Bounty of Tea

( This is a novella length Sci-Fi I wrote a while ago. It contains some violent imagery and content and a bit of rough language. You have been warned. Hopefully one day I will re-visit this initial world and characters I’ve created here. They both share a little piece of my heart for many different reasons.. story (c) by me (Michelle Bond) )

~BOUNTY OF TEA~

The shop was small, cluttered, and filled with dusty antiquities. Nothing he was interested in yet – but the look of the place made him all the more wary. He removed his gun and felt the molecular analyzer key to his skin cells. It hummed to life, giving off a pale almost unnoticeable glow in his left palm. The ion cartridge was low. He had three shots – maybe four if he was lucky. But he was certain the fourth wouldn’t be lethal.

Carefully he maneuvered the crowded corridor, and he checked his right wrist. The sensors flickered on the small screen showing the little blue target was somewhere up ahead and to the right. It also warned him that the silver life sign ahead of him was on the move as well, seemingly with his target source.

Three shots. He could do it in three shots. At least he hoped. Then again he had no species indicator and had no clue if they were armored. Luckily he was always a bit of a gambler.

The cluttered shop slowly revealed a more cleaned space. Solid polymer resin boards imitated wood under his feet. He hadn’t been able to notice that detail before. It seemed his unknowing host was rather nostalgic. Ahead of him dull light glowed from a few outdated LED lights. The air started to smell of something he couldn’t place. Burnished heated metal. Smokey incense. There was the sound of liquid pouring.

He used the cover of a huge hard plastic vase to peer around and spy on his intended victim.

She was dressed in various synthetic silks, covering her form nearly completely. Her long black hair was tied up in glossy perfect rolls. The odd strands of colored ribbons cascading down barely touching the nape of her neck. When she turned her white painted face was shrouded in the steam of the hot liquid she poured into the smallest of cups.

He was startled. His hand pressed against the hard plastic vase only to realize that it wasn’t plastic at all. It’s texture and coolness betrayed it as something far more unusual. He analyzed it carefully, resting his wrist sensor on it’s surface. Clay. Honest terra-cotta earth-stock clay.

The shock of it made him step back from the fragile antique, and he nearly tripped over another undefined sculpture. The misstep made him uneasy and he bolted from his hiding space raising his gun and aiming it at the strange woman’s back.

It hummed menacing. He growled menacing. The tension was menacing.

She however, was not menaced. She calmly set the black square teapot down upon it’s metal holder. She turned and bowed, quiet and slow. Her painted features were completely cool and calm. The contrast in her behavior irritated him more. She was supposed to be frightened. He would have appreciated if she just tried to run away. A scream of shock would also be quite acceptable.

“What is that you have there?” He snarled, checking his wrist. The screen saw no other life-signs.

“Tea.” It was simple, her voice quiet and reserved. She carefully rested her hands together in front of her, gently resting them away from her sleeves so he could see her fingers free from weapons.

Tea. He checked his wrist again, and it indeed seemed to be the tea which was the source he was looking for. He hadn’t heard of tea in the longest of times. Sure, there were synthetic substitutes- but nothing organic. Nothing that would give him actual chemical signatures. A synthetic substitute would give him nothing like the hot blue glow of the target source on his little screen. No, this instead was pure and once alive organic tea leaves brewed from actual plants. Expensive and authentic.

It made sense. Basic chemistry – tea leaves were once sources of oxidization. It was the oxidation of the leaves which gave tea it’s flavor. The oxidization properties must be what his fuel cells required to fix themselves. After all, it was all bio-chemical mumbo jumbo that he barely understood himself.

That is why star ship mechanics made so much of his money. If they weren’t so rare he would have gone there first. And he wouldn’t have marooned his star ship mechanic and psychotic harpy of an ex-wife on a passing asteroid collection unit.

He should have just invested in proper sedatives and leather straps.

It reminded him of their honeymoon actually.

She patiently stood there. Her eyes looked larger with the black paint outlining them. The whites of her eyes were clear and clean – crisp against the strange pale green of her iris. The plum color of her tiny painted lips liked like the blooming of a small flower. She was so sickening perfect as if she had crawled out of the strange ancient antiquities she apparently collected.

“I want your tea!” He re-aimed his gun, hoping it seemed more intimidating. He apparently was wrong as she seemed more confused and less unmoved. What was with his gun? It looked intimidating when he first acquired it.

