SUNSWEPT CH9B

Meyan sampled the first bite and an explosion of flavor filled her mouth. It was zesty with just enough tang to cut it and smothered in a cheese that was just divinely creamy. She chewed the bite just a few more times as yet another note joined the symphony. This one was low and earthy and as she swallowed it left such a smoky depth of flavor on her pallet that she couldn't help but roll her eyes and smile. She set down the traditional Achuran eating utensils, two sticks that she was finally starting to use like an adult, and beamed over at her dining partner and the artist of the amazing meal spread between them. He simply grinned back at her as though pleasantly aware of the effect that his culinary effort was having. She almost didn't want to take another bite or drink for fear that she'd lose the lingering umami aftertaste. He saw her hesitance and guessed correctly. "I know, right?"

"Where in the galaxy did you learn this one?!" Her exuberant question was spoken in a hushed tone as they sat on the 'porch' that Delyyn had extended from his window at her request. Dinner had been served at a small table with two quaint chairs and a gentle breeze that smelled ever so slightly of spring rain.

He chuckled and rolled his own eyes before speaking at a normal volume in response, "You don't have to whisper, this little porch comes complete with sound dampeners, and conveniently; opacity control." He took up his own glass of wine and winked at her provocatively.

It took her a moment to put it together but as soon as she realized what he was implying, or at least teasing at, her face went as purple as the wonderful sauce which adorned her meal. "In front of everyone!?" She was still speaking in a hushed tone but more for the topic than out of fear of being heard.

"Like I said; opacity control." He interrupted his flirtatious smile by taking a bite of his own food.

She had no other immediate response and so took another bite herself. It wasn't the first time he'd hinted at sex, nor the most adventurous, but whether it was the glass of wine that she'd already had, the beautifull nature of their dining venue, or just that she was still swooning over the gorgeous perpetually flowering plant that had appeared at her work station that morning, she took another look across the table and just for a moment envisioned what a more erotic relationship with him might feel like. That thought caused her cheeks to darken further, which in turn cause her to hide once more in her wine glass, which in turn elicited yet another chuckle from Delyyn.

He sipped at his own wine and took another bite. Spending dinner at his place had become a thing, his way of 'making up for his shortcomings' he called it. He had offered to cook for her as recompense for his drunken blunder so many nights ago and the tradition had stuck. They'd have dinner here and then more often than not make their way over to Sunny-side Up for drinks after. A few days after the 'late date' incident, as they were calling it, she'd finally discovered the connection; It wasn't the atmosphere, the people, or even the drink selection that had been leaving her so refreshed and high in the S'up, it was the ceiling! She'd started wondering in ernest the next night when, even after the pain of the 'late date', his offer of dinner, and the slightly subdued evening out that followed, she'd still noticed how much better she felt after leaving. A quick conversation with Derek at the bar confirmed that the engineering of the swirling ceiling was such that it actually allowed minor amounts of the star's light through into the bar. It wasn't necessarily the visible spectrum as most of that was usually caught up in the swirling colors, but in particular many of the UV frequencies did make it through. When matched with the unusually high amounts of UV light given off by the Wolf-rayet sun in the system where Trulian Moss was discovered it didn't take much for her to put it all together. Her skin was actually photosynthesizing the star's light with the result that it sent her into an almost stimulant-like high.

Once she'd worked all of that out it led her to realize how everything that goes up must also come down and like any drug addict who'd never known her dealer, she'd also been going through withdrawal... over and over again. Knowing had helped and armed with her new knowledge she'd opted to try avoiding the S'up altogether for a while. But some of the withdrawal symptoms never stopped or resolved. Like any good biologist she took skin samples and set up an experiment. Unwilling to use company resources, she'd turned her own bedroom into a sort of lab reminiscent of what she'd mocked up in her university suite. The nano-furniture became a workbench and a few discreet purchases erected a clean-zone to match. She worked out the exact frequencies that she was being exposed to at the S'up, set up a control and variables as to how much exposure was enough vs. too much, and waited. One unfortunate side effect of her industriousness though was that she'd had to move her entire bed and other bedroom furniture against one wall which did not make it ideal for any sort of easy access. And so, when Delyyn invited her to just come back to his place a few days later she saw a convenient, if possibly awkward, solution. With clearly stated guidelines, she agreed and from that point on they'd been sleeping together almost every night.

