* * *
It wasn’t until dinner the next evening that Pepper and Stone managed to get a moment to speak to each other. The Wisp was waiting for him at the table when he came in, a reader paper in each hand and a wrinkled brow as he seemed to compare the two.
“New job?” Pepper asked, moving to take the papers from him for dinner.
“Maybe,” he replied, sighing as he handed them to her. “Maybe a new war between the P’sha and the Black Cats. The P’sha want to hire us for some wet work.”
“Weren’t they the ones who…”
“Yes.” Stone cut her off before she could finish the sentence and pulled her chair out for her.
“Do they know who you are?” She asked, concerned, as she sat down.
“No.” He said, slowly, his eyes had a faraway look in them that made her suddenly uneasy.
“Stone.”
“No.” He was more present this time, more firm in his answer as he let go of her chair and moved to his own. “Different name, remember? Plus, they think I’m dead.”
“Well then, on to more pleasant topics then?”
“Of course.” Stone flashed her a smile. “I seem to have fallen asleep before the juicy part in that story last night. Is that where you are picking it up tonight?”
“No.” She blushed and picked up her fork. “I will let you read that for yourself, after dinner.”
“Good or bad?” He asked, slyly, starting his own dinner.
She just smiled and shook her head as she lifted a bite to her mouth. Her bowl contained a mixture of insects and decaying plant matter, belying the common belief that Wisps lived off of solar radiation and water. Her mouth actually contained grinding teeth to break the carapaces of insects and her digestive system was probably the most human-like thing about her.
Stone ate whatever Evie decided to cook for the crew, tonight it was a hearty stew from Stone’s home colony and he tried not to remember being served something similar by the P’sha priests.
It didn’t take too long for the friends to eat their respective dinners in comfortable silence. When they were finished, Pepper handed the reader paper to Stone and set about clearing the table.
“So, this is the scene, huh?” He said, leaning back and placing his free hand on his full stomach. Pepper didn’t answer and he didn’t wait for her to.
She watched his face as she gathered the dishes and too them to the elevator which would send them back to the galley.
“Well,” He said, not looking up from the paper. “They certainly got the fact that Wisps are hermaphroditic right, but why use human parts when you aren’t even a mammal?”
“Why use outdated human terms for any of it?” Pepper asked, coming to set a covered tray down on the table.
“Huh?” Stone asked, looking up at her.
“Wisps have different biology than humans, we also use different phrasing for biology, gender, sexual relations, etc. So why use the term “hermaphroditic” which is considered outdated by even human botanists?”
“Oh.” Stone looked away, thoughtfully, for a moment before turning back to her. “Apparently, I haven’t shifted completely out of the box with my thinking, I apologize.”
“At least you admit it.” She said, pressing her mouth to his forehead in a kiss. “Have you finished the scene yet?”
“Yes.” He handed the reader back to her.
“Good, then it is time for dessert.” She pulled the lid off of the tray to reveal two bowls of ice cream topped with chocolate covered insects.
“Wow, when did we get chocolate?” Stone asked, picking up his spoon as she placed a bowl in front of him. “Can you eat chocolate?”
Pepper laughed, taking her seat and her own bowl. “We got chocolate from our last raid, also plant based ice cream so I can have that too. I can eat small amounts of chocolate, but the dairy products in it will give me indigestion at higher doses.”
“Good to know.” Stone was already about halfway through his treat and reminded Pepper of the young boy she met decades ago, eating sweets like a starved man.
* * *
After dessert was cleaned up, Stone changed out of his armor and into his sleepwear, chatting idly with Pepper and trying to keep the topic of conversation light.
“So, how much of that scene would be possible?” He asked playfully, catching her around the waist and drawing close.
“You rogue!” She exclaimed, playfully smacking his shoulder. “While I certainly have the equipment to give you some enjoyment, you are sadly lacking.”
Stone laughed and released her with a kiss. “Too bad, I kind of like the idea of being the dashing hero with a girl in every port.”
“Is that why you have a crew made up of female-identifying people and fly a vulva shaped ship?” Pepper laughed, pulling away and sitting on the chaise in the lounging area.
Stone just stopped and stared at her, she almost laughed again at his deep-thinking face, but decided to let him go on uninterrupted for a second.
“I’ve never thought about that before.”
“Which part?”
“All of it.” Stone said, sitting next to her and laying his arms on the backrest of the chaise. “Especially the ship though, I bought it because it was cheap and looks like a fish with the solar sheets out. But, you are right, with them in it does resemble a vulva. The female-identifying crew hasn’t occurred to be either until just now. If I, Rosie, and Evie weren’t gay there would be a lot more shenanigans on this ship.”
Pepper laughed harder, imagining an awkward orgy with her human friends. Stone pulled her close with an amused smile.
“What do you want to do before bed, my dear.” Stone finally asked as her laughter subsided.
“We’ll read in a second, first I want to show you something on the viewing screen.”
“I’m not sure whether I should be afraid or interested?”
“Both.” Pepper said, working the controls in the armrest to bring the screen to life.
There was a sudden burst of dramatic music and Stone jumped at the volume. The screen lit up with a man standing tall and looking off into the distance. He was wearing black exoarmor, the type that you would wear in a ground battle, and had a patch over one eye. The patch, like the breastplate on the armor, had a skull and crossbones on it, both looked brand-new.
“They made a movie?” Stone groaned, moving a hand up to cover his eye. Pepper intercepted the hand.
“Keep watching, it gets better.” She was grinning and her eyes were sparkling in a way that piqued Stone’s interest.
Into the scene on the viewer swept a, human, woman dressed as a Wisp. Her hair and skin were dyed green and she had a purple strapless dress on which looked like a wrap on top and pedals on the bottom. The man on the screen swept the woman into an exaggerated kiss before drawing his sword and yelling “Onward, men! Let’s get that booty.”
More dramatic music played as a montage of battle scenes appeared, finally fading to black as a release date was displayed on the screen.
“Three months until that travesty.”
“The crew wants to screen it.”
“Of course they do.” Stone laughed. “You and Evie work it out and I might even show up.” He extracted himself from around Pepper and got up.
“We were thinking that, since it comes out the week before, we would make it part of your birthday celebration.” She called after him.
“I don’t have birthdays.” He quipped, heading to the bathroom to relieve himself.
Pepper smiled and shook her head at the predictable answer as she got up to turn down the bed. Three months from now he would be sitting in the ship’s lounge area, eating popped corn and laughing at the movie with the rest of them. He would even blow out the candles and eat a slice of cake; but, she would let him play curmudgeon in the meantime.
* * *