The giant fish seemed to wink at Lady Nistrie before sinking back down into the depths of the canal
“That was the biggest fish I’ve ever seen!” she said.
“It’s gone now?”
Hector gave a nod and began walking along the canal toward his submarine.
“We had better get back, partner. Tomorrow we’ll start out early and visit the nearest market.”
“This market, it is close by?”
“Yes, you can sell your salvaged components and we’ll stock up on supplies.” He looked her over and added, “You’ll need quite a lot of stuff.”
Lady Nistrie’s ears turned blue when she thought about how her clothes might smell after wearing them for a week.
“Yes, a few things,” she admitted.
They boarded the submarine and Nistrie promptly bumped her head and knocked over several crates. She sat on the floor with her hand to her head and said, “Owww.”
“I guess it’s a little cramped in here,” said Hector. “Is your head okay?”
Lady Nistrie nodded and said, “Perhaps we should camp outside tonight. I see that there are some hammocks, but it might be safer in a tent.”
“No, let’s sleep in here so we can get an early start. Just be careful when you’re moving around.”
That night was a long one for her; sleeping in the hammock was uncomfortable. Her legs and feet kept cramping and every time she moved, she fell out. Hector, on the other hand, slept soundly. He only woke the several times her body hit the floor.
The Lady had finally drifted off to sleep when she awoke to Hector banging on a pan with a ladle. The smell of delicately fried fish tantalized her nose. Hector was standing in the tiny kitchen area, wearing a ruffled apron. Nistrie chuckled and got up, only to trip over another box and land face-down in a pile of dirty socks.
“Are you hungry, Lady?” Hector said, ignoring her lack of grace.
“Mostly I’m sleepy, but it smells great!”
He handed her a plate and sat on a box with his. They ate in silence until Hector said, “Why don’t you get dressed and I’ll clean up the dishes? We should be on our way as soon as possible.”
Fifteen minutes later they were gliding down the canal.
“There’s a ramp up ahead where we can exit the canal,” he said.
“Will we walk from there?”
“It is much too far. The Shadow can travel on land once we deploy the wheels.”
Nistrie was amazed, “Can it fly, too?”
Hector just looked at her; sometimes she said the most preposterous things.
“Of course not.”
“It seems to be able to do everything else. I just... wondered.”
When they drove up the ramp from the canal, they were surrounded by kilometres of red sands.
“This is a dedicated preserve for the original Martian habitat,” Hector told her.
“I have read of this.” She stared out the window, trying to imagine how the first colonists survived.
“Will you drive for a while?” Hector asked. “I want to do some arranging in the back.”
He returned to the front as the environment turned a leafy green. Giant sequoias, pines, and oaks shared the forest with ferns and flowering plants.
“Why are they so big?” Nistrie asked.
“Old growth trees from Earth were uprooted and brought here to live. They don’t seem to mind their new location.”
“You should have seen the view when we passed between the red sands and the forest. The contrasting colors were so beautiful.”
“I’m afraid that I have seen this road so many times that I have become a little jaded. It is comforting to see my world through your eyes.”
The sun began to rise as they passed into farm land.
“I’ll take over driving,” Hector said, “We should be there pretty soon.”
Nistrie stopped the rolling sub and tried to skooch across into the passenger’s seat. Unfortunately, her hair got tangled around a mesh storage hammock and she couldn’t move at all.
Hector said, “Be still.”
He parked the Shadow and got up to take a look.
“I think I have a baseball cap you can wear inside. It might be safer,” he mumbled.
He wiggled her hair around and finally got it loose. “Either that or you could cut it very short.”
“Perhaps,” she said. “I will give it some thought. Are we almost there?”
Though Nistrie said out loud she'd think about it, cutting her treasured long hair would amount to nothing short of a heresy. Maybe braiding it Spacer style or fashioning it in a tidy bun? Yes, that was it!
“Yes. You will know when we get there. It is pretty hopping.” Hector laughed at his own pun.
That cozy Martian dome town was shockingly vibrant.
The riotous color and cacophony was in stark contrast to the plains of buffalo grass and the tranquil forest. Observing the market, Nistrie's adrenaline shot so high she nearly fainted. Hector, seeing her reaction, suggested she go in back to get her things together.
“Soon enough you will see it all up close and personal like,” he said.
“Yes. Thank you, Hector.”
She got her things and herself together, and was ready to disembark by the time Hector parked the Shadow.
“You can sell your salvage as we go. Don't forget the fun haggling part.”
Nistrie's face took on a look of fierce determination.
“Fun, not battle! Come on Lady, I'll help you.”
