C04-E03. Friends and Colleagues

“Cameron Owens, right?” The smiling young man standing before Cam had pale blue skin with darker blue spots all across his cheeks and down the sides of his neck. His hair was a deep blue, and his eyes were the same color from pupil to sclera, just solid blue. Cam knew about elemental mutants, but he’d never spoken to one up this close. “I’m Reg! Welcome to the night shift. Let’s go say hi to your supervisor.”

Cam nodded, following mostly quietly. “Nice t’meetcha.” he muttered, eyeing the store around him, the stark difference from the aisles and shopping areas to the managerial bits behind the scenes for employees.

Reg led Cam out of the stockroom, past the employee lounge, and out to an aisle where a dark-haired woman was running diagnostics on a tabletshell and peering up at the ceiling from time to time.

“Cameron, this is Smoothie. Smoothie, Cameron.”

Cameron nodded his head, his face missing any reaction to the name.

The woman sighed and turned, scowling at Reg but evidently not deeply bothered. “Reg, it’d be cool if you let newbies know my actual name before grinding in the nickname.”

“How else will I make it stick?”

A woman’s voice floated over from the next aisle, clearly pitched just loud enough that Smoothie would hear it. “Wait, you mean Smoothie isn’t your actual name?”

“Smita Mujaheer,” Smoothie said to Cameron, sticking out one hand to shake. “But… Smoothie is fine, I’ve given up fighting it thanks to these two yokels.”

He let a smile sneak on his face after a bit, and shook her hand. “Cameron, Owens. He offered, his handshake firm, his hands maybe a little more callused than was common.

“Nice to meet you, Cameron,” Smoothie said, nodding. “Ellica, get over here and meet the new guy!”

“Sure, just a moment, boss!” the woman’s voice came again, cheerful this time, and there was a grunt and the sound of a heavy box sliding onto a shelf before its owner trotted around the aisle divider, waving.

She had a typical New Washingtonian complexion and a fairly skinny—one might almost say “gangly”—build.  She looked to be in her late teens, but the softly-pointed ears that her hair was tucked behind spoke to some amount of elven blood, so she was more likely in her mid-twenties.  Her gaze flicked briefly to the sword-hilt at Cameron’s hip, eliciting a twitch before smiling at him and wiping some sweat off her forehead.  “Hi, new guy!  I’m Ellica Wilsonroot, Ellica or Elly is fine.”

Cameron let her peek, a slight exhale after the pause to get used to it. “Cam is fine too, Cammy I even heard once.” he continued. “What do you do around here?” he asked, glancing between the supervisor and the half-elf.

“Eh, whatever needs doing, really, we all kinda do.”  Ellica shrugged.  “I tend to stock a lot.  It’s pretty dead on this shift, though, so we don’t end up with all that much to do, most of the time.”

“Ellica likes to talk to checkout machines. And then scream at them.” Reg grinned.

“I’m telling you I saw something on the shell screen,” Ellica protested with a pout, her face betraying a hint of worry.  “There’s something weird going on with that machine, Reg.”

“Yeah, it induces accomplished engineers to talk at it.”

Cam only raised his eyebrow, smiling softly at the banter between them. Smoothie muttered something about consulting her if Cam needed help and meandered away.

“Hey I’ll have you know that talking to machines is a time-honored tradition among my people,” Ellica shot back at Reg with a grin, then look back at Cameron.  “Anyway, yeah, welcome to night shift, Cam!  It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he said, “I’d be interested to see this weird shit though, computers are fascinating.” He continued, before glancing back at the supervisor.

She shrugged.  “Sure, but there’s not much to look at now.  It’s gotten even more finicky, I’ve been having trouble even keeping a debugger connection up and running.”  She quickly raised a warning finger in Reg’s direction, adding, “and no, Reggie, I’m not afraid of it, don’t you start on that again.”  Her accusatory tone could have almost been taken as serious, but the quirk at the corners of her mouth belied it.

“We thought you’d been stabbed, you screamed so loud,” Reg said, smirking.

“I’m telling you, someone installed some weird software on that thing.”

Cameron chuckled. “You don’t scream so loud if you’re stabbed, though.” he said.

“W-what?” Reg seemed a bit thrown by that interjection.

Cameron smirked a little, leaning in as if conspiratorially. “Y’gurgle.” he clarified.

“Hey, yeah, you’d know!” Ellica said with a laugh.  “I don’t see that many melee fighters around, do you do magic too or is it just the sword?”

