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                                        Chapter II: Modified Mood

Monday, February 14th, 2157 CE.
6:47pm Pacific Time (GMT - 8:00)
Victoria, British Columbia Province,
Dominion of Canada, Earth


          "Love without romance is for the cold and selfish."

                                                                          -- Anonymous

 Scene 1: Waitress

            A young woman with a curly head of bleach blond hair backed away from a lover's lips as she came through the swinging doors out of the kitchen.

            "Snoggin' Sam on duty, eh Cindy?" George said as he turned to the side. Oh, to be young and full of hope. When did those two hit it off?

            "You bet, boss," she said, as she took a second to compose herself. Hair a mess, make-up smudged. Apron straps coming off at one shoulder. Not tonight, Sam.

            "Don't worry about all your waitressy wiles. It's just Preeti and a date. No other customers." Must she bring a black into this place?

            "Oh, she didn't tell me she was bringing her blind date over here, George!" she bubbled. "Sure loves to keep me on my toes!"

            "Hop to it!" Damn, she has a nice ass. Reminds me of Liz when we started dating. George began to polish an ancient silver mug that came of a tray someone had pushed out of the kitchen on a tray.

            "Don't need to be told twice," she said cheerily, as she walked off towards Lewis's table, withdrawing a stylus and scrawlpad from the pocket of her apron.

            Lewis and Preeti were deep in conversation.

            "She's been harboring a crush on him for months, now. And - I'm telling you - he makes the best Indian curry this side of Wreck Beach," she paused, "Pardon me, that's a crass expression."

            Lewis grinned, at the reference to the nude beach.

            "And she finally got permission tonight to pursue him--"

            "What do you mean, permission?"

            "Oh - uhmm, err - well, I--"

            Cindy coughed, a fake cough. Careful Preeti, no slip-ups.

            Lewis looked up to his right, reading her name-tag, "Oh, I think we were just talking about you."

            Nice catch, Preeti. Looks pretty fly.

            Eye off, Cindy, Preeti answered. Telepathy.

            "Hello, I'm Cindy and I'll be your waitress tonight. And this is Preeti, she will be your weird and peculiar date tonight. Any questions?"

            Lewis extended a hand, "Happy to meet you, Cindy."

            Cindy playfully rolled her eyes as she shook his hand. Firm grip. At this rate, though, better hope that grip can punch a federal agent. She needs to be more careful.

            "We were just talking about you, in fact." And his eyes wandered. In either a coincidence or subconscious whim, he found his gaze had landed awkwardly at Cindy's generous breasts. He instantly averted his eyes toward the table, where his menu lay flat beneath his elbows.

            "So you were. So you were." Preeti, you babble on like that and you'll breach confidentiality. We're special - and he's not.

            I'm sorry, Cindy. I have things under control !

            Rather than answer, Cindy began to write down 'butter chicken' on her scrawlpad.

            "Ice water and the Indian butter chicken dinner," Lewis requested, as she wrote. As she recommended - Sam's specialty.

            "Thai green curry with shrimp," Preeti added to the order. "One bill."

            "Mine. I know how expensive a university student's budget is."

            Courteously defiant! Preeti smiled, "And an ice water as well. And one grasshopper smoothie with two straws." She winked at him.

            "On the double," Cindy said as she walked back towards the kitchen. Be careful, Preeti.

            "Y'know," Lewis began, "This is a lot nicer than a service droid or the tables that send the food up through the floor. And it keeps people employed."

            "Well," Preeti added, "You're right. It may be old-fashion, but sometimes technology leads us in the wrong direction. Or at least, in ways we're not ready to handle." Am I ready to handle this?

            Lewis sipped his water, "Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom. All that rain outside, y'know." And he returned the wink she'd given him when she ordered.


 Scene 2: Rain

            And as Lewis got up from his side of the table, Preeti had a clear view of the rain. And it reminded her of that temptation to delve into his mind. Everything else seemed so much easier for her to control. The peculiar, disturbing memory haunted her - and she needed answers. Gawd, what am I thinking? I need to get to know him before I pry into the dark corners of his mind! And the rain kept falling. But what does it mean? What was that dream about? The pitter-patter of rain on the sidewalk was loud enough to be heard over the ambient satellite radio station. For whom does the rain fall, this night?

            Biff finished the last of another glass, placed a ten on the table, and pushed down the crimson red hood of his sweater-jersey.

