E01. Fending

“Hey, Ellica, you want your fifteen?” Ellica turned to see the face of the store manager, Alan Morganstern, peering around the corner. Alan didn’t usually work the night shift, but the assigned shift supervisor had called out sick and so he was filling in now.

Ellica heaved both a sigh and the case of beer she was holding onto the top shelf.  “Yeah, that’d be great, Mr. Morganstern.  Thanks.”  She shot him a grateful smile as she pushed the cart she’d been stocking from to the side of the aisle and wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead.

She’d just made it back to the breakroom when her handshell buzzed, the name ‘Mam’ on the screen. Her elven mother. Great. She shot a longing look at the wallshell she’d been about to throw some kittenvids on, sighed, and answered the call.

“Hi, Mam!” she said, with a bright, chipper voice.

“Evenin, ineen. How was work?” Of course. Mam had forgotten that she was working the night shift again.

“I’m actually on break right now, Mam.  Remember, I had to shift my schedule around because of classes?”  She pinched the bridge of her nose but didn’t let any of her frustration into her voice.

“Oh, right. Well. How is work, then? Glad I caught you on a break!”

Ellica got up and walked over to the vending machine and punched in the code for a Go-Go Cola, holding her head to the payment strip so it could recognize her handshell.  “It’s fine, you know.  Stocking again.  What’s up?”

“I can’t call to check on my only daughter?” Oh no, Ellica could hear the lecturing edge coming into Bree’yen’s voice. “Living in a poor neighborhood, working at a supermarket, of all places—”

Iyesukristo.  “Mam,” she interrupted.  “The Securemarket is a very reputable business and it provides me with valuable professional and combat experience.  Precinct 9 is a nice place and it’s in a good location for my NWU classes.”  And it’s like four precincts away from you, she didn’t add.

“Well when the Good Book said to seek adversity, leanh, I don’t think this is what it meant. You don’t have to live in a hovel, or whatever—”

There was a sudden sound of a struggle, and the next voice to speak belonged not to Ellica’s mam, but her mother.

“Sorry about that, hon, we didn’t realize your mam was going to call you when she left the room.”

Ellica breathed an audible sigh of relief and pressed the can of soda to her forehead.  “Thanks, mom.  Work’s pretty rough today and I’ve got like twelve of my fifteen left.”

“Ahh ‘yesu. Sorry, Elli. I won’t keep you, just checking in. Classes going ok? You have any partners yet?”

“I really don’t have any time for that, mom?”  She sandwiched the handshell against her shoulder as she popped open the can.  “I mean, classes, work, homework, sleep.”  She paused for a moment to take a sip.  That was the stuff, yeah.  “Classes are actually going pretty well, though,” she conceded.

“You’ll find time, sweetie, you’ll find time. Glad to hear classes are good. I dunno what you see in hardware, but as long as it makes you happy, we’re all happy. Okay, well, I guess I better let you go. You take care, yes?”

My major is software, mom, not hardware. Not that she was about to correct her when she was so close to getting off the phone. “Will do, mom.  Give my love to dad.”

“Will do, but you’ve got to call him. You know how he gets when he feels neglected.”

“I know mom, I will, promise.  Love you.”

As Ellica hung up, she turned to see Alan walk into the breakroom, looking perplexed. “Is the night shift in this store always this dead? I swear it wasn’t always this dead.” He turned and noticed the depowered checkout machine squatting in the corner of the room. “And they haven’t picked up the busted machine. Great.”

She shrugged, taking another sip from her soda.  “Has been ever since I switched to the shift, at least.”  She glanced over at the machine as well, shaking her head.  “Y’know, I bet they’re gonna get it back to the shop, they’re gonna have a tech find like a single crystal out of alignment, and it’ll be back in another store the next day.  I dunno why they never just send people out to repair them onsite, it’d probably be cheaper.”

“It’s cheaper to replace than repair,” Alan said, “but actually I had my wife take a look at it, and she’s one of the best mechanics I know. There’s nothing wrong with the guts of it, it’s either a firmware problem or something related. But there’s no way we’re gonna get HQ to look at it, so we just have to wait for them to send it the hell back.”

Ellica contemplated the machine, tracing a finger around the lip of the can.  “You knowwwww…” she said, in what was very clearly an I’m-angling-for-something tone of voice, “I am taking software classes…”

Alan turned, looked at her, then laughed softly and shook his head. “I’m not gonna pay you overtime to work on a broken checkout machine, and I’m not letting you do it during your scheduled hours, either.” He pondered that as her face fell. “Unless it’s really, really dead out there. But even then, you gotta go back out if any customers show up.”

“Deal!” she said excitedly.  She flopped down into one of the chairs and checked the time on her handshell.  Sigh.  Only five minutes left.  “Hey, do I hafta finish stocking?”

“Nah,” Alan said, “I kinda did it for you because I was bored.”

Ellica brightened.  “Thank you so much!  You are a very helpful manager.  What do you want me on for the rest of my shift, boss?”  She smiled and took a long swig of soda, though her eyes kept threatening to wander back over to the machine in the corner.

Alan stared at her for a few seconds, then burst out laughing. “Fine, fine. Go play with the machine.”

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