We Do Not Serve Weeping Men
By Eric Del Carlo
A LOT CAN HAPPEN BETWEEN scratching an order on a pad and schlepping out a plate of scrameggs and recovered ham. Daddy makes sure everybody knows this joint welcomes Testers. He goes after their business, advertising on the Pipeline with twofer specials and other deals that sound great but are just okay when you finally get that plate in front of you. He wants Tester bucks. But he wants me to see these guys too, how big and tough they are, so that I’ll Up. Maybe he’ll get his wish. It would get me out of here.
Not that I hate this. Grow up along the dusty Pipeline that leads to an Embark Point and you figure out your world real quick. It ain’t much. It’s not awful, either, if you got any talent for fun. We got music, mirage-dances, mash whiskey; the sex is free if you know who to ask.
The Testers just pass through. But they’re always around. The EmPoint takes and takes them and apparently can never get enough because Recruitment is nonstop, even in these tiny places lining the ’Line. Nobody I know listens to the Recruiters, though. They’re not Testers; they’re clowns in suits. Testers should be the ones Recruiting, but no Tester could be bothered with a job like that. They all want to get to Embark, then deploy.
Daddy’s momma had the diner ahead of him, and he grew up doing what I’m doing now. I catch him looking at me sometimes, right in the middle of a slam with a butt in every seat, and his eyes just about bleed with sadness. Maybe he had it worse back then. Maybe he couldn’t handle the grind, or maybe he remembers it worse than it really was. But he doesn’t want this for me.
If I Up, he can unload the joint and retire to a one-person shack to rest his bum hip. Maybe that’s all he really wants, but I doubt it. I think it’s got to be about me.
The diner was rolling today. Twelve hour shift. After the first couple hours, you just twirl through it all, a hundred things to do at once, a hundred more the next minute. Take orders on the pad, sore fingers moving the pencil, got to write neat enough so the line cook can read it. A cook who knows your abbreviations helps a lot, lets you scratch down the feeders’ orders faster.
Tables and stools, maximum capacity of about fifty-two people, somebody sits, eats, pays, leaves, somebody new takes the seat. Quicker the better—better for Daddy, who works the credit register and doesn’t (can’t) move much anymore. He’s looking at money that’ll just keep this place running and allow for a little profit. I take out the plates by the armful, balancing like crazy. I got to clear and wipe every vacated seat since there is no busboy.
Today was the usual mix, locals and Pipeline folk. Not everybody riding the ’Line is a Tester, though I’d already served a batch of them and had a couple individual ones feeding right now. There was a Recruiter in here too, off-duty, or as off-duty as those hard-sellers ever got.
I knew the locals. I said hi; I’m friendly, and I like people. But you can’t stop for chatter. With the passers-through you got to be fast (you always have to be, when the joint is slammed), but you can be nice too. Helps with tips, which Daddy lets me keep a little of. But you got to be careful with the Testers. They don’t like it when you’re too nice. They think you’re making fun, trying to start something.
A muscle-thick guy with round shoulders and scarred knuckles occupied stool #7 when I came up to it. Crewcut, big jaw, enlistment tattoo on the back of his neck. He wore the standard grayed-blue jumpsuit, had matte black boots planted on the grubby floor tiles. And there was something wrong with him.
“Fuck took you so long?” he wanted to know.
I bounced a little on my toes by #7, pad and pencil poised. This guy had come in sixty seconds ago, but I wasn’t going to give him an argument about the wait for service. “I’m real sorry. Really. I can take your order right now if that’s okay.” This is how you deal with a Tester. Be polite, make it sound sincere.
He was glaring up at me. His body language was explosive. But that wasn’t what was wrong with him ... if there really was anything wrong.
“You’re a skinny little shit, aren’t you?” His accent could have been from anywhere.
“Sure. You know what you want to eat?” You can’t just grovel. Got to get them to put in their order.
Feeders on stools #6 and #8 were looking over furtively; neither of them was a Tester. Others at the closest tables were glancing. Locals sympathizing. Everybody who lives along the ’Line deals with Testers one way or another. But no one was going to step in and help me. That would just make it worse. Testers love to feel outnumbered.
