45.2 \ 227

“That sounds perfect. Okay if I ride in the back till we get there?” The lad punched a pretend sequence into the dash between the buttons.

“No problem. Won’t be very long, I know a place in Betacort,” replied the Captain. Toller poked his way to the hold, mussing his short black hair with a hand. A moment where looking presentable was not required. He took a seat on the floor against the wall, as he felt the smooth action of the ship’s low-altitude scoot. He dug into his pocket and brought out the slip of paper with thirteen words written on it in three lines.

parboiled generous diverticulated immediate
crystalline veracity conjugation aorta sphinx
keratinaceous quorum zenith wander

Maybe someone could make sense of it, but he didn’t want to try. She said he could bring this seal to the management to run it through their system, if he wanted, and they would let him in. He’d have a place to stay, and get to receive the finest schooling the Pan-Galactic Imperium had to offer. Tell them, full ride with dorm. She said her younger brothers would be in school with him, and that Cristobal was very close to his age. She said it all carefully, without commanding him in any way, only that this was possible and that he may go if he liked. Her even, careful tone communicated trust in whatsoever he felt he should do or say, and her penetrating gaze gave him her opinion that this may be something that he, or she, or they, would very much like to happen. Toller worked on memorizing the words in order, in case he lost the slip of paper. Sometimes even pants get left behind.

Wendel spoke over the com, “I’m parking now at Diner Vertris. Serious comfort food, order whatever you want. I know I will!”

The diner had simple booths, and the walls were muraled with vertrisian foliage. They shared an appetizer, took their time over an entree each, and then got dessert. Chuckles between comfortable silences, and gazing through the window onto a sunny afternoon. Halfway through dessert, Toller put down his fork and said, “Hey, I’m going to split and walk around for a while. Be just myself again.”

Wendel slowed her chewing as she read his look, quirking her mouth in a smile. “Going to enjoy terra firma? I can understand that. We had a long and distant voyage.” The Captain pulled out her cash folio and slapped a stack of bills on his side of the table, which the boy pocketed. “It’s enough for a backpack, supplies, and a fare. You know my CD signal.” She also produced one each of four different contact cards. “You can use any of these to get in touch, depending on your area and your order of business. Anytime, whatever I’m doing, I’ll get back to you ASAP.”

Toller chased together one more pile of jungleberry cobbler. “I believe you. Thanks.” Delivering the bite to his mouth, he tapped the table with his hands as he stood, scooting out of the booth. He walked through the door and past the windows, meeting glances with Wendel as he headed away. Smiling, she quietly finished her dessert, and then finished the rest of his.

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