Rivet flopped down next to Buffy. She was down for some training but her counterpart didn't seem to be ready to start. "I can see why you worry about Xander. After that last battle I gave him what he called 'ye olde Buffy rant number two', even though he did really good."
She smirked at her. "Was that the one that ended with 'and get me a latte, skim milk only'?"
"No, that was 'thou are not chosen, quit doing my job', basically," Rivet complained, handing over the tape. Buffy looked at it, then at her. "The last battle and the medal ceremony the next day. It was really funny how he ran."
"How come he gets medals? I never get medals." She called Micah. "How come I don't get medals?"
"You have one sitting in my desk and he got them for being a normal guy and butting in, Buffy. Think about how many times he could have and should have died. That's why he gets medals. Who's down?"
"Hi." He hung up.
"I should still pout because I never get medals." Buffy put in the tape, hitting the rewind button first. "How bad was the fight?"
"Some of the last Plutarkians appeared right before our remembrance ceremony and Xander didn't have a weapon. He was doing okay until the Bringers showed up." Buffy gave her a horrified look. "I was off in the desert on maneuvers, but he did call immediately for me or Wrench."
"What is Wrench?"
"The M'dreth are like your Watchers," she admitted. "He's the Highest, meaning he's the head guy. He was closer and the Seal brought Xander the scythe. He did really good. I was impressed with that alone. If he and Throttle still needed a mother for their future kids, I'd gladly do it." She found the remote and hit play. "Its not working."
"That's for the DVD player," she admitted, finding the VCR remote and flipping it to play and the right channel on the tv when it came up fuzzy. Then she sat back to watch, finally letting out a shriek that brought Wes and Fred running. "Xander! Fighting! Not of the good! Plus, lots and lots of hottie mice around my sister!"
"It's their planet, of course there are other mice there," Wesley said impatiently. He looked at Rivet. "That bad?"
"I was too far away, Xander had to handle it with Wrench. I must admit, they fight very well together, like they're in mental contact or know each other's styles intimately," she admitted dryly. "I figured out why Buffy used to yell at him about fighting, I nearly did. He called it 'ye olde Buffy rant number two'."
"Was that the one with 'get me a mocachino?" Dawn asked as she appeared. She thought back. "Never mind, that's number five. No, two was 'thou aren't chosen, quit doing my job'." Buffy nodded, pointing at her. "I hear he got a reward." She sat down and rewound the tape. "Rimfire's grandmomma said Rivet was bringing down a tape and we should see it. Rimfire's making popcorn." Rimfire appeared a few minutes later and snuggled in next to her, making her grin. "Okay, start it again." Buffy hit 'play' and they all stared in awe as Xander fought. Then they giggled as Xander ran away from the medals.
Micah appeared and Buffy looked back at him. "Did you need a copy too?" He nodded, giving her his patient look. "When do I get my medal?"
"The next time you're in town." He leaned on the back of the couch. "How many did he get? The last I knew he was up to thirteen or something."
"The Congressional. Fifteen in the first batch, a few more from another thing," Dawn reported, eating a bite of popcorn. Rimfire handed back the bag and he took some. "You know he's got some shopping left to do, right?" Micah groaned and nodded. "Mostly food, DVD's, CD's, things like that."
"Fine. I'm wondering if he's used all the gas yet."
"I don't think that's possible," Dawn snorted, swatting at him. He swatted back.
"You hit girls?" Buffy asked, looking confused.
Micah gave her an odd look. "Buffy, there are female agents in every agency. If one of them comes after me, I've got to be able to hit them," he said dryly. "The same as if Dawn hits me I get to hit her back. The only girl I don't hit back is Max and that's because I don't need to bruise her ego by kicking her ass. It'd get her dead in the field if she's still pouting the next time she went out."
"So you don't try her because you know she'll kick your ass?" Buffy teased.
He snorted. "While Max is very proficient and technical about it, I'm much more a street and a dirty fighter. Max would not win against me. She doesn't win against Lorne," he said dryly. "We simply don't want to bruise her ego too much or she'll get hurt in the field while she's distracted by her pouting." He stole some more popcorn. "Give me the tape and I'll copy it." Buffy hit the 'eject' button and handed it over. "Thanks. Rivet, I need a report on what went on, just in case."
She pulled out a small DVD and handed it over. "Our file on known alien races."