“Sword.” he acknowledged, leaning back away from Reg. “I keep meaning to pick up a bulletshield, I need to hurry my ass up, honestly.” he added thoughtfully.

Ellica nodded.  “Probably a good idea, yeah.”  Then she glanced aside nervously for a moment, adding, “You haven’t, um, actually stabbed anyone though, have you?”

Cameron restrained a laugh. “I kept to a wooden sword outside the walls,” he admitted. “But I saw a few people with knives in my time. It ain’t as pretty as in here.” he continued, his hand falling to the pommel of his sword.

“If you don’t use any magic, you should probably take some CCDM classes at least,” Reg said. “You can’t make B-Rank without magic certification.”

Cam tilted his head forward slightly. “Already workin on it.” he confirmed.

Elly nodded.  “So wait, you’re not from the city?” she asked curiously.

He shook his head no. “Nah, I just made it in.”

“Cool, I’ve never met anyone from outside the city before, what’s it like?” she asked blithely.

Cam grinned. “Not a city. I prefer this, it’s less… lonely. Hostile. Feels more lived in.”

“Less hostile?” Reg gave a low whistle. “In this precinct, maybe. Cross the border into 13 and you’ll see the other side of things. Or… don’t, because you can’t trust the cops there.”

“Huh.” Cam said, a slight bit surprised, it seemed. “Well I know how to handle myself, at least.” he offered, as if trying to make him not worry too much.

“You should be all right here. Trans-Di is a good muni corp.” Reg smiled again. It seemed to come naturally to him.

“Lucky to be here.” he admitted with a nod. “I’ll uh. Get back to work, I guess.”

“Well, there’s not a lot to do today,” Reg said, shrugging. “I’m in the middle of daily inventory stuff, but that’s a one-person task. Ellica, why don’t you show Cameron around? Get him used to the feel of the place?”

“Sure!” she chirped. “Anything to delay getting back to stocking.” She chuckled ruefully. “C’mon, Cam, I’ll give you the tour.”

She led him on a casual stroll through the supermarket, starting at the front and giving him the employee’s-eye view of the various parts of the store interspersed with commentary and gossip about both the night-shift regulars and their coworkers.

“Checkout duty is generally pretty simple,” she explained as they passed the bank of self-checkout machines.  “During the day we generally have people dedicated to it, but there are so few customers on our shift that we basically just head up to help whenever people have problems scanning things.  Which isn’t that often, to be honest, but we get more than our share of drunk customers, so, you know.”  She shrugged.

Cameron nodded, eyeing the checkouts, a couple customers checking out, not even enough to fill all the available registers.

“Ever had someone attempt to rob the place?” He asked curiously, imagining scenarios, thinking, wondering about the best attack vectors and defenses. Then he shook such thoughts away, turning back to Ellica.

“During our shift?  Nah, the worst we get is the occasional shoplifter, and they generally get caught by the door sensors.  I mean, keep your weapon ready, sure, but I doubt you’ll see anything worse than, like, a mimic or something.”  She chuckled.  “Our store manager Mr. Morganstern is actually pretty, uh, enthusiastic about the dangers of mimic infestations for some reason, I’m sure you’ll get the spiel at some point.”

Cam laughed as well. “I’ll be looking forward to that!” he admitted. He still couldn’t help but eye the aisles, the checkouts, it was all rather foreign to him still. “How long have you worked here?” he asked.

“About six months now!” Ellica replied cheerfully, leading him towards the far aisle. “I got the job right around the beginning of last semester, even though Reg still treats me like the new girl sometimes.”

“Cuz you are the new girl!” Reg’s voice called from several aisles over.

“I’m literally training up a new employee right now!” she called back.

Cam just grinned as they bantered, following into an aisle as Ellica rolled her eyes. “Anyway, booze aisle. You’ll get real familiar with it, cause guess what a lot of folk are looking for when they go on a late-night Securemarket run. Don’t worry if all the labels basically look the same, you’ll learn where everything goes soon enough.”

He eyed the rows and rows of alcohol, more variations than he’d ever seen before. “I mean, would people ask me for anything other than the aisle number?” he asked curiously, wondering just how much he’d have to learn for this job.

“They might?” Ellica shrugged. “I mean, sometimes people ask for recommendations, and if you’re not sure, ping Reggie over the comm. Or just yell across the store. Or ask me I guess, but I don’t have nearly as much experience. More likely though, you’ll get people who are really looking for one brand in particular, and it can be helpful if you at least know what part of the aisle each type of booze is in.”

