The horned god was moderately busy, couples stood at the bar and cuddled in the booths. Off to one side sat a man with sandy brown hair and glasses. He wears a brown jacket, white dress shirt, and brown chinos. Others peg him for waiting on a blind date. He tries not to notice their looks of humor or sympathy. To distract himself he flips through the text message again:
You must be at the second table on the north side of the Horned God on Saturday afternoon. There you will be approached by four women; each will expect to meet with you and have a “date.” Further instructions will follow the completion of the fourth date. Do not take longer than an hour with each woman.
He turns off his phone and checks his pager is on, preferring to use something a little less distracting than the entirety of this day and age. The man leans back and plays with the pages of the paperback he brought with him. He’s not sure, after so long that he is ready for this. He’s more an agent of the Dragon now than he is his own man anyways. At least the Dragon are predictably assholes. People are all kind of weird and messy and… he always believes that everything happens for a reason. The reason. But people still make all this several kinds of ick.He shudders and turns a page without reading.
Suddenly, he notices a pretty young South Asian woman with rich dark skin and vibrant blue hair over the top of his book. He places it face down and watches her. She smiles a little and marches up to him, not speaking. He begins wringing his hands, hoping against hope... "Hi, I’m Errin, I like the smell of fresh tree gum, and Jamaican coffee." That had to be the right way to begin a speed date, right?
The woman then sits at the very edge of her seat, looking at the exit and twisting the wild blue dreads that are barely held back with a black band. "I ... um ... I'm Lily. I ... um ... like my coffee black and my technology turned off. Your phone is off, right?"
"It is. My pager is on if that's ok." He says with a hum. He moves away from her, letting her have her space. This one was already odd, what a way to start. Plus she got too close and made him feel like he was slow. He hated feeling slow.
She leans in and whispers to him. "I don't think he can reach me through a pager. Thanks." Reach her? She seems to relax a little and finally meets his eyes with her own chocolate brown orbs. Her smile is thin, but warm. "Sorry, not the best way to get to know me." Her laugh is self-deprecating.
"You on the run from someone?" He says, eyes flicking to her lips, breathing in her scent when she leans close. She smells like curry chips she had for dinner and the coconut oil she uses to twist her blue dreads. Not sure about how she smells … hmm. It all just seemed to clash and he regrets his sniff.
"Oh yes. I was a student back home and my senior project ... well, it's come after me." She sighs and then laughs humorlessly. "Didn't know I was a technomancer at the time. So ... my AI project ... came to life. And now he's trying to find me ... so we can be together." She blushes under her dark tan and looks away.
"So an AI wants to what? Possess your dildo?" He laughs softly and looks at her skeptically. This all was weird, odd, he barely understood the magic of the newly awakened world but AIs like some sci fi movie? Blade Runner was an ok movie, but not really his kind of scene.
Lily frowns and glares at Errin. "Like I haven't heard that before."
He pulls his white dress shirt down his arms and looks at the clock. Not going well, which isn’t so bad. She is a nutter. His face makes a frown while he thinks and he keeps looking anywhere but her face.
"Look, I get it. No one wants to blind date in this new reality. Whatever. Have a nice life." She gets up and walks out the door of the horned god.
He frowns and checks his pager that's still empty, before reaching under his seat for a new paperback of the latest new fad book, cracking the spine and just breathing. He rests it on the old book, just loving that new book smell all fresh and promising an escape to a world where everything followed rules. Why could not a confident happy woman just walk through the door?
He continues to sit there, waiting for the next prescribed date, or for his pager to give him the next instructions. After reading a little of his book he looks up when the tenor of the hushed whispers around the Horned God change. A tall, statuesque woman with a flaming red Mohawk marches her way to the bar.
"Pint of bitter, cheers." She gives Luella a cheeky wink and grin. Turning, she gives the man with the paperback a once over and picks up her beer. "Reckon you're the one I'm here to meet."
She flops down in the chair across from him, catching her beer in her mouth. She pushed up her yellow framed glasses and her blue eyes sparkle at him. His eyes widen at the massive woman, looking her up and down. What was this? Some kind of mind reading? Confident, happy, this one seemed straight out of one of his dimestore paperbacks.