Dawn looked at her. "Are the Stargate aliens real?"
"I don't know, but Vinnie said Xander said he'd have to yell at Throttle if he got infected by them," Rivet offered with a grin. "He said he'd look dorky in the man-skirt so you'd instantly come up and nag him like the time he tried on a kilt."
"He's not worried about a symbiot?" Micah asked dryly.
"No, his reason was something like 'what's one more voice in my head' or something like that," she offered with a grin. "He said they'd get along well and he'd be something called the Tok'ra?"
Micah just nodded and headed back home, hitting the switch to let Lorne know to pull him back. He walked off the other end shaking his head. "Max, copy that. We need a copy, Dawn wanted a copy. Give me an accurate medal count as well." He looked up at his office, then sighed and headed up there. "I just got asked if the Stargate show was real."
The Pentagon liaison just looked at him. "How did you answer?"
"I didn't. The end of that discussion gave me a headache so I came back." He sat down and took something for that then pulled up his budget to go over it with the guy.
Wrench sat up, gasping for air. He calmed himself and held his head, then stared at his wall for a moment. That had been a horrible one. He slowly got up and headed to take something for his headache. Once he had some caffeine in him and some tylenol in his system he called the new lair. "Xander?" he murmured. Xander grinned at him, then raised an eyebrow and sat forward. "I just had a bad prophetic dream. That half-mouse thing is going to come back to nibble your tail soon. There's going to be an attempted invasion and takeover."
Xander nodded. "I figured there would be," he admitted. "Could you tell when?"
Wrench shook his head. "Just anger. Anger at you for what you brought up and the club and all that stuff." Xander nodded at that. "You've got to make some plans."
"Already done," he admitted. "I'll put it into play today. Any specifics?" Wrench nodded. "Write it down in case. Send it to Throttle when he gets up." Wrench shivered and nodded. "Let me handle this. I've got it, I figured as much. I've already got plans made for this."
"At least you do," Wrench admitted. "It was you facing off with about ten or twelve punk bastards at the boundary of the land, at a gate. You were on your bike, daring them to try, reexplaining the facts a few times. They still tried to come across. You ended up hurting a few, killing one. You had to... um, you went to Throttle to punish you since no one else would," he said quietly. Xander nodded at that. "You're too calm."
"No, I thought this might happen," he admitted. "Not the killing someone part, but I did expect someone to try to break in and steal something. Them becoming aggressive isn't anything I didn't expect, Wrench. If you see someone with a lot of stuff, especially something like food, when you're living on rations, what would you do?"
"I would probably seethe but I know plenty of people who would hold it against you. Can I help? I feel like I'm swimming in the sea of helplessness."
"Nah, I've got it," Xander promised with a small grin. "It's all good. Just relax and recover. If you want to, you can come out later. After I get back from the council."
"Sure. Later then." He leaned over to hang up, then slumped in his seat again, ordering his thoughts. He got up to find his official journal and wrote down as many details as he could. It wouldn't be admissible in court, but it would help someone later. Especially if there was an attack and someone managed to get away.
Xander walked into the council building and handed the messenger the sealed message. "Right to Carbine," he ordered. "I'll be there in a few, but she needs to read that," he said quietly. "If she asks if it's necessary, tell her yes." The girl nodded and hurried in. Xander went to pace around for a bit, calming himself down. This was only an official announcement but he needed her to make sure she laid out every little detail to minimize the risks his family was going to be under soon. He calmed himself and headed for the doors to the chamber, looking at the door guards. "Are they ready for me?"
"Yes, sir, they've been kicked back for the last hour," he offered with a small smile. "What's the problem?"
"The official announcement of the club, man. I'm hoping it's going to offset some people who are mad at me for bringing stuff up." He opened and walked through the door, nodding at the councilors.
Carbine looked at Xander. "You're sure this is necessary?"
"Very." He walked over and whispered in her ear why. She slumped and nodded. "Sorry."
"That's okay. I'm bored anyway." She waved him back. He smiled and put down a current picture of the family on her desk. "Thank you." She smiled at the relaxed ex-lover in the picture. She smiled at him. "Well, Mr. Harris, you've managed to bring us an unusual request that made every councilor on Mars actually think for a bit, as well as eat." He grinned a bit at that. "As a matter of formality, I'm going to have to go through some older facts we're all aware of." Everyone in the chamber gave her an odd look. "It's unfortunate but necessary. All right, Xander. The idea is that you're going to have a club with a kitchen built in."
