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Big Momma’s Space Diner

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It kinda sucked waitressing at a space diner. The pay was crap, hours were long, and the customers were typically rude sleazeballs. However, Lela’s biggest pet peeve about working there was that management at Big Momma’s insisted that all staff refer to it as a “space diner” when it was perfectly obvious the diner was located in space. The diner took up half of a dingy little space station that’s main claim to fame was being a refuel stop for freighters. Occasionally they got solar surfers, but their system’s star was the quiet sort, so it was typically just folks hauling cargo.

At least the other space station employees were good people. Seacat was the diner’s fry cook and he could whip up any greasy Old Earth treat Lela could think of. He always offered her donuts and other extras for free, despite the fact it was considered stealing from the company. Sometimes she wondered if that meant he was sweet on her, but he had too many tentacles and whiskers for her to consider him dating materials. He probably just liked having someone other than Lugnut to talk to, as the filling station’s only employee was one of those androids built solely to pump gas after the Federation’s ban on sentient life handling radioactive fuel. Lugnut was a great listener, but a terrible conversationalist.

Sometimes Lela wished she could stowaway on one of the freighters just so she could make her way back to an inhabited moon or planet. Ideally, she’d hop on board a ship transporting live cargo so that she could tap into the cryogenic stasis system for the journey. That way she wouldn’t die of starvation, extreme temperature, or boredom. It was a pipe dream though. No captain worth her ship left it unlocked or unattended while docked and the penalties for stowaways were extreme. Lela hoped it was just rumor, but she’d heard more than one story of illegal passengers being jettisoned into open space when they were caught without any repercussions for the crew.

Likely it was just a load of malarkey, but she liked being alive more than she wanted to test that hypothesis. She’d only worked for Big Momma’s for three years; at the current pay scale and deductions for cost of living she’d finally have enough to book safe passage off this crummy station in another three. She wasn’t a hard lifer like Seacat and what got her out of bed most morning was the thought that someday Lela would be free. So she pinched her pennies and bided her time.

One day after Seacat had to chase off some truly awful specimens of the space trucking life they got some different customers. It was a lady and two guys who looked like they stepped out of a commercial. At first Lela thought they were solar surfers, since they were young and looked kinda preppy, but that couldn’t be right. All the stars in the local tri-system had unusually low solar activity for the last several months and the forecast predicted equally low activity. Whatever they were, they were different. That made them interesting in a place where the only source of entertainment was a pinball machine that jammed if you shot the ball into the leftmost hole.

“Welcome to Big Momma’s Space Diner, the only place to eat authentic Old Earth delicacies in almost half a parsec. I’m Lela, your server. What can I start you guys off with?”

“A mechanic who knows the difference between a flux capacitor and his ass,” the lady grumbled, glaring at the man with stellar hair. He totally ignored her to admire his reflection on the back of the napkin dispenser—the company insisted on making the décor reflect some Old Earth style from almost a millennium ago—but the other guy, a blond, cringed. “However, there’s a shortage on those, so I’ll settle for coffee.”

“Right,” Lela said. She wondered if she should offer her services, since she had been a fully certified mechanic a lifetime ago, but years of getting laughed in her face when she mentioned it made her refrain. Besides, her license must have expired while she was trapped on this forsaken space station. “Anything for you gents?”

“Coffee,” the blond said. “And Tanner’ll have whatever juice you’ve got.”

“Hand squeezed,” Tanner added absentmindedly, still staring at his reflection. “Hey, slightly smaller than medium-size me, still looking good!”

Lela wanted to roll her eyes at Tanner’s behavior, but that would be poor customer service; something she couldn’t afford unless they were being truly hideous. Especially after the last group of customers totally stiffed her. Luckily the lady seemed just as fed up with Tanner as she was and rolled her eyes. That coaxed a real smile out of Lela, which she responded to in kind.

“I’ll see about those drinks,” Lela said, already turning to head back to Seacat. “Look over those menus and I’ll be back for your order in a sec.”

