This work of fiction is non-canon for any of the worlds it pulls from.
Two women walked into the back room; the brunette thanked the hostess while the blonde scanned the empty seats. A young man in a starchy white shirt glanced at them, then turned the last couple of heating elements on before shuttling quickly back to the kitchen.
The blonde wheeled upon her friend. “We’re the first. I hate being the fucking first! You don’t even know.” She glanced over her friend’s shoulder, searching for the bar, but the hostess had closed the heavy velvet curtain behind them. “Who do I gotta wrap up in baker’s twine and bounce on while giggling like a bishoujo to get a drink around here?” Sighing, she unwound her purse and shook the snow from her faux fur jacket, before helping her friend shrug out of her coat. The next thing was to find where to dump this stuff off… “OH!” She jumped back and laughed, discovering another starch-shirt right behind her.
“I’ll take those,” he said, emptying her hands before she knew what was happening. “What would you like to drink?”
“How good’s your bartender? Like, do I need to get two of—”
He smiled easily, maybe proudly. “It’s an open bar tonight, miss. Happy holidays.”
The blonde leered over her shoulder at her friend, eyes glowing. “Then we’re starting with a Mojito! Karmen, what’re you having?”
Karmen was perusing the buffet table, holding cupped palms before her as though offering something to each dish. “Mm? Oh, just, ah… you got Mickey’s?”
“Rolling Rock? Shiner?”
“I’ll have a Michelada with Corona.”
The server nodded and scooted out of the room. Her friend joined her at the buffet tables. “What the hell was that all about, then?”
Karmen grinned sharply. “Ceci, my friend, you know I don’t trust any place that doesn’t have a wide range of shitty beers. Where the hell are we, anyway?”
“It looked like River House Tavern when we pulled up.”
“You don’t know?”
“Fuck you, I was following GPS. Waiting for you two pokey-asses to tuck it back in and get ready to go.” Ceci looked into her friend’s palms. “I mean, you clean up very nicely, little sir. You buy that just for tonight?”
A tiny man sat upright indignantly in Karmen’s hands. “I had this, I did. I just don’t have many occasions to wear it.”
“Is that your clan’s actual sett?”
The tiny man’s eyebrows shot up. “Well, color me impressed.”
“And what color is that?”
“Iridescent indigo, depending on the lighting.” Euen looked around. “It’s positively sepulchral in here, isn’t it? I guess they don’t want you to notice how many people there aren’t here. How come you know so much about tartans?”
“Hanging out with my favorite fact-checker.” Ceci nodded at a woman shouldering her way through the heavy drapery.
The newcomer also held a tiny man close to her chest; she whispered to him and looked up brightly. “At least we’re not the first ones,” she said.
Ceci shot her friend a look before going over to greet them. “Janine! Hi! Omigoddess, it’s been forever!” Very theatrically she threw her arms around the woman, making a point of crushing the little man between two sets of breasts in holiday sweaters. “Oh, Shaun, I didn’t even see you down there.” She bit her lip and swung her chest threateningly at her coworker before helping Janine out of her puffy jacket.
Within ten minutes, the room filled up with more attendees. Drinks were hustled, brushed steel lids were lifted, and more decorative lighting glowed as the ambient volume rose with lively conversation. “I don’t think I recognize everyone here,” Ceci told her friend. “Do you?”
Karmen shrugged, looking around. “I only know Euen and Shaun’s coworkers. But, uh, are you noticing a trend?”
Ceci looked around. Colored lights twinkled around her eyes and reflected off her lips. “Not really, unless you’re talking about the extremely white estrogen party going on in here.”
“Yeah, that. I feel bad for some reason.”
Ceci smacked her friend’s chest. “Why should you feel bad? You should feel weirded out, if anything. Let’s split up and talk to people, figure out what’s going on.”
Her friend nodded and lifted her hand to her lips. “I’m just gonna drop you off so you can talk with some of your similarly sized buddies, all right? I’ll be right back.”
* * *
“But I don’t know them either,” Euen shouted as she nestled him beside a tower of warm porcelain saucers. He found his footing and studied the group of tiny men lingering around the clawfoot legs of the enormous serving trays, careful not to stand too close to the heating elements. He raised one hand and nodded; several other tiny little men raised their glasses and nodded. And he had his ice-breaker: “Uh, say, where can I get one of those?”