"Is this really necessary?" Stoker asked. Carbine passed him the note under the table and out of the view of the cameras. He looked down then nodded. "I guess it is. Cute picture, mini punk." He balled it up and put it into his recycle bin. "Go ahead, sorry to interrupt."
"That's fine. The official details are going to be boring anyway," Carbine noted. "Okay, in the club portion, you are allowed a break on the rent and the taxes because you are using an existing structure, which will mean one less bare building in the future. Your plans for the club and the subsequent investigation of the structure once it was completed found it to be perfectly fine, even if I'm still not sure about the open-air dance floor. In the kitchen portion, I have it listed that for the first few weeks, until the kitchen portion is solvent, the stores will be coming out of your own stores?"
"Yes, Carbine. I'm not expecting it to take very long."
"That's fine. The menus and the rate structure have all been approved. For the single ration coupon, the simple meal with one of the ten or twelve options that are being offered that day. Any future menu changes will have to be approved by at least three councilors on this city's council before they're acceptable and you do agree to routine checks by any and all of the councilors, unannounced and unexpected ones, correct? These would be in addition to us just popping in for dinner."
"Good. Now, the ration coupons that are gathered over the course of business will only be used for the club. Your cook, who is your mother-in-law, will use them only for the purposes of the club's kitchen and any extra will be stored safely away so that no one within the club's patrons or workers can touch them. You will be using some of the extra to make staff payments?"
"I've already figured that up. For the first week's salary I'm again taking it out of the stores I brought up from earth. I've already talked to someone on the ration's board to make sure, with my mother-in-law, that the food will equal out to their salary once we get going. Each worker in the club, and I've hired six as of this moment, will be making ten ration coupons a week, plus a meal at the end of their shift if they wanted and there was food left in the kitchen. Until we're clearing that, I'll be giving them food equal to it." Everyone nodded. "I knew that would have more meaning and usefulness in the current economy of Mars than cash would." Stoker nodded quicker at that. "The employees all knew this before they signed on and knew who would be doing the selection, but they would have some choices in what is in their baskets."
"That's fine," Stoker agreed formally. "You'll be checking with someone official and that's all we wanted. What about the extra ones you'll eventually be getting?"
"We've arranged with the rations board to have a lockbox in their office that we'll transfer any extra to once a week. We agreed that if we got to the point where we're storing too many to be comfortable, we'd work out a way to either donate some of them to families that need them or to one of the orphanages in the city." Everyone nodded at that. Xander swallowed. "I also want it stated that the ration coupons will not be going to uphold any of my family, or anyone at the compound we live in, nor will it go to anyone I obliquely support from the stores we brought up from earth."
"True, that's why you're not on rations yourself," Carbine agreed. "What was your rationale for that? It'd have been much simpler."
"Yes, but we've been down there long enough to be used to eating a lot more than we would be able to on ration coupons. We're slowly cutting our consumption down to what is acceptable on Mars, but since I have money available and the ability to move food and other supplies up here I thought it more reasonable a decision at the time." He let out a small grin. "If we had to live on what the rations would give us, they'd starve half the week. The guys selling hotdogs in the markets only sell one per coupon."
"That's fine with us. We've used that ability to go shopping shamelessly," Exhaust noted. "When are you going back for your final one this year?"
"Within a week," Xander offered, grinning at him. "I'll need a list."
"Of course. Within three days," Carbine noted. She went back to the facts she was reciting. She did understand why this was going on. She knew some of the idiots under her command would gladly go out to assault the compound for being self-sufficient. "I do think everything is in order for the club and the kitchen. Have you arranged something for take-out?"
Xander nodded. "Yes, Carbine. Momma's found someone locally that can make some covered pots from the local clay. We're paying him a bit per dozen and we're putting out a note that we want to recycle them. We suspect we'll have about an eighty percent return rate for the pots. They hold a full portion of any of the main dishes and a second one with wax paper separating the layers for the more extensive, expensive meals."
"That's fine. That works for me." Carbine smirked at him. "There were only two dissenting votes for your plans from the full Martian council, both of them worrying that others could try the same plan and serve less food. It was pointed out we would gladly go to examine the output officially and unofficially, plus there are already people doing that, that's why so many Martians run out of ration coupons at the end of the week. When are you opening the kitchen?"
