# A Sea of Stars - Ch. 6 - Greetings

           deep
heart, you             someone and
never truly forget     know that nothing
that moment when          could ever
you first             be       the
meet     that          same       again


Lillian jumped and spun to the door. She didn’t recognize the voice and, as she finished her turn, realized she didn’t recognize the face either. Which meant that it had to be someone that had just arrived. With only a few dozen crew members it was hard not to know at least everyone’s face–even if Lillian tended towers horrible with names.

And he had a face worth remembering too, as far as Lillian was concerned. He was tall, with dark, almost black, hair and eyes. He had a face that looked used to smiling, although he looked more concerned than anything right then.

“Are you alright?” he repeated, taking a step into the room.

She took a deep breath to calm her breathing. “Yes, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I thought I heard someone scream.”

“That would be me.”

She had been right. He did have quite a smile. “Do you enjoy standing in empty rooms and screaming?”

“Empty?” She turned. The table, and with it the briefcase, had vanished again. What in the world is going on? She turned slowly back to the newcomer, trying to come up with a reason to be in an empty storeroom. And screaming no less. “I thought I felt something brush against my leg. It’s kind of creepy in here.”

“With the suicide and all?”

Right. Jenkins’ suicide. That was here, she thought. They certainly did a good job cleaning up. It’s just as clean as it was before… Out loud she said, “Yeah. It’s a bit creepy being here, just thinking about it.”

“Then why are you here? It’s not like there’s anything to see.”

“I like creepy. Scary stories, horror vids, you name it.” She knew she was rambling, but she couldn’t help it. And it wasn’t entirely a lie, she did occasionally enjoy a good horror movie night with Madeline. Although she wouldn’t be particularly keen on starring in one herself.

“Well what do you know. So do I.” There was an awkward pause. Neither of them spoke. Finally, the stranger broke the silence. “My name’s Quinn by the way. Darrel Quinn.”

“Lillian Shaw.”

“Well how do you do, Ms. Shaw.” He approached, holding out his hand.

She shook his hand. He had a nice firm handshake. Although he did hold her hand just a moment longer than was appropriate. But he seemed nice enough. “Just Lillian if you please. Ms. Shaw makes me feel old.”

“Old? You can’t be a day over 20.”

“Biologically, you probably aren’t far off. But chronologically, I’m 25. I’ve been on gateships for a while.”

“You don’t say. You must have been out here since you were a kid to have gained 5 years.”

“I was an apprentice on the Daedalus.”

“That’d explain it.” She was a little surprised that he recognized the name so easily. Then again, if he had applied to work on a gateship, he’d probably read up on them. “You must have been what, 14?”

She thought back, 14 sounded about right. Give or take a year. Or two. Time had a way of losing its grip on you when you traveled on the gateships. Both literally and figuratively. “Close enough. You’re good.”

His smile widened. “Excellent. Well, as you no longer seem to be in any mortal danger…”

“Mortal danger?” she started, then realized that he was likely poking fun at her about the screaming. “Right. No more mortal danger. Or immortal. Or any sort of danger.” She clamped her teeth shut before they could chatter on more. She was positively losing it. And it couldn’t only be because of that crazy silver briefcase. She chanced a glance behind her, but there wasn’t even a glimmer this time. Maybe it’s because he’s watching too closely, she thought. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

Quinn didn’t seem at all taken aback by her chattering though and was still smiling away. “Like I was saying. Now that things have calmed down, might I interest you in a drink?”

“A drink?”

“Sure. There has to be a bar around here somewhere. I can’t imagine people getting along for years at a time without one.”

She nodded.

“So what say we go find this bar,” he continued. “I’ll buy you a drink and in exchange you can tell me about the Borealis. You can drink, right? Legally, I mean?”

She had to smile at that. She’d had that exact same conversation with more than one bartender both back on Mars and on the Borealis. “There haven’t been enough people on the gateships yet for time dilation to really sink into most people’s world views. Parliament still sets all of its laws by when you were born.”

“Excellent. Shall we?”

Lillian decided it was better than waiting for the briefcase to come back, wherever it had gone. And she didn’t particularly want to explain that to this Quinn, whoever he was. For a second she was worried, what if he’s a Sympathizer agent? Well, we’ll just have to talk to him and find out, another part of her argued. As she left the store room, she caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye. It was the briefcase sitting regally on its metallic throne. Still waiting there. Waiting for her, she was sure. She shook herself. It couldn’t be waiting for her. It was just a briefcase after all.

