“Life Bytes”

ATSF's technosoap for the digital millennium in twelve chapplets

Chapplet 8

Waiters are flying in my soup!

“Tom, what DO you mean? Now! This evening! About an hour! You can’t be serious. There’s nothing here and I’ve got one of my students staying too. And I’ve got masses of marking to do before tomorrow. No, no, NO!” Meg said quite emphatically.

“Look, Meg. I realise it’s impossible notice. I really wouldn’t ask except it’s the only way. You don’t have to worry about the food. He’s a programmer and will eat anything at any time,” Tom parried while hitting out at Steve across the desk with a computer magazine.

Steve was really enjoying the see-saw pleading and silence accompanied by pained expressions from Tom.

“No, he’s not vegetarian and doesn’t have any special diet requirements. ... Urr, I know because I saw him eating a bacon sandwich a couple of hours ago. Yes ... well ... that doesn’t mean completely that there are no diet needs. Nuts? Allergies? Are we likely to have nuts?” Tom looked confused but thought he was gaining ground if they were actually talking food. Steve was writing tennis-style scores on bits of paper now and holding them up.

“30:15,” the latest piece of paper had on it.

“I can pick up a takeaway as we drive back...that’ll solve everything ... oh ... it solves nothing ... ummmm,” Tom closed his eyes to try and understand the alternative logic that Meg seemed to have to him in these situations.

“30 all,” Steve held up and Tom tried to swipe the paper off him.

“I am listening ... really,” he insisted in a pretend pained voice while Steve waggled a finger at him and shook his head.

“Meg ... Meg ... M ... EEG! Look I’m not trying to impress him. I’m trying to reprimand him.” Tom regretted saying that as soon as he’d said it.

“30:40,” Steve waved the next score at him.

“Yes, I agree that it doesn’t seem logical but he’s proving to be a bit difficult and as I don’t know him I thought I’d better try to understand him first ... Yes ... I did say ‘understand him.’”

“Deuce,” the next bit of paper floated in front of him.

“Yes, I agree I’m not usually very perceptive about things like that ... and well, that’s why I wanted your help over this ... Oh! ... hadn’t I mentioned that?”

“Advantage crawling Tom,” the next piece of paper said with Steve grinning broadly behind it.

“Well. You know it’s your forté—especially young people ... yes ... yes ... he’s about a young 22 ... silent ... moody ... dresses in black all the time.”

“and ... I’ll take you to your favourite Thai restaurant this Friday. It’s the least I can do. You saved the day with the bug fix and if you can help with this ...”

“Game Tom,” Steve jumped around at his side of the desk waving the final sheet of paper as Tom put the phone back on the receiver.

“You smooth-talking bar steward,” Steve said wrily. “I’d never have got past Trish so late in the day.”

“Well, it will cost a Thai meal but is worth it,” Tom reminded him. “I don’t understand why she couldn’t have finished off her marking. I don’t really understand what she does with all her time. Anyway, I’d better collect The Terror. I’m late and if he’s done a bunk, I’m right up the creek.”

Meg came off the phone with eyes raised to heaven. The Crooze were back in command of the house with the beat shaking the foundations. She went to assess the food situation and so did the cats. They appeared instantly the moment anyone opened the fridge.

“You’ve had more than enough today,” she hissed at them. Her back twinged as she bent down and she realised that the scratches were hot and sore.

There was little in the fridge that would stretch to five and she went to check the freezer. The cats did too. There was little there, either. Perhaps she could encourage Brid and Faith to go and get a few provisions while she got on with her marking.

“Brid? ... Br... id? ... BRIDGE ... ET?” she shouted up the stairs inanely to herself, the cats sitting at either side of her feet looking upwards suspiciously at the noise.

“Really!” she moaned wearily to herself as she ascended the staircase. The cats shadowed her.

The music was deafening as she opened Brid’s door. The girls were lying on the floor peering over some sketches Faith had done. Meg spied the remote control on the bed and used it. Seran and Dipity bounded in. Dipity launched himself onto Brid’s back. Seran moved to paw Faith’s pencil as she held it tantalisingly over the paper. The house seemed relieved when the music subsided.

“Mu ... ummm!” moaned Brid but the look on Meg’s face stopped further moaning.

“Faith. Are you vegetarian?”

“Oh! Yes, Mrs. Fairford,” she said a little reluctantly. “But don’t do anything special for me. It’s just meat; I eat cheese and fish.”

“Ah! Right. That’s no problem, Faith. Don’t worry. Brid, your father’s just rung and he’s bringing someone for dinner, too ...”

“I’ll go, Mrs Fairford, you’ll have enough to do if there’s a real guest coming.” Faith took the opportunity for an excuse to opt out quickly.

“Ah! No getting out of this Faith. You’ll add just the right balance to the evening, I’m sure.” Meg took control quickly thinking that the last thing the programmer would want would be dinner with Tom, Brid and herself. They’d probably have little in common with him. At least Faith with her flamboyant hair should strike a chord with him if only in that they are both in what she deemed as the rebellious youth phase.

