The smell of food wafted through the kitchen.
It had been a while since Taern had taken the time to carefully prepare anything in the kitchen aboard the Atrox. There was something wonderful about it that he missed though; gathering bowls and pans, cutting ingredients, sifting through spices. The mess afterwards would be monumental and there was the ever present menace of some tiny ruinous mistake. But the joy in the process, creating something warm and wonderful, making the whole ship smell amazing, imagining the pleasant time they would all have sharing this meal; it would be worth it. Probably.
Tasting his sauce, Taern paused to think. It was a little thin, but that would balance nicely with the seared vegetables and the delicate cuts of meat he’d chosen. Wiping his hands on a towel he hurried to pour the sauce into a bowl and set it on the Atrox’s long bolted down table. He’d arranged it with their finest dinnerware, one of two heavy crystal sets they’d bought for their mothers on Buvlari for entirely too much money. Complete with plates, serving dishes, water goblets, wine glasses, a wine decanter and a tall, slender vase, it was one of Taern’s prouder purchases. Wiping a stray fingerprint from a cup, he gave the flowers in the vase a quick fluff before hitting the intercom on the wall. “Dinner’s done!” he called out cheerfully.
A few seconds later Ito, their slender Avarian captive, glided out of his room a few inches off the ground.
Eyes down, shoulders forward, he was wearing one of the sweaters Taern had leant him and the same pair of jeans they’d captured him in weeks ago. “Hey,” he grunted before going behind Taern to flop down on the bench next to the wall.
“Did you have a good nap?” Taern asked sitting at the head and pouring himself a glass of wine.
“Incoming!” came Stroth’s voice as he slid down the ladder and hit the ground with an echoing thud. “What’re we having?” he asked hurrying to sit on the other side of Taern.
“Grilled veggies, seared steak and a thin, mushroom cream sauce.”
“Hmm, smells great,” Stroth said pulling a steak onto his plate.
“Thanks,” Taern replied, spooning some veggies onto his plate before passing the bowl to Ito. “This is an old family recipe,” he said to the sullen Avarian.
“Cool,” Ito mumbled plopping a spoonful of vegetables onto his plate before pushing the bowl toward Stroth.
“We’ve used it for three generations,” Taern continued proudly.
Ito raised his eyebrows faux impressed without looking up or responding. Leaning on his palm, he pushed his veggies around his plate.
“Something wrong?” Taern asked, concerned.
“No, things are going exactly as I always planned them. Wouldn’t change a thing.”
“See? This is why we shouldn’t let him out of his room,” Stroth said.
“My room? Are you serious, right now?!” Ito said, his voice rising.
“Guys, can we not?” Taern said holding up his hands.
“Yeah, your room,” Stroth said, ignoring Taern. “Why are you saying it weird?”
“The room you lock me in every day? That’s my room?”
“We haven’t locked it recently,” Stroth insisted.
“And I should be grateful for that? The people who kidnapped me haven’t locked me in my room recently?”
“Considering it’s the only room with a bed in it, yeah,” Stroth said.
“You want the bed? You can take the bed.”
“Great,” Stroth said. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Anything else I can do to make you comfortable while you kidnap me?”
“Not that I can think of,” Stroth replied. “But I’ll let you know.”
With a snarl of rage Ito stood. Jumping back, Stroth snatched the vase to sling behind his head.
STOP! Taern screeched telepathically, his hands spreading out between them. Ito and Stroth winced as a wave of tense, frustrated emotions screamed out the tiny Ginarsian to hit them like a freight train.
“I spent a lot of time on this meal,” Taern hissed. “I used a lot of good ingredients, put a lot of painstaking effort into it and got out the good fucking dinnerware, and I sure as shit didn’t do it so you guys could jump down each other’s throats AGAIN. Ito,” he said turning to the angry teenage Avarian. “We’re the first aliens you have ever met in your life. We have traveled all over the universe and visited dozens of planet. I’m sure if you thought about it for two seconds you could come up with something you wanted to talk to us about. Stroth,” Taern said looking at his best friend. “You and I have wanted to meet a real Avarian ever since we were little kids. But when we finally have one sitting right across from us, all you seem to want to do is piss him off. Both of you are acting dumb. The truth is we all have a great opportunity to talk and share and learn. Okay?”
Ito frowned and Stroth lowered the vase an inch.
“Great. Can we please sit back down?”
Ito sighed and slowly took his seat. Stroth followed suit, sheepishly picking up the flowers from the ground to awkwardly place them back in the vase.
“Thank you,” Taern said. “Now let’s all enjoy our dinner and have a nice, civilized conversation like normal people.”
The three of them sat in silence. Ito scratched his clavicle. Stroth took another bite of his steak. Taern, after waiting patiently, finally shook his head and took a nice, long sip of his wine. He was losing all hope for a pleasant meal when Stroth looked up suddenly.
“Hey, do your turds float?”
Taern coughed and almost choked.
Ito looked at Stroth in confusion. “What?”
“After you take a poop, do the poops float? Do you have to, like, push them down into the toilet with something?”
“No,” Ito said staring at the man as Taern started laughing loudly. “Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know how this whole flying thing works,” Stroth said. “If you make it inside of you or-“
“What?” said Ito.
“Or if it can rub off on something else–” Stroth continued.
“How would that even work?” Ito asked.
Taern had to cover his eyes he was laughing so hard.
“It’s not so crazy,” Stroth scoffed. “It could be like a by-product of your sweat or something. Something that works to make you float, obviously, but could also work on other things.”
Ito cocked his head to the side and looked at the reptile in amazement. “No, Stroth. I don’t make by-products that make my poops float.”
Stroth shrugged and continued eating his steak as Taern fell off his seat laughing.