[OC] What can be said of Human’s? IV Part 5: Time Together
Note: Oh man, writing this was… well it was way harder than I thought it was going to be, and truth be told I'm not even sure about the quality here. It was originally gonna be way longer, but for my own sanity I split it into two parts and got this out. Also for now I will be updating when I can, since these parts only seem to be getting longer and longer the more I write into it, so I apologize in advance for any long periods of time where I can't update. There isn't much action here, but I hope what I've written is enjoyable. As always, Happy Reading!
What happened after?
What do you mean?
I mean after the ending of your mission, what went on between you and David afterwards?
I reported the completion of the job to the client and we went our separate ways.
[She gives an amused smile] What, did you expect that we all of the sudden fell in love and were inseparable after the mission?
Perhaps, given your obvious attraction to him I assumed some effort was made between the two of you to stay within close proximity to one another.
[She sighs] Perhaps such a situation would occur between other individuals, but for David and I, it was something more… subtle. Do not get me wrong, we stayed in contact after the job, mostly on David’s part at first, but there was a period of time where that was all we did, talk to one another through messages sent through the ICS.
May I ask what was discussed?
Nothing really, simple small talk for the sake of talking. Well… that is what it was at first, but eventually we started to delve into deeper subject to talk about.
Philosophy, politics, etcetera, whatever people tend to talk about when there is nothing else going on.
From what you have said of David, I cannot really picture such a conversation was taken very seriously on his part.
Oh it wasn’t, at least he tried to make it sound that way. Human’s have a very casual method of conversation, but David was of a league of his own when it came to phrasing his insights so casually they almost pass over entirely. Of course, as time passes you tend to get used to such things, and with David there was a certain.. Subtlety to his speech that became apparent.
His casual references to things I did not even notice, or even avenues of thought I had not considered. He himself did not phrase it in such a profound tone either, but the way he spoke of such things in brevity led me to believe that he was far sharper than he let on. Of course, he was not perfect in that regard, there were many a phrase or implication that he would miss entirely that were commonplace to me. Perhaps it was just a case of cultural clash, as what is counted as subtle in one species can be exaggeration in another. In our case, we seemed to fill in each others gaps, which is perhaps why I remained in contact with him for so long.
But something must have brought you two together. From the way you speak now this sort of relationship must have taken months to develop.
You would be correct in that regard, Keeper, we did not see each other in person for months after eliminating Rau and Palladius, and the one thing that did bring us together was in fact another job. It was a simple protection job, contracted from one of the many traders that heard of what I had done to Rau. Such a reputation gained me some notoriety among the larger players in the Poros Systems, but with that came an increased amount of requests from individual traders directly. It didn’t pay well, not at all, but simple jobs like that kept my conscience clean for a while. It was also fairly boring, but after dealing with Rau, I was prepared to take on a few… low effort jobs if only to have some peace of mind, and to fade off of the radar for a little while.
And what of David? What was his reputation after dealing with Palladius?
Largely the same really. While there certainly some notoriety to being a human those days in the Poros Systems, the one who had cause the most noise on Cerebi and Engane had been me. There were rumors that I had a partner, but seeing as I was trying my best to keep myself scarce, there was nothing to confirm such a thing. I never informed David of my activities either, and he never found the need to talk of his own as well. We kept work out of our discussions, though the occasional tale of our past excursions would pop up from time to time. It was by complete serendipity that we ended up signing onto the same job.
Perhaps he was of the same mind as you, taking a number of low effort jobs in order to avoid any unwanted attention.
You could be right about that, but regardless, it was a pleasant surprise to see him on the trader’s ship then. He was all silly smiles of course, which I suppose was one thing that was endearing about him.
Given your luck involving David, I suspect this job had some sort of unexpected twist to it?
On the contrary, no, this job went smoothly. We encountered virtually no hostility while the trader conducted his business. There was a lot of down time in that particular job, down time enough for us to talk face to face for a while.
What did you discuss?
Much of the same really, though being face to face made things more… intimate than before. Keeping contact over the ICS was nice, but there is nothing quite like face to face communications. The little emotive quirks you notice, the slight eye movements and even body language, it gives you a complete sense of somebody.
What did you sense of David?
