You know how it goes. This “hot and fresh” first draft material picks up immediately from the last post, and is already almost obsolete. The new version of this scene, still only in my head, has a lot of the same trappings but feels quite different. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you too.
Until then, enjoy this!
She frowns and shakes her head gently as we keep staring at her, as if we’d asked a question. “No, they didn’t tell me anything more than that, and that you should come down here to do your shopping in person. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I told them that I was happy to help. But I have to say that this is a bit unusual.”
Cesi smiles a little. “Tell us about it.”
Mariel laughs, loud and deeper than I’d expected. “Well children, if you’d like to talk more I’m happy to do that.” She pulls her glasses out from the top of her shirt and waves them gracefully in one hand, “and if you’d like to settle down to business for now, I’m happy to do that too.”
I type a quick thought to Cesi. <Business first, then push for information?>
She gives me a thumbs up. <You first.>
Ugh. I cover for my sudden anxiety with a slow sip of tea. I struggle with having no straw, but manage to get the tea in my mouth and not on my clothes.
Mariel looks back and forth between us, glasses poised in her fingers. “Business, then?”
“Business,” I say. The tea is really good. It tastes like sweetly smoky flowers.
Mariel pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Well then.” She taps something out in the air in front of her. “It looks like you’ve been away from your usual resupply with me for about five months. Should I assume that you want a full resupply for five months worth of consumables?” She waggles her fingertips towards the two of us with a little smile, her braids shifting as she tilts her head to the side. “Any little extra luxuries? Tea? Cocoa? Some real coffee for your parents, perhaps?”
I wish that I could manage our lists and let Cesi do the talking. But it looks like she’s thought the same thing and already started feeding me cues from our inventory notes. I guess I’m stuck talking to Mariel. No, wait. “Just a moment.”
<Daemon?> I pull the little text screen down. <It’s Barry. I have a question.>
There’s a few seconds of pause. <Yes Barium? How may I help?>
<How do I order something from a person? I mean, how do I buy supplies from someone? How do I talk to them?>
This time the reply is much faster. <Would it help to pretend that they are a computer? You haven’t had any trouble talking to me, have you?>
<No, but…> I don’t know what more to say about that. Something feels different about it, but I can’t really argue with Daemon’s point. I didn’t think of them as a person at first. Just a computer to play with. It helped.
<Do you have a shopping list?>
<Yeah.> I barely keep myself from nodding. Mariel is looking at me curiously, and I focus extra hard on my glasses. I think Cesi might be looking at me oddly too.
<Try focusing on your shopping list, instead of looking at the person to start with.>
“I, um,” I look at the stream of requests in our inventory feed. More keep getting added to it, pulled over from the central list in a curated order. Cesi’s already highlighted the ones marked ‘URGENT.’ I clear my throat. “Sorry. Let’s start with replacements for four months worth of generative nutrient paste.”
“Certainly,” Mariel’s gaze returns to the inside of her own glasses, and I can feel some of the tension bleeding away as she taps through her own sets of menus. She might not be a computer, but maybe there isn’t so much difference.
“And,” I look at our URGENT list, “a fresh mixer-batch of cultures.” Food first. Good thinking, Cesi. This is just me reading off a list. This is actually pretty easy.
<Thanks for the advice, Daemon.> I tap it out while browsing through the lists Cesi keeps feeding me.
<Certainly. My pleasure. Let me know whether or not it works for you.>
I smile. I probably shouldn’t tell them that I’m talking to someone right now.
We get through the organics fairly quickly. All it takes is me reading off an entry from a list, and asking for the amount right next to that entry. I sip my tea and start to enjoy myself.
My glasses buzz. Incoming call from Mom. I spill tea all over myself in my haste to answer.
“Mom? Are you okay? Are you ready for us to come back?” Tea slides off my suit and puddles into the chair’s cushions. “We’re still ordering things here. Mariel Gamal is really nice.” Mariel is looking at me from across the small room with one eyebrow raised and an amused little smile. I guess she isn’t concerned about the tea.
Mom interrupts my thoughts. “We’re fine, Harry. The deal went well, and now we’re headed back. We’ll meet you at the airlock when you come in with the goods.” Mom’s voice sounds perfectly natural, warm, reassuring.
But she hasn’t said the safe words. And she didn’t use my real name. They’re in trouble.
“No need to rush, but try to finish things up soon, ok?” What is she trying to tell me by adding that? It wasn’t one of our codes. Is there a little voice in her head screaming get out get out get out just like there is in mine?
“Ok Mom.” My voice comes out funny and strained, like my suit is choking me. I look at Cesi, and I can see the same fear in her eyes. “See you soon.”
The call ends at the same time that Cesi says, “Something’s wrong, isn’t it.”
I can’t even get words out. I just nod.