Alice smiled at Mr. Volkov, who shook her hand warmly before she took her seat at the table. The two seemed as familiar with each other as they seemed comfortable in the noisy, shockingly pink maid café.
The tall girl in the maid uniform approached the table, menu in hand. Alice waved it away with another smile. “I’ll have the usual,” she said, “with extra ketchup.”
Both Mr. Volkov and Justin ordered black coffee. The waitress took their menus, and retreated with a deep bow.
Alice took a phone from her pocket. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please, carry on with your conversation.”
Justin was about to point out that he’d come to the café to speak to Alice, but Alice pressed her face close to the phone’s screen and started texting, effectively cutting him off.
“I can understand your skepticism,” Mr. Volkov continued as though they hadn’t been interrupted.
“Mr. Volkov- with all due respect to your spaceflights, you’ve never been to the moon. There’s no possible way you could have found ancient ruins on there, even if such ruins existed.”
“It doesn’t matter that I’ve never been to the moon, personally,” Mr. Volkov said. “Humanity has been to the moon- we have been to the moon. We’ve left artifacts on the moon, even if we planted the wrong flag.”
“I hardly see how that’s relevant,” Justin scoffed. “You claim there are relics from an ancient civilization.”
“Indeed. Humanity is quite ancient.”
Justin opened his mouth several times, but an answer wouldn’t come out. He felt his cheeks burn after a moment, when he heard Alice laugh, but when he gathered the courage to look over at her, he saw she was laughing at something on her phone’s screen.
“This cat,” she giggled. “He knocked over a glass of water, and then slipped and fell off the counter. Want to see?”
“Er- no thanks.”
Mr. Volkov laughed jovially and slapped Justin on the back. “Now- will you listen to what we have to say without dismissing us as lunatics?”
Justin sighed, but tried to smile like a good sport. “You’re up to something, obviously. However, I think the moniker ‘lunatics’ still applies.”
“Alright,” Mr. Volkov said, nodding. “I’ll accept that. But to the point- humanity went to the moon, and though the United States enjoys the glory for accomplishing the feat, you must admit, the Soviet Union did assist. The race was the key, was it not?”
“Oh of course- the cold war and all that,” Justin said, waving this aside.
“Yes. Having a rival- an enemy even- is a great motivator.”
“It’s not the only motivator,” Alice said. “But wow, does it work. And when the cold war ended-“
“Shifted,” Mr. Volkov corrected.
“Yes, well- there’s a lot more apathy, now. People think it’s silly to go to space. They don’t see any benefits- even from the satellites we put up.” Alice smirked as she gestured to her phone.
“That’s why we need better science education,” Justin said. “Not pseudoscientific nonsense, like your blog.”
“But how do we educate people?” Alice said, ignoring his insult. “State legislatures cut school funding, local school districts push for their pet political agenda to be taught in place of science, and textbook publishers are racing each other to the bottom of the slush pile. No one wants to learn, and we can’t force them.”
“So what- we just give up?”
“Oh no,” Mr. Vakov replied. “We give them a show, instead.”
Justin groaned and threw up his hands. “And how will that help?”
His voice rose just a little louder than he had intended, and there was a momentary lull in the clamor around him. The D&D players all turned to look at him. One of the maids giggled.
“Sorry-“ Justin mumbled.
Just then, the tall waitress returned, carrying a platter with two black coffees, which she placed in front of Justin and Mr. Volkov, and an omelet, which she placed in front of Alice. She took a ketchup bottle from her tray, and drew an intricate design on the omelet. Justin looked over, and noticed that the design consisted on several concentric circles, connected by lines of ketchup to smaller circles. He was reminded somewhat of crop circles.
“Very interesting.” Alice held up her phone, and took a picture of the omelet.
Justin shook his head, and took his own cup.
“Wait!” the waitress said. “Don’t drink yet. I haven’t performed the magic spell.”
“…Magic spell?” Justin sputtered.
“Sure!” The waitress put her hands together in the shape of a heart, and waved them over the table. “Moe! Moe! Kyuu!”
Then she bowed, and left again.
“I’m sorry but- why do we have to meet here? How did you even find a place like this?” Justin said.
“It’s my business. I own it,” Alice said.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit sexist?” Justin said.
“Jenny, one of our waitresses, thinks so. She’s going to debate Chris-“ Alice gestured to the guy on his laptop at the next table, “on my youtube channel, next week.”
“She’s arguing that her job is sexist?”
“Yeah. She’s minoring in women’s studies. Her major is law.”
Mr. Vakov laughed again. “This is part of the show, Justin. We have to shock people- to shake them up a bit.”
“Listen,” Alice leaned over the table, and whispered conspiratorially. “Justin, you think debating me would be a waste of time, right? You’re not going to change anyone’s mind. You said yourself that it would only make pseudoscience seem legitimate.”
“So why did you send me a 10 page e-mail?”
“I was just pissed off.”
Mr. Volkov slapped the table, then. “Exactly! We say enough ridiculous things, and we will make the intelligent angry.”
Alice smirked. “And then, if you and I yell at each other loudly enough, the apathetic- the fence sitters- will turn their heads to watch. You have the facts- you will sway the fence sitters to your side. This is the new cold war, Justin. This is how we’ll get your funding back.”
Justin stared down at his coffee cup. His bewildered reflection stared up at him. He sighed, and pushed the cup away.
“Aren’t there enough crazies to debate, already? Why do you have to put more nonsense out there?”
Alice smiled, and took a bite from her omelet.
“If we pose as the lunatics, then we can guide the argument from both sides. We’re in control,” Mr. Volkov said.
Alice put her fork down on the edge of her plate. “This is the big conspiracy, Justin. We want you to join us.”