Space Noir: Chapter 5
It took me several ticks to get my environmental suit off and find a decent ship-suit. I was surprised to find the woman unresponsive. I got her into the med unit with a bit of wrestling. I have no clue how she got her environmental suit on so fast since it took me almost ten ticks just to get her out of it. 

I felt a bit despicable as I stood there not wanting to close the med unit. Her body was incredible. I hadn't gotten a chance to fully admire her while we were running for our life and all. Now that we were so close, actually farther apart then we had been in the airlock but this time without space-suits between us, I had a hard time not ogling. And I do mean hard.

Dusti helped snap me out of it. “I've been told that dead lovers are much less appealing, but there are vids for that as well.”

I latch the med-unit and activate the auto triage.

As I walked back to the galley, trying to adjust my now uncomfortable ship-suit, Dusti kept at me. “Far be it from me to tell someone how to live. But perhaps you'd actually like to clean instead of just sorting the dirty piles.”

I poured myself another cup of coffee. “You've never complained about the way I've lived before.”

“We've never had another occupant with an olfactory system on board before.” Dusti scrolled up a readout on the display of current methane and ammonia levels in the atmosphere. 

I took a sip of my coffee. It tasted like ash. “Dusti, how long was the heat on for the this pot of coffee?”

“Eighteen point three standard hours. Only about a third the amount you usually leave it running for. Why, is it not strong enough yet? I could up the wattage to the heating element.”

I dumped the coffee down the drain. I gave a quick look around the galley and didn't like what I saw. When, or rather if, the woman woke up she'd probably be hungry. “Dusti, do we have any food on board that isn't freeze dried or frozen solid?”

“Yes Dix, of course we do. Or did you want to refine your inquiry to exclude rotten, spoiled, and generally inedible?” I let my hand slid off of the refrigerator's handle without opening it. “In that case, No Dix. You are safest offering her a freeze dried buffet of expired combat ration.” 

I sighed and looked around. I don't think I had taken the time to consider Dusti my home in quite a long time. It's pretty easy to get yourself in a rut when you're the only human in a quarter AU. I hadn't really been taking much care of myself since.. well, in quite a while.

I gathered up the largest pile of really dirty clothes and hopped down to the utility deck. Dusti only runs at half G while we're in space, so the two meter drop was hardly knee shattering. I stuffed the pile into the sanitizer and set it for full sterilize.

“You just stuffed a mix of colors in at once Dix.”

I shrugged. Dusti had sensors than can see internal movement, but it's not quite the same as talking face to face. “So? What about it?”

“I have it on authority from the station sub-systems that mixed colors can run together.”

I turned back to stare at the sloshing mass of steaming hot clothes. “I think you're lieing again. The only color moving in the water is brown.”

“Dix you really need to… There are preliminary results from the Med-unit.”

I hopped up the ladder rungs to the living deck and ran to the med-unit's display. I was looking at the numbers, but not really seeing them. Dusti, playing the part of my external conscious, read off the pertinent details. “Blood pressure, good. Heart rate, good. Temperature, normal. Residual adrenaline detected, elevated but dropping. Internal bleeding, none. External trauma, minimal bruising. No detected disease, damage, or pregnancy. Patient is malnourished and has mild dehydration. Recommendation, re-hydration and rest.” I punched the “administer” button without a second thought.

I could hardly believe it. Who knows how long she had been on Fancy and someone, or something, had her bound in chains, locked in a locker, and gassed. All she had to show for it was dehydration and a few bruises. I shook my head and headed back to the galley again. “Dusti. Pop the locks on the deep freezer. She's going to be hungry and we must have something that can be thawed out.”

“Yes Dix, we do. But if you don't follow the recipe this time either, it still won't be edible for you humans.” The freezer locks clicked and a white fog rolled out across the galley floor. 

It had been at least two hundred days since I had tried cooking in the galley last. I was sure of that because it took me that long to get my transportation papers through Larson station's port authority. You call one bureaucrat an “asteroid smoking ass eater” and it makes everything take longer. I hoped the food was still good.

