They were forced to wait two more days before the doctor would allow Kaniko to leave the hospital. The first thing that they did was purchase clothing more appropriate to the city. They found a clothier that was willing to customize clothes that would be more suited for their unique bodies, and the shop owner had directed them to a cordwainer. The woman who owned the shoe and boot shop measured their feet and promised them comfortable and durable boots in two days. It was late afternoon by the time they had finished with the shoemaker. Mathias’ stomach gave a grumble and so the trio turned to find a place to eat. They were near the hotel they had been at prior to being taken prisoner by the Underlord.
Kaniko suggested, “Hey since we’re close, let’s go to Kay’s Diner?”
Mathias licked his black lips and stated, “Coffee and eggs benedict.”
Tomiroc nodded his agreement. “It fine by me.”
They turned down a street in the direction that would bring them to the old railroad diner car. It was a unique if not an odd sight in the middle of the city. Its stainless steel exterior seemed impervious to time. Dominic had said that the car was part of the rail system that ran the coast from the most southern to the most northern cities of Cali. The line was decommissioned in the middle twenty-third century and replaced the maglev system.
After a couple of blocks, the shiny side of the diner came into view. At one end, Mathias politely held the door open for Kaniko and Tomiroc. Inside, Mags, the young woman who had waited on them before looked up at them as they entered. A big smile spread across her face, and she waved to them with her free hand. She said to them as she continued to pour coffee into a man’s cup at the long bar that split the kitchen from the tables, “Hey! Welcome back.” Motioning with her free hand, she continued, “Have a seat anywhere. You just missed the lunch rush, so there is plenty of seats.”
Kaniko looked at the empty booth and the bar. Several of the booths still had dirty dishes sitting on them. The bar was clean and empty of clutter. She took a stool a couple of places down from the man sitting at the bar. Mathias and Tomiroc sat on each side of her. Mags set three cups and a little pitcher of cream down in front of them. She poured them each, a three-quarter cup of the rich black liquid.
She said, “I heard that it was you all that took down the Underlord.”
Kaniko smiled sadly at her. “We were definitely in the middle of it all. But the truth is, we were prisoners. Our family and Governor Leakey’s security forces took down the Underlord.”
The young woman ticked her tongue off the back of her teeth and said, “That’s not what I saw in the media-feed.” She reached out and touched Mathias’ hand that rested on the bar. “Your friend here killed that evil man.”
If the wolf could have blushed, he would have. In his embarrassment of being so openly acknowledged, he gently pulled his paw back from Mags’ reach till it dropped off the table. He said with his eyes downcast at the countertop, “He was planning on hurting more people.”
Tomiroc said, “Mathias got hit two times by railgun slugs.”
Mathias quietly clarified, “I was defending my clan chief.” Kaniko leaned into her large wolf friend and gave him a sideways hug of gratitude.
Mags in an awed voice, “Wow. Must have been a shock to the Underlord to be attacked by one of his own?”
Both Kaniko and Tomiroc jerked up and looked at the young woman. Kaniko asked, “You think Mathias is one of the Ōkaminingen?”
The woman looked surprised. “Well ya. That is what the media-feeds are saying. Is that wrong?”
Tomiroc said, “Mathias never received the last part of the transformation. So he is not like them.”
“Oh, that’s good. Right?”
Kaniko reached across the bar to Mags. “Yes. It is very good. Those that received the lycanthrope drug have a long and painful recovery in front of them.”
Tomiroc answered, “It is what the Underlord used to control the Ōkaminingen. It was highly addictive, and it caused them to be insanely aggressive.”
Mags twisted her lips in a frown. “Why wouldn’t they just turn on him?”
Mathias voiced, “He was their alpha.” To the wolf, this was all the explanation needed to explain the Underlord’s power over the Ōkaminingen.
“Well, you came here to eat, right?” They nodded at the woman. “Then let me get you some menus.”
Later with their stomachs full, they casually walked in the general direction of the hotel. When Doctor Quinn had released Kaniko from her hospital prison, she had decided that they would return to the hotel till they started on the next leg of their journey.
Tomiroc asked, “How are we going to go to San Fran?”