That he was as casual as I assumed him to be. At times it made him seem far more lazy than he actually was. Were it not for his focus during our assault against Rau, I would have kept such an impression of him. Instead, I found the casualness of his demeanor to be soothing in a way. I could trust him to be on point when I needed him too, but also relaxed enough to where he was pleasant to talk to outside of work.
I imagine a simple protection job gave you two plenty of time to talk.
[She smiles] It did, though like I said, we didn't talk about anything all that groundbreaking.
Ah, he requested a date on Engane had he not? When did he call in that favor?
I was just about to get to that, actually.
Our client had led us to Tlona, a small planet off to the edges of of the Poros Systems. There was only a small outpost located on the planet, but it was bustling enough to hold a bar for the intrepid traveler. Our job finished, we decided to spend some time on the surface before we parted ways. It was by my suggestion, surprisingly enough to even myself, but David showed no signs of objection as I asked him. He merely gave me his usual silly smile and led the way.
“So Lilia, what's in store for you after this?” He asked, drinking a light blue substance called a Shock Tonic. There was no whiskey on this planet, though David didn't seem all that bothered by that fact.
I was drinking the same, feeling a slight buzz to my lips as I sipped the drink. “More of the same really, don't think that I'm ready for anything too exciting right now.”
He swirled his drink. “Yeah I know the feeling. That whole thing with Rau was a bit more… explosive than I expected.”
“Downplaying that little scuffle aren’t we?”
He chuckled, “Says you, but speaking of Rau… you still owe me a date.”
I spread my arms out to the bar around us, “What, this doesn't count?”
“Nah,” he sipped his drink, “You invited me here remember? If I was doing the asking we’d be in a place more… suiting to the mood.”
“One could say you're implying I have no sense of atmosphere,” I said with a coy smile.
He returned one of his own, “Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. I can say that I’d be better at it though.”
“Could you? Well then David, regale me with what this date would entail.”
“Let’s see… first, we take a trip up to Zoloke.”
“The resort planet?”
“The one and the same. We spend a day going taking in the place, I heard there is this nice art exhibit that recently opened there we could take a look at.”
I traced my finger around the rim of my glass, “Sounds interesting, any idea what kind of pieces they’ll be showing?”
He scratched his head gave a small chuckle, “Fenician glass sculptures, said to be exhibiting the raw nature of their potent emotions.”
“Sounds like a line from an advertisement.”
“That’s because it is.”
I snickered a bit, “How honest. Do you happen to know the artists featured in this exhibit?
“Ah well I dunno much about that, just seemed cool is all.”
“Simple minded are we?”
“Hey now, I’ve just got other things to focus on is all.”
A sly smile tugged at my lips, “Well I never said it was a bad thing now did I? Anyways, what will be doing after?”
“Dinner, there is this place overlooking the Thoth Sea. Breathtaking sight really, shame that no one cooks here though, would really add to the atmosphere.”
“Cooking? That’s handled by machines is it not?”
“It is, but it's a little boring is all I’m saying. Not quite the same as having someone else cook for you, or serving you your meal for that matter.”
“Can’t say that I am familiar with such a feeling.”
“You and everyone else in the Poros Systems it seems. Not that I can really blame you, it is more efficient, just a bit… lacking.”
I nodded along to what he was saying, though I couldn’t quite relate to the statement all that much. Cooking by hand, honestly, had been considered somewhat beneath most people at the time since it was just a simple task to get food from a dispenser. Humans had yet to expand upon the practice since they still kept themselves somewhat isolated, but the longing in David’s voice was enough for me to consider that I was missing something.
“This all sounds wonderful really, but Zoloke is hardly the place to go on some casual date. I mean, the entry fee alone is around 50,000 credits is it not?” I said.
“Well I never said I could afford it, just that it’d be nice is all,” he said with his trademark silly grin. To which I could only shake my head at, though I could not hide the bemused look on my face.
“Instead, here’s what I propose,” He leaned forward, “As luck would have it, Tlona is not too far from Yvolt, where I’ve got a safe house set up for when things get a bit heated from my activities. And considering the current situation right now… I think it's time for a bit of cool down.”
“Why is that? No one I know was even aware that you were there.”
“Yeah but some I know do… and let's just say that they were none too happy I played a part in getting rid of a business associate.”
“I see… but how does this involve me?”
“Well, I've got some stuff stored up there in case I get a little homesick. Some food from home, a few movies, even managed to fashion myself a little kitchen there. If you were interested, I could treat you to dinner, maybe a little wine and I could showcase some human… art for you.”
