Tl:dr version +nothing to see, move along, no lessons hiding at the end+
Mike ran his fingers through his hair and looked around the apartment one last time. The open design allowed him to take it all in, from the bay window overlooking the hanger floor to the kitchen where several things were heating, cooling, or chopped and ready to go. He opened the wine so it could ‘breathe’ and then glanced at the time, to the door and back at the time. Dammit, she was late.
He opened a channel to the Summit to see if she had left a message there. The usual folks were, but she was nowhere to be seen. He sighed and turned down the foccacia and watched the Summit folks chat. His favorite exchange was when Literia said “You hold to what you believe, and I will to mine. I agree to disagree on that matter nothing more.”
To which Lady Sylvanna replied “That is your right.” Since the lady served the Nation this was almost an irony on a level normally only found when investigating government corruption. Mike grinned and then he smelled the smoke.
“Arg” The foccacia was ruined and the bruschetta had just gone on to broils cycle. He looked at the door and then over at the kitchen and realized he had set one of the carving knives on the table. The oven started smoking as he sat there wondering how and why he would think a ten inch blade was needed at the table. “Oh right, it IS Victoria”
The knock on the door could not have been better timed, right as he was picking up the knife. He veeered from his path towards the cooking area to open the door.
Victoria was wearing a simple, conservative dress, deep red, that hugged her body tightly in all the right places. Her long, red hair is braided and fell over one shoulder. “Good evening, Mike.” She ignored the knife and smiled broadly.
Mike grinned back and waved her in. “Oh there you are. Welcome welcome, cherie, steps back, come in, ignore the smoke, tis only an appy.” He suddenly noticed the knife in the hand he was gesturing with. “Oops” Mike tossed the knife across the room, It spun lazily in flight then stuck with an almost musical thrum into a cutting board.
She smiled and walked in, grinning at him and the knife and looking around, a playful sway in her hips at she walks past him. Mike raised his eyes to the sky and wondered if maybe, juuuust maybe, everyone who had told him this was a bad idea were right. He straightened his shoulders and plowed forward because it was too late to change course.
”Now, I hope you brought your hunger” He said as he escorted her into the room towards the small table for two he had set in the center.
Victoria turned to him and grinned “I told you to make food for a small army. Yes, I brought my appetite.” Looking around she said “This is a nice place. I like it.”
Mike grinned “Excellente. Now, an appy . . . “ He headed over to the kitchen area where several things were either cooking or basting or, in one case, rotating in and out of a boiling pot. “I did not know your preferences but I thought serving you this would be a good beginning.” He offered the plate with small green vegetables mixed with very large prawns.
Victoria grinned “ As long as it doesn’t bite back, I’ll eat it.”
“The prawns are dead, as of . . . “ he glanced at a clock “about an hour ago. The greens are artichoke . . .hearts”
She giggled in a way that made Mike glance to make sure the knife was still where he had tossed it. “Oh good. Not that I wouldn’t mind killing them myself – ugly little buggers.”
As she munched happily on the prawns and artichoke hearts Mike grinned. “I anticipated that as well, but that is the second course”
She smiled happily at him as she scooped up a few more appetizers, enough that it would be a full meal for some people Mike had met.
“Now, I hope you had no difficulties finding the place?” He asked as he lead her over to the window that overlooked the docking bays.
She leaned against the window, looking out and commented. “Nice view.”
Mike standing slightly behind her nodded. “Yes indeed . . . oh you mean out the window . . . ahem, yes I do like to watch the ships come and go”
Vcoria looked coyly over her shoulder and giggled. “Oh? Is there another view you’re enjoying, Mike?” She shifted her body weight, posing slightly, sticking her hips to one side and turning her head up a little.
Mike shook his head and murmered. “And I thought the old song named the devil to be in a Blue dress” He clapped his hands to break the moment. “Now, the second course takes a bit of work and preparation, if you will follow me?” He lead her over to the cooking area and opened the lid of a pot then looked in. “Ah good, full rolling boil. Now if you will look in the sink you will find the second course awaiting your attentions.”
She looked into the sink, saying “I prefer red over blue – it hides blood stains better.” Two lobsters looked back up at her, claws unbound and twitching.
“Now these two petites . . . it is time for their ‘bath’” He rolled up a sleeve and, with a practiced motion, grabbed one and held it up. “The other one, she be yours.” Then he raised an eyebrow in a challenging way.