Among a group of tiny white men, a dark man with exceptional hair stepped forward and waved him closer. “They don’t even bother to ask. They just stop by with a little plate of drinks, when they know that we need them.”
“How do they know we need them?”
The man grinned sharply and strutted over to a little glass slab. When he smacked his palm on its corner, a display of brilliant LEDs swirled and danced upon it. “It’ll be a couple minutes. So, what brings you to the Jubilee Manor?”
Euen flinched. “Is that where we are? I thought it was the River House Tavern.”
The man looked up at the windows and ceiling. “It looks like Jubilee Manor, but also not. Luke here said it reminded him of some place called the Fifth Alarm. Heard of it?”
The other man in question, a very well-groomed, slightly older man, stepped up and shook Euen’s hand. “Luke Evans,” he said, mentioning the name of a company Euen had never heard of before. “And you’ve met Mr. Pattillo.”
“Ah, sorry,” the first man said. “Please, call me Marco. My partner’s around here somewhere.” He searched left and right among the forest of gigantic women milling around. “She might be on the other side of the serving tables. I think there’s yours, Luke.” He pointed at a lean, dangerous-looking woman wearing a shiny black leather jacket over a crimson bodysuit of crushed velvet. The multihued lights caught in her frizzy mane, and her smile glowed in the dim atmosphere.
Euen momentarily lost his breath. “She looks like she could have you for breakfast.”
Luke tightened his lips and looked into his drink. “Don’t think she hasn’t tried. So, what do you do, Mr…?”
“Ah, sorry. Abasolo. Euen, please.” He shook hands with these two as a small group nearby started to notice. “I write for Software Dance magazine.” There was an awkward pause throughout the quiet background music and the loud foreground women’s voices. “Software Dance? We do product reviews for Anthropoles?” He studied their faces for any sign of recognition.
Marco scoffed. “I’m sorry, anthro-what? I guess I’m not much of a reader, I haven’t heard of your magazine, sorry.” When asked, he proudly stated he was Direct Impact Representative for Vol-Cone LLC. “That just means I do their social media,” he added modestly, then also added, “Actually, I’m head of their social media. I’m basically the voice of Vol-Cone, really. Anything you’ve seen by them probably came from me.”
Euen repeated the company name quietly, looking at Luke, who finished his drink and said he was sure it was a great place to work. Before an astonished Marco could protest, a starch-shirted young woman swept up to the table, looming over them. Smoother than clockwork she swiped one dish away and replaced it with another, peppered with teeny-tiny rocks glasses with a variety of fluids in them. The three men waved up at her, and she blessed them with a warm grin before disappearing into the crowd. Marco smiled and gestured to Euen, who stepped upon the edge of the plate and selected a transparent beverage.
“Vodka,” he muttered, sipping. “Was hoping for a G&T.” He sipped again. “Not a bad vodka, though. So, Marco, how long have you been with—”
“Six years,” Marco said promptly. “Two promotions in that time. Whenever they realize what I’m capable of, they give me more to do. The curse of competence, I suppose.” He shrugged indulgently.
“Ah, no, I meant, how long have you been with your partner?”
“Who, Dorris? I mean…” He looked around for her again. “I guess that’s complicated. It’s not like a relationship where you spot someone, get attracted, ask her out, and then you’re together.”
Euen laughed, thinking about when Karmen dunked him in her beer and threatened to drink him down. “I hear ya. Sometimes it just comes up and grabs you, doesn’t it?”
Marco laughed. “Yes, sometimes it just comes up behind you, shrinks you down, wraps its gigantic fist around you, and steals you away from everything you’ve ever known.”
“I hear that,” said Luke, clinking his bourbon against Marco’s whiskey sour. Euen stared at them, hackles rising on his neck.
Abruptly, two tremendous flesh-colored balloons descended from above, as though twin asteroids had crashed through Earth’s atmosphere. The three men shrieked in horror until they realized the heaving spheres only hovered above them. Luke swore and turned for another drink while Euen studied the spectacle: plunging cleavage between two near-perfect spheres of womanly skin, swaddled around their equators with bunched white fabric, all of which was erupting from an impossibly tight bodice, crazily stitched in red and green embroidery.
