by Becky Tailweaver
Chapter 8: Dining Out
The stupid laundry took forever to finish. By the time it was done, Trunks was practically jumping up and down with impatience--and his stomach was audibly growling, adding to his intense desire to devour something. He was starving!
He barely took the time to drag his belongings out of the washer/dryer machine and cram them into his case, without bothering to fold them. Kalifer, who was surprisingly the more patient of the two, watched with amusement as the smaller youth fought to get his case closed around the disorganized lump of clothing.
When they finally returned their keys and left the Scrub, it was past sundown and the streets were clothed in shadows. Kalifer was holding back laughter as they headed down the sidewalk. The spectacle was rather amusing; whatever he was, Karaikoro certainly looked like an antsy Saiyan--he was practically on tiptoe, almost dancing in impatience, teeth clenched and eyes flicking back and forth. Kalifer snorted; he'd better feed the runt before he went on a hunt of his own and ate one of the natives.
And Kalifer knew just the spot. But only if it was still there...
"Where are we going?" Trunks demanded for the umpteenth time, getting impatient with Kalifer's noncommittal answers.
"You'll see," the big Saiyan repeated, earning a half-sigh, half-snarl of exasperation from his purple-haired companion.
"I wish," Trunks growled, "that you would stop being so damned evasive and just answer me."
"And I wish," Kalifer retorted with an equal growl, "that you would stop being so all-fired anxious and just let me find the place."
Trunks' face blanked in momentary surprise before he all but bared his teeth. "What? You mean you don't know where we're going?"
"I know where we're going. I just need to find out how to get there."
"Oh for pity's sake..." Trunks pressed his palm to his forehead. "Saiyans..."
"Watch it, pipsqueak," Kalifer snarled, rounding on him with a glare so intense that Trunks stopped in his tracks and actually took a step back, startled.
"Hey, I didn't mean..."
"Just stop it before you say something to make me flatten you." Kalifer waved him off and turned to start walking again. "We're both edgy 'cause we're hungry. So let's forget this and get some food in us."
"So forget about that place and let's just hit the nearest restaraunt!"
"I know we're almost there. If it's still there."
"Wait--wait a minute--hey, there's that knicknack dealer's place, Marishu-whatsisface..." Kalifer glanced up and down the darkened street, taking in the shops and signs like a kid coming home after a long absence. "There's the candy and liquor parlor...wow, it's still running...!" He grinned, glancing back at Trunks. "That place has got some neat stuff. And it's near the restaraunt I was telling you about."
Trunks was at his side in an instant. "It is? Where?"
"Let's see...just past it, I think--across the street from the little rat-infested hotel..."
"Yup, there's the hotel--looks like they finally condemned the heap..." Kalifer stopped beneath a neon sign that looked a little worse for wear but still fritzingly shone out its message in some alien tongue. "And what do you know! Shanky's is still running!"
Trunks whirled to stare at the restaraunt as if he'd been introduced to the gates of Heaven. "That's it?" It looked rather run-down on the outside; the windows were all shaded opaque and the only indication of habitation came from the buzzing neon sign above the door.
"That's it, Karaikoro. Great food, and it's cheap, plus nobody asks questions." Kalifer led him toward the doors. "Just watch your step, squirt--this place could be a little rough."
Trunks followed him, already picking up on the smells of food from within. "I'm ready for anything."
The doors opened--and Trunks found himself amidst a tumult of alien chaos.
The inside of Shanky's Bar 'n' Grill was much more upkept than the outside. The room was filled with noisy, upbeat music, which seemed tolerable if a bit...foreign. The lights were low and multicolored, with neon signs hanging on the walls along with pictures of what appeared to be alien celebrities and females of various species--not all of which seemed attractive. Cloying smoke from cigarrettes, pipes, hookahs, and other such hung thick in the air, along with the smells of cooking meat and hot grease.
There were round tables everywhere, each topped with a small lamp and surrounded by several people. The unlit stage and the noisy band pit lay across the room from the bar--and the bar was long and wide and looked to be made all of a single slab of some kind of polished sandstone. Behind the bar, a large entity with four burly arms worked a massive, flaming grill over which sizzled tantalizing hunks of meat, while other smaller cooks pattered about their duties with quantities of food. Waiters of several species bobbed among the crowds, carrying platters to and from the tables.
