Life was about compromises. Jena wanted a two bedroom apartment for the pair. Zircon pointed out that this would mean they’d have less money for recreation, which was bad, and less to spend on food, which was worse. They had settled on a one bedroom apartment near the Asrat City Academy which had the option for the sofa to fold out into a bed.
The android had pointed out he didn’t need a bed to sleep in. He could go into downcycle mode while sitting on a chair, laying on the floor, or even standing in the corner on his hands. Humans were often quite concerned with appearances, and in spite of her cybernetic components Jena Foster was the most human human he had recollection of meeting.
Their first day on Asrat was a rush to get some clothing for the pair and some equipment Jena would need for school. She had plenty of wages stored up from her three and a half years of military service, but she didn’t want to dip into her savings too much. The clothes she bought were recycled, the equipment she bought was recycled, and as for food? By living with someone who worked at the Academy’s restaurant, she would get a discount there.
Finances on the Foster farmstead had been the domain of her mother, Adora. She had sat up the table with her often watching her scrimp and save and make the most of their income, always putting some by for rainy times.
It was on the second day of shore leave that she had started at the Academy, and after a morning of induction she strolled into the restaurant. Zircon was on the counter, serving students with a polite smile and looking rather nice in his black trousers, white shirt and pastel blue apron. It seemed some of the students were already smitten with him.
“Jena, good afternoon. How are your studies going?” He asked as she finally got to the front of the queue.
“They’ve yet to really begin, ask me tomorrow night once the first day of subjects is out of the way.” Jena smiled. While she was in a Galactic Armed Forces tank top and a pair of her black boots, the tight jeans that were hugging her artificial legs were one of the bargains she got from a fabric recycling plant the prior day.
“I shall. What would you like to order?”
Having scanned the menu with her implants when she entered the store, she placed her hand on the ident reader and transferred her order across. On seeing Zircon’s staff discount take a chunk off the price, she accepted the payment prompt.
“Our soup of the day is always an excellent choice. It, your coffee, and your slice of cake will be with you soon. Please, take a seat.” Zircon gestured to the sitting area. He was still in range enough to the Herne to download autocrew role programs, and it had been simple to find one suitable for the job.
“Thanks, Zircon. See you later for dinner?”
“Of course.” He smiled, and the sun glinting through the windows of the academy’s restaurant caught the iridescent nature of his white-blonde hair.
Jena could feel the smitten students glaring daggers at her. It put a bit of a spring in her step.
“Math is hard.” Jena’s voice came from the sofa. Glancing over at her dataslate, Zircon saw the answer right away.
“Does your internal computer require servicing? Your data interpreter’s calculator function should be able to do that sum as quickly as I am able to.”
“We’re not supposed to use them. We need to work it out the old fashioned way.” Slumping back, her head draped over the arm of the sofa so she could peer at the android. “Want to go out later? There’s a bar near here.”
Even an android was able to do the math on that one. “You know I have no desire to do that, which means you are asking as you want to go out, presumably to get away from your mathematical problems. So my answer would be no.”
With a sigh, Jena sat up. “Five point seven nine four?”
“Correct, and I will make you a cup of tea if you wish to have a drink.”
A private beach gave Zaha Roland certain luxuries when it came to how she spent her vacation. Strolling out of her villa and down to the beach with only a towel and her sword was quite the liberating feeling. The sun felt good on her, and shutting down most of the notifications and functions of her internal computer left her to only receive the important things on her time off: The warmth on her tanning skin, the tang of salt in the air to smell and taste, and the sound of waves lapping against the shore.
The slight regret of not bringing one of the Herne’s autocrew with her for a little ‘recreation’ to go along with the relaxation soon faded as the Admiral drifted into a pleasant doze, waiting for the beep to tell her to roll over onto her back.
Asrat City Academy had a rather nice lawn laid out in the quad surrounded by the education facility’s buildings. Jena spent her time waiting for Zircon’s shift to finish sprawled out on the soft grass, idly reading one of the required books for her Galactic Language and Literature course. The sun had just dipped behind the west building that contained a lot of the lecture halls and other larger facilities, leaving the quad pleasantly warm.
She was just about to get up and go hunting for her android roommate when she saw him strolling out from the door to the restaurant, a brown paper bag under each arm loaded with goods. Springing to her feet, she tucked her dataslate into her satchel and headed to meet him half-way.
“There was some produce going spare that needed to be used up.” Zircon explained as she neared him. “The manager said I could take it home. We have not really cooked in the kitchen yet.”
Taking one of the bags from him, she started in the direction of the exit, a vaulted archway to the south of the quad. “Maybe I’ll cook for you. Good day at work?”
“Uneventful, which could be extrapolated as to meaning good. How are your lessons going?”
“I’m currently on some literary analysis. I’m not looking forwards to the creative writing section.” Jena replied. Vigilance had been drummed into her from an early age, and the cyborg was carefully surveying her surroundings as they walked the short distance back home.
“Well, I may be able to provide assistance to you with mathematics and other academic subjects, but the creative arts are beyond my capacity.” Zircon admitted.
“I feel like that too sometimes. Have you ever tried?”
“No.” He replied.
“Well, I haven’t tried either. Maybe we could both give it a go?” Jena laughed, carefully opening the door into their building.