“Not as much experience, huh?” Cam muttered, grinning slightly, trying to decide if he should poke at the whole ‘new girl’ thing. He decided against it, despite his half-chuckle. Didn’t want to pick between possible friends.

“Eh, I never got a taste for beer and people can be really particular about it. Ask me about whiskey and I’m your girl, but on the other stuff…” She waggled her hand uncertainly.  “Most of the time I’m just guessing.  Though you can still usually make customers happy if you can make a guess sound really convincing.”  She chuckled.

“Anyway,” she continued as they reached the back of the aisle, “bathrooms are back here, right next to the cleaning supplies closet.  There’s a reason for that.  We’ll show you how to work an automop—what’s your mana level like, by the way?”

“Uh,” Cam started, confusedly. “What’s that?” he admitted.

“Oh! Right, sorry, I forgot you’re not—I mean, right, you said you never did anything with magic. It’s probably not an issue, just, a classmate of mine has a congenital mana deficiency, can’t use so much as a Forcebolt. That’s really rare, though, you’ll probably be able to use the automop just fine.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “So it like. Works off of mana? That’s really wild.”

“Yeah, it like, has a contact in the handle that uses your body’s own magic to, y’know, make the cleaning happen. I don’t really understand the details of it that well, I don’t do hardware. It’s a little bit of a weird sensation if you’re not used to it, but it’ll get easier.”

He grinned, suddenly. “So does it like. Strengthen your mana pool to do that?” he asked, peering at her curiously.

“Sure!” she chirped. “Exercising your magic is just like exercising your body, it’s one of the things that God—” she broke off, flushing pink. “Ahaha, sorry about that. Yes. Exercise helps.”

“Cool.” Cam muttered, not seeming to notice the blush nor understanding why she cut herself off. “You okay?” he asked, his face betraying the confusion.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I just try to keep the Etherist talk down, I know most people aren’t particularly interested in hearing ‘God this’ and ‘adversity that’ all the time.” She shrugged apologetically.

Cam tried oh so hard not to flick his cat ear to face her, but he failed to resist the urge, flattening the other ear as he cursed his biology, hoping she wouldn’t call him cute. “Uhuh.” he muttered quietly. “What’s an Etherist?” he asked.

Ellica blinked, dumbfounded. “Wow, you really are—I mean, sorry! Etherism is, um, a religion. It’s my religion, I’m an Etherist. I forgot that it’s, um, not so big outside New Washington.”

He tilted his head, confused in part at her surprise, but also at something else. “Do you.. Not like that you’re an Etherist?” he asked, trying to understand.

“What? No!” She waved her hands in negation. “It’s really important to me, I mean, I don’t really go to church or anything, but, yeah. But I try not to talk about it all the time cause I know it can make people uncomfortable, I, um, know people who do that.”

Cam smiled a little, looking away. “Well, it won’t bother me, I’d be happy to hear and learn about it.” He said, reassuring her even as he stepped past her out of the aisle. “Anyway, wanna continue the tour?”

“Oh!” Ellica seemed startled, but she gave him a bright smile. “Sure, I’d love to tell you more sometime! Some other time. Tour. Yes.” She stepped past him, a slight blush on her cheeks, pointing out various features and chattering rapid-fire.

That’s the stun turret, you’ll never get to go up there. That’s the manager’s office, you hope you won’t get called in there. That’s the deli counter, but it’s closed on our shift, and the loading dock is out through there. If you smoke, that’s where you can go.”

Cam nodded, paying attention. After a while he let his focus slip, and his ears perked up to listen. “So what do they got in the deli?” He asked. “Anything worth hanging around for after a shift?”

Ellica shrugged. “If you like fresh-cut meat and cheese, sure. They’ve also got some premade sandwiches that are pretty tasty, but they don’t, like, make fresh food to order or anything. I’ve heard rumors that Mr. Morganstern has been angling to get a real sandwich shop installed, but again, not like it’d matter to our shift. Anyway, last stop on the tour, the most important room in the whole store.”

Cam raised an eyebrow. “The break room?” he joked, grinning.

“The break room,” she confirmed with a grin of her own, pushing the door open.

The moment Cameron stepped into the room, he felt… something. His eyes swept over the room and stopped at a broken self-checkout machine in the corner. It was like his attention had been drawn there, and he could now scarcely look away. “What’s up with the checkout machine?” he asked, slipping in, finding a chair after the walking around.

