by Lilian D. Vercauteren
“The Moon and Spoon?” Fox folds the map. “This is where you wanted to stop? Place looks busted.” Axel lands the Mustang Space Xplorer before taking in the aluminium exterior, the custom fit rounded windows, and the big, bright neon sign. “I cannot believe we found it! It’s exactly how Flyers, Fly-ins and Flies described it.” “You sure it’s still open?” “Of course! It was once renowned for its banana splits, because mostly American tourists frequented this end of the galaxy.” He pulls out a camera. “It’s legendary!” Fox scowls. “This better be tastier than the McDoDo Fly-thru.” * “Welcome to The Moon and Spoon,” an orange egg-shaped bot prattles as it floats by the door. The screen on its shell flashes: TABLE 6. “Follow me,” it chirps. A jukebox in the corner powers up and hums an Elvis Expressly tune. Axel’s eyes grow big before he mouths, This is a-ma-zing. Then to the bot, “Actually, we’d like to sit at the counter.” The bot hovers motionless in front of them. “Please follow me to . . .” It stops, computes. “Table six,” it tries again. Fox taps the screen. “Can we sit at the counter, please?” The screen flickers in response. “T-t-able s-s-s-s-six,” it warbles. “We’ll seat ourselves,” Axel pats the bot on the head. “Thank you, though.” The egg flings itself around and whizzes back to the door where it bonks against the door frame twice before it docks and powers down. “Could we get some menus?” The egg doesn’t respond. “Please?” Fox adds. The screen briefly flashes, and beneath it a slot opens. A gush of menus flutters across the black and white tiles. “Never mind those,” Axel chuckles, “let’s get their famous desserts!” Behind the counter a humanoid droid jolts into action. “My name is Julian. I’ll be your server. May I take your order?” “Yessir, two of your renowned banana splits!” “An excellent choice.” Julian’s glossy face and mouth move slightly out of sync with his words. “Suppose it’d be nice to have some real food,” Fox sighs. “One does tire of algae burgers and synthetic bug shakes, surprisingly.” “Real food . . . real service from the moon to your spoon,” Julian chimes in. Moments later two boats with a banana each, perfectly cut in half and covered with three scoops of ice cream, sit on the counter in front of them. “And now for the best part.” Julian’s face twitches and shows a row of gummy teeth. He goes for a selection of bottles behind the counter, reaches for chocolate sauce, but his arm shudders, and his hand closes around the ketchup. He hovers it over the bananas. “Wait, that’s not—” Axel begins. Julian squeezes the bottle with inhuman force. Ketchup splatters everywhere. “Hmm.” Fox hands Axel a handful of napkins. “Julian, I don’t think you’re quite—” Julian points at both desserts, and after a few tries, with a loud ‘krrpfshhhhhhhlrp,’ whipped cream spouts out of each index finger. “I wonder how long that was in there.” Axel lowers his hands he had used to shield his face. “And for the cherry on top, haha.” Julian holds up a jar. With impressive dexterity he fishes out two maraschino cherries, puts them in his mouth, and yanks them off the stems with a chef’s kiss motion before he delicately places the bare sticks atop the whipped cream. Axel grimaces. “Surely that wasn’t part of his original programming?” “Do enjoy.” The droid smiles. His vacant eyes look directly past them, his rubber teeth stained pink by the cherries. Fox picks up the spoon, grins at Axel looking horrified, and pretends to take a bite. “How is your meal?” Julian inquires promptly. “Can I get you anything else? Two waters perhaps?” Before either can reply, a soft burbling sounds. A small, Zamboni-like bot with large, wiry bristles and a blinking light on top is booking it down the counter. At the sight of the first ketchup smudge, it beeps, screeches to a halt, lowers its brushes, sprays ample cleaning solution, and does a series of five-point turns until the counter sparkles. It beeps with satisfaction as it gives the spot a final squeaking rub before it detects the two banana boats up ahead. Content bleeps modulate to a high-pitched siren and all sides of its frame open. With more brushes, brooms, nozzles, mops, and wipes, and with wheels on overdrive, the cleaning bot charges at the first boat as if it were a level-A biohazard spill. Fast spinning bristles splash around ice cream, ketchup, and whipped cream, and the cherry stem is now stuck between two wheels. Fox and Axel simultaneously push away from the counter that’s dripping with pink slush. Meanwhile, Julian appears to be caught in a loop between the ice machine, the straw dispenser, and getting a cup. “This is a hot mess,” Axel calls out over the clamour of ice cubes rumbling down onto the floor, the siren, and the sanitary endeavours churning banana splits into yogurt. “Let’s beat it.” Julian waves, straws stuck on both his hands. “Safe travels and fly in again!” The egg is nowhere to be seen, so they leave some currency on the counter, away from the cleanup bot that's tipped over amidst the sticky mayhem and trills frantically with brushes spinning in the air, before a little mop-arm pushes it back onto its wheels. Once outside, Fox takes a deep breath. “Wow. Just your face when he splashed ketchup everywhere was worth it alone.” Axel strides towards the car. “I can’t believe this place used to be famous. That was . . . horrendous!” He stops. “What in the outer worlds . . . That little shit!” “What?” “It keyed the car!” The paint of the car is scratched all over. In big letters it says: TABLE 6. They look around, but the egg is nowhere to be seen. Now Fox bursts out laughing. “Sorry I doubted you earlier, ’cause this place is legendary! But we should go before we get stabbed.”
Lilian D. Vercauteren was born and raised in The Netherlands, but explored the high plains, mountains and des(s)erts of the US for more than a decade. Now she lives in Ireland and works as a content editor. Her stories have been published by Southeast Fiction, Lowestoft Chronicle, Ghost Parachute, Maudlin House, and more. Visit her at ldvercauteren.com.