Loose Ends

The apartment was nearly empty. Piles of bags were placed in the front room, the kitchen cupboards only had enough food in for a snack at night and breakfast the next day. Handler sat on the sofa, wondering just where Jena Foster was.

Their official final date had been the night before. The pair had gotten dressed up and went to the Asrat Academy Restaurant for dinner from a menu prepared by Natasha, then drinks and dancing before returning to the apartment to continue the… celebrations? That word didn’t seem right. A last hurrah.

The dark haired officer of the IXV Shuck had given Jena a lift to Fixer’s holiday home so she could give him his present. As for Handler’s own gift? Jena said to come to her apartment and wait at 20:00. It was 20:15 now, with no sign of her lover.

She was starting to get nervous when the door slid open and the blonde stepped through with a protesting brunette draped over her shoulder. Stepping over to the sofa, Jena carefully dropped Simone Durand onto it.

“We’re going to talk.” The soldier said, looking at the pair awkwardly sitting in front of her.

 

It was a faux pas. A mistake. An error in judgement. Following up a night of drinking with more drinks at home was one thing. Then Simone had started to get flirty with Jena. Handler decided to joke a little and vie for the soldier’s attention, competing against her agent. Simone had escalated by nestling up to one side of Jena. Handler did the same. Jena had been watching in bemusement, head fuzzy with good beer when Simone pecked her on the lips.

Then Handler kissed Jena, staking her claim. The conflict escalated between the two crew members, causing Jena to laugh even as they alternated. Then she leaned back out of reach and shook her head with a chuckle. “Just kiss each other already.”

What followed was a delightful breach in crew protocol for the Galactic Federation Intelligence Agency. What followed that was even more delightful. When the morning light came streaming through the window, bringing wakefulness and realization to the pair?

Simone quickly left, and the two had been avoiding each other as much as possible. Until now.

“What do you mean, talk?” Simone asked.

“About this.” Jena gestured between the pair. “I’m partially to blame for this, and I’m not going to leave the planet with you two acting like colossal loose ends. You’re crew mates. You’re friends.” Looking between the pair, she let out a sigh as her hand ruffled her own hair. “Handler. Did you enjoy yourself?”

“From what I remember?” She glanced left to where Simone was sitting on the sofa and nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.” Jena looked left. “Simone?”

“… Yeah. I mean, how could I not?” She looked at the pair and gave a slightly timid grin, mopping her hair back into some order after being carried into the apartment.

“Great. I enjoyed myself too. It happened, it’s done. I’ll be able to rest easy knowing that you two aren’t going to be avoiding each other.” Letting out a little breath, the cyborg stretched her arms up. “Are you two ready for presents now?”

Simone perked up immediately at the mention of presents.

Retrieving a bag hidden away in a counter from prying eyes, Jena returned to the sofa. “So, firstly I’ve got something here for Handler.” She smiled, reaching into the ornate paper gift bag. She pulled out a sleeved blanket. “I was going to get you a new one, but I figured you’ve stolen this one enough from me… I know how cold the bridge of the Shuck can get on night duty, so… yeah.”

Handler carefully collected the folded wool and held it close to her, a soft smile on her lips and a grateful look in her eye.

“Now, Simone. I lost count of how many times you complained about your clutch purse, so…” She drew the slender leather shoulder bag out and presented it to her.

The agent traced her fingers over the polished stone clasp, then slipped the strap over her shoulder. “How do I look?”

“Like someone who has a hands-free place to keep her belongings.” Handler commented.

“Handler. I also lost count of how many times you braved the sandstorms to get back here.” Taking the sand globe out, she passed it across. “For when you’re back on duty, a dusty reminder of Asrat City.”

She was laughing as she shook the globe, watching particles of sand swirl about in the water around the model city before settling.

Clothing came next, a silky black top for Simone with a low cut that could be described as ‘perilous’, and a pale cream dress for Handler with fading swirls of sand at the hem. Finally, Jena drew out a small gift envelope and held it between them. “This is for both of you.”

Handler was the one who took it, peeking inside to reveal printed and ident-tagged gift certificates for the Academy Restaurant.

“I’ve instructed Natasha to track you down and hit you with a rolling pin if you don’t use these. I know you look out for each other being teammates, but I want you to look out for each other for me, too. And check on Natasha. We’re not the only ones who’ll be parting, after all.” Folding the gift bag up, Jena sat in front of the sofa and leaned back against the coffee table.

“Well… I’ve not made much in the way of plans yet, what with Handler dropping shore leave on us with such little notice. I can fit a few lunches and dinners with the boss in.” Simone said. “Plus it gives me time to work on subverting Natasha to come and work for us in the Shuck’s mess room.” She added with a grin.

“All right, Jena.” Handler nodded, then glanced to her left. “This weekend sound good? It’ll give a little time between Zircon leaving until we see Chef Henderson. I doubt we want to drop in on her right away.”

“I think I can make a little room in my sparse schedule.”

“Fantastic.” Jena said, then thumbed to the fridge. “I’ve got six bottles left of Romanov’s finest beer. I can’t take them on duty with me, and it’s no where near enough to lead to a repeat of last time we were together like this.” That line was necessary, given the nervous look the pair exchanged. “Why don’t we drink to good times, old stories, and new gossip?”

With fluid grace Handler rose, went for the fridge and pulled out the cool bottles. Fetching the bottle opener from a drawer, she returned to the sofa and set them on the coffee table. “I’ll certainly drink to good times.” She said, claiming a bottle.

