Mingling

Putting the box with the new rank insignia with her belongings gave the other partygoers time to get their food and start the process of mingling before Jena returned. This meant that not only did she have to queue less before her plate was loaded with assorted meats and vegetables in easy-to-eat finger food form, but she could pick and choose where she would start socializing. Clipping her glass of wine to the plate, a handy feature thought of by the designers, she started with Professor Romanov and Fixer.

The pair were sitting at one of the patio tables. Jena could hear them discussing machine interfaces as she approached. Fixer was in black slacks and a pale blue shirt and looked rather presentable. The Professor’s outfit she was still trying to figure out, but given his wife was dressed similarly, it had to have been a cultural thing. She was also trying to figure out just how the short, svelte scientist and the muscular half-Trogadek Commander hit it off.

“Fixer, Professor, might I join you for a bit?” Jena asked.

“Of course, Jena.” Fixer smiled, pushing a chair out with his foot. “Have you two met before?” He said with a glance between the pair.

“We haven’t, I just remember hearing from some of the crew that the Commander’s husband was a Professor involved with psionic research.” Jena replied.

“A pleasure, Sergeant. And please, call me Simeon.” Simeon spoke, offering the hand that wasn’t holding some sort of tiny fishcake.

“Jena, then.” She said as she shook the offered hand. “If it wasn’t for Fixer, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

“He mentioned! Quite resourceful to do a cyberization procedure in the field using spare parts and a modified medical facility. I have some colleagues in the Bionics and Cybernetics field who would love to take notes.”

Jena chewed thoughtfully on a pastry puffball containing a blend of pulled meat and pickles before speaking. “There must be some overlap between those fields and your own, right? I noticed Heko had trouble controlling The Axar, and it’s the only way I can think of to explain what I saw.”

The Professor smiled brightly at that. “An interesting notion, how did you come to that conclusion?” He had leaned forwards a little, discarding his food for the time being.

The soldier tried not to shrink back from the interested look he was giving her. “As a cyborg, I can control a Servitor completely with mind, or partially by using manual controls assisted by thought. Or just with manual controls. The Axar was not moving fluidly, but a hacker like Heko should have been able to access its machine interface. Unless it required that and psi ability to utilize.” She paused, holding up a hand to ask for a moment as she gnawed poultry off a bone. “Plus, your wife was able to stop it from crushing me and forcibly eject the pilot from outside.”

“Impressive!” Simeon grinned, pushing his plate aside. “You’re right, The Axar was designed to require someone with both a machine interface and psi talent to pilot it effectively. Trying to use it with just an MI alone put too much strain on a soldier with standard mental abilities.” Fixer had leaned in to listen too, forgetting about his plate of food. “It takes time for such a machine to learn the quirks of its operator, not that my wife has any quirks mind you! Once done though and an affinity has been created, remote operation is possible. Of course we are developing some interesting technology in a joint venture to enable pilots such as yourself to-”

“Eat!” Treshka growled in the Professor’s ear, appearing from behind Simeon to place her hands either side of him. “I know how you get when you start talking shop, my love.”

“It’s my fault, Commander.” Jena admitted. Even Fixer had started to eat again at Treshka’s order.

“Well, I am sure you will have time to talk with him at some point on work matters. For now though…” She poked Simeon in the back. “You need to eat, and then we dance.”

Jena rose and offered the Commander her chair. “I’ll go and mingle a little more then.”

Treshka pointed a finger at her plate. “You better eat too, or I’ll be pouring a bottle of our homebrew down your throat. Robust, fortifying, nutritious. A beer for convalescence, and we brought plenty with us.”

“Yes, Commander.” The cyborg smiled, making sure to grab her burger and take a bite out of it in plain sight of the warrior before heading off.

 

Agent Durand was making eyes at either Medenia, Shay, or both of them. Given their earlier encounter, she decided to give Simone and her little black dress some distance and opted to join Solokov, Akintola, and the Admiral near the barbecue.

“Was Simeon talking shop?” Zaha asked with a smile as Jena headed over. Her Admiral’s jacket had been hung up, and her sword was slung over her back so it wasn’t in the way of her sitting.

“Until the Commander made him eat. I take it that’s a regular thing?” Jena asked.

