
Mike didn’t bother to correct them. Or anyone else. After four years in the City, he had accepted his fate. He would be Mac until he learned to talk like them.
As he walked away, his earpiece picked the table up saying, “You see? That’s the level of thoughtfulness you get at Delmonico’s. The waiter probably has a full backstory about coming to the City to become an actor or something. This place is worth every penny.”
“Server.” Their friend corrected.
Mike was already heading to his second table. The Millers. Another four, parents with two grown daughters. Before he got to the table his earpiece picked them up talking:
“Who is sending their plate back tonight? Can I?”
“You always get to send your plate back. When do I get a chance?”
“Girls, girls, you both can send your plates back, alright?”
“Logan, are you sure? Both of them?”
“Yes, Harper. I am sure. We might even get the manager at the table.”
Mike gritted his teeth and went in for the spiel.
Del’s loved that shit. It was why people came. A third of the food was wasted. But really wasted. Incinerated. Throwing it in the dumpsters would have had slauggers infesting the place. Del’s wasn’t about to have that. They’d rather burn all of the waste food than feed indigent people. Mike loved his job. But really.
One of his coworkers had been fired after they showed a guest a video of their order on their pad. The guest said “I didn’t order this,” and Didi played them the gogglevid of their order on her padlet, like “this is exactly what you ordered.”
Didi’s earpiece had sent a hundred volts through her, and a pair of secmans collected her. Mike went out for a drink with her the next week. She was a good serv, a good person, but she’d just had enough. She didn’t understand Del’s. It wasn’t a restaurant. It was a theme park to restaurants. And most of the people who even wanted that, wanted it because they loved being served.
Case in point, the two gentlemen seated at table fifty-three, a four top by the ‘window.’ Good table for two old guys in suits to be taking in the second seating of the night. No reso information, so walk-ins, but in the main dining room? Someone was someone’s friend. Swanée guests. It only took a second to read that The Gentlemen had demeanors determined to cantankerous interaction. Mike chuckled in his head. They weren’t uncommon, these guys. The opportunity to talk down to someone was one of Del’s main draws.
And never a word back.
The Gentlemen flipped through the pages on the menutab, almost infinite pages, whiskeys, gins, mezcals, and so on. Asking after liquors that hadn’t been produced in thirty years, or cocktails the names of which they had just fabricated, or perhaps had misremembered. Mike finally was able to order a sazerac for one, though Mike was unsure that the Gentleman had a clear idea of what that was. The other shook his head and asked for the Sommelier. Mike hit the icon on his padlet to call the bevman, who scuttled across the restaurant floor with a beaming grin on his way to the table. Probably their friends.
The Gentlemen ate as slowly as they seemed capable of. As if they preferred chewing each bite fifty times to eating the food while it was hot. Mike delivered a second sazerac to Gentleman, the First, who deigned Mike with a look and said, “I need another one of these, right away.”
Mike laughed, in what would generally be construed as a good-natured manner.
Gentlemen, the Second, asked Mike for a Knob Creek with a Jaegermeister floater.
Mike looked at the man, stunned.
“Yes, uh? A Knob Creek with a Jaegermeister floater?”
“Why are you saying it like a question, boy? Go get it.”
“Yes, uh, the policy of the restaurant is that shots are only at the bar.”
“Then neat. Can you do that?”
“Yes, uh, absolutely.”
Mike smiled and gave something between a nod and a bow and stepped away from the table, happy to get away, and with plenty to do. The second and third turns were always the busiest.
Mike returned with the Knob Creek with the Jaeger float. Gentleman, the Second, bobbed his head as if that indicated thanks and took his drink. He drank half of it in a gulp, set the glass down and made a face. “This is horrible!”
Gentleman, the First was tired of waiting and took advantage of his companion’s stunned silence. He gripped Mike’s arm and pointed to his glass, “I said I needed another. Where is it?”
“Excuse me?” Mike responded.
“Look at my glass! It’s empty! You didn’t think I would finish my drink before you brought the next?”
“I didn’t think you would give yourself heartburn to prove something to a server.”
The zap from his earpiece wasn’t as light as the warning the mans usually used on a first offense of the night, but Mike was already on thin ice.
Better clean up his act. The mans were breathing down his neck, nagging him via his earpiece. Try again.
Dorian picked up The Gentlemen. Mike was more than happy to give the geezers up, but he was sick of Dorian. The pompous, self satisfied, buck toothed, pimple. Mike wouldn’t mind popping them.