“I’ll take new gossip.” Simone snatched a beer from the table.

“I guess that leaves me with old stories.” Jena’s artificial thumb easily pried the cap off the bottle without need for the opener. “So… Ensign Foster versus the Pandor Pirates?” She offered her bottle out to the others. The pair clinked their bottles against hers.

“I’m always up for a story with pirates in.” Simone settled back against the sofa, ready to give Jena her full attention.

 

Their bottles were empty, as were their cups of coffee. The small stash of biscuits had been quickly depleted, and the last of the fruit bowl had been consumed. Handler had one end of the sofa, Simone the other, and Jena sat on the floor with her arms and chin resting on a cushion.

“It’s late.” Simone yawned.

“Yep.” Jena nodded.

“Mmmh.” Handler mumbled.

“I should get going.”

“You should, but you won’t.” Jena replied. “It’s too late.”

“Mmmh.”

“See, your officer agrees with me.” Jena noted, pushing herself up off the floor. “I’ll get the blankets and make the sofa up for you.”

“Are you sure?” Simone asked.

“Mmmh.” Came from both the officer and the soldier that time.

“Hey, where are you going to stay after tomorrow, Handler?” Simone suddenly asked. “You’ve been living here, but where’s your stuff?”

“Admiral Roland’s extended the lease on her villa for a month. She’s letting me use it as thanks.” Handler roused herself up from where she’d almost slipped off into a doze. “Then I’ll need to find somewhere else.”

“Lucky you.” Simone huffed. “I’ll just get freshened up.” She excused herself for the bathroom, leaving Jena to make the bed up in the living area. Then it was Handler’s turn to get ready for bed, and finally Jena’s.

“Night, you two.” Simone called from the sofa, snuggled down under the covers.

“Sleep well.” Jena called back, shutting the door to the bedroom.

The lighting in the living area switched to downcycle mode, strips only just illuminating trip hazards. Simone sprawled out a little in the silent room and stared up at the dark ceiling, her hands clasped behind the back of her head. Light suddenly streamed into the room, causing her to squint over at the figure in the doorway.

“Get in here, Agent.”

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Over The Flames

Life had settled down into what passed as normality for Jena Foster. In the week days she’d study at the Academy, finishing up courses and adding new qualifications to her ident profile. In the evenings she’d alternate between coursework and spending time with Young-ae. Natasha had suggested to Zircon that the android move in with her to give Jena and her partner some space, and the Ensign had accepted that offer.

With her exoframe needing repairs, Commander Romanov had put a halt to their training. Every once in a while Simone would drop by for dinner or drinks, wearing the bullet on a length of chain after Jena had carefully put a hole through it. Sometimes they’d meet Fixer for coffee. On some nights Handler would have errands to run and Jena would have the apartment to herself.

One such night was a Friday. A sand storm was blowing through Asrat City. Perched on the windowsill, Jena watched the desert winds sweep across the buildings and through the city streets. Her room was dark and cool, and the oversized hooded sweater she had slipped on to do her coursework in was perfect for curling up in to watch the storm.

She didn’t have long left on Asrat. In eight weeks the Herne would be ready to depart. Her time with Young-ae would be up, and the chance of them seeing each other again would reduce. They had put off having that talk for one reason or another. When it was quiet and without distraction, Jena’s mind came back to that fact.

They had a camping trip planned for the weekend. If the storms abated, some time in the wilderness with her lover might present the perfect opportunity. Leaving the blinds open, Jena retreated from the windowsill and undressed for bed. Sand swept across the thick window, leaving trails across the glass. The soldier watched these trails form and be blown away, her eyelids starting to droop.

She shot out of bed, drawing her pistol from under her bed in a smooth motion as she heard the front door slide open. A held breath escaped her as she saw Young-ae’s ident present. She still kept her gun low as she opened her bedroom door, just in case.

Young-ae was pulling her hooded cloak off, some sand she hadn’t shaken out in the lobby falling to the floor. A thin inner hood of gauze covered her head to protect herself from the sand.

“I can’t believe you were out in this storm.” Jena spoke, tucking her service pistol into the back of her underwear, the safeties engaging automatically.

“I was hoping to get back before it started, but it was interesting. Reminded me of agent training.” GFIA agents were put through rigorous courses to test their ability to adapt and operate in all climates. “The Asrat Weather Service says it’ll die down early in the morning.”

Jena leaned back against the wall and watched appreciatively as Young-ae stripped out of her bodysuit. She marveled at how she moved towards her. As her lover’s arms draped over her shoulders, Jena started back towards the bathroom. “Shower, then bed. We’ve a busy weekend ahead of us.”

 

The shuttlepod dropped them off at the Masata Planetary Park. It was far north of Asrat City, known for its network of cliffs and valleys and hardy plants thriving in the rough conditions. Their backpacks were loaded with food and supplies. Jena had several extra bags with her on account of her enhanced strength. Young-ae had the beacon with her to call back the shuttlepod if needed.

They dressed for the weather. Walking boots, light and airy clothing for the day plus layers for when the chill of night came, and hats to shield their eyes from the sun. Animal attacks were not unheard of, so Jena had her pistol and both of them had their knives.

Setting up the camp didn’t take long. The two-person tent was tethered to the ground by lengths of cord and spikes driven into the compacted dirt, their sleeping bags slung inside. The fire was easy enough for Jena to get started, though she had to resist the urge to bury a pit to conceal it in. This wasn’t Farringdon III, and Volsta wouldn’t be out hunting for her.

