Floor cleaners, the dishwasher, a lousy drain, old floor carpeting, grease, coffee grounds and some foods lightly scented the air of the old coffee house. A lousy rock song quietly played on the ceiling mounted public address speakers no one was listening to, adding to the general din from the open kitchen at one end of the coffee house and the modest but still fairly continuous noise from the traffic outside and a smattering of customers inside. The table was dirty, but John Crichton had forgotten before he'd rested his folded arms on the table and just now noticed the stains on his jacket sleeves. "Oh crap," John mumbled, "I hope that orange marmalade came off the uneaten side of the toast."
Laughter startled John into remembering his company. "This place is kind of gross," Bridget commented, checking the table in front of her before placing her forearms along its edge in her crisp brown dress suit top.
"Yeah but it feels like home," John dryly said, to more laughter. "More than the penthouse," he said to himself.
"I was," Bridget said with a skeptical and puzzled knit of her meticulously made-up brow, "coming to get a little used to this kind of thing myself when we were working together. When it was Doug in charge. But you?"
"I," John said while gesturing in vain to stop the waitress from topping up his doctored cup of coffee, "who blew a good chunk of the team pie on Farbie and Barbie's Burgers or Giovanni's Italian joint to better nourish our brains. Nah, Doug didn't have the dough is all. You thought I had a second home at a table in Cadmus?" he asked bluntly enough.
John's face darkened as the memory of the recent incidents at Cadmus plowed through his mind. Capricious Chiana had decided to entertain the shamelessly obvious interests of his old rival Payne, claiming to be after information. Jack, Doug and himself had followed Payne and Chiana to the fine restaurant Cadmus to attempt keeping watch and possibly control over the intolerable date, but ended up disgracefully crashing the joint. Incredibly the night went down hill from there. After Payne and himself managed to literally ruin a new nightclub, General Morrison interceded and provided Chiana with her own flat, sequestering Chiana from both himself and Payne. The fact that the effort to sequester Chiana wasn't complete and thorough bothered him since he didn't put it past Payne to break it. When he'd checked with Jack during the day, Jack told him that Chiana had joined the General and himself at the golf course instead of staying put.
John remained suspicious of what else she would do. Seemed to John that staking out Chiana's flat that evening was an extreme but justifiable thing to do. Chiana returned to her flat after dark as a passenger in an old clunker of a Holden that conveniently stalled at the curb and began rocking. As many times as he'd quipped the phrase, "if the van is a-rockin' don't come a-knockin'," John had betrayed his presence to come knockin' and call out the guy she was with. Fortunately he seemed to be mistaken and the incident was innocent enough. Unfortunately the guy was General Morrison. Both the General and Chiana had certainly left him feeling ridiculous for staking out her place. Then tables turned with Chiana staking him out and betraying her presence to be with him when she saw that he was crying. She even started moving on him to mess around but abruptly called it off, leaving him provoked, frustrated, embarrassed and bewildered. John was thinking that he must have done something to put her off or she was just stringing him along, but either way he knew at the time that he wasn't likely to calm down and get to sleep any time soon.
With sleep unlikely and his situation troubling him, John decided to burn some midnight oil in his offices at IASA. Having No-Neck lead him to another Spanish Inquisition for senseless astronauts was a risk he was willing to take if by some small chance he could clear his head a little or fall asleep at his desk, whichever came first. Instead of substituting a thermodynamics paper for a sleeping pill, he discovered his areas of the IASA were being kept literally in the dark supposedly as part of a power saving environmental initiative. Despite the green dark he ran into a visitor with a strange schedule. That visitor was a former associate on Doug's side of the team and made herself stranger still by seeming to think nothing of the odd hour and little enough of asking him out. Here he sat across from her at a coffee house, risking whatever her intentions were on the odd chance that he might be able to glean some useful information from her.
"No, no," Bridget was saying, tossing her long blond hair into place with a wave of her head. "I wasn't complaining," Bridget claimed. "In fact I loved the Italian, too much. Ha, but I don't have to worry about that where I'm working now."
