Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
New Zhopolis! City of wealth. City of power. City of Zhop!
All an accurate description of The City by the Half-Frozen Bay; The Arctic Fog City; Zho’lis; The City that Knows More than You Would Like to Know; N.Z.
Duth_Olec: Wait, that last one could be confused with New Zealand.
Duth_Olec: Earth place. Just call it New Zhopolis.
With “Zhop” in its name, it was easily the first city to come to mind when thinking of Zhop. Founded centuries ago, it had been built as the center of wealth and power for Zhop and was the hub for the Zhopian Guard, the peacekeepers and arbitrators of the planet. At least, in theory. At least, in spoken theory.
With “-opolis” in its name, its appearance was as expected: sprawling, high-rise buildings, cleeple of all species and backgrounds walking about like insects. It was so far north that the sky was gray almost all day. A freezing ocean buffered it to the west, ice floes commonly floating nearby.
Alden and his friends had stopped to camp the night before when a fog rolled in, and that morning—the first day of the month of Nutarkle, actually—when they awoke the fog had dispersed, and Alden’s first sight of New Zhopolis was like a punch: towers and buildings that made the forest of his home look like patches of shrubbery. The city seemed like it was reaching into space, or as if it had sprung up like a mountain from shifting tectonic plates.
They were just an hour from the city. As much as Alden had read about New Zhopolis, it hadn’t prepared him for the sheer imposing vastness of it.
They’d almost arrived, but the city was huge. How would they ever find anything? What would they do when they got there? They had limited funds. Alden felt doubts, but he wouldn’t voice them for Top’s and Ropak’s sake. They would need to find jobs, and they would need to find a place to stay.
At least they had the entire day ahead of them to find those things.
I was right. New Zhopolis is huge.
The city limits sharply broke the low-lying shrubs with buildings and streets and pipes and cars. Concrete, metal, and stone towered over everything. Nature was removed and replaced with clerpson-made structure. If a tree started to grow near the city, the buildings would loom over it so high that the tree would probably cower back underground.
The city seemed to meld into a hazy mass of towering gray blocks. There was some color but only really in the cars. Alden had expected the vehicles to zip by, but he supposed there would have to be room for them to zip by. They moved at a steady pace but were packed so tight that not even a bicycle could swerve between them. Most streets had four lanes, and the sidewalks were so thin that two scalagos could hardly walk side-by-side. Roads ruled the ground, and buildings ruled the sky.
He was glad he wore thick shoes. The ground in the forest hadn’t exactly been soft, but he could feel the hard, flat stone street as if he stood barefoot.
The musty smell of metal was everywhere, dirty metal, nothing like the fresher scent of trees in the forest. Alden could practically taste the metal. He could hardly stand it. He doubted Ropak could either. He wasn’t sure if Top would be bothered by it.
Before they’d even entered the city proper Alden’s ears were ringing. Horns, chatter, screeches, shouts, sirens, slams—New Zhopolis was a cacophony, never a silent moment, the entire city like a falling tree that released every sound ever made near it at once. Alden could hardly imagine how Ropak took it, and Top… well, Alden wasn’t sure if Top was used to a cacophony within their head anyway.
“This is ridiculous,” Ropak said, holding his head. “I don’t think my ears will ever be quiet again. And I don’t see a single plant anywhere.”
“Residential areas may have plants around houses,” Alden said. “Fewer cleeple and cars and everything might mean it’s quieter, too. I don’t even know where such an area would be, though.”
“Let’s get a house,” Top said. They teetered to keep their straw hat balanced.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Alden said. “We’ll have to get jobs first.”
“We’ll have to find our way around, first,” Ropak said.
They stood on the corner of a sidewalk, looking around. So many cleeple walked past ignoring them (although Alden thought he saw a few stare as they walked away). Alden saw species he had only ever read of. They looked so different in real life.
Sure, there were the familiar scalagos—familiar because Alden was one, though many wore suits and ties or overcoats, clothing far stiffer than the flowing sweater Alden wore. Most of them wore thin shoes that didn’t look like they could handle an hour of walking let alone two weeks. Besides Nolan and his family, Alden had never met any of the other species walking everywhere. There were nervists, and there were rackyes, many wearing shirts and pants and even shoes, unlike the bandits at the farm.
The quickest species may have been the kudeso. Those sleek birds could be seen flying over streets faster than the vehicles on the ground. Most were only a little shorter than Ropak.