“You may have a cup…”

“No! I want it all, how much do you have here? How much stock?”

“No.” There was no real aggression in her voice, and at first he swore he must have misheard her.

“What?”

“I said; No. You may not.”

With that she simply turned around and adjusted the kettle on the base and took another small cup out of a steamed autoclave cabinet. Sterile and clean. The farthest thing from everything else around here. Save for her of course.

“I’m sorry, I have a gun here. See? Gun. I could shoot you and take it.” He growled, annoyed. He waved the gun in the air trying to attain her attention. “You know gun? Shoot? Kill?”

“Yes. You could kill me I suppose. There are many cold blooded killers in this world of ours. You could be one of those. Or you could sit with me and have a cup of tea.” With that she picked up the kettle and gracefully started to pour another cup.

He stepped closer to her. Her words made him feel somehow scolded.

“I ain’t a cold blooded killer..” he paused and moved the gun down a bit. It was hard to make that point while still pointing his charged firearm at the back of her head.

“Oh. Pardon me, I meant no offense.” Setting the delicate black kettle down as if it were fragile ice, she then turned to face him again. Her delicate arms again crossing once more in front of her, and that painted little plum smile returning to her calm porcelain face.

“Will you just give me the bloody tea? I mean come on lady! It’s the tea or your life!” He raised the gun up again. His face attempting to look more fierce then frustrated. He was pretty sure he failed in that as well. He cocked his gun once more and felt the warm hum in his hand as he touched his finger on the isomorphic trigger. The warning hum sounded louder.

Still she barely blinked. She seemed to be debating and answered him only with silence.

“It shouldn’t be this hard for you lady, look you got lots of stuff here. I just want the damned tea…”

Those pale eyes watched him. The soft folds of her kimono seemed to hold no end to her mystery but no threat either. He almost wished he was facing down a warlord. They were a hell of a lot easier to shoot.

“You ask me for my tea. My tea is my sanity. You are not asking if I wish to relinquish simply a material item. You are asking if I wish to sacrifice my mind, or my physical body. This is a harder decision.”

He blinked, his eyebrow rose and his face contorted confused. “What?”

He was missing his ex. She seemed less bat-shit crazy now…

“You may not take my tea. However, you may sit with me and we may talk as equals. Perhaps as friends we could come to other agreements.”

With that, she finally sat down delicately and uncovered a small tray of round food portions.

Not knowing what else to do he finally grumbled and walk to the small table. He sat in the chair and glared at her while carefully holstering the gun to seem polite. Of course he left it charged and unbuttoned because there was a limit between politeness and stupidity.

She seemed pleased and once more smiled her soft blossoming smile.

“I’m sorry lady, but I gotta ask. What the hell are you?” He grabbed the cup with little consideration to manners and looked at the dark brownish hued liquid. It smelled savory and rich. Nothing like the synthetic stuff he’d seen in run down food stalls.

“What am I?” She tilted her head, the smallest laugh spilled from her as she offered him the tray of treats. It was clear now that they weren’t simply food pre-packaged food portions.

They were biscuits. Nothing here was what it seemed. Or… rather everything seemed to be what it was. Which was completely unnerving considering how rare baking ingredients were. Let alone if she even had a working archaic oven.

Perhaps this wasn’t an old rundown store. Perhaps this was once an old time museum craft? He remembered visiting one when he was a child. The Universal Exhibits Archive 012. It was a grand place filled with thousands of shiny and brilliant things. Even as a child, he wondered how much of it he could get away with stealing. It didn’t help that his father stole the tickets to get in. Like father, like son.

He took a biscuit. She took one as well. He watched as she delicately tipped it into her tea, tapped it on the cup side once, then brought it to her tiny mouth and took the daintiest bite he’d ever seen a person take. She made it look flawless as well, as if she oozed grace.

He grunted to himself, looked it over and set it down next to his wrist scanner. There was no way he was going to risk eating strange food from an even stranger would-be victim turned host. After a few moments of silence between them she finally set her partial biscuit down and spoke.

“You asked -what- I was. Not who.”

“Yup.” The biscuit came out clean. The ingredients list came out like an ancient formula. Flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses, and vanilla. The latter four ingredients were top dollar items in the culinary black market they were so rare. “Names don’t mean much really.”