John took a long sip of coffee and watched the attractive but very young waitress walking away, stalling just to make sure that was Bridget's cue for him to ask about where she was working now. Sure enough Bridget let the conversation rest on it, pretending to be busy straightening her hair with her hand and adding her first spoonful of sugar substitute to her black coffee. When John didn't seem to take the hint she pulled out her cell and resumed her incessant texting.
"Ruined a drinkable cup of dish water," John complained.
"I don't think that kid knows what she's doing," Bridget complained. Although Bridget was texting at the same time, John soon discovered she had observed more than he did when she pointed out, "That was decaf. You ordered regular."
"I wonder if they taste any different," John replied and he thought how the criticism seemed odd to him coming from Bridget, who was little if at all older than the "kid" waitress herself. John found it strange to realize he had been distracted admiring Bridget as rather fetching. She was bright, seemingly good-spirited and had that awkward grace so it wasn't as if he couldn't understand why someone would be attracted beyond the question of looks. It was just that Bridget's degree of youth generally wasn't John's cup of tea any more than her degree of skinny. A little annoyed at himself, John was also tempted to just blame Chiana for warping his taste.
The age gap became even more obvious when Bridget blared at a message on her cell, "Oh my gawd! Oh he did so not." Then she looked up from her cell almost horrified, knowing she had made the wrong impression. Quickly putting her cell under her leg, she then adjusted herself on the booth seat. "Yes it's....hard to get a good cup of coffee at this hour," she said, fishing for something to say and trying to sound as mature as possible, clearing her throat and adjusting her dress suit top.
As small as that suit top was, she was fairly swimming in it which reminded him to ask, "Would you like anything? They have grease. Comes with fries, er chips, what country am I in? Or a bugger. Burger."
"From here? No thank you," Bridget declined while her hand seemed to pull the cell back out and start texting without her thinking about it.
"I didn't mean to drag you to the wrong spot," John apologized. "I know you're new to this side o' town so I should have warned you that when I said coffee house, I meant-"
"Totally what I-!" Bridget started to gush loudly but caught herself again and finished the sentence with her mature act, "-expected. Coffee house," she shrugged. "I've been to a few. They're exactly the same." She scowled at her cup of coffee. "And none of them have good coffee."
"What I meant was," John explained, "I know better places to dine, even at this hour. I wasn't being very considerate."
"Oh I didn't want to dine," Bridget explained, pausing to look to the cell she was texting on. Catching herself again, she shoved it under her leg, leaned back with her cup of coffee and smiled at John. "A little chat and some coffee's all I wanted."
John could buy the part about the coffee. A little chat, now there was a loaded claim he thought. Neither did he buy that was her only motive. The mystery was very surprising and he was aware it was magnifying her appeal. Fortunately Bridget and the padded shoulders of her dress suit top also reminded him of what had been IASA's vainest twig, Amelia, whose complete disappearance reminded him of the seriousness of the mysteries afoot.
"You look great," John told Bridget, plugging on a smile.
Bridget perked up but squinted and brushed her hair aside in a way that reminded him painfully well of Aeryn. Memories flooded before his eyes. "That's exactly what Doug said," Bridget recalled nodding her head.
It took John a minute to crawl back to the here and now. "He's not often wrong," John agreed. All the beating around the bush was making the high-energy young Bridget increasingly nervous. Plus whatever she might have been taking to keep herself up. When texting, which she was doing again, her hand was going awful fast and her other hand was starting to get twitches. Seemed to John like a good time to segue her into whatever it was she had approached him for. "Say I hope you two were able to part on good terms? DK and yourself."
"Perfectly. Perfectly amicable," Bridget claimed, "perfectly. I said, 'I have a great opportunity' and he was fine with that. It was. In fact by coincidence I just ran into Doug the other day!"
"You did?" John acted surprised. "Huh."
"And I said," Bridget cleared her throat, stuffed her cell under her leg again and continued while looking into her coffee cup alot, "when he asked how things were, I told him it was great. Just great. It is. It is so good to um, contribute to um, such a great opportunity. He seemed interested so I let him know if he wanted to speak to anyone there, maybe there was an opportunity? There. And he reminded me, so I was glad to run into you." She cleared her throat.