“The way you said art makes me a little suspicious.”
“Well some would call it art, others would call it a waste of time.”
“And which what do you think of it?”
“I just think it's nice to watch.”
I smirked at him, “Good to know your simple mindedness is universal.”
He shrugged, “Hey if it's cool it's cool, doesn't matter where it came from.”
“I can appreciate that sentiment… fine, I’ll take you up on that offer.”
He perked up at that, “You will? Great, just let me know when you want to stop by and I’ll get everything set up.”
“How does now sound?”
“Now?” He said, for once actually at a loss at what to say.
“Yeah, I’ve got nothing important coming up and it is as you say, it’s time to go silent for a time,” I leaned back in my chair, “Besides you don’t have a ship of your own right? You probably need a ride up there.”
“Well I mean… if you insist,” he said, shrugging and smiling to himself as he finished off his drink.
From there we made our way to Yvolt, a trip that took about a day or so a planet that somehow managed to present an even smaller level of activity than than the small station on Tlona, which made is the perfect hideaway from someone like David to go to should he find the need to make himself scarce for a while. Said hideaway was little bigger than a standard two bedroom apartment, and beyond the stockpile of human paraphernalia, kept itself relatively barren of any sort of decorations. To put it into human terms, it was a spartan sort of layout, but oddly enough there was still an air of homeliness to the place, mostly generated from the warm look on David's face as he looked through his pile of human goods.
“So this is it huh?” I said.
He sifted through of his storage containers, coming up with a box of what looked to be pale sticks and a jar of some sort of red substance, “I know it doesn’t look like much, but the proof is in the pudding,” he took another look at the items in his hands, “or pasta in this case. Anyways take a seat, it's gonna take a little bit to prep everything.” He motioned over to the larger part of the opening area, where a couch sat facing a blank wall. There was a holoprojector hanging from the ceiling, and a small panel on the wall with a small slot and screen. Next to the panel was al cabinet, filled with a number of small cases and what I guessed to be books that were haphazardly stacked next to one another.
“So what is all of this?” I asked, peering into the cabinets.
He looked up from me as he chopped up a small white… object and slid the pieces into a pot, “Hm? Oh that? Those are just some novels and vids from home, you’re welcome to take a look if you find anything interesting.”
“I would, but the Translator doesn’t translate written script, unfortunately.”
“Ah, well just give me a sec and I’ll help you out.”
He resumed cutting up a number of what I assumed to be vegetables. There was also a mass of red, ground up meat to his side, and a small sizzling sound could be heard coming from the pot sitting on a small platform on his counter. I had seen raw crops in my travels, but due to the current processed nature of food, beyond its presence in the fields I didn’t pay them much mind. I was more likely to see food cooked than raw, so the atmosphere around David at that moment was somewhat… alien to me. Yet, at the same time I felt a sense of comfort emanating from his actions as he cut up the ingredients in front of him. It was easy to get drawn into, even if he wasn’t speaking as he did so. There was the question of how he preserved such ingredients for so long, but human preservation technology must have reached a point to where storing fresh ingredients for prolonged periods of time was a rather simple affair. Regardless, there was a certain appeal to the practice that now made itself known to me.
It took him about fifteen minutes or so to put all the ingredients in the pot, resulting in a sauce that steadily simmered. The room was filled with the aromas of herbs and spices I was unfamiliar with, but it was pleasant. David joined me in the living room soon afterwards, wiping his hands on a small cloth.
“Right then… man it’s been a while,” He clicked his teeth, “Well I dunno, what are you feeling? Something romantic, something adventurous, something funny?”
I tapped my chin, “Let’s go with something adventurous.”
He smirked at that, “Awesome, lets see… oh this is a good one.”
David pulled out a thin case from the cabinet, it’s artwork on the cover depicting a crashed spaceship of unknown make overgrown by vegetation, “Raiders of the Fallen Ark, one of my favorites as a kid.”
“What sort of ship is that on the cover?”
“Oh that? Belongs to an ancient race called the Precursors, entirely made up so I wouldn’t put much stock in it.”
“Ah… seems like an odd decision to make up an ancient alien race when there is actual otherworldly sentient beings present.”
“Yeah well this was made really early in the period of human space exploration, didn’t know what exactly was out there yet so there might have been just a smidge of speculation.”