Young-ae had just finished spraying a circle of repellent around their campsite to keep the insects and any wandering animals away. “So, what do you want to do?”

“The fire’s steady. Zip the tent up, we’ll go exploring. I spotted some nice pathways along the valley west of us on the way in.”

The officer studied the Sergeant for a moment before linking arms with her. “Disappointed it isn’t greener?”

Jena nodded a little. “When I think camping, I always think of the forests back where I grew up, or digging fire pits in soft, dark loam.”

It had taken them longer than expected to get out of Asrat City. The sandstorm went on a little longer than forecast, and with more coming the next day, they opted to leave after lunchtime for the campsite and come back the next morning. Leaving later meant they missed the worst of the sun’s rays and they had less time to waste before the hot day gave way to the chill of night.

It may not have been green, but scrambling up sandy rockfaces and drifting through ancient valleys had its charm. They even saw a pack of rockwolves from a distance, the cute pups with tawny tufts of fur being watched over by their more vicious looking family. They stood at the mouth of a cavern, peering in but deciding not to venture forth. Forking out for a cave rescue bill was not in budget.

By the time they got back to camp the sun was beginning its descent. Stoking up the fire, Jena had offered to cook for them, a makeshift spit over the flames being used to turn marinated cuts of poultry while a covered pan placed on the fire steamed a mix of wild rice and vegetables.

“I’ll be leaving soon.” Jena broke the easy, comfortable silence that had settled between the pair during their explorations, keeping an eye on the meat. “And I don’t know when we’ll get to meet again.”

“I know.” Young-ae said, settling the opposite side of her to watch from across the campfire. “It’s been good though, right?”

Jena smiled. “It’s been the best. You’ve taught me a lot. Helped me a lot.” She peeked under the lid to check on the side dish. The rice was fluffing up nicely.

“That’s what counts then. It’s been nice to let my hair down.” The soldier laughed at that. “And I’ve felt younger for it. It’s been too long since I’ve had a relationship like this.”

“How old are you any- no… I won’t ask.” Jena said, before giving her a curious look. “Is Young-ae even your name?”

Handler just smiled.

Jena turned the meat, laughing away. “Why do the agents get to keep their name but you don’t?”

“It’s the price we pay for duty. Just like how Admiral Roland must always carry her sword. We give our names up to devote ourselves to the crew and the mission.” From her bag she pulled out several bottles of beer given to her by the Romanov family. And then a few more for luck.

The blonde took one of the bottles and clinked it with Handler’s before taking a long gulp. “And fraternizing with the crew is off limits?”

Handler took a drink as well. “It’s discouraged.”

Lifting the lid from the pan, Jena ran a fork through the rice and vegetables a few times before replacing it and giving the contents a few light tosses with her wrist. She’d seen Natasha do it many times. “And given what your job is, it’ll be harder for me to get messages to you.”

“We can touch base now and then when I’m not working. The Shuck may be hard to track, but a ship the size of the Herne? I’ll be able to get a message out to you.”

The soldier took another drink. “So, we try and keep in contact, make the most of the time I’ve got left planetside, and if we meet again…?”

“We can see about picking up where we left off, soldier.” Handler sprawled back, staring up at the night sky. “I won’t begrudge you if you find someone else though.”

“Likewise.”

Handler looked over the flames to Jena. “All done?”

Jena probed the meat with a skewer and nodded. “All done.”

Work And Play

After another day at the Admiral’s villa Jena, Zircon and Natasha had been dropped back off in Asrat City to resume the rest of their shore leave. As a result of the events on the Herne, they would be planetside longer to allow Armitage Technologies to give the Herne a thorough rundown and service. It meant Jena had more time to catch up on the studies she missed in any case.

As a new week began the soldier was already looking forwards to the weekend. If nothing major cropped up, Handler would be visiting. Natasha had kindly offered to let Zircon stop with her for the weekend to give them some space. There was an alternate reason there of course, but Jena wouldn’t bring that up given the plans she had made with her lover.

Her mood had improved greatly after a good fight, several good talks and some recuperating. It made her studies easier to grasp. The bonus she had gotten from going up a rank sitting in her bank account was also a welcome boost to her good mood.

Seeing Commander Romanov waiting for her outside her class on a Thursday afternoon did cause a spike in her blood pressure and heart rate, though.

“Commander, what’s wrong?” Jena asked, already feeling herself slip into that soldier mindset. It was only then that she noticed the half-Trogadek woman wasn’t in her uniform and instead was in jeans and a hoodie, pretty similar to how Jena was dressed.

“Nothing’s wrong, Sergeant. I just wanted to sort some things out now.” She procured a laser measuring device from a pocket. “I need to run some final calibration checks before we start work on an exoframe for you.”

Jena’s worried expression quickly shifted to one of excitement. Those of rank Sergeant and above on the Herne got access to an exoframe. The suits of powered armour not only amplified strength and traversal abilities. They also provided a soldier with better armour, NBC and hazardous environmental protection, and information warfare capabilities. Flying in a Servitor was one thing. Flying in an exoframe?

“We can head back to my apartment. Zircon’s at the restaurant.” Jena started for the exit, getting halfway down the corridor before looking to Treshka. “If you don’t mind my asking, Commander. Why are you doing this, and why now in your time off?”

Treshka laughed. “The children wanted to do some shopping in the city, my husband is out buying fruit. I’d rather not see how the kids spend their allowance, and farmers tend to worry I might make off with their livestock.”