Seacat actually hissed when he heard Tanner’s drink order, but he crushed a whole lemon with one tentacle and mixed it with a can of orange concentrate while pouring two cups of coffee from the constantly percolating carafe. He was excellent at multitasking. Lela brought the drinks out, catching the tail end of their conversation.

“I’m just saying, you could be a little nicer to him, Mack,” the blond grumbled.

“Under the circumstances, that’s Captain Fox to you, Brady,” Mack snapped. Her glare softened after a moment and she slumped. “Look, our engine is barely functioning and, while I’m no mechanic, I can guarantee it’ll crap out on us if we try to finish this run with the way it is right now. It was working just fine before Tanner got anywhere near the engine room.”

“Maybe that’s just a coincidence?” Brady suggested, though it didn’t sound like even he believed it.

“Why hasn’t he put any effort into fixing it?”

“He did! He just… accidentally disassembled the water heater instead.”

“That explains the last week of miserable showers.”

“Hey, are you guys ready to order?” Lela asked chipperly. Mack and Brady looked up like they forgot where they were. Tanner continued to ignore her.

“Yeah, I’ll have the sunny side surprise and a side of hash browns,” Brady said. He pointed at Tanner. “He’ll have the omelet with chives.”

“Waffles please,” Mack said.

“Do you want any toppings on that?” Lela asked.

“Umm… whipped cream? Also, a side of bacon more chewy than crunchy.”

“Got it,” Lela said. As she walked away she could hear Brady teasing Mack about her bacon preferences and actually made her laugh. Mack had a lovely laugh.

Seacat accepted the orders and precisely prepared them. While the meals were cooking Lela surreptitiously hung out at the space diner’s counter refilling napkin containers listening in on her table’s conversation. Mostly it revolved around the various ways Tanner had almost destroyed Mack’s ship, while Brady mollified her. Lela had a sneaking suspicion that even if she’d never worked with a similar propulsion system, she’d be a significantly better mechanic. She’d never tried to use cleaner fluid as hair gel.

As soon as everything was plated Seacat hit the bell to get Lela’s attention. He then passed off the dishes and Lela delivered them to the correct recipients. They ate in silence, save Tanner occasionally complimenting his reflection when he caught sight of it on his silverware. When they finished Mack paid the bill and tipped generously.

“Thanks for coming to Big Momma’s,” Lela said. She wished to offer her services, but she couldn’t verbalize it. She didn’t even know what sort of ship they had. Mack waved in acknowledgement and then they were gone. She’d missed her chance. “Damn.”

“You know, you could still catch them,” Seacat purred. “There’s that solarboard in the lost and found.”

“I don’t know how to surf,” Lela said morosely. “My parents thought it was a dangerous hobby.”

“As opposed to engine work?” The muscles in Seacat’s throat kicked up and his purr almost sounded like there was a second ventilation system onboard.

“That’s a practical career,” Lela explained. “I really should have said something. They were probably my best chance off this station.”

“Looks like you get a second chance,” Seacat purred, pointing a tentacle at the door. Mack walked in with an absolutely disgusted look on her face with Brady trailing behind her.

“Do you have a long distance communications relay?” Mack demanded. “Our engines won’t start, Mr. Sparkly Teeth knocked out our transmitter, and the filling station only has a Base 2.0 android.”

“Yeah, but it’s kept in the dormitory,” Lela said. “You need to call for a tow?”

“I’ll go fetch it,” Seacat said. He oozed out of the kitchen and shot Lela a meaningful look as he slunk past. Obviously he wanted her to offer fixing things before he returned. While he left Mack turned to glare at Brady, who threw his hands up in surrender.

“If I have to place a maintenance call the service charges on sending a team out here will eat up all the profit on this run and that doesn’t begin to cover the service charges,” Marck growled.