“Creation of an entire species seems more like a smidge.”
He laughed, “You got me there, but like I said, I don’t sweat the details. It’s fun to watch.”
He pulled a small chip from the case and slid it into the panel, walking back over the counter and procuring a tall, dark green bottle and two glasses that let out a ringing sound as they clinked against each other.
“You strike me as a wine type,” David said, placing the bottle and glasses down on a stand next to the couch.
“Wine?” I asked with a bit of concern, “This isn’t like your whiskey is it?”
He chuckled as he poured a red liquid out of the bottle and into the glass, “No, this one is a bit… smoother than that.”
He handed me a glass after swirling it in his hand for a bit. I took it, looking at the liquid with some caution given me previous experience with human alcohol, but eventually sipped at it curiously. The taste was both sweet and bitter, with the alcohol more of an aftertaste than anything immediate. It was… pleasant.
“This is good,” I said, with more surprise than appraisal.
“Looks like I was right,” he said with a smile, then, putting on a dignified face and mimicking what I assumed was somewhat of a posh accent said, “This is the finest Bordeaux, fermented from the finest grapes in the region straight from Earth.”
“Wouldn’t it be? No this is just a two buck chuck I bought at a supermarket before I left,” he said with a laugh, “That kind of wine costs a small fortune.”
I swirled the glass in my hand, “Well regardless, this is a fine drink, far better than the last one you gave me.”
“Probably also helps that we’re not planning to kill anything later today.”
“Well I was planning to kill someone that day, you didn’t make that decision till later.”
“You’d be right, but when you’re in our kind of work… it always sits at the back of your mind you know?”
I sipped the wine, “You aren’t wrong…”
“Anyways, enough about work, we’ve got about two hours to let the sauce simmer, which gives us enough time to watch a movie.”
And watch the movie we did. The movie was more fast paced than I had anticipated, making the two hours length it took up feel like half that. It was a rather simple movie, telling the tale of a team of down on their luck adventurers finding an ancient crashed spaceship that they decide to raid for any pieces of salvage they could sell. Of course, things were not as they seemed, and the group instead finds themselves entangled with a secret organization hoping to harvest the ancient technology for their own purposes. It was a movie with a predictable plot and acting that was… functional, but David looked at it with a glimmer in his eye that I fully understood. It was much like the look I had when I listened to the stories of my elders as a child, and perhaps for David the movie was the same. Something to fill his head with grand visions, grand ideals.
“So, what did you think?” he asked.
I smirked at the question, particularly at how hopeful it sounded, “Well it’s a little dated by modern standards, the acting was spotty in some places, and I’m pretty sure half the feats performed in the movie are physically impossible by even a Jorakin.”
“But… it was enjoyable,” I added.
He smiled at that, “Glad it was.”
“Yes, it reminds me of a lot of the stories I heard as a child actually, from some of my kind that returned from their Pilgrimages.”
David turned in his seat, facing me, “Really? If you don’t mind may I hear one of them?”
I picked up my glass, filled now with white wine instead of the red we finished halfway through the movie. At that point I was about as lightheaded as I was back at Bliss, but this time it was in a more… soothing environment. “I suppose I could spare a tale or two, what would you prefer to hear?”
“Anything really, you know my standards.”
“No standards at all can just as hard to please as high expectations you know.”
He flashed me a grin, “Try me.”
I gave him a playful scowl and sipped my wine, “Well, this is a tale from one of my mentors, Selenia. Before she returned to Agea to begin her instruction in the psionic arts, she served in a position that was quite similar to mine. Of course, the difference between me and her was that she decided to work with her fellow Nereid in forming a team of sorts.”
“Isn’t that unusual for most Nereid?”
“It is, usually we keep ourselves distant from one another to get the full effect of traveling to unknown lands, but in this case Selenia and her band decided it would be best for them to stick together. As you can imagine, four Nereid makes for quite the formidable force especially when they specialized in psionic combat.”
“Well it certainly doesn’t sound fun to go against.”
“Imagine four of me, but infinitely more experienced and skilled.”
“Now you’re just selling yourself short.”
