With a pull of the trigger, the flames lashed out from the nozzle. Yet there the man stood, arms outstretched, wreathed in the fire, mired in it yet untouched by it.
It was another one of the Red Metal Banner's public displays of strength, showing off the power of both their weaponry and armor, proving the point that they're invulnerable to the one weapon that they haven't outlawed. A crowd watched on obediently, a few half-interested applauds scattered here and there between the majority of disinterested gazes.
Giagan rests her head on her hand as she watches on from under the canopy of a nearby shack, the mechanical sounds of the flamethrowers drowned out under the hiss of boiling oil as a new batch of chicken is plunged into it. She looked up at Kahn, who also watched on, and asked, "Daddy, why are the soldiers trying to light each other on fire?"
Kahn chuckled and replied, "Because they know they can't. They're doing it to show how strong they are, and that the Red Metal Banner are the bosses here."
Giagan looked at the soldiers with a grimace as they flexed in their armor and saluted to the crowd and asked, "What did they do to become the boss?"
"Well, back when you were a baby, our country used to be broken along the middle," Kahn made a line in the air with his hand, going left to right. "North and south. Each side had different beliefs on how the government should run things. It was only a few years since the first war that split the country before a group from the north half had taken over the government of it. That was the Red Metal Banner. And once they had the north, they came after the south. They wanted to bring the country back together, so its people weren't split in half anymore. They won, and they've been in charge ever since."
A soldier planted his red metal banner into the loose stone of the street and spun in a circle with his flamethrower, eliciting an audible reaction from the crowd. Giagan asked, "How come they use those big flamethrowers anyways?"
"They don't like using guns to fight, like how most western countries do. The war that split our country was fought with guns, so they blamed the deaths of everyone in that war on them. Once they were in control, they outlawed all guns so that they couldn't kill any more people."
"But isn't a flamethrower a gun?"
"It don't shoot bullets," piped up Shiipoh as he pulled the rack of fried chicken from the wok's oil. "It's a loophole they use: guns shoot bullets, so a flamethrower isn't a gun."
Kahn nodded and said, "Its foolish of them to put the blame on guns, though. Flamethrowers can kill people just as well as a gun. They say that they took away all the guns to keep people safe, but if a bad person wanted a gun then it wouldn't be hard for them to get it. And with flamethrowers being so expensive, people are worried they can't defend themselves anymore."
"Don't let them hear you say stuff like that boss, or they'll take you to that building around the corner to speak to the nice people with the big flamethrowers." Shiipoh looked over to Giagan and said, "And no-one ever sees the people who speak to those men again."
Giagan recoiled in childish fear. Kahn held her and said, "That's enough now. Here." Kahn grabbed two wire baskets with cloth liners and loaded them up with pieces of chicken, egg rolls, kabobs, and other fried food and handed it to Giagan. "Head into the crowd and try to sell some things while the soldiers are still here. You too," he said, pushing the other one to Shiipoh. "You got it," he replied, and they both walked into the crowd.
Kahn set more food to cook on a lower temperature, chicken frying in the wok and kabobs on the grill, and took another glance the crowd. Shiipoh's white hat shown amongst the heads, and Giagan could be seen between sets of legs. He retreated behind a curtain where Mihn sat at a table, punching numbers into a calculator and jotting them down on a chart. Kahn cleared his throat to announce his presence, which was returned with a quick look over Mihn's shoulder just enough to see him in her peripheral vision before returning to the math she was working on before it left her mind.
"More soldiers distracting our customers?"
"I have Giagan and Shiipoh stealing them back." Kahn closed the distance between them and put his hand on her shoulder, watching her work. "So. How are we?"
"Well..." Mihn scratched her head and tapped her pencil on the table. "We're... okay."
"Mhmm. Just okay."
"... What do you mean?"
"I mean we're okay. We'll have enough money for our bills, enough to keep food coming in for us and to sell, enough to keep Shiipoh paid, enough if something expensive happens; we're okay." Mihn motioned to her paperwork and said, "See for yourself."
Kahn gave the numbers a cursory glance and asked, "Enough to get Giagan something nice for helping us out when we hit the weekend?"
"Ooo, we're gonna need to cut back on the beef for the kabob's to make up for that," Mihn said with a chuckle.
"Ahh, I knew they wouldn't last long on the menu," Kahn jokingly replied, kissing Mihn on the head. "So, just fine?"
"Mhmm. We couldn't buy out the Red Metal Banner, but we'll be able to leave the country if another war starts."
"You still want to go through with that?"
"Do you not?"
"Oh, I still do; you convinced me it was a good idea, and we need to do what's best for our daughter. But, it's not leaving our home behind that worries me, we can set up shop just as easily there, it's having to go somewhere new, learn a new language, and adapt to a new society, that kind of stuff. It won't be easy for us, especially Giagan."
"We wouldn't be alone there, Kahn. Lot's of people from here are emigrating to neighboring countries, either fleeing The Banner or because the war left them broke. Lots of families, like us, so Giagan will have other kids to make friends with."
"I still can't shake the feeling that I'll feel like somewhere I don't belong if it comes to that."
Giagan tapped her pencil on the table and said, "Better to be alive in somewhere you don't belong than at home in the middle of a war, I say."
"Here's hoping one doesn't start then." Kahn patted Mihn's shoulder and headed back outside, and she returned to her task.
The crowd had dissipated, and the soldiers returned to their duties, a few still standing on a street corner. Shiipoh and Giagan counted up what they earned as Kahn pulled out the food he had set to cook and asked, "Anything good?"
"Yeah!" replied Giagan with glee. "Seeing the soldiers perform must have made everyone hungry. A few of them even gave us a nice tip." Giagan pointed to two of the remaining soldiers who were eating pieces of chicken and chatting amongst each other with their metal masks flipped up on top of their heads.
Kahn smiled and spoke up, pointing at the same soldiers and saying, "Take a look at them, dear. Let me tell you something your uncle that fought in the wars would say: 'No matter what they may do, how they may act, or how willing they are to hurt and kill, the person on the other side of the battlefield, and on the other side of the mask they may wear, is always still another person.' Those soldiers might look big and mean behind all that armor and fire, but they're still just humans doing their job, and their job is keeping people like us safe, so we should show them respect, and be honored when they're kind enough to give back to us like how they have with you."
Giagan smiled and handed the money to Kahn and asked, "If being a soldier like they are is cool, why aren't you one?"
Kahn ruffled Giagan's hair and said, "Because I have you and your mother to take care of."
Giagan turned to Shiipoh and asked, "What about you?"
Shiipoh wiped his hands off with a towel and said, "Hey, where would you guys be without me, now?" He chuckled and flexed his skinny arms, saying, "You think I got what it takes, though? Walking around all big-like, stomping around in heavy boots and spraying bad guys down with fire?" Shiipoh stomped around the shop with his arms held out, pantomiming a flamethrower and making whooshing sounds. They all let out a laugh and got back to work, the shop coming back to life with sound as steam flowed into the sky as they prepared more food and called out to potential customers that passed by.