Things hadn't been perfect though. Something still seemed to bother him; she'd notice it from time to time when he was drunk or tired. He never let on as to what it was and genuinely tried to make up for it when next they were together. As her experiment progressed it became clear that the control with no exposure was clearly not the way to go. Returning one morning to find that that piece of suspended sample had shriveled, nearly overnight, was enough for her to get the idea. For the sake of the experiment she selected the sample that was receiving about one hour of exposure as the variable with which she would measure the others and promptly adjusted her daily routine to match. Delyyn never complained about her new schedule though he clearly found it odd and on those nights when he was either enjoying himself too much to leave or she couldn't convince the others to go with her to a different venue, usually the park in the middle of the pleasure district, she'd simply offer to meet him back at his place after her walk.

The schedule was helping, for the most part. She felt bad having to leave her friends when they wanted to stay and it meant that a lot of the time she'd be fast asleep by the time he returned, but it seemed to be working. She hadn't had another anxiety attack, which she surmised had been brought on by an excessive amount of time spent in the S'up two nights before followed by two entire days without, and with just the single hour of exposure each day her emotional rollercoaster had also leveled out just a little. The ultimate lesson learned though was that she'd have to start paying more attention to the consequences of... well of the new her. Her thoughts led her eyes to glance over the deep green shades of her hand as it held the wine glass but as she looked her eyes also caught movement from Delyyn beyond it. She chastised herself for daydreaming and re-focused on him.

"-S'up again?" Something in the way he said it led her to wonder whether he was mocking her, teasing her, annoyed with her, or something else entirely and she wished she'd heard the first part.

She nodded in response to what she had heard. "It might be nice to catch a show before or after some time, or maybe shopping?" His face gave her no indication as to his thoughts on that. "I don't know, just something else out too, ya know?"

He didn't immediately answer but instead took a bite. "But you still want to spend about an hour at the bar right?" There was something in his tone but again she couldn't place it. She hadn't told him about her experiment yet, not until the evidence was in and she had something to tell.

"Yes?"

He nodded. "You know, Iralis might be up for shopping. And she could likely use some time out while Ellie is in lessons." He took another bite while she considered whether he'd just brushed her idea off or honestly was thinking of their friend. She decided to go with 'thinking of their fiend', no use jumping at issues that weren't even there.

"Maybe I could, yeah." She also took a bite.

The meal continued with light conversation peppered in here and there and by the time the simulated sun dipped below the reflecting pools at the far end of the pleasure deck they were looking out over they'd both finished their meal, cleared the table and chairs, reset the window's force field, and were getting ready to leave for the S'up.


Iralis arrived promptly at 14:30 and in her typical fashion, born from many years serving as first a Munitions Tech, then Mate, and so on through various navy's up to the Fleet Tactical Commander rank she now proudly held. A traditional view of the look of 'motherhood' was never so inappropriately attributed and yet from where she sat in the café's patio, Meyan could see beneath the cold tactical gait, impeccably cleaned blouse and pants, and even the rigid way in which she looked about her. There was a softness there of someone who could be, and truly was one of the most caring and attentive mothers she'd ever met. Tez spent just about every night singing Iralis's praises with her and Delyyn when they drank so even if she hadn't her own eyes and word of mouth alone she could not but admire this woman as she waved to her.

Iralis smiled and started over. "Meyan! You were able to get off work early then?"

"Oh yeah, in fact I think Solu practically pushed me out the door." She rose to meet her friend.

"Maybe she thinks you're working too hard." Coming from Iralis the comment seemed incredibly hypocritical in a most amusing way so Meyan shot back a bemused smirk.

Turnabout was always fair play so Meyan gave back as good as she got. "And isn't stationed life so nice and easy now too?"

Iralis almost missed a step. "Um... sure, if you count trying to wrangling every missile jockey, warHead, and bomb monkey in the damn system." Her tone was dripping with sarcasm. "I swear, if I gotta re-crew one more freeking Rattlesnake today..."

"You don't want to talk about work."

"I don't want to talk about work." Iralis leveled a mildly amused smile back at her as they started walking in the general direction of whatever clothier was closest.

They walked in silence for a bit before coming to the first shop. It was a boutique that tended towards selling a certain look rather than individual staple pieces. Iralis cast at least a few glances at a rather striking burgundy blouse with matching chic black trousers but frowned when she found heels at the bottom of the mannequin.

