Coupon Queen

Her scissors snipped away at the latest magazine to come through the door, clipping out the various promotional and manufacturers coupons contained within. Like all good clippers, she had a system. Like all coupon enthusiasts, she researched constantly to get the best deals. It had become a game to get the most for the least, her social media and forum accounts used to report her hauls to other clippers.

Each store in her vicinity had a folder. She would check the coupons she had against store offers and deals, then assign it to the folder. Her car had a cool box in the back, and in the space of a morning she could knock out at least three stores before coming home to stock the cupboards up. She didn’t need all that she bought, so some went to the church, and some went to the shelter. Pet food always went to the local veterinary office. They’d been so good to her when Boxer died.

The cupboards were always full. Stock was rotated in and out from there, her pantry, and the storage shelves she set up in the garage. She was always ready to receive, always had something to bring to local cook-outs and pot lucks. And there was always stuff for them in, ready for when they popped around. His favourite jar of jelly. Her preferred shower gel. The cookies he always liked. That cereal they always badgered her to get.

She’d box some of the stuff up to send out to them, handwritten notes in each one sending word from home and all the neighbourhood news. It had been a while since they visited, but there was always the chance they’d pop over and she’d be mortified if the shelves were bare and the fridge under-stocked!

There was no music blaring out from the rooms as she got in from the mega mart. No games consoles filling the house with explosions or football on the TV. She had coupons for everything, except for what she really wanted.

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These Last Days

When Jena Foster was a child, a month was a long time, and a year seemed almost infinite in scope. She could run for hours across fields and through woods and still have most of the day left to play. Now, seven weeks seemed to have been and gone in the blink of an eye.

She had finished her schooling, for one thing. New qualifications and skills were listed under her ident profile, and she had already made some plans to continue her learning on her downtime on the Herne. She had taken on some extra studies too, visiting the members of the Shuck in their time off. Fixer taught her some basics of cybernetic repair to go along with her mechanical skills. She had brushed up on her hacking abilities with Huang and Akintola.

Jena’s celebration of graduation happened at a bar. Zircon and Natasha were there, along with Handler and Simone. The chef and the android had left early after Natasha remembered that Zircon would be leaving the planet soon and had gotten a little weepy over the fact. That had left the three women drinking good wine somewhat overindulging on salty bar snacks. They had staggered back to Jena’s apartment after that, arm in arm in arm with Simone getting cautioned by the police for her loud, exuberant singing. Apologizing for her, Jena easily scooped the agent up and carried her on her shoulders back home.

What had happened after that, well… Handler and Simone were still being rather awkward around each other. That was on Jena’s list of things to fix before she departed from the world.

There were other tasks left for her to do before she was called back for another decade of duty aboard the Herne. Gifts to pick up for the few crew members on the ship she knew, some gifts for the crew of the Shuck, something for Natasha, and the errand she was on her way to do today.

The largest tower in the city was the Galactic Federation Communications Hub. The first few floors were dedicated towards customer service, with numerous communication booths lining the walls and a large help desk on the ground floor to offer assistance. Jena tapped her hand against one of the payment panels and followed the directions in-vision to a free booth.

The door slid shut behind her, the control panel in front giving her the option to display an image from Asrat behind her or choose one of her own to upload. Drawing from her internal memory, she brought up her camp at night in Masata Park to serve as the backdrop. She had some letters and photos to attach to the message she was about to send, and it was easy enough to navigate the system to get everything linked. All that was left to do was record the main part.

“Hi Jaret. It’s been a long time since we last spoke. I hope Rosie and the children are well, and that the farm is fine.” She said a little awkwardly to the camera. “I’m currently on Asrat, where the Herne has been undergoing repairs. I’ve become a Sergeant, Third Class, and already have a lot of interesting stories to tell you at some point.”

Settling back on the stool she was perched on, Jena carried on. “I’m attaching some photos, some videos, and some letters to fill in the blanks while I’ve been away. I’m also sending a little money too. You can put it away for a rainy day, or treat the kids to something on their aunt’s behalf.”

“I’ve been on shore leave for a while. Soon I’ll return to duty and it’ll be another ten years before I get this long off work. I’m not too sure what else to say now. It’s my first time doing one of these, so… I hope everyone is well. You should be able to get a message through to the Herne via Central City’s communication’s hub, if you want to send one. I love you, brother. Sorry it’s taken me this long to send word.” Jena’s finger pressed the button to finish recording and send, a slight tremble of her hand as she did so.

 

Gift shopping was something she called for backup with. Zircon had the day off work, and she had already picked up his gift, a soft sweater made from wool with flecks of iridescent thread woven through it. It almost resembled the Ensign’s pale blonde hair, which was the reason why she brought it for him.

“You need to get Natasha a little something, Zircon.” Jena smiled. She’d picked up a nice new apron with deep pockets as a practical gift, and a bottle of the chef’s favourite perfume as a personal gift. The department store they were stood in was well stocked, and Jena intended to get the bulk of her shopping done here.

“The purchase of gifts is not something I am programmed for, Jena.” The android replied.

The blonde had to laugh at that. He was programmed well enough for Natasha to have no complaints about his prowess, and able to provide companionship enough that she considered them to be dating, but not to buy a gift? “Do what I do, Zircon. Think of something practical she needs. You work alongside her almost every day so I’m sure you’ve lodged some data away up in that head of yours. Then a nice bit of clothing, or an ornament.”

