The morning passed in a rush. Airships landed every hour on the hour, their huge bellies touching down on the landing pad, letting down stairs from rectangular hatches stretching accordion-like to the bricks. Passengers disembarked and flowed into The Defiant, while waiting customers rushed out the doors to catch the next departure. In these crowds were women in flowing skirts and patent leather walking boots, clean-shaven men with trim sideburns wearing smart suits and lacy cravats, carrying leather satchels smelling of lavender and money; officers in dark blue uniforms, their shining boots squeaking on the floor tiles. Mixed in among them were young people from the Academy of Alchemy, wearing jackets and blazers with patches affixed to the shoulder, toting satchels bulging with textbooks.
The shop swelled full of bodies and luggage, emptied and swelled again. The Defiant began to seem more like a train station than a coffee shop.
A line of customers pressed toward the counter, shuffling satchels and suitcases, checking their pocket watches. Bracken scrawled a list of drink orders on a miniature chalkboard stationed the espresso machine for Jaz, who was churning out about ninety drinks per minute. The line continued to build. As Bracken waded through the onslaught of orders, ringing up customers and trying to make correct change out of unfamiliar currency, Jaz zoomed around the workspace, making drinks and picking up his slack.
“Bracken I need you to prep the cups before you give them to me.”
“Refill that hopper before it’s empty. Where are those cups?”
“Oh…yeah. Um…” He turned slowly in a circle, overwhelmed by the multitude of tasks.
“Never mind.” Jaz seemed to be making five different types of drinks at once. “Go finish those pourovers.”
Bracken gave the waiting pourover vessels a tired look. He ground beans and poured water on them at intervals while customers in line watched impatiently. His body felt sluggish and heavy, but he refused Jaz the satisfaction of showing his fatigue. If Jaz kicked him out of The Defiant, he would never find Sadie. He had begun to think of the alternate Sadie as his aunt, regardless of what Jaz said. Any version of Sadie was better than none at all. So he stood straight and took drink orders and worked the register as if he had been born to do nothing else.
Outside, the belly of another airship touched down on the landing pad. Hinges squealed faintly. Yellow vapors hissed out of the engines and curled against The Defiant’s windows. People filed into the shop in a line that seemed unending. But then suddenly, the last customer was walking out with their drink, marking the end of that rush. The shop was nearly empty for a few minutes, save for a few young people huddled over textbooks at various tables, until the next airship brought a new crowd.
Jaz pulled espresso into two demitasse cups and set one next to Bracken. “Tired?”
He shook his head no. They drank the shots, Bracken tossing his back with a wince and Jaz swallowing hers with a thoughtful look. She rinsed the shotglasses and dropped them into the dishwasher. “The rushes are predictable, at least.”
Bracken rested against the counter, resisting the urge to slump over it. “How do you do this by yourself?”
“I’m very efficient.” She looked at a young man sitting alone at the counter. “By yourself today, Davin?”
Bracken stiffened, snapping his head around to look at the young man. In all the flurry and hustle, he hadn’t even noticed him there. His surprise was quickly replaced with irritation at himself. How long had Davin been sitting there, while he was occupied pouring coffees and counting change? Irritation was just as quickly replaced by excitement. Davin was here, and Bracken was one step closer to finally finding his aunt.
Davin looked up at Jaz. His brown hair was a little longer and his large, brown eyes were a little older than in the photos. “I wish. Costello is meeting me here in a few minutes. Exams are next week.”
“Right.” Jaz pulled another shot and set it in front of him with a small glass of sparkling water. “Here. On the house.”
“Thanks.” Davin’s smile brightened his pale face considerably. His cheeks were rounded, sprinkled with freckles. He wore a light blue jacket, zipped partway up. The high collar was folded down, wide lapels almost reaching his shoulders.
Jaz knocked the spent puck of espresso grounds from the portafilter with more force than necessary. “If you happen to spill it on him when he gets here it’s alright with me.”
Davin took a stack of books from the backpack sitting on the counter in front of him. “It’s alright, Jaz.”
“Sure…” Jaz shook her head.
Bracken, who had been staring at Davin and growing more and more electrified, finally found his voice. He pointed suddenly at Davin and said, “I have that jacket. Had it. I used to have that jacket!”
