Rick intervened before I could say anything. “That wouldn't be proper.” This seems like a very formal thing to say.
“Of course it would. We have a spare room with its own bathroom and a lock on the door. Improper would be letting Katherine go around looking for vacancy signs at this late hour.”
Rick pursed his lips, but the lock lessened my discomfort. I'm curious about his concern regarding Katherine. Does he think she's honing in on his guy?
“I don’t want to intrude,” I said.
“Nonsense,” Derek said. “Try it for the night. If you’re not happy with our house then you can find something else in the morning.
“How much do you want for the room?”
“You mean rent? Don’t worry about it. The house is paid for the month. If you decide to stay we’ll split the rent differently next month.”
This was a deal I just couldn’t refuse, but I told Derek I'd see how the night went. I didn’t want to commit without seeing the place. What if the house was a bungalows by chicken coups next to the cornfields? A day's work at one of those on Li had been more than I could take. I'm not sure what had bothered me the most: the crowing roosters or the pungent smell. Neither was something I wanted to get used to. I'm also surprised she'd agree to go home with two guys she doesn't know. Are things different in the future? Can people be trusted?
It turned out Derek and Rick had rented one of the elegant houses right on the sand of the main beach and there were three bedrooms I could choose from. I picked a small one with a view of the beach and locked myself in for the night just in case there was more to the offer than what was spoken.
The next morning I found Rick in the kitchen washing dishes by himself. He didn’t look at me when I greeted him, so my smile was wasted on the back of his head.
“Would you like something to eat?” he asked.
“Breakfast sounds good, but shouldn’t we wait for Derek?” This seems a little forced. Plus, for all she knows he could be on his way down.
“He won’t wake up for another couple hours. You’re welcome to wait, but I already ate.”
“I can’t wait two hours. I need to look for work and the good jobs get taken early.” I said to the exposed neck.
He turned. “What do you do?”
“Mostly menial jobs (be specific - it will help with the world-building) that pay by the hour, then I don’t need to commit to anything long term.”
“They probably don’t pay much either.”
“True, but the money is enough that a day of work will last me two or three days. And it only takes me about a month to save enough to travel somewhere else.” Is this what she does? Works a little to travel? I'd like to see this conversation moved to dinner last night and maybe add to it with at least one personal revelation.
He looked skeptical, but I just shrugged. “It works for me. I’ve been living this way for fourteen years--ever since I graduated.” So that makes her around 36? (Assuming she graduated at 18 and 4 years university)
His eyebrows shot towards the low ceiling. “Graduated in what?”
“Geography, which is why I’m exploring the galaxy.” I pulled out the notebook from the bag that never left my side. “There's more in here than drawings of tattoos. I take notes wherever I go.”
Rick walked over to the stove and poured mugs of coffee for us both. He handed me one and sat down across the table. I took a sip--strong and sweet. My face scrunched before I noticed.
“You can add to your notes that coffee here isn't good,” he said.
“Coffee is hard to grow. You need the right climate and soil type, which some planets just don’t have near the settlement.”
His eye got wider.
“One of my day jobs on Sambuco was at a coffee plantation,” I said. “I could give you a lecture, but I won’t.”
“Kavadash has great coffee.”
“What else is Kavadash known for?”
“Any particular kind?”
He pulled a tiny bright blue stone from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of me. “These.”
“You mean gems!”
My gaze met his and he nodded. I made no motion to touch the stone. “Are they scattered in the soil or do you need to mine for them?”
“Both. Anyone can collect what is dispersed in the riverbeds, but the larger deposits lie in the royal mines.”
“Who works in the mines? That’s dangerous.”
“True. But those who want to make a fortune will venture in. They get to keep two thirds of what they harvest.” That seems like a lot!
“That’s quite generous. I should try my hand at it. I’m sure one day of work might go a long way.”
“It does, even if one spends half to get them cut. This gem here can pay for all our expenses on Millanos for a whole month. But women aren't allowed to mine. It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s for their own protection.” That sounds condescending.
“Do women in Kavadash need to be protected?”
“Why don’t you keep this gem instead of worrying about the mines?”
“Why not?” He was watching me closely, which prevented him from sounding as casual as he probably wanted.
I couldn’t tell what his intention had been when he offered me the stone, but I wasn’t going to risk getting caught in a trap. “You just said women aren't allowed to mine. Nobody would believe I acquired it legally. I could be arrested for theft or prostitution if I tried to sell it.”
Just then we heard footsteps on the stairs. Rick pocketed the gem before Derek, wrapped in a bathrobe, walked into the kitchen.
“I had this most amazing dream,” he said in his own tongue.
Rick stood. “Dear Derek, there’s a lady in the house, remember? You should get dressed.”
The robe covered Derek from head to toe and I could see pajama pants peeking out from under the hem. I doubted he could wear clothes that covered him more, but I kept quiet. They still didn’t know I understood their language.
Derek froze when he noticed me, eyes wide as if facing an apparition. “She’s real?”
“Yes,” Rick said.
“And she understands your language,” I added in the western tongue I used to speak at school.They both stared at me with slacked jaws.
My first impression here is that I want to know more about Katherine. I want to connect with her on a more emotional level. What does she want? Why is she doing what she's doing? Is she running from something? You don't have to answer those questions but I wonder if we can't get some hints about who Katherine is. And I'm really curious about Derek and Rick. Who are they? Why doesn't Rick like Katherine? What was all that bit with the gems? I'm feeling a lot more suspicious about them than I did...
But what do you guys think? Anyone care to offer their opinion?