“Kunai? Are you alright?” Alyx called from outside the cabin door.
Kunai rolled over, her head in a fog. Matted hair stuck to the side of her drool-streaked cheek, and there was a definite wet spot on her pillow. She wiped her face with the back of her arm, and remembered passing out at 5AM. She’d been reading a book Emily had leant her. Her reading light was still on, and blinding.
“I’m okay, Captain,” Kunai answered as she crawled out of bed. In the semi-darkness, she stripped out of her PJs and into more appropriate clothes. She could hear Alyx tapping her foot before she opened the door.
Alyx was waiting with crossed arms and a thin smile. Her outfit and hair were immaculate. She’d opted for a sleeveless black shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and slip on shoes. There wasn’t a single stain, crease, or loose thread in the entire ensemble. Even her hair, tied into its usual bun, was freshly washed.
Alyx Falcout was the image of a starship captain.
Kunai looked a sorry sight by comparison.
Her hair, sparse as it was thanks to her undercut, was sloppy. It spilled off her scalp and dangled in front of her eyes. Seeing her captain’s critical look, she tried swiping it away. Oil splotched her crimson shirt, and wrinkles marred her jeans. Likely because she’d folded them into a ball.
There wasn’t anything wrong with her bare feet, though.
Alyx scanned Kunai from top to bottom, her eyebrows inching higher every time she found a new offense. Seeing Kunai try to rub the sleep from her eyes was enough to send them halfway to her hairline.
“Morning, Cap’n,” Kunai yawned.
“Good morning?” Alyx said with a look at her watch. “Kunai, it’s 0815. Why are you just now waking up?”
Kunai thought about this while she scratched her back.
“I got to bed late… my internal clock or whatever is all screwy,” she answered with a wave.
That much she was certain of, despite her sluggish thoughts. The crew had spent a week on Snowblind, an isolated planet far from Union space. There was a six hour difference between ship time and planet time, so while the rest of the crew went to sleep at 11PM, Kunai read Emily’s book, because she felt it was only 5PM.
“We’ve discussed this, Kunai. You have to get to bed on time, and be awake at a reasonable hour. This is not. I expect you haven’t run a systems check yet either, have you?” she said. The hardness to her voice went unnoticed by Kunai’s well tuned sense of subservience.
Her head still in a fog, Kunai frowned.
“The ship’s still flying,” she shrugged. “I checked everything last night. I can sleep in and get it all squared away later – it’s a greased job,” she finished with a wave.
Alyx blinked. But her eyes narrowed to slits, and her face darkened into a scowl. Kunai recognized her mistake immediately. Panic began to well in her stomach and her heart began to pound.
“Excuse me, young lady?”
Kunai tried to backpedal, but before she could open her mouth, Alyx had a single, perfectly manicured finger centimeters from her nose.
“First of all, you will always, always, run a morning diagnostic. I am shocked we have to discuss this,” she raised a second finger. “Second, no, you cannot ‘sleep in.’ Grim made a very nice breakfast. You will come and eat it now, and apologize to Grim for being late.” She raised a third finger, and here Kunai was certain the temperature of the hallway dropped. “Lastly, before you come upstairs, you will straighten out your appearance, and once you are done eating, you will clean your room,” she said with a thrust of her fingers inside Kunai’s cabin. “It’s filthy in there, and I like my ship clean.”
Through the dim light pouring in from the hallway, Kunai could see what Alyx was talking about. Every outfit she owned, all five of them, was strewn about her room. Her jacket was draped over her desk chair. Her favorite black jeans were crumpled into a ball, which she’d kicked into a corner. Shirts and shorts were laying at opposite ends, and there was a pile of undergarments resting square in the middle.
Kunai turned back to Alyx.
“Get it done,” the Captain said.
Kunai watched her walk down the hallway, her back ramrod stiff.
“Aye aye, Cap’n,” Kunai muttered a little too loudly.
Alyx stopped in the middle of the hallway. Kunai held her breath.
“Kunai, do not try my patience.”
Then she climbed up the ladder, and disappeared through the hatch, leaving Kunai alone in her doorway.
With a huff, Kunai went back into her room, twisting her face into mocking expressions as she pulled on her coveralls.