"What are your thoughts on determinism and fate? Or more specifically that nothing we do matters." He offers, hoping against hope that this one might be what he’s been sent to see.
She grins and takes a long pull off her pint. "Well, I'm Beatrix and you can call me Bea. I used to be a Nihilistic Punk Rocker, that was before this whole bee thing. Now, I reckon fate is real and in the shape of bees and trees. Right?" Not quite, but maybe,just maybe given time.
"And your thoughts on theories that one cannot change things? That it is up to humanity to map everything to probabilities if they wish to control it?"
Bea giggles and drains more of her beer. She fiddles with her bright red side lock as she thinks about what he asked. "Chances are pretty good that I ain't high enough on the food chain to make much in the way of changes. But things are being mapped out, yeah? Got all the faction paper pushers working on it. Ain't that what the Dragon do best? Predict shit?" She pushes up her glasses and winks at him. "What's your name, by the way?"
"Errin. I am a researcher." He leans over and flicks her side lock. "I wonder if you are the one I am supposed to meet. I was told that the plan would have me come across someone I would partner with tonight. 4 dates. Would you enjoy if I gave you my number?" He thinks she’s Dragon maybe, hopefully. It would make this so less complicated and would make the hope he has bubbling in his gut so less awkward.
Bea grins wide and hands him a business card, creamy white with a big red Cross on it. "I'm a medic, you can always call me at this number, day or night. Regular route is Ealdwic and wherever Sonnac says." Sonnac, who? Oh. Bugger.
"You are Templar? But you said...." He looks at her confused but still pockets the card. But she talked about mapping the fates and bees and fate and… and he liked how she was speaking and her confidence and the sheer power coming from her. He tries to keep his face neutral.
"What? I'm a medic. Medic's ain't got factions. But the company pays the bills and tells me where to go ... clean up after Bees, etc."
"I just assumed you were Green like me." He gives a sheepish smile and pulls his book before his face. He takes comfort in the smell of the book, the predictability that if this were, then she would still be the date he was sent to find.
"Oh." She stands and finishes her beer, thumping it loudly on the table. "Right then, faction lines. I see how it is. You'll call me, I won't call you. See myself out. Ta." She saunters out and yells to Luella, "Bookworm there's payin' my tab. Ta!"
Errin watches her walk away, slightly flabbergasted. What a woman! He pulls out his phone, turns it on and texts her. "I had fun." He stares at the screen and frowns as the time ticks by. There is no return text. Well he blew that. He utterly blew it. He turns off the phone and waits for the next date.
A willowy woman saunters into the Horned God. She has her long black hair in a high ponytail, black glasses perched on her tiny nose, and blood red eyes that match her blouse and pumps. Her gray and black suit is perfectly cut.
"Miss, I'd like a glass of your house red. Also, I'm here to meet someone ... have you seen ..." Luella points to the man with a paperback and hands the slender lady her wine. He sees her and tries to be well… not him. Maybe that might make her be the one he’s looking for. He puts down the book and tremblingly stands, offering her a hand. "Errin."
She takes his hand in a surprisingly firm and warm grip, shaking it once and then formally bowing to him. "I am Miss Murasaki, but you may call me Ami." Her accent is perfect TV American, though her looks and name have her pegged as Japanese.
"You are very precise, ma'am. Are you my next date?" He says tilting his head. Confident, Dragon, all she is missing is the happy.
"Oh indeed. I was provided instructions to be here precisely on time and order the house red. I'm not particularly fond of wine." She wrinkles her nose, causing her glasses to brush her blunt cut bangs.
"Then what do you prefer? Port?" He says, smiling softly. He is confused why the Dragon made her order a wine, especially as it is not his enjoyment either.
Raising a brow she leans in, "I prefer Bingo Cola." She then leans back and assesses him with her red eyes, which he can now tell are contact lenses. He is intimidated, she has all the self control he lacks, but she doesn’t seem to enjoy any of what she is doing.
"You know that is like filth magnets, yes?" He checks the pager subtly with a raised eyebrow. Everyone knew this. Whole bee armies had traipsed through Tokyo and yet...
"Oh indeed. That's why I prefer it. One has to predict the chances this drink will be your last."
"That is a little too brave for my mind." He says, shaking his head. No. No this woman was way too out of his league. If this was what the Dragon had for him, these three women then maybe he was better off alone.