Victoria raised an eyebrow back at him and debated how to do this. She decided to do it the easy way and simply poke the lobster in the face until it pinched her, then lifted her hand with the lobster hanging off and placed it in the boiling water holding her hand in the water until the lobster let go, then withdrawing it. Her hand showing little sign of damage.
Laughing Mike crowed. “Crude, but tres effective” He dropped his own into the boiling water and the scream of the lobsters (or steam escaping) filled the air for the moment. “They will take a bit to properly cook, have you had lobster before?”
“It’s one of my favorites. My chef does a decent job with them.” She said, nodding.
“Then you know how to use the tools, good”
“I know how.” Victoria said, chuckling. “I don’t usually bother. My teeth and cla – hands work just as well, if not better.”
Mike hoped his grin hid the first reaction to what she was saying, and not saying. “Well, we do not stand on ceremony”
“You use what tools work for you.” He gestured to the table. “Wine?”
“Sounds lovely.” she nodded graciously
Mike held both glasses out, equidistant. She took the one in his left hand and raised it slightly in a toast. “Thank you.”
He acknowledged the toast and drank from his own glass then considered the color. “I know tradition proclaims that white wine goes with seafood but there will be reason for red soon enough.”
Taking a sip and smiling, Victoria replied with a small smile. “I don’t much care for tradition. Whatever works, works.”
“Ah, then on that we agree. I do want to remember to thank you for the interview, before I forget. The raison d’etre, after all.”
“It was no problem. It was fun.” She replied.
“I appreciated the fact that you were giving straight answers, as opposed the the Nation folks, who I now believe to define themselves by not answering questions.” Mike sighed
Victoria giggled “Yeah, talking with them is generally fruitless.”
“For a while I enjoyed poking sticks through the bars but that held little long term fun.” Mike looked up from his glass as a soft chime filled the air for a moment. “Ah, the meat is done.”
She nodded and returned to the window as he removed the lobsters and prepared them on a plate of greens. When he was ready she returned to the table. Mike took up a cracking tool and broke the leg of the lobster then used a long fork to slide some of the meat out and into his mouth. “Now the third course is already in so eat up. Oho, I almost forgot, “ He went back into the kitchen and brought out two saucers of drawn butter from the warming pan. “Eh la, there you go.” He watched as Miss Stecker broke off a leg with her fingers and, cracking it open with her teeth, then fished the meat out with her tongue. “”What works, works.” he murmured more to himself than to her.
She beamed as she dipped the next bit of meat in the butter before pulling it out. If looking closely, one would notice that her tongue is a bit stronger and more coordinated than it should be. Mike tried very hard not to ‘look closely’. They discussed the one thing they had in common, aside from the meal before them, the Sansha.
As a chime sounded Mike was discussing how disconnected from the action he felt. The timing and location of the attacks were often juuuust out of his reach. He walked back into the kitchen and removed two large racks of lamb, carving one into very large portions he filled a platter and set it before Victoria. A smaller plate was enough for himself. “I made the basic assumption of rare, but not Tartar. I hope I was correct?”
He set out a small bouwl of a fruit chutney and another of mint jelly. “Now I don not know if you use condiments but better to be prepared.”
An eyebrow raised and a quirk of the mouth accompanied her answer of “I’m always open to learning.”
“A straight line if I ever heard one My father used to joke that he did not trust condiments . . . but he wish he had after the third child.” Mike chuckled
“You’ll have to forgive how quickly I eat if I’m going to avoid slowing things down.” Victoria warned
“Knife is found on the table, or you may rend and tear at your own meat. You are the guest, you only apologize if you get food on the ceiling.”
Looking up at the ceiling, “I’ll see what I can do. And I’ll clean it if I do make a mess.”
Mike bit back a reply, chuckling and eying the dress. Then he watched for a moment as she picked up the lamb with both hands and begins to devour it at a rate that should not be possible for a woman her size – or any size, for that matter. Smiling he dipped a carefully cus slice of his own meat into the mint jelly. Still chewing he rose to fetch the whipped potatoes and the jullienned carrots. “Side dishes . . . please do not feel obligated to eat them if you prefer the meat.” He could not resist wiggling his eyebrows on the last words.
Her answer was obvious as she finished with the rack of lamb, leaving behind nothing but clean bones and cartilage, and digs into the potatoes, this time polite enough to use the serving spoon… to feed herself.