"Oh my, right?" Meyan noticed the shoes as well and smiled. "At least I agree with you on the shoes."

Iralis mocked offense. "What's wrong with the blouse? It's gorgeous!"

Meyan just raised her eyebrow before looking about to locate an ombre pink summer dress with stone bracelet, sandals, and earrings. She nodded to it.

"I've never even seen you wear pink."

"Not the pink part, but the cut of it, look at how it moves!" And sure enough, as she started looking at it the mannequin began to walk and turn in place even as it gently took on a body shape similar to Meyan. The chiffon outer layer became nearly translucent as the mannequin kept moving and Meyan's interest waned slightly. "Ooo..."

"Hah! Not a fan of Gallentean design I take it?" She had folded her arms and was giving Meyan a sort of amused 'I thought so' grin.

Meyan simply moved on and stepped into the boutique to review other, less provocative designs. Iralis let go of her intentional pose and followed with a smile. In the display the mannequin wearing the summer-dress slowed and retook its original pose as the chiffon stopped whirling and regained its opacity. They moved first to the more practical side of the store where a slightly more masculine mannequin wore a very styled if slightly feminine three piece suit. As before, when Iralis stopped to look for more than a few moments both mannequin and suite began adjusting to mirror her frame. "What do you think, too much?"

Meyan joined her in study. "Some big event coming up?"

"No, not really..."

"Wait, I thought you had to wear your Mess Dress to anything formal anyway?"

"Well, I don't have to, but military tradition and all..." Meyan noted that the suit still held a masculine feel to it now that it had reached her friend's proportions.

"I see capsuleers in S'up all the time at events out of uniform." There was an implied 'why not you'?

Iralis smirked, "Well of course they can wear whatever they damned well please, they're capsuleers."

"Oh." Meyan didn't really have anything to respond with and so just left it. She glanced over at yet another short dress, this one on a rack, and she pulled it off and started moving it in the air before her. As with the first dress, this one also shifted in color but instead of changing opacity the hem seemed to shift slightly. Iralis also saw it and chimed in.

"Oh, I've seen these! Start moving it forward, like you were walking with it."

Meyan did so and to her surprise the hem of the dress started to lengthen. As she kept going it even reached the ground and started trailing just along it. She worried that it might get dirty and stopped. The dress started returning to its original size but Iralis just sort of laughed. "It doesn't actually touch the ground, some sort of static charge that keeps it lifted."

"It's amazing!" She began searching for a price among the pale blue neckline which looked as though even it had dropped slightly with the forward motion.

"It's so... girly." Iralis made a sort of sour face that was not entirely serious.

Meyan still couldn't find the price. "Oh, leave it to you to poo-poo a perfectly wonderful dress."

"I will, thank you." Iralis had adopted that crossed arm pose again. "Besides, it's last year's model."

"No way, I've never seen it..."

"You don't usually shop in capsuleer boutiques." Meyan stopped and looked just a bit more closely at the shop around her. Sure enough, there weren't any prices anywhere. With incredible trepidation she used her implant to 'look' at the outfit. Almost immediately her implant's search provided her with a visual overlay with designer, first seen date, who that design had been worn by among the famous, and the price.

"100 isk!?" She had been moving back towards the rack in order to find a price and now that she saw it she put the dress right back where she'd found it. "Do I even want to know how much that pink one was? Or that suit of yours over there?"

"Hey, being married to a 'goddess´ has it's perks." Meyan knew that it wasn't what Iralis had intended but being reminded of just exactly how incredibly different their socio-economic statuses were cast a momentary shadow over the pair. "I'm sorry. I didn't think. You want to try a different shop?"

Meyan shrugged and they turned to go but as they left she took another look at the pink dress in the display and sighed. That one was on sale and from a lesser known designer; an absolute steal at only 20 Interstellar Kredits, which was still about two hundred times her current salary. Iralis saw her looking and gave her a nudge as they walked. "You know, we really should hang out more often. I mean, not in those shops, but you know, like this. It's nice to spend time around someone with my sense of humor."

Her slightly sullen look shifted to a warm smile. " I'd like that too. Same sense of humor?"

Iralis rolled her eyes and also smiled. "Oh, sorry, I've been spending too much time around an unrepentant and very dry dark wit." Meyan's look was a little questioning as the moved towards the next shop which was just beyond a small bakery. "Tez..."

Meyan nodded. "How are things going with Ellie now?"