John nodded along but thought she was a pretty lousy liar, which wasn't really a bad thing in his opinion, just the lying part. Looking at her big pale blue eyes was a little difficult though and John was beginning to feel a little bad for her. Something had her conflicted and twisted into a knot inside and the emotion sparkling her eyes convinced John that it was really getting to her. Just in case it involved a crush on himself, John thought it was best if he segued a mention of significant someone into their conversation. Soon. "How's the coffee?" he asked.
"Normally I like it black," Bridget answered, "but this coffee is just too awful."
"It's a long way from gourmet, just like I make it," John agreed and pointedly raised the subject of his engagement, "My fiancée makes good coffee."
"Oh was that a prerequisite?" Bridget asked with one made up brow arching up. As her hand was busy texting.
"Yeah I put it on e-hookup, you know the pimp site for model prostitutes, I mean dating service for hot singles," John said. "English is optional, skinny's fine, long as you can claim you're over seventeen, are underweight and make a mean cup o' joe hey, let's meet at a cheap hotel. So the search engine hooked me, er matched me with a hot available single in Quebec and that's how we're spending our life and love."
Bridget bent over in a convulsion of snickers, shaking her head. And spilled some of her coffee.
"Better be careful," John said tossing her a paper towel, "might spread, impact the environment, be connected with the balding of 'roos and result in legislations restricting Australia's own plundering of resources to the benefit of some other country that'll go ahead and plunder this world even worse. Not that I'm getting cynical or anything." She snickered and almost spilled more. When he reached for another paper towel, he knocked over one of a group of Vegemite containers. "What's with that stuff?"
"I don't know," Bridget said while mopping up her coffee spill, "I think they add it to the water here instead of fluoride."
"I'd almost believe it," John said. "Wait. You're an Australian and you noticed? You're supposed to say, 'What Vegemite'."
"I'm not," Bridget answered.
She seemed honest to John so he guessed, "You're a Kiwi? Huh."
"No," Bridget answered, stretched and slid back on the booth bench, "I'm from Tasmania."
"You're a Tasmanian, you little devil!" John said and grinned.
"Oh shut up," Bridget said lightly. "Everybody says that."
"All right more like a little angel," John flattered her and winked. It worked judging from her shy reaction. "I've never met one," John said. "A Tasmanian angel or a Tasmanian devil or a plain Tasmanian. Which is funny. Been places you can't imagine but never met a Tasmanian. Hobart of course?"
"No," Bridget shook her head.
"You mean there are people elsewhere on Tasmania?"
"Yes," Bridget shook her head.
"You learn something new every day," John said. "You miss it? Or you were determined to get out of there as soon as possible?"
"I thiiiink," Bridget replied gazing up at the rows of spotlight lamps overhead nearby with what John thought were very pretty eyes, "it was about the time I was begging my stepdad please, please can we make a novelty post box, I knew in some way I wasn't going to be living there forever. Then I found science and astronomy and....it was that or Egyptology. Or makeup applicators."
"Yes," Bridget confirmed. "Makeup applicators, collecting them anyway. Particularly mid-century American."
"Uh sure," John said, "well I guess some people collect stamps, coins, bottlecaps. I collect good luck, it seems valuable or at least awfully rare. So why not. I meant about the stones 'n' bones."
"R. F. Burton or Budge?" Bridget asked while texting again.
"Where you got the line, 'stones and bones', to describe Egyptology," Bridget explained.
"No, J. D. Crichton, he never budges," John said. "I thought it was my dad's line about it. We have great communication, my dad and I. We go way back, before I was even born. He brought me into this world, I arrived but we're still none the wiser as to why. Really though, what's the deal on that?"
"Oh that? When a man and a woman-"
"We looked that one up," John said. "Wikipedia was a great help. Boy was my dad embarrassed. He'd thought he got away with all that monkey business. But I meant you and stones and bones and Richard Burton."