His crewcut hair was silvery blond, and the blue in his eyes was some aquatic shade. Probably he’d be a good-looking male without the taut sneer on his face.
“You know what I can do to you?” he demanded now. He flexed fingers crisscrossed with pink scars, recent ones.
This was taking too long. Daddy sat up straighter at his register so to give me a look across the crowd of heads. He could see I wasn’t goofing off, but this was still a delay. Every second I was standing here meant people not getting their plates, not leaving, not paying. But he also wanted to cater especially to the Testers and wanted me exposed to Testers, so I’d be impressed by them, want to become one of them. All I had to do was Up.
My heart thumped. These shifts can be twelve hours of adrenaline. Sometimes I wonder if I’d find deployment too dull—but I don’t wonder about that long.
Even so, I was going to have to do something about this guy.
I leaned a little—toward him.
I said, in a quiet steady voice, “Order. Or go. See that sign?” I was positioned now so that he could look past me and see it by the entry. I watched those deep blue eyes shift angrily toward the sign.
Then I waited. Stools #6 and #8 and the feeders nearby who knew what was going on waited too. I don’t think any of us breathed.
It was like I could see his eyes tick off each of the six words. Testers are physically enhanced, of course; they’re hulks. But it’s really the hyper-aggression that makes them so useful to the military. They want to fight. All the time.
A lot can happen during a shift, especially with a diner full of Testers. A wrong look, a dirty fork, even a sneeze—it doesn’t take much to start a fight. It don’t hardly take anything at all.
Oily sweat slicked my palms. My tongue was chalk.
The big guy in the grayed-blue jumpsuit on stool #7 finished reading Daddy’s restaurant policy statement by the door, and looked back to me. For the space of three seconds—five beats of my heart—anything might have happened.
His wide jaw shifted, and his mouth opened up into a grin. He laughed. He pounded the counter, then gave me his order. I wrote “scegs X 3 & hm” because Julio was cooking today and Julio can read my shorthand, and I hurried to hang the order, and hurried to get away from stool #7.
Whoever that guy was, he was something more dangerous than a Tester.
* * *
Daddy hates weeping men. He calls them cowards and traitors and all the rest of what you can hear from nine out of ten folk you ask in these dusty little towns along the Pipeline. Maybe people need to hate somebody, some group. I’ve always thought it was enough that we got the Enemy, waiting for our Testers to come through the far end of the Embark Points. The War is old enough to buy a legal drink, folks like to say. A few years back the “joke” was it was old enough to vote. The War has been on since before I was born; it’s just life to me.
I don’t really hate the weeping men. I think they’re like ... reactions. When I still went to school, we got taught science. I remember about anti stuff. Opposites. Anti-particles. The military found a way to pump men full of super-testosterone so they would want to fight the War. They can’t force that on anybody, but Testers look so big and strong and badass that guys Up. The Recruiters count on young people like me, ones who’ve maybe been picked on, runts, or just your typical self-conscious teenagers.
Weeping men go the opposite way. They are anti-Testers, I guess you’d say. They’ve had themselves rejiggered to be intensely sensitive, caring, hyper-compassionate. The procedure costs a little, so you don’t find any around here, which probably makes it even easier for people like Daddy to hate them.
* * *
I had to pee and had been holding it for something like two hours, which is how it goes when the diner is slammed. But finally I really had to go, and took fifty seconds to do it. When I scampered back, passing Julio whose face was about caked with sweat and grease, I heard the commotion.
Somehow I knew it was stool #7. (Maybe not “somehow;” maybe after a couple years working the floor of a fifty-two person capacity diner by myself, I knew it like a spider knows his web.) I rushed out. And I saw.
If I’d had to make a guess, if I’d really considered my instinctive suspicions about the guy, I might have figured one of the Testers—one of the real ones—in the joint would be on him. That happens sometimes, two amped up apes going at each other over nothing, and that gets bad.
Nope. It was the off-duty Recruiter.
He was a tall lean dude in a tightly cut suit, fortyish, weak chin, big nose. He was hammering on #7, who didn’t have a chance. There wasn’t a punch being thrown, though, not a fist raised. The Recruiter was just yelling at him, loud nasty stuff, a steady rant, a tirade, insult after threat after curse. The other feeders had all stopped to watch, the way they don’t always do when there is a real fight.