Carefully he took a small bite while waiting for the analysis to come back on the tea. It was sweet and savory. It had a texture he wasn’t used to. It exploded with flavor that he was so used to being dulled down and compromised.

“I find names define who we are better then what we were born to be. It is the actions one chooses to take that become ‘what’ they are. Not something as simple as… origins. You, it seems, are human?”

She took the cup balanced in her fingertips and took a long drawn out sip. Her eyes closed as she soaked in the tea. She breathed in deeply as she seemed to inhale it before setting it down and regarding him once more. Not even a drip was left to stain her lips or the white makeup.

He stiffened a bit. Crumbs of his now devoured biscuit were left falling from his chin. A few strays likely hiding in his overgrown goatee. He felt messy and clumsy and tried to brush it off with some dignity.

“Well, I’m an ex-pat. Technically I have no race. I don’t live under the high councils stupid laws.” there was pride in his voice that beamed out loudly across the small table. “We rebels live by own codes. We make our own brotherhood!”

He nearly spilled his tea when he pounded his fist down on the table. Her raised brow seemed to scold him for it and he immediately cleared his throat.

She offered him another biscuit and he took two eagerly.

“I see. So we think along the same lines then. We are not defined by our species. We are defined by our chosen names. Our persona. Our code of ethics.”

He thought about it, and nodded disgruntled. She made it seem far too watered down. Less exciting and rebellious. The scans came back. The tea consisted of hot purified water, black tea leaves, a touch of ground dried fig, and something called cane sugar. All perfectly safe to ingest. He carefully touched the small screen and flicked a few buttons before he scooped up the small cup in his left hand.

Before it got any colder, he dared a small and loud slurp.

“My name, is Saki. It means Blossom of Hope. I think it is a bit of an overstatement.” she smiled, as if making a joke. He seemed to not get it. He had however finished his tea rather quickly. He set the empty cup down, and unceremoniously bit into another one of the biscuits he had taken before bothering to reply.

“Mongrel. My name that is.” He chuckled to himself. “Ain’t nothing fancy I’m afraid. Got it breaking up a dog fight. I suppose it’s cause I look the part.”

Indeed he did look scruffy and unkempt. He liked to think he looked rugged and manly. Most of his buddies otherwise said it always looked like he was dragged in from the exhaust valve. He didn’t seem to care. His makeshift outfit of long coat and various bits and pieces of belts and pouches may have looked pretty ragged – but it seemed to suit him just fine. His pockets also helped hide some of his essentials for raids. Even now he knew he had a few flash bombs, short burst emf scramblers, and a few small tazer’s somewhere in his coat pockets.

He doubted her pretty little silks could be hiding nearly as much stuff.

“Mongrel. It is a nice name. Very unique.” She nodded to herself and picked up the kettle again, pouring them both another round. “Why is it you are so desperate, Mongrel?”

“My engines are running on low. You were the first ship coming by. Your cargo scanned as potential fuel source. So…” he shrugged, he poked at his cup awkwardly. “When in doubt…”

“Steal?” She offered the word carefully. The way she worded it was soft.

“Whatever gets one by I suppose.” He squirmed in his chair a bit and irritation started to build. The way she made him feel chastised was beyond infuriating. She was nothing to him! And yet he crossed his arms and slouched a bit in his chair like a teenager in angst.

“Your engines. If tea seemingly could be their energy source they must be… they run on somewhat organic or chemical fission?” She sipped her drink, set it down, repeated the process after a moment. Another sip, and another careful placement down.

“I’m not a mechanic. I run the damned thing. My wrist scanner monitors and databases all my ship information and…” he looked down at the small screen. It was flickering warning. He tilted his head and looked at the text carefully. “…monitors my surroundings as well.”

His eyes flicked up from the scanner. His left hand reached down to his gun holster.

“Now! It’s hardly ever wrong. You need to tell me what species you are right now!”

She sighed quietly and her eyebrows raised in an expression of sadness. Their nice and dignified tea time seemed to be over, far too quickly.

“There is no need to be worried. I will not harm you.”

“Tell me now!” His gun was once more free and aimed across the table squarely pointed between those black painted, shallow green eyes.

“Lusus Naturae Stasi.”

His finger touched the trigger and the gun roared a ready hum. She rested her hands on the table and simply watched him, looking past the barrel of his gun.

