The grin on Jazzmarie’s face startled Max. As an android with human tendencies, or, as Cerulean likes to say—Android Extraordinaire—Max considered himself something of an expert on pretty much everything. But from the moment that Jazzmarie first stepped her dainty foot on the deck of the Merrimack, he felt bewildered. Worse—completely disarmed. He glanced over as she tapped the communications console. She was still grinning. Max veered his eyes away. Quickly.
Jazzmarie looked up and stared, her grin still wavering like a mirage in the desert. “By the Divide, what are you so scared of?”
Though Max’s skin was entirely synthetic and he could never actually jump out of it, suddenly the Oldearth expression made horrific sense to him. Clamping his jaw into what he hoped was an impressive bulge, he turned sharply. “I am not scared of anything.” His gaze skimmed directly over Jazzmarie’s head.
Stepping over, Jazzmarie propped herself on her tiptoes and raised her head to eye level, intercepting his gaze. “So why do you look pale enough to rival a Greek Goddess?”
Flummoxed, Max’s eyes searched for an escape. His gaze grazed her lips. “For your information, Miss Marie—”
Max tilted his head; his mouth froze in the O position.
“My name is Jazzmarie. One word. My parents liked how the sounds flowed together.” Her fingers caressed the edge of the console as she emitted a plaintive sigh. “I wouldn’t have minded something from my native Oldearth heritage like Arjun or Sachin, but—” the grin was swallowed whole by a determined pout, “—Mom liked Jazz and Dad liked Marie, so….”
With a blank stare, Max reverted to the facts at hand. “I’m not scared—just naturally pale. I am an android embedded with an embryonic human brain that has developed—actually overwhelmed—parts of me.”
Raising one eyebrow, Jazzmarie twirled toward the medical database console and tapped the surface. “Which parts?”
Max practiced an eye roll like the one he had seen Cerulean perform to devastating effect. Unfortunately, it took three tries to achieve a complete rotation. Max gripped the railing for support.
Jazzmarie waved with a couple of dainty fingers. “Just joking. I know all about you. Don’t think I would sign aboard a mission without knowing the crew intimately—do you?” With a startling jerk, she stretched and yawned. “By golly, I’ve already put in a full day. What say we get something to eat? This little rocket ship has got a sweet canteen according to the specs.”
Max squared his shoulders and lifted his head. If he was right, this formidable woman had just asked him for a date. Flinging a gallant elbow aside, he nodded his assent.
Jazzmarie took his arm; her grin led the way.
The canteen’s décor left much to be desired by most human standards. Gray walls surrounding three, pale blue tables with seats enough for twelve, and the barest culinary choices set a Spartan tone. Max ordered his favorite yogurt-plus and a coffee, while Jazzmarie selected a grilled tomato and cheese sandwich and hot cocoa.
Jazzmarie slipped onto one swivel chair, sliding her tray on the table, and huffed in disgust. “Good thing I have a vivid imagination or this wasteland would get me down.” She snapped her fingers in Max’s direction. “Wait—great idea flooding my brain!”
Horror rippled across Max’s face as he spluttered his coffee.
Without ceremony, Jazzmarie mopped up the spray. “I have a set of OldEarth visuals that I can plaster over the walls. It’ll look so cool—”
Max attempted a semblance of dignity. “Our preferred temperature range is—”
“Just an ancient expression, Maximan. Now, look—” she sipped hot cocoa from her mug, “I’ve researched everything about this Cosmos we’re chasing, but I bet you know more. You’ve traveled all the highways and byways—right? I want to see this mission from your perspective.”
Holding a spoon brimful of a yogurt-granola mix approximately seventeen centimeters from his open mouth, Max waited.
Jazzmarie frowned. “What?”
Resuming his trajectory, Max slurped, chewed, and swallowed. He titled his head in consideration of the woman across the table. “I do not think it is within the realm of possibility that you seen anything from my perspective. It isn’t physically—”
Jazzmarie waved his words away like dust. “So? You think we can stop this monster?”
Placing his spoon beside his bowl, Max crossed his legs and leaned back. He attempted a studious expression. “I must take issue with the term ‘monster.’ Technically, Cosmos is a massive, simple-celled, space creature that feeds off planetary matter. While a monster is—”
“Someone’s nightmare, I know.” Jazzmarie’s gaze traveled around the perimeter of the room. “She’s got that painted all over her.” Jazzmarie’s gaze returned to Max. She let it rove over him a moment as a slow smile tugged at her lips. “I like your style, Maximan. No jumping to conclusions or hasty appraisals.” She took a huge bite out of her sandwich and chewed, her grin back in full force.
Max gulped his coffee heedless of the burn scorching his throat.
After Jazzmarie had polished off her sandwich and pushed aside her empty cup, she snatched a glance at her data-pad. “Jumping Jackdogs, Roux, and the new gal will be here at any moment.” She pointed to the pink, gelatinous mass in front of him. “You better finish that up in a hurry, or you might look unprofessional on your first day.”
Grabbing the edge of the dish, Max lifted it to his lips and slurped the contents in one last, desperate effort.
The door slid open revealing the Luxonian commanding officer, Roux, and his Bhuaci assistant, Yelsa Prater, standing side-by-side. Roux stepped in, and Yelsa followed.
Jazzmarie shot to her feet saluting smartly.
Roux walked forward, a little frown embedded in his forehead. “No ceremony with me, Doctor.” He glanced at Max.
Max stood and thrust out a stiff hand. A pink circle highlighted his lips.
Roux’s hand rose to his face with an automatic swiping motion. Regaining his composure, he shook Max’s hand, sparing a hesitant glance at the doctor. “Max, you and the doctor have gotten acquainted, I see.” After a sizable swallow, he faced the doctor head-on. “Are you comfortably settled in?”
With the most serious expression Max had seen all day, Jazzmarie nodded and clipped her words with deadly precision. “Certainly. Thank you for asking.” Her gaze fixed on Yelsa. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
Roux waved in Yelsa’s direction. “Yelsa Prater, tactical expert, the renowned Doctor Jazzmarie.”
Yelsa swung out a confident hand. “It is an honor. I have been looking forward to meeting you.”
Roux’s gaze swept over Max who stood back watching with raised eyebrows, the pink circle still in place. As sweat broke over his brow, Roux gripped Max’s arm. “I need to see you for a moment.” With an authoritative tug, he jerked Max to the other side of the room, swiped a napkin from a dispenser, and waved it in the direction of Max’s mouth.
In bug-eyed comprehension, Max wiped his lips. “Sorry, Sir. I was distracted—”
Roux shook his head and glanced back at the two women. “Never mind.” His gaze stayed fixed on the doctor. After a moment, he turned and faced Max. “I’m just glad that Doctor Jazzmarie didn’t see your…little indiscretion.”
Max shrugged. “She practically choreographed—” He blinked. “Why do you say that?”
With another tug, Roux yanked Max to a side counter and turned his back on the women. “You’re not from around here, so you wouldn’t know her reputation. Just don’t make that woman mad; that’s all I ask. She is Newearth’s medical leader in alien biology and has more reconstruction surgeries under her belt than any being this side of the Divide, but her temper is as renowned as she is—devilish—they say.”
Tilting his body slightly, Max veered his gaze around Roux and over the renowned, and now quite composed, Doctor Jazzmarie. Taking a deep breath, he nodded and swiveled back to Roux. “She certainly has a dangerous grin.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
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