There were the shelled sharls, brown-furred rodents even smaller than Top and not too different from the same general shape. Their backs were smooth round shells usually a solid shade of red, orange, or yellow, though sometimes scarlet or magenta. Most sharls walked on two feet, though they would sometimes run using their feet and smaller hands.
The tallest species was no doubt the cappipoto, each dwarfing Alden and his friends in height and, for that matter, snout, their wide loaf-shaped snouts bigger than Alden’s entire head. Most had incredible girth as well, wide as two scalagos, with thick blue fur that made them appear even bigger.
The arkents on the other hand were only about Top’s size, their squishy, light purple heads poking out from tan spiraling shells that varied in shape and size. A row of stubby tentacles hung over their mouths and two tentacles reached out from the shells, each longer than Alden’s arms.
The scaly dankoms tended to stay in the shadows, and Alden saw few taller than him and some no taller than Top. They ranged from goldenrod to black.
Finally, the snowbles were those often said to have the most power in New Zhopolis. As the name suggested they were creatures of snow, two or three spheres stacked atop one another with thick snow arms emerging from below the top segment.
There wasn’t a wrallot in sight. There wasn’t a beach ball in sight, either.
“I doubt there’re even any beaches around here,” Top said.
“What?” Alden asked.
“Well, no use standing around here,” Ropak said. “Let’s head further in.”
“There’s a subway,” Alden said, pointing to an entrance in the floor of an alley. “Maybe we can find a map of the city in the station.”
“Speaking of which, I’m hungry,” Top said.
“Speaking of maps?” Ropak asked.
“No, subways,” Top said.
Alden scratched his head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Top frowned and pointed an arm at Alden. “You doesn’t make any sense.”
Ropak threw up his hands. “Who can argue with that?” He picked up Top and ran into the subway station. “Let’s go already.”
The subway station was even more packed with cleeple entering and leaving the subway trains, the ceiling high where some kudesos and nervists flew over everyone. Other species hitched rides on the birds, and Alden saw more than once a fight during the flight. He made sure he and Top and Ropak stayed close as they walked across the hard stone and past the pale walls.
Many cleeple sat in stalls where they sold merchandise, and Alden found a newsstand that also sold maps of New Zhopolis. They bought a map and a newspaper and then at the ticket counter bought three subway tickets. They would begin by entering the heart of the city.
They passed through a turnstile, which Top spent a good three minutes stuck in, and Alden worried they would miss the subway train. Once they pulled Top out they hurried onto a train as sleek and round as a bullet.
Alden sat on a plastic seat in the subway train and immediately stood up—the seat was cold and wet. He ran a hand over it. Yes, definitely wet. They moved over a few seats, but those were also wet. They tried again and found more wet seats. They gave up finding a dry one.
“At least none of us wear pants,” Top said.
“Or have fur,” Ropak added.
“I can’t imagine being a rackye and riding on this,” Alden said.
A nervist sauntered up to them, his feathers a dirty mess compared to Nolan and his family. He pointed at Top. “Hey. Is that a beach ball?”
“Yes,” Alden said.
“I’m well aware of the irony of a beach ball in a city with no beaches,” Top said, brow furrowed.
“And you bought it a ticket?” the nervist asked.
The nervist laughed, bent over, and waved his wing. “You bought a ticket for an inanimate object. I don’t care how animate it really is, you totally could have gotten it on without paying for it.”
“Well, they’re a passenger,” Alden said, looking at Top. “It was only right.”
The nervist laughed again. “Right! Only right!” He walked on down the train, shaking his head. “Priceless.”
“Well, that was a nice first clerpson to meet,” Ropak said.
“What about that kiosk kudeso?” Top asked. “They were sure grumpy. Just because I kept asking them about their missing legs.”
Alden looked at their fellow passengers as the train sped along. Several red and orange-shelled sharls rode the subway, their thin snouts longer and thinner than Alden’s and their ears half the size of their faces. Most of the red ones and one of the orange ones looked at or talked on cell phones. One yellow-shelled sharl sat on the train as well, and Alden thought he smelled a pungent odor from that direction.
Also riding the train was a three-segmented snowble, so tall as to nearly touch the ceiling. Their eyes were black and scraggly while their nose looked like a black polished pebble, and they wore a light jacket around their middle segment. They also talked on a cell phone, their crevice of a mouth like a hole someone had scooped out of the top sphere.
