Tunney glared at the coffee shop owner.
"We're not going anywhere," he said. "We'll run into General Villainous at some point in this cockamamie plot, so it might as well be sooner than later. And if it's going to sooner, then I'm going to need a latté."
The proprieter shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said.
"Good," Tunney replied. "Loomis, grab us a table."
"Aye, sir." Loomis said, moving towards the seating area.
"Varis, guard the door."
"Aye, aye, Commander," Varis purred. "And by the way, I really love it when you get all commander-y and assertive and--"
"Just do it," Tunney snapped.
"Ooooooh," Varis said with a squint and a pucker. "Better and better."
"Doctor," Tunney said, turning to the final member of the party, "you stand by with a hypo in case I have an allergic reaction to anything I ingest here."
"Oh, joy," Bacon muttered. "I'm breathless with anticipation."
"So, you ready to order?" the shop owner asked.
"Yes. I'm ready to order," Tunney confirmed.
"You're sure about this?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"You got all your men positioned where you need them?"
"Yes, yes. They're fine."
"You got your strategy all mapped out?"
"Cause, you know. This latté ordering thing. It's a big responsibility. You don't wanna mess it up. You want to make sure you got all the angles taken into account."
"I think I've got it covered."
"Good. Just so's your sure."
"I'm sure! Now may I please place my order?"
"Commander," Varis called from the doorway.
"What?" Tunney snapped.
"We do have a plot, however cockamamie, to move along here."
Tunney gestured helplessly at the proprieter. "I just want my frickin' latté. I wasn't expecting the--"
"Hold it right there," Bacon interjected, grabbing Tunney's arm.
"What now?" Tunney asked, exasperated.
Bacon pulled him close and whispered. "You were going to say 'Spanish Inquisition' weren't you?"
Tunney frowned. "How the hell did you know that?"
Bacon released his grip. "C'mon, Jon. This is comic piece. I know it's a bit lame in places, like this moment right here, but it's still intended as comedy. If you uttered that phrase, do you have any idea of the mayhem you'd cause?"
Tunney cleared his throat and scratched his head. "Yeah. I suppose you're right. I wasn't thinking."
"You gonna order or what?" the proprieter asked. "Me, I got things to be doing right now. Like closing up shop and leaving town, for instance. Avoiding bombs. Saving my neck. You know, the little things."
Tunney turned towards the counter again and straightened his shoulders.
"Yes, I'm ready." He cleared his throat a second time and looked the old man in the eye. "Barista, whip me up a triple venti, non-fat, one pump sugar-free hazelnut, light whip, extra-hot, two splenda latté. And make it snappy."
The man stared at him for a moment. "What, I look like Mister Starbuck to you, maybe?"
"No," Tunney said. "He's from Battlestar Galactica."
"She!" Varis called from the doorway.
Tunney looked annoyedly back at her. "Potato, potato."
Bacon shook his head. "This is a text story, Jon. That joke doesn't really read."
Tunney let out a long, hissing breath. "I don't care!! I just want my latté!"
"Fine, fine," the proprieter said, putting up his hands. "I'll get you something low fat with hazelnut in it."
"Good," Tunney said with a nod.
He straighted his uniform and turned to survey the coffee shop.
"Landing party, regroup at Loomis's position."
Bacon looked askance at him. "You mean go to the table?"
"Yes," Tunney snapped. "Go to the table. You too, Varis."
Varis stepped away from the door and joined Tunney and Bacon as they sat down at the table Loomis had secured for them.
"Commander," she said. "We have a bit of a problem."
"Yes," he replied. "We have several. We have an impending civil war here, a goverment that obviously bears us no good will, an old foe who's miraculously alive and here gunning for us, plus an unsettling lack of overt commercial references in this chapter."
Varis pulled out her Maybelline Lustre-Bomb All-Environment Lip Gloss and applied a touch up.
"There's one you haven't mentioned," she said, checking herself in her Acme Vani-White Hemispheric Holo-Mirror.
"Really?" Tunney asked. "I thought I had it all covered."
"Not quite," Varis said, turning her attention back to him. "If you'll recall, in the first chapter, Loomis here was female."
"What?" Bacon and Tunney blurted simultaneously, turning to look at Loomis.
"Then, in the second chapter, Loomis had no personal pronouns at all. Same with the third chapter."
"My God, Varis." Tunney said gravely, examining Loomis closely. "You're right."
"So by the time we got to the fourth chapter," Bacon chimed in.
"Exactly!" Tunney said, slamming a fist on the table. "Varis's intense display of female sexuality was enough to tip the balance in favor of 'him' and 'his'. There just. Weren't. Enough. Personal. Pronouns."
"I don't really enjoy being talked about like this," Loomis said, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Tunney turned to Bacon. (That's a really funny sentence all on its own.) "Bones," he said. "I mean... Francis. Do you have anything that could help Loomis?"
"Well, you know, I just might." Bacon said.
He opened his Proctor and Gamble Astro-Med Field Kit and laid it out on the table. Running a finger along the labels on the vials, he muttered arcane names to himself as he searched for the perfect treatment.
"Aha!" he said at last. "There it is." He pulled one of the vials out of its elastic loop and held it up.
"What is it?" Tunney asked.
"It's an infusion of female personal pronouns."
"Genius," Tunney said.
"Why couldn't I just be a lesbian?" Loomis asked. "Don't you think that would have moved this scene along a lot quicker?"
"Don't you understand, Ensign?" Tunney asked. "In the fourth chapter you actually changed to a 'he'. We have to fix the anomaly."
Loomis sighed. "Fine. Get on with it."
Bacon inserted the vial into his Transdermic Injector and placed the device on Loomis's arm. With a sharp hiss, the vial's contents were transferred into Loomis.
"Just give it a minute," Bacon said.
They watched Loomis closely. The ensign's face reddened slightly, respiration deepening, sweat forming.
"I really don't like being watched," Loomis said.
"There," Tunney said after a moment. "I think it's working."
"Wow," Bacon said. "She's really cute."
The red of Loomis's face deepened even further, contrasting nicely with her short blonde wedge cut.
"Quick," Tunney said. "What's your first name?"
"Melanie," Loomis replied with an obvious sense of relief.
"And are you attracted to Varis?"
"No, sir. Though I do feel a slight pang of regret about that."
Tunney looked at Bacon again. "Do you think she needs another dose?"
"No, no. She'll be fine. The stuff just needs a bit more time to fully metabolize. That's all."
"Good," Tunney said, satisfied. "That's one problem out of the way."
No sooner had he spoken than the front door of the coffee shop crashed open and flew off its hinges.
"It wasn't locked!" the proprieter yelled.
A tall, menacing figure stepped into the shop. As the dust settled, his vaguely man-shaped features resolved themselves into a horrifying conglomeration of flesh, steel, and plastic. The human torso was attached to long, robotic legs and arms. The once fully-fleshed face was now a patchwork of metal plates and electronic sensors. A stripe running up one thigh read "Hewlett-Packard".
Tunney stood. "Villainous," he growled.
"Yes, Commander," the intruder replied, his voice a low rumble processed through a low-pass filter with just enough reverb added for dramatic effect, "it is I, your arch-nemesis. And if you've quite finished fixing all your little typographical errors, I'd like to get down to the serious business of wiping you off the face of this planet."
Of course, he laughed. And of course, he turned up the reverb.