“We haven’t really discussed it yet, have we.” Kaniko stated, then continued, “I think it is just us three. Did you all get the idea that Domic and Sharri are staying here to help Oliver?”
Tomiroc nodded while Mathias shrugged. Kaniko continued, “Then I guess it’s the maglev for us. But that means we’ll need a ride to Bakersfield.”
The seal pointed cat’s ears twitched, and he asked, “Wasn’t that Lincoln guy coming from Bakersfield when he picked us up?”
Kaniko raised a whiskered brow, “Yes, I believe so.”
Mathias said, “He said he was making deliveries. Maybe he makes regular trips, and we could hitch another ride?”
Kaniko frowned, “But how do we find him? Either of you remember his last name?”
Uhm, looper, slooper? Tomiroc offered.
Mathias said confidently, “Shooker. Lincoln Shooker.”
Tomiroc offered, “I’ll just see if he is listed in the city net.”
Kaniko gave him a sideways glance and commented, “Good luck with that.”
Tomiroc stopped. “What? Why?”
Kaniko came to a stop as well and turned to her childhood friend. “Domic said the city’s VS is hardly developed. You most likely won’t find any listings.”
He conceded her opinion with a nodded and said, “But it won’t hurt to look.” She nodded.
Tomiroc stepped over next to the exterior wall of a shop they were passing and leaned against the wall. Kaniko watched as his eyes went blank for less than a minute. He focused on her and sighed.
Shaking his head, he said, “Your brother is right. Nothing.”
She smiled at him.
He said, “What?”
“You went to full emersion to find that out.”
“Ya, and your point?” He put one paw on his hip and leaned harder into the wall.
Innocently she said, “Nothing. It’s just interesting that you went full emersion for a simple data search.”
“Hmph!” He pushed off the wall and started down the street. As he passed Mathias, he mumbled to him, “She’s all yours, pal!”
Kaniko caught up to Mathias, and he asked her, “What was that all about?”
“Nothing. He’s just miffed because I made fun of him. I’ll make it up to him later.”
Mathias asked, “So how does one look for a person, here or in virtual space?”
She eyed him to make certain he wasn’t playing her, but she could see he was actually asking. She said, “Well normally, in a developed city net, you simply have your wetwire perform a search.” She snorted quietly and continued, “Or you could step into VS and do it manually.”
She smiled at the back of Tomiroc’s head. A small pang of guilt touched her in the chest. She shook it off and smiled up at her wolf friend and continued, “As to how to find someone in the physical world? I don’t really know. I have never needed to find anyone.”
Mathias suggested, “We might want to ask Oliver?”
Kaniko was thinking about it when Tomiroc said back to them, “You ask a person who knows how to find people.” He slowed a bit, to allow them to catch up with him.
As Kaniko came up behind him, she slipped her paw into his. She teased the space between his claw pads with her extended claws. He gave a small shiver and looked at her with his unique bifurcated gold and blue eyes. She could see his desire surfacing. She suddenly felt warm and let his paw go and answered his implied question. “You mean, ask a security officer or investigator.” She smiled after another minute of contemplation. “My aunt Keelee. She would surely know how to find someone.”
They turned down the street where their hotel was and saw Nonna getting into a back-ranger. They came up the walk towards the vehicle. Nonna smiled through the front glass at them, and she climbed back out. “Well, I was just about to go and search for you.”
“Oh, why’s that?” Asked Kaniko.
“I’m leaving town.”
Kaniko speculated, “So you’re headed back to the forest?”
The black furred feline shook her head. “No, I’m headed to San Fran.”
The three youth looked at each other and then they smiled at the tall black cat.
Nonna’s left whiskered eyebrow rose. “What?”
Kaniko asked, “Would it be possible for you to wait until the day after tomorrow?”
Kaniko said, “I guess you hadn’t heard. Mathias might have come from San Fran.”
Nonna said, “So you guys want a ride?”
“Yes! But we’re not quite ready to go.” Kaniko gave Nonna a hopeful plea.
Nonna looked at the open door of the back ranger, sighed, and pushed it shut. She looked at her cousin and said, “I can wait a few days. It’s just personal business anyway.”