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Lucky Starr and the Ambassadors of Eris

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Seventeen years ago

"I'm on financial aid, as well."

"Oh." John fastened the strap securely around the sturdy stalks of iron-rich Mars fodder and passed the bale to the girl - Kathleen, if he remembered correctly from roll call in class the week before. "I though that... I mean... out here..."

Kathleen shrugged at John and smiled as she took the bale, shoving it neatly into the back of the sand truck as she started a new row. "You thought that girls only worked in the kitchens?"

"Pretty much."

"Yeah, they told me I had to start there.  We had a long discussion about how I am majoring in seeding and husbandry, not cooking."

"Discussion?" John passed her another securely wrapped bale.

"Yes, a bit of a loud one. Some things might have been thrown.  But it was convincing, in the end."

John had to laugh, then. "I'm sorry I missed it."

"Yes, I've heard you don't shrink from a row yourself..."

"I don't have much room to shrink," John noted, ruefully.  It was not a subject he usually addressed, or had any tolerance for addressing. But she was smaller than he was, after all - despite the ease with which she pulled the bales of Mars-grain up and into the bed of the sand truck, her large forearms bulging.

"Neither one of us. Do you think we have room for one more?"

"Two more," John said, with confidence.  "One like this..." He tossed a bale up to her, pointing at a gap, "On its side more... yes, there, and the last one..."

"Here!" she said, with glee, grabbing the last one and wedging it into the tight space with a few labored breaths.  "A good nights' work."

John picked at the fingers of his gloves, looking at her.  He didn't normally... but she was a bit different, too, wasn't she? Tiny and short-haired and almost manly in appearance, with her big shoulders and small breasts. The contrast to the rare, willowy girls he had met so far at school was striking. "Would you like... do you want..."

She cocked her head to the side like a curious dog. "What?"

"Dinner? Maybe? I mean, we go to the same mess, so it's not really..."

"Oh, yes, sure." She spoke as hastily and awkwardly as he. "I mean, we're working together, and have at least one class, we should be... friendly..."

"Study together, compare notes..."

"Yes! Just like that." She hopped down to his level. To just slightly below his level. "I never got your name..."

"John. John Jones.  You're... Kathleen?"

"Yes, good!  Leena for short.  I mean..." She flushed slightly.

"No, it's fine, really." John could feel his jaw setting. Like people didn't usually relish saying for short and You'll be here shortly? and to make a long story... around him.  "It's fine. Let's eat."