Across the aisle from Alden and a few seats down sat a wrinkly cappipoto slightly hunched and only a head or so taller than Alden, clutching a purse with arms over twice as thick as his. The cappipoto’s fur was bushy enough to cover half their face—Alden felt like sneezing just looking at the fur—and their skin was so dark as to practically be black. Their legs were hardly longer than Alden’s but thick as Ropak’s head. The elderly cappipoto turned to Alden, a scowl on their face.
The scalago looked away. He didn’t want to be seen as staring at cleeple. He opened the newspaper they’d bought.
“Let’s see what’s been going on. It might give us an idea on what to do and where to go.”
They skimmed articles about the upcoming governor race between the incumbent and someone recently exposed to be money laundering, a rash of murders left unsolved, the theft of a priceless painting of a phosser from a museum, a scientific institution under investigation for unethical and unlawful practices, the death of a celebrated general, and recent legislation cutting regulations on employer health care.
That was not reassuring.
As Alden read an article on how the stock market was up 300 points (he guessed that was good news?), a black, webbed hand crumpled the newspaper down—three dankoms had approached them.
“Well, hey there, greenhorn,” said one to Alden, dark brown with green eyes and just over his height.
“Hey, I’m the one with the horn,” Ropak said.
A goldenrod dankom with yellow eyes, fat and about Ropak’s height, leaned against Ropak’s head. “Well, hey there, crescent-head.”
“Hey, I’m the one with the crescent head,” Top said.
A bright goldenrod dankom with red eyes and no taller than Top jumped up and snatched the beach ball’s straw hat. “This hat’s a bit small for you, isn’t it?”
“Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine!” Top shouted, flailing their arms at the dankom, who held their hand against Top’s face to keep them away, the dankom’s arm three times as long as Top’s. The dankoms sniggered, showing sharp teeth smaller but more abundant than Top’s, half of the short one’s jagged and broken.
Alden got his first good look at a real dankom. Their thick scales were almost like armor, though ragged armor half made of dirt and rotten bark and held together with spit, or perhaps like a pile of thick honey hardened while trying to stand straight. Their heads were rather flat with a pointed front and no nostrils, while what Alden thought were pointy ears appeared to just be spikes at the back ends of the head. Their clawed, webbed hands were black as if charred; the arms seemed to jerk quickly, almost like bad stop-motion animation.
Historically dankoms were silly pranksters who never meant any harm. Alden wasn’t so sure about these three. He stood up.
“Come on, give them back–”
The first dankom shoved Alden back down, their scales rough like the underside of a rotten log. “Hey, lighten up, greeny. We’re just having a little fun.”
The way they said that did the exact opposite of convincing Alden—their fun was like someone else having their eyes clawed out.
The third dankom put Top’s hat on their head, though the hat wobbled even more than it did when on Top. “What do you think, guys? Do I look like a dork or–”
Top chomped at the dankom, who flinched within an inch of losing an arm.
“Whoa! Looks like this thing has some bite in it after all.”
“Down, boy. Heel!” The first dankom, still grinning, twitched their arm and grabbed the old cappipoto’s purse which they slapped Top into Alden with. “Misbehave, and no hat treat for you.”
Alden sat up. He couldn’t let those dankoms push them around. He was there to make something of himself, he had to show initiative, and then Ropak stood up instead, pushing the second dankom off him.
“I think it’s time you left.” Ropak placed one foot forward. “Give us back the hat and get out of our faces or else.”
“Or else what, tribal crescent?” the second dankom asked, grinning with a hand on their chin. “I know you’re not a reasonable species, but certainly you are a peaceful one, yes?”
“You know what? You’re right.” Ropak put a hand on the dankom’s shoulder. “Violence is never the–” He whirled the dankom behind him, throwing them into the other two. They fell to the floor and dropped Top’s hat and the purse, the latter which Ropak grabbed as it fell.
“Your purse.” Ropak held it out to the elderly cappipoto. They snatched it from him.
“Give me back my purse and get out of my face, wrallot,” the cappipoto muttered.
The dankoms rubbed their heads. “Ouch. So, wanna scrap, do ya?” The first dankom jumped onto Top’s hat, crushing it under their pointed feet.
“Nooooo-ho-ho-hoooo!” Top cried, reaching out. “That—sniff—would have been a more apt cry if it was a red stocking cap.”
