From the smell alone Natasha Henderson knew a little more salt was needed. The villa’s kitchen was surprisingly well stocked. One day she’d use up an item from the fridge, the next a delivery drone would drop more off. Scooping a small amount of soup up on her spoon she tasted after seasoning and nodded.
Cooking kept her mind off the sight of seeing Zircon’s body twisted and broken, the android unconscious from his injuries. It also helped distract her thoughts from the state Jena had been in. The blood she could stomach. The sobbing and screaming before they put her under medical sedation?
The shudder that ran through her almost made her drop the spoon into the pot.
In the living area, she could hear Admiral Roland talking with the mysterious Handler who had arrived on board the IXV Shuck. That vessel was where they were working on healing- no, repairing Zircon. It was hard just to think of him as an automaton. That was Jena’s problem too.
Natasha found it hard to get a reading on Handler. When her crew were about she was all business. She relaxed a little around the Admiral, the pair now talking over coffee. She’d taken Handler some food the previous night and seen another side of her.
The intelligence officer had kneeled by Jena’s bed, carefully checking over her vitals as a hand stroked the cyborg’s. A single eye looked over as Natasha entered, and the chef felt it best to just leave the tray and exit rather than disturb her vigil.
Turning the heat off, Natasha carefully picked up the pot and started for the Shuck. This batch was for the crew as they came and went. She had seen the seven other members as they disembarked.
Fixer was the man she paid the most attention to seeing as he’d be repairing Zircon. The bearded older man was kindly and gentle, and had put up with her questions on her last visit bringing food to the ship. His workshop would be her last delivery on the vessel, so she could spend a little more time watching him work as Ensign Herne hung from the ceiling with maintenance straps and cables.
Simone Durand was down there too. An agent with a wealth of brown hair and a slightly impish manner, her job was dealing with the brain of a combat automaton Jena had fought against, making copies of the data contained within to use as evidence. She stayed away from that area in the workshop, if only to avoid looking at the damage Jena had done to the gynoid known as Beryl.
Gibbams, Huang, Akintola, Sokolov and Lopez she saw less often. They had requisitioned some vehicles to take them to business in Asrat City and on the Herne itself, examining the dead bodies and making observations on the techniques they used. They usually came back late from work, so Natasha had seen to only bringing them food that was safe to reheat or able to be kept on a low heat.
Her shoes clinked on the access ramp as she headed into the stealth ship. The pot would go to the mess hall, then she’d serve up two generous helpings of soup along with a little bread and take it down to the duo. Plus some for herself. Joining them to eat meant she got to spend more time asking questions.
“I bought you some food!” She called out as she neared the workshop.
The door parted and Durand stuck her head out. “Yes! I knew it was almost lunch. Thanks, chef!” She said, her hand on the door to keep it open for her to step through. Simone Durand, like Handler, was wearing one of the black, tight-fitting shipsuits that even Natasha would be a bit shy about wearing. Fixer was in a similar one, though he had an old white jacket slung over it, his pockets filled with tools.
Natasha herself on the other hand was in jeans and a t-shirt that she had delivered to the villa, along with some other clothing her size. It was a little easier to wear than the oversized clothing Jena lent her, and she felt more comfortable in her own clothes while the Admiral was asking questions for her reports.
“Miss Henderson, thank you as always. What are we having?” Fixer smiled, taking his fine detail goggles off and wiping his hands on his coat.
“Soup of the Day!” Natasha declared with a flourish, holding out the tray. “Taka fish, gingergrass, seapea, spiced sandshrub tenders, a little salt, and some bread to dip.”
Simone cleared some space on the converted medbay bed and dragged some stools over to it. “If you’re not careful, Natasha, I’ll stow you away in the overhead and have you cook for us all the time.”
The chef let out a nervous laugh. “I’m only as good as the ingredients I have access to.”
“Damn.” Simone sighed. “There goes that plan.”
“Don’t worry, Miss Henderson, she is only jesting.” Fixer reassured her. “Though if you’d want to join the crew, I am sure your talents could be put to work in the field of interrogation.”
“Talk, or you don’t get any!” Simone laughed, brandishing her spoon in a threatening manner.
“Eat, or I won’t bring you soup again.” Natasha said to stop the teasing. Both quickly started on their food. It wasn’t long until she broke the silence though.
“How’s he doing today?”
“Zircon Herne should be online by the end of the week. The damage to his body is almost all repaired.” Fixer said after a dunk of bread.
Natasha gulped. “And his mind?”
“We’ve recovered most of his memories from the three month period and merged them in with the data from his last back up. Usually we would just wipe to the last back up, but…” Fixer trailed off.
“Handler thought doing that might make things harder on Jena.” Simone filled in.
“Will he- do you know what he will remember?” Came the question.
“There were some interesting recent memories of you there, if that’s what you mean.” Simone chuckled. “Unless you want us to get rid of-”
“No!” Natasha blushed. “No… it’s all right. Forget I asked.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed about.” Simone continued.
Agent Durand grinned. “You’re blushing.”
“That’s enough, Simone.” Fixer chided.
The agent raised her hands to indicate she was backing off, chewing on the slice of bread sticking out of her mouth as Fixer gave her a long look.
“How is Jena, by the way?” The older man asked.
A mouthful of soup had to be swallowed before she could answer. “I heard Handler saying she woke up earlier, but she put her back to sleep.”
Simone almost choked on her bread after letting out a snorted laugh.
“It took a year and a half to rebuild her body when we found her.” Fixer said, pointedly ignoring his colleague. “After having a rough time of things physically and mentally, it may take her a while to be one hundred percent.”
“I don’t really know her that well, only through…” She trailed off to stare at the pale haired android hanging from the ceiling.
“Well, how we met her is a story for the Ensign herself to tell you.” Simone said, picking her bowl up to drain the rest with a hearty slurp.
“Handler thinks highly of her.” Natasha noted. “She’s rarely left her side since she got here.”
Simone grinned. “That’s because Handler wants to-”
“Wants to what, Agent?” Handler asked as she entered the workshop.
Durand clamped her mouth shut and saluted as the commander of the unit walked in and placed her hand on the chef’s shoulder. “Miss Henderson, the Admiral would like to go over some additional questions with you.”
“Of course.” Natasha nodded, quickly finishing her own lunch before getting up. She paused. “Thank you, by the way.”
“For what?” Handler replied.
“Looking after them. I’m sure they appreciate it. Even Zircon.”
The intelligence officer nodded briefly, and Natasha got on her way back to the villa.