After a few minutes, Bracken emerged from the basement ‘clothed’ in a muted green shirt and reddish pants, cotton in texture. He had also taken the blue coat from the clothing rack in his room and donned that. After he reshaped his proportions slightly smaller, it fit rather well. He walked into the workspace on shoe-shaped feet and stood beside Jaz, who was preparing a pourover vessel for brewing. When she glanced up he gestured at himself with a snarky grin.
She pointed at her own eyes, then at his which were still wholly black.
“Oh.” He concentrated briefly. Whites appeared around the edges of his eyes, then dark brown irises around black pupils.
“That’s great. Thanks.” She meditated on the coat a moment, forehead crinkling. “You look like…some kind of art deco portrait.”
Bracken was sure she’d been about to say something else, but she turned away and started the coffee grinder before he could ask her about it, or what art deco was.
A star-eyed, cerulean female swaggered into the shop, a white grin splitting her lower face. She wore a bright green blazer and matching skirt, and a gold watch chain made a curved line from a buttonhole to a small pocket at her waist. Her black ankle boots tapped smartly on the floor and her leather purse swung jauntily from one hand.
“Well,” she said brightly as the grinder’s ecstatic scream ended. “Well, well, well, eh?”
Jaz dumped the grounds into a waiting cone filter. “I told you he’d do it.”
“Did he ever,” Joli chortled. She climbed onto a stool across from where Jaz was pouring, hooking her heels over the crossbar. “I’d like to give him a medal. Between the bank managers scrambling to reassure the account holders, the employees tied in knots about the future of their careers, and all the trains delayed, the city doesn’t know what to do with itself.”
Jaz poured water over the grounds until they were well saturated. Chocolate-colored liquid dripped from the cone and smeared the bottom of the clear vessel. “He’s dropping in later. You can shake his hand.”
“I will.” Brimming with goodwill toward all, Joli turned her grin on Bracken, who was pressing a fist to his mouth to suppress his laughter. “Hello. You must be another relative of Jaz’s.”
“Another relative?” Bracken lowered his fist and glanced at Jaz, who was watching the water level in the cone go down.
“I don’t know what else you’d be. Not many humans in this part of the country.”
“Oh,” said Bracken, “Right, sure. So you knew about the bombing too?”
“Jaz notified me.” Joli beamed at her again, swiveling on her stool like a searchlight.
“Right.” Bracken nodded. “And why is this guy…”
“Aton Vidersnak,” Joli supplied with reverence.
“Why is he blowing up banks?”
“So I can build my garden.” Joli turned up the volume again, her voice reaching the highest register yet. Bracken winced; Jaz just nodded and poured.
“Anyway, that’s what it will come to once he hears my proposal,” Joli continued. “I don’t know what attracted him to this particular bank. Possibly the location, but then again possibly nothing besides its existence. You can never tell with anarchists. When I heard about his scheme I was simply thrilled.”
“Thrilled,” Bracken said, wincing, “About a bombing.”
Joli waved a small hand. “The bank was empty, of course. I had been telling Jaz what I wanted to use the space for, and she set me up with Aton, and now here we are.”
“Aton is a regular here,” Jaz said. “I just suggested they talk.”
“The wonderful thing is that my father is looking for a place to build one of his horrid cafes,” Joli chuckled, “and when he finds out he missed this prime location he’ll simply weep.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” Bracken said, taken aback. Morphas never openly rejoiced in misfortune, deserved or not.
“Of course it is,” said Joli. “He hasn’t missed a business opportunity like this since I was seven years old. Some misfortune would do him good.”
Bracken leaned to Jaz. “Isn’t she a little young for all this subterfuge?”
Jaz made a derogatory noise in her throat. “They’re not as young as they look.”
Joli heard this and drew herself up, gaining nearly a half-inch. “How old do you think I am?”
“Uh…” Bracken thought she looked about twelve, but he tried to guess high. “Fifteen?”
Joli’s cheeks took on a bruised look as she blushed, smiling. “Fifteen was a long time ago. I’m so flattered.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sixteen,” Bracken said.
“He’s adorable, Jaz.”
“Take him with you,” Jaz said.
“So you want to plant a garden in the middle of…what town is this again?” Bracken asked.
Joli blinked. “You must be from the sticks, not to know Pucheon.”
“I live pretty far away,” he agreed.
He tried to say ‘Cavicea’ but could not push a sound out past the first letter. “C—c—c—c—”
Jaz set down the kettle and watched him, openly amused.
