The Pepsi Topaz

It was the Diner: the size of the castle ballroom, filled with tables for one, two, four, six, ten and fourteen. If you didn't like the tables—and, ever since The Posse had shown up, no one could blame you if you didn't—you could sit at one of booths which sat along the western and southern walls, or you could sit at the bar, which stretched alone along most of the northern wall.

Situated in the middle of the castle's second floor, the Diner had three entrances: the eastern entrance, which was the most popular; the western entrance, which the Military officers liked to use; and one behind the bar on the north wall, which led up to other parts of the castle. Along the south wall was the Infirmary, run by the King's advisor and head of scientific development, Camille. That, naturally enough, had no entrance facing the Diner.

The Diner really belonged to Princess Evangeline "Vangie" Lamley, but sometimes The Prodigal Lemmy came and helped her out for a few days. It was always busy; Vangie herself was there almost all the time, and even when she couldn't be there, there was always someone around to take over. The only times she missed were the mornings, because the Diner was usually empty until nine or so, when the officers of the Military came in to discuss current events about the Harpers and whether the War would begin early this year. Tonight, at half-past ten on a Wednesday evening, the place was pretty empty. Sherrie and her Posse, sitting at their usual table right inside the eastern door, were the closest to disruptive, trying to trip everyone who came through; even now someone stepped over Sherrie's foot as they came in, wise to her tricks.

The night had been quiet, Sherrie thought—too quiet for her liking. As she sat, mulling over several schemes to make things more interesting, she drained the last of the Pepsi in her glass, a couple of stray ice cubes banging off her nose. Just like that, inspiration struck, fizzing on her tongue, and she tapped softly on the table to get her Posse's attention. Grinning at them, she stashed her empty cup in another chair, stood up and strolled to the bar, which was gloriously empty except for the two kids who always sat way down at the eastern end.

At the bar, she leaned her elbows on the oak surface. "Hey, Lemmy," she called. "Send me a Pepsi down here, will you?"

Tall, skinny Lemmy, youngest of the three Lamley children, came strolling down to where Sherrie stood, holding a can of Pepsi in one hand. He looked at her, his eyes twinkling under the mop of his eccentrically-dyed hair (tonight, cotton-candy blue), and smiled. "T'sup?" He greeted casually. "Pretty quiet tonight, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess. I hadn't noticed," Sherrie shrugged, looking around.

Lemmy lifted his eyebrow, regarding her with a rather shrewd look. "You wouldn't happen to be trying to make trouble with Travis and Marchmaine, now would you?" He looked over at the table across the room where the two generals sat. Travis was tall, well over six feet in height, and skinny, with long hair that, through the strange combination of Camille's magic and her quasi-science, she had managed to turn the color of pure silver.

Off-duty tonight, Travis, dressed in jeans and a plain shirt, was joking over a beer with Marchmaine, his best friend in the whole world. Marchmaine was only about five-ten, short compared to Travis, and his hair wasn't really long; it was just a weird shade of Kool-aid red (the contrast this provided with his emerald eyes was one of his best-known features among the women of the castle). From the bar it was impossible to tell, but Sherrie knew that Marchmaine had a bunch of scratches and welts on his exposed skin from being outside in the thick jungle. His sleeveless shirt and cutoff shorts would show them off, no doubt.

Sherrie and her Posse had been fighting cats and dogs with these two generals and their friends ever since she had come here. She didn't really hate them, but it was in her to make trouble, and Travis was, always had been, and always would be an easy target. As for Marchmaine, she had been known to work beside him from time to time. Like the War, it was all relative.

She looked at Lemmy and shrugged. "Who, me? Naw, man, I just need a drink. See, even my glass is gone." She pointed to her empty place at the table. Her friends were (quite studiously) not looking at the bar. "I think one of those buttheads I call 'friends' took off with it when I went to the bathroom," she elaborated.

"Want a new glass?" Lemmy inquired helpfully. He was apparently training for the World Champion Eyebrow-raiser Award; as far as Sherrie could see, he had a pretty good gig going there.

"Nah, I'm okay; I'll just drink it from the can like a barbarina." She grinned, amused at her slight corruption. "We're about to take off from here, anyhow—nothing doing."

"Whatever," he said, handing her the can. "Goes on your tab, alright?"

"Sounds good," she called over her shoulder.

Lemmy watched her for several seconds as she went and sat at her table. He noticed that, although she made a big show of tapping on the top of the can with her fingernail, she didn't open it. After a moment's brief thought, he took advantage of the lack of customers and went into the kitchen to see if his sister needed a little help.

While he was there, he noticed that Vangie had left her own glass of soda on the edge of the counter next to some things she was getting ready to chop up. He glanced quickly at her to confirm that she was up to her elbows in dishwater. Setting a fingertip on the rim of the soda glass, he gave a little shove, sending it off the countertop; it landed on the uncarpeted linoleum and smashed, sending 7-UP and fragments of glass in a fan across the floor.

"Shit, Vangie," he called. "I knocked your glass over."

At the table by the eastern doorway, Sherrie waited for Lemmy to go into the kitchen and then shook the can of Pepsi vigorously, her face twisting into a bright, mischievous grin. She was suppressing laughter. Glancing up to make certain no one with any kind of authority was looking, she wound up for the pitch and threw the can, hard and fast, right at the back of Travis's head. As it flew, she gripped the edge of the table, her eyes shining, watching every moment of the trajectory. It was a perfect throw—a perfect throw.

Two beautiful sounds could be heard in the sudden stillness of the room. The first was the can hitting the back of Travis's head; the second was the sound of Travis's head hitting the table where he sat. For a brief moment, time seemed to stop. A preternaturally bright topaz of Pepsi, freed from its confinement, hung in the air like a clear brown star—Sherrie could see the Diner's ceiling lights right through it.

Then time seemed to collapse back in on itself, and the topaz flew into fragments, making a loud, satisfying liquid smack as it all struck the floor at the same time. There was a pattering sound as a few remaining drops hit the flagstones of the floor, and a loud fizzing that sounded like a brief, hard rain. Blood flew in a string across the table and onto Marchmaine's shirt. Travis didn't move; he was lying in his chair in a stunned sort of way, beads of Pepsi in his hair. Blood, mingled with cola, ran down the back of his head and dripped onto the table in front of him. Sherrie heard herself and the rest of her friends laughing, and they weren't the only ones; not everyone loved Travis. Marchmaine gave her a disgusted look and rolled his eyes, holding up their napkin holder in mute accusation.

All the napkins were drenched with Pepsi.