Jena thought back on her galactic history. “The Trogadek raiding parties were centuries ago.”

“Old fears die hard. Give it three centuries and I am sure farmers on Farringdon Three will still worry about Volsta dropships.”

Thoughts of her days in the Resistance flashed back to her. “… Yeah. I see your point, Commander.”

In the quad, the pair were getting some looks. Jena’s reputation had spread from the mugging incident and news of the attempted theft she helped to thwart. Treshka always got looks, the statuesque warrior towering above the others. Some were looking a bit appreciative of the way her jeans hugged her muscular legs.

“On a similar note, I am sure the Volsta will tell their children that if they don’t behave, a blonde falcon will swoop in and steal them away.” She commented quietly, having to crouch down a little to whisper it. On seeing the Sergeant’s demeanor shift, she patted her on the back. “Perhaps I went a little far in my praise.”

“I did what I had to do, Commander. Now I prefer to take pride in my military record.”

“Fair enough.” Commander Romanov then veered off towards a street vendor just outside the Academy to buy a bag of hot, freshly sliced Asrati Sandsnake. “Mmh, can’t get enough of this stuff.”

Eager for a change of conversation and a distraction from the sticky carvings of meat her Commander was lowering into her mouth, Jena asked about the Romanov children.

“Four of them.” Treshka said after a lick of her lips. “Three daughters. Zeshka, Malhka and Torhka. All of them studying at the Psi Research Institute on Ural Two.”

“That’s where Simeon works, right?” Jena had done some reading up. That institute had helped train some of the most talented psi users in the military.

Romanov nodded. “That’s where I studied, and where I met him.”

“And your son?”

“Dorheon. He will be attending there full time, once his schooling has finished.” Treshka lowered another slice of sandsnake into her mouth as they reached the apartment building.

“All psi-talented? You must be proud.” The cyborg swiped her hand over the entrance panel and quickly used her internal implant to assign Treshka as her guest.

“I’d be proud even if they weren’t, but as it stands they’re even better than I was at that age.”

When they got to the apartment, the Commander nodded in approval at the neatness. “All right, Sergeant.” She said, brandishing her measuring device. “Strip.”

 

 

“She made you strip completely?” Handler laughed, her spoon clattering from her hand into her bowl of ice cream. They were at a little cafe near one of the shopping complexes, bags safely stowed under the table. Jena had dipped into her promotion money to buy some new outfits.

“She did. Apparently these exoframes are skin-tight and everything needs to line up for various internal connections.” Jena groaned. “What have I gotten myself in for?”

“When is your first training session in one?”

“Two weeks time on a Thursday. She wanted Saturday, but…” Jena glanced to Young-ae meaningfully. “She seemed to get that I had other arrangements.”

The intelligence officer was looking particularly lovely. Her hair was artfully done up. Designer sunglasses helped her deal with the bright sun that day. Her light and airy sundress bore a swirling sand pattern on. Jena herself was in denim shorts and a tank top, eager to soak up the sun.

“I suppose training up now will save time once you are back on duty.” Handler said.

“Plus I get to fly.” Jena added eagerly.

“Plus you get to fly.” She smiled. “Are you nervous?”

“I’m fully flight-certified in all three Servitor classes, how different can it be?”

 

 

Flying in an exoframe was a lot different to flying in a Servitor. Jena had lifed her feet off the ground and promptly drove herself back-first into the sand. She could hear Treshka laughing through her commslink.

“Rookie error, Sergeant! Servitors, you push out with your back. Exoframes, you push up with your feet! Get up and try again!”

Moving in an exoframe was more ungainly than she thought it would be. The heavy black armour was soaking up heat from the sun and she had to shake herself several times to dislodge all the sand from her joints. The connections to her various machine interface ports let her fully integrate with the system, feeding its sensor systems directly to her brain. Not that it was helping much with flying as her next attempt had her skidding face-first for a few feet.

“Get up and try again, Sergeant! You think it’s bad rattling about in there? I can tell you some stories that will make your eyes water and your legs cross!”

That was one small advantage to losing most of her body on Farringdon III. All bodily waste extraction was handled by a single port designed for connection to systems like the ones in exoframes. She didn’t have to deal with any catheters. There was nothing left to do but dust herself down for another go.

 

 

Even as micromachines worked to heal her bruises, Jena still felt the need to lay on the sofa of their apartment with an ice pack on her face while Zircon and Natasha cooked.

“It’s a shame the Commander couldn’t stay for dinner.” Natasha called out as her hand jostled the contents of her pan about. “I think she’d like a nice stuffed pressbread.”

“I think she has plans with her family tonight” Jena called back.

“Will you be fine on your own, Sergeant?” Zircon asked, bringing her a glass of water fizzing away from a pain relief tab dropped into it.

Hauling herself up, Jena moved the ice pack to gulp down the concoction. “I won’t let me hitting a tree mess up anyone’s evening plans.” She spoke after swallowing and pulling a face. “Looking forwards to the concert, Natasha?”

“Definitely, and it’s nice that Zircon’s coming with me.” The chef quickly portioned out the contents of her pan into the sliced pockets of flatbread. “What about your evening?”

“Ancient Earth History.” Jena held up her dataslate, then tucked it safely out of the way as the food arrived. “We’re on the Annexation Wars. A bit of a bloody subject, but reading about early Servitor units and the first cybernetic soldiers is pretty interesting.”

“I’ll stick with the loud music and the handsome company.” Natasha said before sinking her teeth into her dinner.