Ropak and the dankoms were poised to rush at each other but at a bellow of “CEASE!” the wrallot turned around. A cappipoto entered the cabin, fur up to the bottom edge of their mouth and wearing a wide black cap. They shouted at them so fiercely that Alden could see the cappipoto’s long teeth and down their gullet as spit flew out their mouth.
“Fig, it’s the conductor,” a dankom said.
“You ain’t making us pay.” The dankoms fled into the next cabin.
“Fighting! Disrupting passengers!” The conductor marched up to Ropak.
“That wrallot stole my purse,” the old cappipoto said.
“That was the dankoms!” Ropak shouted, looking between the cappipotos. “I figgin saved your purse.”
“Unruly behavior,” the conductor said, grabbing Ropak’s arms. “Am I going to have to kick you off?”
“While the train is moving?” Ropak asked.
“Excuse me,” Alden said as he stood up. “I’m afraid tempers may have flared a bit. I’m sorry if we were disruptive. We didn’t mean to be.”
“They trampled my hat,” Top whined.
“Those dankoms started it,” Ropak said.
The conductor grunted and let go of Ropak. “You’re just lucky I’m inclined to believe that about dankoms. But consider this a warning. Start being disruptive again and I’ll have to throw you out.”
“Again: while the train is moving?” Ropak asked. The conductor glared down at him, their snout bigger than Ropak’s entire head, the raisin-sized nostrils at the end practically huffing at the wrallot. Ropak looked away. “Okay, okay, never mind.” He sat back down.
“That was intense,” Alden said. Already their time in New Zhopolis was rocky.
“It was annoying,” Ropak said, arms crossed. “Is everyone we’re going to meet in this city jerks?”
“Nolan did say his family may be the last nice cleeple we meet for a while,” Alden said. “Still, there must be someone in this city who’ll be kind. The dankoms probably aren’t considered the city’s best and brightest, so to speak.”
“And the conductor?” Ropak asked.
“Stress?” Alden suggested.
“And the nervist?” Ropak asked. “And the kudeso? And–”
“Haaaat,” Top whined.
Alden placed a hand on Top. “We’ll buy you a new hat, Top.”
Top jumped up. “Yay! But”—they sat and looked down—“that hat was a gift from a cool guy.”
“I know,” Alden said. He hugged Top close. “I know.”
At the center of New Zhopolis—a place just as loud as, and only slightly less musty than, the outskirts—Alden noticed a crowd outside a building. An arkent stood on a podium among the crowd, their pale tan shell a tall spire, spines curving all around it and glistening in the late morning sun. Without the shell they were no taller than Top, but the shell reached a height matching Ropak’s pointed head. Rainbow streamers draped from the top of the shell, the symbol of a stick figure in a circle on each. The arkent watched the crowd with big green eyes, their mouth-tentacles swaying as they spoke, the passionate speech as far-reaching as the calls of the street vendor.
“The heart is a powerful part of you. No matter what you look like, all of you have hearts, a heart given to you blessedly by the Almighty Gourd, the Unicorn God. But blessed too be the brains He has given us, with which we have created this less-than-blessed society.”
Wally_Plotch: You know, Duth, since you apparently sometimes altered reality with The Cloud, I’m surprised they don’t worship some sort of cloud god.
Duth_Olec: I don’t mess with stuff that often.
ALFALFA: You really do.
Duth_Olec: Quiet, you.
Wally_Plotch: Maybe you actually don’t, or at least do it covertly enough that they don’t see The Cloud. You change the world for the better and get no credit.
Duth_Olec: Eh, what are you gonna do?
Wally_Plotch: Be responsible?
It seemed to Alden as if that arkent was saying it was better to not live in the city, to maybe live a more peaceful life in a small community. That was the exact opposite of what Alden had done. He wasn’t sure what to think about that.
“It was in the beginning that the Almighty Gourd created the cosmos with a great kick of His blessed hooves, and brought forth into being one single planet—yes, just one planet. But this planet sinned heavily against Him despite the holy warnings of The Great Gourd’s cloud messengers.”
Wally_Plotch: Oh. Maybe you do get some credit.
ALFALFA: I told you.
Duth_Olec: Stupid pony god stealing my thunder. I’m The Cloud! I have the thunder! And the lightning. Rain, mostly.
Wally_Plotch: So you alter the world without being secretive about it and yet still only get second-rate status.
Duth_Olec: Eh, what are you gonna do?
Wally_Plotch: Be irresponsible?
