Jagati felt rather smug as she stirred the red-brown mass in the pot.
It didn’t look like much, but it smelled great… which was a first for Jagati.
In fact, it was because her cooking had become a running joke aboard the Errant that Jagati had asked Jinna Pride—who was not only the love of Rory’s life, but an actual professional in the kitchen—what she could prepare that would not require a lot of attention.
“Deus Ex Masala,” had been Jinna’s immediate response.Then, after Jagati’s “Deus what?” the younger woman had patiently explained what Jagati needed to dump into one giant pot and occasionally stir until cooked through and fragrant.
Since it sounded like something she could actually manage—possibly that was the Deus Ex part of it—Jagati had, for once, been looking forward to her assigned dinner shift, a full three days after departing from Nike.
Giving the uninspiring mass another stir, she figured it would be worth the wait.
Especially after Rory’s snarky comment on how lucky they were that the passengers were doctors, and could likely handle a case of food poisoning.
And right after that observation, John had offered to take over her galley shift.
Well, smog that, she thought, poking at the pot of rice, which, ok was a bit scorched on the bottom, but she liked the added crunch.
Shutting off the heat under the rice, she took a satisfied whiff of the stew. It singed the inside of her nostrils, sure, but the Errant crew liked a little heat.
Hopefully the doctors would too.
And Pyotr, the not-a-doc.
Thinking of Pyotr, Jagati let out a speculative hum.
Despite the original shock she’d sensed from John the night they’d met Pyotr and the Natsiqs, she hadn’t caught even a hint of unease since Pyotr had boarded the Errant.
Then again, the two men hadn’t crossed paths—at least not in Jagati’s presence—since liftoff.
In fact, as far as she could tell, Pyotr only emerged from his cabin at dinner—and John had taken helm duty during the dinner shift for the duration of the trip.
Which, she had to admit, wasn’t like John, who enjoyed people far more than Jagati did.
And, with dinner being the only communal meal aboard the Errant—crew and passengers foraged for the rest of the day—the dinner hour was also the most likely chance for socializing.
And speaking of dinner… she grabbed a tasting spoon and scooped out a sample. “Yup, that is some heat,” she said aloud before tossing the spoon into the sink, where it clattered against the pile of measuring cups, spoons, and empty tins.
Good thing it was Rory's night to clear up.
“What is yon smell?”
Speak of the poacher, Jagati thought. “Dinner,” she said, covering the pot as Rory himself swung into the galley, all gangly limbs and curiosity.
“That can’t be right,” Rory said, his brow furrowing as he aimed for the stove. “It smells—good.”
“Are you saying that nothing I make ever tastes good?” Jagati snapped, flicking the wooden spoon at Rory so that a spray of brown liquid freckled his fair skin.
“Can ye argue with me?” he asked, brushing at the bits of sauce.
She couldn't quite contain the snort of laughter as she conceded his point. “I may have gotten tired of stinking at this, and asked Jinna for some suggestions.”
As always, at the mention Jinna’s name, Rory lit up like a nova. But this time the light dimmed faster than a desert sunsset.
“What is it?” Jagati asked, and pointed with the spoon as his expression closed. “Don’t tell me there’s trouble in paradise. You and Jinna have been an item for, what, a week? What could go wrong in eight days?”
“There’s no trouble,” he said, reaching past her to lift the lid on the pot, then yanking his hand back when Jagati swept the spoon down in a chopping motion.
“Oy! Tetchy much?” Rory asked .
“Avoiding much?” she challenged.
She raised an eyebrow.
“Fine.” He raised his hands in surrender. "It's nae a problem with Jinna. It's just… I just…”
“You don’t like leaving her,” Jagati filled the uncertain pause before she could stop herself.
Rory’s eyes widened, and Jagati was pretty sure hers had too.
“I swear, I wasn’t trying to read you,” she said quickly waving her hands and hitting him with a few more drops of masala. “Oops.”
“Ha,” he said, before a quick grin flashed and he again brushed the splattered sauce, this time opting to taste the ammunition. “Keepers,” he said, his brows shooting up. “I can’t say what’s more impressive—that you’ve made something tasty, or this new sensitivity you’ve got happening.”
“Ha,” she echoed his statement, but couldn’t stop the hunch of her shoulders as she turned back to the stove where, smog it, there was nothing left to do.
“Here.” She spun and shoved Rory in the direction of the cabinets. “You can set the table.”
“And who made you the boss of me?” he groused.
“I’m the first mate,” she reminded him. “Which means I’m always the boss of you.”
As she spoke, two of their four passengers appeared in the galley’s starboard entrance.
“Dr. Spencer, Dr. A... I mean, Natsiq,” Jagati greeted the physicians as both the tall, lean Natsiq as the short, round Spencer visibly sniffed the air with anticipation.
“I really don’t mind the nickname,” the elder Natsiq said. “I just like Kallik to think I do.”
“And I believe we can dispense with all the titles for now,” Dr. Spencer said, her gold nose ring glinting in the overhead lamps as she limped over to observe Jagati labors.“At least until we need to impress someone.”
Jagati grinned at the other woman who, to her mind, didn’t need a title to impress anyone.
Less because of the scars she carried—earned while serving as a field medic in the Infantry—but because, when Lakshmay Spencer walked into a room, compassion followed.
So far, Jagati had met only one other individual with the same capacity for just plain caring that Lakshmay embodied.
She didn’t know if it was a curse or a blessing that said one other individual was also her captain and business partner—and the most decent, solid, honest-to-a-fault men she’d ever known.
All of which was fine. It was good.
A person should be able to trust their captain and business partner.
But then John had up and kissed her brainless, a little over a week ago, permanently altering the playing field.
Worse, he’d followed up on that kiss by leaving the metaphorical ball in her net, allowing her to decide if she meant to try for a goal or retire from said field.
