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The ogre looked at his omelette and sniffed it, his nasal slits flaring. With a dubious series of clicks from his throat mike, he tried to hand it back. I don’t speak ogre, but I’d been around them all my life. I knew what he meant. Shoving the plate back at him through the hatch, I told him, “Yes, I cooked it. No, it doesn’t have a rat bar hidden in it.”
“I don’t care what it smells like. You can eat it or go hungry.”
He tried to look woebegone, which is hard to do when you’re an eight-foot, green-skinned, tusked monstrosity.
That was my boss of only two hours, Jack Choi, manning the deep fryer. His wife, Eveline, was at the narrow shelf we used as a prep table, dicing onions and garlic and jalapenos for salsa. I looked at him questioningly.
“We don’t boss the customers around. If he thinks there’s something wrong with the omurisu, make him a fresh one.”
Jack was one of the few people willing to hire me. I had tried all the restaurants on Two- and Three Below, but each of them pointed to the door, too intimidated by my father to give me a chance. Even Mama DeFino, who had taught me to make panna cotta, told me to come back when I finished school. But Jack was a retired mech who feared nothing in the bridge universe, least of all his former commanding officer. And he thought anyone willing to support themselves had the right to be called an adult.
“He’s just giving me a hard time.”
Jack sighed, turning out a load of fried jalapenos–the nuclear version from Hirconia Five that the ogres loved–into a basket. “Just make it again, okay?”
I gritted my teeth. This was my first job. Likely to be my last if Dad had his way, but I wouldn’t be fired through any fault of mine. I reached through the hatch and tried to take the plate back from the ogre. He clutched it protectively to his chest.
Outsiders found the ogres—our mechanized soldiers–creepy, and the Gaians, those revolting primitives who thought we all should live in dirt huts and run our food down on foot, wanted them all exterminated. But they were men under all the biological and mechanical alterations, men who liked good food, men who …had really long memories. The rat bar incident had been years ago.
This particular ogre had known me since I was a child. In fact, he’d been there for the rat bar incident–which didn’t give him a right to harass me on my first real job. I glowered at him, and the eight-foot slab of muscle with radiation-proof skin pretended to cower.
“Just give me that–” I said, making a snatch for the plate. “I’ll make you a new omurisu, and you can watch what goes in it.”
He lifted it out of my reach. With his free hand, he gently tweaked my nose with sausage-sized fingers.
I’m usually better at knowing when I’m being teased, but wondering what Dad was up to had left me sensitive. I waved him off with a tense smile. He grabbed the basket of fried jalapenos along with his omurisu and took it over to his squad, who stood at the tall tables Jack kept for ogres. There was a moment of silent communication among them, and they all shook with the signs of ogre laughter. Great. Now they were all going to do it.
Nine more orders for omurisu popped up on the display above the grill, confirming my worst suspicions. With a sigh, I got another crate of eggs from the fridge and started cooking.