by Holly Heisey -
Hoepi ladled a slap of green algae slosh on another cracked plastic tray and watched another miner’s nose wrinkle in disgust. If the powers that be could afford to hold a hundred and twenty-nine miners in a station tethered to the coolest spot on one half of Sheba…well. They could afford to give those miners decent meals. And hire a cook, for once. She was stuck with cafeteria duty.
A rumble of voices at the door made her look up, not because they were loud or male but because she recognized the first and her hand faltered just a beat on the ladle.
“Hey!” One-armed Micki, her latest victim in the slop line, jumped back to avoid getting green slosh on his coveralls.
Hoepi turned back to the slop line and stared to blush, then thought better of it. “You just watch yourself, Micki.” Which made no sense, so she turned her back and stirred the steaming pot of proto-meatballs with a vigor.
She whirled. Tennant. She met his eyes for the briefest flicker.
He knew her name.
She shook her head. Yeah, idiot, of course he knows your name. You only mine with him every second five-day.
She brushed dark hair from her eyes. “Yeah, what do you want?”
Tennant held up his tray and gave her a weary, flashing grin. “Some puke-my-guts special with a side of almost-ham.” He patted his flat stomach. “Worked hard today.”
Hoepi flustered and dumped green slosh and proto-meatballs in a mess on his tray. He turned to the tables…then stopped.
“Hey Hoepi. Was gonna play handball later in the tank. Want to?”
She opened her mouth. He turned more fully, an impish smile on his cracked lips. “Say yes.”
“Good enough!” He flopped down at a table and promptly fell into terse conversation with another knot of miners.
Hoepi stepped back from the slop line. A grin stretched her mouth from ear to ear.
She turned to the next in line and scowled at him. “What?”