“Hey, it’s not my fault this station only has a Base 2.0 android. You’d think they’d have at least a 3.0 capable of assessing damage,” Brady protested. “Someone on this space station must know a thing or two about machines.”

“I do,” Lela spoke up. She could feel her heart thudding rapidly in her chest as both of them turned to look at her.

“You what?” Mack asked.

“Know about machines,” Lela said. “Do you want me to take a look?”

Mack stared at her a moment and then shrugged. “Sure. After the work over Tanner gave it, I doubt you could do any damage. Besides, you might even fix it.”

She motioned for Lela to follow her and headed back out into the docking port. Lela tossed her apron on the counter and quickly followed her. Mack double-checked to ensure her ship was still properly docked then twisted open the airlock hatch. Once aboard Mack led her down several corridors until they reached the engine room. Mack waved her inside and then followed her in, shutting the door.

“There she is,” Mack said, pointing at the large massive darkened cylinder. “I tried starting it twice and got a nasty grinding noise the second time—almost sounded like it was about to wrench itself off the walls—so I turned it off immediately. Don’t want to permanently wreck my engine. Normally the thing’s lit up, even a little when the ship’s offline, which is yet another reason I know Tanner fucked up.”

“Got a headlamp?” Lela asked. Mack passed one over and as soon as it was on Lela got to work. She was pleased to see that while the engine looked like a piece of junk, it was a model she recognized and when properly maintained, worked like a charm. She ran a hand along the engine’s flank. “This is in real bad shape. Your nitrate lines have practically solidified, which explains the light loss.”

Lela gently pushed the engine trying to see if it would freely rotate. It didn’t budge. She checked both ends to see if anything was lodged or caught at the shaft ends, but it was clean. The engine should be able to spin cleanly. She got down on all fours to check under the engine for any snares and gasped.

“What’s wrong?” Mack demanded.

“Get down here and take a look.” When she crouched down beside her, Lela pointed out the metal columns leading down from the engine to the floor. They looked like they had been welded in place. “Do you see these? It’s metal that oozed out of the engine and solidified. If you try to start the engine with these things in place you’ll bust the gears and obliterate your ship’s core. Either that or blow the whole thing up.”

“Where did they come from?” Mack asked, frowning at the metal. She poked one metal strip, which didn’t budge. “It’s cold. The engine’s been off for less than an hour. How did this happen?”

“My guess, someone introduced some loose metal, iron or aluminum by the looks of things, into the engine at some point. That’s not ideal—I mean, it’s absolute hell on the internal parts—but everything remains functional while the engine is still running, even if it’s in standby,” Lela explained. “If it goes offline the compression cables stop generating the internal magnetization and the metal, which is liquid if it’s riding around in a running engine, oozes out the bottom leaving a nasty coat along these blades.”

“That still doesn’t explain how these bars formed,” Mack said, tapping another strip of metal. “It should be a hot puddle on the floor, not a cold column.”

“Did you do the shutdown yourself?” Lela asked.

“No. I had Brady do it, since he docked the ship. He’s the better pilot, navigation’s always been my forte,” Mack admitted. Lela nodded.

“I bet he made the ship do an emergency alpha-4 shutdown instead of a general procedure engine shut down. They’re notoriously easy to initial on this class of transport ship and one of the main reasons the design was phased out.”

“What’s an alpha-4 shutdown?”

“Ah… basically it vents everything out of the engine room and lets space in. It was an attempt to counteract the way these engines overheat and explode when they’re pushed past the basic structural integrity of the core. Space is nearly absolute zero, which is great for a cool down and having no air keeps any combustion from occurring; a perfect way to save the engine. However, an emergency alpha-4 shutdown has a nasty side effect of killing anyone in the engine room, which is why the model was discontinued.”

“Holy shit, he could have killed Tanner,” Mack breathed. She shook her head. “Or me. I was down here arguing with him just after we docked.”