Voices of all kinds rose in murmurs, chattering, drunken singing, and odd shouts, a cacophony of alien babble from many different types of throats. The restaraunt was both frightening and inviting, overwhelming and eerily familiar; one part nightclub, one part low-class tavern, one part steakhouse.
"You finished gawking yet?" Kalifer's voice interrupted his observation, startling him.
"Uh...yeah..." Still hesitant, Trunks followed his friend down the stairs and into the melee, sticking close to the big Saiyan to avoid being lost in the sea of creatures.
"Hah! There's a couple seats right at the bar--let's grab 'em!" Kalifer picked up his pace, almost leaving Trunks behind as he made for the open spots. Arriving at the stone bar, he plunked himself down on a stool with a happy sigh. "Ahhh! Front row seats!"
Trunks carefully perched himself on the adjacent stool, a slight eager smile just beginning to touch his lips. "What'll we order?"
"Anything we want!" Kalifer replied with a grin. "Just don't eat the pickled vegetables."
"Hey!" Kalifer called out over the immediate din. "Who do I see for some grub?"
The four-armed cook turned boredly to them. "What'll it be, boy?"
Kal spread his arms. "A couple of the biggest slabs you got on the grill--and another couple for my pal here."
"Aye, in a minute."
With their meal ordered, Kalifer rubbed his hands together like a child at Christmas, licking his lips like a starving wolf. "Oh, this is gonna be good. Two steaks...I haven't eaten this well in months! Man, I've missed Shanky's..."
"Will two slabs be enough?" Trunks asked curiously, trying to peer around the four-armed alien's bulk to see what was on the massive grill.
"For starters they will," Kalifer said with a secretive grin. "They make 'em big here. Sandlizard steaks--they come off like this." The Saiyan indicated a size about the length of Trunks' forearm. "And they're thick, too! Ah, smell that?"
Trunks was already salivating with hunger, but the odor of freshly cooking meat was driving his Saiyan cravings wild. He nodded eagerly, nostrils flaring to catch the delicious smell. Even if it only took a few minutes...it was going to be a long wait.
So wait they did, and impatiently. Kalifer kept his tail confined to his waist but his fingers drummed the bar's surface, and Trunks' foot tapped against the stool's leg in a steady counter-rhythm. The music and the noise of the restaraunt seemed to drone together, until the four-armed cook turned to them carrying two plates, each filled with two of the largest steaks Trunks had ever seen.
When the plates were set down before them, the young half-Saiyan all but pounced on his, scrabbling for fork and knife--his mother's human upbringing barely managed to remind him to even use the utensils--and tearing into the meat with the viciousness of a predator claiming his prey after a long and tiresome hunt. Kalifer ate with a bit more poise, yet no less enthusiasm.
I never thought lizard meat could taste so good! Trunks thought half-coherently as he devoured his meal. I never thought anything could taste so good! How I've missed real food!
"Don't choke yourself," Kalifer cautioned around a mouthful of steak, between rapid bites. He swallowed, speaking briefly before shoving another chunk into his mouth. "You gorge like a starving Saiyan--be careful, you might not be able to handle so much."
Trunks barely spared him a glance, polishing off the first steak and digging into the second without pause. I am a starving Saiyan! You'd better believe I can handle this!
He ate in large gulps, Saiyan-like, barely chewing the meat that he wolfed down. There was little need; his stomach could digest anything. Saiyans were natural carnivores, and as such, they didn't chew their food much either.
He was almost surprised to find his plate suddenly empty. He'd devoured two giant slabs of sandlizard in only a few minutes, and was now licking his chops and looking about for more.
"What'd I tell you about slowing down and enjoying your food?" Kalifer teased, little over halfway through with his second steak.
"Can I get another?" Trunks asked eagerly.
"Knock yourself out." Kalifer vaguely waved his fork at the grill. "We've got spare cash tonight--and we won't have another meal like this for a very long time. Enjoy yourself."
Trunks' eyes lit up like lightbulbs, and he immediately ordered another pair of steaks. Kalifer chuckled as he ate, wondering at his small friend's appetite. Karaikoro had wolfed those steaks in record time; it would be very interesting to see if he could put away as much food as a grown Saiyan. Very interesting indeed.
Everyone knows what Saiyans do to digest.