“Oh!  That’s right, you said you were curious about it.  Hang on, just gonna grab a soda.”  Elly walked over to the vending machine standing in the corner, punching up a code and waving her handshell at it to pay, coming back with a bottle of cola.  “This is the machine that’s been broken for a while, I’ve been trying to debug whatever went wrong with it but I haven’t really made any progress.  I can boot it up if you want but it’s probably not gonna be that interesting.”  She shrugged, sipping from her drink.

Cam shrugged. “I was just surprised that it was worth mentioning, y’know?” he said, glancing at the soda and then the vending machine, finally giving up to go get a bag of crackers from the machine.

Ellica chuckled.  “Eh, it’s kinda been my pet project for the last couple weeks.  Wouldn’t even be a thing except Reggie walked in on me talking to it, which is a perfectly normal thing that software engineers do thank you very much.”  She tried to sound prim but ruined it by not being able to keep a rueful smile off her face.  “Now he teases me every chance he gets.”

Cam grinned. “Y’all definitely got some banter going on,” he observed, sitting back in the chair a little and opening his crackers.

“Well, you know, you gotta do something to pass the time during a night shift.”  She smiled, flopping gracelessly into a chair herself.  “Joking around’s as good as anything else, y’know?”

Cam nodded, tossing a cracker into his mouth, catching it carefully. He munched for a second, glanced out the open door of the break room, then swallowed, before speaking up. “Is it really all that quiet on night shift?” he asked thoughtfully.

Ellica nodded.  “Really is.  Mr. Morganstern would never have let me spend company time working on this poor thing if it wasn’t,” she said, jerking a thumb at the checkout machine.

Cam chuckled. “I guess I get it easy then.” he muttered. “I half expected my first job in the Big City to be like, relentless. Really hard and shit, but this place seems like. Chill. Relaxed.”

The screen of the checkout machine came on.  Ellica almost choked on her soda as she noticed, managing to swallow and set the bottle down just in time to avoid a coughing fit. Cam raised an eyebrow, looking at Ellica with a questioning glance.

“Okay, that’s really weird,” she said, abruptly getting up and taking a few quick steps over to sit on the stool in front of the machine, picking up the debug shell that was connected to it by cables, seeming to have forgotten Cam entirely.  “Why’d you just decide to boot, sweetie?” she murmured under her breath.  “Is something going on with your power control firmware now?”

Cam dragged his chair over, wincing at the noise it made, then sitting on it backwards, hoping to not interrupt the girl cutely talking at a non-sentient object.

Help Work

Ellica sighed.  “Stuck at this again,” she said sadly, but in a more normal tone of voice.  She halfheartedly toggled a few controls at the debug console, hoping that maybe getting the thirtieth set of log records would shed some new light, before glancing back at Cam.

“This is farther than it’s gotten in the boot process for a while,” she explained, “but even the ‘Hello World’ program that I installed when I was doing my first tests has gotten corrupted somehow, like you can see.”  She gestured to the screen.  “Still not sure what’s causing the display glitches.”

Cam shook his head. “It doesn’t seem corrupted..” he murmured, taken aback for a moment at that knowledge, unsure where it came from.

Ellica chuckled sadly.  “I know, right?  I mean, I know exactly how the corruption happened, exactly what must have gone wrong somewhere to make it print that, but even so it still sorta feels like it’s asking me for help.”  She shook her head, laughing silently.  “Coincidence plays funny tricks on our brains.  Maybe that’s why it’s been so hard for me to put down, though.”

Abruptly, the display booted to the nonfunctional product list.

Med. Shopping Bag 0.1C

Cam tilted his head. “Point one ‘c’?” he asked. “Med is medium, right?”

“One demicred,” Ellica confirmed.  “And yes, that is the cost for a medium shopping bag in our system, but I have no idea why it’s been showing up.  Nothing else, just the medium shopping bag, over and over again.  And nothing’s stuck in the recognizer field, either.”  She pointed toward the brightly-colored markings that indicated to customers where they should wave their groceries to have the system add them to their total—but she didn’t quite seem willing to go as far as actually poking her hand into the area.

Cam didn’t seem to have any restraint like that though, and waved his bag of chips over it. Instantly, a jolt ran up his arm, through his body, like an electric shock but different, deeper, something that stopped time for just a moment and filled his heart with an intense, sorrowful longing. Cam grunted, shifting back in his chair slightly.