“My father was like that when my mother got too deep in her studies.” Solokov said. The wiry agent was out of her usual stealth exoframe and shipsuit. Instead she wore slacks and a short-sleeved blouse, her dirty blonde hair feathered and styled into peaks and spikes.

“Mine were like that with me.” Akintola added. Given her bandeau dress seemed to be running its own calculations as silvery numbers tallied and scrolled down the black length, Jena could imagine her hunched over a computer hacking. “When it comes to people-watching though, I’m more interested in those three.” She nodded to Simone and the two Herne crew-members.

“Ah, I see what you mean.” Admiral Roland said after a moment of watching Durand’s body language with the pair.

“Do you get shore leave like we do?” Jena asked, finishing her wine after a encountering a rather spicy meat pate on a cracker. “I get the feeling she needs some.”

“Ours is coming up soon, but we’re still a way off.” Akintola replied. “The Shuck is a year and a bit away from its full service.”

“It gives us something to look forward to.” Solokov added.

“Time for me to do the rounds some more.” Zaha spoke up as she rose. “Make sure you try some of the drinks the Romanovs’ brought with them, Jena.” The Admiral added as she made a beeline for Agents Huang, Gibbams and Lopez.

 

After drifting about a little more to talk with various combinations of people, Jena made sure to snag a couple of bottles from the table and load her plate up again. Borrowing one of the microdrones for light, she excused herself from the chatter and music to head for the beach. Earlier in the day she found a pleasant hump to perch on and look out from. She found herself back on there, watching the reflected light from the moons glimmer off the waves.

The first bottle she drank from was rich, fruity and with a warmth in the aftertaste that glowed in the back of her throat. As the tide lapped against the shore she alternated between pulls from the bottle and trying various bits from her plate.

She could hear the sand shift as someone approached. Besides her Handler sat down, carrying food and drink too. Her dark hair was tied back, the officer’s eyes accentuated with kohl and her lips a deep red. The dress she wore was a strappy little black number with the hint of deep crimson in the fabric, the material becoming feathered with sheer net as it came down her thighs. She had drawn her knees up, and clinked her bottle against Jena’s as she sat before eating quietly.

“I wasn’t hiding out here.” The soldier stated upfront. “I’d have left the drone at the villa if I wanted to do that.”

“You just needed to get away from the crowd for a bit.” Handler replied between mouthfuls. “I understand that.”

“Is Simone still on the hunt?” Jena asked with a chuckle.

“I may tie her to the lawn later and activate the sprinkler system.” Handler chuckled softly. “I’m surprised she wasn’t eyeing you.”

“She… already made a pass at me.” Jena admitted. “She was following some advice she gave me earlier. I turned her down.”

The silence between the two was broken as they both drank from their bottles, Jena finishing hers and opening the second one. This had a more tart flavour, but each mouthful ended with a sweetness that lingered on the tongue.

“Still keeping your edge?” Handler asked quietly.

Jena could feel the tips of her fingers tingling from nervousness. Setting her bottle and plate down, she slowly reached over behind Handler, her fingers removing the clip to let her hair fall down. Sliding the clip back into the wealth of black so it wouldn’t get lost, she picked her things up again.

“Whenever I see someone let their hair down, I always think of you.” The soldier said softly.

Even as she smiled, Handler shook her head. “You don’t have to force your-”

“I’m not forcing- okay, I am. But that’s only because this body…” Jena glanced down at her hands and flexed her fingers to try and shift the feeling of weakness from them, “I took on the Volsta army with it, but when it comes to natural things there’s a disconnect. It won’t listen to me, or I can’t understand it.”

“Jena…”

“I’ve no idea what I’m doing, Handler. I know my body can’t do some things. But I won’t find that out if I don’t push myself, and I-”

“Young-ae.” Handler suddenly interrupted with.

“What?”

“My name.”

Jena blinked. “Oh.”

Handler rose up. “If we circle around to the right, we can reach the Shuck without going through the party.”

Dismissing the microdrone light with a wave of her hand, Jena stood as well and started to follow the officer.

“Oh, soldier?” Handler stopped, turning back to look at the blonde.

“Yes?”

“No one knows what they’re doing at first.”

Jena felt a little better on hearing that.

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