When the captain wheeled herself into the cabin she recognized the paintings on the wall but bumped into a coatrack she wasn’t expecting, knocking it down. Her old partner’s spouse picked it up and smiled, then opened a far door for her. She had already forgotten their name since she was not here to see them. She maneuvered around more familiar things unfamiliary arranged and entered through the open doorway.
Her old partner was moving potted plants out of the way, making a pathway to a small table with teapot, two cups and one chair. She lifted a vicious looking cactus that stayed straight up, as if it were balanced on a gyroscope. Her remaining wing flapped gently with the strain. The captain blanched at the sight, suddenly overwhelmed in a dark corner of a spaceship, the smell of molten metal in her nose, hearing - she jammed her fingernails into her palms, squeezed her eyes together, opened them, breathed deep, and looked at her old partner. Sitting in a chair. Gesturing towards a teapot. The captain wheeled over to the table and poured two cups.
The tips of her old partner’s wing gently brushed the dirt-strewn floor. They sipped their tea. History danced between their eyes, some happily remembered, some eagerly forgotten and painful to recall, and much that was new, separate.
Her old partner finally let her hair go gray. the captain thought.
Her old partner’s forehead was smudged with dirt from wiping sweat away, and new carelines woven by splicing and raising the plants around them.
Her old partner’s face looked happy.
“So, who broke your heart?”
The captain winced and downed her tea. She set the cup down on the table and looked at a red fruiting plant with strange, hardy looking roots. A little popsicle stick in the dirt read “Tomoontoes 3.72.” Last time the captain saw that handwriting, it was in red pen, filling letters of rage and love.
“Was it another infiltration?”
“Yes,” the captain said. “But alone. Trans, like us. Eager girl. Picked her up on Rockpile. Good pirate.”
The captain’s old partner put her cup of tea down, grabbed her cane and stood. She walked over to the cactus and began gently picking at the dirt round its base.
The captain wheeled closer to the tomoontoes. “She wasn’t with us long enough to see everything we did. I don’t know where she got her misconceptions from.”
“I don’t know, either. I have tried not to hear anything.”
The captain saw her old partner’s wing flex in tension, the the scarred metal glinting. Her mangled wing stump flexed too, a mess of burnt bone and wire. Again the acrid scent returned, her ears began to dull her breathing quickened and–
“Try a tomoontoe, I’m very proud of them.”
Her old partner had already placed one in the captain’s hand. It tasted sweet at first and moved to tart as the flesh released its juice. The seeds added a third note, a small spice.
“They can grow almost anywhere, use almost anything as food with very little distortion in its flavor. And it breeds quick but controllably. Cheap and good. It’s not enough to keep everyone going, but it’s something easy to eat in hard times. Are you breathing again? Are you back?”
The captain looked up into her old partner’s scarred face, with one large scar mirroring hers, though jagged from where the captain’s nervous hand had slipped. The partner’s eyes flicked to the left.
“Seahorse, you were just on Rockpile, yes?”
The old partner’s spouse - they must be named Seahorse - had walked in to clear the tea. “Yeah, I just dropped off some 3.5s to a friend for a test.”
“My old captain is looking for some information - or she’s looking for where some information is coming from.”
The captain looked at Seahorse for the first time. They were not that young but looked it compared to the two women’s weathered faces.
“I’ve heard a bit, just scraps here and there. What do you want to hear first?” They sat in the chair. As the captain wheeled over and began her inquiry, she kept one eye on her old partner, who was walking towards the back of the arboretum, where the tall plants where. As the old partner moved out of focus the blurring looked like a half-remembered battle, a triumphant one, almost bloodless but full of daring. Like the dreams her old partner had then only just begun to articulate, dreams the captain still clutched close.