“Exactly the situation would be much worse. Look at the bright side. No one’s dead and, if your engine truly needed an alpha-4 shutdown, that spare iron would have turned into a gas and totally coated the entire engine, rendering the whole thing solid when the iron solidified in a space atmosphere,” Lela said. “We can fix this if you’ve got some files and a reciprocating saw or a laser arc knife. Plus, your crew can’t kill us while we work, since an emergency alpha-4 shutdown can only occur while the engine’s on.”

Mack had files and a knife so they got to work. Twisting the laser blade to a reasonable two-inch length, Lela slighted through the iron columns like a hot knife through butter. She sliced through everything roughly half an inch above the floor and the engine’s blade manifolds so as to not accidentally damage the ship. The plan was to then file down the iron nubs, first on the engine to make it functional again and then the floor nubs to remove the tripping hazard.

Lela was in the process of slicing through the last column on the engine while Mack held it steady for her when Brady burst into the room. Unfortunately, the sudden disruption startled Lela and she lost control of the knife. It not only sliced clean through the iron, but also through the blade manifold, and gouged deeply into Mack’s arm. She screamed and Lela dropped the knife. The moment it no longer sensed her biometrics, the laser turned off and the knife clattered harmlessly to the floor.

“Oh crap,” Brady said, staring at Mack’s new wound.

“What?” Mack snapped. She clutched her injured arm just below the wound. As far as Lela could tell the laser cauterized the wound as it cut, leaving the hole bloodless.

“I just wanted to let you know Seacat found the phone and we’ve been waiting almost an hour for you,” Brady mumbled.

“Lela and I are handling the problem,” Mack said through gritted teeth. “Cool your jets, Brady, and fetch me a first aid kit.”

“Right,” he said, eyeing the wound. Then he was off. The sound of his boots hitting the grated flooring told Lela he was moving at a trot.

“Does it hurt?” Lela asked. She knew it was a stupid question. She’d been cut with arc lasers before and they were some of the most painful minor—though potentially major—injuries one could get fixing an engine. Really, she just asked to make small talk.

“Oh yeah, but I’m more pissed about you ruining my favorite blouse,” Mack said. “It’s gonna have to be a half sleeve, three quarter at best, from now on.”

“Sorry.”

“Help me get it off?”

“Of course.”

Mack wasn’t able to do much, so Lela pulled the blouse over her head. She was able to slide her uninjured arm out of the garment easily enough, but the fabric had melted into her skin around the edge of the cauterizing point. Lela had to use her nails to separate the rest of the blouse from the wound. Brady returned with the med kit, but dropped it and stumbled out of the room when he got a proper look at Mack’s injury. They heard him be noisily sick.

“Brady’s great at a lot of things, but handling injuries isn’t one of them,” Mack explained. “I wish we still had Alyssa on board, but she’s working at some main hub hospital now.”

“Is she your former medic?” Lela asked. Mack nodded.

“I was already planning to see her after we got this cargo delivered, now I’ve got double the reason to do so.”

Mack wiped her hands off with a disinfectant pad and then cracked open a container of green gel. It was a fairly standard tool in first aid kits today, meant for filling in wounds. Lela didn’t understand why it was green, but she understood the gel to be at least in part a non-specific stem cell slurry that replaced missing hunks of human flesh. It couldn’t do anything fancy, like replace a missing organ, but it could repair and replace small chunks of missing nerves or blood vessels.

“Can you wrap my arm?” Mack asked. “I can never get the tightness right when I’m doing it one handed.

Lela nodded, grabbing a disinfectant pad of her own. She picked up the length of bandage and wrapped it firmly around Mack’s upper arm before tying it off. Testing the tension in the wrap she was pleased to determine it was tight enough to keep the gel from seeping out while it turned into human flesh, but still loose enough not to cut off Mack’s circulation. Satisfied they had treated the injury, Lela packed up the med kit.

“You gonna get a new shirt?” Lela asked as she watched Mack stretch in her lime sports bra.