"Eh..." It was about the most non-committal response she'd ever heard from Iralis. "I'm sorry; it's just that with Ellie around we almost never get to see each other anymore, you know, alone. Tez needs her bar time with you guys to decompress from all the capsuleer stuff. And that helps, it really does because Tez is really so much better when she comes back... even when she'd sloshed off her ass and can't help but look ridiculous." Iralis suppressed a giggle and Meyan inferred that clearly Tez was a very amusing drunk at home as well as at the bar. "Yeah, she gets all romantic and handsy; I love it!" Her grin turned frustrated though. "Except that we can never do anything about it anymore because sure enough Ellie wants to play with 'Silly Mommy Tez' too."

"She's still up that late?" Meyan didn't know much about raising kids but she was pretty sure that 'bedtime' was still as much a universal constant now as when she used to babysit as a teen.

Iralis nodded. "I know it's kinda different, but with Tez's odd patrol schedules, and needing time with friends, Ellie actually has kinda two bedtimes." Meyan was looking at her very interested and so she continued. "She goes down early when Tez puts her down before leaving for evening patrol, then I get her up again for a few hours when Tez gets home. It's the only way they get to see each other."

Meyan could see that maternal care in Iralis's eyes again and realized that she did feel for her friend. And she had thought her schedule was awkward? "And you work all morning too."

"Yeah." She nodded as they reached the next store, this one approximating more of a retail mall, and they stepped inside. "So with Ellie in lessons during the afternoon my 'kiddo time' is late afternoon and early evening; Tez gets those two hours late at night."

"You're not with them?" Meyan was only half looking at a basic white glossy cami on a shelf just inside the door.

Iralis also picked up a dark gray one and held it up for inspection. "Not always no, I usually go to bed, or they go for a walk off to find some observation point on the station from which to watch the ships dock." She folded and set the gray cami down. "It's their thing."

Iralis's mood had grown pensive and Meyan picked up just how much she wasn't saying. She really valued the time that Tez and Ellie got together and had clearly gone out of her way to make sure that they got it despite the schedules. Meyan also set down the white cami, noting that this one only cost about five Kredits instead of Interstellar Kredits. It had no fancy displays or gimmicks but then it was just a cami. She looked around for anything resembling a full dress or even blouse and pants for Iralis. While she looked she thought too. "Maybe you could go out with Tez some night and I'll watch Ellie."

Iralis paused. "Really? You would do that?" There was a sudden hope in her voice.

"I know it's not the same as getting time with your kid, and I know there are nanny drones and such but, Tez did mention how much you both really didn't want one."

"Thank you... no really, thank you. That would be... really nice." Iralis didn't seem to know what else to say.

"It's been awhile since I babysat anyone, not since I was a teen, but I'd be happy to!" Iralis still seemed unsure on how to accept what she clearly saw as a very generous offer so Meyan decided to switch the topic. "Sure, I'll even let you go hang with Drunk Tez and Drunk Delyyn for a night."

She hadn't meant for the comment to come out with any bite but as she reviewed what she had just said she realized that what she had meant as humor hadn't been really humorous. Luckily Iralis didn't pick up on it, at least not right away. "No thanks. Me an' my girl are getting' us a night out! Flowers, a nice suit, a nice dinner, Bob; even a dress if she wants, the whole thing." Meyan giggled at the sudden conviction in her friend's voice. "But what's this about Drunk Delyyn?"

"Hmm?"

"It's the second time you've implied it and made that face." Iralis had her 'no nonsense mommy face' on now.

Meyan had no idea she was making a face. "What face?" Iralis waited. "Oh fine, yeah... he does come home drunk sometimes. I'm usually in bed already so he just thinks I'm sleeping but I can tell that he's not happy about something."

"He's not violent or anything?"

"Oh, no, not with me, or any objects or the like. He's not even verbally abusive or anything. Just... well just upset about something." Iralis nodded in response. "It's really nothing I guess."

Still no-nonsense, "When it's not 'really nothing' anymore you let me know right?"

"Yeah..." She looked for a way to retreat from being the focus. There wasn't even an exciting or particularly interesting piece of clothing around and so she latched onto the first segue she found. "You mentioned Tez is still drunk when she gets home? I always meant to ask, I didn't think capsuleers could get drunk."

"Well, it's kinda a funny thing." Iralis's eyes made it clear that she was well aware of the topic switch. "The way I understand it is that they can if they want to. At least if they have good quality implants."