She could almost see him processing through months of interactions before he picked up a sharpening stone and knife care set. “It is the brand she swears by.” He explained. “And she can get quite irate if a new chef is not caring for their knives properly.”

“Definitely practical, and thoughtful. Now, why don’t you head over to the fashion section and find something she’d look nice in? Something to take her out in, one final night on the town in Asrat City.”

“Will you be planning similar for your partner?” He asked, holding the set close to him.

“Something like that, yes. I’ll meet up with you in a bit, I’ve a few more things here to put in my basket.”

Commander Romanov and Fixer got similar gifts, sturdy stone tankards carved from the local mines. Each was a sandy yellow with tiny lines of orange and stains of red running through the surface. For her Admiral, it was a rather pricey pack of local coffee that she had noticed her drinking during the stay at the villa. Just getting expensive coffee didn’t seem enough though. She added a stone jar for the coffee to go in, of similar construction to the tankards. While she was getting the jar, she saw a circular place mat from the same line for her cafetiere to rest on.

With four stone products in the basket hooked onto her arm, she was glad for the cybernetic strength.

Pursing her lips as she browsed a shelf of tourist tat, Jena added a sandglobe containing a model of Asrat City as a little joke gift for Handler. The officer had been out in enough sandstorms, she might as well have a little something to take with her once the Shuck’s service and crew’s shore leave was complete. On the matter of more practical gifts for her and Simone though?

On their night out, Simone was always complaining about not having anywhere to place her clutch purse. A slender leather shoulder bag with a polished stone clasp was added to her basket, and one of the soft wool blankets with sleeves that Handler seemed to like was added too.

Shopping was simple in the department store. Picking up an item and carrying it with you added it to your purchases. If you left the store, the payment would be deducted. No queuing needed. There were still store assistants though, and they were clustered around Zircon as she approached the women’s fashion section, vying for the handsome android’s attention.

“He’s with me, ladies.” She called out to them, leading to disappointed faces on some of them. “And looking for something for his partner.” The other faces looked disappointed and soon went off.

“I do not seem to have much luck with groups of women, Jena. Thank you for coming to my assistance.” He said, falling into step besides her.

“I think you have a lot of luck with women, and that’s the problem.” She grinned, nudging him with her shoulder. “Dresses. Let’s look at dresses.”

 

Under the coffee table was filled with assorted bags as the pair took a break from shopping.

“Things will be different once we resume service.” Zircon was saying, a cup of tea held delicately in his slender fingers. “We are no longer the same rank. I will be serving under you.”

“I was thinking about that, actually.” Jena replied, lingering over the last few sips of coffee in her cup. “As a Sergeant, I can have someone serve as my second. I was wondering if you’d like that role? We already fly together in a Servitor, after all.”

“You would need to refer my name to the Commander for such an appointment. And an autocrew second is unheard of.”

“Lots of things are unheard of, Zircon. You’re a Third Class Ensign, an unheard of rank. All because you accompanied me on shore leave, an unheard of thing, and helped to stop a theft.” Jena smiled. “Besides, I hear in the world of business androids and gynoids are often used for personal assistants. That’s pretty much what a second is.”

He considered this before nodding. “Very well. If the Commander deems it appropriate, it will be my duty to serve you in such a role.” Finishing his cup, he noticed that Jena’s was also empty. “What do we do now?”

“Now? We finish off our shopping. These last days will go quickly, and I’ve a lot to do before we leave.”

Helping Hands

From a young age, Kyla had been taught that on visits to the supermarket she should avoid the stock fillers. Walking down the aisles they could often be seen reaching out from the dark at the back of the shelves to hand products to shoppers, to straighten shelves, or plucking stock from nowhere to stack the display units with.

She’d tightly grip onto the shopping trolley as her father pushed it down each aisle, checking things off his list and stacking them carefully in the wire basket. Every so often she’d gain the courage to try and peek into the black recesses of the shelves. A glimpse of dark hands could be seen, straightening some box or pushing older product to the front.

As Kyla grew, she became less scared of the hands. She’d carefully take items off them and stand on tip-toes to deposit it in the trolley. Sometimes she would see the hands reaching for products that had been knocked off the shelf. Darting down she’d pick it up and pass them over. That seemed the right thing to do. A nice thing to do.

So when she saw one of the hands accidentally knock some canned vegetables off the shelf? Kyla skipped over to pick the tin up and pass it back, a smile on her face. The shadowy limb reached out for it before twisting to reach past. She gasped as she felt the cool digits touch her wrist.

Suddenly she was walking away. She could see herself walking away. Her eyes tracked herself until a tin of sweetcorn hid her from sight. It was the tin she had helped put back on the shelf. It confused her, to see herself walking away. In that confusion in the dark place she found herself, a bright idea came to mind.  She’d lend a helping hand to shoppers. It seemed the right thing to do. A nice thing to do.

Strike Team

The troop helicopter was hovering on flickering blades above the insertion point. With the side door opened and the cables ready to drop, the armed men and women on board readied to descend into combat.

“You know the target. Get in, grab the package and get out. You have permission to terminate anything that tries to interfere.” Their XO snarled through the comms system.

With the signal given, the team started their drop. Down cables they zipped, weapons raised and ready as they neared the hordes of enemies. The situation was chaos, the crowds riled.

Operation Black Friday had begun.

Author’s Note: Seeing as the stores in the US decide to start Black Friday sooner, I thought I’d drop this story now. A nice little drabble, now heavily discounted!