Reaching over Mike grabbed a scoop of the potatoes and carrots fro himself before leaning back and smiling. “You have no idea how good it is to see a person enjoy ones cookin.” He dug back into his own meal at a more reasonable pace.
“Getting me to eat something doesn’t take much. But this is genuinely enjoyable. If I didn’t have this absurd appetite to deal with, I’d slow down and savor it.”
“Well, you did warn me and if nothing else, I am prone to listen to what people say.” Qietly he cleared her now empty meat plate and replaced it with another large cut from the kitchen.
“Easily my biggest living expense these days is just keeping myself fed.”
“Mine is chasing shinies” Mike admitted
“Oh? What sort of shinies?” She asked with a giggle.
“Ah, that is what I call ships. I always want to fly the next one. A few systems from here I am assembling a Proteus. But on that, I take my time because I have a bad feeling about what will happen when I fly it.
“I prefer to fly things small and disposable. My ‘cane is as big as I care to go, otherwise I stick with t1 and t2 frigates.” She poked at the second rack of lanb and then set in on it.
“Most of those shinies I already fly though a worm . . .that I have yet to find.” He watched her eat for a moment. “Have you ever considered your appetite might just be that? No offense intended”
“A worm? Nah, I know what it is.” She cvhuckled at the thought. “I have some physical.. augmentations, we’ll call them, that enhance my physical abilities but also give me an absurd metabolism.”
“Ah, fuel for the souped up vehicle” Mike nodded.
“That’s a decent way to put it, yes.”
“Well then, refuel away.” He pushed back his own plate and refilled both their wine glasses. “Of course, just because I stop, do not let me slow your feeding,”
She nodded as she devoured the second rack of lamb, the rest of the potatoes and the carrots, then licked her lips with satisfaction. Her tongue, a little bit longer than average, but nothing unheard of.
Mike grinned and cleared the table again. “Well, a sorbet to clear the palate.” He set a small glass of sorbet down for himself and silently passed her a bowl of it. He spooned a small bit of it into his mouth as he watched her lick clean the serving spoon from the potatoes then use the same spoon to eat the sorbet. “I hope you have some room left for the dessert . . . but not too much.” He again cleared off the table and brought out a large bowl of fruit including strawberries, bananas, melon balls but he held up a hand as Victoria leaned forward. “Not yet . . . “ He made one last trip to the kitchen and returned with the finale to the meal. “A chocolate fountain. I hope you are familiar with chocolate fondue? This keeps everything at juuuust the right temperature. You dip the fruit in and . . . “
Victorias eyes had lit up and she looked almost stunned. “Are you serious? I love it!”
“Please, no guzzling directly from the fountain until the very end of the meal.” Mike said laughing.
“If you insist,” and dips a strawberry in the chocolate, then slowly puts it in her mouth and bites through it with an euphoric look on her face, “Oh Mike…. Thank you…”
She looked a little embarrassed, “I’m sorry, I just like strawberries and chocolate… a lot.” Slowly Victoria finished the strawberry, taking the time to savor the flavor as a little of the juice runs down her chin.
“Aha, I have discovered your true power source.” He grinned. “Then the strawberries here, are yours, I shall work with bananas and blackberries”
She looked at him with a slightly worried hint in her eyes, then realized that he was joking, giggled and then slowly dipped another strawberry in the chocolate.
“I do not mean to brag but I am very proud to say that all this food I flew up this morning from the farms below.” Mike smiled wider. “Merde, I DO mean to brag.”
“If you flew it up from the farms below just today… why did I have to wait for weeks for the dinner you promised me?”
Mike held his hands up in mock defence. “I had to find the farms, first. Making contacts and contracts with individual farms takes time.”
She rolled her eyes and then closed them as she bit into another strawberry and sighed.
“But all is forgiven?”
He was ignored while she finished the strawberry then opened her eyes and looked at him, licking her lips. “I’ll think about it.”
“All I can ask for.”
She raises an eyebrow and slowly, seductively ate another strawberry. “Oh, you could ask for more, I imagine… but you might be wise enough not to.” She allowed a little more juice to dribble down her chin to her neck before reaching for a napkin.
“While I am not famed for my wisdom, I do try to have basic survival instinct” While he was not sure of it, she almost looked a bit disappointed but then she ate another strawberry to cheer herself up. Mike reflected on the fate of the lobster and racks of lanb and assured himself that he had made the right decision.
Victoria ate another strawberry, slowly, savoring the flavor. “So Mike… besides cooking and collecting shinies, what do you do?”