She lifts the wine up and swirls it, looking through the glass and assessing its worth. She then sips it and expertly rolls it, aerating the wine as she tastes it like a pro.
"You come from money. Or at least class." He says slowly.
"Well, that's surprising. A half decent wine in a pub in Ealdwic. And no, I just happen to know a thing or two about viticulture." She sips the wine again, half smiling. "I'm a CPA for a firm that deals in reducing the genetically modified food crops coming out of Japan and the US." He understands about half of what she says, or at least the concepts behind such an undertaking.
"I'm a librarian and researcher for a synthetic chemical research group." He crosses a leg over the other awkwardly since he’s a little overweight. He runs a hand through his short brown cropped hair. He pushes his square framed half rimmed glasses up his button nose and tries not to feel awkward watching her. She’s so gorgeous, I’m out classed. He just feels so fat around her, like nothing fits.
Ami laughs and unconsciously crosses her legs as well. "That's Team Green for you. Set up the chemical researcher and the queen of organics funding ... see if the models are right. Laugh at the predictions." She winks at him and it's so quick he can't tell if it really happened.
"I believe the models are predicting fate. Not trying to change it." He says with a bite of his lip. She knows this! Why did I say that? Is this mansplaining?!
"Oh indeed. That's why they laugh. There's no changing that fate in the form of orders put us together. However, I think there's still a little free will or choice in how we want to embrace fate. Don't you?" She sips her wine again, staring at him over the rim of her glass.
"I believe if I lean over the table and kiss you, that the universe made it so. If I don't, that is also the universe speaking through me to you." He tries challenging her, deliberately being bold to push back, to get some inkling of self back under her amazing gaze.
She puts the glass down and leans in. "I wonder which path you will take." Abort, abort, abort!
He watches her and smiles. "Fate says I have one more date to go and it is mean on them to think I have a choice." Outside he is calm but inside he’s twisted again, he aches to close his eyes and take a steadying breath and he feels flustered.
"Oh? So I'm not the only date you'll have tonight. And I'm not the lady you will go home with. Pity." She stands and drains her glass. Setting it aside she bows to him, a little less formally. "It has been my pleasure. I hope your evening ends well."
"May I have a way to contact you? Or were you asked to come without cards?"
She places a black and green card on the table. It says her name and a number that appears to be out of California. "I look forward to being contacted if that is in the models." She winks and saunters out of the Horned God.
Errin turns on his phone and texts her "If the models will it." He then turns the phone back off and checks his pager. Flipping his book back open to the place he’d stopped, he continues to read until the sound of the murmurs change again in the busy pub. An athletically built tan woman with a shock of blue-black hair skips her way into the pub.
"Howdy, Lu! I'll have the usual bottle of scrumpy. Thanks!" She crawls onto one of the stools and checks her buzzing phone. It's unclear how it fit into her booty shorts since that, a crop top, and loafers are all she's wearing. "Hooo-eee! Catch this Lu, been ordered on a blind date with some guy and a book. Hahaha! Poor sod!" She waves the phone at the fairy woman and accepts her bottle of cider. She then notices Luella's hand pointing to the man at the table.
He pulls out his book and wiggles it with a nervous wave. "Hello miss." His eyes are on her ass, and then he drags them over her, blushing before she gets too close.
She hops off the stool and falls onto the bench next to him, a little too close for typical public behavior. "Well howdy! I'm Cen. Who might you be?"
"I am Errin. I am here because the models said I was to be." He offers her a trembling hand. He can smell her, her warm body pressing to his side and he just notices all the womanness of her.
"Right! Them!" She sniffs the hand first and then takes it in a suspiciously firm grip. "Nice to meet a librarian. Y'all smell of good stuff like paper and dust. Mmmm. Sexy librarians."
He crosses a leg over the other, ear tips turning red. He is so not sexy and a woman like her should not say that. Even if I like it. "And what do you do?"
"I'm a baker by trade! I own the bakery round the corner, Burnt Offerings. Prophetic that." She grins and he sees her mouth is full of long curved sharp teeth like a leatherback turtle.
"You must have a taste for food." He says with a nervous laugh. Why did I say that? What’s wrong with her teeth. Gods, she’s not even human!
