The cabin was quiet, except for the sounds of slightly accelerated breathing.
Muted lights cast only dim shadows, making the cabin seem larger than it actually was.
A console was blinking, notifying the arrival of a new message, but went ignored.
“Thirt.... Ah Frack!”
I held the position for another dozen of seconds, unable to finish the last push-up, until the last of my muscles resigned in protest.
And the really humiliating part of it was this: the rest of me wasn’t even slightly tired.
“Bra-Vo!”, exclaimed a voice from the entrance, accompanied by what was still called a golf-clap - whatever “golf” was. “Your enemies must be terrified!”
I rolled onto my side, willfully ignoring my undignified position, and squinted my eyes to pierce the gloom. The voice - familiar. Could it be....?
“The one and only!”
The slender Khanid woman fully entered the cabin and made herself comfortable on the sofa.
“You know that you can instruct the techs to give your clones more muscle?”, she continued as if our last meeting had been just yesterday, and not years ago.
“It’s not the same!”, I exclaimed, finally having been able to get up. “Actually, the muscle is just a nice benefit - the real payback is in the exercise itself. Takes my mind off things.”
“Like your recent losses?”
“Ehrm.” I walked to my bunk to grab the regular clothing I had dropped there - now that I was done with my exercise, I was feeling chilly. “How’s it going for you? I haven’t seen you in a while!”
“Well, the usual.” She started counting off her fingers. “Fly for an industrial 0.0 corporation. Get tapped as test pilot for a new ship type. New ship blows up a few times too often. Corp decides to go back to the drawing board. Test pilots are made redundant.”
”New ship. Definitely not ready for the market yet. And if I told you more, I would have to kill you.“
Hmm - she was wearing her sidearm, locked and loaded, so better stick to prudence.
”Well, since I suddenly I had a lot of free time on my hands, I thought that it might be fun to check up on old acquaintances.“ She smiled sweetly, opening her arms. ”And here I am - corpie!“
”Welcome! ... I guess“
It didn’t need the brief flash of rebuttal crossing her face for me to realize that the last part hadn’t come out right. Chiding myself inwardly, I dropped my jacket and quickly took the few steps over to her.
”Sorry - I am out of practice in having people around.“ I gave her a hug. ”I am glad to have you back, and even more so as one of us - I’ve been missing you.“
”Thanks.“ She hadn’t forgiven me quite yet, but I did sense relief in her voice.
”And as official corp member,“ she continued, ” I am now dispensing with an official corp duty.“ It was amazing how she could switch from being jovial to being all business in a split second. ”The boss asks if you remember the op?“
”The op...“ - tired braincells woke up from their slumber and provided a memory - ”...crap, that is now, isn’t it?“
”Strictly speaking, five minutes ago. But I think the others aren’t quite ready yet either. “ She smirked. ”You might be able to go unnoticed if you hurry.“
She didn’t have to tell me twice.