Chapter 3:

Not so ordinary anymore

My boring life as a mercenary

 - Oh, no! I’m gonna be late! - I said while running down the street and holding a toast in my mouth.

My name is Kireng. I'm just your average young man full of hopes and dreams like any other. Some days ago, I failed in my mission to obtain money for my squad, but at least I was able to know better one of my squadmates and friend, a young lady called Crimson. To my surprise, she was nothing like the bloodlust psychopath I was expecting. Funny, right?

Where I'm going in such a rush, you ask? I'm running towards my most important objective. To have a life filled with action! Since I'm a mercenary, it must be a dangerous battlefield, you say? Ahaha, silly you! I'm going to get a job at the supermarket, of course!

Some days ago. Hours after me, and Crimson went back to the apartment:

- So, let me get this straight. You guys also failed to get work. That happened because a dumb cop thought you were a dead body, so she pursued Boss all day without asking any questions while screaming something like "finally, a big crime in this damn city! I'll arrest you in the name of the law, you murderer!".

- ... - Joe didn't even move.

- I see, I see. - I said with a straight face.

- Look on the bright side, I got paid, and Loser said he managed to get more money than we needed. So we don't need to worry about it for a while. - said Crush.

- Still not enough to buy a LAV-25.

- Why would we need something like that?

Joe, Crush, and I are chatting at the apartment at night. Boss is not home yet, and the others are in their rooms.

- Riding one of those would be cool. Right, Joe?

- ... - he's still not moving.

- I think he might be dying for real this time. - Crush said, worried.

- He's fine. - I said while getting up.

I went to our room and grabbed the HK45 that HQ gave me when I officially joined Black Stream, and I placed it near Joe's hand. After a few seconds, he noticed the presence of the gun and gripped it tightly. Then Joe slowly started to embrace it.

- Mmmmmmm.... - he seems happy.

- See? - I said while sitting again.

- Y-yes... - I don't get it. He looks more worried than before.

- Okay. Now, Joe. Gimme back the gun. - I tried to reach for the HK45 while requesting it.

- Grrrrrrr. - is he... Growling?

- Oh, yes. I almost forgot. There is one thing I wanted to talk about with you guys. - Crush said.

Me and Joe looked at him with a curious expression. Well, Joe, more or less.

- I convinced my manager to give you both and Crimson a chance to work at the supermarket. You guys are going to do a job interview and work there for a day so he can see your capabilities.

- Aaaahn?

- Mmrrrrr?

We both made an annoyed face to Crush. Well, Joe, more or less.

- Yeah, yeah. Complain like brats all you want. You two need to get work to help pay the bills sooner or later, or Boss will pick on you. It’s gonna be next week. I’ll tell Crimson tomorrow. Don't be late, and do not try to avoid it, okay?

- I'm not afraid of- - I shut up and quickly looked behind me, worried. Ok, she's not here. Wait, I'm not done yet! I looked in Crush's direction again, and she's still nowhere to be seen.

- What's wrong, Kireng? - Crush asked, confused.

- Ah, nothing. I thought I was going to get suddenly hit by the riot shield again.

- Having fun, Kireng? - OF COURSE.

Boss is behind me. Literally right behind me. How's this possible? I just looked there. We are not even close to the front door, dammit! Think quickly, Kireng! You have less than five seconds to try something that will take you out of this situation.

- BOSS! - I screamed while turning around. She's right there with her usual calm face. She's not smiling yet. I may have a chance! - FLAT IS JUSTI-

I got hit on the face and fell on the floor. It was so fast. Was it a bullet...? Everything is going dark... Am I... Dying...?

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them" - John F. Kennedy.

Present-day. At the supermarket, very early in the morning:

- SAFE! - I said, entering the supermarket by the backdoor that Crush indicated to me the other day.

- Kireng, I'm disappointed. Even Joe managed to get here before you. - he is angry.

- Sorry, Crush. - I said, out of breath. At least I got here in time.

He is wearing a gray shirt, a dark green apron, black pants, a dark green cap, and his usual black military boots. That's the supermarket uniform.

- The manager was about to start without you. Come with me.

I followed Crush to a door with a "Manager's Office" sign. This guy's gonna be boring, I'm calling it. Crush knocked on the door, and after a voice inside allowed him to enter, he excused himself while opening the door.