Under normal circumstances, they get into a nice relaxing fight to settle their stomachs and help get the blood moving after a full meal. However, Trunks and Kalifer were in a restaraunt full of non-Saiyans who would probably not appreciate their idea of after-dinner activity.
Saiyan bodies have certain priorities: Fight, eat, and sleep, in that order.
Since they couldn't fight, were too full to eat, and would be stupid to sleep here, the two youths settled for the next best thing--they lounged against the bar with tall glasses of something marginally palatable, lazily watching the patrons of the establishment as well as the evening's entertainment on stage.
Featured tonight was a pretty pair of roughly humanoid twin girls doing a lively dance with feathered sequin dresses--though with the beaked faces both of them sported, a number of those feathers probably weren't from the dresses. The place had quieted somewhat in the past couple of hours, many of the daytime customers staggering out and the nighttime ones settling in to drink and enjoy the show.
"That was some good food," Trunks sighed quietly, leaning back against the bar and taking a long sip of his drink. "I haven't been this full in a long time, and it feels great."
Kalifer belched in agreement; both Saiyans had eaten until they were completely sated, stomachs visibly gorged. They used up most of their budget on food, but the rewards were well worth it. A rousing fight would have been fun, followed by a good curl-up-and-snooze, but unfortunately that would have to wait until later.
The twin bird-girls on stage finished their number, and the bandleader announced the next act in some incomprehensible native language. The stage lights dimmed to muted colors and the musicians played a somewhat slower tune as the new act danced onto the platform.
Trunks blinked and stared, rather caught by the alien girl's looks. She amazingly resembled a humanoid cat, complete with velvety feline ears, emerald eyes, and prettily patterned fur. Her dance was delicate and enticing, her voice sweet and soft as she sang a pleasant tune. He couldn't understand the words, but he watched her dance with interest, following her movements from the graceful curve of her spine to the elegant arc and flick of her tail as it trailed her dance like a furry emphasis on each step. The martial artist in him thought she had a rather athletic refinement to her movements, while the male in him simply appreciated her poised beauty and the articulated curl of her tail...
Kalifer nudged him, catching his eye with a sly look and a teasing whisper. "So, you like girls with tails, eh? Heh..."
Trunks reddened at being caught staring, averting his eyes from the cat-girl. "No way!" he hissed. "She's...just...a good dancer."
"Uh-huh...I was watching your eyes, squirt."
"Kalifer..." Trunks growled softly.
Snorting with his own muted laughter, the Saiyan let the subject drop. Trunks glared at him for a little while longer, but couldn't gather the courage to watch the rest of the cat-girl's performance. The most embarassing thing about Kalifer's teasing was that he'd been right--Trunks had found himself fascinated by the way the girl's furry tail had woven itself into her dance...
Ack... He downed the rest of his drink and turned back to the bar. Dammit... I do not like fuzzy cat-girls. He took a deep breath, glowering at his cup. Girls with tails? No way...human girls don't have tails. I've lived all my life on Earth, and I was raised human. Me, like girls with tails? Come on!
The cat-girl's song came to a close behind him, and Trunks breathed a sigh of relief as the next act came up--something lively and upbeat that sounded vaguely male. At least the cat-girl wouldn't distract him any more with her enticing tail...
Argh! He fought the impulse to bang his head against the bar and flagged down the nearest waiter-looking entity for a refill. Now I've got girls with tails stuck in my mind! Jeeze. Maybe it's just a Saiyan thing...
A vague thought drifted into his head, something concerning the Saiyan species--of which his father was a member--and the scar on his own tailbone that marked where he lacked a certain appendage which, according to Kalifer, was quite important to a Saiyan.
His next thought startled him, freezing his refilled drink halfway to his mouth. If it's a Saiyan thing, then...maybe I'm programmed to look for girls with tails.
"Well, duh..." repeated that same sardonic little head-voice that was beginning to sound a lot like himself on a really bad day.
Hell, that's just great, he groused mentally, and finished bringing his glass to his lips. If that's the case, no wonder I never got a date on Earth--none of those girls were interesting... His own thoughts were starting to scare him, being rather spontaneous and morbid. He tried to balance out the weirdness his brain was producing by making excuses. I was a little obsessed with Cell and the Androids at the time, too. It's not like there are any Saiyan girls gallivanting around the galaxy just waiting to be found. And I do not like fuzzy cat-girls; I know that for sure--there's plenty of them on Earth. So I guess it's just tails...
