The ship was quiet when she woke, but not silent, and for that Bobbie found herself grateful. As a soldier she had learned a long time ago to function with only the bare minimum of sleep, but that didn’t make it easy. It had been some time since she’d been able to rest well and thoroughly, to sleep deeply and with a feeling of relative safety. But as she awoke this time – far more slowly and without the inevitable plunging feeling in her gut that she associated with recalling her new reality anew with each cycle – she felt rested. She felt good, even.
And it was because the ship was quiet, barely stirring, but every sound and feeling was familiar – the ever-present ship’s hum, the rhythmic tones of sensors indicating the ship’s well-being, and the light at the head of her bunk that glowed just a little brighter as the ship registered her body’s change as she awoke. Bobbie had slept in an identical bunk on a nearly identical ship years before. Her chest tightened briefly with a nearly overwhelming sense of nostalgia, and she closed her eyes, lost briefly in the memory of another time when she woke to Hillman’s sleep-muddled curses, Travis’s quiet prayers, and Sa’id’s teasing laughter. She drew in a deep breath, and let the memory fade away as she quietly slipped from the bunk and eased herself to the floor. She might be wide awake now, but in the bunk below, Chrisjen slept deeply still. The older woman was not fragile – Bobbie knew better, now – but their flight from the Guanyshiyin had taken its toll on all of them. With a last soft glance over her shoulder, Bobbie closed the door to their quarters and left Chrisjen to sleep.
Once at the stairs she hesitated, glancing downward – she could perhaps find privacy with her thoughts in one of the storage lockers, or tend to her armor there, but a different kind of longing altogether sent her climbing the stairs toward the canteen. This familiar-but-not ship would hopefully yield a few other scraps of comfort, if she was lucky. Her tread was light as she passed the med bay, hoping that Cotyar still rested easily within, but not daring to stop and check in on him. There was too much risk that she would find other members of the ship’s crew looking in on their captain’s recuperation, and she wasn’t yet prepared for that, she judged. They talked around the injury he’d sustained in a determinedly casual way that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and she found herself overly sensitive to lies these days, even ones of omission.
Instead she climbed to the next deck of the ship, into the warmly-lit canteen, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief as she found it empty. It felt good; the fast-growing vine plants set into each corner of the room always made the air a little fresher here than anywhere else on the ship. They framed herbs and edible greens that gave the room a faint but pleasantly rich scent. Earthy, she’d heard it described before, though Earth had smelled nothing like it, in her estimation. Bobbie skimmed her fingers over the countertops, tapping her nails rhythmically as she fixed her gaze on the coffeemaker set into the wall and a smile began to curve the corner of her lips. She paused then and furrowed her brow briefly, drawing on glimpses of old memory, and abruptly pulled open the flat panel door she thought was the right one. Inside was a tremendous prize - row upon row of heavy bags full of rich, Mars-grown coffee. Bobbie pumped her fist in silent victory and grabbed one of the bags with a grin, turning eagerly for the coffeemaker.
“That’s about how the captain reacted, too. Can’t say as I blame him. It’s the very best, grown in the oldest northern hemi biosphere.” Bobbie pivoted sharply, settling her weight on her leading foot and raising her left hand to strike the intruder before she had even consciously registered the other’s presence. The ship’s pilot, Alex, raised one hand gingerly in surrender, a briefly-panicked expression on his face giving way to sheepishness.
“Whoah, easy there, ma’am, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said quickly, taking a step back toward the stairs in the face of Bobbie’s sudden sharp turn. She jerked her hands down to her sides, clutching the coffee to her hip, half-hiding it without even realizing what she was doing.
“Just after a fresh cuppa myself, that’s all. You want me to get it started for us both?” he offered. Bobbie recognized the tone in his voice to be one you’d employ with sensitive children and skittish animals, and she felt heat rising in her cheeks.
“I can do it,” she said gruffly, turning back to the machine and stiffly going through the motions of setting a pot to brew, flattening her lips into a mutinous line as she set the pot to brew just this side of espresso strength, childishly making profligate use of the coffee supplies. They had plenty, and besides, if anyone on board deserved to make free use of the ship’s resources, it was her, after all.
“I’m sure you do,” Alex replied carefully from behind her. She resolutely refused to turn and look back at him, but she could hear him retreat back toward the tables on the far side of the galley, giving her space.