"Within six days," he offered, taking the certificate. "Thank you all. I'm sure we'll all be happy with it. I look forward to any and all inspections as well." He nodded. "Is there anything else?"
"The temple you're putting up?"
"There's a wonderful few caves on the grounds at the southern border that I'm planning on using for the local temple. I'll be using the one in the valley for special services. The one closer is the one I'll be doing the basics of training out of. The top priest on Mars, Tangent, has already agreed and seen the cave, as far as I know. He's given his permission but I'm not sure if he visited or if he sent someone. Vinnie just said someone came out to look it over."
Stoker smirked at that. "How much are you charging for lessons?"
"It's one of the duties of a priest, Stoker. I'm to train anyone who wants the self-defense and other skills I can pass on. The same as I suck as a counselor, but I'm to do that as well if someone comes to me. I can comfort and help but I don't do it as the best person for it. Shell finds the words that are needed so much better and easier than I do. I often trip over my tongue, even though I've been there."
"It's not something we can all do," Stoker offered. "You do well enough from what I've seen. You helped Racer a lot."
"I try, but Wrench and Shell still do it better. If anyone wants, I'll gladly try, but I'm honest about sucking at it," he offered with a small sheepish grin. "I do try when asked and needed."
"Sometimes that's the most important thing," Mirror offered. "Is there any other business with Mr. Harris?" Carbine shook her head. "The club is fully built and everything?"
"The last coat of paint is drying," Xander promised. "The lights are up, the stereo system is hooked up so both levels of the dancefloor are serviced. We may not have a DJ yet, but I can easily load in a hundred CD's and set it on random." That got some smiles. "There are times when you've got to relax and unwind. Otherwise life starts to overrun you and you die from the strain of carrying it." He bowed. "Thank you. Is there anything else I have to do?"
"No," Stoker said, handing over something. "The agreements from the councils for the trips back to Plutark. Please hand it to Vincent so he can assign squad leaders from his clan since they're the ones who requested it. We'll be sending the volunteers to the leaders. Have him plan on four or five leaders."
"Good boy, Xander," Exhaust praised. "Did you already register the fees for the water filtration system?" Stoker nodded. "Good. So in ten years, we'll start collecting taxes."
"Ten years?" one of the councilors from the other cities offered quietly.
"Xander came up with a new filtration system," Stoker noted. "That one with the screens?" The councilor nodded and smiled at Xander for that. "The price for it was tax relief for him, the whole compound, both maternal family homes, the club, and half taxes for the VanWham clan. There were too many of them to forgive outright for that long."
"That's fairly cheap. How much did you pay for it?"
"About six hundred thousand," Xander told him. "US dollars. A friend of ours who was working with us kept the earth rights to it, I only took the Martian ones. We're using it at the compound."
"Wonderful! I've seen and tasted it in action. It does work very well, Xander. Thank you. You've found something very special for Mars."
"I try," he offered with a shy grin. He looked at Exhaust. "Three days for the shopping list?" He nodded. "Deal. Give me approximate amounts as well. Throttle complained that I overplanned the food, especially the treats I've got hidden." He waved. "I look forward to you guys coming over on opening night. Laters. Thanks." He hurried out, heading out to check on the club. He proudly hung the certificate on the wall and looked at his mother-in-law, kissing her on the cheek when she smiled. "It's official."
"Why did they have to go over that?"
"Because Wrench foresaw what I already knew would happen. Angry guys who wanted what we brought up." She gaped and he shrugged. "I wanted it known to diffuse some of the problems before they can start. They knew." He picked up a pot and sniffed it. "Are these cleaned?"
"I'm washing them today, Xander. They just got delivered." She pinched him on the cheek and went to bring the first load back to the kitchen, watching as he carried the rest. "Thank you, dear. Now go fuss at home."
"I don't wanna fuss at the house."
"Tough. Go jump my son. He's been walking right for far too long." She shooed him off, pushing him out. "I can do this all by myself. Shoo! Go plan for the shopping trip. You'll be here the first few nights and then go shopping. I know what I'm doing in a kitchen. Shoo!"