“They used unholy techniques to avoid their punishments, yea, just as we have built this city to avoid our punishments. This original planet turned from Gourd, sinned against Him, lost their way, and thus Almighty Gourd, yea, He broke it into four planets, decreeing the fourth to be unholy and destroying it, leaving three planets cleansed of sin.”
Alden recalled something about that in the texts of the religion of Gourd, commonly known as Archussipism. He had also read a significant amount of scientific literature that said the idea of there being a destroyed fourth planet was so incredibly unlikely as to be laughable.
“But like the first world, our blessed hearts were tainted by our sinful minds, and we once more tread the path that led to this city.” The arkent swept a tentacle across the crowd. “Almighty Gourd knows that every one of you has sinned, all of you: guilty of sin, burning away the holiness in your bodies. But the Almighty, the All-Forgiving Gourd, He wants you to repent, He is willing to fit you nicely in His grand plan where your future will be grand and blessed.”
Ropak looked at Alden, shaking a hand at the arkent. “Is this guy for real? This stuff’s just plain crazy.”
“What is this I hear?” the arkent said, leaning forward. “Do I hear someone here doubting the true word of Gourd?” The arkent pointed directly at Ropak.
With a jerk of his head Ropak looked at the arkent. “What?”
“Yes, you,” the arkent said. “Do you doubt Gourd’s true word?”
Ropak looked at the crowd. “Well, yeah. Your guard or whatever probably didn’t have any words.”
“See that it’s only savages who turn from Gourd’s teachings,” the arkent said.
“Whoa, what, hold it, what?” Ropak stepped forward and pointed at the arkent. “Okay, first, shut up. You’re making garbage up. There wasn’t any beginning anyway, and there’s sure as hex no purpose or plan. Life is just what you make of it.” He looked around at the crowd. “I’d think cleeple in a big city like this would realize that. I guess if what you make of it is some pony controls your destiny, though, I can see why you would want to make-believe.”
That seemed stark to Alden, though he’d also read that wrallots believed what Ropak just said—no beginning and no gods or higher purposes—but saw it in not a harsh light but as a freeing light where cleeple could make of their lives what they wanted, just like Alden and his friends were doing.
The arkent raised their tentacles. “Oh, poor savage in the city! Your soul is damned to be trapped in the universe.” They again swept a tentacle across the crowd. “Should you not choose to follow the track of Gourd, your soul, too, will be damned. Your soul can be saved by Gourd and sent to a higher plane in a better universe for just”—The arkent whispered to a sharl to the side, “Josette, give me the collection plate” and a sharl with a bright red shell handed the arkent a plastic bucket—“one easy starting payment of ten dollars.”
The crowd rushed forward and held up paper money and coins to place in the bucket.
Maybe the arkent was not saying anything at all about not living in the city, Alden reflected.
“Keep in mind, though, that further sin will require further payments to return your soul to the clean state it must be in to enter the new universe of Gourd’s.”
Yes, that arkent was definitely just saying to live in the city and give the spoils to the Archussip church.
Ropak threw his hands in the air. “This is ridiculous.”
“Cleeple are really worried about their own behavior enough to pay someone to wipe the slate clean?” Alden had never read anything about the Archussip requiring money.
At the edge of the crowd an arkent, their shell not even a quarter of the height of the Archussip speaker, turned to Alden. “Well, let’s be honest, a lot of this money has been earned in such ways as to be the results of those sins anyway. Even if Gourd isn’t willing to forgive us through a monetary offering, at least getting rid of some of this money will reduce the amount of sin we have on us.”
“But then won’t you be piling your sin onto Gourd?” Alden asked, rubbing the top of his head. “That would ultimately make Gourd and the Archussip church sinful.”
The arkent stared at Alden for a moment and then said, “Don’t talk to me.” They turned back to the crowd and pushed through to put money in the bucket.
Ropak grumbled. “We’d better find something to restore my faith in this place–”
The Archussip arkent shoved the bucket into Ropak’s face. “I can restore your faith. It’s just a mere ten dollars for faith restoration.”
Ropak kicked the bucket into the air, scattering the money.
“Does that answer your question?” he asked and walked away. Alden and Top followed.
“Are you okay?” Alden asked, running up to his side.
“Yeah, I just…” Ropak groaned. “Everyone in this place seems so cynical.”
Top’s brow furrowed. “Wasn’t that ‘no purpose and no plan’ thing cynical?”
