He smiles, still half-asleep, eyes closed and hair ruffled, yesterday's clothes clumsily crumpled as a makeshift pillow under his head. A luxurious and satisfied groan resonates somewhere in his throat. He has a good voice, the kind that makes people fall for never-seen docking operators. Slowly he opens an eye and looks at me. I've just taken a shower, I'm naked, hair dripping, sitting on the floor smoking.
"Good morning, good-looking," he says - rumbles - at me, not perplexed in the slightest. I shrug off his confusion; to be fair, I did smack his head against the bulkhead pretty hard. I wait a few minutes, watching and quietly smoking, taking bets with myself on how long it'll take him to align his mind with reality.
Not long, it turns out.
"Whatcha..." Both eyes open and something like alarm flashes briefly over his face. He's good-looking, I'll give him that, though not as much as he likes to think (obviously). He seems to go through an internal systems check, trying successively to move his arms, legs and then roll over - all to no avail. I'm a bit sad to see that look of sleepy seduction vanish from his face as he looks at me again and then, very deliberately, says the word, "Oh."
"Morning, Fucker," I say brightly and then blow a smoke ring.
"It would appear that appraisal of my current status is somewhat inaccurate."
"What do you intend to do to me?" he asks. He's neither panicked nor angry; his tone is polite and measured. I have to admit, I'm impressed with this asshole's demeanour.
I tug another smoke from the packet, light it and inhale. Before Nari I'd just beat the shit out of someone, but (if nothing else) she taught me that you can be sexy and unsettling all at the same time - I still have the circular scar from her cigarette on the skin between my left thumb and index finger from the first night we met. The bitch burned me, and I fell in love.
I snap back to the guy on the floor, blowing another smoke ring that hangs in the still air of the cabin. "So, you have until I finish this smoke to convince me that you weren't sabotaging my craft and then I won't kill you horribly."
"Aah. A death threat from a naked woman. An interesting proposition. Would it help if I told you that I have an Anaconda. It's enormous, and ready for anything."
"I got an eyeful of your anaconda while you were dreaming. It's not so impressive."
"So you'll neither be swayed the prospect of sex nor of stealing my enormous vessel?"
"Well, bugger. And you intend to complete this process completely in the nude?"
"Saves on my laundry bill."
He nods and ponders this for a moment, sniffing thoughtfully while shuffling about on his back to try to get a more face-on position. I deliberately tap a line of ash onto the deck beside him.
"You fly like a planetary air hopper, used to bouncing off atmospheres. You do it very elegantly, but that's not how you do it out here." His tone isn't patronising, but conversational, like we're in a bar having a nice chat. I'm surprised to find his charm somewhat disarming and force my mind back to the image of him removing panel covers and messing with the internals.
"Why do you give a fuck?"
"I really don't. But I happened to have been traveling the same way as you since 2 jumps back and I was thinking about it is all."
"You've been following me?"
"No... well, not at first. But then I saw your wake stretch off in the direction I was heading in and it became a thing."
"Indeed. I meant you no harm, I merely wanted to tone down your ship's auto-response so that you have to do more of the flying."
I'm not quite sure how to respond to this. It sounds so... at once friendly and considerate and yet completely unlikely at the same time. I rise to my feet and have a look at the panel he was fiddling in. Sure enough, some system countermeasures have been disabled (though none of the safety cut-ins) to allow the pilot more control and scope to fly as they please (and not as the ship wants to keep within its parameters).
I wander back to my guest. "What's your name, Meatbag?"
"Well, it's not Meatbag."
"I typically shake hands with people upon introducing myself."
"I typically shoot people upon finding them fucking with my vessel."
"A fair point. I am Commander Asteconn."
Holy shit! The Asteconn that did all that cool and impossible shit, sun-surfing in a 'Conda and everything? This guy did say that was what he was flying... Have I really managed to knock out and truss up one of the most talked-about pilots of the last few years?!
"Dave Asteconn?" I ask, dropping my cig onto the floor just millimetres from his thigh. To his credit, he doesn't flinch at all.
"No... not Dave," he replies, with the patience of someone dealing with an accusation they are faced with often. "And, for the record, I got mine before he got his."
"So you're saying THE Dave Asteconn learned to fly his 'Conda both faster and better than you did?"
"Yes." He gives a small sigh and eyes the smouldering butt on the floor. "And what is my sentence?"
"Well, Not-Dave," at this he rolls his eyes a little, which is the moment I decided that was all I would ever call him again, "I want to know why you wanted me to be a better pilot, what the fuck that even has to do with you anyway?"
"You're good. Watching you fly was a pleasure. But you adjust your vectors as if you're in or approaching an atmosphere. Get out of that habit. Your ship is light and nimble but you're wasting your manoeuvrability."
"As I intimated earlier, that still wouldn't be off the cards for me..."
"Because you're naked..?"
"No, why bother to... what the balls do you care about my flying?"
"Oh! Not sex, but the fiddling with your ship question," I can't tell if this is sarcasm now, if he's gently shining me on or if he genuinely needed bringing back to the more obvious question. But I find I'm softening to Resonant Not-Dave now, and his fearless politeness. I nod for him to continue. "Because I want you to fly with me," he says simply.
Oh my. Now I'm laughing and shaking my head. I reach over to the now-not-wobbling Earth and flick back the Arctic Circle. Inside the hidden compartment are the keys to Not-Dave's shackles. I lean over him, kiss him powerfully on the mouth and drop the keys in his hand.
"Fuck you, asshole," I say over my shoulder as I walk to my bunk to dress, "It's you who wants to fly with me."
"Drink fast, die young"