“Here ya go, li’l guy!” chimed a cheery voice. “Go play with yer tasty li’l friends an’ I’m-a go get shitfaced!” The woman straightened up, and only then they noticed a springy frame of golden curls around the maniacal grin of a young woman on some kind of mood-elevating stimulants, likely. She spun away and danced off, a broad black bow dancing over her pronounced rump, a cartoonish witch’s hat barely clinging to her skull.
When they caught their breath, they turned to their new company and found themselves confronted with a very serious-looking SWAT officer in black BDUs. His nostrils flared as he released pent-up breath, and then he turned smartly to swipe his own drink from the large plate. “Goddess bless us, every one,” he grumbled before knocking it back at a toss.
* * *
The starched-shirts were supremely efficient at their tasks, as though they’d been vat-grown until late adolescence and subjected to direct neuro-terraforming and indoctrination in all topics even fractally related to the service industry. Their smiles were indelible, their butts evaded pinching, and their patience was sublime as they fielded requests and orders while waltzing through the crowd like a Disney feature-length animation. For hours they dispensed drinks and cocktails to the large group of women and the skittering herds of tiny men on tables throughout the private party room.
A young woman shook hands with a much older woman. The former was wary and lean, like a beaten ferret; the latter was a luscious, snowy cloud of comfort and humor. “How long have you been in America, dear?” she was asking.
The young woman sucked in her breath, then forced a tight smile. “Not long. It’s a lovely country. I have always wanted to visit.”
“Is that true?” The older woman raised her eyebrows at something in her company’s expression.
“Well… I have always been curious, of course. It is impossible to live anywhere and not hear about the great global peacekeeper and marketing hub. Your influence reaches every last corner of the world. It is inescapable, truly.” The younger woman flinched at something in her company’s expression. “Oh no, I hope I have not been insulting! It would be ungrateful for me to—”
The older woman laughed. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Julian and I have no illusions about the evils of capitalism, so maybe you found the best people in the room to chat with. But speaking of pretty little heads, should we make introductions?” She turned to snatch an equally old man, tiny as a doll, away from the group of miniature men he was chatting with. “This is my Julian, we’ve been together for forty-five years.”
“Forty-eight,” he coughed, having aspirated his Old Fashioned. “Julian Alexander, charmed. Have you, er, come here alone, Petia?”
Glancing around in wonder, the younger woman snapped back to present and fished around in the pocket of her quilted winter jacket. She extracted another tiny little man and presented him in the flat of her palm. He sat up easily, one leg winding around, the other caught between her index and middle fingers and swinging freely. Where Julian hung from his wife’s fingers in layers of wool jacket and tailored suit, the younger man was dressed only in a royal blue track suit, or a loose shirt and pants stitched together from a track suit, and he was barefoot.
“Your little man looks like quite the scrapper,” the older woman said.
“If I’m the scraps,” said the little man, “you’d better pray you never run into the entire package.”
Petia cuffed the little man with her thumb. “He means to say his name is Milan and he’s delighted to meet you.”
Julian’s wife, Sharon, finally thought to permit her husband to stand on her other hand as well. He nodded his thanks to her, then turned an attentive eye to Milan. “I don’t mean to be insulting, but I’m very curious. You two seem to have an accent about you, though your diction is as flawless as could be desired. Might I ask where you’re from?”
His wife’s mouth formed a large O as she sought for words to shut him up, but the fact was she was as curious as he was. “Yeah, I thought I picked up something like Russian? Though I guess that could be Portuguese,” she added, laughing at a private joke.
“I was thinking something closer to Macedonian.”
Milan had been affronted up to that point, and Petia looked away at the suggestion, but they both looked wide-eyed at Julian. She began to speak but he cut her off: “Are you familiar with the region? I’m picking up on an accent in you as well.”
“We’ve been around. We used to do quite a lot of traveling, before it became impractical.” He shrugged, palms upward. “I hope your voyage here was uneventful..?”
