A: You mean, “Hello.”
A: You mean, “Hello.”
For the first time, the dark-haired woman showed an emotion besides distant amusement. One eyebrow raised slightly, and her lips pursed. The rest of the crew’s responses weren’t nearly as subtle. They turned abruptly and stared disconcertedly at each other as if unsure what to do. Even Kith forgot his anger – at least, he stopped looming over me and stomped closer to the screen. He tapped the same section of the wall that Mor had hit earlier. A rectangle of light appeared.
“It is on,” he stated in an edged voice, glaring at the solid white rectangle – clearly unimpressed. I managed to turn my chuckle into a cough. Not quickly enough apparently. Either that, or he considered the diversion over and was ready to yell at me again.
“Raz, what station?” Metz asked calmly.
A moment of silence answered her. He must have already clicked off.
“A waste of time,” Kith growled, reaching out to tap the wall once more.
“Screen, display the station Raz has playing,” the dark-haired woman called out. I blinked. I’d been wondering why someone didn’t call Raz back and ask. Her way was better.
The instant she finished talking, the screen darkened to the blackness of space, broken by several swirls of light. An intergalactic map. In front of it, a fashionably dressed Ialuan spoke directly to the camera while gesturing to different areas of the map. As she did, each area she pointed out emerged from the map to form a holographic image of the area.
“…disappeared on established trade routes to and from the Riyoon galaxy. And while only 2 bodies have been recovered, I.S. detectives believe that the disappearances are linked.”
Low, muttered questions and exclamations drowned out the Ialuan newscaster as the image behind changed to several Ialuan women and men modeling the latest fashions.
“Screen, display the most informative written article on the disappearances in the Riyoon galaxy,” Kith ordered intently. I raised both eyebrows at his order and hoped their screen was better at judging what was informative than the ones I’d used before.
The rumblings died down as the article appeared on the screen. The crowd of crew members shifted closer until they formed a visual wall. I could read the headline, but that was it. That was enough to make me very nervous.
Riyoon Slave Trade Reopened? 2 Dead 27 Missing
27 missing? How could there be 27 missing? I stood quickly in a vain attempt to read over the crew’s shoulders. Nope. Straining in vain to see, I kicked myself for forgetting my compwatch again. Huffing out an annoyed breath, I sat back down and returned to my meal. Or tried to. Even the new flavors couldn’t compete with the mystery at hand. Especially not with the crew’s continued muttering.
Those 3 words together are pretty hard to ignore. But assuming those details were about the 2 bodies they’d found, the mystery became even more baffling.
Why didn’t they ask the deceased who’d killed them? That was Deathwalking 101 – our original purpose and still our number one duty. It was also the number one reason for the decrease in murders over the last century. You had to be pretty creative not to give the person you’re killing some clue to who killed them.
As Dad scooped eggs out of the pan, Matt eyed the remainder with a calculating eye. He knew he’d eaten a massive pile already, but he still felt hollow. He reminded himself that there was toast waiting on the table and restrained himself to a third of the remaining eggs and bacon. There was always the chance that Mom and Sarah wouldn’t want any more.
He set the plate on the table and added two pieces of toast before he sat down. They were golden and heavy with butter. He spooned a bite of eggs onto a corner and took a bite with a loud crunch followed by an mm of pleasure. Similar sounds chorused around the table, broken only by the occasional scrape of a chair as someone went back for more. With each bite, the gray light grew and warmed to a rich gold.
When he’d consumed the last crumb on his plate (and checked to be sure that was no more left), Matt wrapped his hand around his stomach and leaned back with a contented groan. The first serving had finally made it to his belly, and he was feeling pleasantly full. Closing his eyes, he pictured going back to bed and sighed wistfully. Not today. Around him, the happy chewing sounds continued, but soon enough, everyone would be finished. And the fields were waiting.
Groaning internally, Matt opened his eyes, picked up his plate, and carried it over to the basin. There were no scraps to scrape off, so he set the plate down, picked up the kettle, and started pumping. When it was full, he shifted the empty skillet aside and put the water on to boil. He mouthed his silent thank you to the fire and then nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand landed gently on his shoulder.
“Thanks, Matt,” his mother said as she leaned around him to set down her own plate. “I’ll leave the dishes to you and Sarah. Join us in the fields as soon as you can.”
“Yes, Mom!” Matt perked up at the unexpected reprieve.
“No dawdling.” Her voice was stern, but her lips curved affectionately as she squeezed his shoulder. Matt grinned back.
A: My life is blunt!
A: I have no function! No percentage!
B: Percentage? Of what? Do you need help with math? There’s a button on your calculator that-
A: -No! I’m talking about my existence! My viability!
B: …your life?
A: Yes! It’s rounded.
B: You mean you’re well-rounded? Or it’s a circle.
A: No! It’s… worn. [B raises his eyebrows.] It’s… dull.
B: Oohh. You’re bored.
A: …what? No, I am person.
B: What? Oh. No. Bored. B-o-r-e-d. Your life doesn’t entertain or amuse you. It’s no fun.
A: But my life is fun! Very fun! I have fun for keeps. Endlessly
B: …ok…then, what’s the problem?
A: My life is blunt! Worn! [At B’s bemused expression, A let’s out a frustrated exclamation, pulls out a smart phone, and does a quick search.] Pointless! It’s pointless!
A: So what should I do?