            And as he turned his head, the red curls of his hair seemed familiar to Preeti. He bargained with George for yet another drink, and George took the ten credits with mild reluctance.

            Preeti gasped, as a visual penetrated her mind. A naked, muscular man covered in sweat, a swinging fist in the air, and the oppressive brutality of -- It's him! That's the man from the vision - the fragmented memory - the nightmare - whatever it was... that's him!

            She sighed. I sure hope it was just a dream. She closed her eyes, and focused upon her awareness of self. First her mind, as a cohesive soul, was sensed. Then, every nerve in her body, limb by limb, adding pieces to the puzzle. And, with courage, she stretched her awareness beyond it. Outwards, across the room - carefully, she breached the surface of his mind.

            Here's to ass-raping that bastard fag stag like the piece of rectum he actually is ! Here's to the best damn sex I've ever had! Here's to you, Lewis ! Here's to you !

            And Biff poured the whole glass down his throat in one mouthful, and sighed loudly. Grinning as it burned his throat, "Gimme another shot, George."

            "You hovering home?"

            "No, man, I told you, I'm walkin'. Quit bustin' my 'nads."

            "Hey, I was just checkin', you shouldn't drink too much, kid. Remember, walking requires a person to be upright."

            Upright, hah ! Yeah, I sure hell was upright. And you wouldn't scold me, old man, if you felt half of what I feel tonight. Unwanted. Discarded. Thrown away. Was I just a giant cock with abs to him? Eh? Why, I ought 'o choke him on the--

            Damn, a memory. A recent memory. Preeti pulled away, disgusted. This is why Cindy refuses to enter a man's mind. Greeeat. I'm not the altruistic type, though, am I? That was fragmented by injury and stress. But I need to learn more! If only he wasn't so crude - his thoughts disturb me. The morbid violence I sense behind every word. And those are only the thoughts his mind lets me observe! I shudder to think of what horrors he hides. If he tries anything stupid on Lewis, I might not be able to restrain myself.


 Scene 3: Bathroom

            Meanwhile, Lewis was in the bathroom. He smiled in the mirror, and then turned to the urinals. He picked a clean one, and unzipped. Did I look at the waitress like that on purpose or by accident? Primal instinct? And to think, I once thought I could never find them attractive. I was indifferent to them. And now they seem so - so comforting! And he realized such thoughts had results, Geez, I'm on a date! Why the heck am I...

            And then, the bathroom door opened, and someone entered with heavy footsteps,  "Employee bathroom is broken. Am I cooking your chicken?" If Cindy wants a cross-examination, that's what she'll get. Heh. Said she'd pay me half her tips tonight if I told her how big his --

            "Heh, I guess you are cooking my chicken," Lewis said awkwardly. "Sam Wong, I presume?"

            Sam extended a hand, and then realized that it was improper to do so when standing next to another man at a urinal. He withdrew it quickly, with a chagrined smile on his nodding head, "Blind date, so I hear?"

            "Yeah. First ever, for me. Going well, I reckon."

            "She's a nice girl. Good luck, mate."

            "Thanks, Sam," Lewis said, as they both washed their hands under the automatic system above the urinal, "And you too - with that chicken. I'm hard to please, and you have quite the reputation."

            "Speaking of hard to please," Sam began, and then stopped himself with another big grin that exposed his pearly white teeth, "Oh, you'll find out soon enough."

            Lewis rolled his eyes, "I can handle it."

            "Can you?" Sam said, as he rushed out of the washroom without another word.

            Lewis let his hands dry just a bit longer, and then returned to the restaurant. There was another man seated at the bar, conveniently obscuring his view of Biff. And three more tables were now occupied by customers. Good, looks like this place isn't as deserted after all. Then again, it is raining.


 Scene 4: Manners

            Preeti watched as Lewis tucked in his napkin, Manners! "Welcome back."

            "It's good to be back," Lewis told her. "Cindy sent Sam to scout me out for you."

            Typical, she thought, "She's just looking out for me, that's all."

            "What's your major?"


            "What are you studying? Y'know, university?"

            "Oh, nothing... it's umm..." Preeti looked down at the complimentary basket of bread rolls which neither of them had touched.

            "Is it something embarassing? I don't judge," Lewis assured her. I get judged.

            "It's classified."

            "What!? Classified?" Lewis was nearly speechless, "Sounds tough to get into."