“How the hell are you a Luntic?” She flinched slightly. His voice was a bit more shrill now. He didn’t want to risk getting up so he simply kept his gun trained. In the back of his mind he kept thinking he only had three shots. Four if he was lucky.

It had been the first time she flinched, and it was the sound of her own species name. Mongrel wasn’t foolish enough to think the gun unnerved her anymore now, then it did when he first pointed it at her.

“We spoke of this already, Mongrel. It is not from where we came but-”

“No! That was before I knew what the hell you were!” He tipped his cup. The liquid spilled over the edge of the table. She watched it with a sadness he couldn’t explain, or care to understand. He stood and knocked the chair back with a clatter. “You take some sick pleasure in this game?”

She looked down at the table, she carefully stilled her cup from the shaking of his movements. Her fingers, so cool and calm seemed to shake the slightest.

“You are human. I have not held that against you…”

“You are a Luntic! You are… you.. slaughtered millions!”

“No!” Her voice rose, her eyes sharpened. “I have not. -I- have not slaughtered millions! Have your Humans not killed many? How many of your own kind kills each other? It was your kind that profited off the Lusus skills! Do you not think it was your own kind’s science that…” she looked down and tried desperately to smooth and tuck her kimono folds. She searched for some sort of calming distraction.

After a moment she continued uninterrupted. “My kind was driven mad and made to fight wars we should never have fought in. This is true. But I am not like them. As you… you are not like some of those Humans who have done bad. Right?”

He looked back at his wrist screen for a moment, the text had not changed. He looked back at her carefully. Every hair which had ever existed at the back of his neck were standing at attention. He felt like a deer caught in a headlight.

Yet she remained seated. She remained still.

“I’ve never heard of any Lunt- Lusus, that’s gone good.” He lowered his gun, albeit only slightly.

“Do you think any would have had the chance?” Her voice was harder, sharper, but still held it’s quiet quality. She was hurt, obviously, but she was patient. She spoke with experience. “Should anyone have found out about what they were, they would have been killed. No questions asked. No attention paid. Another trophy for the war room.”

Mongrel looked around the room again. Ancient relics, bits and pieces of worlds forgot. A chamber of memories of better times perhaps. He looked at his gun and watched the light glow softly and eager in his palm.

“I am wearing a visual array displacer. I wear it all the time. It has become a part of me.” Carefully she reached a hand up, and touched the nape of her white neck.

With a few flickers and sound of electricity dissipating her outfit and body shimmered slightly with a silvery flicker of light. And then, as if her molecules shifted and twisted – her true form appeared.

The Lusus race were monstrous looking creatures. Black exoskeletons like living armor covered predatory bird like creatures. Sharp and near metallic in their makeup. Their faces were usually very insect like and sharp edged. Their mass could tower over you and rip you apart easily.

But this is not the form that sat across from him.

Where exoskeleton had been now there was devastated scarred flesh. Wires wrapped around scars in the flesh in painful inflamed welts to keep the visual array displacer attached. Her birdlike face which would have been once sculpted like a raptor was caved in with broken bones and harshly removed teeth leaving an almost recognizable mess of flesh for her face, save for her large green eyes.

Where 4 arms had been, two were viciously torn off leaving twisted and horrid stumps. She was much smaller then any Lusus he had ever seen on the war vids.

He dared not even look for the rest of her damaged body. He simply shook his head horrified and looked away from her. He hoped he could hide the disgust and horror while he took a deep breath and carefully picked the chair up, setting it a bit farther away from the table this time before slowly sitting. His knees felt twitchy anyway.

“No, it’s okay. Look I’m…” he breathed slowly. He left his gun in his palm at easy reach. He didn’t know what else to do with it. “Look, I’m sorry.”

“You are not the first to show this reaction.” She reached a scalded clawed limb to her neck, and shakily touched the control panel to the wires. They fired up again and the horrible form of her true self was once again masked by her true personal. The Geisha Saki.

After a moment she carefully took hold of her cup and brought it to her plum quivering lips to sip her tea, the shaking in her hands still rattled the cup slightly. After she put it down she seemed a bit more at ease. She attempted to return the slight smile on her plum painted lips – but it was broken somehow.

He wondered how much pain she must be in.

“Why all this? Why the whole thing?” He picked up his spilled cup and put it back on the table properly. Slowly his gun made it to the holster.

“What part?” She seemed honestly taken aback. Distracted perhaps at her transformation. It seemed to take a moment before she returned back to this moment in time with him.