“Seen a ghost?” Quinn asked as they walked back out in the corridor, shutting the door behind them.

With the door went the last sight of the briefcase and Lillian did her best to try to put it out of her mind. “Something like that.”

In all gateships, real estate was always at a premium. So the Observation Deck doubled as a bar during the later hours of the day. When they arrived, almost all of the crew had cleared out, although the gate was still active. She guessed that they were going to go ahead and run it the standard 6 hours, so there was still an hour or two left. The occasional electrical discharges from the nearest gate generator gave the Observation Deck a nice ambiance, dancing across the walls and ceiling.

Quinn choose a seat at a table near the bar with an excellent view of the gate. He even pulled out her chair for her as she sat down. And they say chivalry is dead, she thought.

“Care for a drink?” he asked, before sitting down.

She raised an eyebrow and smirked at him. “I do believe that was your half of the arrangement. A drink for information about Borealis.”

He smiled back. “So it was. Anything in particular you’d like?”

“Surprise me.”

His smile widened and he walked over to the bartender. It was actually one of the security staff behind the bar tonight. There wasn’t an official full time bartender so the Commander had opened the position up to anyone that was interested and knew how to mix a drink. Rumor had it that he had interviewed them each personally and if they knew how to make his personal favorite, they were hired on the spot. Lillian didn’t often come to the Observation Deck at this time of day, but when she did, she’d never seen the same bartender twice.

Quinn returned shortly later with a dark drink for him—some sort of beer Lillian thought—and a something in a tall glass for Lillian. It faded from a deep red, almost black, at the bottom along the oranges to a vibrant yellow at the top. “Martian sunrise,” he said, seeing her look. “Try it.”

She did and nodded her approval. It was fruity with just a hint of some strange metallic undertone. It was unusual, but actually helped to accent the other flavors. And it was sweet enough to hide the taste of alcohol, which was always a plus. “Not bad.”

He nodded and sipped his own drink for a moment before speaking. “So, why don’t you tell me a little about the Borealis. Looks like it’s going to be my home for at least the next few years after all.”

She’d guessed as much. Almost no one visited a gateship, particularly not mid-flight. If he was here, he was here to stay. For three years stationary time, at the very least. More, if he decided to extend his contract.

“It’s your standard gateship design really. A big ring, four quadrants. There’s command, storage, quarters, and facilities. Three impulse drives with their fusion cores on the outer ring and the gate generators on the inner.”

“Are you an engineer?” he asked, the ends of his lips twitching upwards.

“That was the perfect engineer’s answer. Everything you said was technically true and you managed to fit it all into a nice package. But nothing about what makes her special. Unique.”

She paused to think about that. “Well, it’s a smaller, faster design than the Daedalus, but bigger than Romulus and Remus. Still faster though. And it’s headed further out than anyone’s ever been, a full ten and a half light-years to Epsilon Eridani.”

“You’re doing it again. All technical.”

She blushed, mostly in embarrassment but also partially in anger. “Well what are you looking for then?”

He raised his hands in front of his face, as if to ward of an attack. “Peace, Lillian. I’ve never actually done this before. Never even been off world until a few weeks ago.”

“Oh?” That would explain a few things. “And what world was that?”

“Io.”

“Oh, so you’re one of the crazies who actually tries to live in the hellhole.” Realizing what’d she’d said, she couldn’t help but feel her blush growing deeper. Hopefully the light was dim enough to hide it.

He didn’t seem particularly perturbed by her assessment though. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it. It is quite an … intense place to live.” His grin was infectious, she could feel herself grinning along with him, although she wasn’t completely sure why. “The night sky is spectacular though.”

“But Io?”

“I didn’t exactly have much choice in the matter. My parents are in charge of one of the mining operations there. I was born on Io. It’s where I grew up. But after a while, I was just yearning for a change of scenery.”

“Well, you’ve certainly got that,” Lillian replied, staring out into the night sky, full of stars all around them.

Quinn followed her gaze. “There’s so many of them.”

She turned to look at them. “Not many more than you could see in a clear sky back home.”

“Not on Io. Between the volcanoes, Jupiter, and the auroras we get, there’s almost never a clear night.” He was silent for a few moments, admiring the stars. Then he turned back to her and asked, “Borealis is going to Epsilon Eridani, right?” She nodded. “Can you show me where it is?”

She stood and walked the few paces to the center of the room. Technically, the entire ceiling and most of the walls of the Observation Deck were transparent, but the best view was from right in the center of the room. He followed close behind her. Looking up, it felt like they were floating in an endless see of stars, all glowing steadily in the darkness. The best view was directly up, right in the direction where the Borealis was traveling.

