Hector respectfully waited for Lady Nistrie to finish her borgar and only then spoke about his offer:
“Lady, I've witnessed your skill and am more than willing to offer you a mutually beneficial partnership. There are a number of creepy pirate ghosts, unjustly haunting these peaceful lands. I aim to do my duty as a Terran soldier and wipe as many of these degenerate cleaners as I can. You on the other hand, you need the salvage to get back up your feet. What say you?”
The young Dzenta'rii wiped the edges of her mouth with a cloth napkin, sighed happily and smiling, answered:
“I accept your offer, wise Terran, but I have two conditions of my own.”
“Bargaining, eh? Well, say your peace young lady, we bunnies do love to bargain!”
He raised his paw and when the waitress noticed that he was ready to order more, Hector merrily said:
“Mala, two Frothing Kongs please! Oh, and if we will also have one of your big whiteberry pies.”
“Be there in a jiff, hon.” - Chimed her response the middle-aged woman, who had the look of a seasoned restaurateur about her.
“You know her well, do you?” - Lady Nistrie asked him, after she politely nodded, returning the hostess's friendly smile.
“Yes, Malaika was one of our morale officers, back when I was a submariner. She is from Earth, a continent called Africa and there are a lot of her kin who settled here on Mars, colonized the place.”
Hector and another older, gold-skinned man with red irises, exchanged friendly nods. Nistrie noticed that nearly half of the visitors here were old; all of them had dark golden, bronze colored skin and red irises. She wasn't an exobiologist or a learned alienist, therefore she assumed this was a gene-graft of some sort. Probably something which helped these much older Terrans colonize this planet.
“They do not all have the same... look. Can you tell me more?”
It wasn't Hector who replied, but the hostess of this borgar joint, Malaika:
“First colonists on Mars had to get genetic augmentation, grafts you'd call them. Only after Terraformation was complete and fully successful, people could remove those.”
“Naaah; not now, not ever gonna do that.” - one of the gold-skinned men rumbled from his seat - “I like me gene-graft and am keepen et!”
Mala placed two strange looking bottles at their table, and a big plate. The pie was piping hot, aromatic steam rising from its sliced, circular shape. So much taste this aroma promised, that Nistrie's nose dripped again, which prompted her hostess to offer a handkerchief.
The bottles were shaped as some famous Earth higher animal, now uplifted. The Lady already saw more than a few of these muscular, yet very friendly gorillas, strolling around these parts. She flipped Frothing Kong's little hands down and it immediately opened, a fizzling liquid foaming down the bottle's neck.
“My brother made the Martian whiteberry pie. We cook only with the best fruits, the freshest meats, veggies and berries supplied by local farmers. Enjoy!”
The smiling hostess noticed someone else's raised hand and left their table. After waiting this table, she sat in her comfy chair next to the bar, a large, strangely colored paper book in her hands. Lady Nistrie did not know any of the local Terran languages, but this book had to be really interesting since her hostess chuckled as she read.
“Now, let's hear about those conditions of yours, Lady.” - Said Hector after he loafed one piece of pie, skillfully gobbling it all up, without smearing his snout with white berries or crème.
“My first condition is for you to train me, Hector.”
“You... you want to become a soldier?!” - Startled he asked, surprised by her request.
“Camper, I want to become a proper camper, sir. I mean... if you can teach me how to shoot better, yes, I will most graciously accept.”
She took one bite from the pie and winced – it was so good! Both crispy and fluffy, the crust tasted hearty, but not overwhelming and these Martian whiteberries were perfectly tart. Not only were these spherical fruits the ideal combination of sour and sweet, but they had a pleasant, refreshing aftertaste.
“I will teach you to shoot, alright. In exchange, you will maintain my sub's electronics. As for those camping lessons - that I shall do for free. What is your second condition?”
Lady Nistrie nodded; she expected he'd ask for something in return and him being a Terran, it would be a reasonable request. She had a tiny sip from her Frothing Kong bottle, just to have a taste.
“So... many... bubbles!” - Nistrie was able to mutter, before her dzenta’rii noggin suffered from a brain freeze.
“Enjoying a fizzy kola for the first time? I had to guess that you were just a boring wine enjoyer. No worries, you'll be a fizzy drink connoisseur in no time!” - The bunny sniggered, joined by three others from another table, whose companions' faces were twisted into a near exact copy of her own.
“The Slab, mrrmhmnn... This is my second condition, I want to learn more about it.”
“Only if you promise to not rush and follow the stellar map later, much, much later. If you are to survive a search of this magnitude, you'll need a great ship! Also top notch equipment and many more companions, not just some creaky oldster like me...”
Lady Nistrie blinked a couple of times, her mind still under the effect of that brain freeze. She was prepared for the dance of appraisal, yet that bunny outmaneuvered her. Countering her second and most cherished condition with one of his own, she could do nothing else but agree. It was only logical; the most prudent thing one could do was prepare well.