“We’re just filing now, right?” Mack asked. Lela nodded. “Then no. Filing isn’t corrosive or otherwise damaging and I’m going to work up a sweat, so why bother sweating up another shirt?”

By the time she finished sanding down her third nub Lela was seriously considering taking off her shirt. While the engine wasn’t outputting buckets worth of heat, like it would if it were on, the room was still tiny and they were both exerting themselves. Mack didn’t have the experience filing in tight spaces, like Lela, so she was fixing the floor. Her back appeared to be a sheen of sweat and muscle. When Lela realized she was staring and not filing she hastily looked away. She turned the engine to get a better angle at the nubs and something inside sloshed unpleasantly. Lela froze.

“What was that?” Lela asked.

“What was what?”

Lela shifted the engine again, which made a sloppy swishing. Mack’s brow furrowed.

“Got a bucket?” Lela asked, already dreading whatever was inside.

Mack grabbed two buckets and a small trough. Together they turned the engine until the screw cap for checking the oil pointed downwards. Then Lela took the cap off. At first nothing happened, but after ten seconds a silted, almost solid, grey sludge oozed out. Mack’s face morphed into unmitigated disgust.

“What the hell did Tanner do to the engine oil?” Mack demanded, totally outraged.

“I have no idea, but you’re going to want to replace all of this crud. Probably also get this unit a full spray down at a full repair station, but basic replacement will probably be good enough for now. Lugnut can hook you up with new engine oil.”

“Who is Lugnut?”

“Our Base 2.0 droid. We call him Lugnut. Seacat taught him how to play gin rummy, but that’s about the extent of his social skills.”

“Huh, I had no idea you could even get those old things to do that much,” Mack admitted. “Learn something every day.”

While the engine slowly drained Mack headed over to the filling station. When she returned it was with Lugnut in tow, who carried a massive container of engine oil. Lela was delighted the android came along; even with Brady and Tanner’s help they couldn’t have carried an entire engine’s worth of oil in one go. Lugnut held the oil without protest until after the crud stopped draining and Lela turned the engine 180º so that he could refill the tank. Mack held the engine in place until Lela found the stabilization lock, after which the process was much easier.

“Thanks Lugnut!” Lela called as the android rolled away once the process was finished. He had been curious enough to wait until after Mack poured the hazardous waste into the oil container and then hauled it away for proper disposal.

Together the pair spent another hour filing down nubs on the engine until Lela could barely feel any bumps where the iron had been. Both were sweating and exhausted, but Lela felt strangely giddy because she was finally working on an engine again. Or perhaps the engine room’s ventilation system needed to be checked out and they weren’t getting fresh air anymore. Either seemed equally likely considering the quality of Tanner the mechanic.

“Think we can turn her on now or do we need to repair that blade manifold you sliced through?” Mack asked.

“It should hold, at least for a while. I only nicked out like an inch, which shouldn’t be enough to render it nonfunctional,” Lela said, feeling vaguely defensive. Mack shrugged and grinned to show she didn’t mean anything by it.

While one of them could run up to the bridge and turn the system on from there, they decided on a local start. That way if something went wrong both ladies would be on hand to sort it out. Besides, they were both hoping to see the engine light up. Mack headed over to an access panel to turn it on, since she knew the ship’s security codes while Lela hung out a safe distance away from the engine.

“Here goes nothing,” Mack said.

She hit the start button. The engine roared to life, nitrate lines turning an electric blue as the blades slowly rotated. As they watched the blades whirled faster and faster until they could no longer see the inner workings of the engine and the lighted lines made impressive optical illusions due to the rotation.

Lela laughed and clapped while hopping in place. They got the engine working without any significant outside help. More importantly, she still knew how to fix an engine. Mack threw her arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug. Before Lela knew it she was kissing her. She wasn’t certain who started it, but they were both responding. It was a great way to celebrate victory. Mack was not only easy on the eyes, but not old, sleazy, male, or a combination of the three, like her previous offers on the space station. Lela could feel years of frustration dissolving into the kissing and from the way she was kissed back, she assumed Mack was sublimating a lot of anger as well.