Instead, Mike took care of the rest of his servsec. Which was already missing a table to make up the party that An4née had in the PDR. Mike was hanging in a cubby, the closest thing to a black spot in the surveillance that he had found yet. Killing time, since he didn’t have many tables. An4née was in the same position, with only the PDR to worry about. So, the two of them stood together for a minute before the mans got in their ears. An4née offered Mike a toot of dExtra by tapping the shooter on Mike’s arm. Neither mentioned it, (talking only about their tables and that in a positive way). Neither looked down at it. Mike just shook his head He might have done it, but he wasn’t into sharing nasal inhalers
An4née took a toot, said “jagger,” and stepped back out on to the floor, moving in a hurry. Fleeing the scene of the crime. Rookie. He was halfway across the dining room when he sneezed. Caught it in his elbow. Nice catch, thought Mike, watching his coworker walk back to the PDR, wiping his face with his hand. Fuck. The little hexes on An4née’s hand went red.
Mike wondered, idly, (as one does as they watch a train wreck in real time), whether it was the dExtra, an actual contagion, or just An4née’s mucus that set off the Contagindic8 hexes. That shit just went off when any bodily fluid hit it. Mike was sure of it. It was bullshit just to make the guests feel more in control. The illusion of safety.
A second after An4née’s hexes went red, two secmans popped out from behind the red curtains that led to the co-mans center. They escorted An4née off the floor, and that was it. An4née would be out on his ear.
Mike’s earpiece buzzed at him. “Mac, you’re taking the PDR. Dorian is picking up the rest of your servsec. Understood?” The agma’s voice surprised Mac. It should have been the efman.
“Yes, uh,” Mike said to the air around him in the cubby.
“We’ll be talking at the end of the shift, Mac, so, let’s see some hoptoitivity out of you.”
Mike died a little inside.
It was all right though. He’d only have one more table and be done for the night.
Mike had half an hour to make sure the private dining room was ready, but An4née had already got it up to spec, so Mike went back to kill time in the cubby. It was too bad he couldn’t have his screen with him. A little screen time might settle his nerves, which seemed to be as frayed as a slaugger’s pant cuff. Especially after An4née. He was one of the only cool servs there. Even if he did say jagger.
A screen was out of the question. That’d be his job right there.
No screen meant that he had to log into his padlet to see what time it was. They could track him that way, but they could track him via his earpiece, anyhow. He slid out from the curtain and crossed the wide dining room toward the arched doorway of the PDR. Even from the floor where Mike was, he could see the guests had already been seated.
Shit. He had meant to be there to greet them. Why hadn’t they notified his earpiece when they were coming in? Well. Nothing for it now.
He stepped in the room confidently, greeting the table.
“Good evening, gentlefolk, and welcome to Delmonico’s Twenty-First.”
Only two of them even looked at him.
Sixteen guests, fourteen of them looking sullenly at their screens, whether eyepieces, contacts, handheld, iPlants. This was going to be fun.
Mike tried again and got a better reception, but never a full one. Instead, he just went down the line one by one and spoke with each guest individually. Some of them still had blank eyed stares when they turned toward him, but he muddled through. He got water and drink orders at the same time, and had the table on their way with the menutab in only ten minutes. He was feeling good about it. A good big top could change his night.
Servs made a wage. The tip line was like a European service charge, the house took it. Like everything else. But, the restau would give bonuses to the four servs (out of fifteen a night) who had the highest total sales. Mike had been out of the running with his section, but with his servsec and the big top, he might make fourth, or even higher. Extra hundred bucks.
When he came back to the PDR to deliver the drinks, only two of the party were speaking. But the two were speaking loudly enough to be heard by everyone at the table.
Mike delivered drinks, doing his best to ignore their conversation.
They gossiped as if they were arguing, each interrupting the other, taking space by being the loudest in a room that was dead quiet but for the two of them and Mike quietly announcing each drink as he delivered them.
One of the two said, louder than ever, “Did you hear about Stephanie?”
“No!” the other screamed in answer, “What happened?” Their entire attention rapt in the question.
“Jorge cheated on her, with a girl with a baby!”
“Oh my God!” Mike gasped.
Stunned, the entire table turned their faces on him with a collective gasp. Somehow his voice was miraculously heard and responded to by everyone who had seemed so deaf before. Mike held the pause a moment, balancing the last two drinks on his tray, enjoying himself, thinking he might attempt to greet the table now that he had their undivided attention. Instead he said:
“That’s the weirdest threesome I’ve ever heard of.”
This time the zap put Mike to sleep.