“Oh, sorry!  I should have warned you, the recognizer field’s been acting—”

Then the screen reacted.

Med. Shopping Bag 0.1C
Camlbak Hydragel 12.0C
Med. Sho 0.1C
Camlba 12.0C
Med Cam 0.CC
Med Cam 0.CC
Med Cam 0.CC

Help Work. Med Cam 0.CC

“Camlbak Hydragel?  That’s a new one.”  Ellica frowned, turning to a large printed three-ring binder, beginning to flip through it, paging through lists of groceries along with various internal programming codes and identifiers.

Cam put down his bag of chips, rubbing his hand. “Help work. Med cam.” he muttered under his breath.

“Yeah, and something’s weird with the price display, too,” Ellica said, still flipping through the binder.  She suddenly looked up, glancing back at him.  “Hey Cam, don’t read too much into it, okay?  I know it’s got your name showing up there but it really is just a coincidence.  How’s your hand, by the way?  I got a jolt like that myself once.”

“It’s alright.” he muttered, still rubbing it regardless. “Is that uh. Normal?” He asked.

The screen started populating itself with the glitched result, over and over, until it had filled the entire screen.

Help Work. Med Cam 0.CC
Help Work. Med Cam 0.CC
Help Work. Med Cam 0.CC
Help Work. Med Cam 0.CC
Help Work. Med Cam 0.CC

“Help work, med cam, zero dot cee cee,” Ellica murmured sadly as she turned back to the machine, forgetting her coworker again.  “Sweetie, you’re not giving me much to work with here.  What am I supposed to do, huh?  I’m trying here.”

Help Med. Work Cam 0.CC

Cam grumbled around some crackers. “Wonder what’s with the Zero Dot Cee Cee.”

After a pause, the screen added several linebreaks, then printed:

Help Me Work, Cam                    CC

Ellica shot bolt upright on her stool, her eyes wide, suppressing what was definitely about to be a yelp.  “Where—where did it get a comma from?” she said in a tiny, panicked voice.

Cam gestured at her with his bag of chips. “Or uh. Where did it decide to ask me specifically for help.” he offered unhelpfully.

“Um.  This—this could just be another bitflip.  And an interleaved data stream.  And a bunch more dropped characters,” Ellica said uncertainly.  “But.  Um.  Maybe do you want to be the one sitting in front of it, Cam?”

“So it can zap me again?” He asked, chuckling. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but this is as close as I’ve ever been to believing.” he admitted, before shoveling another mouthful of crackers in, finishing the bag.

“Um.  I’ve only ever had it zap me when I put my hand in the recognizer field,” Ellica said, nervously getting up from the stool.  “So maybe don’t do that?”  She blinked then and turned her back on the machine to face Cam fully.

“Wait.  You don’t believe in ghosts?” she asked incredulously.

“Never seen one, sounds like bullshit to me.” he grumbled. Suddenly his brow furrowed. “Are y’all. Pranking me. Like, first day new employee prank?” he asked curiously.

“Yes, sure, we’ll get around to pranking you,” Ellica said, waving it off.  “Let’s get back to: you don’t… believe in ghosts?  Are you pranking me?” she asked skeptically.  “Like, I’ve never seen a cow but I’m pretty sure they exist, otherwise where would we get our delicious delicious hamburger.”

“How are you so sure they exist?” he asked. “Weren’t you just earlier saying not to think too much of it using my fucking name.” he said pointedly. “Don’t tell me you believe in ghosts?”

“Well of course I believe in ghosts because they fucking exist, that’s not why I was saying—” she began, then froze.  “Cam,” she said slowly, inching her head around to glance sidelong at the machine, right hand twitching in the vague direction of her holster, “do you… suppose this checkout machine is haunted?”

He crossed his arms. “Now I know y’prankin me.” he said, crumpling up the now-empty bag of crackers, walking his way over to the trash can. “This is a set up. You’re a programmer or smthn, that’s why y’set this up to prank me, yeah?”

“Yes of course I’m a programmer,” Ellica snapped, “that’s why I’ve been working on this machine in my free time.  And if you remember, I literally just met you five minutes ago and we walked back here together.  When exactly would I have had time to put your name in it?”

Cam started. “Then, if it was a ghost, why did it ask me for hel—”

“Whoa, what is going on back here?” Smoothie poked her head into the back room, peering between the two employees. “Ellica, teaching Cameron to yell at inanimate objects was not part of his intended orientation.”