Bobbie dropped her head slightly as the machine began to whir and grind quietly. She was wrong, of course. As a deserter – and that’s what she was, she reminded herself fiercely – she had no more right to the supplies on this ship than did anyone else. But it didn’t stop her from making the coffee, and willing it to brew faster so she could take her cup and go below, cleaning armor that had already been cleaned twice over once more in silence to drown her uneasiness in familiar tasks. But the man behind her wasn’t about to let them remain in awkward silence.
“She’s a right marvel, the Roci. The coffee’s the least of it, really, but it helps. Never thought I’d fly anything like her, but she’s a sweet ship. You ever serve on a ship like this’un?” he drawled casually. Bobbie glanced sharply over her shoulder. He stood with a hip cocked against the table, toying with the chrome coffee cup in his hands idly, his eyes fixed on her. She half-turned and took the liberty of studying him where he stood, unperturbed by her sudden scrutiny. Something about his easy skill maneuvering the craft and the familiar cadence of his Mariner Valley accent reminded her of soldiers she’d served with in the past.
“You’re from Mars.” He seemed unsurprised both by the statement and that she avoided the question, smiling faintly as he nodded.
“Canyon born-and-bred, yeah. Haven’t been back in a dog’s age, though,” he said mildly, a faint line appearing between his brows as he answered, his gaze sliding away for a moment before returning to her own.
“I flew cargo, mostly, in my day. Nothing like this. Certainly nothing like this,” he said, tilting his head slightly toward the coffee stores. While every Martian vessel would have coffee stores, she knew, not many would have supplies of such quality. Bobbie snorted out a breath and turned back to the coffeemaker.
“A few times,” she said after a moment’s pause, answering his earlier question reluctantly. “It wasn’t uncommon for a ship like this one to have a small detachment of Marines aboard. But you know that.” Her tone edged toward the accusatory, unable to resist the dig, but he only made a mild noise of agreement.
“Mmm, that’s true enough, sugar.” Huffing in affront at the endearment, she turned a baleful glare on him, only to find him proffering packets of sweetener in her direction. She shook her head sharply, and he put them away with a nod, fishing out the packets of lightener and waving them in her direction as well.
“I don’t hold with the sweet stuff either, but Naomi and Amos need their dose of it.” Bobbie snorted a little in derision.
“The only good coffee is as bitter as the devil…” she said automatically.
“...and hot as hell,” he finished the old Martian saying with a chuckle, and she found herself returning his smile faintly, even as he dumped a single lightener into his own cup.
“Admittedly, I like mine only as hot as a lesser hell, perhaps,” he said mildly. He pointed his chin toward the coffeemaker, which puffed out a soft breath of steam as the light indicators changed to announce that the brew was complete.
“Ladies first.” She rolled her eyes but didn’t hesitate, pouring herself a cup and raising it to her nose in a swift and smooth motion, inhaling the vapor and only just stopping herself from groaning with relief. Alex waited patiently, only stepping toward the machine when she moved away so as not to crowd her. Bobbie let the coffee steam bathe her face, her eyes half-closed in pleasure, and she took a tentative sip. The bitter brew scalded her tongue but in a way that warmed her through.
“I swear, ma’am, if I hadn’t known just from meeting you that you were a Marine, I’d’ve known from the brew alone. Could use this brew to etch my initials in the hull, if I cared to.”
“But you wouldn’t,” Bobbie said firmly. He hummed agreement.
“Not likely, no. She’s had a tough time of it lately, our girl, but that kinda thing would be beneath us both,” Alex said, fondly patting the countertop.
“What…what was she before?” Bobbie asked abruptly. “She’s from the Donnager, isn’t she?” Alex’s expression stilled, and he nodded.
“She was the Tachi when we escaped with her. Lieutenant Lopez took us to her, and though he didn’t make it, we were able to escape before Captain Yao scuttled the Donnager, taking out all the bastards had boarded her. She rose to the occasion right and proper, but she needed a new name after all that. I had some more impressive ideas, but Roci does fit her. She’s good and true and steady for us, despite everything.” His voice was steady, though the telling took visible effort, she judged. She thought she knew the feeling.
“But not a MCRN ship, not anymore,” Bobbie said quietly, a slightly wistful expression on her face.
“In all the ways that matter, she is,” he replied pointedly. She cocked her head at him slightly, curious, and he only affected an innocent expression as he edged back away from the coffeemaker. He set his coffee down on the countertop and pursed his lips.
