Once the scent of dashairoh leaves had filled the little tea shop, Soryn poured precisely the same amount into both bowls. He returned his hands to his sleeves and waited gravely for Kima to sip her tea and make the ritual noise of appreciation. Only after he had followed suit did he lean back and give her one of his appraising looks.
"So, my friend. Do you know when you will return?" His voice was quiet, the words no doubt carefully chosen. Formal indeed! She was more accustomed to the touch of his mind than the sound of his voice, and she started to worry that he was angry with her.
She glanced over at the small arrangement of psychically resonant stones with the leaf draped artfully over them. Today's display reassured her: yes, there was sorrow, but no desolation or outrage. Kima put her palms flat on the floor in front of her knees in a gesture of equivocation.
"Who can say what the wind will do? Or why? Or when?" Well, if he wanted formal, she could give him formal. That poem was nine hundred years old.
His grin was immediate and startling in its broadness. "Touche! I am rebuked." He brushed his right antenna back over his white hair. "But please! don't think too badly of me. I only wanted to give you a proper send-off." Still, he thought, I hope to see you again soon. When you're my age, friends are more precious than tea. A considering pause. At least a little bit.
He sipped again, and continued thinking to her as he did so. I never thought you'd follow through on this idea of yours, you know. Not really. You seemed happy enough teaching. He set the bowl down nearly empty and added, "I'm glad I was wrong." His eyes twinkled. "I always thought you had it in you to do more."
Her laugh was half nervousness and half relief that he was talking to her normally. Not to mention half uncertainty of what her future now held. It's all Dala's fault! As soon as I told her about wanting to go see the effects of the Gap for myself, she wouldn't leave me alone. That girl's enthusiasm is perfectly terrifying.
She drained her bowl. I'll come visit when I can, I promise. Though... now that I think of it, I don't know if Starfinders even get vacations. She made a disapproving face. It's all somewhat mystical.
She pulled her tablet from her rib pocket and showed him a smiling head shot of a dwarf. Which is funny, since he looks perfectly ordinary. 'Duravor Kreel'. I wonder what made *him* decide he wanted to be a Starfinder.
Abruptly, the dwarf's face was replaced with the grinning mug of an ysoki. It seems she heard me. She laughed. Can't wait for take-off, I bet.
"It seems as though you were unsuccessful."
Her face showed no expression, which put Precious-11 in marked contrast with the ysoki sharing her booth. The splotch above the ratgirl's muzzle turned blue, then pink, then yellow in rapid succession as light strobed around them. When Precious lowered the saturation on her optical inputs, the clarified image showed that Dala was pouting.
"She's such a stick in the mud sometimes!" exclaimed she. She gestured animatedly towards the ceiling. "An entire universe of excitement, weird aliens, and cool new gear to discover -- and she going to spend time 'packing' and 'buying catfood' and 'buying tickets'!" This last apparently offended Dala most greatly, for she seized her glass in a deathgrip and drained its contents in one swallow before adding, "Why can't we just *hijack* a ship and *go*, that's what I want to know!"
A bevy of local, planetary, and Pact laws and regulations immediately spooled through Precious-11's consciousness, then was joined by annotations from various planning subsystems that outlined various technical, tactical, logistical, and social considerations. She was opening her mouth to help her friend with her query when Dala demanded, "What, did you stop?"
After a microinstant's consideration, Precious decided that it would be more efficient to address this and leave the much more involved discussion of space piracy for later. She addressed herself to the nine glasses lined up in front of her, identical in shape and six of them filled with bubbling liquid in subtly different shades of pink. "Only for the duration of your vidcall. Shall I continue?"
Dala waved back at her and, though the rat's eyes were fixed on a waiter halfway across the club, Precious decided that this qualified as an affirmative response. She found that the liquid in the fourth glass had a bitter note that contrasted strongly with the overall sweetness.
"I detect citrus peel, three types of plant seeds, and additional glucose in this sample," she stated once she had drained the glass.
"Yes, but did you like it?" Dala asked this without turning, lest the waiter lose interest in refilling her beverage and disappear back into the crowd.
"It is interesting," Precious responded, because it was. She still wasn't entirely sure what the point of this exercise was supposed to be, but it did provide something for the parts of her mind not presently calculating the most efficient way to seize control of a spacecraft to do.
Dala turned back from emphasizing that, yes, she did in fact want *three* more of the same, thank you very much and would it kill him to get a move on. She threw her paws in the air; the colorful light bounced off the metal one. "Well, we're going to find a drink you actually *like* if it's the last thing I do!" she declared.
Glowshot's vambrace buzzed slightly as Presh was getting up to order another round -- or "experimental group", as she had it -- and the ysoki glanced down. She tapped the small bit of the complex display that had turned lavender with her metal foreclaw, and Shinan's round face popped up on the table in front of her.
"Heya, 'Shot!", the lashunta said cheerfully, then winced. "What, are you in a construction zone or something?"
"Nightclub," she gave back, grinning her truly impressive grin. "I think this might be some sort of post-apocalyp-dustrial group or something." She tweaked a bar on the 'brace and the background noise dropped out. "What's up, buddy?"
"What, like on a date? Listen, this can wa--" Glowshot shook her head, "Nah-nah, nothing like that. Besides, she got up a second ago."
