Say Soy! was a chain of restaurants that sprung up in the outworld colonies promising superior tasting food within the restrictions of food type availability. Since every colony and space station had hydroponics gardens and soy crops, the bulk of the menu items were derived from those substances. In Sirius, as well as other outposts lucky enough to have fish and lizards, the menu was a bit more creative.
Matt had gotten food from the establishment before, although he commonly made a point of coming in between shifts when there wasn’t much of a crowd. It was a place to grab some food to eat at home without garnering much attention so long as a person cared little for things like taste and texture. He and Officer Perry, however, arrived at the lunch rush. Matt took a deep breath and tried to envision the California surf as he plunged into the crowd.
“Fish sandwich, onion rings, and a vanilla shake,” Matt ordered when he reached the front of the line. Perry had a soy burger, fries, and a banana shake. Matt had once tried their banana shakes; it was an experience not to repeat. Banana wasn’t a flavor that blended well to artificial impersonation; the detective didn’t think that peach did either. He avoided both flavors when he could. Still, people like Perry didn’t seem to mind the chemical aftertaste.
“There’s a table over here.” Perry carried his tray toward an empty table in the center of the dining room.
“Let’s eat outside.” Matt strode out to the patio. The meds were working but sitting in a crowded room encircled by boisterous customers might just push the pills beyond their design capacity. Perry followed behind him as Matt found a table in the corner that faced the entire patio. He took the seat that permitted him the greatest field of vision.
“Good choice,” Perry said. “We can watch women walk past.”
“Yeah.” Matt took a sip of his shake. Humanity had been making decent artificial vanilla flavoring for decades, his shake was nearly indistinguishable from one on earth. He took a sip with assurance in its bland uniformity. “On earth, we were taught, as detectives to watch people.”
“That’s not creepy at all.”
“Yeah, maybe it was. But without the system we have here, it’s how the job got done.”
“So, you like fish, huh?” Perry asked.
“I like things to be what they are,” Matt responded.
“I don’t get it.” Perry took a bite of his soy hamburger.
“That’s okay.” Matt tried his fish sandwich. It tasted exactly like the first one he ate, and every one he’d ever ordered at Say Soy. That was the point. The food all tasted the same if you were on Mars or Sirius Primary. Computer processed food; not great, but edible.
“I heard a rumor that you used to work with Chief Vanderhaar back on earth,” Perry said.
“What was he like?” Perry took a deep slurp.
“Is that why you asked me to lunch, to interrogate me?”
“Hey, look I was just curious. He arrived here and took over the position. The chief rarely changes policies or comes down on us. He stays in his office reading reports and occasionally hires someone. It makes it hard for us to get to know him.” Perry continued. “I was just hoping you could shed some light.
“He was intelligent, ambitious, and a good friend when I needed one the most.” Matt ate a couple of onion rings, luckily onions and flour grew on the station. He wasn’t sure about the other ingredients, but the rings tasted just like they did on earth, the French fries too. It was good to have some things that connected people to the world they left behind. “We were partners, that’s all.”
“Don’t you dare!” The woman’s voice drew his attention in its familiarity. She stood abruptly and stepped away from a table in the center of the patio, and the large man who loomed over her with his arm poised to strike. As she turned to avoid the blow, Matt saw her face for the first time outside his dreams. Inside his dreams, her face was covered with blue and purple bruises.
“Stand down!” he flew out of his chair and toward the man, his hand on his sidearm. “Unless you want to be pulled in for assault, I’d lower your hand.”
“What’s up?” A mouth half full of soy burger did much to garble Perry’s words.
“Oh, yes, officer. Sorry. She provoked me.” The man dropped his arm.
“You lying bastard,” she said. The man’s hand went up reflexively.
“Back away now! I won’t ask again.”
“I’d do as he says.” Perry’s unexpected voice from behind started him. Matts sidearm was in his hand before he was aware he’d drawn in.
“No need for that.” The man lowered his massive arm and took a few steps back.
“I’m through with you.” He backed away.
“You got that right.” Matt’s dream woman said.
“Do you feel threatened?” Matt asked her.
“Pardon?” She brushed her curly brown hair out of her eyes.
“Do you feel that man poses a potential threat to you? I can take you to file a restraining order. It looks to me that you have probable cause.” Matt continued.
“Threatened by him.” She laughed.
“Tramp.” The large man burst, his face flushed red with anger.
“Oh, is the big man threatened by Michael?” She said. “It was only lunch, and for the record. Michael is gay.”
Perry stepped toward the man, putting his sidearm back into his holster. “I have enough to bring you in for disturbing the peace and the threat of violence against another. I’d leave quietly if I were you.”
“Yeah, okay. Not a problem.” He turned and plodded out, bumping a few customers on his way.
“Are you okay?” Matt asked.
“Yes, he didn’t hit me.” She smiled. “I don’t think he has it in him. He’s an idiot, but a harmless one.”
Officer Perry followed him out, watching him depart the premises before walking over to stand next to Matt. “He doesn’t seem so harmless to me. A violent display like this merits a report.”
“Against him.” She said. “Look I appreciate the concern, but really he’s not like that.”
“Okay, ma’am. If you change your mind, go to the station. I’ll stand as a witness for your order.” Matt said.
“Yes, ma’am. Me too.” Perry agreed.
“No, thanks. I’ll be fine.” She grabbed her bag. “I have a class to get back to. Really thanks for your concern.”
“Well since there wasn’t an assault or property damage it’s your choice.” The officers watched as the woman walked out of the patio and down the corridor.
“What an ass.” Officer Perry noted with a low whistle.
Matt wasn’t placated. The image of her bruised and beaten was as clear in his mind as the smile she flashed as she walked away. He was certain that he would see her again, and that her face would be bruised, sure as his next breath. Not that he should care, since she was a stranger. He’d offered her help, and she declined. For the moment, there was nothing more he could do. His heart leaped, however, at the thought of that meeting.