Chapter 1. Welcome to Back Talk Cafe!

Finding her balance, Lucky Maye took a slow deep breath as she smoothed the waist of her gown and raised her hand high above her head. I can do this, she thought, I can. Do. This. She closed her eyes. “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” she whispered, then tipped her palm.

“Welcome to Opening Night of the Back Talk Cafe!” 

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“Stop! Wait!” The shear panic in Joon’s voice nearly knocked her over. “Mom! What are you doing? A chair? Ratan? In those shoes? Get off that chair!” Joon ran to her mother.

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“I was doing just fine until you startled me,” Maye defended. “I was practicing; trying to get that elevated stage mood, you know.”

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“Fine, but please no standing on chairs, okay?” Joon pleaded. “Oh! Byronetta’s looking for you; should I send her up? What the …”

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A bright orange flash accompanied by a series of buzzing sounds filled the back corner of the room.

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“Tommy, come in Tommy! This isn’t right! Tommy!” Dellasura looked around. This is not the front line of a drone battle. “Tommy! Another coordinate error! Come in, Tommy!”

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Tommy’s voice squawked from her mobile communication device. “Not this time, lass. Last minute assignment change. Captain’s orders.”

“But … I don’t understand. What about the drone battle —” Dellasura took in her surroundings. After almost a year of working and living in planet-wide civil war conditions where the lines between friend and foe had become so blurred that most of the inhabitants had forgotten what they started fighting about in the first place, she wasn’t sure what to make of all the sparkle and light in front of her.

You’re to find someone named Maye, Lucky Maye, according to the Captain’s instructions. She’ll brief you.” Tommy explained. “That’s all I know. Tommy out.

“Tommy, wait! Tommy? Tommy!” Dellasura, aware of the two women staring at her, asked immediately. “Do you know where I can find a Lucky Maye?”

Maye nodded. “You must be Della …”

“Dellasura,” she was quick to correct.

Maye’s voice was gentle. “Dellasura, of course, welcome to the Back Talk Cafe. I’ve been expecting you.”

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Why am I not surprised, Joon thought; another of my mom’s weird friends. She looked out the atrium window at the Cafe’s ballroom, early arrivals milling around, getting acquainted and reacquainted.

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Joon looks out as more guests enter the Cafe ballroom.

“Mom? Should I tell Byronetta to come up?”

“Yes, of course,” Maye replied, her attention still on the clearly uncomfortable Dellasura. “Oh, and find Trudy; I need her to adjust the accommodations in Guest Room 6.”

“Please tell me why I’m here and whah iss my athignment?” Dellasura’s mouth was dry and her skin itched, as often resulted from transports.

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“This is your assignment.” Maye opened the wardrobe doors to reveal a 1920s era embroidered flapper dress.

Dellasura squeezed her eyes shut, assuming the hallucination would pass. None of this made any sense. She’d seen old pictures of that dress in her mother’s scrap book. Impossible.

“Yes, Della, your Great Grandmother’s dress,” Maye waited as Dellasura’s eyes filled with tears.

“But, how … she disappeared; she abandoned her family, left my grandma, a baby with strangers … is this some sort of joke? If so, it is not funny.” Dellasura searched her memories, the faded news clippings. Bettysura was a star on the rise when she — and her money — disappeared without a trace. The press had a field day saying she’d taken all her earnings, changed her name and left the country, leaving her three little kids sitting on a bench outside a grocery story. “I have no interetht in opening old wounths; what ith my assignment? I demand to know what thith ith about.” More than wanting to know, she wanted water, the dehydration headache pressing on her skull. She was about to ask for water when Byronetta walked in.

“Maye!”

“You made it!” Maye embraced her long-time friend and one of several owner-partners in the Cafe. “Didn’t expect to see you this early! Did you come in through the ballroom or the kitchen?”

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“Ballroom baby, ballroom! Have you looked at who all is down there? And they’re just the early arrivals!”

“Not yet, might make me nervous,” Maye replied.

“You? Nervous? Since when?”

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“Is she here yet?” Arturo hurried into the room, then stopped, looking straight at Dellasura, unable to take his eyes from hers. “Impossible … You look just like her; just as I remember, like it was yesterday.” He said, his knees weakening.

“You knew my great grandma Betty? But how …” Dellasura looked back at her great-grandmother’s dress.

Arturo looked at it too, then, “I was in love with her.”

“Everyone was in love with her,” Maye reminded. “You were her trumpet player and hair stylist.”

“Hair stylist?” Dellasura raised her eyebrows. What is this place, she wondered. Who are these people? What is their connection? I need water, she was about to say.

“I wasn’t always a famous trumpet player; we all have many talents, beginnings, just as I’m sure there is more to you than … whatever it is that you do,” Arturo couldn’t stop staring; the resemblance to Betty was such that a chill ran down his spine.

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“Data Redirect Strategist,” Dellasura responded.

“Excuse me?” Arturo asked, released from his trance.

“My job, Data Redirect Strategist, that’s what I do.”

“On a big spaceship,” Maye added.

“Sometimes on a ship, but most of the time behind the lines in sector  —”

Maye gave a subtle nod. “Arturo, show Della the gallery, the display with Betty’s microphone; and lets put the dress next to it, if you don’t mind.”

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Dellasura, holding the dress, hesitated. “Its Dellasura, not Della, and I have no interest in participating in a display that glorifies a woman who abandoned her family to poverty while in selfish pursuit of her own wealthy solitude.”

Maye smiled at the serious young officer. “I understand, but it could be that’s not what actually happened. Unfortunately or fortunately, there’s no time for that now; too much to do, so I would appreciate if you and Arturo would take the dress to the gallery. Our intern is arranging for your room with a private bath, which should be ready shortly. No doubt you’ll feel better after some rest and hydration.”

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Still unsure of this “assignment,” Dellasura hesitated. Rest could wait, but hydration, yes, now was not the time to argue over an old dress. She needed water.


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