The "office" was a small room with only one desk, two chairs, one at each side of the desk, a picture on the wall, an old fan in the ceiling, and a bookcase filled with papers, books, and folders. On the desk, there is a computer, a wired phone, a photo frame of a kitten, and a closed notebook. There are no windows.

- So, this is the last one. - The manager said, with an impatient expression and an annoying voice. - I hope arriving at the very last minute is not a habit of yours, young man.

- I’m really sorry about that. My name is Kireng and-

- I already know that. Please, go near your friends over there. We are starting immediately. - he said while making a gesture with his hand.

I take back what I said. This guy is not boring. He is the embodiment of boredom. He's around his forties, has about the same size as me, has short black hair, and has a skinny body. He's wearing almost the same clothes as Crush. The differences are that he's wearing black formal shoes, a pair of glasses instead of a cap, a tie, and a badge written manager on it.

- Hey, Kireng! - Crimson waved at me, smiling.

She's standing up on the opposite side of the room with Joe. Joe's sitting down on the floor with his back leaning on a wall. I never saw him so dead. The aura of the manager is destroying him.

He started making sure to tell us that he's only doing this because it's a favor for Crush, one of his best employees, despite the excessive love for felines. Also, he has no obligation to hire us. We need to prove ourselves worthy to be part of the supermarket team and, DEAR LORD, GET TO THE POINT ALREADY.

- Now, I will explain how the whole job interview is going to be. First of all, my name is- - I dozed off.

I came back to my senses. I don't know exactly how much time has passed. I look to my right, and Crimson is sleeping while standing. There is a snot bubble coming out of her nose. Next to her, Joe is so pale that I think he might be dead by now. On my left, Crush is standing still like a true soldier near the door with his eyes staring straight ahead. Looks like he's paying a lot of attention to what the manager is saying. Or he's dead as well. I look forward, and the manager is still speaking while walking around his "office". He's not even looking at us.

-...Now, about the values of this establish- - I dozed off again.

I woke up when I heard the loud noise of a chair scraping. Crimson also woke up while Joe and Crush remained the same. The manager is now sitting in front of his table. He took a pen and opened his notebook.

- We will begin the interviews now. Young lady, you first.

- O-okay! - she's still a little sleepy.

So Crimson is going first, huh? I've never been in a job interview before. I wonder how it will be. She sat on the other chair.

- Very well, miss Crimson. Crush told me you are a very peculiar person with great potential. Let's start it simple. Please, tell me, what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

- Ok! - she said, energetically. - I'm very good at killi- - I managed to stop her in time by putting my hand over her mouth. I never moved so fast in my life. - Hmm?

Don't "hmm?" me! How did none of us saw that coming?

- My bad, I underestimated her lack of common sense. - Crush whispered to me after getting closer to us. What are we going to do? She can’t answer that question.

- It's okay. I have an idea. - I whispered back. - Crimson, Loser called. He needs you back at the apartment ASAP.

- Ah, is that so? - she stood up and raised her hand. - Sorry, manager. I quit!

You were not hired yet to quit. She slammed her hand on the desk like she was imitating a scene from a movie and, with a happy face, left the place. The manager was speechless for a while.

- I-I suppose she was not ready yet for such responsibilities. - he said with a confused face while pushing his glasses. - Let's move on. You there, the young man that is disrespectfully sitting on the floor. You are next.

It's Joe's turn now. I believe in you, man. You can do it.

Crush picked him up and placed him on the chair, but as soon as he let him go, Joe's body fell forward, making Joe slam his face on the desk. Joe's drooling and not making any sign of life. He's going to be fine, right?

- Your boldness is admirable, Mr. Joe. You persist in offending me in my own office without showing any sign of regret. - does he think Joe is just acting? - Crush did say you were a mysterious person full of courage. I like that.

Now that I think about it, Crush did give me a similar description about Joe when we first met...

- Let's see if that is going to be enough to impress me during our interview. First of all, I would like to know more about you besides what Crush told me. Can you tell me about yourself?

- ... - silence.

- Hmph. - the manager made an angry face and wrote something in his notebook. - Very well. Now, where do you see yourself in five years?

- ... - silence again.

Dead, I suppose. Should we call an ambulance?

- Impressive.

What? I mean, good job, Joe!

