As I could not sleep, I climbed out of the sleeping bag, and headed for the fire and the company of others. I tiptoed my way over the stony ground to the campfire. The others were still awake, meditatively sipping Pilgrim Fort, a fortified tawny from the Convent. They had acquired this drop, as they call it, from a past visit to the other side of this Southern Pilgrim continent. They said it made such visits against the prime directive, tolerable and worth the risk.
The Australians debated in hushed tones.
I skirted into the bush on the pretext of visiting the bush loo. My ears were burning. I rounded to a nearby shrub and sat listening.
‘Are you sure this plan will work?’ Smith asked.
‘Sure it will,’ Fritz answered.
‘Let’s face it! She’s the perfect one to talk to him. She’s an empath,’ Liesel said. ‘She’ll get inside his head, no worries.’
‘If anyone can reach him, she can,’ Fritz said.
‘A bit of this plonk won’t go astray,’ Smith added.
‘It should work, fellas. At least she should be cheering him up—I mean the personality profile described her as a—what’s the word?’
‘A flibbertigibbet?’ Fritz finished.
‘Hello, Liesel, it’s not working. Captain Fahrer’s depressed as ever. I don’t know how much lower morale can get. Do you realize this’s the fifth time we’ve visited this planet? In as many months?’ Smith stamped the ground. ‘Every time he climbs that mountain, he comes down even more depressed. I can’t take it any longer.’
‘How long till we’re found out, hauled over the coals, and lose our ship?’
‘If Admiral Thumm finds out, she’ll send me to some boring outpost at the edge of the galaxy. I don’t want to be sent to the edge of the galaxy on some dull rock of a mining planet tending to the medical needs of psychotic cyber-criminals.’
‘Don’t work yourself up, Smith. It’ll be alright. I’ve a feeling this time we’ll pull it off.’ Liesel took a sip of her wine and continued, ‘Holly was hand-picked. One of the best. I was thinking of the team. And she is a damn good pilot and damn good fun to be around. Think of this, you can’t have a party without Holly.’ Liesel patted Smith on his back. ‘I’m sure she’ll get to the bottom of Fahrer’s issues.’
‘I’d be happy if she just got to his bottom.’
‘Trust you to think of that, Smith,’ Fritz chuckled. ‘Anyway, there’s still hope.’
‘That’s nice to know, pity Fahrer doesn’t appreciate it,’ I muttered.
Smith’s expression changed to worried. ‘I hope you two know what you’re doing. We are treading a very fine line, you know. You didn’t see how Fahrer was looking at her before.’
‘Hey, no one told me! When was that? How could I miss a look?’ I murmured. ‘Or does he mean a mean look?’
I poked my head over the bushes.
‘Pff! You’re jealous! I see the way you look too, Jo, and you too Fritz! That’s Holly—I mean men look. Get a grip!’
I forced my way through the bushes and plonked down by the fire. ‘Fort! I want Pilgrim Fort!’ One glass of this fortified tawny from the planet might help me relax and take the edge off my mind’s obsession.
Fritz reached for the bottle of Pilgrim Fort and clumsily knocked it to the sand. The sand drank the remaining liquor and not me. ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry,’ Fritz said.
Liesel and Smith buried their heads in their hands in mock disgust.
‘Not again, Fritz!’ Liesel cried.
‘No use crying over spilt P-Fort,’ Smith laughed.
‘Time for bed,’ Liesel rose and then shuffled towards the tent she shared with me. Fritz and Smith also bid good night and retired to their tent.
I sat by the glowing coals trying not to think. Had he looked at me? Perhaps I wasn’t mistaken—perhaps he did like me. Why is he ignoring me? What sort of look did they mean?
Liesel must have been jealous. She had a thing for Smith, she had told me so. Doctors generally—anyone in uniform actually.
Unfortunately, Liesel’s feelings for Smith were not reciprocated. Smith had a girlfriend. For once in my life I could sympathize.
Fahrer—I had not seen him since the melon-ball match. The others had warned me on a previous discussion on the topic of Fahrer, that his disappearing act was normal when visiting this particular planet. He had issues to sort out. My thoughts swirled around in my head as the red glow danced from one coal to another. The coals were hypnotic.
My thoughts drifted to Minna. Minna on her bed, her face mutilated from severe burns. They asked me to counsel her. She was unable to talk, but we shared our thoughts.
A memory surfaced. Was it hers? I wondered.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Feature Photo: Fire © L.M. Kling 2012