INT – Day – Space liner hallway.
Helton walks down the passageway. He’s dressed in his normal shipboard attire: collared shirt, earth-tone vest with several pockets, dark slacks, “five-finger” style shoes. There are several others headed in the same direction, each with a different style of clothing (though it’s mostly of simple cut but stylish and in much brighter colors). The hallway has a sense of faded high-tech elegance. As they walk, the ships announcement system drones in the background.
Announcer: (calm and pleasant female voice) Passengers on B schedule proceed to their assigned dining rooms on level E, corridor F, for the traditional first night formal meet-and-greet. Your seating assignments will be at your tables if it was not on your ticket. Please arrive promptly at oh-six-thirty…
Helton and the rest of the passengers turn and stream through a doorway into a large, low room, with some two dozen or so oval tables that can seat 10 people each. It has the same sense of faded elegance – nice chandelier, but with a few lights out, somewhat worn seat upholstery, indirect lighting that is inconsistently bright, colors that don’t quite all coordinate perfectly as if identical replacements couldn’t be had. Each table has a busy artistic centerpiece and a small sandwich-board style screen with a list of names on it. Most of the tables are full or nearly so. Helton wanders by glances at one with several openings, then goes on to the next table with spaces. He sees one with his name on it. There are already three pairs of people there, Doctor Local & wife, Senator Snol & wife, PENGER TRASK & wife LUCRETIA TRASK, the Liner Engineer (an older man in disheveled ships ships uniform), and beautiful East Indian woman, BIPASHA, mid 20s, well-dressed. He takes a seat between Bipasha and Lucretia. Everyone (except Liner Engineer) says some variation of “Hello”
Everyone at the table: greeting/hello/how are you/welcome
Helton: (nodding head to acknowledge folks at the table)Howdy.
He picks up the slim flat e-reader (about the size of a sheet of paper, no bevel) and scans it. He touches a few items that light up to order.
INSET: he touches LAMB & Rice Pilaf, vegetables* (note at the bottom says “* synth”) and Iced Tea. Most of the items have the asterisk, and the price totals at the bottom as he chooses.
Meanwhile, his table-mates chat quietly among themselves, and there is a droning of others doing the same, the the hum of the air system and engines, and the clatter of silverware. He sets the menu down and looks up, listening to what they are saying. The wives are generally playing up what their husbands do, and the Doc and Senator are unsuccessfully trying to act modest while playing up their skills and influence. Trask is more seriously modest, is a rich mining / manufacturing magnate, the doc a neurosurgeon, the senator on several committees.
He glances at Bipasha and she is looking at him. Dressed in a nice brightly patterned dress, nice jewelry, nice hair, very attractive, she nods in greeting.
Helton: I’m Helton. I hope I’m not taking anyone’s seat here?
BIPASHA: I’m Bipasha. No, it’s free… I’m headed for Niven. You?
Helton: Yes. Visiting my sister and her family. (he looks inquiringly at her)
Bipasha: I just finished school- my uncle has a import/export business there.
Helton: You don’t sound to thrilled about that.
Bipasha: I had kind of hoped that I could travel more and find a job on my own before my family talked me into anything, but… He’s a honest man, and has a good business, so I’ll work for a few years while I look for something with more excitement and possibilities. And you? Any business, or just the family?
Helton: Wellllll… (he looks a little uncomfortable)
Bipasha: Running from the draft?
Helton: NO! I served my time, but… well, it just got a bit complicated.
Bipasha looks a bit disappointed. Helton drinks a sip of water.
Bipasha: Being a soldier is a perfectly respectable profession, if you are a good one.
Helton: Agree. I just didn’t like the guys giving the orders. I’m a teacher now. Well, was… My sister is on Niven. Her husband needed some help, and I was headed that way, and things got…
Bipasha: Yes, lots of plans getting changed these days.
Helton: Isn’t THAT the truth.
A waiter shows up with a tray, and serves them their dinner.
INSET: the plate put before Helton only has the barest resemblance to lamb and rice pilaf.
Bipasha: (eying the plate before her skeptically) I thought I ordered the vindaloo?
Helton: Hmmm. I’m sure it’s edible, even if it isn’t quite what you had in mind. This is supposed to be lamb and rice.
They both tentatively take a bite of their respective dishes, and look at one another, then simultaneously make a face and shrug as if to say “eh, it’s OK, but nothing to write home about” and keep chewing.
Fade to black