The Mission was well into its second decade when Lucretia discovered that the captain had a sense of humor.
It was a good cycle on a well-populated world, with the Light found in a lab that had allowed Barry and Lup inside to research it. Merle, meanwhile, had taken himself off on a spiritual retreat with an order of Pannites. And the rest of them had decided to spend a quiet, late summer evening at a local family restaurant by the name of Olivia's Garden.
Magnus folded his arms and leaned back into the overstuffed bench in the little waiting area. Taako had gone off to the restroom, leaving him with the magical pager stone that would let them know when their table was ready. He had a thoughtful look on his face.
"Why do they have all these bottles of dry pasta all over the place?" he mused.
"Oh, the pasta straws?" Lucretia kept her face neutral. "They're there for snacking, if you want. Sort of like a pre-bread course."
Magnus's thick eyebrows lifted. He glanced at Captain Davenport. "Is that true?"
Lucretia sighed inwardly. Barry would've gotten the joke; the twins would have snickered. But the captain would definitely put a stop to it.
So she was more than a little shocked when he said, "Of course."
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. His face was a perfectly unruffled mask.
"Really?" asked Magnus.
"Sure. Back at the IPRE, whenever the upper brass had get-togethers, there'd be vases full of pasta straws." He shrugged. "It's an acquired taste, like wine."
She could not believe what she was hearing. For a moment, she wondered if that were indeed true—or if he had a sense of humor as dry and unassuming as the fettuccini decorating the walls.
Magnus nodded, seeming to take this all in. He fell silent. Voices rose from one of the other parties in the waiting room, a group of three men who chatted and laughed with the close amiability of brothers. Every so often, a bizarre turn of phrase would rise up from them, apropos of nothing, like the punchline to an unheard joke. Or a mysterious prophecy hinting at…something.
"Imagine an egg," said one of them, with the look of a man trying to be serious but unable to contain an impish grin.
"Mmmmm, yummy!" said another, in a high sing-song voice. The third one laughed.
Lucretia smiled, scribbling notes into one of her journals. She hadn't realized Magnus had gotten up until he seated himself again.
A dry fettuccini stuck out of his mouth, like a straw. He chewed on it thoughtfully.
Lucretia bit back a laugh. He was doing it. He was actually eating the dry pasta! Oh, she was going to have to tell Lup about this at their next Girls Night.
Taako came back then. He took one look at Magnus and made a noise of disgust, sitting down next to the fighter. "What are you doing?"
"Appreciating the local culture," said Magnus, with obvious pride.
"Sure. Whatever, dude." Taako rolled his eyes.
Magnus grunted, but he didn't take the pasta out of his mouth.
Lucretia shifted, straightening on the bench and crossing her ankles to find a more comfortable pose.
Magnus mirrored her movements, sitting up straight and crossing his ankles. He thrust out his chin, too, as if attempting to look erudite.
It took her a moment to realize what was happening. Magnus had thought Taako's disgust wasn't because he was eating dry pasta, but because he wasn't doing it fancy enough.
And Davenport had picked up on it too. Out of the corner of her eye, Lucretia watched in silent astonishment as her captain lifted one hand to his face, as if to stroke his mustache, and very slowly extended one pinky. The gesture was clearly telegraphed.
Magnus delicately gripped his fettuccine, extending one pinky.
Lucretia turned her head slightly to the side and made an exaggerated duck-face. Magnus did the same, lips pouting, eyebrows raised. He held the pose for a long minute. But Taako was staring with boredom out the window, and didn't notice. Magnus cleared his throat, but still Taako didn't turn his head.
Davenport leaned closer to her. "Lucretia, have you noticed the stunning art, here? The frame rate is quite high, I think."
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. His gaze was focused on the bland, generic landscape hanging above Magnus's head; he regarded it like a seasoned art critic in a museum.
Were they doing this? They were doing this. "Not bad," she said, "but I've seen higher. Still, the technique—the brush-strokology, is quite impressive."
"Hmm, yes. And a very bold use of demi-purple tones, which elevates it to a transcendental pitch of colorscope."
Magnus hung on their every word.
"Yes," Lucretia continued. "It somehow evokes both futurist and past-ist schools of composition."
Magnus chewed on his fettuccini. Slowly he leaned towards Taako. "Hey," he said, trying to maintain duckface while still speaking, so his voice came out deep and song-like. "Check out that painting. Pretty remarkable frame-rate, huh?" He tilted his chin towards the spot above Lucretia and Davenport.
Taako rolled his eyes. "It's a cheap painting of a horse, Mags. I've seen a hundred others just like it."
"Yeah, but—the colorscope! There's gotta be, what, six different shades of brown in there! Maybe seven?"
Taako made another noise of disgust. "Magnus! I can't keep doing this!" He snatched the pager-stone back from the fighter. "Is this pager broken? We've been waiting forever, and if I have to listen to Mags try to explain art to me for one more minute, I think I will literally die."
Magnus humphed. He straightened his shoulders and thrust out his chin, taking a long suck of his fettuccine. "I guess some people just don't appreciate the finer things," he said, glancing at Davenport and Lucretia.
Davenport nodded solemnly. Only the slightest twitch at the corner of his mouth belied the joke.
"Art appreciation isn't for everyone," said Lucretia, agreeably. Inside, she was losing it. This was going to be one baller story.
The pager-stone in Taako's hand began to buzz, flashing with a soft red light. "Finally," he said, shooting up from the bench. Magnus stretched and got up to follow him.
Lucretia glanced down at Davenport. He met her gaze, and winked.
Neither of them said a word about it. Nothing earth-shattering had changed between them. And yet, she felt a little bit closer to her captain, as if he had opened a door between them, just a crack.
As she passed from the little waiting area, she overheard another snippet of conversation drift over from the youngest of the group of three men.
"Take plus one bond," he said.