The morning was full of unexpected surprises. Hector bought her a meat bun that melted in her mouth and she found a vending machine selling fizzy kong. The Terrans were kind and often funny, haggling exuberantly with Hector over the price of her salvage. Nistrie tried it a couple of times, but Hector stepped in when she was not entirely successful.
“Don't be cheating my friend, here! We both know what this is worth.”
“It's not new, and there's some damage.”
“What damage? You can sell this for twice as much!” And on it went.
“I am much impressed, Hector. How did you learn to do that?”
“It runs in my blood, but you will learn with time, have no fear Lady.”
He looked around and spotted a stall selling armor.
“Let's see if we can get you some light armor, and perhaps a change of clothes.” His nose twitched and Nistrie’s ears got a little blue.
“Then we can see about other supplies.”
“Greetings! Irasshaimase!” The vendor called.
“Konnichiwa,” said Hector with a bow.
“I have not seen you for a star minute, Sir. How have you been faring?”
“Very well, Murakami-san. This is my new partner, Lady Nistrie. Could you help her find a good, lightweight armor?”
“Of course! Right this way, Nistrie-sama.”
Mr. Murakami led her into the recesses of the stall and Hector wandered to the next as he waited. He looked over the goods, but wanted to discuss the budget with Lady Nistrie before he made any purchases. This they could do over lunch.
Nistrie tried on several suits and picked the most comfortable, which also had the most extra slots. When Mr. Murakami told her the price, she was shocked. She didn't want to be rude, since he was Hector's friend, and wasn't sure the price was negotiable.
“It's the perfect suit, Mr. Murakami, but I just can't afford it,” she told him.
“Do you have something that costs about half of that?”
Murakami-san lifted one dark eyebrow. “Is that how Hector taught you to haggle?”
“Well, no, but you two are friends.”
“He haggles me the hardest!”
“Ohh, my apologies sir, then I will pay half.”
“Done,” he said. “Please work on that skill, because next time I will show no mercy.” He laughed.
“Would you like to wear it now? It comes with a plain jumpsuit.”
“Yes please! I lost everything but the clothes on my back when my shuttle crashed.”
Murakami-san nodded. “Would you have me dispose of those?”
“Yes.” She wrinkled her nose.
Hector returned when she left the changing room and was impressed with her choice.
“Did you choose that one?” he asked his friend.
“No, it was her choice. You might want to work with her on the haggling though.” He winked.
“We are on a rather strict budget,” Hector mumbled.
“Don't worry, we worked it out.”
“Thank you, friend. My word-of-mouth recommendations reach far and wide. We all know your armor is the bestest!”
“I will give you one in return. That Bulgarian food cart will make you drool,” he pointed out a cart with a long line.
“Take lunch there and you will have happy dreams for weeks.”
“Thank you my friend.” Hector bowed again as they left the shop.
“You are in for a tasty treat,” he told Nistrie. “We can make plans while we eat.”
They got in the quickly moving line at the food cart.
The special was Meshana Skara, or mixed grill. Each plate held delicious kebapche, kyufte, pork steaks and skewers of pork meat. Hector ordered two plates and two large tankards of kvas.
When they found a place to sit and eat, Lady Nistrie couldn't speak. All she could say was, “Mmmm,” as she chewed, her nose dripping wildly.
When they had finished their meal she said, “I want more.”
“Perhaps you would like to try another delicious dish after our shopping.”
Nistrie looked uncertain, but agreed.
“We have a long shopping list and a small budget,” he said, “so we need to plan what we can buy.”
“I will pay half, plus my own items.”
“That will help and we can come back when we've taken out more ghostie scum.”
They made a list and quickly rounded up the food, power packs, medisprays, and other mysterious items they needed.
“One more important item and then we can get more food from that Bulgarian cart. You need a second weapon and this we must choose carefully. Come with me, I know just the vendor.”
They approached a dark stall run by a large, serious-looking gorilla. Nistrie, who had never met a gorilla before, was entranced.
“Welcome!” he said in a deep voice.
“Good afternoon, kind Sir. I have heard that you have the best selection in the market,” Hector said.
“I believe that is true.”
“Then perhaps you could help us with our selection.”
The gorilla gave a frightening smile and said, "Hector! My man! It's been a long time!"
They did an odd little paw-fist bump and laughed.
“It's good to see you, Arthur. This is my new partner, Lady Nistrie and she is in need of a second weapon.”
“Very nice to meet you, Lady. Come up here and tell me what you're looking for.”
The low vibration of Arthur's voice was strangely soothing and his eyes were very kind, so she smiled and moved forward to begin the discussion...
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...