 

 

Jena felt Young-ae stir, a lithe arm wrapping around her waist. The soldier had risen early to make some coffee for the pair, then sat in bed alternating between sipping and checking over her essay on early full-immersion control systems for Servitors. As a head nestled against her lap, she set her mug aside and used her now free hand to tousle the dark hair brushing against her stomach.

The intelligence officer didn’t get to visit every weekend, or sometimes only for a day or less. Jena tried to make the most of the time they had, knowing in the back of her mind at some point they would need to have a talk. The talk. The one about what will happen when the Herne and the Shuck go their separate ways.

A soft laugh escaped Jena’s lips as Young-ae planted little kisses on her stomach. She kept reading a while longer before a discontent sound came from her lover, a pair of dark eyes peering up at her.

“All work and no play makes Jena a dull girl.” The officer teased.

“I must have imagined last night then. There was a lot of play involved there. The amusement park. Karaoke. Here.” Jena smiled, still stroking her lover’s hair. “Wasn’t that enough?”

Young-ae contemplated that for a moment. Jena was amazed at how much younger the intelligence officer seemed when they were on their dates or alone like this, compared to the all-business commander of the Shuck she met years ago.

“No.” Young-ae shook her head. “Never enough.”

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.

Departures

“Your room.” Admiral Roland gestured to one of the single occupancy rooms formerly used by the Volsta. She watched as Cadet Jena Foster placed her bags near the bed. Autocrew from the Herne had swept the Volsta Empire Barracks in Central City and renovated it ready for use. Men and women from various parts of Farringdon III had volunteered to undergo a Peacekeeper training course, and the facility would be perfect for housing them as they trained. For Jena, it would serve as boot camp to learn the ropes of the Galactic Armed Forces. The planet would get a mobile force to resolve the odd conflict that cropped up on the surface and help deal with any threats from off-planet. The deal had been one of the points drawn up by the new Farmer’s Council, and Zaha had signed off on it.

Stability meant less chance of her having to come out this distance. A six-month timetable had been agreed to hand over to civilian rule, and she was looking forwards to her Task Force rejoining combat in the anti-Volsta operations.

“You will have Saturday afternoons through to Monday mornings to do as you wish. Failure to report back will be a mark against you, and we will come looking.” Zaha said, reinforcing her point by clicking her sword’s scabbard on the ground. “Any questions, Cadet?”

“No, Admiral.” Jena replied. “If there’s anything I can do to assist the populace during my training, please let me know.”

A slight smile flickered onto Zaha’s lips. “Be in the courtyard at seven hundred hours tomorrow. You can start there.”

 

It had just gone eight in the morning and already some of the new recruits were flagging. Jena had a sack of building materials on each shoulder, carrying them from storage to load on the backs of supply vehicles waiting to be dispatched. While the fully human were drenched in sweat by this point, dark patches forming on their light grey cadet wear, Jena just had a slight sheen about her. Her cyborg systems could sweat to help dissipate heat, but the cooling systems were keeping up with the demand she was placing on herself.

An Ensign was watching over them, taking notes on how long each of them lasted. which of them took a break before getting back to work, and who just slumped to the ground and couldn’t muster the energy to get back up.

“You may stop now, Cadet Foster.” The Ensign said in a clipped accent.

She had been at it for three hours now, and dumped both sets of bags onto the back of a truck.

“All but Cadet Foster are required to head to medical tent one to receive your ident chips.” On noting the disjointed herd moving in that direction with a lot of complaining, the Ensign made a note to start them on drills and marching the next day.

“And me, Ensign?” Jena asked after the mass of other trainees had departed.

“Report to the target range. You may have enhanced senses, but you are required to be tested on your ability to tell enemy combatants apart from other individuals.”

 

The first week of training had consisted of drills, marching, exercises, equipment familiarization and yet more drills. Jena had run training drills with the Farringdon Falcons using information gleaned from books, and while the exercises didn’t do much for her new body her participation helped keep the rest of the trainees in line. She was the Butcher of Vadarai Seven, after all, and if the Butcher was running about in training gear, then they should as well.

Meals were taken together at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Long benches had been set up for them to sit at. The others gave Jena space, except for the Ensign running their training drills. Curiously, the young man was drinking a Cybabrew as well. It was Friday evening when she finally asked him, leaning back on the bench as the bio-generator that replaced part of her stomach got to work. “So how long have you been a cyborg, Ensign?”

“I am not, so never.” He noted her confused look and carried on. “What is my name, Cadet?”

“Ensign Zircon Herne.” She said from memory, not needing the ident prompt that had appeared in-vision.

“And what ship am I serving from?” He asked the next question. His hair was a pale blonde, almost white. It looked slightly odd when paired with his olive skin. Jena assumed he dyed it.

“The ISV Herne.” The Interstellar Support Vessel, a Paladin-class ship that excelled in fleet support and ground deployment, was the flagship of the Task Force. It must have been some odds that he was posted to a ship with the same name as his surname.

“Some information that will serve you well, Cadet. If you meet someone with their surname matching their ship name, they are Autocrew. Autonomous AI in artificial bodies, similar to cyborgs.”

Her eyes widened. She’d heard of such wonders, but never met one before. Cyborgs were rare enough where they were, let alone androids. “I had no idea, Ensign. You certainly don’t… seem like a… well…” She shook her head. “You look more human than I do.”

“We CAZ Model automatons are designed to high specifications to better integrate with human crews on long missions.” Zircon explained, gesturing to his plate. “For example, eating. My presence at meal times helps keep the trainees in check. I am fully certified to train others, and have been loaded with a range of programs to aid in this task.”