“I wish I was, but Selenia was in a league of her own, as were her compatriots, though for simplicity’s sake I’ll keep the focus on Selenia for now. Needless to say, the four of them built up quite the reputation in the Poros systems as guns for hire, though given their demand they had far more agency in deciding who their clientele would consist of. Rather than the shady merchants that I’ve resigned myself to serving, Selenia’s clients were of a more affluent sort. She and her group were instead hired by a more executive sort. The big players in the Poros Systems, the heads of corporations, prolific scientists, even some Thulus, those were the sort of people that Selenia had to deal with. But, according to her at least, they most enjoyed taking jobs from excavation teams uncovering Faar’Shar technology located throughout the Systems.”
“You mean the Timeless Ones?”
“Yes, it appears they left a number of ruins behind before settling at the center of the galaxy. Most are inert, making reverse engineering of such technology difficult. Still, Faar’Shar artifacts do fetch quite the high price in the markets, which makes these excavations of interest to businessmen and… opportunists alike.”
“You mean pirates?”
“No, just another trader out to make a quick buck. Unfortunately for those attacking any under the protection of Selenia and her crew, that usually resulted in a quick death, all except for this one time.”
“Oh? Do tell,” David said, his eyes locked onto mine.
I took a long sip of the wine and, my face feeling hot both from the alcohol and a sudden sense of embarrassment, I began.
As I said before, Faar’Shar artifacts are a rather expensive commodity in the Systems. One Thulu, Cuthalpa was a rather prolific for her interest in such artifacts, though that interest would extend to other collapsed civilizations as well. Her company, Talpeur, is the most renowned excavation company in Poros Space. Upon the discovery of a Faar’Shar ruin out in the Fringes of Poros space, Talpeur enlisted the help of Selenia and her companions as a security detail. Initial scans of the ruins didn’t detect any beyond what was usually found, inert technology that nobody knew where to even begin with, which was why it was only Selenia and her team that were hired. What no one did anticipate, however, was that someone would use this opportunity as a power grab.
You see, Cuthalpa had a monopoly of sorts on ancient alien artifacts. Even if the intrepid trader was fortunate enough to get their hands on one artifact, generally they’d have to go through Talpeur to get it sold on the market legitimately. This was only emphasized by Cuthalpa’s expansive knowledge of such artifacts, which made her the authority on such a subject. As you would assume, monopolies are not very well liked in the Poros Systems, the obvious ones, at least, and the one that Cuthalpa held over the excavation business did not sit well with the average scavenger. This, in turn, led to the formation of the Scavenger’s Union, a group hoping to push its way into the market of alien artifacts and reduce the influence of Talpeur. An honorable pursuit, if I am to be fair to their ideology, but their execution was lacking. Say what you will about the Thulu’s own harsh methods, but at the very least they are clean about what they do. The Scavenger’s Union was not so clean in their methods, which translated their desire to break Cuthalpa’s monopoly into them conducting numerous assaults on her excavation teams. Such a thing has been done before, of course, but not to the scale that the Scavenger’s Union did. Their raids were too coordinated, too fluid to be anything small time or desperate, they were out for blood, and blood is what they eventually found. Their strikes resulted in the damaging and destruction of many dig sites, all except for Faar’Shar technology, but it was not for lack of trying in that department. Anything else, a fallen civilization on Rattan VI to your recently collapsed kingdom on Tithola IV, would have their histories buried in rubble and ash.
These attacks had, of course, enraged Cuthalpa somewhat due to not only the destruction of a civilization’s history, but also the waste of profits that was a result of the Scavenger Union’s actions. If there was anything Thulu’s loathed it was inefficiency, and Talpeur’s competitor was anything but efficient. Still, the Scavenger Union had not grown from their position as an annoyance for some time, but it was during the excavation on the planet of Hosal that things started to escalate.
That excavation was the one Selenia and her team were in charge of protecting. It appeared that the initial scans of the planet were wrong, as there was an active piece of Faar’Shar technology in the dig site. No one was sure of what it did, but it took the shape of a large monolithic structure with streaks of light running throughout its construction. Regardless, it was going to be worth a lot of money, far more than any inert piece of technology would fetch in the market. Somehow, the Scavenger’s Union must have known about this, arrived at the site soon after its uncovering.