“I need you to go for a few items of shopping, please. I’m not going through this bother for you, Faith, really. It’s this extra guy that I haven’t got enough for.”

“Who is it, then? Anyone other than Steve and Faith and I will eat alone watching television. Dad’s colleagues are horrendously boring. They only talk techie things,” Brid added unhelpfully.

“Brid, you ARE going to eat with us and that’s that. I don’t know who this is or what he’s like but your father needs to get to know him better and that’s all there is to it.” Meg adopted her teacher voice as Faith and Brid exchanged meaningful glances of mock submission.

Tom dashed down the corridor into the room where The Terror should have been - and wasn’t.

“Oooooh! Nooooooh!” murmured Tom. “Anyone seen The ... umm ... Peter?” he threw out to the two others left working in the room. They looked up and shook their heads.

Tom headed for reception but his faithful Jan had packed up for the day. He stuck his head out of the main door and looked towards the station where The Terror needed to go for a train to Frindon gritting his teeth in a long low growl.

A light touch on his shoulder from the opposite direction made him straighten up quickly and release his hold on the spring door. It swung in trapping him between itself and the doorpost. He grinned inanely at The Terror who didn’t change expression but smoothly pulled the door open for Tom to release himself.

“Ah ha! There you are. Thought I’d er ... um ... left it too late.”

“How long is this talk going to take? I’ve a train in 14 minutes,” The Terror said quietly while looking at his watch.

“Ah! Talk. Yes,” hesitated Tom feeling like a 10 year old. He’d forgotten that Peter had never actually agreed to dinner. The terror of the Terror versus the terror of Meg if I don’t get him there now after all the fuss! Two Thai dinners instead of none, at least, he thought.

Joel and Greg were trying to get out now with Tom and Peter blocking the doorway. Tom took The Terror’s elbow and moved him into the reception area.

“Well, errr ... Peter, you know what it's like. There’s been a home crisis with my wife ringing me incessantly today and I’ll be in the real doghouse if I don’t get back pronto and ..."

“Night Tom ... Peter,” quipped Steve as he past them grinning widely at Tom’s distracted look.

“....yes, home crisis, isn’t there Steve? as I was saying.”

“Too right there was and is. Did Meg fill you in about the fire brigade? I’ve just remembered I meant to ask you for the full story.”

“Fire Brigade!” Tom now looked really distraught. Was Steve just stringing him along. He’d kill him. “I thought it was a problem with the cats!”

“Good luck with it all ... have to go,” said Steve artfully dodging through the door as Tom raised a hand in a gesture of “Wait” to a receding back.

Peter’s expression hadn’t really changed through the whole exchange.

Tom turned back to him knowing that Peter's 14 minutes had collapsed to 10 already.

“So, home crisis plus I have to talk to you before tomorrow equals no argument! You’re coming for dinner ... and you’ll make things easier for me at home, I mean ... or she’ll blow up ...”

"That bit’s true," he thought inwardly, "she’ll kill me if he doesn’t come now!"

“... and I might need some help with the crisis," he continued not allowing Peter any chance of interrupting.

"Urr ... you were so good with the video crisis that who knows what wonders you can reap ... good at marriage guidance perhaps ... and ... I ... I ... need to get rid of some computer books ... and who better than you?. ... .As a ... a ... thank you ... errrr ... for ummmm ... pulling us out of the fire earlier ... fire ... fire brigade ... she’d have said surely ...”

Tom mumbled the last bit as if to himself. Peter wore a troubled expression glancing nervously at Tom who had grabbed him by the elbow while dragging him towards what he presumed was Tom’s car, keeping up the monologue to stop Peter getting a word in edgeways. A word being the expected “No!”

“... some O’Reilly perhaps ... they’re solid stuff ... some magazines perhaps ... there are hundreds ... just the thing for aspiring managers ... you are aspiring, aren’t you ... well ... you need to think this all through ... beer okay? ... or wine? ... or what do you prefer? ... errr ...” Tom suddenly realised that if he asked a direct question he might give the opportunity for The Terror to get the word in!

“... not that it matters. I’ll stop and get a range. Ummm ... well, it’s turned out a good day when it was going to be a nightmare. Ah! ... Celebrate? Yes, we can celebrate ... hur ... hum ... well ... once we get our talk out the way.” He ended with a flourish as he shut the passenger door on The Terror.

Peter looked resigned to the whole situation and felt he just wanted a quiet life again as quickly as possible. He’d decided to humour this guy. He knew nothing much about Tom apart from the fact that he was senior to him and worked in the same place.

The car took off with Tom still whittering and Peter looking resolutely ahead of him.

Can Tom terrify The Terror? Will the cast be able to converge over a monitor? Home-sweet-home! ... tune in to the next convergent new media-friendly episode of 'Life Bytes'. Tell your friends.

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Life Bytes is written by Santa Fe and Sanity Claus