One of the really fun bits of writing an interstitial is finally tying together different stories. In this new scene (just drafted, very raw), I got to bring in Professor M’kla, from my unpublished novel, _Liminal Space_, and Realtá, from “Paper Star.” It is SO SATISFYING.
I really do need to get a big piece of paper and chart everyone out, I think. Jed and I have put together a reference doc, a series bible, and the characters will all be in there, but sometimes you need to see it big and visual. At least I do!
M’kla ducked his head in her office door, thick green eyebrows waggling in invitation. “Lunch, Narita?”
She shook her head, regretfully. “I brought a tiffin of idli-sambar from home – I was just going to eat at my desk today. I have so many intern evaluations to get through.” Narita gestured wearily at the stack of papers on her desk – and those were just the ones she’d printed out, the first batch. Three times as many waited on her tablet.
“There’s a new junior chef at Kalai Café, and I hear she has a touch with sauces that has to be tasted to be believed.”
Narita hesitated. “I shouldn’t. We’re trying to save money, with the baby coming…”
M’kla said, “We’ll put it on the department’s tab; you can tell me about the most promising interns while we eat. With all the shortages, we’re probably going to have to rush a few of them through.”
She sighed. “And which patients will suffer with residents who are even less prepared than normal?”
He shrugged. “We’ll try to minimize the damage – it’s not as if we have a lot of choice, with so many of our doctors gone back to their homeworlds.” Then he was frowning, stepping further into the room, looming over her with all of his seven feet of height. “Not unrelatedly, you are working too hard, young lady; you’re going to work yourself to the bone, and then what’s going to be left in reserve when the baby comes, and you really aren’t getting any sleep? At least you need good, substantial meals to sustain you. As your supervisor, I insist. I am trying to take care of your well being.”
Narita had to laugh – “All right, all right.” M’kla really was the most persistent old soul; maybe that’s one thing being two hundred years into a three hundred year lifespan did for you. He could just wear at you, like water dripping on a stone, until you dissolved into acquiescence.
It felt like she’d barely had time to blink before he’d whisked them out the door and across the street. The best restaurants clustered within the University grounds – not that most students could afford to eat there, but the faculty and administration certainly could. And high-level business folks from the genetech and terraforming and space industries all liked bringing their guests by to show off the beautiful buildings of the University – the spiraling Tower of Art, the mathematical eyrie, the historians’ Mughal-style palace.
Kalai Café was tucked into the palace, its floor and walls and ceiling an explosion of abstract mosaic tiles, brilliant pinks and greens that set off the golden salwars and saris of the waitstaff to pleasant effect. Plants everywhere, hanging from the ceilings, hooked against the walls, covering much of the floor, and fountains gurgling pleasantly in the corners. With a little imagination, you could forget the dome above the city, the oxygen-poor air outside it, the red dust and scraggly trees of Kriti.
“They’ve redecorated since I was here last,” Narita said. It had been quite a while since she’d had a nice meal out – maybe she should coax Amara into coming here with her. If Amara fretted about the cost, she could tell her it was a baby gift from Narita’s parents… No, no lies, not even harmless little ones. Amara had been burned badly by her husband’s deceptions, and was almost allergic to the idea of lying now. Better – she’d call her mother and ask her for a gift card to the restaurant. Perfect.
“Can I offer you the day’s specials?” A slim redhead, with a chef’s turban perched atop a crown of braids, had come over to their table. “I have a new vat-chicken recipe that really shouldn’t be missed, featuring native mushthi sauce and a chiffonade of chowki leaves. Or if you’re more in the mood for a sandwich, I recommend the paratha roll with Varisian chilies and yogurt. You look like people who like a little spice.”
M’kla said, “I’ve heard great things about your mushthi sauce; I’ll have the chicken. But young lady, I have to say, you don’t look old enough to work at a place like this, much less be a chef!”
Narita winced. M’kla’s sense of appropriate conversation was not always accurate; she wasn’t sure if it was his alienness, his age, or just him. Narita jumped in to try to smooth over the gaffe, “It’s very impressive. You must be proud.”
The girl’s face had gone pale, making freckles stand out like little stars. Was it what M’kla had said? Narita hadn’t said anything objectionable, surely?
She said, “Thank you, sers. I feel very lucky to get to work here.”
Narita added, “I’ll have the chicken too.” There was something about the girl; she seemed familiar, but Narita couldn’t place her. Not a student, not a patient – a faint memory tugged at her. Something at the hospital, a haze of sadness…what was it?
The chef said, “Thank you again; someone will be by shortly with some complimentary mango-passionfruit juice.” The girl started to turn away, then hesitated. She turned back, looking straight at Narita. “You won’t remember, but I used to work with Amara Chelliah. Are you still in contact? Is she…all right?”
Narita smiled – ah, that was it. This co-worker had come to the hospital to visit Amara, the day of the attack. That’s where they’d met, though Narita couldn’t remember a single other thing about her. “She’s fine, just fine. We live together.”
“Oh,” the girl said faintly. “That’s nice. Well, please tell her Realtá says hello.”
“I’ll do better – I’m planning to bring her by for a meal sometime soon. I’m sure she’d love to see you.” Amara didn’t talk much about her old life, but she’d had that spaceport government job for years.
Realtá nodded and smiled. “That would be nice. I’m here all the time; I’ll look forward to it.”
M’kla added, “And I’m looking forward to my chicken!”
Narita sighed. He didn’t mean to be obnoxious, but sometimes…
“Right away, ser.” The girl slipped away, leaving them alone with the rich scent of plant life and the sound of trickling water.