I cringe as the lock to the ice-cream shop finally gives with a crack and the door swings open, banging against the wall behind it. The mottled counter, the spick and span ice cream machines, and the pop dispensers all cast creepy shadows over the turquoise tile floor, and only the shop's logo floating mid-air over the counter betrays the 1950s ambiance, revealing that I'm in an alternate future world where ice cream is lumpy and beat-downs take place over root-beer floats.
This interview's long overdue. I've known Lem Benzaran since I was nine years old and she was still going by a name like mine. Back then she talked like a well-read robot and, if it's even possible, threw even more power-fits than she does now. She used to seethe quietly under orders; now she says what she thinks. I could list a million other ways her character's changed since I first birthed her, but this interview is about the things I don't know yet.
Like, whether or not she'll recognize me and em-choke me on first sight. I duck and creep, scanning the empty booths—isn't she supposed to be sitting over there in that far dark corner? I kick my feet down the aisle with my hands folded non-threateningly in front of me, one awkward, nervous-giggle-withholding step at a time.
The door creaks shut behind me with the clang of Christmas bells.
“Hey Lem,” I say. I turn slowly. She's leaning arms crossed against the door, blocking the only exit with a blank expression. This she learned from her enemy, Diebol.
“You robbing the ice cream shop?” she asks me.
“I mean, technically no,” I say. “Technically I own the ice cream shop.”
“Uh-huh.” She's dealt with enough delusions of grandeur to recognize one when she sees it. Her hands move to the wide, raggedy leather belt that droops around her waist, and she jerks her head towards the door. “You mind owning it from outside, in the daytime?”
“I mean, no,” I laugh. “But I wanted to treat you. I've got the access card and log-in to the dispensers. If you want to see it, I've also got the title and the deed for this place. Just for tonight.” I invent said title and deed, and it appears in my pocket as I reach in, no sudden movements, and then slip the cards and crumpled papers onto the counter. “Have a seat?” I ask.
“'Cuz I've got questions for you and I got ice-cream, that's why.” I leap the counter and charge up the machine. I forgot how stubborn she was. I might not actually be able to interview her unless she's trapped in here. That's not cool, I'm not looking for a forced interrogation here.
Lem's curiosity and love for ice-cream gets the better of her before I've even finished swirling the first scoop, though, and soon she's leaning over the counter chatting gaily. All that tough stuff's learned.
“So what made you the defender of my shop?” I ask. “I hear you're in here a lot.”
“I'm the defender of everything,” she laughs. It's cliché to say her eyes dance, but they sure do. “And this joint's on the town's border, so it's the only place I can take my sis and still make a quick getaway.”
“And why are you the defender of everything?”
“I'm Frelsi, girl, you can't tell?” She mentions the freedom-fighters with her head tilted down and her eyes up, challenging me to hate her for who she is. I smile.
“More ice-cream?” I take another cone. “What's your favorite flavor?”
“Shenandoah blackberry. Or pistachio.”
“Never had those.”
I mean, you wouldn't, anymore than I'd have roasted Smung-wurms. Different Universes and all. I hand her a deep purple lechichi cone topped with two lavender scoops.
“If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?” I ask.
“Mind control. You?”
“Mind control?” I choke. “For real, you wish you could control minds? Isn't that kind of against your whole liberty thing?”
“See, that's the thing, the power-maniacs shouldn't have mind-control. Those of us who think everybody's got a right to think—we're who should have that. I'd just point—” She dips a finger down at me and twirls it in the air. “And you wouldn't want to attack me anymore.”
“I mean, I don't.”
“Ha, you talk like Jei.” She doesn't let me answer that accusation. “Nah, I know you don't. I'd kick your butt if you tried.” Sparks flicker between her thumb and forefinger. “But with mind-control I wouldn't have to. That's what I'd use it for. Make people leave other peeps alone.”
“It's ironic,” I say, stirring my root-beer float. It's ironic because her worst enemies will spend three books trying to develop mind-control, but I don't want to insult her so I don't go there.
She does. “Diebol wants the same power,” she says. “But he'd use it to make everyone the same.” She watches my reaction—she wants to talk politics.
I don't. “What's your fondest memory?” I ask.
“Hey, you didn't answer the super-power question,” she protests. Yup, yup, this is Lem.
“Flight—I'd like to fly. Or have unlimited energy,” I say.
“If you had to choose one, though.”
“Ugh, that's annoying.” I flip a mental coin. “Um, flight. Now you, fondest memory, go!”
“Fishing with Cinta, or tree-running with Mali <her adopted mom>, all holding on to her fur and stuff.” She leans back, cupping her cone like a mug. Guilt flashes across her hyper-readable face. “Meeting my real family.”
Yeah, she doesn't fit in super-well with the Frelsi. That's important later.
“And what do you like to do in your spare time?” I ask.
“What is this, an interrogation? You gotta reply to what I just said before you just fire off another question.” She smirks. “Hey, you don't come out in the day 'cuz you don't people well, right?”
She doesn't mean it as an insult. She's honestly diagnosing me. I play along. “Yeah,” I nod. “People stuff is hard.”
“You gotta practice,” she says. “I'm not super-great with people myself, but I could stop by and chat with you til you become more relaxed.”
I don't really know what to say to that, and she senses my discomfort and backs off. “Ah, sorry about that. Maybe you're happy not people-ing all the time. Who am I to get up in that, right? Um, so in my free time I sleep,” she laughs. “Or study electromagnetic shyte, for my powers, you know? For real, though, if I really get time off, like leave, then I'll go fishing or hunting or tree-running with Cinta, or play games back in the space-lemur town near here. I got siblings and stuff, I like to show them new animals. You wanna come along sometime?”
“Oh, snap!” I interrupt her. “You just reminded me—I got a report about snake-bats in the air-vents. I gotta close up shop and deal with that. See you later?”
“Oh, 'kay then. I could help you?”
“No, my insurance doesn't pay for that.” I wave her out with the abrupt eccentricity she's expecting from a reclusive night-owl. My girl's gotta get some rest if she wants to save the galaxy tomorrow, and I really don't want to directly meddle in her life too much. She's the kind of person who sucks you in and forces you to meddle, so it's best we stop here.
And the interview's over as quickly as it begun.
For more character interviews, from my work and other people's published fiction, click here and scroll down! Want more Lem? Encourage your favorite agent or editor to have a look at my novel, Neodymium Exodus, where she's the main character.
For other short fiction, click here!
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Oh, and what happened to the Moon-Man series, you ask? I think it might be good to leave it as it is! I may write one more finale when I get around to it. I'm considering starting another series about a Frog detective, or going back to the #medfacts series, so let me know in the comments below what you'd like to see. ALSO let me know what your favorite flavor ice-cream is. ^_^ See you soon!