The worst thing about Earth--which was, all things considered, not the worst place they'd been, although not nearly as wonderful as Crichton always made out--wasn't the sunlight, or the tall people, or the lack of really good-quality cosmetic mud. The worst thing was the natives. He'd hoped Crichton was an exception, but no.
"More candy!" Rygel ordered and smacked the thing for good measure. It flashed curses at him and beeped.
"That's not a vending machine," Crichton's nephew said. "Also, hitting it doesn't help."
"Try telling Dad that," the child's mother muttered.
"It doesn't understand voice command," the boy explained. "You have to type. And it can't get you candy. Well, I mean, not unless you're ordering it from Godiva.com."
"Barbaric," Rygel said. "But I will make allowances for your primitive technology." He eyed the machine contemplatively. He wasn't convinced the boy was right about the hitting thing.
"English, tell her not to go shushing me."
"Now *you're* doing it?"
"I, well, that is to say ... Cordelia, why *are* we whispering?"
"And why are we in the *dark*? 'Cause if it was vampires, they can see in the dark, and if it was demons, you'd be holding a knife instead of this morning's mail."
"It *is* demons."
"Sorry. What sort of demon? Where is it? Do you know what it wants?"
"It's in the computer. I think it wants to drive me insane."
"I'm just gonna refrain from the obvious remark."
"Cordelia, did you spill coffee on the keyboard again? Because charade of supernatural menace or no, I'm still deducting the replacement cost from your paycheck. Once may be the normal hazard of office life, twice may be understandable given our lifestyle, but three times is really--"
"I *told* you."
"But why is it so ... stained?"
"Well ... I did spill my coffee on the keyboard again. But that's not the point!"
"Except that it seems to have made the Qwerty demon living there *extremely* unhappy."
"I *told* you we should bring in exterminators."
The bar, Jaye felt, wasn't nearly dark enough. "Dark enough," in this case, being defined as too dark for her brother to identify her sitting with Mahandra, come over, and order his own margarita. Jaye poked disconsolately at her fizzy pink drink with its little toothpick umbrella. You'd think a tourist town would have more bars, not to mention better drinks. Maybe cuter toothpick umbrellas. Ones with little waterfalls painted on them.
"Zombies," Mahandra said.
"Do I detect a hint of skepticism in your tone?"
"I would have called it the completed crossword puzzle, but we can go with hint if you like."
"It wasn't a zombie *cow creamer*, by any chance?" Aaron asked suspiciously.
"Your brother has a thing about cow creamers."
"Yeah, I've noticed that."
"*I'm* not the one with a thing about cow creamers!"
"Then why are *you* the one who's always mentioning them?" Jaye asked sweetly. She didn't smirk when Aaron turned red and started to sputter, but only because looking innocent made him sputter harder.
"The Mouth-Breather ordered these plush zombie dolls."
"Plush zombie dolls."
"For Halloween," Jaye explained.
"Do people really want plush zombie dolls for Halloween? I'm not really seeing how cotton and velveteen are the best media for expressing the idea of rotting flesh. I mean, plush vampires maybe, they could have cute little velvet fangs with drops of blood sewn on their mouths--"
"You people are weird," Aaron said, with profound conviction.
"Though plush zombies still make more sense than *zombie cow creamers*," Mahandra finished smoothly.
"Yeah, the Mouth-Breather is a real marketing genius. Do you *mind*?"
"Please," Mahandra said graciously. "Continue the plush zombie story."
"So we had this box full of plush zombies he wanted me to put up on the shelves--"
"Did they talk to you?" Aaron asked.
"Yeah, they told me to *eat my family's brains.*"
He cleared his throat and shifted slightly away from her on his bar stool. "Really?"
"No, *really* they were nonspecific about whose brains it had to be. Just--" Jaye dropped her voice to a suitably monstrous pitch. "'Eeeaa-t braaaainzzz.'"
"That is the worst zombie imitation ever," Mahandra said.
"Well, it's better if I stand up and lurch around a bit. Also, plush zombies don't really sound all that threatening."
"You shouldn't feed her delusion, you know," Aaron said to Mahandra over Jaye's head. "It only reinforces her schizophrenic break from reality."
"Schizophrenia is a biochemical illness not susceptible to therapeutic intervention," Mahandra told him. "Medication is the only solution. Besides, your sister is lacking several of the symptoms required for a diagnosis of schizophrenia according to the DSM-IV."
Aaron blinked at her.
"Mahandra minored in Psych," Jaye said smugly. "And by the way, I don't appreciate being called a nutjob. Especially by someone who has an unhealthy obsession with cow creamers."
"I do *not*--"
"Did your mother breast-feed?" Mahandra asked. "It could be a deep-rooted trauma from being weaned too soon. You know, what with the milk symbolism and all."
"It would explain why he's projecting it onto me," Jaye said.
"Your birth having interrupted his breast-feeding." Mahandra nodded. "Interesting, interesting."
Aaron breathed heavily. "Maybe Jaye should continue her fascinating account of the plush zombies," he suggested.
"Oh, that." Jaye shrugged and stabbed at a melting ice cube with her umbrella. "I ate gummy brains and the zombies shut up."
"That's kind of anticlimactic," Mahandra said, after a pause.
"Well, there was the part where I didn't listen to them and this kid shoplifted a package of gummy brains and then choked on them and I had to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, and this reporter who was standing outside snapped my picture. But who cares about that?"