2950-05-17 – Tales from the Service: A Spacer’s Decision
Ramiro W. slipped into his usual corner table at the Iris Basket and pressed the button in the middle of the table to switch the holographic menu display from its idle-state showing a vase full of blue and white flowers. Though the Basket was hardly the nicest place to eat on Henry Orbital, he always found time to visit at least once when he was in port. The restaurant had just been having its grand opening when he’d gotten his start in the small-tonnage cargo business, and he had negotiated his first contract at that very same table over a plate of Chicken Kiev years before.
That the food contained no real chicken and the cook who’d arranged the various synthetic, textured food items had only secondhand reports of what Chicken Kiev should look and taste like hardly mattered. To Ramiro, the Basket’s rendition was a unique experience; a reminder of his first success, and of his early days plying the spacelanes aboard Jen Daley.
Just as he punched in his order, Ramiro noticed the light blinking on his wrist computer. He’d silenced the thing and left his earpiece back on the ship, but given the insistent rapidity of the indicator, he had received quite a few datasphere messages in the twenty minutes since then. With a wince, he loosened the wrist unit’s strap, slipped it off, and dropped it into his pocket. Whatever Livia wanted could wait, and he had no intention of letting her spoil his dinner at the Basket. He had told her he’d think about her scheme, and if she hadn’t understood that to mean that he wanted no further persuasion, that was entirely her problem.
“Ramiro, fancy running into you here!” A jovial, red-faced man slid into the opposite seat. “Just the man I’m looking for.”
Ramiro smiled and extended a hand. “Good to see you again, Gavril. How’s business been?” Gavril, employed by the only authorized Reed-Soares distributor in the Philadelphia system, was a sporadic source of contracts; he regularly hired spacers like Ramiro to ship products out to the outlying colonies of the Galactic West. Even when he didn’t have cargo that needed shipping, the man was solid company for conversation over a few drinks.
“A little slow, but I get by.” Gavril poked into the menu hologram to select a drink, then sat back. “How about you? I heard you’ve had some tough luck lately.”
Ramiro shrugged. “I’m still flying and that’s not going to change. Worst case, I go into passenger service. I hear there’s money there these days.”
Gavril scoffed. “Passengers? You? Times must really be tough if you’re that desperate.”
“It’s not my preference.” A white-aproned young woman hurried out to the table bearing Gavril’s drink and a glass of water for Ramiro, and he waited for her to vanish back behind the kitchen doors before leaning in conspiratorially. “If you know anyone who needs to move something less annoying, I’m certainly listening.”
“I’m sure you are.” Gavril took a long sip of his drink. “I hear tell Rafiq over at Vasilev is trying to hire someone to drag a service team out to one of the more distant colonies.”
Ramiro scowled and shook his head. He had worked for Vasilev precisely once. After spending two months arguing with their money people just to get paid what the contract had specified, he had vowed never to work with that company ever again.
“Yeah, I don’t blame you.” Gavril smiled. “Let one of the new crews learn a lesson on that one.”
“New crews?” Ramiro perked up at the phrase.
“Oh yeah. Three small-time haulers have been around since you last took off. Damn, Ramiro, they get younger every year. Not a one of their skippers was born the day I moved out here from Centauri.” Gavril sighed and looked down. “The one that just cleared out took on the only cargo I had waiting.”
Ramiro sighed. He would have been only too happy to turn Livia down by pointing to a contract with Reed-Soares.
Fortunately, his disappointment at missing Gavril’s contract fled at the sight of the aproned girl returning with his meal. Even when times were tough, as lately they always seemed to be, Ramiro relished the memorable, if not precisely appetizing, smell of a fresh plate of the Iris Basket’s rendition of Chicken Kiev.
Gavril raised an eyebrow and waved the smell away from himself. “I do think you’re the only person ever crazy enough to eat that stuff twice, Ramiro.”
Ramiro smiled. He couldn’t explain to Gavril what the meal meant to him, questionable though it was in objective terms. “It’s an acquired taste.”
Just as he raised the first fork-full to his mouth, Ramiro saw Livia walk into the Iris Basket. Where most of the clientele was wearing spacers’ fatigues cut and colored in various styles, she stood out in a sheer dress of bright blue cloth that, though it covered her from throat to ankles, left none of her ample proportions to the imagination. Her dark hair, normally worn loose over her shoulders, lay piled up inside a huge, broad-brimmed hat, and touches of shimmering metallic makeup accented her face. As most of the patrons turned to gawk at her, Livia spied Ramiro across the room, and a broad smile split her painted lips. “Ramie, dear!” She waved and began weaving her way between the tables.
Ramiro set his fork down and dropped his shoulders. “Of course.”
Gavril looked with interest between Ramiro and Livia. “Friend of yours?”
“Sort of.” Ramiro ground his teeth as Livia reached his table. “Hello, Liv. Didn’t think I’d run into you here.”
Livia dragged a chair from a nearby table, pushed it next to Ramiro’s, and sat down. “Oh, I bet you didn’t.” She glanced at Ramiro’s plate, then at his companion. “You must be Gavril. I’m Livia.”
“That’s me.” Gavril raised his glass to Livia. “You seem to know me, but I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Did you need something, Liv?” Ramiro shot a warning glance to Livia, increasingly certain that she was up to something. She made a living on social subtext, and couldn’t possibly have missed his hints that he didn’t want her company.
“You weren’t answering messages, and I was worried.”
The way Livia arched an eyebrow after she replied told Ramiro that whatever she really wanted wasn’t for Gavril’s ears. “Can you give us a few minutes, Gavril?”
Gavril chuckled and shook his head. “No problem, buddy.” Taking his half-finished drink with him, he got up and moved a few tables away, though not before giving Ramiro a congratulatory nod.
“Seems nice enough, even if he is imagining us in bed together.” Livia scooted her chair a bit to the side and adjusted her hat. “What are you eating?”
“The menu calls it Chicken Kiev, but I’m not sure-”
Livia snatched up Ramiro’s fork, and before he could stop her, the morsel speared on it passed between her painted lips.
Ramiro winced, remembering how many horrified faces he’d seen in the Basket after people curiously ordered his preferred meal. “It’s an acquired taste.”
Livia frowned over the mouthful, chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed, with no obvious signs of disgust. “Not bad. Is real chicken anything like this?” She pulled his plate toward herself.
Ramiro chuckled and reached into the menu display to request another meal. For reasons that had nothing to do with the unavailability of other work, he knew he’d go along with her Maribel passenger scheme. “Nothing like it in the slightest.”
This is the last section of the account sent to me by Ramiro previously, and it likely took place in the latter half of last year. Obviously, we will not be publishing anything which could identify him directly, in case Ladeonists wish to take revenge for the little swindle he and his partner played in the Galactic West.
The Iris Basket is, interestingly enough, a very real business on Henry Orbital. It gets middling reviews from the locals and visitors. Perhaps if anyone is in the area, they can try the Chicken Kiev, but based on Ramiro’s description, I doubt that’s a good idea.
[N.T.B. I’ll try it next time I pass through. Doesn’t matter how bad it is; I’ve had worse.]