Rina and Christian

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[With thanks to Jay for RPing this conversation with me--Maer]

An excerpt from Peripatetica, by M. K. Sebastien, Engr. ret.

Sunday, 29 May 2518
Kuiper Class Ship MakeMake
Outbound for the Rim
15:20 hours, ships time

        We burned through Bernadette’s atmo like the proverbial bat out of hell and after a couple of hours of restlessly checking and rechecking everything, I finally felt secure enough to leave my post and find some coffee to settle my nerves.
        “I’m getting some coffee,” I told the senior engineer. “You want any?”
        JJ barely looked up from his RC cars and just waved me on.
        Fine, I thought. He can get his own damned coffee.
        I encountered no one in the corridor outside. Ditto as I made my way forward through the crew lounge. Good. Call me paranoid, but some of the regular crew made me uneasy. The bosun, Grimes, was a flat-out skank but a cunning one, always looking for the next angle to twist to his advantage, and he hinked me right off the charts. I turned the corner of the passenger lounge for the galley and saw it was occupied by another person I’d rather not mix it up with, if for different reasons. Christian Edge, Registered Companion and currently our steward, looked up from his work and nodded a greeting: Hello.
        I slipped past him with a return nod and opened the proper cabinet for the coffee mugs. They weren’t there. I opened the cabinet next to it. Same result. I swore under my breath. Nothing was as it should be on this boat, from the way the senior crew carried out their duties to the way they maintained their creature comforts—haphazardly and with little thought beyond their own convenience.
        “They’re all being washed, I’m afraid,” Christian said quietly.
        I found the glasses and chose the thickest-walled one as the least likely to shatter and got myself some of that coffee. The glass went hot and it chased the chill from my fingers. I took a sip.
        In the week since Christian hired on, the coffee was always fresh and never allowed to perc down to sludge on the plate. A blessing. The food he managed to put in front of us was better than expected, considering what he had to work with. I leaned against the counter to drink my coffee and watched him prepare the next meal.
        “What’s that you’re working on?” I asked him over the rim of my glass. “Plumbers’ putty?”
        “The mind is a funny thing,” Christian said, shrugging. A handsome man by any standards, he made the gesture look elegant. “Often, you can trick it. What the eye sees, the mind believes. If you shape and color protein paste correctly, people are more likely to believe it tastes how they think it should.”
        “It’s not my eyes, but my tongue I’m worried about. Even though you’ve turned out the tastiest fake chicken I’ve ever had.” This was the longest exchange we’d shared so far and I felt myself warming to him. Careful. The Lieutenant had been handsome … I suppressed a twitch. I moved over to the range where Christian stood and eyed the protein. “That doesn’t look like what we’ve been having. What’s it gonna be?”
        “Eventually?” Christian’s hands worked the paste, making bite-sized pieces. “I’m working on a soup. I have a bit of real chicken bullion for it. My hope is to shape the paste into something akin to chicken, and then add it to the water and bullion.” He pointed at the stock pot steaming gently on the burner.
        “Sounds good,” I said, thinking it did, actually. “I’d kill for some mushrooms and green onions to go with it.” I drained my glass and set it aside. I watched him a minute more. He was comfortable with silence, I saw, and didn’t mind an audience while he worked. I thought of Raven and Sarah and how both were accomplished in the many aspects of the Life, but I had never seen either lift a finger in the galley beyond making tea or instant ramen. “Is that where you learned how to cook? At the Companion Academy?”
        He chuckled.
        “What’s so funny?” I asked.
        “That might be one of the worst-kept secrets on this ship.” He looked up at me with a wry grin. “It isn’t an Academy so much as a Temple. But, yes. Often we cook…they cook for their clients.”
        “‘They’? Aren’t you still one of them?”
        Christian raised a brow and waved a hand around the dingy galley.
        “I guess it’s an improvement,” I said, meaning it. “At least you aren’t selling yourself for a chance to cook. Nothing against Companions, personally, but I could never do it.”