“On other matters,” Zircon sidestepped the request, “my colleagues have invited me out tomorrow night for drinks.”
“… You should go. It’s good for team building, and I could use the time to really knuckle down on the work I’ve been set. Especially with that sandsailing course coming this weekend.” She encouraged him, opening the door to their apartment with her hips. “For now though? Let’s see what I can rustle up!”
The Romanov holiday home was quiet. That either meant Treshka and the children were out, meditating, or that they had murdered each other. Professor Simeon Romanov, Chief of Development at Ural II’s Galactic Federation Psi Research Institute decided to go and investigate.
He found the five sat in a circle, each one dressed in training clothes and levitating a ball of shifting sand just in front of them. Treshka was the tallest, almost two feet taller than her husband thanks to the genes she inherited from her Trogadek mother’s side. His three daughters and his son only had about a foot in height on him, and the dark skin they inherited from their father helped cover the more exotic colouring passed down from their grandmother.
He didn’t even need to say anything. “Alright children, your father’s come to find us which means we’ve been quiet for too long.” His wife spoke with a grin. Lowering the sand into the box it came from with a thought, she was up and quickly crossing the floor to drape a thick arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get some lunch.”
“So, everyone!” The Galactic Lang. and Lit. tutor said with a clap of her hands. “You’ve all had some time to work on a piece to read to the class. I hope you’re ready. I want to see how expressive you can be. Let’s start with…” Activating a randomization command, the tutor picked the first name at the top of the list. “Foster, Jena!”
Jena could feel the eyes of her fellow students on her as she descended from the seating to stand at the front of the class. The stares locked on her didn’t help her nerves.
“So, Jena, what have you got for us?” The tutor asked. She was in a smart grey business suit, a stark contrast from the mess of black hair with an orange streak dyed through a lock and the glasses patched up with electrical tape around the arms.
Clearing her throat a few times, the cyborg looked over to her. “It’s a short piece of writing, titled ‘All Such A Laugh’.”
“Excellent, well, you have the floor, Miss Foster.”
Jena kept her eyes on the dataslate, instead of those watching her.
“It all seemed such a laugh when I was a child. Pitched battles and conflict, my imagination ran wild. It didn’t prepare me for when they came. To see one my age, on the ground slain. I took up a rifle when few else could. I took up a rifle, and knew that I would. I was twelve when I made that first shot. I often wonder where I’d be, had I not. Everything I saw had turned me harsh. Just a few years earlier, it seemed such a laugh.”
Looking up to a room full of silence, the expressions facing her were mixed at best. There was a lot of shock. That shock was mirrored on the tutor’s face before she recovered and clapped her hands. “Haunting yet wonderful, such imagination to write from the tortured view of a child. We should never be afraid of writing some of the darker aspects of our imagi-”
“It wasn’t imagination.” Jena interrupted, her cheeks hot with anger. “It… forget it.” Every part of her body was screaming with tension and the need to let the stress out. A powerful leap sent her from the floor, up the tiers of desks and seats to land where she’d been sitting. Snatching her satchel up, she shoved her dataslate in it before leaving the lecture hall. She had already brought up the class sign-up sheet in-vision to remove Gal. Lang and Lit from her studies.
When Jena did not turn up for lunch at the Restaurant, Zircon made a note of it to ask her later. When she did not turn up for dinner either, the android had asked to be let out early that night with a promise that he’d make it up early the next morning. It had taken a while for him to track her down, finally finding her in the gym on the top floor of their apartment building.
She was drenched in sweat, having pushed her artificial components enough to require them to begin active cooling. The punching bag she was in front of swung wildly with each blow she landed, sending it hurtling away only to swing back for more punishment.
“What is troubling you, Jena?” He asked over the sound of fists hitting the reinforced bag.
“I.” Punch. “Am.” Jab. “No.” Punch. “Good.” Jab. “At.” Punch. “Creative.” Jab. “Arts!” The strength of the next strike she leveled at the bag freed it from its tether and sent it rolling across the floor. With a frustrated groan she sank to the floor, digging her fingers into her damp locks of blonde.
Crossing the floor, he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Return home and shower. I will cook for you.” He was about to pull it away when she covered his with her own hand.
Cool, dark, and just a little bit damp. Medenia, Operations Officer on the ISV Herne, made a content little sound as she rested against the rocks in the cave she had booked for herself. There was a pool of crystal clear water to dip her toes into, and thick veins of quartz ran through the walls, glinting in the minimal light her torch was set to provide.
Grabbing her sketchbook and the now rather worndown set of pencils she carried with her, the officer started to make some sketches of the stalagmite and stalactite formation in a nook nearby.
“If only all my shore leave could be spent like this.”
Having withdrawn from one of her lessons, Jena had more time for other things. Not that she had other things planned. The cyborg had put herself out there a little more, coming out of her shell only to snap back in and withdraw further.
Zircon, on the other hand, had been out some more times with his work colleagues. She couldn’t begrudge the android of that, but thoughts of Farringdon III came to mind. He fitted in easily wherever he went. She was still getting some uneasy glances in her other classes.
Pressing back against the tree she was leaning against, she felt the sheathe for her service knife press into her back. Only a month in, and she was about ready for shore leave to end.