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[Feast] 28,000

“You want how many?” Acx asked, blinking his compound eyes.
“28,000,” the withered old woman repeated, leaning on her cane. “We took up a collection,” she added, fishing through a purse large enough it could be used as a vacation home for an entire Nurmal family and a few close friends. “Ah, here it is!” she said triumphantly, waving a bitcoin stick in the air.
Acx sighed, a human-learned trait he had picked up that annoyed his pod mates to no end. “Ma’am, while I am flattered that you came all this way to discuss catering your event - or whatever it is - with me, there is simply no…”
“28,000,” the woman said. “We need 28,000 meals, hot, suitable for a wide range of digestive systems. Soup will be good, sort sort of thick stew I think. Everybody likes a nice stew.”
“Excuse me?” Acx said, annoyed at being interrupted.
“Stew. A type of soup made from meat-analogue and vegetables, cooked in a closed pot over a low heat. Bread would be nice too, but at least three different types so they have a choice. Butter, too, or something like it.”
“Ma’am…” Acx tried again but the old woman ignored him and kept talking.
“We originally wanted to have hot apple cider, but Dr. Justir wouldn’t hear of it, started rattling off all sorts of reasons why it would be a bad idea. Something about the pectin. Or was it the malic acid? So it’s going to be water and tea for those that can drink it. I love tea. My great-grandmother used to perform the most lovely tea ceremony using a set brought all the way from Old Earth itself during the Expansion. We used to spend just hours going through the ritual when I was a little girl. It was so magical.” The woman sighed. “I wonder whatever happened to that tea set. I suspect my uncle stole it after she died. Gambler, you know. Nasty man, never liked him very much. Smoked these horrible cigars.”
“Ma’am…” Acx said, louder this time.
“And pie! We simply must have pie. I understand blipas are wonderful when roasted and mashed, and with the right spices will be almost perfect. You can make a crust, I assume? We’ll have to skip the whipped cream, of course,” the woman said sadly. “Too much sugar.”
“Yes, ma’am, pie and no sugar. But please, if you will let me explain…”
“Can you get a parade float?” she said suddenly. “Or a large balloon?”
“A what?”
“Ah, perhaps that would be a little over-the-top.” Holding out the bitcoin stick, the old woman said, “so we will need 28,000 meals, prepared and ready for service in three weeks time, complete with disposable plates and utensils. Including pie.”
“But ma’am!” Acx said, holding up his foreclaws. “We can’t prepare all of that in time!”
“Oh posh. Don’t be a silly bugger. Our church does that many in a week, so you can certainly get it done in three. Delivered, too - lot of retired folks aren’t nearly as spry as myself, so we make sure they have at least one hot meal a day, poor souls. It just wouldn’t be right to tell them to make do while we help some others out, even if it’s for only one day. So that’s why we’re hiring you!” The woman waved the bitcoin stick around again. “We took up a collection!”
“You do all that… in a week?” Acx said, amazed and a little put out. He was trying to wrap his brain around the idea that someone who looked like they could be blown away by a stiff breeze was apparently capable of outperforming his catering service.
The old woman nodded, leaning on her walking stick again. “Oh my, yes. We, I don’t any more, of course. Mrs. Madeline took over from me two years ago. Or was it three? So now I just pop in now and again to offer a hand where needed, which why I’m here.”
Acx pulled himself together and tried to focus. Speaking quickly before he was interrupted again, Acx said, “Yes, here you are. Ma’am, please, as I’ve been trying to explain, I simply can’t provide the amount of meals you are asking for in the time frame you need them in.”
“Why not?”
Acx fumbled, uncertain if the woman was blind or willfully ignorant. He went with just uninformed. “Ma’am, I only have myself and a few helpers. We’ve never done anything of such a large scale before, and…”
“But you have!” the old woman interrupted Acx again, which was really starting to annoy him. Before he could say anything, she quickly rummaged through her monstrous purse again and produced several printouts. Thrusting them at Acx, she said, “see, this is you. The First Invitational Gala, fifteen thousand servings. North By South, twenty two thousand. The Memorial Tournament, twenty thousand. Jazz and Rib Fest, fifty thousand. I wish I had known about that one - I love ribs. Even if they are not real ribs. I’m so glad they got the meat-analogues right. I remember when they first started making them, tasted like grass mixed with sawdust. Do you still have any of the sauce you served? I wouldn’t mind a taste, I heard it was very good.”
Acx took the papers from the human and flipped through them, ignoring the continual rush of words that kept pouring from her mouth. “Ma’am, we were just one of many caterers for these events - we only provided some of the food, not all of it. The Tournament was just cookies for example.”
“I know! Loralie and her husband was there, they raved about your shortbreads. If pie is out of the question, those would be a nice substitute.”
Acx was uncertain how he could get through to this woman without being amazingly rude. “Ma’am, it is a matter of scale. There is a galaxy of difference between twenty thousands of cookies and complete meals.”
“Yes, but between you and the other caterers, you provided complete meals, correct? So do it again, just not as scattered about, more organized-like. I can pay, we took up a collection!”
“I… we...” Acx stumbled over his words as what the human female was saying finally sunk in. He wouldn’t have to provide all of it and try to keep it ready and unspoiled by himself. Voply Feeds and Zuwe Eats could split the main course between them fairly easily - provided they would be willing to work together. Aqwrt Clan Bakes would have no trouble with the bread, most of which could be pre-staged ahead of time. Pies could be baked and frozen for storage, thawed and then served later. His cousin Turpo had access to a large delivery truck, one with a variable-stage freezer. Mobile stoves and cookware could be rented and set up on site, along with seating. Management and organization could be a problem, but he had a feeling he was looking at someone with decades of experience in herding cooks around a kitchen and would be more than happy to help. Whether or not he or the others wanted it.
“How many meals did you say you needed again?”
The old woman beamed at Acx. “28,000 at least. We took up a collection.” Handing the bitcoin stick over, she clapped her hands together in delight. “Oh, this will be the most wonderful Thanksgiving ever!”
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