“Good of you to join us, Kunai,” Alyx said as Kunai climbed up the ladder.
The rest of the crew was already seated, and busy eating. Grim had made pancakes and bacon. Kunai had realized this was a custom of his. Steak and eggs before arriving at a planet. Pancakes and bacon on departure.
“We were starting to worry, Kunai,” Grim said. “But, we did save you a plate.” He was sitting at the far head of the table, opposite of Alyx. Next to him was a plate, whose napkin covering he pulled off with dramatic flair. Underneath was a stack of pancakes and bacon. Beside the plate was a cup of coffee, creamy brown and filled with sugar, just how she liked it.
Coffee, and a decent breakfast, was still a marvel to her. They’d served her from a trough at the orphanage. They cooked and served from a heated container. Working at the shipyard wasn’t much better. Every day it was the same. Cereal flavored bars for breakfast. Peanut butter flavored bars for lunch. Chicken flavored bars for dinner. The only time she could ever eat real food was thanks to the black market. She could still remember the first time she’d tried a tomato. She’d almost spat it out. The flavor was too much to handle.
Grim’s cooking was a welcome change of pace. As was a full stomach.
“Thanks, Grim,” Kunai said. Glancing away from the table, and Alyx, she added, “Sorry for being late.”
“No problem. Glad you’re up.”
Kunai walked past Alyx, whose back was to her, and took her seat next to Grim. Beside her, Burke and Thai ate in silence. The clattering of silverware on plates and energetic chewing was their only conversation. On the other side of the table, Allison twirled her combat knife in one hand while reading a paper book in the other. Her mechanical eyes scanned the pages with machine precision. Emily sat next to her, and chewed her food deliberately, a smile on her face. When she saw Kunai was looking at her, the smile grew, and she seemed to grow brighter.
“Why were you late, anyway?” Jack asked. He was sitting beside Emily, across from Kunai, and had already cleared his plate. Now he was trying to balance his fork on a fingertip of his prosthetic arm. “I was about to take your bacon.”
Reflexively, Kunai glanced down to make sure her food was still there. A threat like that on Halcyon would’ve ended with a fork through someone’s hand. Relaxing, she scooped up a mouthful of pancakes and began to eat.
“I overslept,” Kunai said.
Down the table, Allison grunted, the corners of her mouth turning into a smirk. Beside her, Emily leaned over the table, her smile growing as well, albeit in a less sinister fashion.
“Remember, Kunai,” she said in the tone she reserved for early mornings and simple lectures, “it’s important that you adjust to ship time immediately.”
Kunai didn’t look at her as she chewed.
“I know, doc.”
Emily smiled back and continued eating. As Kunai was about to do likewise, she saw Alyx give the slightest twitch of her eyes. Against herself, Kunai felt anger well within her. Her grip on her fork tightened, and her teeth began to grind between bites.
Beside her, Grim delivered a grunt.
“Be sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight then, yeah?”
Kunai glared at him, the anger now finding a convenient outlet.
“I know, Grim,” she said.
Jack’s face contorted into a mocking grin, and Allison snorted. But Kunai could almost feel the left side of her body cook as Alyx’s eyes focused to lasers that cut to her heart.
“Do we need to have another discussion about your attitude this morning, Kunai?” Alyx said acidly.
Kunai was about to spit back when Grim placed his elbows on the table and leaned over his plate.
“Breakfast is no time for fighting,” he said calmly, the whiskers of his prominent beard barely moving.
Alyx tilted her head, ceding authority to Grim. It was her ship, but his kitchen.
“Agreed,” she said diplomatically. With a short glance at Kunai, she added, “Apologize to Grim.”
Kunai wanted to retort, her anger once again beginning to boil. It wasn’t enough that Alyx had chided her for waking up just a little late, and had snapped at her about the state of her room. Now she was screwing with her at breakfast, Kunai’s favorite time of the day!
But the anger faded, slowly, when Kunai remembered that she’d been the one who’d snapped at Grim. But before she could apologize again, Grim had already raised his hand in a sign of peace.
“It’s alright, Kunai. Just get to bed on time tonight, yeah?”
Sitting a bit straighter now, Kunai nodded her head in agreement.
“Sure. Will do.”
At the end of the table, Alyx let out a sigh.