"Yes, momma." He headed for his bike and then back to the house, going to check the bike course first. Vinnie finally had it done and it made him smile. He had separated out a part for the kids and one for them. "Let's try it, big guy." His bike beeped and headed for the adult course, giving him time to look it over as they rode around the outside of it. "Where's the start point?" he called to Throttle, who was riding up.
"The red pole. It's traditional." He watched as Xander started, slowly to be sure, but he did start. The slide portion made him speed up and then the jumps made him go at normal riding speeds. "Go again, regular speed!" he yelled. Xander nodded and headed back to the start point, heading over it again. He watched, frowning at Xander since he was leaning a bit. He whistled and Xander paused to look at him. He pointed at his ear and Xander sighed and nodded, then shrugged, going back to it. Throttle gauged it. It was starting to get bad again. He called Enamel's extension. "Hey, doc, it's me. When is Xander due for his next ear shot? Because I'm on the course watching him and he's leaning to the right again. Thanks." He hung up and whistled again, bringing Xander over to steal a kiss. "Go see Enamel. You're leaning, babe."
"I know, I'm trying."
"He said to come see him. Go see him now." Xander nodded. "Did it go through?" Xander grinned and nodded. "Good. We'll go see Momma later."
"She shooed me out already." He shrugged. "Within six days. We can all go play, right?"
"Of course. Who's babysitting while we're gone?"
"Repel said she wants Comet or else she's going to throw a fit." He blushed a bit. "She told me she expected to be more of a mother to the kids than she's been so far. She said I was a very good mommy mouse in her place though." He grinned and headed off, going back to see Enamel. He found him in the garage with the needle and groaned. "It's only been two and a half months."
"Yay. Come here, Xander," he said patiently. Xander got off his bike and went to let him look in his problem ear, grabbing the workbench when he stuck the needle in there. He hissed and winced as it was shot into there, then calmed down. "Thank you. Give it a day. Go lounge."
"Yes, sir." He headed inside, going to lounge in the common area in front of the tv. He had to get back up to put in a tape, but otherwise he got comfy and ended up napping.
Throttle came in to check on him, smiling at the sleepy mouse of his. He looked over as Wrench came in, smirking at him. "What was it?"
"People coming to attack since you're shopping on earth." He moved closer. "Some of them wouldn't back off. You ended up giving Xander the punishment he needed for having to kill one," he said very quietly. Throttle shivered and nodded at that. "He already figured out it might happen. That's why the council went back over every little detail today."
"That's fine, I'd expect it too. I hadn't thought of it before, but I figure it'd happen sometime." He nudged him. "How do you and Xander fight so well together?"
He smirked. "I understand how he thinks. I used to think the same way." He walked past him. "I need to add some stuff for the shopping trip."
"Chocolate chips and what?" Throttle joked.
"Some sugar too, dude. Please. Plus some soda. Otherwise I'd have to steal more of yours. I'll bring over a full list tonight."
"The main list is on the computer. Add a section under your name. Remember, it'll be a year's worth this time."
"Sure. Thanks." He went to the office and turned on the computer monitor, kicking back and pulling the keyboard into his lap. He waved at the person on the other side. "Hey, Meg. He's napping on the couch after his newest ear thing."
"That's fine. When are you guys coming back for the last shopping thing?"
"Throttle?" He stuck his head in the office. "Meg."
Throttle walked in and waved. "Hey, Meg. How's the baby?"
"Oh, he's adorable," she said with a grin. "He's flipping over and trying to crawl, but he doesn't quite get that 'forward momentum' part yet. He also looks so *cute* in his little elf outfit and pointy ears," she offered with a grin. "When are you guys coming back? We're packing up to move to DC in a month and he's got a closet of stuff here."
"In about a week or a week and a half. Go ahead and move it back to the house. We can pick it up from there when we come back down."
"Sure. We can do that. He misses Vic hugging him, he misses his fuzzy people."
"We miss you guys too, Meg. Trust me, even Xander misses the baby." She grinned at that. "We'll see you in about a week, okay?"
"Sure. A week or so. Laters." She blew a kiss and signed off.
Throttle looked at him. "Did you call?"
"No, she was waiting when it came up." He shrugged and opened the word processor. He found the list and his name on it, then started to add his needs to it, including quantities. Throttle gave him an odd look. "What? Do you know how many cookies we make every day?"
"You must eat nothing but cookies," Throttle said dryly.