Great. I've discovered yet another hard-wired instinct I have to deal with. On top of the random urge to pick a fight, and pounce on anything that moves like prey. Just peachy. Now I have to meet a girl and make sure she has a tail before I can like her. I can just see that as first date material... He sighed morosely, taking another sip of his beverage, coming up with a universal explanation that summed up all his difficulties and that half the galaxy would understand. It's just a Saiyan thing...
"As I said, duh," that little head-voice nagged at him, still sounding eerily like a much harsher version of himself.
Trunks sat up straight on the barstool, forcibly removing himself from the depths of that morbid contemplation he'd been sinking into. Scowling, he gave his half-empty drink a suspicious look and set it down on the bar--he wasn't positive if it was non-intoxicating or not, and who knew what alien liquor would do to his already uptight psyche?
"That was weird," he muttered to himself, out loud to avoid getting scolded any further by his conscience...or whatever it was.
Kalifer's grip on his arm startled him out of the rest of his reverie, abruptly reminding him of his surroundings. The bigger Saiyan rose from his stool and tugged Trunks' sleeve, trying to pull him along. "C'mon, Karaikoro. Come with me."
Trunks gazed at him blankly. "What? Are we leaving? Where are you going?"
Kalifer jerked his thumb toward one of the darker corners of the bar, where several beings were gathered around a table and making quite a bit of noise amidst the music. "They're having an arm-wrestling match over there. I thought we could earn us some money."
Trunks raised an eyebrow. "You're going to bet on yourself?"
Kalifer shrugged with a rather smug grin. "Well, maybe a little. Mostly I thought I'd bet on you."
"Me?" Trunks gaped, still off-balance from his weird little bout of introspection and self-pity. "What the hell makes you think I want to get into an arm-wrestling contest with a bunch of aliens?"
"We can get some more money for our next shore leave," Kalifer offered. "I don't know where we're going next, but if you've got money you can get anything."
Trunks hesitated, reluctant. "But why me?"
"What do you think the odds are gonna be that a little shrimp like you could beat some of those bad boys over there?" Kalifer grinned. "You're almost as strong as me--I bet you could beat quite a few of 'em. And I'll take the rest."
Trunks glanced past his friend, at the rowdy table. "I dunno, Kal...what if some of them are too strong?"
Kalifer snorted. "What, this space trash? Nothing in the galaxy is stronger than a Saiyan! Uh..." He looked chagrined at his own sentence, and glanced around nervously. "Damn...hope no one heard that." He lowered his voice. "Don't say anything about me being Saiyan--people usually don't react real well."
"Oh, come on! We could use the money. With your appetite, there's no way we can feed both of us next shore leave."
Point to Kalifer--that was a fact. If he wanted to stay fed in this little partnership, he'd better earn his keep. At last, Trunks sighed. "I guess I could help out a little. As long as we stay out of trouble."
"Don't worry about a thing! Just let me do the talking."
"Sure, I won't worry at all..."
Kalifer led the way toward the shadowed table, shouldering through the outer ring of spectators wth a predatory grin. "Hey there," he greeted in a rough, challenging voice. "Who's the bookie for this match?"
A yellow-skinned alien stood up, eyeing him--and he had the eyeing down pat, with six eyes in his skull. "That's me, stranger," he replied. "I'm taking the bets. What do you want to wager you can win?"
The Saiyan reached behind him and grabbed Trunks roughly by the scruff. The half-Saiyan let out a surprised, indignant squawk as he was yanked half off his feet and shoved to the fore of the group. The bunch of large, muscly aliens looked down at him in disbelief as he collected himself and tried to shrug Kalifer's grip off his shoulders.
"Not me," Kalifer replied coolly, still wearing that "I-know-something-you-don't-know" grin of his. "I want you to figure up some odds for my little pal here. He wants to join the game."
That got some more startled murmurs from the group of oversized beings--even a mocking laugh or two. Despite the fact that Trunks knew his own strength--and he knew that a Super Saiyan was by far stronger than anything here tonight--he began to feel like a mouse in the presence of a pack of wolves. The fact that the shortest of the competitors still topped him by a head or more did not help the feeling go away.
"Don't waste my time, stranger," the bookie chortled, all six eyes somehow making his disdainful glare that much more disdainful. "We're having a real competition. We don't hold kiddie contests--that little brat wouldn't last a second. But you look like a tough fella--I'd wager you could earn yourself a deca or two."