Bolstered by the foray into her own field Meyan got curious. "How's that?"

"Well, apparently most standard capsuleer grade implants filter out the alcohol as a toxin and simply pass it along for excretion."

"So their pee is like what, 80-proof?" She said it with a chuckle.

Iralis also chuckled. "I guess. But some of em, like Tez I guess; some of em like the buzz so they either deactivate that aspect of the implant or cause it to alter the chemicals in some way as to get a similar effect."

Meyan thought on it and did the science. It made sense, at least the 'how' part of it did. The 'why' was less clear. "She wants to be drunk?"

Iralis nodded slowly, seemingly trying to make a decision about the turn in conversation. "Yeah, I think for her it's a bit of a coping mechanism; that and her particular brand of humor." Her smile was accepting.

"Coping?"

This is where Iralis seemed a bit less sure. "Yeah, just someone she lost once... I'm sorry to have brought it up I guess. I can't really talk much about it but you could ask her some time if she is ever feeling particularly reflective."

Meyan could tell that it was likely something that still hurt for Tez and she decided that it wasn't a conversation she was likely to bring up. The additional topic shift had taken them through most of the shop without anything really standing out. They left that shop and paused as they looked about for their next target. "What about Rosy's?" Meyan nodded across the park to one of the more widely known planetary chains. "Too pedestrian for the wife of capsuleer?"

There was no heat or hurt in her voice and Iralis took it for the humor intended and chuckled. "I guess I could slum it with a good friend."

"Gee, thanks"

They wandered off across the pleasure district's gardens toward the store.


As it turned out, not only was Tez excited for the idea of a night out, she interrupted Meyan's walk home to her apartment with a direct call to her implant. The static image of Tez grinning back from her stock photo hinted to Meyan that she was actually contacting her from inside her pod. "Thank you hun!" Meyan almost stumbled trying to adjust to the disembodied image of her friend being super imposed into her vision like a head-up display.

"Oh, don't mention it! You two need some time." She smiled, still feeling a little guilty for the packages that she was now carrying. She had found some spectacular shoes with a variable image styling skin that let her pick just about any color or pattern via implant in real-time. In a joking fashion she'd set them pink while trying them on just to give Iralis a chuckle. The unexpected part was that they'd looked good. At only 200 Kredits she could just afford them and decided they were worth about 20 shoes given the changeable skin.

Tez's response was also a little unexpected. "Actually... do you think we could be incredibly rude and take you up on that offer tonight?"

"Tonight?" Meyan thought quick. She could stop into S'up on her way home actually; she had the time given the rest of her day off work. She'd have to beg off dinner with Delyyn but he was the one that suggested the shopping in the first place so who was he to complain. Her final consideration was for the other package she was carrying. She and Iralis had gone back to that first boutique after Iralis agreed with how the pink shoes had looked on her, and with no small amount of resistance from Meyan, Iralis had bought her the pink dress as a gift. Despite feeling terribly indebted to her, Meyan had to admit that despite her silly resistance to the color and her hesitance at the translucence, the pink dress looked really good on her, especially with the shoes, and even the translucence showed off her silhouette in ways she hadn't expected. Iralis made it very clear that those ways were greatly appealing. She couldn't wait to surprise Delyyn with it.

"yeah?" There was still hesitance in Tez's iterated request.

"I'd love to." The sudden surety must have caught Tez off guard because Meyan had to check to see that the feed was still active. Tez finally responded.

"Thank you! I just told Iralis and she can't wait! I'm sorry you'll miss bar time but... yay! Who's getting a show tonight? This girl's getting' a show tonight!" The last bit was clearly rhetorical celebration and Meyan couldn't help but giggle at it.

"19:00 early enough?" She tried to reason out what time most shows started and even as Tez confirmed that that would be great her implant also informed her that all evening shows available in Icarus started almost uniformly at 19:30 that night.

"19:00 at your place it is."

They ended the call with the usual pleasantries and extra thank-you's on Tezra's part and Meyan summoned a delivery drone to escort her remaining packages home while she adjusted her route to take her to Sunny-side Up.


The six year old who peeked out from behind a smiling Iralis couldn't have been any cuter if she had tried. "Hi, I'm Meyan. What's your name?" Reaching back to her youth for guidelines, Meyan squatted down to meet the girl at eye level.

