Adeline Cello arrived precisely late to her appointment at the Lacuna Luna. The Civil Discourse’s urgent provisioning and refit gave her the perfect excuse to cancel, but she knew she couldn’t avoid her family forever.
As she scanned the tastefully-appointed restaurant’s polished stone furnishings and bottle green lighting, her sister’s voice rang out behind her.
“My dear Adeline, have I kept you waiting? I do hope you can forgive my tardiness. You always were the hastier twin.”
“Irmonica, darling, how splendid you look,” replied Adeline, stuffing her instant irritation hastily away in its customary compartment and snapping her fingers at the head waiter. “How commendably you’ve applied yourself to your weight regime. You’re positively muscular.”
Irmonica Cello, the minutely elder of their generation, shuffled her shoulders inside a three thousand selene jacket. “I’m afraid we can’t all be the beneficiaries of experimental LEF bone-density treatments, dearest. Some of us have to defy gravity using the traditional methods.”
“Oh, surely your producers pay for all your procedures? I imagine their list of tweaks is never-ending.”
Adeline dropped into the scalloped embrace of her shell-shaped chair, adjusting her sleekly-boned frame into a comfortable position.
Irmonica accepted a padded insert from the silent waiter and lowered herself with a stiff-necked grace. She waved away the offer of a wine list and ordered calcium waters for them both.
“What brings you and your band of intrepid Argonauts home to Mother Luna, Adeline? I understood you were engaged in some dramatic interdiction mission to Mercury.”
Adeline’s fingernails flicked at the printed chrysanthemum decorating their table. The artificial petals burst into clouds of silicon flakes. “It was a highly politically sensitive refugee crisis, as a matter of fact. A crisis, I might add, which I personally steered to a peaceful resolution. If you paid more attention to those newsbursts you read, you’d know it was the top-ranked PopScope story of the year.”
“Hmm? I thought the vortex-kitten infestation on Tethys Outpost was top,” said Irmonica. She projected a holoticker display into the space vacated by the ruined flower. A torrent of news scrolled between them and disappeared into the table. After a moment she heaved a sceptical sigh. “Oh well. I can’t be expected to keep up with your military nonsense when I have so many social duties to attend to.”
Adeline scowled. “This again? I have an important job, Irmonica. I don’t have time for charity balls and debutante cage fights.”
Irmonica’s pose – raised chin, starburst iris flares and one arched eyebrow – was what Adeline thought of as her elder-sister-by-seven-minutes stance. “Are you not,” she asked with an artificial gravity that put Persephone Station to shame, “Adeline Cello of the Tranquility Cellos?”
“Give it a rest, butterfly,” snapped Adeline. “You give weather reports for a planetoid with no atmosphere! You commentate celebrity moon buggy races! For Aldrin’s sake, Irmonica, last night you interviewed a talking parrot who’s been in quarantine stasis for forty years.”
“Mister Creswell had some very interesting insights into pre-Contretemp culture,” sniffed Irmonica. “All of which is beside the point. While you’re off gallivanting about the solar system suppressing radicals, the board of trustees has asked serious questions about your commitment to the family’s community responsibilities.”
“Gallivanting? My duty is to the Lunar Expeditionary Force! I keep insubstantial gadflies like you safe from seditious undesirables!” Adeline slammed her fist on a table made of titanium-rich pyroclastic glass, denser than blast shielding. It hurt and produced an unsatisfying noise.
“Really? You and what crew?”
“What?” It was Adeline’s turn to flinch. She was too worked up to hear her mandible implant register a message notification.
“Oh yes, I know about the mutinies and desertions. A word of advice from a gallivanting butterfly, darling. If you must give in to the urge to blog about your loyal followers, don’t vid yourself in front of an empty flight deck. And don’t think you’ll replace them anytime soon. Word is that your name is poison with the recruitment guilds in the lava tunnels. Even they can’t find any desperate enough to sign on with you!”
The waiter, summoned by an urgent alarm from the microgravity sensors in the furniture, raised a finger and cleared his throat, but a sharp look from the Cello sisters sent him scuttling back to the kitchens.
“Face it, Addie, you’re a hopeless space commander. Without your family name and Grandmere’s fortune, you wouldn’t have a commission at all. Your career is a one-act comedy and the curtain’s closing.”
“Oh you radioactive little tailing pit!”
Irmonica beamed with cultivated smugness. “Well if you must resort to insults, little sister, perhaps my remarks aren’t so insubstantial after all.” She pointed at the subdermal alert glowing across Adeline’s index finger in a tied-string pattern. “Are you going to answer that?”
Unable to immediately put her hands on anything light enough to throw, Adeline played the waiting message directly to her tympanic membrane. After a moment, she stood up with a cold smirk spreading across her face.
“I’m afraid I can’t stay to eat, Irmonica. Duty calls.”
Irmonica rolled her eyes. “You. Don’t. Have. A. Crew.”
Adeline smiled. “That was the quartermaster’s office,” she said. “The Civil Discourse has been selected to test the next generation of military androids. I’ll have a full complement within the hour. Tethys Outpost, did you say? That sounds like the perfect spot for a shakedown cruise. Sayonara, sister!”
And with that, Commander Adeline Cello strode from the Lacuna Luna with her head held high.
Irmonica drummed her fingers patiently until her sister finally disappeared into the transit tunnels, she ordered a drink and placed a call.
“Cello to Intel Central. Pass on my thanks to the QMO. Codename Troublemaker is primed for a plausibly-deniable counter-insurgency operation on Tethys Station. Plant some authentic-looking gravity fluctuation reports. Make them look like interdimensional cats or something. Then put a mop-up crew on standby to pick up any rebels she misses.”
“Good work, Colonel Cello.”