“Look there,” she said, pointing directly overhead. “Straight up.”

“Uh huh.”

“Now look a few degrees towards the gate.”

She couldn’t tell exactly where he was looking, so he took his head lightly in her hands–she had to reach up slightly to do so–and turned it in the right direction. He had been close. “See that constellation?”

“The River? Eridanus?” After a slight pause, he continued. “I guess that makes sense. Epsilon Eridani. Eridanus.”

She was surprised he knew the constellation, not many did. “Exactly. Along the top, that yellow star there. That’s Epsilon Eridani.”

“It’s so…”

“Beautiful,” she finished.

“Well, I was going to say small.” She turned to glare at him. “But beautiful works. Thank you.”

They watched the tiny star for a few more minutes before Quinn spoke again. “So what do we know about it?”

“Well…” She hesitate. All she knew where the technical specifications and she was sure he was just going to comment on her ‘engineering nature’ again. But she didn’t know what else to say. “It’s an orange star, much younger than our own. It has one of the first extra solar planets discovered. All the way back in the year 2000–can you believe that?”

He shook his head, but said nothing.

She went on. “They found a few more planets since then, but all of them are gas giants. We’re hoping that when we get closer we can use the Borealis as a relay for the big space telescopes.”

“A relay?”

“Sure. They open the gate through one of the Stations back in the solar system and then point a telescope at it. Photons pass through an open gate, just like everything else, so it’s basically like they get to skip the larger part of the journey and pretend the telescope is far closer than it actually is.”

“Neat.” He sounded like he meant it.

“Even if there aren’t any other planets, there might be a habitable moon around one of the gas giants. And there’s almost surely some interesting metals or what not in the asteroid belts.”

“And if there’s not?”

“If there’s nothing worth staying for, we’ll just grab some supplies from home and accelerate off to another system. There’s a whole universe out there waiting for us.”

“You make it sound like you’ll stay with the Borealis.”

She hadn’t really thought about it, but supposed that it was true enough. “Well, I stayed with the Daedalus throughout its entire flight. But when they parked it in the Centauri system, I went back to Sol and signed up for the Borealis.”

“So if the Borealis is parked around Epsilon Eridani?”

“I’ll probably head out on whichever new gateship they have then. But that’s years in the future.”

While they’d been talking, they’d returned to their seats. Once there, Lillian decided that’d she’d better try to learn some more about him if she was going to rule him out as a Sympathizer.

“So you’re Io born and bred. You’re out here for a change of scenery. What exactly do you do?”

“Do? Oh, you mean on the crew. Well, I’m a geologist by training.”

She raised an eyebrow. “A geologist?” She took a theatrical look around, careful to pause on the spectacular view overhead. She made sure that her voice was dripping with sarcasm when she continued. “I’m sure you’ll find loads to do out here. In interstellar space.”

“Oh, you’re quite correct.”

“Not so much. Hopefully when we get to Epsilon Eridani we’ll find some nice rocks for you to look at…” What does a geologist even do? she thought. I know it has something to do with rocks, but that’s about it. “… but that won’t be for another six years.”

“Well, until them,” he hesitated. “I’m a cook.”

She felt her jaw drop. “A cook? I can’t say I was expecting that.”

“Why’s that?” He was smiling again, that enchanting smile.

“What does a geologist turned cook actually cook? Dirt pudding?”

“Very funny.”

“I thought so. But seriously. Why a cook?”

“Well, I like to cook. And there was an opening. Even before this morning’s … events.”

“There was?” She was surprised. She figured that Jenkins’ would need replacement but, come to think of it, there wouldn’t have been time to find a replacement for him, would there?

“Yeah. One of the cooks–Wells I think his name was–had finished his three years and is heading back for a few months of leave. I’m his official replacement. Looks like there’s going to be a little more work than I’d expected though.”

“I guess there would be. They aren’t going to get a replacement for Jenkins?”

“No time. And there aren’t exactly any spare cooks lying around Titan. I’d only been there a few days. Took the gate from Europa Station. Perhaps next time there’s a connection?”

“I doubt it. The next few months are all scheduled through Titan. I don’t think we have a connection with Europa or Mars until next year some time.”

“Not many direct connections with them. They’re still trying to get everyone settled. Even after six years.”

“I bet it’s hard. Starting out on a new life, on a new world, millions upon millions of kilometers from home.”

“They do have the gate.”