            "I can't say much about it, as much as I'd like to. It involves psychology, a low number of classmates, a fair bit of experimentation and some one on one time with a professor... and a therapist. And sometimes I think the boundaries aren't well defined enough."

            "It sounds intriguing, to say the least," Lewis admitted. "It is education, right?" Classified? What is she doing, top-secret psychological testing?

            "Class-i-fied," she sang. How many have I given that answer to? Screw it ! Preeti paused awkwardly, "Have you heard of the Singh Meteor of '09?"

            "I took Astronomy last semester," Lewis informed her, as he recalled the lesson on the bizarre phenomenon. Does her classified training at the University have something to do with the meteor? Those substances were made of fundamentally-different particles at the sub-atomic level. And they weren't even dark matter! They speculated it was from another universe entirely, where the laws of physics, time and space are different.

            Not quite the truth, Preeti observed as she gleaned his busy thoughts, "Interesting stuff, eh?"

            "Well, what kind of job will this 'classified' course get you?"

            Wow, a young man capable of thinking about the future! Or else a very clever ruse to get me into bed. Preeti moved the hair out of her face as smells began to drift from the kitchen doorway. "Well, it won't get me a job."

            Lewis tilted his head toward her, listening intently.

            "I'll be working for the university, here in Victoria, all my life. Unless things change dramatically."

            Interesting. And so... mysterious. Lewis turned, and saw Cindy bending over the bar counter. He looked away, "So, you like getting into people's heads and such?"

            What!? How does he know? Play dumb! Preeti frowned, "Pardon?"

            "Y'know, psychology and such."

            "Oh, yeah! Of course." Preeti almost sighed in relief but stopped herself, "That. Well, sometimes it's fun. Sometimes I learn more than I want to know. And at other times, it's the most intriguing thing about a person." And with you, I'm not quite sure.

            "Yeah, I studied it a bit too in high school, not that high school gives many interesting options. I can't wait until university."

            "And what interests you in the world of careers and post-secondary academics, Lewis?"

            He smiled awkwardly, "I don't know exactly. I guess I haven't quite decided." Damn, that's unattractive.

            Honesty, great. This guy has ethics.

            Cindy came with the grasshopper smoothie then. It was green, and full of whipped cream, milk, green tea ice cream, small pieces of green watermelon-flavoured gelatin, and the occasional crumb of a breaded Nanaimo bar. Two thick straws were stuck into it. Fortunately, it did not contain any real grasshoppers.

            As she took one of the thick straws in hand, Preeti prodded his mind, remarking, "A fine way to catch neomono," in regards to the smoothie.

            The mention of the disease made his thoughts toss about in a flurry of relevant and irrelevant details, and she picked through them quickly with great focus. He's clean. A virgin prior to meeting Biff. Both tested negative for a full spectrum of STDs. And he's not sick right now - so I can share a smoothie with him just fine.

            "Is something the matter, Preeti?"

            "Lewis, can I be frank?" Time to kiss dating propriety goodbye.

            "I'd prefer if you remained a woman. Who's Frank?" And he watched her smile at his erratic jest, "Go ahead."

            That was ironic. She began, "You were matched up with me on the impromptu dating site because we're both interested in a mature, stable, long-term relationship, among other things. Right?"

            "That's correct." That's what I signed up for.

            She read his unguarded thoughts, "And was that just a ploy to get into my pants?"

            Cripes! I wasn't thinking that far ahead! No, gawd, no! Lewis tried to compose himself, Not that I wouldn't mind.

            "Fine, an overbearing accusation, I admit. But all too common. Date-a-holics and one-night-stand-ups. Makes a woman hard-pressed to find a dependable date these days."

            This is why I'm not attracted to men anymore. Their personalities are all wrong. Sometimes, even my own, Lewis mused to himself. He nodded, "I understand where you're coming from."

            "You've been just an object before, haven't you?" she asked. Oh, geez, here I go, at it again. That's fly.

            Damn, does my face and voice betray my heart so readily? Lewis took a sip of the smoothie, and sat back in his seat. "A lot of men are pigs, Preeti. I can't say I don't count myself among them at times."

            More candour and honesty. Preeti simpered, "How so?"

            No, don't think about that. Not now. Lewis adjusted his pants, digging his hands into his pockets to lower his boxer shorts beneath his pants. Let her think they're riding up.

            What am I d-- no! I can't stop now. Those thoughts are guarded, but there are other answers, that will speed things up more than his candour. She grinned, "Am I making you uncomfortable?"

