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Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge – Christmas in a Strange Place

“She won’t mind if you wake her.” Bodecia leaned against the bulkhead. Foxin tilted his head to the left and returned her study. One hand splayed across the glass of the cryo-unit.

“Why would I bother her when she programmed the damned thing herself?” His hand stroked the glass. “You’re here after all. It’s not like I’m alone.”

The former general huffed out a laugh. “Foxin, I’m not human. I can pretend, but I don’t feel the way a human does. If you need her for your ceremony tonight, wake her up. She’s a Romantic. She’ll understand.” He needed someone to share the night with, someone who would feel something about it or offer her own traditions. Bodecia had none of that. Sentimentality was not something her initial programming included.

“That’s part of the problem.” He sighed. He crossed the room to stand in front of her and meet her eyes. They were of a height, though his gymnast’s build was slightly larger than hers. He gestured toward the cryo-unit where Captain Starr rested. “She’ll think it means something. Even if she is still officially mourning.” His hand strayed to the widower’s mark on his temple. It was a small rectangle, about an inch long and half an inch wide. “I have doubts that I count as much more human than you are anyway.”

If she weren’t an AI, she might have winced at the bleakness of his tone. Foxin was human, though he had experimental accelerated healing. She’d never seen anything to match it, but not even Captain Starr had managed to get the entire story from him. The tone of voice decided her. She would stay with him to be sure he didn’t give into the frustrations of being the lone human awake on the ship. The ship would alert her to any obstacles. She followed him to the corner of the cargo hold he’d claimed for his own. His bedroll lay in the deepest part of the corner. A small display of shiny objects from the ports they’d visited for refueling decorated a dark green cargo box. They glittered in the diffused blue light.

Foxin pushed his dark brown bangs behind his ears. A small gold ring pierced one lobe. The Bi’Ho thief she’d worked with during the War had kept one too. “What does the ring mean?”

“Oh, my coming of age and contributing to the creche. Nothing much.” He shrugged.

She filed the information away for when Starr asked her about it. “What are you doing?”

He smiled, but didn’t answer. His hands moved quickly to assemble a small metal table. The light of the cargo hold seemed to be swallowed by the black finish. A large pot of what smelled like cinnamon tea was warming on a heat-pad. “Will you join me, General?” He made a sweeping motion to the other side of the small table.

“Of course.” She settled on the floor, mirroring his position. “So long as you explain.”

Foxin inclined his head. “Our Lady of Chaos rules our lives, but she does not exist alone. On this night we celebrate the birth of her consort, Order.” He placed a small clay dish of clear liquid on the table. The smell was sharp. A showman’s flick of his wrist made a flame appear between his fingers. The liquid ignited with a soft whump.

“On Earth Prime, we are told, this day coincides with the returning of the light and the lengthening of the days. The rebirth of the sun. No matter how far we travel between the stars, we must always remember to welcome the return of the light.” He carefully poured two half-cups of tea. No, she realized, it was something sweeter, headier. He offered her one of the delicate jade tea cups with a small bow. She gave him a commander’s nod as she accepted.

Holding his own cup he met her black and green eyes evenly. Very few people managed to do that. “With mulberry wine we celebrate the birth of light and the start of a new year. What is your wish for the coming year?” His voice held the cadence of ritual.

She considered. “May we successfully reach Earth Prime with our cargo and ship intact.”

“A noble wish.”

“And what do you wish for, Foxin?”

He studied his wine. “May the Lady see fit to guide my enemy into my hands and free me from my quest.”

Bodecia inclined her head. She copied Foxin as he put one palm under the cup and tipped the entire contents into his mouth. He set the cup on the table next to the fire. “Okay. Now let me get some real mugs and we’ll sit by the fire and you can tell me stories of battles I should be too young to remember.”

“And you will tell me stories of heists gone right and I will tuck you in when the wine finally hits.”

FIN

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