For once, Milan was at a loss for words. “That’s what I was talking about with your lovely wife, Sharon.” Petia deliberately pronounced the name, a trick to help her recall unfamiliar names. “I do recall that we were traveling, or thinking of traveling, but it’s difficult for me to retrace our steps to this country… for some reason.”
Sharon and Julian agreed that this sounded odd, and they tried to find a way to express this that didn’t sound like they suspected her of anything.
“And don’t look at me for a reliable narrator,” Milan called up. “I’m as faulty as they come on a good day. I spent the entire journey tucked inside her pocket. Or stashed on her somewhere.” He turned to grin at her. “Or in her.” He sprang over her swatting hand and scurried up her sleeve like a mouse.
“Young love,” Sharon said, sighing. “Remember when we were like that, Julian?”
“I don’t recall ever stopping, my heart. Have I been letting you down in some way?”
“Nothing another Mojito can’t fix.” She swiped a highball of exactly this recipe from a nearby tray. She looked up abruptly as Petia clawed at her coat sleeve. “Oh, look who it is, Julian! We know them! Adeline! Yoo-hoo! Over here by the chicken satay!”
A dreamy, dark-haired woman in a plush, layered black sweater slipped through the crowd, smiling warmly. “Oh my gosh, Sharon, Julian! It’s so lovely to see you. I didn’t think I’d know anyone here.”
Sharon chuckled. “Well, you know who you’re definitely not going to see here, is that sketchy Linda and her wretched little clutch of—”
Julian cleared his throat with surprising resonance. “Now, now, dear, the holidays compel a certain graciousness. And looking around, I think there are no guarantees as to who will or won’t be here. Adeline, please let us introduce you to our new friends, Petia and Milan.”
Adeline held her hand out and said she was pleased to meet Petia, but Petia was preoccupied with clutching at a shifting lump under her clothes. “I’m so sorry, we very rarely get to go out to a nice occasion, and the one time we do…” She swatted at her belly, hard, then reached inside her dress under her coat and pulled out a stunned little man. She shook him to attention and stood him on her palm to face the little man Adeline now presented.
“This is Agustin,” Adeline said. “He may be shy. But it’s a good thing we’re near the snack tables because a hot meal can usually loosen him up.”
The man in her palm looked back at her, not quite balefully but with a more-than-casual frown. He turned back to the new people, then froze. Petia lowered her hand evenly with Adeline’s, and the tiny men regarded each other very intently and silently, despite the low roar of the room.
“Wow, this is the most life I’ve seen in him in… maybe ever,” Adeline said. “Does it look like they know each other?”
“You know, we’re standing right here,” Milan snapped. Petia gave Adeline an apologetic look. “I’ve never seen him before, but there’s something familiar about him. He reminds me of someone.”
Agustin said something, too quietly for the bigs to make out. Milan’s expression rather conspicuously went flat, and he turned to his girlfriend and nodded at a corner table. “Please excuse us,” Petia stammered. “It’s been very nice meeting you, Sharon, Julian.” She looked up at Adeline, tilted her head meaningfully, and they adjourned to a padded semicircle booth in red leather and dark oak.
“Well, wonder what all that’s about,” murmured Sharon. “You wanna go back to your little friends?”
“I think we can call it a night, if those rosy-faced robots will ever let us leave.” Julian’s twinkling eyes tracked the too-smooth perambulations of the waitstaff.
“Not enjoying yourself?”
“I was hoping we could ditch this snore-fest and start a little party of our own.”
“Oh, you scamp!” She laughed and peeled off his coat and blazer, to more comfortably nestle him inside her own sweater. “You gotta let me get drunk first, though. I never get to do this. Ooh, and they just brought out samosas!”
* * *
“Whoa, looks like something serious is going down,” whispered a hippie-chick salaciously, in the next booth. “You see the looks on their faces?”
The dangerous-looking woman in the biker jacket leaned over to see. “Missed it. It better not be one of their little guys messing around. No reason for these little idiots to be acting up on a night like tonight. Something happens to a little guy acting like an idiot? That’s nobody’s fault but his.” She wrapped her hand around a beer bottle, flashing fingerless gloves in soft leather.