Hector confidently shook her hand, sealing their deal. He then immediately covered his snout, after a sudden and most vicious attack of hiccups. Apparently the most awesomely tasting Frothing Kong kola had other “side effects” except that ludicrous brain freeze she and others were experiencing. Nistrie examined the bottle and wouldn't you know it, stamped with holo-letters on the gorilla's ass were the words:
“Casual fizzy juice drinkers could experience brain freezes or sudden burp attacks. Consume in moderation and you'll git good... one day.”
All of this was so hilarious and entreating!
Everything which surrounded her here; people, items, the food and drink she consumed, overflowed with so much wholesomeness. Such she hasn't experienced till now and compared to her boring, dreary life so far, these past star-days were exhilarating.
After repaying the men who saved her life, she finally realized that the opportunities for personal growth in this part of space were limitless. Nistrie's future looked so bright – if only she'd learned about the Terrans earlier!
“I actually dabble in mystery research, and coincidentally know quite a lot about these Slabs.” - Calmly stated Hector, after he'd devoured another slice of pie.
“Wait, there are more of these?” - The iceberg of her curiosity barely scratched, asked she.
“Quite a lot of them can be found on the antique item market, actually. The one which you uncovered is a star map, used by the old pirate clans of Fringe Space to mark certain locations of interest...” - The bunny mysteriously stated, and Nistrie was forced to wait till he stuffed another half slice of whiteberry pie in his snout, before he continued.
“Incidentally, few researchers and reputable mystery researchers actually call them star maps. The name 'Slab' comes from an ancient word, As'aalb, which is spoken in the oldest Fringe Speak dialect. Who knows how many thousands of star-years had rolled by, for it to transform from as'aalb into slab.”
“If those are actually maps, where do they lead to? Also, why did it glow when I touched it?”
“The pirates use these maps to conceal their treasure hoards since few sentients could even read them. From what I've read, these are cast from liquid stone, a type of nano-concrete if you will. It was made by a long lost civilization and no one knows how to repair one, if it breaks.” - He finished his Frothing Kong kola, and with a snarky smug on his snout, gently tapped Nistrie's forehead.
“You have a latent telepathic gene, Lady. No, don't assume it will magically allow you to read the Slab. If you are truly willing to stay on this course, we will visit a telepathic friend of mine. He will probably request compensation for his services, and after you pass some training, we will know what are the marked coordinates.”
“Space pirate treasure hoards, you say. Neither of my parents mentioned anything about latent telepathy genes running in my family. Oh my, I can't even...” - Lady Nistrie's eyes were full of wanderlust and her heart was pumping blood high in adrenaline.
“It is not only via simple telepathic power that one could unlock a Slab's secrets. Specific skill is needed and my friend is one of the few who has it. Now, this Slab in particular has now imprinted itself upon your mind and even if someone steals it, they wouldn't be able to make it work.”
Hector made a dramatic pause; waited for Nistrie to finish another piece of pie and drink some fizzy kola, before delivering the last piece of info.
“There is something else you should know, Lady. These Slabs, oft those who imprint themselves on them, they are visited by or are able to witness the supernatural.”
“You mean I can see ghosts now and not by use of specially calibrated scanner, but with my own eyes?!”
“Hear and... feel them. Who knows what type of entity would this Slab attract?” - He cryptically added, while his paws made a series of rather spooky-ish looking movements above the table.
Lady Nistrie gulped, looking at his smiling snout; overexcited and ears ringing from all the adrenaline in her blood.
“Now,” - he stood up and waved in the air to gain the hostess's attention - “pay the bill and let us go back to the 'Shadow'. I would tell you more, but... those are professional secrets.”
Hector made another paw sign, which apparently meant something in his lingo, because the oldsters sitting nearby turned around. They obviously did not look as jovial as before, and shoved their faces in their drinks, no longer paying her and the bunny any attention.
Nistrie counted a couple of credit chits, seven to be exact, received what was left of their pie, neatly packed in a reusable vacfoam container and left Malaika's floating restaurant. While they boarded his submarine, the crotchety old veteran, this time with a much more serious expression plastered all over his snout, warned her:
“Remember what I tell you now and remember it well, Lady. Keep your pistol by your side, at all times! If you see a shadowy wraith-like figure or suddenly feel freezing cold, immediately activate the shield belt I gave you. Chances are you'll need lots of help too, so... call my name.”
Lady Nistrie's eyes darted nervously around, yet instead of seeing spooky ghosts, her sight caught something else. It was a fish, quite the large one, which slowly followed the floating borgar place, fins and tail barely moving. One big eye looked at her, when said fishie popped her head up on the surface for a few seconds.
“What is this big fish doing here, eating borgar leftovers or something?”
Hector quickly turned around one paw on his pistol, and looked exactly where Nistrie's finger pointed. He canted his head a couple of times before replying:
“Fish, what big fish? I don't see anything swimming there!”
A fish eye the size of her head was still ogling Lady Nistrie...
I and @todolomejor have been planning and working for months. Mystery, spooky stuff Starshatter style, fishies, munchies, and, of course - aliens! This will be a series of stories following the adventures of two characters - the old submariner Hector and the Dzenta'rii, Lady Nistrie!
Episode eleven coming soon...