The manager asked a few more questions which Joe did not answer. The interview ended soon after.

- Excellent. - the manager said after finishing writing in his notebook. - That was certainly... Unexpected. In all my years in this industry, I have never seen anyone so creative during an interview. The way you are, even now, so determined to show me how focused and resilient you are by that act of playing dead brings tears to my eyes. And your silence during each one of my questions had told me more than any word you could have said. You passed.

I think he was so discredited by Joe's behavior that he became delirious.

- So, the last one... - but you know, maybe this dude is not so bad. I judged him too soon. - Ah, yes. The otaku... - he looked at me with a disgusted face.

Please, stop. This joke is not even funny anymore! I looked at Crush, and asked whispering:

- What the hell, man. What did you tell him about me?

- Sorry, Kireng. I can't lie about a new employee I'm recommending to him.

You lied about Joe, though! And me too! I'm no otaku, goddammit!

- Let's get this over with, alright? - he's doing an unmotivated face.

This bastard! He thinks I'll fail for sure. I will show him. It may not seem like it, but I've put a lot of effort into studying the best answers to job interview questions in the past fifteen minutes.

- Did you ever have a job before? - calm down, Kireng. He's trying to provoke you.

- Of course, I had! I learned valuable skills and lessons at my previous job, but, unfortunately, I was no longer feeling excited or challenged with my work. Right now, I'm ready for new challenges, and I think your company is exactly what I'm after when I think about my goals and ambitions. - I lied so naturally with a confident smile on my face that it felt disgusting.

- What a generic answer. Did you read that in a book? - he's still doing an unmotivated face.


- Next question. Why does a person like you want a job?

I need money, you dumb fool.

- I want this job because I know I would be really good at it. I love to communicate with people and assist them, I am a very organized person, and have a lot of stamina. Also, since I came to Little Clove, I became a regular customer of this supermarket, so I would love to apply my skills to a place I believe in and support.

- Another predictable answer. - he wrote something in his notebook. - Can we even expect something from you in your first four months?

You can expect me to tear this place down into pieces because of that attitude of yours.

- My objective for the first three months would be to spend a lot of time talking to other employees to learn as much I could, develop a good relationship with the customers so they would feel motivated to come back, and also, you can expect me to contribute with all lines of work inside the supermarket.

- Do you know how many times I heard that before? - I'm not angry. I'm not angry at all. - I believe it's unlikely, but do you have any questions for me?

Can I hit you with a baseball bat?

- Actually, I have a few. Can you talk about company culture? And what are the traits your top performers have in common?

He answered some stuff I couldn't care less about.

In the end, he made around double the questions he did to Joe, but I was so focused on not strangling him that I can't remember anymore.

- Very well, Kireng. You passed. Barely, but passed.

You know, because of this unbearable man, I almost forgot I was just applying to work in a supermarket. By the end of the interview, the supermarket was already open, so Crush wasn't with us anymore. The manager said he would personally supervise us so he could evaluate our capabilities himself. He introduced us to some other employees and gave us our roles. Joe's gonna be on cleaning duty, and I will be helping with the organization of products. We wear our uniforms, and that's it.

My first job as a mercenary is to work at a supermarket. Best day of my life.

- Okay, Kireng. Part of your test to see if you are capable will be organizing the entire candy aisle shelves. - the manager carefully explained the situation to me. - You see, some naughty children messed up the position of all the sweets yesterday while Crush was busy with a customer's pet, and we didn't have time to put them back in place yet. It's probably going to take all day so-

- Done. - I said as I put the last chocolate bar back in place.

Who do you think I am? I received top-notch military training from one of the biggest mercenary organizations in the world. Organizing some shelves before a moron stops talking is a piece of cake.

- Wow! The new guy is amazing. - said an employee that saw me organizing the candies.

I left the manager there shocked with his jaw dropped and went to check on how Joe was doing.

After searching for a while, I found him lying down on the floor near the cleaning products aisle. There's a mop on top of him, and a bucket, and a "wet floor" sign around him.

- What is he doing? - an employee whispered to another.

- I think he is trying to show the customers the importance of being careful around the wet floor. Can you see how he looks dead? - the other replied with a thoughtful look.

- Ooooooh! Now, I get it! What a dedicated dude!

Yeah, he seems fine.

