Earth Date: April 29th, 2225 AD

"You're joking, right?" Mal's voice was both incredulous and resigned. "I fly from Mars to Luna, living on the swill our cook calls food, and when I finally get to a real restaurant, you serve the swill our cook didn’t call food?"

"Welcome to Archimedes colony," the waitress said tiredly with a shrug. "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."

"Words to live by," Mal replied quietly as he carried the two bowls to the table. He looked at the steaming grey mystery stew, sloshing slowly. It wasn't really glowing… was it? "Or die from."

Mal's discontent melted when he reached the table where his shipmate was waiting. A bright-eyed tenager from Mars, Pamela Carlson had been on board the freighter McFarland for a year now and she'd become Mal's shadow, despite his being five years older and twenty years more jaded. He gave her a bowl.

"Dig in, kid," he said. "Better yet, dig a hole and bury it."

"It's not so bad, Mal." Pamela was already spooning it up. "Better than fifteen meter stew."

Mal chuckled and sat across the table from her. Pam was always the optimist.

"You don't like our food, pipsqueak?"

Mal looked up from his meal. A large man at the next table was staring at him. A very large man. He massed twice the kilos Mal did. The diner fell silent. They'd seen this often and enjoyed a good sideshow. Mal needed to play this just right.

"Well," Mal replied, "I've seen worse. Fortunately, all I had to do that time was flush."

Pam let out a quick laugh, spilling soup down her chin and neck. The man's mean gaze drifted to her.

"You think that's funny, little lady?" He stood up.

"Sorry," Pamela murmured, wiping her face.

"Sorry don't cut it." He turned toward Pam.

Mal sighed. "Buddy, you don't want to do this."

"Why not? You going to stop me, Martian?"

To Mal, it was clear that's exactly what he wanted; force a fight with Mal by threatening Pam. Instead, Mal shrugged and kept eating.

"Me? Nah. You're not worth the time. I'll let Pam handle you." Mal glanced at Pam. "Remember, kid. Just how I showed you."

Pam nodded and stood up, picking up her bowl. Now the loudmouth was in a tough spot. Having failed to pick a fight with the wiry outsider, he was now saddled with taking on a girl. Win or lose, he'd look the fool.

"My fight's not with you, missy," he stammered.

"Yes, it is," Pam replied quickly, moving closer, forcing him to step back. Pam stepped up again. "Go ahead. Take the first swing. You need the head start."

"Hey!" He stepped back again, bumping into his table. "Back off, bitch!"

"You know what I like about this place?" Pam asked him sweetly. Pam stepped up again.

"Get back!" the man shouted, off-balance and totally lost on what to do.

"They serve a full meal here," Pam answered. "From soup..." She threw her bowl of hot soup into his face. He screamed and began clawing at his face.

"..to nuts." Her knee came up fast, hard and accurate. He came down fast, squishy and in acute pain. He stopped clawing and began clutching. Pamela put her hands on his soup-smeared face and shoved him back into the table, then casually wiped her hands on his shirt while he writhed on the floor. Mal grinned approvingly.

"Not exactly how I showed you, but good improv." He dropped his spoon into his empty bowl and rose. "C'mon, kid. Let's get you something to eat somewhere else."

Pamela grabbed her bag and led the way out. Mal looked back and gave a wink to the diner's patrons.

"Thanks for dinner." He glanced at the still incapacitated man on the floor. "And the show." .

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Archimedes Eats

Copyright ©2006 by Peter W. Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.