When they finally broke apart both women were panting heavily. Mack had an oversized grin on her face and from the way her cheeks felt Lela suspected she did as well.

“You are the first bit of good luck I’ve had in months,” Mack laughed. “Ever since Brady insisted we bring Tanner aboard one thing after another has gone wrong. So thank you.”

“No problem. It was nice to finally do what I want to do in life again,” Lela said.

“Ugg, I need coffee and a shower,” Mack groaned. She stretched and winced when she tweaked her arm wrong. “Come on. I’ll buy you a cup while I deal with my crew.”

“I already get free coffee, but sure,” Lela said. She followed Mack back into Big Momma’s.

Tanner sat in a booth next to Lugnut and Brady was at the counter chatting with Seacat. Everyone stopped what they were doing to look up when the ladies entered the room. Brady asked about the ship.

“Thanks to Lela, the engine’s up and running again,” Mack announced, wrapping an arm around Lela’s shoulders. Lela grinned at the praise.

“Awesome!” Brady cheered, arms pumping into the sky. Seacat clapped as well.

“Good job,” Tanner said. He looked directly at Mack for the first time since they met. “Though I bet I could have fixed it with a little more time.”

“Dude, you caused the problem. I found an overturned box of bolts on a shelf just above the engine and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen you spill things and not pick up,” Mack said. “You’re fired. I don’t want you stepping foot on my ship again.”

“Come on, Mack, don’t be so harsh. You can’t strand Tanner on an out of the way space station. No offense, Seacat,” Brady said. Seacat waved off the apology. He knew the station was in poor shape as well. “He’s our friend and crewmate.”

“I can’t count the number of things he’s bungled up. Tanner’s nearly destroyed my ship twice. I’m not giving him a third chance,” Mack said. “And you’re fire too, Brady.”

“On what grounds?” Brady demanded.

“You shut off the ship so totally wrong it broke the engine! We spent three hours fixing things after you two screwed it up and I got stabbed. Brady, you’re my best friend and a great pilot, but the way you powered down the ship would have killed anyone in the engine room and I am still scared and angry about that,” Mack said. She crossed her arms. “But Tanner’s definitely fired.”

“It wouldn’t be that hard to rewire the dash so an emergency alpha-4 shutdown isn’t super easy to perform,” Lela said. “I could do that.”

“That reminds me, would you like a job?” Mack asked, turning to Lela. “I can’t pay you, since Tanner got the mechanic’s salary for this job, but you’d have room, board, and a ride to one of the central hub planets. If you wanted to stay on after that, you’d be the mechanic of record and get a reasonable salary.”

“I—yes!” Lela shouted. “Sign me up, I’m your mechanic! Let me grab my things from my dorm and I’ll be ready to go. Seacat, I’m sorry, but I quit.”

“I figured,” Seacat laughed. “No worries, I ran Big Momma’s on my own before and I’ll do it again.”

“Thanks Seacat,” Lela said. She hugged the octo-kitty tightly. “I’ll miss you.”

“Drop me a postcard and maybe some fresh salmon,” he purred. “You’re gonna do great things.”

Lela ran and fetched her things. By the time she returned Mack had relented on Brady’s firing, but she still held firm to Tanner remaining on the station. By this point Tanner had realized that meant he was going to be left behind. Unsurprisingly, he found this rather upsetting and was trying to make a plea for Mack to reconsider.

“But I’m your mechanic, Mack,” Tanner whined. “You can’t fly without a mechanic. Isn’t that against the law?”

“Which is why I got a new mechanic,” Mack said.

“But, but… I want to see the galaxy with my friends. You’re my friends! Besides, you’ve never met a better solar surfer. You said that, Mack.”