Ellica crossed her arms, staring accusingly at Cam.  “Cam doesn’t believe in ghosts,” she said without preamble.

“What? How does that work?” Smoothie knit her brow. “How do you not believe in ghosts.”

“That’s what I said!” Ellica burst out, throwing her hands up in exasperation.

“Do they just not have ghosts where you’re from, Cameron?”

“Y’all are REALLY not helping this prank theory of mine.” he muttered, arms still crossed just the same as Ellica’s had been. “I have never met anyone who had seen a ghost, I have never seen a ghost, I have never MET someone who believed in ghosts until apparently you two.” he stated, restraining himself from a few choice curse words. “So y’all are definitely pranking me, or this city is fucking Ghost Town.” he said, being sarcastic before finally realizing it could mean something else, and half-chuckled.

Ellica gave Smoothie a beseeching do you see what I’m dealing with here? look.

“You best not use that language with customers,” Smoothie warned.

“Shi—.. Yes sir.” he apologized, struggling to keep his voice from a grumble.

“Okay but. Why did this even come up?” Smoothie asked, turning her unimpressed look to Ellica.

“Cam thinks the checkout machine is haunted,” Ellica grumbled.

Cam interjected, restraining another raised voice. “I DIDN—” he started, then took a breath and restarted. “I said, if there really is a ghost, why the heck izzit gonna ask a non-programmer for help!” he pleaded, gesturing to the machine. “That’s why I am so sure it’s a prank! It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Also, um, I think the checkout machine is haunted,” Ellica added uncertainly.  “Maybe.” Cam rolled his eyes, but said nothing.

A pained look flashed across Smoothie’s face. “You… you think it’s haunted? You know if it’s haunted, we gotta call corporate, right?”

Cam tried not to laugh. “Okay so you aren’t kidding, this is a. Thing. That just. Happens sometimes.” he asked incredulously.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Ellica said to him with long-suffering patience, then turned back to Smoothie.  “And, um.  I don’t… know if it’s haunted?  But Cam made a crack about ghosts and ‘yesu, if that doesn’t make more sense than all the ideas I came up with…”

“Right, so here’s the thing,” Smoothie said, then hesitated. “Has… has the ghost hurt anyone?”

“Um.  If there is a ghost,” Ellica temporized, “it hasn’t… hurt anyone, no.  Gave me and Cam a pretty bad jolt, and, um, you might remember that it, uh, scared the heck out of me, but… so far as I know it hasn’t hurt anyone.”

“I don’t even know if that was like, painful.” Cam meandered through his words, struggling for terms. “It was like. Not Normal, I think. Like. If anything is proof of ghosts, or it being a ghost, some kind of, energy zapping us is a good start.” he half-asked, half admitted.

Ellica nodded.  “The jolt wasn’t any sort of element I’m familiar with, either,” she concurred.

“Sure. Okay. So here’s the thing,” Smoothie resumed. “Elli, you know how Alan is about pests. You know how he is.”

Ellica broke out in a nervous sweat.  “Yes sir.”

She continued. “If he finds out we’ve got a possible haunting, that’s a call to corporate, they come in, they sweep the store, everything gets changed out, our shift gets real busy and we get babysitters in the store for at least a month. Fun times.”

Cam didn’t seem fazed. “So can we fu—mess with the hell-machine more?” Cam asked, curiosity staving off any amount of fear, correcting a curse word mid sentence.

“I think my coworker means, can we,” Ellica coughed, “continue to attempt to diagnose and repair the Most Certainly Not Haunted machine that our esteemed store manager doesn’t need comprehensive updates on?”

“Yes, I’m glad to hear that you will be working on that Definitely Not Haunted machine. But y’all best do some work tonight.” She walked over to the fridge, opened it, and pulled out a clear tumbler full of thick, pinkish slurry. “It’s pretty dead but it’s not dead-dead.” She strode out of the break room, taking a long drink from the tumbler.

“Aren’t all ghosts like, dead?” asked Cam innocently, not realizing the intense avoidance they were making of admitting the facts was more than a joke.

Ellica rolled her eyes.  “She means we’ve got customers, Cam.  C’mon, I’ve got an orientation to finish giving you.  The machine will wait.  Probably.”


Cam and Ellica whirled in place, only to see the checkout machine powering down, nothing on the screen but a fading handprint.

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