Canteen #1

(Everyone needs a place to go sometimes to grab a bite to eat and check in with friends, and fictional characters need it as much as anyone. At the canteen, the tables get crowded and the chairs tend to wobble, but the coffee is decent, the porridge is more than passable, and the biscuits are delicious.)

ROB: You’re probably wondering why I called you all here today.

LENA: Pff. You didn’t call us, Cap did.

CAP: I didn’t call anyone.

LENA: You said you wanted to talk to us. You said you were doing a blog about books, and you wanted to know if you could interview us sometimes about our opinions.

ROB: Why do you want my opinion about books? We’ve read almost none of the same things.

LENA: That sounds like a great reason to get your opinion.

CAP: Wait, I am writing a blog, and I do want y’all’s opinions if you’re okay with that, but I really didn’t call anyone.

LENA: Seriously?

CAP: Yeah.

ROB: So, wait, how did you know to be here?

CAP: I got a note that said you’d be here. I thought Lena sent it.

LENA: Not me. I got the same kind of note. I thought it was from you.

ROB: Did no one think I might’ve sent an invitation?

LENA and CAP: No.

ROB: Good thinking. I got one too, though.

CAP: …Anybody got theirs with them?

ROB: Nope.

LENA: I’ve got mine, wait a second…yeah, I guess this isn’t your handwriting.

CAP: Definitely not.

ROB: And no signature.

LENA: What’s that, though?

ROB: Where?

CAP: Oh yeah, look, there’s something—like a watermark.

ROB: What’s it say?

LENA: “Courtesy…of the Office of Narrative Expediency.”

(Pause.)

ROB: Oh come on!

CAP: I thought narrative structures didn’t apply here!

LENA: They don’t. The canteen is supposed to be free space.

ROB: I guess if they watermark it and everything it doesn’t count as interference? I mean it’s not like a dragon popping out of nowhere trying to crisp us all. We can choose to ignore a note.

LENA (interested): Does that happen to you? Dragons popping up?

ROB: Nope. For me it’s a wandering adventurer or whatever who wants to challenge me to a weapons contest. Happens all the time. Very annoying but less deadly than it could be.

CAP: And you don’t get any say in it?

ROB: I mean…I guess I could turn down the challenge, but…well…hmm. (As LENA and CAP both laugh) That would be boring, though!

LENA: I figured you’d be the one doing the challenging.

ROB: Depends on how the story’s told.

LENA: See, here’s another great reason for you to be on Cap’s blog.

ROB: What are you, her vassal?

LENA: What?

ROB: Wait, no, you taught me that other word for it. Quisling? Adman?

CAP: Shill? P.R. department?

LENA: What’s a P.R. department?

CAP: Public Relations. They, I don’t know, they try to make a person or a product sound appealing.

LENA: So like a personal propaganda machine.

ROB: Bards are better than propaganda. Anyone sounds heroic with the right bard.

CAP: Psh. You need a new one, then.

(LENA coughs into her tea.)

ROB: What? Everyone thinks I’m heroic. Lena, you think I’m heroic, right?

LENA: Seriously?

ROB: I mean, you know, besides the fact that I just admitted I don’t know when to walk away from a challenge. I nearly always lose those fights, by the way.

LENA: Weirdly enough, I think admitting that actually helps your case.

ROB: Can we get back to the original question, though?

CAP: Yeah. Of course. (Pause.) Does anyone remember what it was?

(Much longer pause.)

LENA: So we should really do this on purpose sometimes, though. Even without Narrative Expediency.

CAP: Yes please!

ROB: Definitely. Also, are you okay?

CAP: Me?

ROB: Yeah, I’ve been wanting to ask. You’ve barely touched your porridge. Did they put milk in it?

CAP: No, the porridge is great. Sorry if I’m spacy. Home kind of sucks right now.

LENA: Is it the political stuff you mentioned?

CAP: Yeah. Basically there’s some seriously messed-up stuff happening in my country. I mean that’s been true for a while. But the last couple of weeks have been bad.

LENA: That sucks. I’m so sorry.

CAP: Thanks.

ROB: Anything we can do to help?

LENA: Yeah, what do you need?

CAP: I think we have to fix this one ourselves. And…also I’m pretty sure you can’t actually cross into my world.

LENA: Well, no.

CAP: But thanks anyway. I really appreciate the offer. And talking to you helps.

ROB: Of course it does. I am extremely charming, and Lena once ate a bug.

LENA (as CAP cracks up laughing incredulously): I…what?

ROB: I’m sorry! I discovered halfway through the sentence that I didn’t know how to end it.

CAP: How about “Lena is clever and charming as well and also makes really good opera happen?”

LENA (also laughing): “Makes really good opera happen?”

CAP: I had exactly the same problem Rob did.

LENA: I do make really good opera happen, though.

CAP: Knew it.

ROB: Ooh, Cap, you can have opera on your blog, too!

LENA: I didn’t know you liked opera, Rob.

ROB: Frankly it sounds completely bizarre from the plots you’ve described. But if Cap ever runs out of things to write about, she can use opera too.

CAP: With you around, I really doubt I’m gonna run out of things to write about.

ROB: Aww. That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

LENA: You need better friends.

ROB (stealing a bite of CAP’s porridge): Well, yes, that’s true.

LENA (stealing a piece of ROB’s pastry): So when do you want us on the blog the first time?

CAP: End of next month, maybe? Early spring? And we can decide what we want to talk about ahead of time.

ROB: Ha, as long as Narrative Expediency doesn’t kick in before then and post something first.

CAP: Can they do that?

LENA: No. I mean, I don’t think so. (Pause.)

ROB: I mean they probably send out invitations to everyone all the time, right? This was a very normal thing.

(Much longer pause.)

LENA: Yeah, that seems right.

CAP: Sure.

ROB: Definitely.

(Pause.)

CAP: So…spring?

ROB: Spring is great.

LENA: Sounds good to me.