"Some days, but mostly they go to the neighborhood kids and those who visit, and of course the ladies. Willow and little Taver have found companionship and a kindred spirit while baking." He added a note to find him a cookbook of cookie recipes please.
Throttle shook his head, watching the list take shape. "You drink more soda than we do as a group, Wrench."
"Do not," he complained. "Just now and then. Besides, if that's too much, hey, it'll keep," he said dryly. "And I'm not the only one drinking it. Every now and then Willow and the Seal steal some. Taver steals some of my soda, little Taver likes to sneak into the kitchen and steal one before going to play. It's cute and I don't mind, but I need to dig a basement."
"Well, that's one way to get Rivet her exercise for the day." He headed off shaking his head. "How many containers do we still have down there?" he asked Vinnie as he walked past him.
"Three. Why? Are we going to need 'em?"
"Wrench is making out a large list as well."
"Cuz, what did you need that badly?" he called.
"Soda and cookie making stuff," got called from the office. "Plus a new mattress."
"We'll probably only fill one of them with everything," Vinnie offered, finishing his sandwich. "We'll have to find a way to mark out what goes where." He walked off eating, going to watch the kids in the study. Vic was trying to teach Healer and Crankshaft how to read as well as he did, which wasn't too bad, but Spike still did it better.
Throttle moaned. "We don't need that much stuff," he complained. "Mars doesn't need that much stuff." The comm beeped so he went to get it. "Yeah, Stoker?"
"If I asked, would you and Xander go play in public so you can get fined again? People want beer for the next city picnic."
Throttle stared at him for a moment. "I don't think so. I'm not normally like that. That was the effect of a bouncy white mouse." He hung up and went to cuddle his mate. Some people just showed no respect. He found Magnet staring at Xander and grinned at her. "He's having a nap."
"No," she said, shaking her head slowly. She smiled at him. "Me no!"
"No, you don't have to nap. Want to cuddle?" She beamed and waited until he was cuddling his mouse before crawling in and getting between them. Like her brother before her, she hadn't equated cuddling with naps yet so she drifted off unaware that his devious plan had worked.
"Is that my daughter?" Vinnie asked from behind the couch, making Throttle fully wake up from his doze. Throttle looked, then nodded. "Give her here. That couch isn't that wide." He took his girl back to her bed, laying her in it and covering her, then he went back to helping the kids learn a bit more. It was fun for him to teach. He heard a bike and looked out, waving at Staff as she parked. She came in a few minutes later with Punch, settling her at the table as well. "We're working on reading."
"Ooooh," Punch said, looking happy. "Book?"
"Sure," he agreed, grinning at his son. "We'll read after Vic works out six more words, okay?" She wiggled and nodded, looking happy about that. Vic got back to work, he was going to be good at this to make his daddy proud.
Momma looked around the club, it was open four days after the final certificate had been handed over, and there were already a few people lining up to get in. She checked the signs, then nodded at the bouncer to officially open the club's doors, heading back to the serving area. The first few headed for her and she smiled, pointing at the board. "This is what we have tonight," she told them. "Just the main dish itself is a ration coupon, with three sides and a dessert it's two."
"Cheese optional?" one person read.
"He knows, but he also knows that sometimes mice need calcium and we don't get enough," she said, shrugging. "If you want it, you have to ask for it," she assured him with a bright smile.
"And probably weather the looks the rest of us would give you," he noted dryly. Momma nodded and smiled at that. "Are there sample plates?"
"That's what I forgot!" She hurried in to get the sample plates, putting them out. "Don't worry about those, the workers will get them later tonight, dears. What can I get for you?"
"Do you have to eat it here?" Momma pointed at the pile of pots. "Okay. Let me have some of that white layered stuff."
"That's the casserole," Xander said from behind him. "'Scuse me." He put up pictures of everything next to their names on the menu board, then winked at Momma. "There, that might help some too. I'm heading upstairs." He jogged that way.
"Oh, yeah, he's a VanWham," one of the waiting people said dryly.
Momma laughed. "By adoption." She got a pot. "You wanted it to go, right?" He nodded so she dished him out some and brought it out, handing it over and taking the coupon, which went into a little slot on the counter. "Next?" The first guy looked inside then at her. "Too little?"
"Way more than I expected, ma'am." His eyes were large and quite round.