Davin blinked at him.
“Weigh out more beans for pourovers while we have time, Bracken,” said Jaz, a little louder than necessary.
Bracken ignored her. “Where does it come from? I mean, where did you get it?”
“They’re part of our uniform.” Davin turned to show a patch on his right shoulder. It read ‘Vasencea Academy of Alchemy’ across the top and ‘Primovera’ across the bottom. A brown bird with wings spread in flight was embroidered in the center of the patch.
Bracken leaned toward him over the counter, grinning. “I knew it! You’re him!”
Davin leaned back. “Pardon?”
“Davin who doesn’t believe in rainbows!”
“Battlestations, Bracken.” Jaz pushed him toward the register. The front runners of the next rush were stepping through the door.
Bracken skipped backwards with outstretched arms. “Sadie! You knew my aunt!”
Davin’s mouth dropped open.
Giggling under his breath, Bracken turned to the first waiting customer, a stately young woman wearing a neat blue blazer with an Academy patch on the shoulder. Her long golden hair was twisted into a loose knot at the base of her head.
“What flavors do you have?” She asked.
“Vanilla!” He cheered.
“Do you have anything else?” She had a sharp, intelligent look that grew sharper as she narrowed her eyes in scrutiny.
“Nope!” Bracken said brightly, drumming his fingers on the edge of the counter and glancing at Davin, who was staring at him in shock.
“Yes you do.” The young lady pointed at the row of syrup bottles near the espresso machine. “I can see them right there.”
“I bet I know which one you want though.”
“The point is you said you didn’t have anything else when in fact you do,” she said, in a show of being patient.
Bracken shrugged. “You’re right. Sorry. Which flavor do you want?”
“An iced vanilla cappuccino please,” she said coldly.
“You got it!” He slapped the syrup into a pint glass and set it by the espresso machine.
“Iced vanilla cappuccino,” he announced to Jaz.
Jaz picked up the cup and looked at it with disgust, as if it were a particularly ugly slug that had crawled up from the drain. Directing her disgust at the young woman, she said, “We’ve been through this, Clara. An iced cappuccino is not a thing.”
“I assure you it is,” said Clara, her cheeks reddening.
“It’s physically impossible,” Jaz retorted. “You do not get foam in an iced drink. Whipped cream—fine. If I served it. Which I don’t. Foam—forget it. And I’m not spooning foam over the top of the damn thing. That’s just ridiculous.”
Clara set her jaw, sighing through closed teeth. “It is neither ridiculous nor impossible. I’ve had it here before.”
“You’re getting an iced latte. That’s what you’re getting.”
Bracken felt this argument was wasting precious time. He edged over to Jaz. “Couldn’t you just make it for her this once?”
Jaz removed a portafilter from the espresso machine and thrust it toward Bracken’s chest. “Absolutely not.”
“Because I am the immortal goddess of coffee and I refuse!” Jaz snarled, wagging the portafilter for emphasis.
“Fine…” Clara made an impatient gesture with one hand. “I don’t know how you stay in business.”
“I don’t know why you keep coming back.” Jaz hefted the glass in her other hand, seeming to consider hurling it at the young woman, but instead set it down so hard it rang and began pulling shots of espresso.
Bracken turned away from Jaz, unsure whether to laugh at her or shake her. Another time, he would have found this exchange quite funny. But he was running out of time and Jaz seemed determined to make it impossible for him to talk to Davin.
“Incorrigible,” Clara muttered, making her way to Davin.
He leaned slightly away as she settled on a stool beside him.
“Hello Davin.” She smiled, her face becoming quite pretty. “Waiting for Costello?”
“Yes.” Davin murmured, more at his books than at her.
“I just saw him on the road as we landed. He’ll be here any minute.”
A tiny frown puckered Clara’s forehead for a moment. “Ah. I forgot your ability. You must have seen me coming, also.”
Davin shrugged and nodded, avoiding her eyes.
Bracken sidled close to Jaz. “What ability?”
“He sees what the wind sees—it’s Alchemy stuff. They call it Farsight.” Jaz muttered back. She set Clara’s drink before her on the counter. “Are you and Costello still dating? Why don’t you take him for a nice romantic walk when he gets here? Davin doesn’t need his help.”