"Ellie?" It was spoken as a question and despite the willingness to share she still retracted herself further behind her mother.

Iralis rolled her eyes affectionately and gently placed a reassuring hand at the back of her daughter's head. "It's ok Ellie, Meyan is a friend of mine and Mama Tez, she's going to play with you for a while like we talked about." She turned to face Meyan. "Thank you so much for this, I can't tell you how much we appreciate it. And normally she's not this shy."

Meyan winked at her friend and looked back at Ellie. "Ellie, can you help me understand what each color of spaceship means? Mama Tez said you were really good at it." Both Iralis's and Ellie's eyes got really big, the former's out of impressed surprise and the latter's out of excitement.

Little Ellie immediately dropped her tractor beam hold on her mother's suit leg and tore off around the corner and into the apartment leaving Meyan confused and Iralis amused. "Oh Bob, she's gone to get her flashcards... she made them herself you know..." Meyan stood up slowly but wasn't sure how to respond. "Tell ya what, you go on in after her and I'll use this chance to slip out. There is a note on the counter, should tell ya anything you need to know and if worse gets to worse you can always just call."

Meyan smiled and nodded before switching places with Iralis who winked and closed the door behind her. Meyan could see the data pad sitting obviously on the counter within the dinette and thought it might be good to fetch it and scan through it quick. "May-yawn... you coming?" A little head with mid-length blond hair popped around the corner and Meyan could just see little plastic card corners, worn considerably despite the sturdy material and the short time she must have had them, peeking out from her hands. The data pad could wait a bit.

Ellie grinned as Meyan turned to follow her into the family room which was decorated in soft greens and lavenders. There was a rare but think carpet throughout the room that further seemed to soften it and establish that this was a safe and comfortable space, one reflective of the devotion to a child. Even Meyan couldn't help but feel welcome. Ellie had found herself a spot cross-legged on the floor and was apparently waiting for Meyan to do the same.

"Ok, how do these work...?" She found her seat in front of the exuberant girl.

Ellie beamed back and began spreading her cards out in front of her. "It's a game. You have to match each ship to the correct color." Meyan looked at the cards and realized that Ellie was playing with two separate decks. One had colored squares on each card; dark blue, light blue, orange, red, green, purple, gray, and teal while the other had images of various ship classes that looked as though they were actually 3-dimensional despite the fact that they didn't seem to project off the card. She looked for any kind of writing or even any indication on the ship cards that might relate them to the colors and had to give up. She was going to have to learn the rules of this game even as she learned what it was even about. She decided to dive in and pointed to the only ship class she recognized, the Rifter class frigate. "Blue?"

Ellie giggled uncontrollably; wrong guess then. "Nooo May-yawn, that's a Rifter, they don't belong in a wormhole... and it's a minmatar ship anyway."

She cheerfully forced a fake laugh and rolled her eyes. "Oh, silly me... I guess I better try again?"

"You'd better I guess."

Ellie beamed back at her as she considered her next try. "You can call me Mey, or Mey-mey if you like... if it's easier. It's what some of my friends call me." It wasn't exactly the whole truth but she had used that name with many of her younger charges during her earlier sitting days and it just seemed easier for kids, and more fun. It also bought her some time to try to remember the name of at least one more of the ships.

"Ok Mey-mey, but you still have to pick one." The kid had already started picking up her mother's' teasing humor it seemed, the keen perceptions must have been all her own.

She saw one that she'd seen before in some of Alexylva's recruitment vids and pointed at it.

"That's a Stratios! But you have to guess what color it is."

She could get this... "Blue?" It made sense right? Blue was good, she thought.

"Nooo" Ellie giggled again and flipped over the green square to display the words "CORP. MATE" in bold on the back. Well that made sense too; If Alexylva favored the ship then of course in at least Ellie's mind that would be a fellow corporation member. It was valuable insight into the game and Meyan was all ready to make her next choice but Ellie interrupted. "My turn!" she pointed directly for the ship that looked a lot like the Rifter but larger with kind of a knobby front with fins. "Sabre! And that one's orange." She picked up the ship card and flipped over the orange square to set on top of the ship card beside her. Meyan just barely had time to see the back of the color card with the words "AGGRESSIVE WORMHOLER" before Ellie had it beside her and was motioning for Meyan to take her turn.