“You, the relics.. hell the bloody tea!”

She smiled then, and it returned with true flourish. Her eyes were still sad – but a bit softer now. Not as sharp and hurt. It made him feel more at ease himself. And more like a fool for reacting the way he did.

Once again, tea time seemed back in play. He focused on her eyes. He tried to forget the visage of her true form underneath. The wounded welted flesh.

“Well, for myself. This persona makes me happy. It is who I am.” she looked herself over, carefully she adjusted her silks and touched a ribbon spiraling down from her hair. She seemed to be making sure the transformation was complete.

“I thought they were so pretty.” She continued with almost a lyrical tone to her voice. “So strong and gentle. So well versed and intelligent. The Geisha. From Earths ancient Japan. The name, Saki, was given to me by my mentor. He has been dead, a long time now. I think he hoped I could prove his theory worked. That people could outgrow their differences.”

Mongrel nodded and bit his tongue. He would have asked if she killed him, if he hadn’t known better. Again there was that line between polite conversation and stupidity. He wished to stay on the right side for once. He carefully finished his biscuit’s to let her continue.

“When I was first found by my mentor I was in quite bad shape, as.. well as you can see. Not only had the madness taken hold, but I had been hunted and tortured for sport on Gamma 3. Since I was only a juvenile at the time, it was considered reasonable risk. Take enough away from someone physically and they don’t seem so much of a threat. Those that enslaved me there, were human.”

Mongrel swallowed his biscuit hard. It didn’t sit well this time, not with the lump of pale guilt which followed. Had had taken part in a hunt on Gamma 3 once with the boys of his last crew. He knew the place well.

He wondered now if he had a chance to hunt a real Luntic, would he have? Would it have been her that he did those horrible things too? No. It couldn’t be. He only hunted non-sentient. And yet he remembered the drunken massacre of the wild senten boars. He remembered how powerful they felt cooking their own meat in the wilderness and feeling the thrill of the hunt.

He pictured her there, a child running for her life. Psychosis and wounds more horrific then he could imagine. It made him sick inside. It made him sicker to picture him and his boys doing the hunting.

Thankfully his thoughts were distracted by her.

“The relics, as you call them. Bits and pieces. I was taught that every species has good in them. He helped me see that good. And therefore, the good I could be as well. I surround myself with little pieces of the things I like. To remember. To make me feel happy.”

“I’m sorry.” He choked it out, dry and with a slight cough.

“Don’t be. Please.” She shrugged quietly and refilled his cup with the black kettle. Since it wasn’t a very large kettle it was nearly empty now. She offered him another biscuit but he simply shook his head no. The color was still drained from his face. “I don’t blame you, Mongrel. I no longer blame myself for things I couldn’t help either. My mentor taught me this. I’ll forever be grateful to him. We were once a peaceful race. A long time ago. He taught me that we can always return to peace once more.”

He shook his head, his left hand brushed through his hair nervously.

“Growing up I was told about the Luntics. How they devastated the core planets. How the high council had to form the war council to deal with them. We all saw the history vids. Hell, I think any kid growing up in the civilized star systems saw the same vids on it. I don’t think any of us even remember how the full war broke out, just that it was bad. We were losing.”

He rubbed his right arm and cleared his throat. “It was meant to scare the kid right out of us. I mean, eventually when we were older we knew about some of the human involvement. How we tried to help cure the madness but it all went so wrong. We all knew though, we knew it was more then that. But you know… hey those vids were bad. Nightmare bad.”

She nodded quietly. She took a long sip and seemed to think about each of his words. She added in only a few of her own as he took a moment to clear his thoughts. “When my people caught the madness, it produced a chemical between their shells and their skin. A chemical called LysicaX40.”

“I.. I heard about that. Something about it got spread as drugs on the main core worlds.” He whispered the words out, almost like it was some sort of secret. “I knew a few guys on it. Went a bit nuts for it. Addictive as all hell but made him feel and look younger. It eventually just ran-”

“Ran out yes. The Human’s did at first try to help us at first. However when they found out the benefits and pleasures of LysicaX40 as a recreational drug they wanted to harvest it instead. When our leaders found out about this, they refused to take part. It started a war. My people were killing themselves, and yours. It was only a matter of time.”