“Yeah, but not for routine travel.”

“They can use it to call home though. And they open it up back home far more often than we do. Every few days, rather than only every two weeks.”

“Fair enough.”

There was another lull in the conversation. It felt more natural and less awkward than the earlier.

Lillian was first to break the silence this time, “So what do you do for fun?”

“Well, I cook…”

“That’s work.”

“Well, now it is.” He considered. “I used to take old drones out on the volcanic plains with my cousin and we’d race.”

“You’re a drone pilot?” Lillian perked up, remembering Jacobs’ story.

“Not a very good one. I almost always lost. My cousin was something to see though.”

“Oh.” Lillian couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad about that news. It had been a tenuous connection at best. And she really couldn’t decide what she was hoping for. A Sympathizer or just another nice guy. “What else?”

“Well, I did get my training to actually officially go out and space walk?”

“Oh really?” That was interesting. Not many people bothered to learn how to space walk these days, there were robots that could do most of the things that people had been required to do in days gone. They were safer and cheaper too. And if a human hand was needed, they could go out in a shuttle in just their shirtsleeves.

“Yeah. Occasionally we’d go up into low Io orbit to one of the stations there. They’re mostly temporary storage facilities for things that people don’t want to keep down on the planet and old as anything. Being able to get your hands on things really comes in handy.”

She knew the feeling. “I bet. Anything else? It’s not likely you’ll get an opportunity to go out into space while you’re on the Borealis. Particularly not without one of the shuttles around you. Can you imagine the looks on the insurance agents’ faces?”

He smiled. “Card games. I know it sounds old fashioned, but I do love card games.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Oh, all sorts.”

“We’ll have to play some time.”

“Most require more than two people.” He sounded almost apologetic. “Four would be best.”

“I’ll introduce you to my friends–Madeline, Jacobs, Jacobs’ friend Hans.” She’d hesitate before including Jacobs, but had anyways. I’m not that paranoid. Not yet. And anyways, if he reacts, then I’ll have more reason to be suspicious. But he didn’t even bat an eyelid at the name. “All of them. It’ll be fun. How about tomorrow after work?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Sure. Why not. It’s not every day that we get new crew on board, I’m sure they’d be delighted to meet you.”

“Tomorrow it is then.”

There, she thought, that way Jacobs and Madeline will get a chance to take a look at him too. If he actually is a Sympathizer? Well we just won’t give him a chance to pull anything.

They sat and talked for another hour, mostly about Quinn’s past and what life on Io was like and some about Lillian’s time on the Daedalus and Borealis. He tried a few times to get her to talk about the time before Icarus, but she kept changing the subject. Eventually, he got the hint.

Later that evening, Lillian thought to check the time. She was shocked to see that it was well past midnight. “It’s getting late,” she said. “And I have to be up early for work tomorrow. I’m sure you will as well.”

“Oh yeah. I’m on breakfast duty. No easy start here. At least the other cook said he’ll pull double duty and help me out tomorrow.”

“So we should probably be getting to bed.”

“Probably should.” He looked like he had more to say, but shook his head and didn’t say anything. Showing his chivalrous side once again, he walked her back to her room.

“Yeah, it’s down at the other end of the section.”

“Think you can find it without getting lost?” She grinned.

He grinned back at her. “I’m sure I’ll manage.”

“It was nice to meet you, Quinn.”

“Likewise, Lillian.” Again, he looked like we wanted to say more.

Lillian waited for a few moments, but when nothing was forthcoming, she said “Good night.”

“Good night.” He turned to go, walking down the hallway, none too quickly.

Lillian watched him go. Soon, he was around the bend of the hallway.

She opened her door and took a few minutes to get ready for bed. It wasn’t exactly a complicated endeavor. All she had to do was strip off her day’s jumpsuit and change into something more comfortable to sleep in. It did afford her the time to think back on what a crazy day it had been. In all her years on board both the Daedalus and the Borealis, nothing quiet this exciting had happened. Sure, there’d been some excitement–small fights, the occasional juicy gossip–but nothing on the scale of explosions and Sympathizers and dark secrets from someone she thought she knew…

And the silver briefcase. That maddening silver briefcase. She still couldn’t decide if she was actually seeing it–although she’d touched it this time–or if it was all some sort of elaborate hallucination. Either way, Lillian promised herself that she was going to have to take the time to look at it more closely. Tomorrow though. Tonight, it was time for sleep. And one thing is certain, she thought, I’m going to have some interesting dreams.

She wasn’t disappointed.