She could understand 'corp. mate' and the idea of 'aggressive wormholer' made sense a bit. It must be someone who also lives in another Anoikis system who is known to try to attack them. But that was where the sense of the game stopped. Wouldn't Alexylva Paradox have Sabres too? Or maybe she was getting an interesting insight into mind of a child who doted on every story her capsuleer mother told. One thing was certain though; this game had been entirely made up by that doting child. She flashed Ellie a steely grin and decided that she meant to try to win anyway. She pointed to the gold and silver one that looked even bigger than the other two. "Red!"

"That's a Legion!" Ellie giggled some more and shook her head. "My turn!"

"Wait, I don't get any more help?"

"You're an adult, you don't need any more help." This was stated as a flat fact and while Meyan may take exception to the idea that no adult ever needed help more than once she kept her opinion to herself. Ellie pointed to the Legion and called 'Blue' before picking it up along with the blue card which read "ALLY" and stacking it on her winnings pile.

Meyan pointed to an odd asymmetrical green and silver ship which looked something like a knobby board tapering to one end. "Red" She'd never seen one of those around.

"Right! It's a Catalyst by the way, but you have to know the color name too!"

"You didn't" She knew it was pointless to argue with a child but felt the need to defend herself anyway out of fun.

"I already know what they are, you don't." Well that told her.

"Ok, fine. Enemy?"

"Close enough. Mama Tez says it could mean 'War Target' as well." Meyan gave herself a little internal victory celebration for two very lucky guesses and collected her cards. Sure enough, on the back of the red card it read 'KNOWN ENEMY'.

Ellie pointed next to a gold and red one that looked like a front-heavy triangle balanced on one of its acute corners. She chuckled at what sort of purpose it might serve in a fleet, it certainly didn't look like most ship designs she'd seen. Her implant suddenly provided the answer; Guardian class Cruiser. Primary Role: Triage and Repair; Logistics. She stopped the continuing readout and focused back on Ellie who called out 'Guardian, Purple' before adding them to her stack with a bold 'FLEET MEMBER' on the back of the purple card. "Who called?"

"What?" Meyan had missed something.

Ellie just smiled. "Mama Tez does that too, when she gets a call on the Relay... that look." My implant.

"Oh, I'm sorry, it wasn't a call, it was just my implant trying to look up that ship." Based on the face that Ellie was making she'd just said something very wrong.

"That's cheating!" Ellie crossed her arms in attempt to look upset. The only trouble was that she was clearly still smiling which confused Meyan. Was she happy that she had cheated, upset, angry?

"I'm sorry Ellie, my implant tried to look up what the ship was used for. I thought it looked strange. I stopped the search before it told me more than the name and primary function." Maybe the truth would work.

Ellie's arms relaxed and she smiled fully. "It's not silly, it's one of the nicest ships in space, all it does is heal other ships!"

"Is that why it's an Ally?"

"Uh hu!" She was nodding. "But it's your turn now... and no cheating!" Ellie gave her an 'I'll know if you do' look and was so maternal and adult looking that Meyan almost laughed.

There were three ships left and only two colors. One of the ship cards looked very worn while the other two looked to be about in the same condition as all of the other cards. It was about as close to any strategy as she was going to get so she picked one of the two and pointed to the bluish gray ship whose wings seemed to go first out and then drop suddenly. The ship also had a really long pointy nose so she decided to make up a name for it just to show that she hadn't cheated. "Swordfish, Teal,..." What status to give it? "Friend?" Well, she couldn't think of anything else, and maybe Ally and Friend weren't the same thing.

"Nooo" Ellie was all giggles again. "That's a Caracal and it's a "Known Target".

"Isn't that the same as Enemy or Aggressive Wormholer?" She wasn't really sure yet on what the second one was but went with it.

Ellie just giggled some more and began to collect the two cards. "No, Mama Tez says that Known Targets are usually neutral but they are just shooting at you cause they think you'll shoot back." Meyan was too busy thinking about the cavalier way this child had just described the likely death of an entire crew to notice that Ellie had given herself the two cards. Ellie took her turn. "The Rifter is gray, Neutral." She promptly collected the cards even before she finished calling them.

Meyan looked out at the very worn remaining ship card that remained. The off-silverish-goldish frigate looked almost like the letter 'H' save for the center plane of it which extended beyond the vertical sections on either side. "Doesn't that one get a color?"

