Hours later, Faisal, Jesse, the Prince and Enioreh were sitting around a wooden table, eating (or pretending to, at least.) The Prince and Enioreh kept exchanging wary glances as they pushed the potent-smelling portions around their plates. There was something that looked like meat, but the smell was so overpowering Enioreh had to cover her mouth and nose with her sleeve a few times to keep her head from spinning.
“What’s wrong?” Asked Jesse, noticing. “You don’t like chicken?”
Enioreh dropped a fork noisily. “Chicken?” She said, and glanced quickly at Hedoniet, who had almost succeeded in looking at-ease. Of course, he was royalty – he would have had chicken before, and maybe even pork or beef – Enioreh had always heard rumors that there were carcasses in storage.
“It’s free-range,” Faisal was saying. “Organic and hormone-free, from a family farm fifteen miles out of town. Eco-friendly, you know.”
Enioreh gaped. “You mean to tell me this…stuff…it really is chicken? Like, real, live poultry?”
“Well, it’s not really live, once you cook it.”
“Do they not have poultry…where you’re from?” Faisal asked, looking surprised. He had been asking questions like that – as though they were guests from some ordinary other country.
“Of course,” said Hedo loudly, “The leadership in our Empire have had ample opportunities to enjoy the delicacies of past ages. Unfortunately, what with the war and all, many commoners have never experienced animal meat.”
Jesse raised an eyebrow. “Why? Is it a cost thing?”
Hedo laughed politely at what may have been a joke, but Faisal and Jesse just looked at each other.
“Well,” said Enioreh, deciding to state the obvious just in case. “The main reason has to do with all the bombs that got dropped. The guys in cages wouldn’t have lasted too long, I guess. The royals kept roosters, but that was just for fighting – it was supposed to be all motivating, or whatever.”
Faisal opened his mouth. “How awful!” He said.
“Meh,” said Enioreh, prodding the different-smelling chicken with a spoon. “We eat a lot of mushrooms. It’s cool.”
Hedoniet took a conspicuous bite of his, and Enioreh snickered. Most dudes back home liked to work it into their introductions to ladies that they had been hunting at least once and caught something with fur.
“No, that is seriously awful,” Faisal was arguing. “If we don’t respect what sustains us, we all lose out! That’s what started me thinking about psytrons in the first place – the need for sustainability. Everybody seems to be thinking of energy in only one way. They all think energy has to come from somewhere else – from a mine, from a fire, from a factory…nobody stops to think about the dormant power in ourselves – in our own brains. Even in the scientific community – we’re supposed to be at the forefront of innovation, and all people can think of sustaining is the funding. I swear to God, we’ve got Liolaoc reps monitoring us at the university – that’s a company,” he interrupted himself to explain, “Petroleum-based, extremely lucrative…pretty much runs everything in this country – well, in the world, actually. And it seems like anyone who gains recognition in a field related to energy, Liolaoc tries to buy them out. I’ve even heard rumors some people were threatened for not selling out. It’s incredible.”
“Perhaps they are trying to spur energy innovation, by means of economic incentives,” Hedoniet suggested.
“No,” said Faisal. “They want to nip alternative products in the bud. They don’t care how badly the world is hurting because of it – all they want is to maintain their death-grip on the global market.”
Hedoniet sighed delicately. “So often, hindsight is necessary to render the true dimensions of a situation apparent…” He allowed his voice to trail off, smiling mysterious-complacent smiles that pissed off Enioreh.
Faisal paused, and Jesse looked up, studying the Prince.
“Are you suggesting that Liolaoc has some role to play in history beside evil-corporate-world-ruiner?” The scientist scoffed.
Hedo just smiled on – like he expected everyone to believe he had some secret future-knowledge that made his opinion automatically right.
Enioreh rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to him – he just likes to hear himself talk. There’s no such company as Liolaoc in our future, and Hedoniet doesn’t know everything about history – contrary to his personal opinion, I’m sure.”
The Prince turned his head slowly in her direction with an expression of such stunned outrage she couldn’t help bursting into laughter. “Smakabich…” He growled imperiously, making her laugh again. She’d forgotten all about the ranking.
“Come on,” Enioreh chuckled. “I’m from your time, remember? You can’t just act like you’re some master-planner in front of me and expect me not to call you out. This guy,” Enioreh jerked her thumb at the Prince as she turned to Faisal and Jesse, “He has pulled some stupid stunts in his day, let me tell you!”
“Oh, please do,” smiled Jesse.
“Well,” she chuckled again. “He used to do all kinds of crazy things, trying to get his uncle’s approval. Mr. Biggs named a few people General from lower classes, and Hedo here just about went crazy trying to prove himself. People said he only got made a General, finally, so that he’d stop trying so hard and messing everything up.
“It is neither prudent nor beneficial to critique a battle strategy hundreds of years before it is put into action.” The Prince cried indignantly.
“Oh,” said Enioreh. “Speaking of things the Prince wanted to do that failed miserably, remember that chick you fell in love with?”
“Don’t,” said the Prince, and it was mainly his imperious tone that made Enioreh snort and turn back to Jesse.
“There’s this girl, Brittany, daughter of one of the biggest hotshot generals. Princey here, he was trying all hard to like, woo her, and crap, and it just wasn’t happening, for the longest time – like, not at all. It was wicked publicized – he kept buying stuff for her and sending it to her house, but she just kept ignoring it and stayed home when he invited her parents places. One time, he got drunk and challenged this guy at a party to a duel for supposedly offending her honor – yeah, turns out the dude was her little brother, she was totally not impressed.”