“What makes you say that?” Ropak asked. “Isn’t it profound? Beautiful and sensible?” He slowly swept an arm through the air. “Things will just keep going on forever. Some part of you will never end, even if it’s eventually just dust.”
“I guess cleeple want to buy their way into all parts of them never ending,” Alden said.
Ropak sagged. “All this cynicism and general jerkdom is just kind of bringing me down. It’s even more stressful than all that traveling. At least then it was wearing enough that I didn’t think about the stress. I need something to release…” He straightened up. “Hey, look at that.”
He ran into an alley; Alden and Top followed. Ropak had found a group of kudesos and dankoms playing a sports game, bouncing a rubber ball a bit smaller than Top into a basket hanging from the wall. Ropak jumped into the game and grabbed the ball, bouncing it past the players. As he did so, a couple dankoms tackled him to the ground.
Alden cringed. Why would they do that? They could have asked Ropak to leave—not straight-up slam into him.
“Hey, just what do you think you’re doing?” A yellow kudeso looked at Ropak as they crossed one leg over the other; their beak and talons looked sharp enough to puncture a hole through even a dankom. “We don’t want no wrallot coming in here and messing up our game.”
A dankom kicked dust into Ropak’s face. “Yeah, yo, you’re worse than sharls. At least those fools know their place.”
Alden ran over to help Ropak, but the wrallot threw the two dankoms off him before he arrived.
“Well, fine,” Ropak yelled. “I didn’t want to play with you jerks anyway. You’re probably just afraid I could beat you all so badly you wouldn’t be allowed to play anymore.”
He kicked the ball against the wall and stomped away. The kudesos and dankoms jeered him about his poor skills and that kicking the ball wasn’t a part of the game.
The yellow kudeso picked up the ball with a clawed foot as they waved their wings. “Let me tell you, wrallots are crazy. They got no respect for other cleeple. They’re like, they’re communist or something.”
“Hey, that’s not our ball.”
The kudeso looked at the ball, and it grinned. Top jumped out of the bird’s grasp and snapped their teeth at the players.
Outside the alley, Ropak sat on the sidewalk, staring at the road.
“Don’t worry about them,” Alden said, sitting next to him. “We’re bound to find someone nice sooner or later. Maybe they’re just not used to seeing a wrallot.”
“I think they’re used to not caring about wrallots,” Ropak said. “Or anyone but themselves.”
“Don’t let it bother you.” A sharl with an orange shell strolled up to them. “Many cleeple look on outsiders with distrust and distaste in this city. They don’t trust anyone, in the city or out, but they have levels of camaraderie they trust more than others. City dwellers are just the broadest level of trust. Beyond that is nothing.”
Alden looked at Ropak. “See? This guy’s being nice to us.”
“Well, yeah, not everyone’s close-knit,” the sharl said. “Of course, you don’t even need trust if you got respect. If you become successful, everyone will look up to you, but if you’re going to make it in this city, you’ll need help.” They pulled out from under their shell a thin book. “My book, ‘Making it Big: 31 Tips to Rule the Day’, can tell you everything you need to make it big, just for twenty bucks.”
“Wait, what?” Alden asked. “First, we don’t have enough to spend on something like that.”
The sharl waved a brown hand half the size of Alden’s. “Well what are you, bums?”
“We just don’t have jobs yet,” Alden said.
“Then here’s a free tip for you.” The sharl pulled Alden’s head down against their face, close to their beady eyes as their coarse fur scratched Alden. “Get a job!” The sharl grumbled and walked away.
Alden’s heart jumped as he stared wide-eyed at the departing sharl, the rodent’s hairless tail poking out the back of their shell. He hadn’t expected a sharl to have that much strength. He was just glad he didn’t come out of that hurt.
Okay, yeah, that’s a bad goal post for “decent conversation”.
“Yeah, they were nice,” Ropak said. “Until they realized we didn’t want to buy anything from them.”
Alden sighed. “Okay, but they have a point. We need jobs. Once we have that, we’ll have respect. That’s step one.”
“And how do we do that?”
Alden opened his mouth and stared at Ropak. He took out their city map. “Okay, let me revise. Step one”—he pointed to a spot on the map—“go to an employment agency and find suitable jobs.”
“Those are two steps,” Ropak said.
Alden looked at him, eyelids lowered. “Okay, now you’re just being snarky.”
“It makes me feel better.”