They came in force, carrying behind them the momentum of a Destroyer-class ship. It was an older model, its dilapidated state a result of the haphazard repairs that the Scavenger’s Union must have done in order to make it functional, but its weapons were functional, and that was enough for their purposes. Or it would have been, if not for two factors. The first was that the Faar’Shar ruin was in itself a ridiculously durable structure. If it’s survival over the ravages of time were not enough of a testament to that, it would be the negligent damage that the ruins received upon getting hit by the brunt of the destroyer’s initial barrage. The second was the Faar’Shar artifact itself, which, upon the ruin receiving fire, showed its function. Said function was the activation of a hardlight shield which remained unfazed by the destroyer’s volleys. Given that Selenia and most of the crew were in the ruin by the time the assault started, they were fortunate to avoid any serious losses by the assault. The only issue, however, was that they had no means to fight back against a destroyer save calling for help from their employers. The only issue with that was the fact that any such communications could take days to be received, and days to be responded to, and while the shield was enough to negate the continuous barrage from the destroyer, it did not stop the dropships from landing nearby and deploying a rather sizeable number of troops.
That is where Selenia and her team came in. Since they had already spent time in the ruin it was simple enough to set up ambushes and traps as the influx of troops attempted to infiltrate the compound. This, combined with their considerable psionic capabilities, allowed them to engage with and hold off a majority of their forces for the time that it took for communications to be received. Wave after wave of scavengers attacked day in and day out, their rushes growing more and more desperate the longer they stayed till eventually their assaults slowed from pure attrition. Remnants of failed attacks lay scattered at Selenia’s feet, and while she and her team were barely hanging on towards the end of it all, the destroyer ended up leaving the system before reinforcements form Talpeur arrived.
Such a feat did not go unnoticed of course, and as a result of Selenia’s actions she and her team were offered a position to guard Cuthalpa herself, one that they politely rejected. There was still adventure to be had, they said, and indeed, there was.
“Wow,” David said, his expression indicating that his impression was genuine.
I scratched my head, “She had plenty of other stories to tell, much in the vein of this one, but this is the one I remember the most…” I cupped my glass in my hands, “Truth be told it's probably the one that inspired me to go on a Pilgrimage myself. That sense of adventure and glory… I wanted a taste of it, something that I’d be able to come back and tell stories of my own exploits. But guarding traders and assassinating merchants don’t make for good tales.” I stopped, the bitterness in my voice far thicker than I had expected it to be. “I’m sorry, you must think me foolish to say all of this.”
“Not at all,” David said, a sympathetic look in his eye, “If I’m being honest I’m here for similar reasons.”
He nodded, “You see, I got this idea in my head that whatever was out here was going to be way more exciting than anything I could experience back home. Out here I could be just like the heroes from the movies, or that lone human explorer like Steven Henry writing his own stories. You know he was the first human to make contact with the Thulu’s right? Imagine being him, flying through the void of space, and all of the sudden these large ships appear and surround you, commandeered by giant space squids that can read your mind. Imagine being that isolated from home, in the midst of something so mysterious yet so terrifying…” he grinned, “I wouldn’t know if I was going to piss myself or start dancing from joy. So I set out, leaving behind my post in the military, leaving behind my family, leaving behind everything, all so I could be that adventurer I thought I could be as a kid,” it was his turn to sound bitter now, “but like you said, guarding shady businessmen and killing mercenaries isn’t all that glorious when it comes down to it,” he sipped at his wine, a dark look coming over him.
We were silent for a time, my hands lightly tapping the glass as we ruminated in our own regrets, but David perked up after a time.
“You know… if you think about it, our little exchange with Rau was pretty impressive don’t you think?”
I thought about that for a moment, “Yes, I suppose it was. Two people up against not one, but two power figures and their men and coming out on top? I’d say that does ring of some glory.”
“And you did it to help out people who’d been used and manipulated, that’s a pretty good reason if any.”
I smiled to myself, unsure if I was happy because of the compliment or the lightheadedness caused by the wine. “You could be right… yes, I suppose that is one story I could tell.” A smile tugged at my lips, “A tale of a human foolish enough to tackle a Jorakin off a building.”
“Hey, it worked didn’t it?” He said, chuckling, “Alright, sauce should be done, all I need is to get the pasta ready and you’ll be in for a treat.”
“Confident are we?”
He shrugged, “Gotta be.”
We didn’t say anything more as he prepped the meal, the sound of boiling liquids and the small clinks of cookware against one another filling in the silence. I sipped at my wine, the effects of the previous glasses already wearing off due to my metabolism. David, on the other hand, moved with the wide, exaggerated movements of someone who was a little bit past tipsy. Still, he kept himself stable enough to plate up the food and set it on the table. It was kind of humorous in a way, partially from the… light footedness he displayed and the small, silly grin that was only more endearing from the slight blush on his cheeks.