#7, the hulking guy with the blond crewcut and bulky shoulders, had his scarred hands over his face and was cringing and cowering, trying to shrink away from the onslaught of ugly words. The Recruiter went at him like a drill sergeant, whipping the much bigger man, lacing into him. It was totally brutal.
Everybody stared, too shocked to say anything. Even I came to a jerking stop and just stood.
It was Daddy who moved. He lurched out from behind the register, teeth bared because it hurt his hip like hell to move that fast. He has always told me the diner wrecked his hip joint, all those thousands of hours doing what I’m doing now, but maybe he just got old.
His eyes bulged, and a vein beat on his skull where his hair was thin. He swayed and reeled toward the stool, yelling, “Get outta here! Goddamnit, you lowlife piece a’ shit traitor, get the hell outta my place! We don’t serve your kind! We don’t—”
But this was more serious than just a weeping man. This guy was dressed in a regulation jumpsuit and had an enlistment tattoo on the back of his neck. The other Testers eating in the diner stood up and came over. I was a little surprised they didn’t start tearing the impostor apart right there. But they just stared too, amazed and baffled.
The guy had slid off stool #7 by now and was huddled on the grubby tiles. His big chest jerked, and tears rolled down his cheeks. He was finally getting words out, and they were these: “Let me tell them. Please! Let me—”
The Recruiter must have figured he’d done enough, because he left off with the yelling and phoned the MPs. He ignored what the man was saying.
Daddy kept on screaming for the weeping man to get the hell out of his diner.
* * *
The MPs wouldn’t tell us anything, not even his name. We were just civilians, after all. So that got everybody guessing and making up crazy stuff. Daddy said the guy was a traitor, and just kept on saying that.
I sat and thought about it after my shift. I like it when I got time to think something all the way through, like I would back in school sometimes. I finally figured there’d been something wrong with the enlistment tattoo that every Tester gets when he Ups. That gave the guy away to the Recruiter. Maybe there have even been others like him before. But why was he pretending in the first place?
He must have been a naturally big man, without enhancements. Maybe he’d even come by his scarred knuckles honestly. He was also, obviously, a weeping man, who’d had himself made emotionally hyper-sensitive. He had acted like a Tester to me, just saying what he thought a Tester would say. When I’d shown him the we do not serve weeping men sign, he’d been laughing on a whole other level, at a deeper joke.
I’d at least learned that he had been heading down the ’Line, to the Embark Point. I figured he had meant to infiltrate, to slip in among the real Testers. Why? To disrupt things, to try to stop the War. Weeping men don’t want the War, of course. It wouldn’t have been physical sabotage, though. He must have wanted to talk to those Testers, to calm them down somehow, to say that peace was a better way. That was what he’d meant with “Let me tell them!”
I could still see his eyes of deep watery blue. I saw the tears flowing from them.
I thought for a second of telling Daddy about what I’d figured out, but that would be stupid. A little while later, he came to me.
He was still riled from what had happened. “That bastard dirtied my diner,” Daddy started right in, standing over the tiny corner of our hut where I sleep and keep my stuff. I was going to slip out later, find some whiskey, find some pussy or some cock, something.
“Well, he’s gone now,” I said, looking up at Daddy.
He was bent to one side, rubbing his hip. “Goddamn dirty coward ...” His eyes still bulged, and he was shaking his head. He would probably never get over this. He’d tell this story for the rest of his life.
“Yeah, Daddy. A coward.”
But that wasn’t what I was thinking. I thought, instead, how brave that weeping man had been to do what he’d tried to do. I admired him for it. I saw in my mind again his tears, and I wondered—a little breathlessly—what it would be like to weep that way.
Eric Del Carlo’s short fiction has appeared in in Asimov’s, Redstone Science Fiction, Strange
Horizons, Shimmer and many other venues. He has
coauthored several books with the late Robert Asprin, including the New
Orleans set mystery novel NO Quarter. His solo novels include Nightbodies and Rampant. The title for We Do Not Serve Weeping Men came to him in a dream. No