Haleola ignored the comment, just as she ignored the piece of furniture that spoke. At least that’s how she liked to think of Cecelia when she was in a bad mood; Cecelia was an object that had been installed in her apartment, a permanent fixture that was always around in spite of the fact that she had her own rather luxurious quarters elsewhere.
The kitchen held a variety of edible things, though none appealed to her at the moment. Still, it was better than eating around people. She’d had enough of people for the day. She’d even threatened her first officer with defenestration if he didn’t get off the bridge and back to his bride.
“I could cook…” Cecelia said, following her into the kitchen.
“My dear Mrs. Robinson,” Hal said, sighing for dramatic effect. “Don’t you have an apartment of your own to haunt?”
Cecelia shrugged. “There’s a bunch of weird people hanging out in my apartment. I like it here much better.”
“Strange people hanging out in your apartment?” Hal raised an eyebrow. “I can’t imagine what that’s like.” She knew Cecelia would recognize, yet ignore the irony.
Cecelia nodded. “So, why are you so late? Does it have anything to do with the little dance the Chʼil Awoshí did earlier?”
Haleola started opening random drawers, trying to figure out what she wanted to eat. “Didn’t you see my press conference?”
“I prefer to get my news directly from the source.” Cecelia followed along behind her, closing the drawers.
Hal sighed and responded in her official I’m-in-charge-and-I’ll-only-tell-you-what-you-need-to-know tone. “At fourteen hundred hours a small craft failed to respond as it approached the station. It was not on course with any regular approach vector for any module. It accelerated in a trajectory that would result in a collision with the station. A patrol ship attempted to deflect the craft, but it was insufficient. Patrol fired on the craft, destroying it, but the debris posed a danger to the station so evasive maneuvers were performed. Damage to the Chʼil Awoshí was minimal. The primary damage resulted from an explosion that occurred when the debris hit the cloud. The only casualty is a non-resident whose name has not been released, and was apparently aboard the craft when it was destroyed. An investigation is in process.”
Cecelia nodded and bobbed more like she was listening to music than acknowledging anything Hal was saying. “Miloserdniyeh Buddha!” she said. “I guess that’s exciting.”
Hal abandoned her search and turned instead to the lists of places that would deliver at any time of day or night. Although the station kept official time with Greenwich on Earth, it was truly a city that never slept, with various modules doing business with entities all over the homeworld at any time of day.
“Is that the only reason you’re late?” Cecelia asked.
Hal looked up from the list, wondering if she should call out her friend on the offer to cook. She knew Cecelia was capable, but it was usually a very long, involved process, and Hal was hungry. “How can I be late when I hadn’t even planned to come back here?” she asked. “I was planning to stay in the captain’s quarters tonight.”
“Ah, but the captain’s quarters are so Spartan,” Cecelia said. “What good is it to be a wealthy widow if you can’t enjoy a little luxury?” She gestured widely to the apartment around them. Jacques had bought it before they were married. It had everything she ever wanted in a home…or, at least, everything her twenty-year-old self had wanted. Dozens of rooms, a large master suite, and an atrium corridor that meandered through the center of the home with an actual stream and several tiny waterfalls.
Hal wondered for a moment whether she should go check and see if there had been any damage during the station’s unexpected shift. It wasn’t really necessary; her housekeeper would have been there during the day. If there had been any damage, it was probably already fixed.
“I’m going to change into pajamas and order blini,” she said, triggering her standard order from her favorite place. It was comfort food.
“No!” Cecelia said. “No pajamas. I picked out a dress for you. We’re going out.”
“Out?” Hal asked, unsurprised. This was Cecelia’s habit. She made plans without asking Hal whether she was available or even wanted to go. “You need to get a life.”
Cecelia laughed. “Oh, my darling Mrs. Kitewhetu, you are my life.”
Hal asserted herself by eating the blini, but she gave in to the idea of a night out. It was already well past midnight, but entertainment could easily be found regardless of the clock’s influence.
The Globe was one of Hal’s favorite venues which, of course, Cecelia knew. Without spin, the spherical space allowed its visitors to float comfortably in seating that surrounded the stage for 360 degrees. For some performers, the lack of gravity was problematic. Most, however, made it work for the act.
Only a few heads turned, doing a doubletake when they realized she was The Captain. Most either didn’t recognize her or didn’t care. As long as everything ran the way it should and supplies arrived on time, most of the populace ignored the infrastructure such as the people who kept everything running.
Haleola didn’t bother to examine the posters advertising the show or to look at the playbill. It was better to be surprised, and she had no brainpower left to form an opinion on anything. Passive entertainment was all she could handle.
Cecelia had made reservations for box seats exactly above the stage. Hal suspected her friend made plans much more frequently than she let on, and either let the tickets go to waste or gave them to someone else. But the illusion that Cecelia magically knew when she’d come home instead of staying in the official captain’s suite was entertaining, and mostly harmless.
The show made good use of both the microgravity and the open space between the stage and the audience. If there was some kind of story or plot behind the musical acrobatics, it was beyond Hal’s energy level to decipher it. Being directly ‘above’ the stage, Hal and Cecelia could see everything that happened both on the stage and in the seating that took up slightly more than half the sphere.
“I see meat,” Cecelia said, peering through a miniscope not at the show, but at someone in the darkened audience.
Haleola stifled a yawn. She knew what kind of meat Cecelia meant, but she simply didn’t have the energy to engage in anything more energetic than crawling back to her own bed. Alone.
“Would Mr. Robinson approve?” Hal asked, stretching.
“Mmmm…” Cecelia purred. “Definitely in line with his taste.” Cecelia put the scope down and grinned at Hal. “But he’s a hundred thousand kilometers away and can find his own entertainment." Cecelia flipped around in the box-seat the two of them shared. “Come with me?”
Hal shook her head. She had no doubt that Cecelia could easily procure them grappling partners for the evening, and on some other night she might agree. But lately, she felt…
She didn’t know what she felt.
She missed Jacques.
“You do remember that you’re a widow, right?” Cecelia asked. Hal glanced at her friend, her face barely visible in the dim light, strange colors from the show below them playing over her skin, making her look alien and fearsome.
Cecelia was fierce, but never fearsome.
“Jacques isn’t dead,” she said, picking up the old argument just to be ornery.
“Jasques’ a popsicle, which is legally dead,” Cecelia quipped. “Has been for years now.”
“Yes, well, so are our children,” Hal snapped back. She didn’t know why she brought it up. She didn’t like talking about it.
Cecelia turned back to the show. Hal wished she could take it back, but it was best to just pretend it hadn’t happened.
She was tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.
The performers floated off into the darkness beyond the stage, disappearing into nothingness. Hal longed for that nothingness, but while the performers were simply making way for the next act, Hal couldn’t afford that luxury.
There was no next act for her.