“Good to know.” Jena mumbled, shaking her head a little to clear her thoughts. “What’s coming tomorrow morning?”

“Close quarter combat training.” Zircon stated. “You will be paired with me, and the others will be fighting training droids. Then you will all have some free time for the afternoon.” Finishing his meal, Zircon stood up with his tray. “The others may be a little too bruised to make full use of their time off, but I do not imagine that will be a problem with you, Cadet.”

A lifetime of serving on the Shuck seemed a little more tempting as the Ensign walked away.

 

The trainees on the peacekeeping course had stopped their drills as the sparring match between Cadet Foster and Ensign Herne kicked up a notch in intensity. Jena fought as a brawler, falling back on the techniques she picked up in the resistance. Zircon’s style of combat was a mishmash of martial arts techniques from across the Federation, executed precisely while under pressure.

Darting in as she saw an opening, a blur crossed her vision. The next thing she knew she was on the floor with her arms pinned behind her and Zircon sitting on top. Struggling as best she could, Zircon kept her held down before looking to the trainees. “Fighting while angry can give you an edge in strength, but technique can negate that at best, or turn it against you at worst. When you commit fully to a blow, beware your momentum being redirected.” He explained before letting go and rising to his feet. He did offer Jena a hand up.

She rolled her shoulders a little after rising, trying to work the kinks out.

“Your combat data has been recorded by the training droids you partnered with.” Ensign Herne explained to the gathered cadets, gesturing to the padded humanoids that had marched into the drill ground that morning. “Starting next week, you will be going through daily basics and practice with them in addition to your drills. Do spend a little time reading through chapter one of the combat handbook. You are all dismissed.”

Handler was waiting for Jena by the door to her room. Out of the grey shipsuit Jena had always seen her in, she was black leggings and a rather flowery top. Thankfully for Jena, Handler’s black hair was elaborately pinned up.

“Nice top.” Jena commented as casually as possible. “Everything all right?”

“I have some downtime and I figured you’d want to know. The Shuck will be leaving in a month’s time.”

“Another Resistance cell job?” As much as Jena wanted to take her clothes off and grab a shower now she was back at her room, she instead busied herself with setting out some casual clothes ready for her time off.

“That’s classified, soldier.” Handler chuckled. “We’ve still work to finish here in the run up to our departure date. Data and transfer records to finalize, intelligence reports to send to the right people. The Shuck is still where we left it if you ever want to drop by.” Taking the look Jena gave her into account, Handler spread her hands. “Socializing, that’s all.”

“I’ll consider it.” Jena spoke after a moment’s thought before stretching out with a groan. “Provided Ensign Herne hasn’t sent me to the scrap heap before then.”

“I’ll let you rest up then, Jena.” Handler said. “Just remember you are earning a weekly wage now. If you like the top, maybe pay a visit to the shops in town. Military clothing tends towards monochrome, even the casual wear.” She paused as she turned to leave. “See you around maybe, soldier?”

Handler had left by the time Jena turned around.

Jena had gone into town with her time off, though not for clothes shopping. She stopped by the Trader’s Quarters and dipped into her pay to purchase a small set of tools and some materials. When she wasn’t being drilled, training, reading, or going through equipment checks the cadet was in her room testing the fine motor control functions on her new hands. Meals in the hall were spent chatting with Zircon learning about space combat and the quirks of autocrew. She got along better than expected with the android and it seemed the more they got along, the more she improved in close quarters combat training. It was getting dangerously close to the end of the month before she finished what she had been working on. A dash into the city late on the Saturday afternoon had taken a dip into her wallet to pick up some last things. It was evening by the time she set off from the barracks to Landing Site Park and the IXV Shuck.

 

“You coming out?” Durand asked. The cyborg was out of her shipsuit and was instead in a little black number that showed off a lot of leg and arm. She had let her wealth of chestnut brown hair down and raided Solokov’s make up set for the finishing touches.

“You’ll all enjoy yourselves more if your handler isn’t out there with you.” Handler spoke, reclining on her chair on the bridge of the vessel. “Have you asked Fixer if he wants to go out?”

Agent Durand laughed. “I think you definitely need a night out. Fixer’s already off ship, indulging in some local beer festival. First they’ve had in a decade.”

“In which case someone needs to stay with the ship. I’ve some last minute checks to run before we launch tomorrow.” She gestured to the itinerary and stock lists being displayed in front of her. “You go get some R&R, it may be a while until you next have time too.”

“All right, Handler.” Durand started to walk away, then suddenly draped herself over the back of the chair. “Unless you just want us all off the ship in case some strapping blonde farmgirl drops by?” She teased.

“She’s not a farmgirl, Simone.” Handler absently corrected her agent as she looked through medical supply listings. “And Jena isn’t interested in that.”

“Who mentioned Jena?” Simone smirked. “I certainly didn’t. I could always go and-” The agent trailed off at the look her handler shot her, “-get out of your hair so you can run your final checks.”

“That would be appreciated, Agent.” Handler pretended to ignore the snickered laugh as Durand left the bridge, preferring instead to run inventory checks on replacement parts and go over final requisition orders from the Herne’s storerooms. She had only just gotten started when footsteps sounded on the floor behind her.