“If you’ll excuse me for being forward, ma’am…” Something in her expression must have made him uneasy because he swallowed whatever he was about to say, shaking his head, and instead reached into the drawer from which he’d earlier retrieved the coffee fixings, and gingerly produced a small box patterned in colored squares, waving it with a soft, wryly self-deprecating look. Bobbie blinked owlishly at the box, and then back up to meet his gaze.
“I take it you’re in desperate need of getting your arse kicked, then,” she said, allowing a hint of mock regret to sip into her voice.
As a hopeful grin spread across his face, Bobbie couldn’t help but smile in return.
Chrisjen Avasarala left her berth an hour later, hoping against all hope that she might find a pinch of tea on board, but considering the provenance of this particular ship, she wasn’t holding her breath. Nonetheless, she raised her chin and began climbing the stairs upward toward the ship’s canteen steadily. A sudden clatter and a deep, throaty groan echoing from above drew her suddenly up short.
“HA. Get sucked, greenie,” Bobbie said, smug pleasure coloring her voice. Chrisjen blinked in confusion. What on Earth…
“You sure weren’t kidding, I’m beat, gunny, I’ve not gone a round like this in ages,” someone replied with an almost weary tone – that was the drawl of the ship’s pilot, Chrisjen judged.
“I did warn you,” Bobbie chuckled.
“I blew you first!” came his indignant reply, and Chrisjen choked on an indrawn breath. Some hint of noise must have escaped because the two voices above fell silent, and then she heard heavy footfalls crossing the room above before Bobbie’s concerned face appeared above her.
“Ma’am? Are you quite alright?” There was a bit of a flush to her cheeks, but she didn’t appear in any way disshveled or bothered by the other woman’s appearance. Chrisjen made a small show of adjusting her scarf and carefully climbed the last few steps, huffing and batting gently at the arm Bobbie offered her solicitously.
“I’m fine, fine, stop hovering!” She scanned the room to see the ship’s pilot seated at one of the two large canteen tables, bent over a colorful board, manipulating small pieces on it with a grimace and rubbing at his face with a free hand before sitting back with a sigh. He inclined his head briefly in her direction and began quickly picking up the pieces of the game, putting them away into a small box. The board itself rolled up tightly and disappeared within as well.
“I want a rematch sometime,” he said, wagging a finger in Bobbie’s direction.
“Any time, like I said. Maybe it’ll hurt less when the beatings turn regular,” she replied, the corner of her mouth drawn up in a teasing grin. Alex affected a mock pain, pressing his hand to his chest.
“Naught but cruelty, I tell you. In any case, ma’am, thank you for the pleasure of your time and the diversion, painful as it might’ve been.” With a nod of his head, and murmured “ma’am” in Chrisjen’s direction as well, he disappeared the game box into a drawer and trotted up the stairs to the deck above. Chrisjen quirked a brow and began rummaging through drawers and cabinets with brisk efficiency.
“Making friends, I see,” she said, glancing briefly in Bobbie’s direction. The other woman stood in the middle of the canteen, peering up after the departed pilot with an expression Chrisjen found hard to read.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Bobbie finally said, shaking her head, before setting down her coffee cup and unerringly heading for a particular cupboard, a small furrow appearing in her brow.
“You seemed to have made a connection, nonetheless,” Chrisjen pressed gently. When Bobbie turned to her with a canister of tea in her hands by way of distraction, she was briefly put off her line of questioning.
“You say that now…” Chrisjen shook her head and waved a hand briefly, cutting off Bobbie’s half-apologetic reply.
“I know it won’t be good, but it will do.” She set herself about the familiar and comforting task of tea preparation, side-eyeing the elaborate coffeemaker with disdain. After a few minutes of fairly companionable silence, Chrisjen turned back to Bobbie as her tea steeped, folding her hands at her waist with an expectant expression. Bobbie frowned.
“It was just a game, ma’am,” she said finally, a little hesitantly. Chrisjen shook her head and smiled faintly.
“It’s rarely ‘just’ anything, but don’t mistake me. There’s nothing wrong with getting to know our new hosts more closely, and enjoying yourself. As long as you promise me one thing,” she said gravely, fixing Bobbie with a piercing look, as the other woman nodded sharply.
“You have to thrash him next time, too.”