Ellie shook her head. "That one is Mommy Tez, that one's mine" She picked up the card and held it so close that Meyan was reminded of the history between the child and the mother who saved her life. She finally noticed that Ellie had taken the points from the Teal cards. "Wait a minute, I guessed 'Teal' correctly."

"Nu uh, you guessed 'Friend' wrong so I got a chance to steal."

"Then why did I get credit for the Stratios?"

"You were still learning." It was spoken with such conviction that Meyan decided the same allowance must have been made countless times for Ellie.

They cleaned up the game and Meyan suddenly remembered that Ellie had a very early first bedtime. She pointed that out only to receive a coy and knowing smile from the child who clearly knew she'd been pushing bedtime.

A few minutes later Ellie emerged from the hallway. "Can I still get up when Mama Tez and Mama Ira get home?" She'd already managed into her pajamas and completed her hygiene tasks which had given Meyan time to review the data pad and copy its contents to her implant.

"Sorry hun, but they won't be back until long after you'd have to go back to bed." They wouldn't be back until early morning in fact and Meyun was just as happy to spend the night in the guest room, she'd even prepared for it.

Ellie, however, was crestfallen. "Oh..."

"But, I will wake you up at the time that Mama Tez normally comes home and maybe you can show me your favorite spot to watch the spaceships from." Ellie lit back up like a beacon.

"Ok!" She was into bed with the lights off before Meyan could even make it down the hallway.


Meyan had already started to doze on the couch when an incoming call roused her. It was Delyyn so she answered it and checked the time; 22:43. "Hi, how was the bar?" She spoke in hushed tones.

"Oh, kinda boring really, only Aaron and I. So, when are ya done?" He had that slightly solicitous grin again.

"Not until tomorrow morning I'm afraid." His grin faded. "They're out for the night, I figured they needed it."

He accepted the reasoning but still didn't seem happy about it. "I suppose I could come over and babysit with you. A little cuddling now that the kid's gone to bed?"

Something about the way he said 'cuddling' seemed overly ambitions but she was due to get Ellie back up in just a bit and there'd be no time for anything with him anyway. "Naw, thanks though. But Ellie won't be down again until late late and I think I'll be ready for bed myself by then."

"She's not in bed yet?" He seemed slightly shocked.

"She is, but I have to get her up soon."

"That doesn't make any sense."

She thought about it but she was already too tired to try to explain everything. "It doesn't have to. I'll explain it all later, right now I need to find something to eat so I've got enough energy for the next two hours." Almost as an afterthought, "Thanks for calling though, it was nice to hear from you." She smiled genuinely and he smiled back before ending the call. As she got up and made her way to the galley she thought for a moment about the odd way he'd smiled at the end. Was he still frustrated about something? He hadn't seemed drunk or anything. Oh well, she could figure it out later; right now she wanted to eat a cookie and go find an adventurous six year old.

She put the cookie in her mouth and headed off towards Ellie's room; the first stop on a very special tour of the station that she was actually looking forward to.

*****


Private Relay, 1430 hours [the following day]:

::User JEMMALYN DROITACOPIUS connects::

::Welcome back!:: Xepharious Wryn

::Thanks! Ready for our first report? It's a big one.:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::Let's have it then:: Xepharious Wryn

::Ok, first off, our insertion seems to have gone very well as the Secondary Targets seem to have only normal levels of suspicion given the unique circumstances.:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::To be expected, but well done all the same:: Xepharious Wryn

::Related to the Primary Target; Phedric has acquired information about the whereabouts of one Jallif, surname unknown, who is wanted in connection with the market bombings. He was able to obtain this information from one of his contacts only recently through a drop he set up prior to going undercover, it could be outdated:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::It's in the form of a data dump?:: Xepharious Wryn

::Affirmative, but neither of us was quite sure how best to use this other than to try to capture him and use direct interrogation:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::Understood. Send along the data, I think I may have an option that could yield better results than direct interrogation:: Xepharious Wryn

::Sent:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::Received and confirmed:: Xepharious Wryn

::I included additional figures on asset projection and tactical analysis as well as Phedric's personal assessment of each; along with the data for you to review at your leisure:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::Much appreciated:: Xepharious Wryn

::Well, time's up. I'll plan for the same time next week if possible:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::This channel is always open to you, you know that Agent Droitacopius:: Xepharious Wryn

::Ugh, Jemmie; please, and yeah, we know:: Jemmalyn Droitacopius

::User JEMMALYN DROITACOPIUS disconnected::