A larger frown creased Clara’s brow and her mouth tightened. “I think Costello is being very nice to help Davin study. The entrance exam for the Flier program is quite difficult.”
“That blighter doesn’t help people. He uses them,” said Jaz.
Clara straightened on her stool, preparing a rebuttal.
“It’s alright Jaz,” said Davin quickly. He gathered his books and slid from his stool.
Clara smiled at him in a matronly way, then stood also. “I was going to meet him, but the atmosphere here is too disagreeable. Let him know I said hello, will you Davin?”
Davin nodded vaguely. Clara flounced out of the shop, leaving her unpaid-for drink on the counter. Jaz left it there and returned to her spot at the espresso machine, muttering rude-sounding words in a language Bracken didn’t recognize.
“My name is Bracken, by the way, ” Bracken said to Davin, watching Jaz from the corner of his eye. “I’m staying with Jaz for a while.”
Davin looked up, meeting Bracken’s eyes for the first time. “Nice to meet you. Sadie mentioned she had a nephew.”
Bracken nodded, feeling more lightheaded than before. “I saw—I mean, she told me about you too. She liked you.”
Davin’s cheeks and neck flushed pink and he looked down at his hands. “She’s a good friend. I haven’t heard from her since she got sick. How is she doing?”
“Sick? Ah…” Bracken blinked. He looked at Jaz, who shook her head at him, swiping a damp towel over the counter. His mind spun into high gear as he realized Jaz hadn’t told Davin the truth either. Which was actually good news for Bracken. “Yeah. Yeah…she’s…doing better now. She’s…living…out in the country with family. How long did…have you known her?”
“Since I came to Vasencea from the country for basic training. She got sick a few months ago, just after I graduated and started at the Academy. I gave her one of my jackets. I’m glad to hear she’s doing better. Missed seeing her here…” His voice trailed to a whisper and he glanced furtively at the doors as they opened and Costello swaggered in.
If anyone had been formed and intended by nature to be a pirate, it was this young man. Broad shouldered, barrel chested, with a jaw that seemed about to sprout a seaman’s beard any moment, Costello strode into The Defiant like a captain taking command of a ship. Davin retreated to an empty table, away from the counter.
“The usual, Jaz!” He said loudly, waving in her direction. Heads turned toward him. He accepted the reaction as natural and continued to the next point of order. He found Davin with a sweeping glance and strode to him, smoothly stepping around suitcases and handbags as if they weren’t there.
“So!” He said, pulling out a chair across from Davin, “Did you get the hang of the cyclone yet?”
Davin reply was too quiet to hear as he pressed into the back of his chair, possibly in hopes it might absorb him.
Jaz stood at the espresso machine, needlessly swirling a towel inside a clean portafilter, eyes bulging with thoughts of violence.
Bracken, standing beside her, asked incredulously, “That guy is helping Davin?”
Jaz shook her head. “He’s supposedly ‘helping’ Davin learn advanced Alchemy techniques. As if Davin needed it. He’s incredibly gifted. His Farsight ability alone could get him promoted to the top of any career he chooses. He wants to get into the Fliers, and unfortunately so does Costello. He’s making Davin take the entrance exam for him. If he doesn’t, Costello will get him expelled.”
“Money. He’s rich and his family has influence. That’s all it takes to get what you want here. He’d buy his way into the program but the Captain who runs it makes everyone pass a written exam. No exceptions. She’s one of the only officers in Vasencea who’s not completely corrupt.”
“So since Costello can’t buy his way in, he’ll just cheat.”
“Yep. And Davin thinks he can’t refuse because Costello is high in the pecking order.”
“We can’t let him get away with that.”
“What do you want me to do? Knock him out and throw him in the basement?” Jaz began refilling her espresso grinder from a bag of beans beneath the counter. “It’s their business, not ours. You can’t go trying to fix whatever’s wrong in these worlds. It’ll just drive you insane. And what do you care, anyway? You’re not going to see any of them again.”
Bracken watched her, trembling with sudden anger. “I don’t know why anyone still comes here, the way you treat them.”
Jaz glanced briefly back at him. “If you’re not going to work, get out of my way. There’s another rush starting.”