Kalifer tilted an eyebrow. "I probably could...but c'mon now, give my buddy a chance. Lay me some odds and let him try just once." He let his sharp canines show in his grin. "Unless all these big thugs are scared that a little twerp like Karaikoro here will beat them."
"Kal..." Trunks growled. Knock it off with the "little" thing!
One of the big aliens stumped forward. "I'll take him up on it," the ugly brute sneered. "Just to put the little snert in his place--and get you to shut your face and get out of our way."
Kalifer actually smiled, quite pleased that he'd gotten results. "There you go, Bookie--you've got a challenger and this gentleman here has just accepted. Give us our odds, man, so I can make my bet. I'm sure you'd love to take my money."
The yellow alien frowned, thought, and finally shrugged. "It's your cash, stranger. I've got all night." He sized up the big alien, then looked at Trunks. "I'd say he's got odds of about fifteen to one."
Trunks practically choked. "I don't look that weak, do I?" he sputtered.
For the first time, Bookie looked him in the eye. "Hey, don't complain at me--I just call 'em as I see 'em. I don't happen to have a scouter with me, tiny, or I could give you a more accurate set of odds." His last sentence was just this side of mocking.
Trunks shut his mouth with a growl, while Kalifer laid the rest of their cash down on the table. It was quite a respectable sum, and several eyes lit up when he let go of the money. Bookie gathered it up and counted it. "You sure you wanna lose this much, stranger?" the yellow alien asked.
Kalifer shrugged. "It's my money."
"Whatever you say. Alright, short stuff, have a seat."
Trunks scowled at the moniker, but moved to sit at the opposite side of the table as the burly brute.
"You don't need a booster seat, do you, little guy?" the ugly alien chortled. "I think we can find you a directory book somewhere."
Now that little jab was just enough to tick Trunks off.
Enough with the little, he thought with a scowl. No, he wasn't quite angry--when Saiyans got mad, everything within several kilometers would definitely know it--he was just...rather irritated. He'd had quite enough of this group's humor at his expense, mocking his height. It was time to show these thugs that size doesn't matter.
"I think I'll pass, thanks." Letting his teeth show in a snarl, he set his elbow to the table and extended his hand. "Ready?"
"Your arm's funeral," the burly alien snorted, dwarfing Trunks' hand in his massive grip.
Bookie gathered the rest of the bets--the other spectators were actually quite amused. When the final tally was made and the match declared--his ugly opponent was a being named Rago--Bookie announced the beginning of the contest.
Trunks tensed the muscles of his arm, braced against Rago's considerable weight. The burly alien heaved to with a grunt, obviously expecting to knock Trunks through the table or some such--and was quite surprised when his arm simply didn't move.
"C'mon, Rago, quit playin' around!" one in the observers called.
"Yeah, flatten the little ant!"
"What the hell're ya doin'? Wastin' my money!"
After some more straining, it began to sink into Rago's brain that his opponent's arm was not going to yield to his efforts. He became a little panicked at that--and even more panicked when Trunks actually gave him a small, sinister smile.
"Is it my turn yet?" the purple-haired youth asked softly.
Trunks' smile turned into a positively wicked Saiyan grin. Without changing his breathing or expression, he began to move his arm--and Rago found his own arm being forced inexorably toward the table. No matter how he tried, Trunks' deceptively small hand simply kept moving forward despite all of Rago's efforts, as smooth and immovable as a machine.
The gathering of aliens was silent in shock as Rago's hand touched the table with an audible thump.
"Mas verrt'dango..." someone muttered, probably their linguistic equivalent of "holy shit."
For a few moments, the silence reigned. Then the entire group burst out with indignant disbelief, demanding another match, another bet--that was a fluke, no way it could be real. Bookie handed Kalifer his winnings wordlessly, all six eyes wide with astonishment.
Trunks released Rago's hand, not even winded. Forcing down the big alien's hand had been as effortless as lifting an eighty-pound dumbell. He felt guiltily proud--proud to have shown off, guilty because he knew it was truly worthless against such a weak opponent.
Kalifer grinned widely and began asking for any other takers. Bookie found himself swamped with bets, as entity after entity lined up for their chance to beat a rather scrawny-looking little purple-haired youth called Karaikoro.
To be continued...