“Aw, don’t you think that’s a little mean?” Janine asked. “I mean, they’re basically harmless. They can be annoying little shits, Goddess knows, but you know, they’re helpless. It’s mean to just kick them around or… do whatever.”
Karmen slowly grinned. “I dunno, I think Temple’s got a point. Generosity only goes so far before you’ve got to put someone in their place. You know? It’s like when bugs creep into your house. Like, you can be here, little dudely, but if I catch you then whatever happens, happens.” She clinked bottlenecks with Temple.
“I know you don’t feel that way! You’re just trying to get me upset. You’ve texted me in the middle of the night because you were worried about Euen.”
Temple raised an eyebrow at Karmen, who swore quietly and shrank back into her seat.
“And I know Shavonne agrees with me.” Janine nodded at the hippie-chick, wrapped in sumptuous, byzantine fabrics and topped with frizzy currant-and-honey hair. “She’s pulled Dagny’s tiny butt out of the fire more times than she can count.”
“A few times,” Shavonne conceded, sipping her wine to deflect Temple’s gaze. “He can take care of himself, but there’s a real bitch who has it out for him, so sometimes he needs a little help.”
“Yeah, and there’s a crazy bitch after my Shaun. It doesn’t mean they’re weak that they need someone to look out for them sometimes. We all need that, don’t we?”
A tall woman in a business blazer over a very low-cut chemise leaned into the table, grinning a little too hard. “No crazy bitches are after my little Archie! Does that mean no one wants him? I don’t think so. Does that mean he doesn’t need my help? Not at all! Sometimes even he doesn’t know how much he needs my help, so I have to step up and show him, you know, convince him. Drive the point home until he gets it.” She bit her bottom lip and squirmed in her seat.
“Dial it back, Tana,” Shavonne said. “We’re in respectable company.”
“Then let’s take care of that! Hey, waitstaff! Tequila shots!”
“Oh, here we go,” said Temple, rolling her eyes before dutifully knocking back her beer.
Five minutes later…
“No, I just like to hold him there,” Temple explained. “The first time was an accident. He got his clothes all soaked, and he was scared anyway. But after that…” Her expression softened as she gazed up at the decorative lighting. “You know, he’s nude, and I can feel everything on my tongue. He don’t weigh hardly anything, but I can still feel him, you know? Just a little lump of… sweet meat, lying there on my tongue. So soft, helpless.” She sucked on her lip briefly. “And I could gulp him right down if I wanted, and he knows that. But he’s not fighting, he just lies there, soft and warm. And I just hold him.” She closed her eyes, smiling, then abruptly shook her massive thunderhead of hair and threatened to slit the throat of anyone who repeated this.
Shavonne told her to chill out, quoting Sgt. Hulka in Stripes. “But I get what you’re saying. Sometimes when I’m holding Dagny, like, carrying him from room to room ‘cos it’s faster, I start to fixate on how light he is.” She set down her shot glass by the other two and formed a bowl with her palms. “I could trip and he’d go flying, that’s how light. I could throw him at the ceiling, and it wouldn’t take any effort from me, but it would shatter every tiny bone in that body. Ain’t that a trip?”
Karmen and Tana agreed that it was; Janine shuddered.
“But, like… have you all noticed how much heat they produce? After Thanksgiving, I want two of them for hand-warmers. It’s insane! I guess they burn up a lot of calories really fast, like birds.”
“They could go in your shoes, too,” said Tana, grinning toothily. “Keep your toes warm. They could also go in your—”
“Thanks, we get it.” Shavonne grimaced and tilted her head, as though trying to let Tana’s imagery drip out of her ear. “What I mean is, when I hold him, I almost see what other women want when they want babies or… small dogs.” She shrugged. “He’s just so frail and little, and I want to…” She closed her hands into a sphere and pressed them between her breasts, normally hidden in all the voluptuous layers she wore. “Like, if I could open up my chest and drape him over my heart, I would. To keep him safe, inside me. Does that make any sense?”
Tana’s glassy eyes blazed at her. “Have you ever taken him inside you, though? There are places he can go.”