"That's the way a mother should feed you," she noted, smiling at him. "It's always going to be like that around here." He nodded and headed out, taking his dinner back home. He did sneak a bite once he was on his bike, and it was good! Momma smiled at the next one in line and pointed at the menu board. "What would you like, dear?"
She gulped. "Some of the casserole as well? Or do you get more with the stew?"
"You'll be getting a full pot, dear, no matter which one. Those plates are actual size."
Her eyes bugged out and she pointed at the the stew. "Then I want that please, ma'am."
"Of course, dear." She went to get it for her, taking the coupon and dropping it down the slot. She smiled at the next one, then got her arm tugged on. "Dear, you're out of line."
"You'd never see me." She smiled up at her. "Can I sit in the corner until it's my turn?"
"Of course." She put her in a seat and patted her on the head, then washed her hands and got the next few people their stuff, then winked at the child. "What did you need, dear?"
"Daddy said to get something for dinner. He said he didn't care as long as it was edible." She grinned at her. "I'm sure Mr. Xander's momma cooks really well so I came here."
"Well, technically I'm his mother-in-law, but that's okay. What would you like, sweetheart?"
"What's in the casserole thingy?"
"Some potatoes, some ham, like that stuff that was in the cans that got handed out in the last general fund basket? Some pepper, some onions. It's very subtly flavored but it's very filling."
"Okay, I'll have that then. How much for both of us?"
"Did you want to start with one and come back if you needed more?" she offered. "That's how much you're getting, dear."
"Oh." She blinked and nodded. "Sure! That's more than I usually get when daddy's tired. Thank you, Mr. Xander's momma." She smiled. "You're very neat."
"Thank you, love." She got to work bundling up some food for the little one. "How do you know Xander?"
"I met him at the council building and I told him I'm going to name my kid after him." She grinned and handed over the coupon book, watching as she tore one out carefully. Then she tucked those back in her pocket and took the pot. "Thank you, ma'am."
"You're welcome, Overthruster." She had heard that bragging from Xander.
The girl beamed and walked out, letting the guard help her through the crowd. "Hi, Mr. Wrench," she called with a wave.
"Hi, Overthruster. Need help getting home?"
"No, I just live up the street." She walked that way, smiling at her daddy as he came out, and Anya as she came up the street. "I got to meet Mr. Xander's mother-in-law."
Anya squealed and hugged her. "We love Momma. She cooks very well. Even better than my momma does," Anya promised. She waved at Overthruster's father. "Can she come over to play next weekend? I'd ask this weekend but we're starting our special lessons with Uncle Xander and we're going to be tired this weekend. So can she come over to play? I promise we'll be good and I'll show her some of my new drawings, and we'll be in the back yard."
"Sure, kid," he agreed, smiling at her. "What's that, Overthruster?"
"This is from the new club up the street. This is what they serve." She handed it over and the ration coupons. "Mr. Xander's mother-in-law cooks in there."
He looked inside the pot, then at her. "How much did this cost?"
"One," Anya told her. "Momma said it's only right to feed everyone like she would her kids. My daddy had to help them draw up the official paperwork and stuff for the full Martian Council."
He counted the ration coupons, then looked at the girls. "You're serious?"
Overthruster nodded and smiled. "Yup. She said that's a casserole. It's got ham, potatoes, some pepper, and some onions. It's very subtle but filling. They had a few other things but I'm tired of soup. I wanted something solid for the belly rumbling tonight, daddy. I hope you didn't mind."
"No, dear, I didn't mind," he promised, taking a bit out to nibble on. He smiled and nodded. "I like this. It's always going to be a single one?" Both girls nodded at that. "We might have to go up there more often."
"She even knew who I was because I told Mr. Xander I wanted to name my baby after him," she said proudly. "I'll see you next weekend, Anya. Have fun in classes with Mr. Xander. I want to do that when I'm older too." She skipped inside, going to take care of her daddy.
"I'll make some pretty new drawings to show you," she called, then headed home. "Daddy, Overthruster's coming over to play next weekend."
"Sure," he called. "Come eat."
"Can't we go eat at Uncle Xander's?"
"No. Come eat."
"Yes, daddy." She sat in her seat and took her crown off, putting it carefully beside her plate. Her mother smiled at her for remembering that and she dug in. "Overthruster just got back from picking up dinner up there, her daddy wasn't sure it was only a coupon but he counted and I assured him it was," she told her parents. "Since you said so when you helped him work on it, I knew that. Plus, she said she wanted to take lessons with Uncle Xander too," she said happily. "I've got to work on some new drawings to show her."