“He’s got you there,” Brady said. “We only started hauling cargo to afford our lifestyle. It’d be cruel to kick him off here by such a low activity star.”

“And I don’t want to die because he decided to improve my ship,” Mack said.

Tanner burst into tears. “But I love you two! You’re the first people who liked me for being more than pretty!” Mack looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“What if Tanner promised not to open anything and stay out of the engine room? I can keep an eye on him to make certain he stays out of trouble,” Brady said. He rested his hands on Tanner’s shoulders and gave Mack a winning grin. “Please, Mack? Just until we finish this run and he can hook up with some other surfers.”

“I guess I could help keep an eye on things too,” Lela added. “I need to go over the ship with a fine tooth comb anyway. Wouldn’t be that hard staying on the lookout for Tanner. Besides, a ship of this size really needs a crew compliment of at least five or six. We’re woefully staffed even with the boys; I doubt we’d finish the trip with only two people.”

“Okay, you’ve made a logical argument for keeping Tanner. He can come along.” Tanner whooped and pulled Mack off her feet into a hug. She struggled free. “However, you’re on sanitation duty and if I catch you mucking about in any electrical or mechanical system on the ship, I’m leaving you on the next rock we pass. No exceptions!”

“Aye-aye, Captain!” Tanner promised, saluting.

With that settled, the crew boarded the ship. Mack sent Brady to the bridge for undocking and to get them back on course. As per his new restrictions, Tanner accompanied him. Then Mack led Lela to the crew quarters and assigned her a cabin. It wasn’t a particularly large room, but it didn’t seem significantly smaller than her previous dorm room. Plus the room not only had a bed, but a porthole as well, so that was a step up.

“So this’ll be your room. Showers and that sort of thing are down the hall, last door on port. Make certain any used water goes down a drain so it can be recycled, you know, typical space travel stuff. Brady and Tanner are on either side of you, while I’m down the hall starboard side by the stairs,” Mack explained. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thanks,” Lela said. She dropped her bag by the built-in shelves and her comforter on the bed. She’d settle in more once the ship was on its set course. As things stood, she wanted to watch as they left Big Momma’s Space Diner, since that had been her home for the last three years.

“One more thing. About earlier… I didn’t ask you to join because of what happened. I’m a professional and you’re a great mechanic,” Mack said. “I’m not expecting any sort of perks from you and I’ll never mention it again, if you want.”

“You mean the fact we made out in the engine room?” Lela asked. She enjoyed the blush that flushed across Mack’s cheeks.

“Yes. The kissing,” Mack said.

“But what if that’s part of why I joined on?” Lela stepped closer. It wasn’t, but she was enjoying teasing her new captain. Mack was very cute and she wouldn’t mind getting to know her better.

“Then I think we can work something out,” Mack grinned. She bent down and lightly kissed Lela. “I should probably go check to see if we’re on course. Catch you later?”

“Wait. Will you watch our take off from Big Momma’s with me?” Lela asked. Maybe it was silly, but she wanted the company.

“Of course,” Mack said. She led Lela up two decks to a medium sized common room. The back wall of the room held a large bay window. “This is our lounge and the closest thing we have to an observation deck. Best place to watch any astronomical phenomena.”

Lela leaned into Mack as they watched Big Momma’s grow smaller and smaller in the ship’s rear view mirror. Perhaps she felt a little nostalgic leaving the diner after three years, but she mostly felt a sense of freedom. She was finally a mechanic on a ship again and, if the body behind her were any indication, it would be a highly fulfilling gig. Lela couldn’t remember the last time she had an actual relationship.

Just as the sign board proclaiming ‘Big Momma’s Space Diner’ became too small to read, all the lights on the ship blacked out. Mack let go of Lela and practically howled Tanner’s name. Lela giggled and squeezed Mack’s uninjured arm.

“Come on,” Lela said. “Together I bet we can fix whatever they broke. Let’s go sort this out.”

That’s exactly what they did.