“And dinner is served,” he said, giving an exaggerated bow.
He pulled out my seat as I made my way to the table, gesturing politely for me to sit. I wasn’t too familiar with the gesture, but it felt fitting for the mood. As I sat down David lit a couple of candles on the tables and turned off the lights, the glow of the small flames serving as our sole source of illumination. Given the relatively barren state of the hideout, it was effective in drawing my attention solely to what was happening at the table, and in turn David, who was currently pouring himself another, smaller, glass of wine.
“After you,” he said, motioning for me to eat.
I took a bite of the pasta, noodles not unfamiliar to me but the taste of the dish was something that I could only describe as… rustic. It wasn’t the best dish I ever ate, but it was… different, though I was not sure if that was due to the distinct human origin of the dish or from the fact that it was handmade, or as close to handmade as I’d ever experienced.
“It’s good,” I said.
“Glad to know, it really doesn’t compare to anything my mother can cook up… but it tastes of home, sometimes you need a little bit of that when you’re out here,” he said, a sad look flashing across his expression only for a second.
“Do you miss it? Human space I mean.”
“I do sometimes, but everyone gets homesick. It is kind of silly though, I came out here to find myself adventure and glory, and yet my thoughts always settle on home.”
“I imagine it gets quite lonely out here for a human.”
“The same could be said of Nereids.”
“Yes, but my kind has never had problems of keeping in touch with one another. We may be sparse, and I may be one of the less sociable members of my species, but they’re always there to lend an ear. You though… to go without seeing a fellow human for how long?”
“Five years… I can’t imagine how that must feel.”
He didn’t respond at first, continuing to eat his meal, acting as if he hadn’t even heard me. Eventually, he put his fork down, tapping on the table as he ruminated over what to say.
“Yeah, it gets a bit lonesome out here,” he finally said, “I kind of thought things would be different really. Somehow or someway I’d find myself a crew or part of a crew exploring the depths of unknown space, discovering new species and new planets, but it seems I was alone in that desire even among my fellow humans. My mother tried to stop me, and even my dad was somewhat hesitant to let me go, and let’s just say when I left it wasn’t on the best of moods. Then I got here, swindled by shady merchants and opportunists alike to the point that I was pretty much broke beyond the gear I came with. A smart man would have returned, smuggled his way back to human space and beg his family for forgiveness, but no, not me. I just had to keep pushing forward. So I sold my services, becoming a freelancer just to keep by in an environment way out of my element. I’ve been beaten, cut, shot, and kicked to the curb more times than I can count, and each time I accrued a little more debt, taking money from whoever seemed to offer, each time getting myself trapped into a web that never seemed to loosen its grip. And… yeah, maybe there are a few more humans out here, for different reasons beyond the whims of some naive kid, but I’ve never run into them. I’ve made a few friends, don’t get me wrong, but… yeah, yeah its lonely.”
He scratched his head, “Sorry, went on kind of a somber rant there, probably the wine talking.”
Silence hung over us once again, a bit heavier this time than the jovial tone from before.
“…so why don’t you go back?”
He smiled again, “I’ve considered that myself actually. I’ve just managed to pay off the rest of my debts, something that took me the full five years I’ve been here, and it’d be the perfect time to head back. Yet… here I am, doing what I’ve always been doing as if it was some sort of trench I can’t pull myself out of,” he scoffed, more to himself than anything, “All because I can’t shake the feeling that there is something out here waiting for me, something to justify the amount of time I’ve stayed here. Some kind of last, grand adventure, to make it all worth it.”
It was my turn to smile now, “I know what you mean, actually.”
“Well maybe not to the extent that you’re feeling it, but I too could just as easily head back home. I’ve no ties here beyond some acquaintances. Much like you, I stay because I still haven’t felt like I’ve experienced all I want to yet. I don’t want to end my Pilgrimage on such a low note, but… there isn’t much I can do now.”
“You sure about that?” David asked, mood now noticeably brighter for some reason.
I only gave him a questioning look.
“Hear me out here, you and I seem to be having the same problem. A desire for something beyond the… well less than adventurous lifestyle that we have now. There isn’t much we can do alone, but what if we work together?”
I leaned in, “I’m listening.”
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