"After dinner," Switch ordered patiently.
"After our ride out to see the sunset," Stoker reminded them all. Everyone smiled at him. "Eat or we'll have to watch it from closer to the city." Everyone dug in and Spike was done first, reaching for his sister's half-full plate. "Spike."
Switch dished him out some and he grunted in pleasure, digging in again. "I always loved growth spurts," she said fondly, grinning at her mate.
"Yeah, it's about the only time it's acceptable for a mouse to make a pig of himself." He watched his son eat. "That new duster of yours is going to be too small soon."
"Crankshaft can have it," Spike said between bites. "She needs one anyway." He finished his second dinner about as everyone else was and followed them out, watching as the line from the club wandered down the street toward their house. "Wow."
"I told you gossip was a disease," Switch noted dryly. "Stoker, can we go dancing later?" she asked, sounding wistful.
"Sure, mouse cadet. After everyone's in bed. We'll leave Anya in charge." She smiled and blushed, then headed off after Crankshaft, who had found one of her friends from daycare up the line and was talking to her. "Come on, sunset is waiting," Stoker called. His daughter squealed and waved at her friend, then followed the rest of them. "I hope Momma's prepared for that sort of rush."
"I'm sure she is. She's smart enough to know that she'd get a lot of people tonight. I'm sure she's doing some baking at the moment." He nodded, that was probably true.
In truth, Momma was putting things together while she let her helpers dish up food for her. She really needed to prepare more every day. She had thought this would be easier. Oh, well, live and learn. "How many people are waiting?" she called.
"About half the city," Wrench called back, coming in to wash his hands and help. "I can cook, sorta," he offered with a grin. She smiled and handed him the potatoes to peel. "Ooh, fun." He got to work peeling them into the bucket for organic waste, then slicing them like she had. Then he grabbed some other stuff and got to work on them. "Momma, are you going to spend all day putting these together?"
"Xander said there's a machine that can slice them faster than we can," she admitted. "I think I'll be spending the few hours in build-up to the opening putting stuff together so we can bake it all night. It'll keep in the freezer in those dishes he got. She slid the next three into the ovens and looked at her helpers. "When that runs out, it'll be about another twenty minutes on the newest casseroles. We're putting more together now. What about the soups?"
"Most people say they're souped-out," one of her helpers said as she rushed to fill another container.
"What's on tomorrow? Some people wanted to know," the other helper called.
"Apparently this and the other two casseroles, plus the leftovers of the soup and stew from tonight," Momma called back. "When Xander gets back, we'll have a hotdog night once a month. Four on a plate for a coupon. That'll be in about two weeks."
"Thanks." The helper smiled and took the next person's coupon, going to get a new tray of pots and bring them out. "What did you want tonight, sir?"
"When was that casserole made?"
"About twenty minutes ago," she promised with a smile. "Momma didn't think we'd get a rush like this tonight. She's making more right now with a family volunteer."
"That's fine," he promised. "Go ahead and give me one of that, and what's with the deluxe meal?"
"Three sides, which fill a second pot, and a small dessert of cookies tonight." He handed over the second one and she pointed at the sides. "Which ones did you want, sir?"
"What are they?"
"That's beans, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, and there's potatoes in the casserole if it matters to you, um.... Momma?"
"Cornbread, which is a rougher textured bread but it soaks up juices very well, and humus, which is made from some earth beans and garlic. Tomorrow I've planned for more of them, I didn't figure we'd get so many requests tonight," she offered with a small smile.
"That's fine, ma'am, you're already making my stomach growl. Go ahead and give me the beans, the corn, and the cornbread. What sort of cookies?"
"Chocolate chip. The Highest gave me his recipe." She smiled back at Wrench. "He's coming along very well in the kitchen for only being able to bake." She hurried back and went back to work making more casseroles. "Wrench, be a sweetie and start another single batch of cookies?"
"Sure, Momma. Anything to help. I probably should call Taver."
"I saw her outside, dear." She waved at Taver through the door and pointed behind her. The woman just smiled and shook her head, but shrugged. Apparently she understood. She looked up as the music got turned up, then rolled her eyes. "Those boys!" she complained, but she didn't have time to do anything about the music and it was catchy.
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