Oliver Lafayette had long been considered a patient man. He was one of the few in town that had gray hair, and one of the illustrious “main six” that citizens liked to reference when talking about the town’s history.
He was also the only professional chef in town.
He had taken ownership of a restaurant on main street after the town had been settled, using it as a staging ground for his efforts to feed all of those who arrived from the Core. It had been a long and exciting journey, one that he was excited to share with others through the newsletter of Jonathan Davis. Especially after the explosive piece the young writer had published about Olivia Sun and her work in the Grid.
As he took a seat at an empty table on the balcony of his restaurant, the early morning sunlight had only started to brighten the air. It was hard to remember that it wasn’t real sunlight, but it wasn’t easy to forget, either. Sitting across from him, and looking very tired, was the now famous writer himself, the young man that lived in his loft.
“I hadn’t expected to have a celebrity living here,” Oliver started, cracking a grin as he slid a cup of coffee to the writer. “After that article you wrote about the Grid and Olivia’s work down there? Wow. I don’t think anyone realized how starved for information we all really were. I mean, I’ve been here a long time and I still learned things from your piece.”
“I’m glad it worked out,” John replied. “I know people are excited about Olivia’s missions now, and that means good things for us all.”
“Exactly,” Oliver said, snapping a finger. “I suspect you’ll have a harder time with me.”
“Tell me, you’re relatively new here, right?”
“Okay, so what do you know about Chef Lafayette?”
“Uh,” John seemed to consider this for a moment as he took a heavy sip of coffee. “I guess you’re one of the ‘main six’. You’re the sole reason most of us have any excitement in our diets, and you love cooking?”
“There you have it. You sought to tie Olivia to her exploration efforts and popularize the woman behind it all. It seems to have worked. Olivia is more human now thanks to your writing. For me, however, I need something that severs my humanistic endeavors. I’m more than just a community cook. I have my own stories of heroics to tell!”
John’s interest increased at Oliver’s claim. He sat up, set the still steaming cup of coffee down on the table, and pulled out a pad of paper that he had in his jacket pocket. It was like the Chef had said the magical words. “Tell me more.”
The story Oliver delivered was amazing.
Oliver was the fifth to wake up in the Core.
Olivia was the first. Flynn the second. Caleb woke third. Rayland was fourth.
Those four woke up, one at a time, every three weeks.
When Olivia had started to explore, she found the very helicopter that is still used by the town, as well as two crates of rations. She couldn’t get off the platform, and lived at the Core exit for three weeks, until the second arrival, Flynn. He was a pilot and together they used the helicopter to seek out some kind of place where they could survive. Olivia left one crate behind and they flew off, splitting the other crate.
They explored for over six weeks, but their food started to run out and they were no closer to settling down, so they came back to the Core to get the other crate. There they found Caleb and Rayland, who had already arrived and eaten a fair portion of the second crate.
By the time Oliver woke up, food was scarce.
“There was no town, you see,” Oliver explained. “They hadn’t found the Pantry either. It was just those few rations split between the four of them. When I arrived, they were nibbling on the few remains of dried oats in an attempt to stave off death. It was grim.”
“How did you fix it?” John asked.
“Chaya,” Oliver said with a delightful grin.
Despite their poor health, Olivia still wanted Flynn to fly scouting missions, in hopes he might find something out there that would save them from the impending doom. Flynn landed at one point amongst some strange shrubs. He was looking for berries or something… anything really… to eat.
As Flynn was resting, Oliver took a closer look at one of the shrubs and, as though a spark ignited in his mind, he knew he could save everyone. He needed a fire. That was all. A simple fire.
“The shrub was edible?” John asked.
“Tree spinach,” Oliver said. “It’s not edible raw. The plant has hydrocyanic acid, so if we went to town on the raw leaves we’d have poisoned ourselves. Throw it in some boiling water for fifteen minutes, however, and you’re good to go.”
“We ate that stuff for ages,” Oliver added with a chuckle. “Once we found the Pantry, my skills as a culinary artist were expected to be used for our continued survival.”
John scribbled that down. He had heard of the Pantry, but never seen it. It was a large facility in a section of the world ship between town and the Grid. It was stocked with tons of supplies and foodstuffs, though most of it had admittedly expired long before Oliver found it. Still, many seasonings and supplies used in town today had come from the Pantry, though Oliver explained that most of that was on the verge of running out.
“That’s why we’re trying to start up our own supply chain,” he added. “We only have five cows so far, but every little bit helps. Many families in town have a chicken or two and they’re all growing vegetables thanks to seeds we got from the Pantry.”
“How did we get cows and chickens?” John asked.
“The Core,” Oliver answered. “They arrived, just like any citizen. Apparently it was quite an experiment getting them from the exit hallway to town!”
“So,” John said, looking over his list of questions. “You were here when the town was first discovered, is that right?”
The Chef leaned back, touching his finger to his chin. “Ah yes, that was an amazing moment for us all. The town changed everything. The power here meant hot showers and easy cooking. There weren’t many of us yet, just a dozen or so.”