“Oh, odd jobs for this agent and that . .. hunt the slavers when they come round, I mine a bit build with what I mine . . . I trade and I have four or five planetary mining operations on the go” He thought for a moment. “I await a chance to end this Sansha 10 million . . . and I write, poorly if you listen to the reviews of the Nation.”
“I think you write just fine, Mike.” She replied finishing the last strawberry and moving on to other fruit, eating them more quickly, enjoying them but not nearly as much.
“ And you? May I inquire as to your activities?”
She shrugged. “These days, not a whole lot. Orhca has been fairly inactive ever since our war with SYNE, and I’ve been working as a hired gun for some folks who decided to set up colonies in lowsec. With the return of Nation attacks, I once again have something to keep me busy.”
“I have missed those attacks, so far. I arrived to see wreckage, for one” Mike muttered under his breath.
“I don’t say that like it’s a good thing. Yeah, they seem to be going for smaller, faster attacks to try and get in and out before overwhelming resistance arrives.”
Mike grinned. “For all their proclamations of being unstoppable they are fighting a careful war.”
“Indeed. I am curious whether they will attack Imperial space again now that the Amarrian Navy has decided to get involved.”
“I had a horrible thought earlier.” Mike mused. “What if the 10 million returned and asked for their lives and properties etc back? What if they did that but were now in the service of the Nation?”
“As long as they serve Nation, they will be turned away, or possibly killed.”
“Perhaps,” Mike answered “but the Nation could use that as a propaganda gold mine. I would.”
“I’ve heard rumors that those being “liberated” are actually going willingly, because they called Nation to get them, not because they are being kidnapped. In that case, they know they are giving everything up when they leave.” Victoria volunteered.
“I had not heard that rumor.”
“Nation doesn’t want it well known. If they give away that they are being contacted and that the people they take are willing, it will give the empires new options for thwarting them.”
“Baiting a trap?”
“Or intercepting communications because they know they should be looking, things like that. Nation may be crazy, irrational, and annoying, but they aren’t nearly as stupid as we’d like them to be.”
“Nothing more bothersome than a competent enemy.”
“Normally I enjoy a challenge, but this time, I simply want Nation to burn.”
Mike grinned wolfishly. Tell me where and when and I will bring the ‘smores.” She giggled at him warmly as he added. “Yes, dear, with extra chocolate.”
Her eyes got a wicked gleam in them as she and licked her lips, then dipped a finger in the chocolate and put it in her mouth, slowly sucking the chocolate off it.
Mike started to sweat, slightly “Now now, no teasing.”
Victoria dipped her finger in the chocolate again, and offers it to him. “Does this count?”
He hesitated and then licked the chocolate off and smiled. “Yes.”
“You going to get upset if I do it again?”
He sighed and grinned. “No, but others might and you get to leave this station.”
“Others? Such as?”
“I have a girl I am seeing. And she is very well known in this station. When you asked where I lived you pretty well announced to the entire station that I had a visitor. While I appreciate being appreciated . . . . I also like to keep all my body parts attached and in their proper places.”
She stared at him quietly. The smiles were gone. “Well, Mike, you’re an idiot. I like you anyways, but that’s beside the point. Announcing to the station that I am coming to visit was foolish if any of them might know who I am. And yes, you announced it to the station when you told me to ask the dock crew rather than simply telling me where you live. I hope your special someone gets word of who I am, not to mention when I was wearing, and gives you hell for it, maybe taking one of those limbs you’re so intent on keeping.” Obviously the little dinner party was over. She stood from the table, dipping her fingers in the fountain and lookng at him with a cold gaze. “I am rarely rejected, Mike, and do not take it well. We will see what I decide to do about this snub.”
He saw her to the door quietly, his survival instinct telling him that anything he said now would either be useless or make things worse. When the door closed and she was gone he walked back to the table and opened another bottle of wine.
“Coulda been worse.”
The sounds of something splintering in the hall sounded for a moment and he did NOT even look in that direction. He looked out the window, across to where Dee worked and smiled. “Stand down, and thank you.”
The next morning as he left he found the deep groves in the outside of the door to your condo. They looked as if they were made by the claws of a large cat, in the shape of a heart with a jagged line through it.
1) I lie.
2) Being prepared is especially wise when dealing with people you do not know or trust
3) Strawberries and chocolate . . . goooood
4) No matter how bad the Sansha plan is, I can probably imagine it a lot worse.