        “You’re from the Rim?”
        Shit. I’d said too much. Time to hedge.
        “Recently, yes.”
        I grabbed my glass and went back to the brewer, putting some distance between us. It wasn’t much, but it made me feel better. Realizing how it must have looked, I turned around and held the coffee carafe up. “You want some?”
        “No, thanks,” he said. He kept on shaping the paste as if nothing were wrong. “I’ve run into that attitude quite a bit, on the Rim. I won’t argue it, though.”
        Did he just agree with me? Or was he just being polite? The line of his back held no answers, and his shoulders were hidden by his hair. I swallowed some coffee and made amends. “I’m not looking to argue. I’m just saying I couldn’t do what you did for a living. It’s…complicated.” Damn, but what was it about the man that made me want to share confidences? I stopped before I gave anything else away and turned the conversation back to him. “What made you decide to become a Companion? It’s not a career someone chooses on a whim.”
        “You are enrolled at the age of twelve, given over to the Guild,” he explained easily. He dropped the first of the shaped chunks into the stock pot, giving it a stir. He tapped the spoon on the rim and set it aside. “For many, it is a chance to escape crippling poverty. For me? It was tradition.”
        “Twelve.” Dear God. “Family tradition?”
        He added the rest of the chunks to the pot, along with the bullion and the few paltry spices the galley had to offer, and I studied him from where I stood. He was tall, his honey blonde hair waving at shoulder length, with fine-boned but masculine features. His fingers were long to go with the rest of him, manicured and supple. He worked with his sleeves rolled up, exposing fair skin unblemished by sunlight or scars, and lithe muscle rippled beneath its surface. By all accounts, he was absolutely stunning and no doubt the other women on this boat dreamt every damn night of bedding him. Looking at him only made me want Mike, hard, and I squelched it.
        Stop. Get a grip. Think of something else.
        “Could I ask you a question?” I managed, when I got myself in hand.
        “Please, do.” Christian nodded, and put the spices away.
        “Why are you here?” He wasn’t taking on clients as far as I could see, and his salary as a cook and steward was a drop in the bucket compared to what he could be pulling down in cushier surroundings. Christian paused, considering it and gave me a wan smile.
        “Right now, this is the best place I can be.”
        He shook his head.
        “I’m sorry,” he said. “There are some things I need to keep private.”
        I can recognize a rebuff when I hear it, and I backed off. “I was rude. I’m sorry.” I drained my glass and busied myself getting a refill. “I just have a hard time understanding how a drop-dead gorgeous Companion is shipping out with this scurvy lot, when by all accounts he could be somewhere much better. But,” I added. “Everyone’s got a past they’re running from. I get that. Is dinner going to be the same time as yesterday?”
        He glanced down at his hands and smiled, and I saw I hadn’t fooled him for a gorram minute. As if I ever had a chance of that happening. He’s a Companion, dumbass. He reads people for a living. What he said next only confirmed it.
        “Would you like me to bring it to you in the engine room? You seem dedicated to your labors.”
        “Thank you.” Read me like a book. Might as well acknowledge it. “I’d like that very much. If it’s not too much trouble.”
        “It isn’t a long walk at all. You’re very welcome.”
        “Thank you. Crowds make me nervous.”
        “No need. Crowds aren’t my favorite, either. Parties were always my least favorite aspect of the job.”
        “No job’s perfect. There’s always something wrong with it. Speaking of which,” I pulled a face and pushed off the counter. “There’s something aft I have to finick with. I’ll see you later.” I stowed the glass in the dish rack, and made my way to the engine room, thinking it over. Clammed right up as to why he’s here. Interesting. And if I don’t get that containment shield reinforced, interesting won’t even begin to cover it… I mentally discarded half a dozen hacks between the galley and the engine room, and sighed. Something would come to me.
        Soon, I hoped. Soon.

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