“Is that how you became the owner of this building?” John asked.
“That’s right. We found this restaurant and there was an apartment above it. We talked about it and decided if I was going to cook for everyone, I might as well get to live above the kitchen. I’ve been here since.”
John was writing the Chef’s answer when he heard the man shift in his chair. He glanced up and saw that Oliver looked rather uncomfortable. “Is everything okay?”
“That’s probably a touchy subject,” he said, answering honestly. “I know that new arrivals now are getting sorted into whatever space we can manage. Should we not have me brag about my spacious living quarters?”
“It’s not bragging,” John assured him. “You’re giving information. That’s why I wrote for Olivia and that’s why I want to write for you. You’ve been here a long time, but others like me, are new. Seeing you with your own building while I get relegated to a broom closet is confusing. Having the reasoning behind that helps, a lot.”
“I did let them have the upstairs loft, for you,” Oliver added.
“I’ll include that,” John said with a smile. “I am grateful for that generosity.”
“Just doing my part,” he said, stroking his mustache and leaning back, clearly feeling more relaxed now that they’d talked through it.
“Is there anything else you want to cover?” John asked. “This story and history is going to go over great with the citizens.”
“Can we add something more recent?” Oliver asked.
“Probably. What is it?
“My new menu,” Oliver said.
“I’m not following.”
“I saw what you wrote about Bryan and his plan for a government, with money, a trade market, and all that stuff. I want that. John, I never get to cook for fun. All I ever do is make the same generic food every day. Something has to change. So I’m changing it.”
“Are you going to quit cooking?” John asked.
“On the contrary. I’m going to cook more,” Oliver said, handing John a paper menu.
John looked it over and was immediately impressed with the special items that were listed, many of which sounded delicious. Most importantly, however, each of the items had a price attached to them. Unlike the vegetable stew, which would be free, the other items would cost various ingredients. If the customer couldn’t pay up, they couldn’t have that food.
“Are you sure about this?” John asked, browsing the menu. “I mean, this is going to cause a stir. Bryan said that his ideas weren’t necessarily ready for—”
“Perhaps a stir is what this town needs,” Oliver replied, his voice gruff. “I’m tired of making the same soup every day, in and out. I have skills, the same as anyone else, and they’re being wasted.”
“We can’t let people go hungry.”
“The vegetable soup will always be free.”
“You’re going to make people eat soup every day?”
“That’ll be up to the people in this town,” Oliver said. “We’ve survived through a lot of changes. This one isn’t such a big deal.”
“Should you talk to Rayland or any one else about this first?”
“Why?” Oliver asked. “Are they leaders? Or are we just the people that arrived first?”
John couldn’t counter Oliver’s point, so he just nodded and wrote it down.
The newsletter had initially just been John’s way of talking to some of the citizens that arrived first. He hadn’t expected it to blow up into a mini-series about the “main six” and their recollections of town or their thoughts on how we should govern.
Yet that’s what it had become, and honestly, the people loved it.
The truth was, no one really knew what was happening here. Most of the citizens woke up in the Core, got collected and shuffled to town, and then went about trying to adapt to this new life. There was no time to learn about the history here.
The vast majority of citizens were just participants.
John wanted to change that.
He just didn’t realize how much his simple articles would impact the community.
When his newest article went live, “Monetized Menu: A Chef’s Dream,” John watched first-hand as the excitement and news spread like wildfire through the community.
He was also present the next morning when he heard a thunderous knocking. John lived on the third floor, in a small loft that Oliver had offered to him when he arrived in town. The knocking was coming from below. He scrambled out of bed and opened his back window in time to hear a very loud Rayland Walsh yelling for Oliver.
“Come on, Oliver. I know you’re in there!”
When the door clicked and swung open, John heard Oliver, who was rather loud himself, grumbling about something.
“We need to talk about the menu,” Rayland said.
“I’m glad to hear you’re excited, but we don’t open with the new menu until tonight.”
“You know why I’m here, Oliver. You can’t just go—”
“I can,” Oliver said proudly. “If you look out front you’ll understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m giving the people what they want. I suggest, if you’re concerned, you start taking this up with Bryan to hear more about his plans for a town council.”
John, curious what Oliver was talking about, stepped across his small loft and glanced out his front window. He nearly gasped. There was a line of people already forming at the entrance to Chef Lafayette’s restaurant. He had specifically said he wouldn’t open until the evening hours, so this was shocking. People really wanted a shot at his food.
John cut back across his apartment just in time to hear Oliver chuckling at something Rayland had said. “Listen Ray, it’s time you guys figure out what we are, because the system is changing, one way or another. The people have decided.”
John heard the door slam.
Rayland Walsh grumbled to himself and then started circling back around front.
Sitting alone in his loft, John couldn’t believe how big this had grown.
His newsletter was making waves.
This was exciting… and slightly terrifying!