The packages were ice rimed and stuck to the shelves. I tried to lift one box and got my fingers stuck to the metal rails. A few invented cuss words and two less layers of skin later and I was free. From outside the freezer door I could hear Dusti, “Be sure to grab the gloves. The food in there has been held in deep freeze.” It wasn't the first time I thought of changing his name to Cheeky Bastard.

I kicked at a box on the lower shelf. The lid cracked and broke off. In side were some long and thin tubular objects. I couldn't tell if they were sausages, cucumbers, or some sort of root vegetable. If I was right, somewhere in there was large bag of processed and fried meat nuggets. There was a rather impressive ice block on one corner, but if that was them, we'd be eating freeze dried rations for the rest of this trip. I closed the freezer. “Dusti, do you think Fancy has any food that would be in any better condition?”

“It's rather hard to tell. Fancy has moved all of her manifests into a memory unit labeled Fuck_Off_You_CHAUVINISTIC _Bastard. I think you may have offended her.”

“Can't you win her over for us?” I ran my hand under warm water. It stung.

“I could try wit and bravado, but I'm afraid the Dixie level of charm is lost to me. Perhaps you could break the shipping lock on her cargo hold.”

I grabbed a new mug, but then remembered how the coffee tasted before. I set it back down and turned the clearing drain valve on the reservoir. A new fresh brew would go a long way to helping me clear my thoughts. “I've been thinking about that. I'm not sure it would be legal for me to break any locks on Fancy.”

“Am I detecting a sudden pang of morality?”

“It's not that.” I popped the top on the brewer. The grounds were bleached to a light tan. Maybe I should change them out more often. “There was a living person on board of Fancy when I explored her. Legally a single crew member, even in a state of duress, retains the rights of possession. Fancy is not a derelict anymore.” I knocked the filter into the waist disposer and rinsed the dross out of it. I had vacuum sealed packs of new grounds in the pantry. Coffee was not a commodity to run short on. “The best we can hope for is a rescue bounty or charity.”

I nearly threw the filter across the galley when I heard a female voice behind me. “Or you could sell that useless hulk for scrap and drink the kreds away in booze.” She extended a hand out to me while the other held an inadequately sized bath towel over her midsection. “The name is Kat.”

I fought valiantly to keep my eyes above her shoulders, but the towel slipped a tiny bit. What, my eyes track motion like a dinosaur's. “Um, Dixie, but most people just call me Dix.” 

She raised one eyebrow. “Self proclaimed?” Her grip was strong, but tender. She let go before I could register what she had said.

“What? No.” I belatedly let my hand drop to my side. This is why I like puppets. They never make me feel like a prepubescent nincompoop. “My parents were big fans of the Neo-Confederates. I detest sports myself.”

“I see.” Kat looked over my shoulder through the bridge door towards the command displays . “Dusti, Could you please list Fancy as Confirmed Derelict. No living crew present. Nav-Com shouldn't complain.”

I cocked my head a bit before I realized I had done it. “But you were aboard when..”

She silenced me with a smile. “I'm not a crew member. I had bartered passage off of Akkad and was just helping around the ship before all hell broke loose.” She looked around the galley and sitting area. “It could use a good scrub, but Dusti looks a lot more homey. May I barter some cleaning service for passage captain?”

Dusti's speakers cracked, “That's a first.”

I held my arms out to my side “Mi casa su casa.”

“What does that mean?” She looked confused.

“Sorry.” I said. “I mean yes, make yourself comfortable.” 

I may have looked down once or twice because she pointed to her towel. “I don't suppose you have something more comfortable that a bath towel you could spare?”

“My dear.” said Dusti. “Perhaps I should prepare the med-unit for another unconscious occupant.” If he was a person I'd have punched him.

I finally noticed that Kat only came up to about my nose. Her full figure had completely masked her shorter size. None of my current ship-suits would fit any of her measurements. “Dusti. Fire up the recycler. See if you can fabricate a ship-suit in the proper measurements.” I held a hand out to the head for her. “There are body scan sensors in the shower that can get a better look at you.” 

She tisked, “Pity.” As she turned to enter the head I couldn't help but notice that the towel only covered her front. I'm not sure what shade of red my face was, but it had to be something approaching failing-star. 

As she closed the door to the the head, Dusti popped the lock on the freezer again. “Good thinking.” I said as I loosened my steaming collar.

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