“As I said prior, Agent, I am not going to go-” The words fell from her lips as she spun round in her chair. Instead of Simone Durand standing there, it was Jena Foster. The blonde young woman looked rather awkward in a pair of strappy sandals and a mid-thigh length white dress, with no sleeves and a floral design similar to the garb Handler had worn a month back. There was a bag in one hand, and the other was rubbing somewhat nervously at the back of her tanned neck. “Jena.”

“Sorry to disturb, Handler.” She apologized. “I’ve been busy and I just-” She gestured with the large bag in hand. “Gifts. For the crew. As thanks.” Jena then pointed back behind her. “Durand let me on board before she went off.” A silence passed between the pair before Jena started to dig things out of her bag. “There’s jams and preserves in here, local tinned fruits and vegetables, some biscuits and even some freshly made Farringdon fruit cakes.”

“Thank you.” Handler smiled. “It’s a lovely gesture, I’m sure we’ll enjoy them.”

“There’s something for Fixer too.” Jena added, quickly pulling a box from the bag. The markings on it indicated it was a scale model kit for of one of the more popular types of tractor, plus a plough attachment. “He put me back together, so… a little something for him to put together.”

That drew a warm laugh from Handler. “I’m sure he’ll enjoy that too.” Then Jena looked even more nervous than she had been as she reached into the bag again. Her first attempt at speaking failed, so after taking a little breath the cyborg tried again.

“I’d have visited earlier but between all my work and… all the work I was doing on this I just didn’t have-” A nervous gulp, then she pulled out two packages. Both were wrapped in colourful paper and tied up with simple brown string. One small and flat, the other a tube about half a foot long. Reaching out, Handler took the tube first.

“This one is for y-you and the ship, i-in a way.” Jena stammered as Handler unwrapped it. It was a carved piece of wood, etched and painted in four sections, each one denoting one of the planet’s seasons. She noted the seam in the wood and carefully drew one part away from the other, revealing a length of knapped stone carefully clipped into a blade.

“All houses on Farringdon Three have one. Or they used to. It’s supposed to bring luck and safety to everyone who lives in the house, but with the last ten years… I think they’ve fallen out of favour.”

With a nod of understanding, Handler tucked it into one of the pockets on the command chair. “In this line of work, luck and safety are always hoped for.” She said before taking the next package. Jena looked even more nervous at this one being opened. Inside was a bracelet. The clasps had microwire wrapped with wheat gold cotton running between it, and carefully shaped and polished flint pieces had holes drilled into them before being threaded along the length. A soft smile came to her lips as Handler carefully unlatched it before slipping it around her wrist to fasten.

“Fixer might have put me back together, but… I owe you a lot too, Handler. T-thank you.” Handler could see the tension rising in her former recruit, her rate of breathing upping. Then Jena had darted in to place a kiss on her cheek, the corners of their lips just touching.

As they parted, Handler could see the panic in Jena’s eyes. Her hands were shaking again, and her jaw trembled as she forced herself to move back in for another kiss. Their lips almost met again when Handler heard the hitch of Jena’s breath. The sobs followed as the cyborg crumpled against the intelligence officer, her shoulders heaving as years of repressed panic and sorrow broke through all the barriers she’d built over the past ten years of conflict.

“Let it all out, soldier.” Handler ordered, her arms coming around to hold the weeping woman close. It wasn’t quite how she’d hoped to spend her final night planetside but for the cyborg she held in her arms, it was a positive step.

A single thought locked off the bridge from the rest of the ship. If the others returned early, she knew Jena wouldn’t want them to see her in such a state.

 

As Jena watched the IXV Shuck take off with eyes still a little puffy from the bout of crying the previous night, regret swept over her. If things had been different, she’d have departed with them for a lifetime of work across the universe. As it stood, she still had five months of training to go before she’d leave Farringdon III herself. As she watched the intelligence ship reach escape velocity, she knew she’d never see them again. Galactic Federation space was vast, and the Shuck’s missions would take them far beyond its reaches.

Jena Foster brushed the grass off her dress as she stood up from the hill she’d sat watching their departure from. Handler had given her some good advice, and she intended to make use of it. She made the call from her internal commslink and waited for someone to pick up the other end.

[“Rosie? It’s Jena. I was wondering if you and Jaret want to meet me for lunch?”]

Cooking for the One You Love

Everything had to go perfectly that evening. The table was set with the best tablecloth, the finest plates and cutlery, an ornate candle holder with a beeswax candle ready to be lit, and a dainty vase filled to bursting with beautiful flowers.

He laboured hard in the kitchen, giving each dish a a touch of flare. All the ingredients were treated with equal importance, picking the best of the best for use in the cooking of a favourite dish.

As he arrived at the table with the food, artfully arranged and smelling divine, he glanced across the table and smiled warmly. Taking his seat, he ate with deliberate slowness, savouring each bite as he gazed over into his eyes. He looked so happy, so content and so at peace with the world.

A glass was raised in toast to his reflection. When it came to cooking for the one you love, he pulled out all the stops. He was worth it, after all.

Asking Out

The loading bay was a hub of activity, taking in new stock always brought the workers out in mass to get everything moved off the delivery trucks and into their sections, ready to be dolled out piece by piece in the creation of something greater. Something greater, in this case, were spatial compression coils for civilian and commercial space cruisers.

Raw materials and pre-constructed parts were delivered to one end of the manufactory complex. As it passed through humanoid and robot hands, as well as the larger mechanical claws and precision operating tools of the construction systems, it gradually became the necessary part that emerged at the other end of the complex. Drastically shorter space travel was a necessity, so they always sold well.

