2 - Jeena

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As Skip enjoyed a brisk shower, another pod - a sleek and stylish one - was closing rapidly on the waystation.  Its occupant was not at all in a cheerful mood.

Jeena had no one to curse but herself for her predicament.  Even in the early days of her career, she had been able to cherry-pick jobs in the City, and easily maintain her lifestyle.  Now, 24 years old, experienced, and with no want of funds, she could have been even more selective.  And still, she had allowed a huge bonus to seduce her into an Outback assignment.

What was I thinking when I took this stupid case?!!  Never again!  No bonus is worth being crammed into a pod for 18 days.  Solon Waystation is a rock.  A ROCK!!  Not even big enough to hold a decent atmosphere.  No more off-planet assignments, EVER!

To make matters worse, she had run out of food.  Out of palatable food, that is.  Upon her departure from the City, Jeena had clearly specified that her pod was to be stocked exclusively with Haute Gastronomie Insta-Paks.  For most of the trip, she had been feasting on these top-of-the-line meals, savoring the breathtaking presentation and exquisitely sublime flavors.  Zapped for just two minutes, they bore a sumptuous, refreshingly chilled salad, paired with a piping hot entrée.  A well-chosen wine was also provided, again, at precisely the optimum temperature.  And the desserts! She just loved those cute little cups of Creme Brulée.

Unfortunately, while already a few days into space, she discovered that some unscrupulous bastard of a Provisioner had padded the back of her food locker with packages of an inferior brand.  So, for the last three days, she had been forced to subsist on Tastee Treet EconoMeals.

With a grimace, Jeena pulled her uniformly tepid dinner from the zapper.  EconoMeals just made her want to hurl.  The "meat" was an amalgam of textured vegetable protein and animal parts [species of animal(s) unspecified], formed into pellets.  The "vegetables" were similarly milled out of various peelings and cast-off plant matter, molded into interesting shapes and dyed in festive colors, in a vain attempt to distract the consumer from the awful truth.  To make things even worse, the kibbles were drowned in a revolting sauce that had about as much subtlety as a skid row hooker.  As the final insult, the meals were given creative names like "Oriental Delight."  Jeena had long ago learned NEVER to trust food for which no specific culture would take responsibility.  If Tastee Treet had dubbed this abomination "Chinese Delight," no doubt there would have been immediate lawsuits from people of Chinese descent, demanding that they not be blamed for such slop.  For that matter, there were probably grounds for litigation over the "Delight" part of the name.  How could any reasonable person describe this garbage as a "delight?"  It was VILE!

There’s gonna be HELL to pay when I get back!

She picked for a while at the inedible dinner, then set it aside.  Though she was hungry to the point of confusion, Solon - and real food - was just a few hours away.  She could hold out.

The waystation wasn't answering her hails.  Her colleagues had warned her about these penny-ante operations, outfits so cheap they even turned off lights and heat when people left an area!  The operator, in an economical turn of mind, probably didn't keep communications on 24-7.  Assuming that there was an operator at all.

Jeena knew that she didn't actually need to rely on guidance from the station - her pod knew what it was doing.  But the whole deal was just so cheap and unprofessional!

Okay, if I work fast, with a little luck, I can finish quickly, and won't have to stay overnight on that God-forsaken asteroid.  The sooner I get back to civilization, the better.

After almost three weeks in space, Jeena was getting cabin fever.  Her Mark VII pod was equipped with full entertainment amenities, and with all five proc modules in place, the pod Mind could even hold up a decent conversation.  But it wasn't the same as a live person.  Jeena was surprised that she actually missed human company.  For most of her life, if she was anything less than boldly rude, she would be swarmed by men.  On the other hand, women inexplicably seemed to have no patience whatsoever around her.  It was the curse of the Scenters.

So, to the matter at hand:  Which lucky soul would receive the honor of taking her out to dinner?

She spoke out loud so that her pod could hear.

"COMMAND: Display the roster for Solon Waystation.  Show males only, under the age of 40."

32 entries appeared.

"COMMAND:  Add thumbnails."

Eeeewww!!  She recoiled at the first picture that came up: Abernathy, Dorcus.  What an absurdly appropriate name.

"COMMAND:  Delete from the list, any personnel that are obese."

A few entries dropped off the list, but Mr. Abernathy was still at the top of the page, grinning at her.

"COMMAND:  Delete from the list, any personnel that are overweight."

Good, that got rid of him.

"COMMAND:  Sort the remaining entries by pay grade, highest to lowest."

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