Etta Spicer felt like having a cookie.
She pulled open the cupboard door of her little kitchenette and pawed through it. "Cheesy Neos . . . flour . . . chocolate chips . . . apples . . . bread? Ew, it's stale. Neocola . . . it's probably flat." Etta pulled out one of the cans from what could only honestly be called a four-pack, and popped it open.
An explosion of grape soda spattered her face, hands, and ceiling.
"Aw, shoot!" fretted Etta, dropping the offending can and leaping for a towel to restore her sight. When her face was reduced from "dripping" to merely "sticky", she turned back to the cupboard - and stepped on the can. With a thud, she landed in the sticky puddle on the floor.
"Not fair," murmured Etta.
A drop of soda fell from the ceiling and lanted on her nose.
One change of clothes later, Etta pulled out the bags of flour and chocolate chips, plopped them down on the counter, and started digging through the fridge.
"Milk . . . leftover fish . . . oh, THERE'S where my shoe went! . . . butter . . . eggs, do I have any eggs?" She opened a jar of preserves with juppies on the label. "Aha! I do!" She tipped the jar over to drop the lone egg into her palm - and missed. "Never mind."
One thorough scrub later, Etta sent a quick neomail to a friend. "Cristina . . . do you have a good deal on eggs for little Etta? Pretty pleeeease with sugar on top? Actually, I'm out of sugar too. Can I have some please?"
The reply soared thru the window a minute later; Etta tore it open to see Cristina's neat, businesslike print. "I can't keep giving you handouts, Etta. I have creditors to repay and a kyrii who went and ate fruit salad without picking the apples out to take care of. You need to take responsibility for your own money."
"Then can I borrow some? I'll pay you back next week. Cross my heart and hope to die." For good measure, Etta added a few hearts after her signature before sending it off.
Cristina's reply was succinct. "You currently owe me 3,144 NP. I can't loan you any more until I have a down payment."
Etta looked miserably at the neomail, then put it down and sighed. "I don't want to work . . ." she moaned.
Thirty seconds later, she sat up. "But I do want cookies."
Three games of Ice Cream Factory later, a dripping mint-chocolately Etta walked from the Games Room with a bag of NP. She paid for a carriage and licked the ice cream from her arms as she rode towards the marketplace.
"If only they had a Cookie Factory game," she commented to the white Uni pulling the cab, "I'd play all the time just to lose, so I could get cookies hitting me all the time."
"Twenty NP, please," said the Uni calmly, halting outside the burger-shaped shop on Main Street.
One purchase later, Etta staggered back into her house with a sack of sugar and a dozen eggs. She put them triumphantly on the counter and collapsed into one of the kitchenette's two chairs. "It took my last NP," she told the empty air (her chia, Mokona, was on the couch, but that hardly counted, as she was fast asleep), "but I got it! I can bake cookies now!"
A mixing bowl and a large spoon weren't hard to find even in Etta's small and crowded cupboards. She poured the ingredients together, stirred hard, put balls of dough on a baking pan, stuck it in the oven, and sat down with a spoonful of dough to watch the clock.
Ten minutes later, she was awakened by the smell of burning.
Three blackened batches later, Etta was down to the last of her dough. She was desperate. Nothing else would have convinced her to neomail Jackie Green.
She was miserably trying to eat one of the burned cookies when Jackie - riding her massive Lupe, GuardianKronos - arrived.
Jackie took one look around the apartment and nodded at Kronos; without another word, the two set to work. Jackie put the last of the dough in the oven; Kronos threw out the burned cookies; Jackie scrubbed the dishes; Kronos cleaned the floor; Jackie put away the ingredients; Kronos kept an eye on the clock. Within seven minutes the kitchen was spotless, and Jackie handed Etta a dozen warm cookies.
"Don't take one yet," she cautioned. "It'll burn--"
"Ow!" Etta pulled back her hand and stuck the burned finger in her mouth. "Sowwy," she mumbled around it.
Jackie sighed. "Are you going to be okay now? Can I leave?" She was normally a pretty calm person, but Etta always made her want to rip something to shreds like a lupe with . . . well, a chia.
"Mmhmm," replied Etta. "Now's I have my cookies. Thanks."
She smiled at Jackie, and Jackie, in spite of herself, smiled back. Beside her, Kronos nudged her; she followed his gaze - and the smile froze.
A little girl with charming orange-gold curls was standing in the door to the bedroom. "Hi, Aunt Jackie," she said. "Mommy, is there any dinner?"
Etta glanced at the tray on the table. "Um . . . cookies?"
One visit to the Soup Kitchen later, Jackie sat across the table from the child, watching her devour a bowl of ummagine soup. She restrained her curiosity until the soup was gone, then asked, "Do you get enough to eat, dear?"
"Uh-huh. Most 'a the time. But Mommy sometimes forgets about stuff. And she can't always afford it."
"That sounds like Etta," said Jackie ruefully, as Kronos arrived with a bowl of chunky minestrone. Etta's daughter polished this off, though more slowly. When she finished this one, she said, "Y'know what?"
"What is it, honey?"
"When I grow up," the child said slowly, with a thoughtfulness beyond her years, "I'm gonna give my daughter whatever she wants. I'm gonna give her lots of tasty food - an' any toys she wants - and pretty clothes, an' a pet on her own account, an' everything. I'm gonna make millions a' Neopoints so she never wants something an' her stupid mom can't afford it."
"You do that, dear," said Jackie, patting the girl's golden curls. "I'm sure your daughter will appreciate it."