-Mommy, look! A man who lost his will to live! - said a kid pointing at Joe.

-Don't say that, sweetie. It's impolite.

I will cheer him up later.

- Guys, we have a problem! - a third employee came running towards us.

Not my problem. I don't work here yet.

- Crush is arguing with someone! - he completed.

Oh, Lord. I hope no one got hurt.

I followed him to see what is happening. When we arrived at Crush's cash register, there's a tall blonde man near Crush's height right in front of him. They were staring at each other menacingly. The man is wearing doctor's clothes with a dog's brooch on his coat and is good-looking. Like me, he has some muscles.

Is this man Crush's friend Loser told me about? But why are they staring at each other like that? Are they perhaps more rivals than friends? Are they going to fight? I think it would be cool to see Crush fighting!

- Can you say that again, Mitchell? About dog's ears being cuter than cat's? - Crush said.

- Certainly, my dear friend. I can even present you with good arguments to prove that.

Why do I even bother? They are scaring some customers, so better do something before someone calls the police.

I pointed my finger to a place outside of the supermarket and said in a monotonous tone:

- Hey, look! A kitty and a puppy playing together.



They ran screaming like crazy in the direction I pointed. I guess we won't be seeing those two for some time.

I took Crush's place as the cashier until his return. Some customers got impressed with how quickly I gave their change and packed their groceries. Little did they know that this was the result of many dawns crying like a baby while studying the math behind the trajectory of a bullet and the fact that I had to assemble and disassemble an M4 Carbine every single day in less than thirty seconds.

And basically, that was my first day at work. I also helped my co-workers sometimes, but nothing relevant enough to brag about. Unfortunately, I’m gonna get hired for sure.

- Sorry, Mr. Kireng. I cannot hire you. - the manager said while bowing.

You’ve gotta be kidding me. He is talking with me, Joe and Crush at the entrance of the supermarket.

- The same goes for you, Mr. Joe. Also, Mr. Crush. You are fired. - he completed.

- Wait, manager. What is that all of a sudden? I thought we did a very good job today. Especially, Kireng. - said Crush.

- That's exactly the reason, Crush - what? - You three are too good for this place. I cannot allow your potential to be wasted here.

His attitude is completely different from earlier. Now he is showing a lot of respect and concern for us. Maybe he has a switch to change his personality when talking to someone he respects?

- Don't worry, I know you need the money. so you three will get paid for today. - he bowed again. - Also, you have my promise that I will speak well about you all to the best employers I know in Little Clove. Please, do not waste your opportunities as I did. Especially you, Mr. Joe. Take care.

Does he also have a sad backstory that will be explored later, then? Ah, he is entering back in the supermarket in a way that seems like we are never going to see him again despite being the manager of the best supermarket in the city... What am I saying?

- I guess this is it then? - I wasn’t hired to a job for being too good at it. Glorious.

- Boss's gonna be pissed... - Crush said, scratching his head.

- Mmmmmm. - oh, Joe is back.

- I could use some soda now. - Did you read that, underaged people? Cool adults drink soda! Beer is for losers! - But I feel like going inside the supermarket right now would be awkward.

- There’s a vending machine not far from here. You guys wanna kill some time? - Crush invited us.

- Why not? - I feel like I’m forgetting something important.

We agreed to drink something together. Some minutes later me and Crush are sitting on a bench near the vending machine while Joe is sitting on the ground leaning on it. We made some small talk until the sun starts settling.

- Kireng… - I looked at Crush. He is looking at the sky and seems to be lost in thoughts.

Oh, no. I remembered! The deep conversation at the end of the day! Not again! I'm not ready for this kind of bond development yet. It's too soon! At least Joe is here, so he'll have my back if I don't find the right words to talk with Crush.

- Mmm... - Joe is doing his usual expression, but somehow he seems... Distant? That means...

Two at the same time?!

- Sorry, guys. I'm not in the mood right now, but I promise we can talk about it later. - I ran away.

- Hmm? - Crush made a confused expression. - Does he need to be in the mood to talk about how extremely cute small kittens are?


Some seconds of silence. Crush looks at the sky again.

- He may not like to be here, but... Kireng was a really good addition to the team. Things were very monotonous before he arrived, but now they are at least a bit fun. Don't you think, Joe?

- Hmm. - Joe slightly nodded, smiling.