TUNE - Chapter 6


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         "Dinner time!"

         Like clockwork, a small service window opened up once again in the back wall of Andy's bedroom at 6pm. B101 leaned in with another tray of food. Andy was relieved to see her. He feared the incident at lunch might have landed her in trouble.

         "Thanks, Dash," he said eagerly, grabbing the tray.

         The young Praxian woman held onto the tray and stared quizzically at Andy. "What did you just call me?" she asked, cocking her head to one side.

         Shit! Andy cursed himself for the slip, and back peddled in a panic. "Huh? Oh, uh... I just..." His armpits grew damp. "Listen, I can't remember all those numbers, so I thought I'd just call you 'Dash' for the hyphen in your name. What do you think?" He flashed a feeble smile and shrugged, trying to look as innocent as possible.

         As it turned out, he had worried for nothing. Along with sarcasm and mockery, Dash was also ridiculously free from a sense of suspicion.

         She released her grip on the tray. "Huh. That's funny." Her voice was full of innocent wonder. "The creature in the cell next to yours calls me the same thing."

         Andy chuckled robotically. "R-really? What a coincidence."

         "I know!" she declared in amazement. "But I do realize what a complex name it must be for such primitive brains."

         "Oatmeal," Andy replied, tapping his temple. "Pure oatmeal in here."

         Having safely side stepped a potential land mine, Andy was happy to go along with whatever "Dash" said. He certainly didn't want to jeopardize his friendship with Mo.

         "Fine, 'Dash' it is," B101 said cheerfully. A splendid smile surfaced in the void of her helmet. "I like it! It makes me feel special." Then just as quickly, her expression fell. Like a child caught with her hand in a cookie jar. She dropped her gaze. "Okay, well, I have to go," she murmured, turning around. "Enjoy your dinner, Andy Go." With that, she scuttled down the corridor.

         Andy dropped the tray on his desk and bolted back to the window. He called after her. "Hey, wait! Listen, Dash. I just wanted to say I'm sorry about what happened earlier. I had no idea that--"

         Dash spun around and hissed. "Stop!" Then, after a furtive glance over her shoulder, she continued in a whisper. "I've never seen my dad so furious! And that's saying something. If he hears us so much as mention that incident again, I'll lose my job. It took a lot of begging and pleading for me to keep it as it is."

         "Okay, fine. I understand," Andy murmured. "But I do want to talk to you about making a couple of calls back home after the zoo closes tonight."

         She blinked her large, doe-like eyes at him. "What are you talking about?"

         Andy exhaled, exasperated. "How many times do I have to ask you guys this?" he groaned. "I'm not asking for enriched plutonium! Jesus, I just want to make a couple of phone calls."

         "You don't get any phone calls," she said flatly.

         "What? Is it the long-distance fees? What are the interdimensional rates over here? Whatever it is, you can just take it out of my paycheck. Sheesh."

         "You don't get any phone calls. Ever," she said.

         Andy couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was in a different world with different work rules, he understood that, but not being allowed to make a single call seemed outrageous even by North Korean standards. He felt like throwing a fit, but exhaustion trumped his frustration.

         He sighed. "Okay, fine. Whatever. I give up. I'll just make a trip back home over the weekend. Happy now?"

         He shuffled back to his desk and sat down wearily in front of his dinner.

         Dash padded back to the window. "Andy Go, there are no phone calls, no weekends off, and certainly no visits back home."

         It took a few seconds for the words to register. When they finally did, Andy went limp from a sudden wave of dizziness, like he had just glimpsed the ground from the roof of a soaring skyscraper. He dropped his fork. It clattered onto the tray.

         "I'm sorry, Dash... Could you repeat that? I think I misheard you. It sounded like you said--"

         "You agreed to it yourself when you signed the contract." She shrugged.

         Andy was breaking into a cold sweat. "You told me yourself that I had weekends off..." His voice sounded like the creaking of an old door barely clinging to its hinges. "That I was free to do whatever I wanted on the weekends, including visits back home."

         "No, I said the basic contract included weekends off," she stated. "You didn't sign the basic contract."

         "Wha... what did I sign?" He gasped the words, like a fish out of water trying to breathe.

         "The premium contract."

         Now the room was spinning around him. "What? Wait a minute...!" He hissed though a lump growing like cancer in his throat. "How many years does this premium contract sign me up for?"

         "For life," she said. Then she snapped her fingers and pulled out a pepper grinder from her belt. "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Pepper?"


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