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Fellow Strangers

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Like everything else on the Canterbury, the mess lounge was grimy and poorly lit, its equipment substandard. Naomi eyed the refrigeration unit warily as she selected a meal. Better take a wrench to that later, before it gave everyone food poisoning.

Then she looked around the lounge, scanning for an open table. She had no place in any of the cliques. Not yet. And she didn't feel like being sociable just yet.

Her eye settled on a figure hunched alone in a corner. He looked up warily when she sat down.

"It's taken."

"What, the whole table?"

No answer. Friendly.

"Look," she said, "I just want a quiet place to sit and eat my ration. I won't bother you. Okay?"

He stared at her for a moment with strangely intense eyes and then said abruptly, "Okay," and went back to his tray, shoveling in bites like he was refueling instead of eating.

It should have been awkward, but it wasn't. Actually it was restful. For just a few minutes, she didn't have to prove herself or try to fend off the new crewmate hazing and flirting. She could just ... exist.

She didn't give him her name. He didn't offer his.

But she saw him around after that. The Cant wasn't big enough to have much of a division between Mechanics and Engineering. You did what needed done.

It surprised her to find out that people thought he was hard to work with. She still found him easier than anyone else. Still, they hardly exchanged a word beyond "hand me that wrench" for the first few weeks.

They were in the mess, again, working on the 'fridge unit which finally had kicked the bucket, when he said abruptly, "Amos."


"My name."

She already knew, but all she said was, "Naomi."