Episode 11 – “Masquerade”, part 6

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The cafeteria was, unsurprisingly, crowded as hell.

Apollonia tried to hide Angel under one of her fronds, not expecting that they’d let the dog in, but a server drone came up to her immediately.

“We have few seats, but we can accommodate you and Angel the Terrier, Ms. Nor.”

Amused at how easily the drone had seen through her attempts at subterfuge, Apollonia let it lead her to a table that was mostly empty.  Most other tables were packed, with people in costumes or uniform, but this area appeared to have just been opened to meet new demand.

“Will this do?” the drone asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” she said.  “Just a corn dog for me and . . . well I guess some dog food for little Angel.  Even though she’s a bee.”

The drone paused, taking that in for a moment.  “I fully understand,” it said.

Apollonia was wondering if it really did as she sat down.

Y had gotten sidetracked along the way, but came loping in now, sitting down across from her.

“I didn’t think they’d let a dog in here,” she said, putting Angel on the table, who began to sniff it curiously, before licking a random spot with intensity.

“An animal of such breeding as Angel will have a much more human-friendly microbiome than most companion animals,” Y noted.  He looked to the dog as she continued to lick the table.  “Not that I would recommend letting her lick your food.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not that crazy,” Apollonia replied.

A drone brought out a plate with her corn dog and Angel’s small pile of . . . some sort of brown mushy lumps.  It looked horrible, but the dog began to eat ravenously, practically horking it down.

“She’s easy to please,” Apollonia noted.

Y looked at the dog, pausing.  For a moment she thought that he was about to launch into a long discussion of dogs and space dogs and their preferences in food, but instead he simply nodded mechanically.  “It does appear so.”

She took a bite of her corn dog, wondering suddenly how the more intelligent space hounds would feel about a food being named for their kind.  Was that insulting?

Though, she considered, if she had a food named after her, she’d probably be thrilled.  Hot Nors, she thought.  Or maybe Fried Nors – crunchy on the outside with a gooey center.

Looking again at her corn dog, she reconsidered.  It might depend on the food.

“Do you mind if I read while we sit?” Y asked, taking a rather heavy book out of a panel on his side.

“I suppose not,” Apollonia replied, chewing.  “Am I that boring, though?”

“I just often multi-task – I could generously be called ‘manic’ at times, in my desire to do multiple things,” Y replied.  “In this case, I am attempting to mimic the human experience by using an actual physical book rather than merely a digital copy.”

“Ah,” Apollonia replied.  “By all means, then.”

She had seen books before, but rarely.  They were something of a status item for snobs in her home system, though being book-smart wasn’t often considered a desirable trait there.  Occasionally she’d seen them in shops, though.  Usually the kind with prints of naked women in them.

Seeing movement behind Y, Apollonia leaned to the side and saw a group of people headed towards them.  Two she recognized immediately; Kiseleva and Suon, from the Response team that had been with her on the pirate ship.  The third was a shorter, nebbishy-looking man who was slouching along behind them.

Among them, only Suon had a costume on; it was a dark cloak, either black or blue.  There was heavy fur trim around the hood that partially covered his head, and he had a kind of holographic mask that seemed ethereal and darkened his face beneath, rendering it difficult to see.  The holographic effect projected outward like the beak of a raven, punctuated with glowing red eyes.  From his back were large feathered wings, also black, that seemed to move like the real thing, shifting and at times even stretching.

They were directed by a drone, talking animatedly to each other.  Kiseleva didn’t seem to have her normal stern demeanor; she was laughing at something Suon was saying, and smiling, which was almost startling for Apollonia to see; the woman was usually so serious.  Or maybe just serious when she was working?  Jaya had been the same way, Apollonia thought.

Then Kiseleva’s eyes settled on Apollonia, and her face turned back to that stoic seriousness again.  She felt her anxiety rise.

She hadn’t seen the woman since that mission; some sort of hiatus from training, which she had viewed gratefully.  Though maybe that was about to end.

“Do you mind if we sit here?” Suon asked.

“Please, the more the merrier,” Y said, gesturing expansively.

Kiseleva and Suon sat, Kiseleva next to Y, and Suon crossing to Apollonia’s side and sitting next to her.  He seemed to automatically sit close, but then moved a little away, his wings shifting.

“Sorry,” he said, seeming for a moment like he wanted to say something else, but decided better of it.

Apollonia nodded awkwardly, wondering why the two had sat just down with them when there were other spots available.  She barely knew Suon, and Kiseleva was not exactly her buddy.

The nebbishy man hesitated before taking a seat, but came around to sit on Apollonia’s side, though a further distance away.

“So anyway,” Suon said to Kiseleva.  “I still think Maxwell was far more significant than Kotikov.  He invented a whole new genre, for star’s sake!”

“No,” Kiseleva disagreed simply.  “Kotikov was greater.”

Suon sighed dramatically.  “I’m not going to say who was greater – I’m definitely not qualified for that, I’m just saying that Maxwell had more influence!”

“Are you guys talking about music?” Apollonia asked, leaning forward.  She still felt awkwardly out of place, but they had sat next to her, so she had an odd sense of euphoria – like she was part of a group.

< Ep 11 part 5 | Ep 11 Part 7 >

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