Shavonne’s shoulders slumped. “I would never. You don’t do that to a girlfriend. I mean, no one’s heard from her in, like, years, but it wouldn’t feel right. I don’t even know if he’d want that with me.” She lifted her head and tried to pick out her evening’s companion among the others on the buffet table.
“Well, you don’t ask! You just grab him and tell him what he wants, and you shove him right into—”
Temple scowled at Tana. “Don’t you mean what you want?”
“What? What’d I say?” Tana looked around the table in confusion.
“Well, speaking of girlfriends,” Karmen said, peeking around the corner of the booth to see where Ceci was, “maybe some of you might think I’m pretty shitty. But I asked Ceci if she had any intent on him, and she said no, and Euen made it sound like he was free and available, so we just started legitimately dating. There was plenty of time for any affronted party to speak up, if that was the case.” She screwed up her mouth defiantly and stacked her shot glasses. “She should’ve said something, that’s all. I don’t go running around trying to steal other women’s men, even if I can fit ten of them in my purse. I’m not faith—”
She was interrupted by a beaming server, placing another round of small glasses in front of each woman. “Here you go, ladies, this one’s our extra añejo, and I think you’ll really like it. Enjoy!” He was gone in a flash.
“Goddamn him,” said Karmen, glaring at the naughty little glass of rich liquid.
Tana licked her lips, watching the starch-shirt flee. “He would make a nice little man, I bet.”
“You think so?” Temple sat up, fishing around in her jacket pockets. “We can find out.”
Janine laughed politely. “You can’t just make little men. You have to find them.”
“Like hell. I make them all the time. Wanna see?” Temple looked at her company. “What do you mean, you find them?”
Janine gaped at her. “Are you saying that, these little men you hold in your mouth, that you actually shrink them down? They were normal-sized people? And you eat them sometimes?”
“Well, what the hell are you all talking about? Didn’t you shrink your little men down?”
Janine and Karmen shouted “no” in unison. Tana shook with laughter. “Oh my goddess, can you imagine? If this wasn’t such an estrogen-fest, you could pick any guy you wanted and take him home! Just keep him! No one would know where he went, right?”
“It generally takes people a few days to wise up,” Temple said, her teeth glinting in the lights. “By that time, you’re in another city, collecting another dozen men.” Tana’s hand slid off the table and her arm stiffened into her lap.
“This is one fuck of a night. You want that?” Shavonne pinched Janine’s shot glass tenderly, having disappeared her fourth.
Janine assured her she could take it. “I think I’m going to look for my little guy, actually.” She shouldered Karmen roughly out of her way and lurched toward the buffet tables, momentarily off-balance. “Shaun? Shaun! Oh, excuse me, I’m so sorry.” She recovered herself, having bounced off another grown-up.
“No worries, kitten,” said the other woman, bright red lips dancing merrily. She had a rockabilly thing going on, with a red polka-dotted blouse knotted around her midriff and painted-on jeans. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah, I’m just a little shaken up, I guess. It’s a strange night, you know?” Her laughter was less than convincing. “I think I’m up past my bedtime, is all. Gonna look for my boyfriend and call it a night. An early night? I can’t tell.” She squinted at the windows across the room but was unable to make anything out beyond them.
The other woman shook her head slowly, her platinum-blonde hair rotating like a pile of cotton candy. “That’s too bad, but I hope you make it home safely. Happy holidays and all that jazz, sweet pea. I aim to hit the buffet. I hear there’s a nice selection of meat.” She flashed Janine another grin and slapped her butt with a peal sharp enough to turn heads. Even Janine was mesmerized by the two pronounced spheres in denim, shivering under the impact, churning against each other like planets cuddling each other to death.
* * *
Music played in the room, though anyone who listened had a hard time pinpointing exactly what it was.
“Those hooky choruses and intriguing bridges sound like ’80s Swedish electronica,” said Shaun.
“No, this is a club mix,” said Milan, “where I’m from. It barely goes beyond four chords, and the stress is on the downbeat, not like in America.” He smiled at the dose of familiarity.
Temple thought there was an in-house DJ they weren’t seeing, due to the change-ups and the bulk of sampled material. Marco was convinced it was some kind of aggregator and neuralnet, because so much of it was just on the edge of being familiar but with a quirky twist. Julian laughed in Sharon’s bosom: “I just don’t understand what the kids are into these days. It’s not bad, it’s just… different.” She patted him sympathetically.