“It makes sense but, I just. They never told us that you were…” He was stumped at a proper word to fit into the sentence without being rather offensive. Sane, normal.. “…like us before.”

“Tell me, Mongrel. Would your race have even bothered to help us at first, if we weren’t like you?”

“No. I suppose not. That much I know.” It hung in the air like a slap in the face. “I mean, I even knew about some of the torture that happened. It all gets washed over but you hear about it some times. Some colony released some black list of things that happened. You hear about some of the things that go on, but it doesn’t seem to change anything.”

“It never does.” She agreed quietly. “My mentor said that in the days of the war both sides had many chances to end things before it got so bad. My people did horrible things too.”

“I’ve never liked that bit you know? I mean, it’s why I refused to be a soldier. So much spoils of war and excellent pay but.. you hear things. You see how they treat people. Dog fights drove me nuts, don’t think I would have lasted with that crap going on. But it’s different when it’s another race. You can forgive your own for doing that shit, but… It’s so much easier to hate everyone else.”

She shrugged a bit. Her finger traced around the edge of her cup. Her nails were pristine and perfect. It made sense why now.

“It always is. We so often see the differences in others. It is so much harder to see the similarities.”

“I used to have nightmares of your kind. How is it you’re so…” he sighed. “Human?”

She smiled slightly at the thought of that word being used for her. She finished her cup of tea once more and set it down. She covered the tray of biscuits.

“The tea is part of my sanity. Not it’s chemical makeup. Not even it’s taste or preparation. It’s the simplicity of it.” She stroked the side of the warm tea kettle. It almost burned her, should she keep her fingers on it’s edges too long it just might. “One finds themselves in the moments of stillness. One finds themselves in the simplicity of life. In the end, no matter who or what you are – it’s those moments of simplicity that we’re all the same.”

Her smile curved a bit more at that thought. It pleased her because it was honest and true. She missed her mentor but in that phrase it felt like he was still with her somehow. Still guiding her.

She set her cup off to the side. “Both our species have hurt each other so badly. We could war endlessly about it. You could have killed me the moment you came onto my ship for all the horrible things you’ve seen my species do to yours. As I, could have killed you for all the torture yours have done to mine.”

They both nodded. She continued.

“Sometimes it is better for us to grow up and sit down as friends instead of enemies. Tea time. This is what it is all about. Here we are equals who simply are enjoying a drink.”

He somehow felt more the monster then her. All those terrible shadows and monsters of his nightmares were all scared away by her. Her fragile and simple statements. Her brutal and gentle honesty. Saki had chased them all away with her vulnerability.

Mongrel wasn’t a kind man. He’d committed crimes and mangled a few men before. He would have always taken offense at being called ‘kind’ in any form. He wasn’t soft, and he wasn’t gentle. His business thrived on his reputation for being anything but a saint. His enemies would have even called him monstrous at times. Compared to Saki, he certainly was.

It bothered him. Her kindness out-shined him. It made him feel tiny and small. It made him feel like his entire history had been a lie. There were no differences between the races – they were all the same flawed creatures just striving to survive. Making monsters out of shadows.

He reached down and made sure his gun was locked in it’s holster and the charge was turned off. All around him the bits and pieces seemed to make a little bit more sense. Even he could appreciate a bit of it. Although he knew he’d never own a collection like hers. Steal one like it, maybe, but never own. Not like she did.

Her fascination with human history almost made him want to be better just to give her something else to feel happy about. That made him uneasy. He had a reputation to protect after all. If he started changing for women, he might draw back the old ex-wife harpy. Now that would be a monster.

“Now, about your ship.” Saki carefully motioned to his wrist scanner. “Would it run on synthetic plasma oxide?”

Mongrel smiled, the first time in a very long time. He knew those chemicals well, and had used them many times before. His ears practically perked at the mention of it and his head nodded quickly. Finally the conversation was taking a turn to more pleasant topics.

“I had acquired a few tanks of it on a trades-world. I had hoped I could modify it to help run my propulsion units. With no real luck. Since I refuse to give you my tea would you like that instead?”

“Lady, I think you just made it on my list of people I call friend. And that list ain’t very long.”

Her eyes sparkled brightly and she nodded. “Thank you. There is one minor catch however.”

He stilled, listening close and expecting the worst.

“The next time you are in my region, you will have to come for tea.”

He laughed eagerly, adding in; “And biscuits of course. Can I take some to go?”

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