“So what do you do?”
Rhoda looked up from her bowl of micrograins and green sauce—some sort of macronutrient vegetable purée that had more smell than taste. She’d thought she was alone in the Utnapishtim‘s galley; she was still groggy from cryo, not fully thawed yet. The man before her seemed too young for his platinum silver hair. He drank something from a silver pouch, something sour judging from his reaction. She didn’t recognize him. Maybe he was ship crew.
“Supersonic solar surfer,” she said nonchalantly and shoveled a heaping spoonful of grains into her mouth.
He choked a bit on his drink, coughed and sputtered and said, “Wrong pipe.” He regained his composure while she chewed and then added, “That’s one hell of a title. You hiring?”
Rhoda smiled from one corner of her mouth. “Not an official title, but an accurate one. A little flashier than asteroseismographer.”
He took a seat at the other end of the long table. “That’s a ten-dollar word and I’ve only got a fifty-cent brain.” He smiled. It was a nice smile, bright and straight and warm, and more genuine than hers. She slid her meal to the side; not particularly hungry anyway.
“Know what a Moreton wave is?” He shook his head. “Sometimes they call them solar tsunamis—shock waves in the corona. A thousand kilometers per second. They can occur naturally, but with a special ship and some fancy flying you can generate them artificially. Makes the star blink; visible all over the galaxy if you know how to look for it. Lightspeed mass communication. You follow?”
He smiled again and shook his head. “Not really, but I like to hear you tell it. Maybe you can tell me again sometime.” He stood up. “We’ve got three more weeks to Vega Prime.” He turned to leave.
“Hey,” said Rhoda, “what’s your name?”
“Name’s Ernie. They even wrote it on my uniform for me so I wouldn’t forget. Most people just call me Cap though. Let me know if you need anything.” He smiled that youthful smile again, from his lips to his eyes, and left the galley.
No way he was the captain. Must be pulling her leg. Way too young. Right?
She was still too groggy to think about it, but she found herself looking forward to their next encounter. Three weeks left. Hmm. She pulled back the bowl of grain-mush and went to work getting it into her stomach.