Naya found certain aspects of her job… difficult. The excessively controlled environment, the fussy clothes, the endless paperwork. But dealing with the passengers on the space cruiser during their three month journeys was not.
There was joy to be found in the process of making passengers comfortable. At least until glorious, judgmental, messy Raya strode into Naya’s life. Then Naya finally had the chance to share her personal pleasures with someone else.
Specialist Class Three is a SF romance where opposites clash and then combine that will be sure to delight you.
Specialist Class Three
By Meyari McFarland
Naya paused just outside the lift to catch her breath and smooth her dove grey pencil skirt over the charcoal grey leggings her uniform required. The jacket was at least comfortable, more dove grey knit pieced together with black side panels separated by a thin piping line of burgundy that slinked down her narrow torso in an attempt to fool eyes into seeing curves Naya would never possess. Her little pillbox hat, dove and charcoal and more burgundy piping topped by little brass insignia giving her rank as Specialist Class Three for Martine-Hasagawa Cruiser lines, sat perfectly perched on top of her head, the back end of it secured to her tugged tight puff of hair that should have been a ponytail but wasn’t.
The view down the hallway was bland, unremarkable. Grey walls with a white ceiling overhead punctuated by recessed lights that illuminated pools of dark brown carpet. Every few yards there was a view screen set to show a slowly rotating assortment of Old Earth art, silent video clips and, once for every hallway on the ship, a feed from the sensors outside.
It was all so tastefully crafted to give a sense of normalcy to something that could never be truly normal.
Even the air was adjusted and tweaked so that it wouldn’t remind the passengers too strongly of the fact that they were in space. Teo had told her when she joined him on the ship that there was a whole department of people responsible for creating artificial wind in the ship. They had scent canisters that they would release in fractional counts into the air supply so the observation deck always smelled faintly of dust and cold, dry air but the cafeteria, grand roomy thing with its dim lights and bolted down tables and chairs, was warm with the smell of baked apples and cinnamon.
So very strange that they would have to sculpt the air and light to keep people from the thing they had paid so much for. Naya shook her head before heading up the corridor. That was irrelevant at the moment.
Riya Brinley had not emerged from her cabin for four days. She had allowed the cleaning staff in, talked graciously with the actual human staff, a huge luxury that the line advertised widely, as they changed sheets, replaced towels, and vacuumed the floor of the crumbs from Riya’s dinners.
But she’d stayed inside and that, according to Naya’s supervisor Mila, was a worrisome thing. Liner travel was not an intended to be private. Everything was designed to get passengers out of their rooms and into the common areas where the entertainment was delivered. To stay in one’s room was to waste the money one had already spent and to deprive the ship of the money one could be spending along the way. Never to mention to possibility of madness brought on by the strangeness and the effects of the Wave drive.
Not that Naya was supposed to bring that or money up. No, her job was more prosaic. She walked up the hallway, regretting that they’d put carpet on the floors in the guest quarters instead of the faux wood floors down in the crew rest areas. It would be nice to hear her kitten heels hitting the floor but nothing could be allowed to disturb the passengers in this area.
Riya Brinley’s room was in the very center of the ship, an outer suite that allowed her to have view ports that looked out on the vacuum of space. Or at least that’s what guests were told. The so-called view ports were actually screens shaped to look like glass portals to the void. The hull was solid on the other side, dappled with little indents that were made to look like windows from the boarding dock so that passengers would believe it was true.
Naya smoothed her skirt one more time, took a deep breath and pressed the incongruous little doorbell button, red, the size of her little finger, inset in the wall just below the tasteful silver and bronze number ‘17893’.
“Yes?” Riya said, opening her door so freely that Naya started. “That was fast. Ah. Hm. Not my lunch?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” Naya said, laughing breathlessly as her cheeks heated, the blush hopefully not showing against the black of her skin. “My apologies but my supervisor was worried that you’re not enjoying the trip. We haven’t seen you out of your cabin since you boarded.”
Riya sighed and sagged against the doorjamb. She looked at Naya with such a weary expression that Naya frowned. Something was definitely not right here. After a moment, Riya gestured for her to come in.
It felt strange to walk past Riya. Not because of the persistent oddness of being in such an engineered space but because Riya seemed even more out of place than Naya. At the very least, Naya could groom her hair, pull it back into a tight puff on the back of her head, put on her leggings and tug the sleeves of her jacket down so that her dark, dark skin didn’t show so much. She was at least properly slim, graceful, demure.
Riya strode across the suite’s olive, emerald and gold carpet as though it was the bridge of a pirate ship and she was the Captain. The suite was bright, view screens changed to show sun-drenched beaches and flaming sunsets instead of the generic modern art the liner provided. Naya thought that maybe Riya had brightened the lights as well because the room seemed bigger, warmer, more present than it should.
Perhaps that was Riya, though. She wore harem pants in a stunning shade of scarlet decorated with broad gold leaves. Her top was a simple halter tied at the neck and under her bust. That was sapphire and silver. Riya’s hair hung in heavy waves over her shoulders and half down her back, moving like the mane of a lion as it stalked its prey.
“Your supervisor is worried,” Riya said as she flung her long muscular body into the couch’s cushions. It squeaked in protest, groaning a little as Riya crossed one ankle over her knee.
Naya perched on the edge of the very comfortable chair opposite Riya and folded her hands in her lap. Best to be open with a passenger like Riya. “Yes. Generally when a passenger refuses to leave their rooms it’s not a sign of good mental health. We do try to intervene before anything unfortunate happens.”
“So they sent in a mouse to beard the lion, I take it?” Riya asked and then laughed, loud, her mouth open and eyes screwed up into slits, while Naya ducked her head.