Dawa was sitting ramrod straight in her seat. Her eyes did not leave the console and the tension did not leave her muscles until the last visible wisps of the nebula left the viewscreen. Only then did she allow herself to fall back into her seat and breathe a sigh of relief. “I think that was the quietest part of our little adventure so far, and thank goodness for that.”
Without leaning forward again, she stretched out her arm, set the runabout to autopilot, and let her head loll over to face Joshua. “Well, are you going to open your care package or are you going to wait to do it in private?” she asked with a smirk.
Joshua rubbed his eyes, “Uh, yeah. It’ll be a nice break from all the reports.” He closed the current report he was writing. “That’s something they never prepare you for in school.”
Standing up, he made his way to the cabinet where the care packages were stored. “If I open mine, you’ll have to open yours,” he said, walking back to their seats with both packages. Dawa fired finger guns at him in agreement.
Joshua set his on the console he was sitting at and set Dawa’s next to hers. “It kind of feels like Christmas,” he said excitedly, taking a seat.
Dawa nodded. “Sort of, except I don’t have to fight off a dozen cousins to get my gift from under the tree. Just one angry smuggler.”
Pulling the ribbon off, he opened the package. “Let’s see…” He pulled out a small, rounded instrument made of ceramic. It had air holes like a flute, but strings running its length. “Oh, I’ve seen one of these. You blow into one end, vibrating the strings, and pluck them,” he attempted this, producing a discordant note. He winced, “It’ll take some practice, for sure.”
He set it aside and reached back into the box. He paused and broke out in laughter. He pulled out a small statuette of himself, holding a beaker to the sky, “And it’s in bronze,” he slowly turned it, letting it catch the light, “Man, it does outline my features.”
“I wonder if this means there’ll be a full-sized one in the colony next year,” said Dawa, as he passed it to her for a closer look.
“Oh, and seeds!” He read the description of the package. “‘Cerastium gypsum.’ These are hardy and quite pretty.” He gave the package a sniff, “It gives off a slight sulfur smell, interesting.”
Dawa sniffed the envelope of seeds and stuck out her tongue. “Ick. Hope the plant doesn’t smell like that.”
“And food, of course.” Joshua pulled out a couple of sandwiches and a bag of candy from Maisley’s. “Keeping people fed has to be a tenet of the Caring Women’s Association. And I’m not mad about it.” He set the sandwich next to him, “I’ll take advantage of that in a moment.”
“Last, but not least, we have-” His words came to a complete stop. He pulled out a framed picture of Kheali. He turned it around to show Dawa. It was a picture of her sitting on a rock by the water, a beach perhaps, hair blowing partially in her face.
Dawa whistled. “Girl is down bad for you.”
“Honestly, she made quite an impression on me too. I saw this on her mantle last night and commented on how beautiful her eyes looked in it. I would have settled for a holographic recreation.” Joshua paused, “They sure know how to put the ‘care’ in a care package.” He started putting the things back in the box, sans the sandwiches. “Your turn.”
“Okay!” Dawa pulled her box into her lap and removed the ribbon with the pull of a single string. “Ooo, nice. That’s like the first gift right there.”
She removed the lid and pulled out an instrument identical to the one Joshua had. “I promise not to practice while you’re finishing those reports.” She winked and set it aside.
Joshua laughed, “We can start a band now! I’ll have to figure out how to play it.”
There was food and candy as well. Dawa pulled out a large jar of pickled something-or-other. “Extra jaffra sauce, just like she said!”
Her grin didn’t budge as she pulled out the next item, a package of stationery. “Some old-fashioned postcards from my girl at the infirmary! Her bedside manners could use some work, but she is a hoot. Don’t know how we got to talking about stationary, though. Guess that’s just one of those hobbies that sneak up on you when you get into your thirties.”
“Stationary? Like… writing letters?,” Joshua said confused. “I don’t know how many postcards you can write from Starbase Bravo.” He shuffled through the cards, “They’re pretty scenes though, we have to explore that planet more.”
“We have an old-fashioned mail service attached to the cargo lanes, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get out to our colony friends. Plenty of good excuses to go back.” The grin vanished from her face as she pulled the last item from the box, replaced by one of utter surprise. It was a tool, albeit one not used in centuries. She shook it in Josh’s direction. “This is a monkey wrench!”
As soon as she could think clearly, she grasped the tag attached to the wrench and squinted at the name. “I knew it. Adélard, you son of a– He had a collection of these amazing antique tools, and–” She sputtered, gesturing at the wrench with one hand while waving it around with the other. “This thing is older than the Federation!”
“A what? Why do they call it a monkey wrench?” Joshua tried to look at it through the frantic waving. “What would it even fit?”
“They used it on pipes and such. Or beating intruders over the head; feel that heft!” She handed it to Josh.
Joshua tested its weight and was taken aback. “They certainly don’t make tools like this anymore.” He turned it and looked from all angles. “You could probably make a whole engineering kit out of this thing.”
“My uncle says it’s named after a toy kids played with way back in the 19th century called a ‘monkey on a stick’ because they move up and down in the same sort of way. He gave me one for my birthday one year–the monkey on a stick–replicated, but I loved it just the same. Pretty sure it’s still back in my old room at home.”
Dawa stared off into the middle distance for a moment, looking all the way back to Titan, before shaking the memory from her mind and focusing on Joshua again. “Old home, I guess. Because we’re going home right now. How’s it gonna feel, going from being the most famous man on the colony back to a crewman on a station of thousands?” she asked with a gentle smile.
Stowing his box, he sat in the co-pilot seat and looked at the stars, “I think I’d like to get lost amongst the crowd for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to bend your brain a bit. And the ego fluff was nice. But it’ll be nice to be a nobody for a while.” He smiled and turned to Dawa, “I’m not looking forward to the reports and debriefs though. What about you? What’s the next adventure?”
Dawa hummed and considered. “I think some quiet Starfighter patrols closer to the station are in my future. Ones where I’m not terribly outgunned lightyears away from any backup and with no clear visuals nor sensor tracking. That sounds like a nice reprieve right about now.” She laughed. “I’ll miss the conversation though! I guess we’ll have to make sure to catch up with each other when we’re off duty. Right?”
Joshua smiled. “Right.”