"You are so hard to follow," Bridget told him and shook her head. Probably didn't help she was texting the whole time. Yet again she caught herself and swapped it for her coffee cup. "Me and um.....who?"
"Oooh," Bridget brightened, stirred in some more sugar substitute and told John, "When I waaass, I think about twelve, I was totally into it, I was totally in love with one Nebkheperure Tutankhaten. Ever heard of him?"
"King Tut?" John's brow was up. "The boy wonder? Er, King? You know he's been married for a long time. A really long time. Besides, I don't know how to tell ya, but I have it in good word that he ain't lookin' so good these days. I understand he was attacked by some historians wielding hot knives a while back and he just went to pieces...."
"Oh shut up," Bridget told him mildly. "The ideas, okay? I was just a girl. Anyway. I did um, actually I owe alot spiritually? To what I learned from going into some of that. So I got into that and astrology, which thank goodness kind of transitioned to science and astronomy-"
"Yeah I think that would've been a dead end relationship," John kept on. "Sooner or later it would've stiffed."
"Oh shut up," Bridget mildly repeated.
"All right I'll wrap it up."
"Mum's the word."
"Gawd," Bridget said. "Are you always this annoying?"
"No," he denied.
"So shut up, I'm talking about me okay?" Bridget lightly scolded. "Really I owe it to Mr. Brubeth my math teacher. Oh my gawd he had this gnome of a wife that beat up on everything and she actually came into class one day and almost beat the snot out of Eddie, one of the boys. She's all, 'I am sick of hearing about you lousy children', whack! 'You ungrateful punks' whack! 'I'm tired of hearing about you!' whack. Oh my gawd but actually she used to make these fairy cakes and if we were good we'd um. Anyway he said there were opportunities in sciences if I applied myself hard enough and I found it."
"But not over in uh," John said, struggling to stay alert and interested, "oh- Tasmania."
"Oh I did in one way or um," Bridget said.
"Uh okay," John said, "no detail required, but I take it you weren't happy so that's why we were graced with your presence. But weren't you happy at IASA? I'm sure it had to be better than wherever else was lining up."
"I'm never happy," she said.
"But you are happy where you're at now aren't you?" John probed.
"Yes yes," Bridget answered too quickly and she sat up like there was a knife at her back. "I've been meaning to say it's fantastic and um, I was wondering would you- why don't you give them a call?" she asked and tightened her lips intently.
"Uh who?" John played dumb.
"You know private enterprise is the future of space," Bridget launched a pitch.
"Exploration," John interrupted her to specify. "The future of space is a breakdown of matter and- oh never mind. Exploration."
"Yyyes....and there's going to be a new name leading the scene," Bridget continued, literally producing a business card from up her sleeve then handing it to him. John pretended to be reading it while she continued. "You asked what I was doing. Polymer applications is just a start. I'm involved in an ambitious new project to develop the vehicle of the future. But partnerships are important and so is the IASA. I was.....arranging the purchase of materials from IASA when we met."
"Oh," John said as if he believed it, or so he hoped. He really wasn't sure what to believe. "What do they do exactly? This place you work for."
"I think I'll have to try some of their gourmet coffees," Bridget said with a sigh. "But this regular stuff is so not encouraging."
"Don't knock 'em 'till you've tried 'em and don't try 'em," John recommended. Some silence followed and John let up.
Besides he was deeply frustrated by the stalemate with Bob and was reminding himself again that their engagement was just a front. There were other places he could probably take Bridget where she might talk a little freer. He wouldn't want Bob to know in case it did hurt her feelings and the more she put in the engagement front, the better the odds it might help to keep her in line. Just the same part of him was arguing that behind the guise they were all helping to fabricate, Bob was after all Chiana, the alien thief he knew from years back who wouldn't hesitate to do the same or worse to get information. While Bob stayed semi-sequestered over in her own flat assuming she had him wrapped up, he could pursue information from and maybe ties with Bridget, probably not all unpleasant a chore. Bob would be none the wiser and everything would be cool.
Sounded like a plan to John Crichton.