Something like a sophisticated astronaut struggled to pass through the heavy velvet curtains, followed by a punk chick who could not stop grinning. “This is the place,” said the glowing, bespectacled visage on the suit’s faceplate, “but I don’t recognize anything about it.”
The punk chick agreed. “It’s familiar, but then some little thing is wrong. We didn’t have those rafters, for one thing, but they’ve got the tacky red netting on all the table candles like we do.”
“Do you see anyone you know?”
“Again, it’s like I do, but then something changes at the last minute. Wait… Janine?” The BigSuit raised its arm and waved, and the couple began carefully pushing their way through the revelers. Janine looked back, spun herself out of her booth, and ran over to wrap her arms around the attractive robot.
“Lloyd! You’re here! And Keila, hi-i-i-i!” She embraced the punk chick. “Oops!” she chirped, backing off immediately and fishing around for something in her blouse. Lloyd laughed to see a flustered Shaun in the platform of her hands, hovering between the three large bodies.
“Nice suit,” Shaun said. “You get that pressed for tonight, or is it a rental?”
“I wanted to wear what I was wearing when I first met Keila, on account of this is where we met.” Lloyd’s face rotated up on the faceplate. “I thought it was, anyway. Isn’t this the River House Tavern?”
“About a third of us seem to think so. I’m glad you’re here, anyway. They’re constantly bringing out new food so you haven’t missed anything.”
Keila’s huge eyes scanned the room. “So, should we be creeped out by this party? I don’t even know half these people, and I’m not the kind to just go up and make friends with whatever.”
“Everyone seems very nice,” said Janine. “There are odd little things you’ll notice, if you mingle enough.”
“Like how everyone’s a white woman? Oh wait, nope, there’s a Black woman in the corner. And all the men are these tiny little guys.”
Janine leaned in conspiratorily. “That’s not even the weird part. I mean, yes, it is, but some of these women sound like their men weren’t always Anthropoles.”
Keila laughed. “Then how’d they get tiny? Science?”
Shaun nodded at her as significantly as his four inches could muster. “That, or drugs, magic, gods, aliens. There’s someone around here who merely wanted her man to shrink down, and he did. Force of will.”
Lloyd’s image blinked. “Are you messing with us? That’s impossible.”
“Some of them think it’s impossible that anyone’s born this size.”
“I’m gonna need a drink,” said Keila, “if this is what kind of night it’s gonna be. You want anything, babe?” She flagged down a starched-shirt without much effort and talked her into three rounds at once.
Lloyd’s projected face swiveled across the cockpit of his helmet. “Uh-oh, what’s going on over there?” His friends turned and looked for anything stranger than what had already been going on. All they saw was a short woman with glossy black hair plaited into a thick, slightly bedraggled braid down her back. Rather than a holiday sweater, a bespoke suit or an LBD, she wore only pink fleece pajamas with little blue ducks sprinkled about them. It appeared that while everyone else had driven indeterminate distance to get here, she only rolled out of bed.
Ignoring everything and everyone else around her, she held up a smartphone in one hand and pouted and preened into it, then directed it to take an inventory of all the sumptuous dishes along the buffet tables. She paused before the chicken caesar wraps, grabbing half of one and holding it in her jaws while taking up a teriyaki beef skewer. This she rested upon a plate and struggled, single-handedly, to tear a few threads of beef free, and these she stuffed down the back of her pants.
Keila scoffed. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Well, you know what’s down there,” said Shaun.
“Yeah, no shit I know. I just can’t believe she’d do that right here in the middle of a crowded room.”
“The ways of youth are unknowable,” said Lloyd, and Keila cuffed the back of his cockpit.
The woman abruptly froze and looked around, as though noticing the party crowd for the first time. Muttering around her caesar wrap, she struggled to shut off her phone, wiped the teriyaki sauce off its screen on her leg—her pajama bottoms were skin-tight around her thick thighs and bulging rump—and pocketed the phone in her top before scuttling off to the bathrooms.
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