“Lydia, hello.” A voice shouted over the cacophony of activity at a young woman slotting mass calculator cases into a dispersal unit. The woman’s purple hair was tied up and out of the way, covered in a fine gauze to prevent any loose strands from falling away. She turned, her mouth breaking into a smile as she laid her big blue eyes on him.

“Sevenson!” She exclaimed, reaching over to pat the android on his arm. Neil Sevenson was a Sevtek Heavy Labour Concern machine, designed for moving large, heavy objects around industrial zones. Standing at just over eight foot tall, his large frame was sturdy enough to withstand the stresses of his work, with support structures in place for secure and stable lifting.

“Do you need a hand with that?” He asked, pointing a thick and solid finger at the box. His shape was humanoid, but instead of the synthetic skin that service sector robots had, he had a sleek, impact-resistant chassis and a face firmly away from the uncanny valley that had troubled earlier service robots.

“I’m fine, thanks for the offer though.” Lydia smiled, giving a shake of her head as her arms worked automatically to load the cases in. “What brings you over here?”

“Well, I have a little while before the trucks are shipping out, and I wanted to ask you something.” Neil paused, his targeting units adjusting with slight whirrs and clicks as he focused on her, carefully thinking over his next words. “Are you doing anything this weekend?”

She blinked. “Um, no, I don’t have plans. Why do you ask?” Lydia had a fair idea why he asked. It was impossible not to see the adverts clustering every form of digital media.

“It’s Valentine’s Day on Saturday, and I was curious as to if you would like to go out with me for the evening?” He asked, his digitized voice sounding a little timid.

Doing her best to ignore the gazes from her human and alien colleagues, Lydia’s teeth sunk into her lower lip. It wasn’t unusual to be asked out by a robot, but then again it wasn’t usual either. In fact, this was the first time she’d ever been propositioned by one for an evening of entertainment.

“If you have something else planned, that’s no worry.” Neil added quickly, turning this way and that as he processed the best way to retreat. Part of her wanted to laugh at his discomfort, but only a very small part.

The truth was, she didn’t have anything else planned. No one had asked her, she hadn’t planned on asking anyone. If it was anything like last year, she’d be at home with a meal for one and a galaxy of entertainment available to browse. Pretty much like any other day.

He was turning to leave when she reached out to take a hand. “Sevenson, wait.”

Neil paused immediately, turning slightly to look at her. “Yes, Lydia?”

“I’ve got nothing planned this year, and I had nothing planned last year. A night out might be fun. Did you have anything in mind?”

It took him a while to reply. “Not a clue, to be honest.” The lowering of his light spectrum sensor panels gave his face an almost bashful look.

“Well, my supervisor is currently giving me the old black hole stare, so I need to get back to work, but I’ve added you on my social feed, maybe later on we can chatconnect?” She asked, before laughing softly. “In fact, I wonder why you didn’t just ask me on there to begin with.”

Nudging her back towards her work, Neil brought a hand up to rest on top of his domed head. “Well… it did not seem proper?” He said with a shrug.

Her hands working at double time to get the cases loaded, she flashed a smile up at him. “Fair enough. I’ll let you get on with work, and we’ll talk later… okay?”

“Okay.” He nodded, turning and starting to amble off. “Goodbye, Lydia. Until later.”

Glancing back, she caught the disbelieving shake of his head, and even the slight fist pump motion of his arm and couldn’t help but smile. This must be what my horoscope was talking about when it said ‘expect the unexpected’ today…

Ceefax Serenade

She always wondered why her elderly parents went to bed as early as they rose the following mornings until she had to stop there, due to work being done on her house. It was five AM in the morning, and noise downstairs had woken her up. As she wrapped a flannel dressing gown around herself to pad down the staircase, she wondered if her children had woke early.

She paused at the lounge when she saw the light of the television on. If her boys had snuck down to watch cartoons… the look of imminent scolding fell from her face though as she poked her head around the door-frame.

In the middle of the lounge, in front of the bulky CRT television that her parents wouldn’t part with on the fact it ‘still worked just fine’, her mother and father were dancing to the soft, easy-listening music that accompanied Pages from Ceefax, the quaint little information display on BBC2 filling time between programs.

– Click me for background music via YouTube! –

They didn’t pay any heed to the words on the screen, flickering every so often from news story to sports and other topics. There were no lights on other than the early sun slipping parts of itself through the thick curtains and the glow of the screen itself. They were just lost in the music and too busy reading the wrinkles on each other’s faces and the twinkle in their eyes.

She stopped herself from calling out to them, unwilling to spoil the moment. Instead, she wandered back up the staircase, the soaring saxophones and the accompanying acoustic guitars lingering in her mind as she began to realise just why they got up so early.

It was much later in the day, while her father was at his allotment, that she asked her mother just what was happening.

“Why, when your father worked, he’d have to get up early.” Her mother said, rolling out some pastry. “So I’d make us our breakfast, pack him his lunch, and we’d have the BBC2 on for news, and something we could dance to without interruptions.”

“That’s… really sweet, and romantic, mum.” She smiled, before looking worried. “But what are you going to do next month, when…” She left it hanging ominously.

“When they stop playing it on the digital?” Her mother filled in, before smiling. “Well, there’s always the iPod.”

 

Author’s Note: Next month, the Digital Switchover is complete in the UK, and as such, Pages from Ceefax will no longer broadcast on any Digital channel, as the service ends. When I was little and would wake early before primary school, I could always count on it being on, and then the Open University programs about things I would never study at my little school. Like neural regeneration in goldfish.