"Oh, well, in that case, I'll just make it quick. Listen, I wanted to try one more time. Glitterbomb and her peeps are really serious about giving you a show. They haven't stopped calling since yesterday, and I really think that they'll give you access to a great new audience of sentients who like their military-grade hardware with a little more style, a little more verve, a little more, you know, sex appeal. I really think this is your shot -- ha! -- at the big time, and so I can't understand why you-- wait, are you listening?"
She hadn't been, and she jerked guiltily back to the call in hand. "Sorry." She tried to play it off. "There's some maraquoi here making out, just like, four of them and they're really going at it. It's distracting. *And* educational." She didn't give him a chance to get back into his spiel. "Listen, Shinan, it sounds great, but I really think that this will pay off *way* better. You'll see." She let him have another dose of the grin. "Trust me." And with that, she cut the call.
Presh wasn't back yet. Oh, well, while she had her 'brace out...
She tapped the key that started recording a message and grinned at the vid-pickup. "Temat! Guess who's coming to Absalom!"
He could just go.
Tematalon-Absalom, S.A.C. Archanni Markindu turned the idea over in his mind.
He had meant to meet Glowshot when she arrived on the station, which would be tomorrow at the earliest. But he'd finished all the work, all the paperwork, all the makework entailed in securing his wanderleave already. He'd packed. He only had one more thing to do on-station until his friend arrived.
He could just... go. Grab a berth on a Parallel Arches supply freighter to wherever in the Armada her layover was and be out among the stars at la--
"Oh! I didn't know you'd still be here!" The rich contralto could have belonged to any of twenty women in this building alone, but a glance over his shoulder showed him Sanallan towing a cart piled with boxes. Her face, too, could have belonged to any twenty women, but the details of her uniform and personal ornamentation declared her his replacement. She was young, but he'd found her a quick study -- if a bit snotty at times. "I'm so sorry, this must be so awkward."
Temat turned to face her, making absolutely sure none of his irritation showed. Here he was trying to have a Moment with the enormity of what he was undertaking, and instead it seemed he was going to be pushed out with his feathers all a-ruffle.
Sanallan, for her part, clamped down on her annoyance almost immediately: he barely had time to register it before he lost the sense of it. Clones of Molima Doravia were not as adept at handling people as Temat's cohort were, but she was, after all, a quick study.
As you can see, you were mistaken. He let his mind voice convey dry amusement. You will no doubt be pleased to know, however, that the suite communicator is in perfect working order.
She flushed, and Temat felt slightly guilty. Really, he must be very out of sorts indeed to needle her like this. The sooner he got off Absalom, the better. He smoothed the feel of his words. I apologize, that was rude. He glanced at the cart she had brought along, letting his eyes say "But so was that" for him. As it happens, I *was* just leaving. The hard-sided case was heavy, but he lifted it off his bed with one hand. It retracted into the wall.
He turned back in the hall and added, I wish you all the best of luck, sister. I know you will be greatly successful here and bring luster to the brand.
"Luster to the brand," she muttered, but he'd already dismissed her from his attention. A small squeep announced that his comm had established the call he'd asked for. "I'm sorry, my friend, but I'm afraid I'll have to reschedule," he said without preamble. "Unless -- I don't suppose you fancy a short trip off-station, do you?"
"Oh, I know how strange it sounds! To think I would turn my life upside down and put my career on hold for who-knows-how-long at the word of a dwarf I've never met. But his response to my letter of inquiry was *quite* enthusiastic. One gets the sense that the Starfinders are accustomed to seizing those opportunities that arise with all their extremities."
Asane touched send on his report. He'd not expected going off-station on no notice to pay off so handsomely. Really, he'd only done it because he was quite fond of Temat and did not want to miss a chance to see him off on his wander. Spotting Jebraxa Alon waiting for a commercial flight to Akiton had been a stroke of purest luck. Now the defector was cooling his heels in transportation detention and AbadarCorp security would soon be on its way to take charge of him. It seemed as though he had tried to smuggle a weapon aboard the transport, oh dear!
He looked up at the scholar, who was trying to explain the decision to leave what sounded like a comfortable existence in the Scholar's Spiral on Castrovel in order to join the chancy Starfinder Society to Temat. For his part, the clone was nodding as though he understood perfectly and making all the right noises to keep her talking. Asane was surprised, and a little disappointed in himself. He'd underestimated the erstwhile hospitality worker, not seen the value in his knack for meeting people.
The ysoki was participating enthusiastically in the conversation, gesticulating and making grand pronouncements about all the wonders they would see and all the cool *stuff* they would get to play with as Starfinders. It was clear that in her mind, they had already joined the society of adventuring researchers and the coming interview with Kima's sponsor was a mere formality. Abruptly, she broke off and brandished a forearm computer, using it to display what looked to Asane like a truly preposterous weapon to her friends.
While the conversation between Kima, Temat, and... Glowshot was lively, however, the fifth person at the table was being as reticent as Asane. He kept waiting for her to join in -- she clearly knew both Kima and Glowshot well -- but she simply continued silently watching.
He leaned towards her. "Hey, you've got cat ears," he observed, putting on his best let's-make-friends smile. "Tell me about that."