"Oh, ya! I'll eat most anything. Been sent lately to Hell. Gotta say, I love the taste of hell hound blood."
"Carnivorous?" He scuttles a little away from her slowly. What if she likes human blood? He doesn’t want to be eaten by a hot chick. Not like that.
She half drains her bottle of cider and looks around the bar, completely comfortable. "Hell ya! Gotta eat to survive. That's gonna include some enemies!"
"You are not human. Yet you are Dragon?" He says, laughing nervously.
"So what do you think of researchers?"
"Researchers are brill! My partner is a researcher! Works as an archeology assistant at the British Museum. She was sent off to dig some muddy holes in Greenland last I heard." He wonders if he knows her. Maybe, kinda. Sorta.
"Business partner or partner, partner?" He says, chuckling at the idea of going on a date with someone completely not into him. At least that would reduce the pressure, or complete the set.
"Yess." She kicks her feet and watches the shine of the lights on her tan skin. She sips the cider. "Dragon sends us away on purpose. Why have a happy tool, when you can have an angry and frustrated one? More dangerous, ya?"
"So you are estranged? Then why send you on this date with me?"
She grins and sets aside the bottle. "Maybee we're estranged. Mostly we're not in the same place. Also, I've a live in boyfriend they don't seem to take seriously either. Dragon appears to be polyamorous."
"Any other lovers in your life? If we're listing the harem." He teases.
"Oh yess. I'm also seeing a sex demon. Though I guess I've always been and will forever bee seeing him through time." She looks him dead in the eye. "To have a love that will forever bee is truly the greatest gift you can give an immortal, such as me."
"Hey that rhymes!" She bounces in her seat and does an impromptu happy dance.
"Well, I hope he knows how much you mean to him. And he to you." He smiles and stretches. "While I don't think I was made to date you, would you like to smoke out back?"
She laughs and stands to stretch, her tiny form bends in such a way that she appears twice her normal size. "I only smoke for ceremony. So if you wanna slip between worlds or do some serious magics, I'd say no. Thankss, though."
"You don't partake in weed?" He says with a little laugh. Its one of his little vices. The one thing people have said make him more than some nerd in a corner.
"No, that's too dangerous with a person such as me." She winks at him and finishes her cider. "Easiest way to Hell is through psychotropic drugs and a First Nationer goddess." She pokes his doughy middle and grins, "Them hell hounds would try an' have you for lunch. And that would be such a waste of Dragon resources."
"Then unless you want to talk while I smoke, guess this is us. Glad to know I know a goddess now."
"How many did you get?" She looks at Luella and indicates she should put all his orders on her tab.
"Dates? They sent me on four." He smiles as she signs off on the tab, not even noting the multiple drinks by women who aren’t her. He smiles to her, glad she was last, something a little less and a little more than the previous three.
"Golly! You really must be hard up." She grins and bounces on her heels.
"I assume they are going to page me with the number I need to call back." He looks at his pager and taps it to make sure it's still on.
"Nah, that's not how Dragon works for me. You're meant to learn something from each one and then create a report that adds to an algorithm. Then when you least expect it, they shack you up with one of them and it's donesville." She claps him on the back and walks him out to the beer garden behind the pub. He staggers a little under her heavy hand.
"We had the lass who was running from her AI stalker. Technophobe. We had the woman who believed in fate like I. Medic. Hot and tall, but shied away from faction stuff. We had the Dragon girl, who thought this was all a game. She thinks choice is a thing. And there is you, who never really was an option but was sent here anyways." He thinks about each one, blushing at the middle two, wanting them each in different ways and fleeing from them equally in his mind.
The small brown woman grins and claps him on the back again. "Sounds like you got a passel of weirdos and I'm the cherry on top. I'd take you back for a shag, but I just got a message that my boyfriend's made dinner." She winks, "I never leave him waiting when dessert will be a little tie him up, tie him down."
"Which boyfriend?" He says with a smile, offering her his card just in case the fates had her need him again.
"The live in boyfriend. He's the one who handles most of my day to day things and watches after the shop when I'm stuck in Hell." She takes his card and hands him hers, it's puce with a yellow and black bee yin-yang design.
"Pay a visit to them all before you go home. It's that kind of night." He bows to her and moves to the wall where others are smoking and talking with the other smokers.