“Oh, no!” Cried Jesse in a sympathetic tone – but he was laughing, too.
“Anyone could have made that mistake…” The Prince mumbled.
“Maybe, but most people wouldn’t have gone through with the duel.”
“He didn’t!” Jesse gasped.
“It was supposed to be a real fight-to-the-death, too, but Biggs ordered it changed to a joust, instead.”
“You’re co-mingling events!” The Prince snapped. “The fight was scheduled after he’d accused me of treason.”
“Anyway, they both show up and Brittany’s brother is riding inside a giant robot he built from scratch. And the Prince is riding on a mutated fucking giant rooster he’d had his scientists grow in the castle’s basement. And when they started fighting, the giant robot laser’d the bird’s head off and it started running all over the fucking city, shitting on people’s houses and bleeding and knocking things over, and all you can hear is the Prince screaming, ‘Get me off, my monster cock’s gone bonkers!’ The Emperor was so pissed at the Prince for wasting all that money on his giant cock he stopped inviting him to parties.”
“That tournament was instrumental in stimulating aggression at the front – you have no idea how intricate and brilliant is the wheel of war in our time.”
“Whatever,” said Enioreh.
“Not whatever,” said the Prince. “You’re behaving irresponsibly! The actions you make now will have an impact on the future, whether you realize it or not – and telling stories that are not true may well lead to future revolutions you cannot predict.”
“Well, if Mr. Science there can make your time-juice like you say he can, it won’t matter because we’ll change history before any of that shit comes to pass. And if he can’t, then at least you’ll never see any of those people again. We’ll be stuck here.”
“Don’t be stuck,” Jesse laughed. “We’ve quite enough monster cocks in this century.”
* * *
Whoever supervised Faisal’s academic work was impressed enough by his findings that he soon had access to the ancient university equipment, which seemed to thrill him, although Enioreh couldn’t imagine how he could possibly create Chrono-juice with it. Sometimes she and the Prince would go with him to the lab, but more often than not, as he discovered they didn’t really understand the science as well as he’d thought, they spent the time hanging around his house, watching the flat televisions. They got used to seeing things in two dimensions, and Enioreh did her best to absorb the local customs, mindful that they might need to eventually settle in to society here.
Hedoniet seemed much less interested in acclimating, though he tried to hide his impatience as the days passed and Faisal didn’t seem remotely on the verge of capturing psytrons. Jesse came bit by bit to an acceptance of his guests as real people, and he spent more time at home than he said he used to just to make sure they weren’t starving or destroying themselves. He was especially worried about this after one time showing up to find Hedoniet locked in mortal combat with a glob of blueberry chewing gum that had lodged itself in his burgundy curls.
“Nefarious, ungodly substance,” Hedo sniffled bitterly, as Jesse cut the last of it away and stood poised with a hand on his chin, debating various elegant ways to disguise the butchered locks.
“This is why people from our time don’t randomly pick up and start chewing materials they find in other people’s seat-cushions,” Jesse explained.
“It was wrapped in paper!” The Prince howled. “The small man in the picture was using it to make buoyant globules in his mouth!”
Jesse was looking through his hands artistically. “On a scale from one to ten, how important is symmetry to you?”
“It’s…unnecessary,” Hedoniet bravely declared, eyes closed tight against the painful inevitability. He winced at the sound of the scissors snipping, and peeked through one eye at the hands that were divesting him of his curls. Then he opened both eyes wide. “Your ring…?” He was staring hard at the black stone set in cherry glass.
Jesse paused, scissors agape, and looked at his ring as though just remembering he had it on. “Yes, it’s mine,” he said quietly. He hadn’t ever talked to the Prince like he did to Enioreh about his past.
“Where did you get it?”
Jesse moved his hand quickly behind Hedoniet’s head. “Hold still,” he said loudly. “I’m trying for something classy.”
The Prince was standing up, throwing aside the tablecloth he’d been using to catch stray hairs. “Where did you get it?” Hedoniet repeated, this time with more force.
“Do you want the haircut or not?” Enioreh snapped. “It’s none of your business where he got his ring.”
“Oh, no?” Hedoniet’s eyes were glittering with some untold emotion. “None of my business, if he carries on his hand the trademark of royalty? None?”
“Royalty?” Jesse stared.
“Oh, what wasn’t a trademark of our royalty?” Enioreh scoffed. “They just had to own something in every category. They’d probably have a copyrighted color if they all weren’t taken already.”
“It’s Royal Blue!” The Prince yelled. “You’ve got a Smakabich – you’re wearing the pin right now, how do you not know this?”
“Hmm, yeah,” Enioreh chortled, stroking the blue hand pin on her collar. She’d taken to wearing it when she realized it made the Prince’s hierachy-minding-ego expand and lead him to say more ridiculous things.
“Are there many rings like this – in your future?” Jesse asked, still quietly.
“Not many that are exactly like it.” The Prince kept staring at the ring. “Black diamond is the official stone of imperial nobility. And that particular ring I have seen before.”
“Whoa!” Said Enioreh. “You guys could be related, or something! That would be freaky, huh?”
Jesse didn’t say anything.
Neither did Hedoniet. He sat back down with the tablecloth over his lap, letting Jesse finish with his hair.