            No. "Yes."


Scene 5: Uncomfortable

            "You don't have to lie to be polite," she said. What the hell did I just say? I shouldn't know he's lying.

            "Excuse me?"

            "Best to get it all in the open," she stated. "Tell each other our whole histories, if we're interested in each other. Lay it all out on the table without any veils."

            She's a brave one! Woah. Lewis looked pensive. This is either the stupidest lack of tact and propriety I've ever witnessed, or this girl sincerely wants to cut straight to the chase. That's intimidating.

            "Tell me about the man at the bar over there, Lewis." There's no backing down now! Time to ply his mind full bore. And Preeti looked at him, full eye contact, waiting for a response. Those tears on your cheeks were not rain, my dear. Tell me, for whom do the tears fall?

            And before them, Cindy placed a plate full of shrimp, bamboo shoots and assorted vegetables in a green curry sauce beside a bowl of sticky white rice. And on the opposite side of the table, a rich orange sauce coated chunks of boneless chicken upon a bed of wild rice. Beside it was a pile of green beans, which didn't look remotely Indian. The smoothie stood between them in the center of the table, a glass of ice water on either side of it.

            Lewis was still thinking, gathering many thoughts before he spoke a single word. And then he got up the courage to look nervously over his right shoulder at the bar. The red curls of hair, Definitely Biff. Shit.

            Preeti looked at the food, giving it a good strong whiff. And her stomach grumbled, audibly, "Oh, excuse me."

            From beside them, Cindy giggled.

            And then she pressed a button on the wall shading their alcove from a full view of the bar. An electronic voice from a speaker somewhere boomed, "Enter command."

            "Thin the alcove," Cindy said in a monotone voice.

           Abruptly, the table began to shake, and both Preeti and Lewis lifted their elbows off the edge as their dinner plates slid closer together, their padded benches against the wall moved inward, and their faces met firmly over top of the smoothie's straws.

            Cindy cackled, and walked off to go attend to another table.

            Instead of immediately answering Preeti's question, Lewis did something not quite as bold. He tilted his head to the side and then pushed it forward. And she let him. Their lips met, and opened upon one another slowly and sensually.

            For once, a lover who isn't trying to suffocate me.

            Oh, a man who knows how to kiss slowly! Wow. No tongue being shoved into my mouth. This is... kinda nice.

            Wow, she smells like... oh, my mother's spice cabinet. Lavender and cumin!

            Good, not the slightest hint of those awful body sprays. Just pure, simple hygiene. And as steam rose from the curry and the chicken, she placed a hand upon his neck.

             And Cindy stood at the bar, now having served her other customers. With a brief glance from afar, she turned to George, "You owe me fifteen credits."

             George shook his head, "You're a genius, Cindy. You really are." He stared at the six tables that were now occupied by two regular couples, two cheery old lesbians in their eighties, and one double-dating group that did not look familiar. And everyone seemed to be having a good time.

            Cindy looked at the door, "Happy Valentine's day, boss. She's here."

            And a stunning older woman in a pink dress with an antique folding umbrella came through the door, smiling beatifically at the bartender. And that's when Cindy adjusted the stereo system, and an old crooner from long ago began to sing something timeless and classic - lyrics full of love and romance.

            The red-faced, red-haired, red-hoodied young man at the bar interrupted George's perfect moment, "Poor me another, will ya?"

             He's had enough already, I should tell him to get lost. George turned his attention to the middle-aged woman walking towards him. Aww, why cause a raucous now, though?

             Biff placed his third-last ten-credit bill on the counter, and grinned sheepishly as George poured a glass.

             "Can you handle the bar for the next two hours, darling?" George asked Cindy.

            She smiled, "I thought you'd never ask."

            "Just tell me if any cop cars drive by," he joked, as he took his date by the hand and began to dance to the ancient sound of Frank Sinatra. And he gazed, silently, into the older woman's eyes. They had not exchanged any words, and knew they did not need to.

            The increased mood of romanticism made Biff feel even more miserable, uncomfortable, as he got up the courage to pour another stinging, burning glass straight down his throat. And, as several couples began to dance, swinging their bodies around as one - Biff noticed that the restaurant began to spin. Or perhaps his stool. He was truly drunk. He grinned, And the dumb blond with the silicone tits in front of me is just pouring another glass. Woah, I'm gonna regret this in the morning. Oh well!

The End

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