B: Don’t teach.
I stared blankly for a moment. Restraint? She pointed at the tiny bit of food I’d scooped up.
“Oh!” I was feeling slower all the time. “I’ve never had this before.”
“I see,” Kith said reprovingly. “You may get a new meal this once, but in the future, I suggest you pick foods that you know you will eat.”
“What?” I blurted. I had lost track of the conversation somehow.
“In space, we cannot afford to waste food,” he explained slowly. I closed my eyes and took a long, deliberate breath. He acted like I was 5 years old.
“I do not want more food.” I replied in the same slow, condescending tone. “The Kaihmi do not waste food.” Ever. Nomadic life simply did not allow it. Or rarely. Aunt Apikalia never allowed it.
“You are not eating.” His tone got worse if that was possible.
I held it in. I don’t know how, but I kept from snapping the obvious response (Because you’re talking to me!). But I didn’t dare try to say anything else. If I opened my mouth, that’s what would come out. I was sure of it.
Jaw locked tightly enough to twitch, I turned back to my food. My instinct was to shovel a huge bite into my mouth as a kind of “There! I’m eating!” But I was not going to let him ruin my meal. I was going to enjoy this new food, and if he didn’t like it, he could go watch someone else eat.
Deliberately, I separated another of the bits I hadn’t tried yet and took a bite. Like before, I held it in my mouth a moment to analyze the flavor and composition, and then, I slowly started to chew.
Kith growled (a sound that reached right down to the base of my spine and activated the “run” instinct in my legs). Ignoring both gave me a burst of childish pleasure as I savored the flavors. And another as I took another purposefully small sampling. His growing irritation was like an approaching storm front, a perceptible front of energy at my side. Since I was fairly sure he wouldn’t hurt me (considering the Captain’s reaction to my minor cut), his annoyance added flavor to the meal. Especially since (and maybe I really was 5 again), he had started it.
“He is eating, Kith.” The woman sounded either amused or sympathetic. I couldn’t really tell.
“He is picking it apart,” Kith snarled. “It is not meant to be tasted this way. Then, he dares to say he does not like it.”
“No.” The word snapped out before I could stop it. “You assumed I did not like it.”
“You won’t eat it.”
“I’m trying to!” I half rose to face him. “I might have a chance if you’d stop interrupting me!”
It was harder to ignore my legs when he growled this time. Maybe because I could see him leaning over me. Or because his eyes suddenly seemed metallic and cold.
“He has a point.” The woman’s voice was a calm, cool breeze. We both spun towards her, and my jaw dropped open. She hadn’t moved – she was leaning on the table as casually relaxed as she’d been at the start.
“He was eating. You interrupted.” She smirked up at him in a friendly way, not even blinking when he loomed over her.
“That is not eating!” His heavy fist landed on the table, and the scarred carbon shook. “It is a whole. Not little parts.”
“True.” She nodded. “But I imagine he’s never seen or heard of some of those parts before.” She looked at me, and I blinked and then nodded slowly. “If he wants to recognize them later, he’d need to try each one, wouldn’t he?”
“But that ruins the dish!” Kith’s expression wasn’t simply angry. He acted as if tasting each part instead of the whole was somehow offensive. Like an insult. Maybe even sacrilege.
“Nat! Mor!” A disembodied voice boomed and echoed through the room. I jumped like a startled cat.
“They’re not here, Raz.” The dark-haired woman took the sudden sound as calmly as Kith’s anger. “Try the-“
“-Turn on the screen! You have to see this!”
With newly energized steps, Matt rushed to the kitchen. His dad was standing in front of the old stove with a wooden spoon in one hand and a plate in the other. Matt’s mouth watered as he watched his dad scoop a large pile of yellow eggs and crisp bacon onto the plate. Dad turned with the plate, caught sight of Matt and grinned.
“Right on time,” he said and jerked his head toward the pan. “Grab a plate before it’s all gone.”
More than happy to comply, Matt hurried to the cupboard while Dad carried his plate to the little kitchen table. Plate in hand, Matt turned to the stove and nearly genuflected when he saw the huge cast iron skillet filled with eggs and bacon. Mom had cooked enough for an army! Grinning with anticipation, Matt reached for the wooden spoon. When his hand closed around it, he felt the heat that had seeped into the wood and paused. Glancing down at the burner and the flickering light beneath it, he bit his lip for a millisecond.
“Thank you for cooking the food,” he mouthed soundlessly.
When there was no response, he sighed with relief and eagerly started scooping eggs and bacon onto his plate. He had to force himself to stop and leave some for Mom and Sarah – he felt like he could eat the entire pan of food and still be hungry!
In two steps, he was sitting at the table and eating his first bite of hot, juicy bacon (cooked to the perfect amount of crispness). Matt moaned with sheer bliss and shoved in another piece. For an unknown length of time, Matt’s world narrowed down to delicious bacon and bite after bite of light, fluffy eggs.
As the food on his plate dwindled, he slowly became aware of Sarah sitting across from him and eating with the same single-mindedness. The table clunked hollowly as Mom set a plate of toast in between them.
“Get some toast, and don’t be afraid to go back for seconds,” she said, settling behind her own plate. “We’ll need the energy.”
Squeaking wood almost drowned out her last sentence as Dad took her at her word, pushed his chair back from the table, and headed back to the stove. Matt was right behind him.