"What is you want, Ansel?" It might be a loaded question, but Lirssa was in no mood to tip toe around. She doubted Ansel had a mind to gloat over her misfortune. Being shipless was a smirk over a shoulder kind of thing, not the formal letter he sent. In fact, Lirssa was fairly certain he had help on the letter. The sentences too precise. The phrasing delicate.
"And a cheery good evening to you, too, Lulu," Ansel pushed a bottle of grape NeHi across the bar table as Lirssa took up the seat across from him. He knew her latest favorite drink. That put her on high alert.
Still, she managed, "Thanks," while curling her hands around the cool bottle. She didn't drink, but watched Ansel as he took a deeper drink from his beer. He was steeling himself to say something. A rise and fall of his shoulders in time with a slowly released belching breath. There was hops on the breeze. Lirssa wrinkled her nose and took her own sip to banish the smell away.
"Work with me." Ansel offered no preamble. That was more like him.
She should have been grateful. Thing is, preambles help the brain. Lirssa's was stuck for a moment. "What?" Twice in one day she was caught off guard by people she thought she knew well -- including herself.
Ansel leaned forward with a little more eagerness and confidence. She guessed he was bolstered by the fact she hadn't stabbed or punched him. Reasonable. "Look," he began, setting aside his beer, "you need to get flying again, and I can only manage so much on my own. If we work together, you start saving for a ship, we get more lucrative jobs, and start to build a shipping dyn--" he cut himself off.
"Dynasty?" Lirssa chuckled, then laughed outright. "I think you mean conglomerate -- or -- well, something. I'm not breeding with you, Ansel."
His teeth clenched, he sat back so hard the table shook. "That isn't what I meant, and you know it. You have male friends and co-workers. Why would I be any different?"
"Why ask questions to which you already have the answers?"
"Stop being that way, Lirssa. We've worked together before. Nothing happened."
Lirssa narrowed eyes on him. She couldn't believe he actually tried to say that with a straight face. "Except you lying to me, us getting in a fight, and you pulling a gun on me? Oh, yeah, nothing at all. Let's not even mention a few months before that."
"It was a misunderstanding," he pulled at his beer again, looking away as a light pink tinge heated his cheeks. "And years ago. Besides, it worked out." Ansel looked down at his bottle. "I thought we had become friends after that. You pulled away from the ship I was piloting in that race."
She could not deny it. Ansel was not someone she thought of as a friend, not one she admitted to. But she did treat him like it. The competition between them had been there for years. Often bitter, including personal remarks at each other. But that trip had changed things. Could she do it again?
"So, short term?" She started the negotiation.
"If you want."
"What I'll want is this written up in a nice, neat little contract. No other misunderstandings that might get one of us killed."
Ansel's lips disappeared in the monstrosity he called a beard while he thought. "Alright. Can get Lily to write it up for a fair price."
"Let's not kid ourselves, Ansel. You know I'm the better pilot. Can negotiate pretty good fees with my name tagged along with yours."
"65-35," he countered, but he didn't argue her point.
It chaffed. She really wanted that forty percent, but considering his risk was higher in each venture.... She nodded, "Ship maintenance out of your share."
"Granted, though you pay for your own meals and weaponry."
"I don't use blasters."
"Just defining contingencies."
Contingencies. There would be some neither of them thought of, she knew that. It was space. It was the very definition of anything can happen. But she had grown up in a town, now city, that could do that. Who would have thought that cobble streets and half timber buildings would give way to steel and plastic? That the modes of Stars End would infiltrate so deeply into the city? Well, she supposed someone had. But not everyone. "I get a say in the jobs we accept."
"I don't think that'll be a problem, though I'm saying right now Boatswain isn't ever for hire from that crew Inferno runs."
There were few times that Lirssa had seen Ansel so adamant about something, but his entire body was leaning forward and his attention did not waver. He pinned her with his gaze.
Lirssa took a moment to think about her instinctual objection. It was more an honor and respect thing for Inferno than any true connection. Add to that she was still sore with his denying taking her on full time, and she shrugged and nodded to the rule.
"Look, I've seen a good job posted for a few weeks out, but it is a long trip." Ansel looked around the bar a moment. It was modestly attended, but everyone was about their own business.
"Made shorter with two, like last time."
"Right. Only this time I can go into the bid knowing and stating my crew."
"Wait a minute -- your crew? I'm not calling you Captain."
He stood up, smirking. "Not yet,"
Standing up as well, "Not ever. You just add that to the contract if you can't accept the word of it."
"Fine. Our partnership." He tipped the beer to her as he walked out of the small bar tucked next to the docks.
Lirssa followed out, looking up at the sky as ships tracked in and out of Stars End. She wasn't sure she liked the term partnership either, but lacking another word, she smiled to the sky. She was going to fly again.