He tried again, only managing to stutter and click like a typewriter.
“What’s wrong with him?” Joli asked Jaz, keeping her eyes on Bracken.
“He fell,” Jaz answered smoothly. “On his head.”
Joli tskd sympathetically.
“His brain might be damaged. It’s too early to tell. If he talks nonsense just ignore him. I’m just looking out for him until his family can find him and take him home,” Jaz said.
“No,” said Bracken, trying to correct Jaz’s story, “I’m tr-t-t—” He couldn’t say ‘trapped’. He tried a few other sentences. He tried saying he didn’t belong to this world, that Jaz had pulled him into another dimension or whatever she had called it, and that he wanted to go back home immediately. “I don’t b-b— She—she-t-t— I want to go—I-I-I-AHH!” He pointed desperately at the windows. “That’s not Main street and everything is wrong!”
Some nearby customers looked over, their star-eyes staring.
Joli shook her head sadly. “Poor thing.”
“Poor me,” said Jaz, “I’m stuck with him.”
Bracken clenched both fits and turned on her. “Jaz! What happened?”
“He has some memory loss too,” Jaz continued, blandly absorbing his look and passing a full coffee mug to Joli.
“Memory loss,” Joli echoed with sympathy, as if hearing the story of an abused kitten. Her smile reappeared abruptly. “Lucky you, I have votwort stashed nearby.” She jumped down from the stool hurried away across the shop, leaving Bracken stuttering a protest. The table of onlookers went back to their conversation.
Jaz took his arm and pulled him close. “You can’t talk about the Defiant to these people. They don’t know.”
“What, I can’t say I’ve been kidnapped into another dimension?” He could say it alright now, when no one was listening.
“Who we are. What this is. You can’t say it. But I guess you figured that out.”
Bracken pushed his face closer to hers. “What are you doing to me? Why are you doing this?”
“I’m not doing anything. I told you, I’m trapped here too.”
Bracken wasn’t sure he believed her. She had been so amusedly watching him stutter and panic a moment ago. But then, last night she had said she was also trapped, and she seemed somewhat relieved to say it. In fact, she’d called The Defiant purgatory, but Bracken hoped that was an exaggeration.
“This should be enough for a cupful,” Joli’s siren-like voice was heard before she was seen climbing back onto the stool. “It’s not much but it should bring something back for you.” She produced a long, clear tube topped with a cork that contained several crimson, fernlike leaves floating in vermilion liquid.
Jaz procured an empty mug and Joli uncorked the tube, pouring the liquid into the mug.
“Joli is a horticulturist. She works with plants,” Jaz explained to Bracken. “She’s the best in the country.”
Joli smiled. “Oh, now…”
“She supplies me with sweet herbs and spices for specialty drinks. Mint, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, ginger—”
“Actually, ginger is a root.” Joli pushed the mug toward Bracken, stretching her short arm as far as it would go across the countertop. “Drink this.”
Bracken stepped back. “Oh, I don’t—”
“Drink,” said Jaz, like a mother enforcing manners on an unruly child.
Bracken sipped and tasted hot peppers. His tongue burned though the liquid was cool. Rather than spit the brew over the counter, he swallowed quickly. The tincture seared his throat as it went down.
“I have trowtov for you, Jaz,” Joli said, dropping the empty tube in her purse.
“Don’t get them mixed up,” said Jaz. “I need the anti-memory stuff.” Her gaze went past Joli’s shoulder, habitually checking for new customers. “Uh-oh. Joli, your father…”
Joli spun to look and gave a little shriek, like helium escaping a balloon. Bracken stifled another giggle, his eyes watering from the strain and from the spicy tea.
“He’s already scoping out the property. I’d bet on it. He’ll do almost anything to get a space on the plaza for one of his horrid pie shops.” She twisted back to Jaz. “You didn’t mention to him I was coming here, did you?”
“Of course not!” Jaz looked offended. “I only order from his bakery, and I don’t even talk to him directly. I want you and Aton to make your deal. I wouldn’t sabotage that.”
Bracken tried to follow their looks to spot the father, but he was hidden among groups of females clustered on the sidewalk.
“Aton can be fickle. If he sees a business mogul like your father hanging around he may split. Or start a fight. You never know with him. You need to get rid of him before Aton shows up,” urged Jaz.
“I know.” Joli gathered her purse and hopped off the stool. Bracken and Jaz had to lean over the counter to see her. Joli waved and hurried to the doors, heels tapping double-time. She squeezed out past two customers coming in, muttering a scant apology as she passed.