All of which meant that Jagati had found herself thinking about John a lot more often, and from an entirely different perspective, but no closer to deciding which was the best play.
Not that she’d be suiting up for a game while they had a ‘ship full of passengers, she reminded herself, tuning back into the chatter as Alain and Rory set the table.
At her side, Lakshmay dug the pitcher of jasmine tea they kept stocked in the cooler and grabbed a stack of mugs, taking everything to the table.
Jagati picked up the stew and, following Lakshmay, set the pot on its trivet.
And thought of John, alone, up on the bridge.
Maybe she could bring his dinner to him, and take the helm while he ate.
And as he ate, they could talk—talking wasn’t suiting up— in relative privacy.
At least, until Eitan arrived for his shift at the helm.
And then what? She asked herself.
And then, her mind wound around as she fetched the rice, maybe they could head to John’s quarters and talk some more.
After all, talking had never been a problem with them. In fact, John was one of the few humans Jagati enjoyed sharing a conversation with.
And maybe, after they'd conversed a while—
“What smells so good?" Kallik asked, striding into the galley.
“Ah…” Jagati blinked and shook off the sense memory of John’s cedar-scented soap. “It’s—”
“Chana Masala I’m not mistaken,” Lakshmay said, taking the lid off the pot and peering inside.
“Got it in one,” Jagati said.
Thank Deus Ex.
“I notice you didn’t slap at Lakshmay for peeking,” Rory pointed out from the other side of the table.
“That’s because Lakshmay is a guest,” Jagati told him with a sisterly sneer. “And it’s ready to eat,” she added as Eitan, who was always on time for a meal, arrived.
“Dinner smells wonderful,” he said, which didn’t necessarily signify, as Eitan tended to eat anything that was put in front of him.
“Jinna’s recipe,” Jagati said.
“Jinna?” Kallik asked.
“Rory’s delbar-am,” Eitan explained.
“Awww,” Kallik said.
“Aye, all right, then,” Rory, flushing, tossed some napkins in Kallik’s direction, but they caught the pile of linens with a grin and joined in the communal table prep.
Jagati, grabbing the nearest bowl to begin serving, barely suppressed her own grin.
“Where’s Pyotr?” Alain asked as he scraped a chair back from the table.
“With John on the bridge,” Eitan said as he—ever the risto—pulled out a chair for Lakshmay, then Kallik, both of whom flushed.
Jagati, ladling masala over rice, paused at that because, while passengers weren’t precisely unwelcome on the bridge, visits without an invitation were discouraged.
Lakshmay, however, nodded as she took the bowl from Jagati, before passing it along to Kallik, who passed it to Alain. “Captain Pitte said we may be running into some weather, so Pyotr wanted to radio the Kopernik camp, and let them know of possible delays.”
“Huh. Maybe I should take them both a tray,” Jagati said, before she could think.
But when she did think, it occurred to her that a chance to get a read on John and Pyotr, together, would be almost as rewarding as… as exploring the borders of the idea of suiting up.
Rory's snort, however, had her looking up. “What?”
“Just wondering when you were demoted to yeoman,” Rory said.
“Oh, sting.” Jagati rolled her eyes. “But seriously, I don’t want to risk John not getting some of this meal, and then not believing it was edible.”
Even as she spoke she spied Alain looking up from his bowl with an alarmed expression.
“I mean, more edible than my usual,” she said, but that didn’t sound much better.
“I’m sure it is more than edible,” Lakshmay said, taking her own bowl from Jagati’s hand and immediately digging in her spoon to take a heaping bite.
Everyone at the table, Jagati included, froze—and waited.
Lakshmay’s eyes crinkled, she swallowed, and smiled. “Much more than edible,” she said. “It is delicious. Just the right touch of coriander,” she added as Jagati resisted—barely—the urge to cheer.
“Well, then, it appears you must take John and Pyotr a tray,” Eitan as Jagati handed him a bowl.
“Take a tray where?” Pyotr asked, appearing in the starboard door.
“To the bridge, for you and the captain,” Kallak told him.
“No one wanted you to miss this wonderful dinner,” Lakshmay added with a wink at Jagati.
“A kind thought," Pyotr said with an absent wave. “But unfortunately, Captain Pitte sent me to tell you a fast-moving storm has risen between Kopernik and our location.”
“Stolichnaya in February,” Alain said with a sigh, at the same moment the airship gave a sudden, wicked jerk.
Only years of flight kept Jagati from dropping the bowl in her hand as the 'ship's klaxon sounded three long tones.
“Storm,” Rory, Jagati, and Pyotr all said at once, each holding down whatever items on the table were closest.
“All hands to emergency stations,” John’s voice came from the ‘ship’s speakers. “Passengers, anything that’s not locked down, get it locked down. This may be a bumpy ride.”
Wasting no time on curses—though she had a few dozen to spare— Jagati dumped all the untouched stew back in the pot, replaced the lid, and hauled the pot into cooler while standing aside for Rory to put in the rice pot and Lakshmay shoved the pitcher of tea into its slot.
“Dishes here,” Eitan yanked a deep tub from under one of the counters.
“Then back to your berths,” Jagati ordered. “And don't forget to stow anything you don’t want flying into your face.”
“Ouch,” said Kallik, but all the passengers did as they were told.
With the galley secured, Eitan headed down-ladder confirm the cargo was likewise safely stowed, and Rory and Jagati raced up-ladder to tend to the envelope and assist John at the helm, respectively.
As another gust knocked the gondola sideways, Jagati caught the ladder rail and, this time, let the curses fly.
Not only had she lost the chance to suss out the tension between John-and Pyotr—or between John and herself, for that matter—she’d finally made a decent dinner, and now it looked like no one was going to get a chance to eat it.