Jack took a bite of his chocolate chip muffin. It was spongey and sweet, just the way he liked it. The Tarantula House Café hadn’t changed under new management. It was still the same weird place he and Mezu used to come to between fights to unwind. The décor and furniture still looked like it had been bought at a garage sale, only now there was a portrait of Mezu over the Golden Sword arcade cabinet. Though he had let the previous management get killed by ninja slashers under his nose, he had also helped save the world from a nuclear holocaust, so the scales tipped in his favour.
‘So, what’s next for you guys?' Jack said to Puck, Sam, and Lobo, sat around the table with him in the otherwise empty café.
Puck squeezed an unhealthy amount of maple syrup onto her pancake. 'I'm staying with the San Antonio Snakes. I don't care how weak I am in comparison to the guys, and I don't care how much we lose; so long as we're having fun, that's all that matters.'
Sam spooned some fried ice cream into her mouth. 'Why don't you just use the Zone? Then you'd be sure to win.'
Puck shook her head. 'A game where the winner can feel no pride in winning and the loser can feel no shame in losing is a bad game.'
Jack and Sam nodded and spoke simultaneously. 'Oooh.'
Lobo chewed on a dog biscuit. 'Puck said big wisdom.'
Puck blushed. 'Shut up.'
'That's great, Puck,' said Jack. 'I'm glad you've gotten over your competitive—'
'Having said all that'—Puck's eyes narrowed—'were I ever to get bored with playing, I could always become the team coach. With a little hard work and foul play, there's no reason why the San Antonio Snakes couldn't go in for in the Hockey World Championships.' She forked a slice of pancake into her mouth and chewed on the idea with an evil grin.
Jack smiled. Old habits die hard. He turned to Sam and Lobo. 'What about you two?'
'Weeell'—Sam twirled her spoon around her fingers—‘slashers have been slim pickings since the end of the Death Game, so Lobo and I have decided to quit the Agency of Slasher Hunters, branch out to the wider Multiverse, and become monster hunters. From what Lobo tells me, there's good money to be made in the United Worlds if you join the Adventurer's Guild. Plus, I really want to travel, to experience new things, to find myself. I've spent far too long either running from or running after psychopaths in Texas.'
'Wow,' said Jack. 'Sounds great. Is that what you want, Lobo?'
Lobo nodded. 'Want become monster social worker. Want teach monsters not to be monsters.'
Jack smiled. 'That's wonderful, Lobo. Fubsy would be proud of you.' He patted Lobo's head.
Lobo blushed. 'What Jack do now?'
‘Me? Between the fall of the USSR, the rebuilding of infrastructure after the Death Game, and keeping the Horror Universe safe from the wider Multiverse, I've got my hands full. It's going to be tough being the only war dove in the GOP, but I guess that's a small cross to bear for everything I've done. The first thing I'm going to do is put up a memorial for Mezu, Billy, and...Marilyn.’
Sam put her spoon down. ‘I think they would have liked the way we turned out.'
Jack nodded. 'Yeah.'
Puck’s pager rang. She read it. ‘Damn. I've gotta go. The Austin Armadillos manager just found his wife in bed with our team captain, and now he's chasing him across town with a double-barrelled shotgun. The bus will be here any second.’
Sam’s cellphone rang. She answered. ‘Hello...? What, now...? Okay, okay, I'll be there.' She put it down. 'Looks like I have to go too. The United Worlds spaceship to the Space Opera Universe just rescheduled to avoid a brainstorm in the Dungeon Universe tomorrow.’
Puck and Sam got up and hugged each other.
'Stay safe out there, Mountie,' said Puck. 'Ah, what am I saying? You're General Ripper's little super soldier. Try to pull your slashes on the monsters, eh? Give them a fighting chance.'
'Okay.' Sam started crying. 'Good luck with the Hockey World Championships. I'm sure you'll be a great coach. Just, uh, don't stab any of your players for underperforming, huh?'
'Don't stab. Got it.'
Puck and Lobo hugged.
'It's killer seeing how far you've come, Lobo.' said Puck. 'At this rate, you'll be the best monster social worker in the Multiverse before long, and a wolfy little lady to boot.'
'Thank, Puck.' Lobo started crying. 'Find mate before too late. Hunt good; cub better.' She patted Puck's stomach.
Puck gave a pained smile. 'Isn't that cute. She's giving life advice already.'
Puck, Sam, and Lobo came over and hugged Jack.
'Don't stress yourself out too much, hoser,' said Puck. 'You're smart, but you're also an idiot, so cut yourself some slack once in a while.'
Sam sobbed. 'Marilyn would be so proud of the man you've become.'
Lobo whimpered. 'We proud too.'
Jack felt himself getting emotional. He held them tight. 'Are you sure you guys can't stay a while longer? It feels like we've barely had any time back together.'
Even Puck started tearing up. 'We can't. We're all improving...and we're...a bad influence on each other.'
The San Antonio Snakes bus pulled up on the road outside.
A giant castle door materialised on the pavement. An Army green attack helicopter-fighter jet with UNITED STATES OF EARTH written on it flew out and landed in front of the café.
Puck, Sam, and Lobo let Jack go, ran out of the café, and boarded the bus and the spaceship.
They waved at him from the windows.
Jack smiled and waved back.
The bus drove away.
The spaceship flew into the castle door, which dematerialised behind it.
Jack was alone.