A/N: Thanks to those who have reviewed so far. Particular thanks to Lana del Fae: as yours was a guest review I couldn't reply via private message, so hopefully you'll see it here!
There's quite a bit of bad language in this chapter, just as a warning!
"Sausage and egg McMuffin and black coffee." The man was dressed in a business suit and looked at Carla like she was a ship's computer, not a human being. Not that Carla cared, particularly.
"Coming right up," she said, smiling at the man anyway as she told him the price. Never hurt to be polite to people, however rude they were. Sometimes they started being polite back, but most of the time not. She passed his order onto Sandra in the back, who got on with making it, and turned to the next person in line, her eyes skimming over the clock on the back wall. Eight am. They'd opened at five, which meant she'd left the house at four to get here by four thirty. And she'd still only done three hours of her shift: she didn't finish till 1pm, theoretically. It'd probably be two by the time she actually got to leave, and Carla was interminably bored. It'd have been better with Silrin to talk to, but Carla quickly forced that thought down. On this little sleep, she'd start feeling teary if she thought about that. Not that she'd show it, of course.
She gave a broad grin to the next customer in line, a young woman with shadows under her eyes. Looked like Carla wasn't the only one running on no sleep. "Hi there, what can I get for you?"
Unlike the man before her, this girl looked at Carla, but she definitely wasn't going to be polite. Anger was burning in her eyes. "I want to see your manager," she said coldly.
Carla wondered what on Earth she could possibly have done, given that she'd only said one sentence to the girl, but kept the smile on her face anyway. "Sure, no problem." Carla looked apologetically at the rest of the queue before walking through the kitchen and into the very back, searching, as the woman had requested, for the manager that day.
"Hey, Mark," she said once she found him. "Sorry, there's a customer asking to see you."
Mark gave a heavy sigh. "Fuck it, Carla, you think I have all the time in the world to clean up after you when you screw up?"
Mark was generally grumpy, but particularly so when the hour was in single figures. "Sorry," Carla repeated, and turned round to go back out to the front, confident he would follow her.
"You're not even gonna tell me what it's about?"
Carla shrugged. "Dunno. I only said about four words to her." It might not be about her at all, anyway, Carla thought. Could be something that happened another day.
The woman's expression when they reappeared, however, put paid to those thoughts.
"Are you aware," the woman asked Mark, without any preamble and far louder than necessary, so that the people around them started to stare, "that you're employing a filthy collaborator?"
Carla felt the blood drain from her face. Shit. Shit. She hadn't recognised the woman, but that didn't mean anything. She'd always looked away from the cages when she passed them, to reduce the guilt she felt, and Silrin had honoured her wishes and never looked at them either once she was back in control… God, she'd been stupid not to realise this had to happen someday.
"What? I don't get you," Mark said.
"I used to be a Yeerk's slave," the woman spat. "And I recognise her, because I watched her walk past my cage and let one of the filthy slugs slither into her head, willingly. She's a traitor, she's a voluntary." The woman gave the word voluntary the same inflection most people would reserve to say 'Nazi'.
Mark looked shocked. "You must have made a-"
"Don't you dare tell me I've made a mistake," she snarled. "I saw her regularly. I know her face."
Mark turned to Carla. "Is this true?"
Carla shrugged. "I don't know if she saw me," she said, playing for time.
At the look on his face, however, she quickly added: "Yes. Yes, it's true I was a willing host." Carla couldn't stand there and deny directly that she'd wanted Silrin there. No matter what the consequences, she wasn't willing to do that.
There was an outbreak of muttering down the line, and Carla could feel hostile stares piercing her. She forced herself not to look down at the floor she knew so well from sweeping up other people's mess at the end of her shifts, and to meet Mark's dark brown eyes.
Mark's face was twisted up in anger. "My sister was a Controller," he spat. "She's screwed up, she still can't sleep properly, nightmares every night."
"Believe me, I have plenty of nightmares," Carla said quietly.
Mark turned away from her. "Get out. You can keep your fucking uniform, I never want to see you again."
"Are you firing me?"
"Of course I'm firing you, you fucking bitch!"
Carla reached up to wipe his spit from her face, her hand shaking slightly. But her voice, when she used it again, was steady. "On what grounds? I don't think you can legally-"
"Well, sue me, if you can find any money."
"I earn decent money," the woman interrupted. "If she tries anything, I'll pay for a good lawyer. Not that I think any judge in their right mind would sympathise with someone like her. And you," the woman snarled at her, "use some of that toadying subservience you showed the filthy slugs and do what he says."
Carla felt her heart racing, realising she probably didn't have a chance at reversing this dismissal. She could go over Mark's head, of course, but she didn't think she'd find any more sympathy there, and this woman was probably right about the judges, unless she was lucky and landed one who had been a voluntary themselves. She knew such people existed, she'd even met them, but Mark was right, she had no money to pay a lawyer. And she wasn't sure if they covered voluntary hosts under equal opportunities legislation. Probably not, come to think of it.
"Fine," Carla said shortly. "I'm going to pick up my stuff."
Sandra gave her a vague, uncertain smile as she went back through the kitchen, but avoided her eyes. Carla guessed she'd heard the whole thing, and appreciated the gesture, as it was the only semi-friendly face she'd seen, but knew it was just that, a gesture. Sandra was far too shy and anxious to come to Carla's defence, even if she wanted to.
Carla slipped out of the back door and pulled up the hood of her sweater as she crossed the parking lot, trying to push away her anxieties about what she would do for money, glancing around to check no-one was following her. She'd been attacked by former involuntaries before and it was not a nice experience. Well, I was wrong when I thought today was gonna be boring, she thought to herself, and bit her lip as the seconds that would once have contained Silrin's answering laugh ticked by in silence.