Dressed in his smartest casual clothes, and with his curly hair slicked back as neatly as he could make them, Barney made his way to Léana Stirling’s rooms. The pair had an attraction to each other, one that they had both admitted they could not have foreseen. Despite their countries being on opposite corners of the Earth, their deeply entrenched love of their homelands gave them a level of friendship that was not easily found, let alone shared.
The trip between the Venusian colonies and Earth was drawing to a close, with landfall at the Berlin Interplanetary Industry Depot expected in the next few days. Barney happily thought of his planned walkabout from Darwin Airport across the wide expanses of Arnhem Land, and finally being able to return to his hometown of Nhulunbuy. With the travel to and from Venus, and his two Venusian day service, a full roster was just over two Earth years in duration at seven hundred and ninety two days. He always walked back to Nhulunbuy to satisfy his spiritual longing for connection to the land he and his ancestors had called home for over thirty thousand years.
His reverie was firstly interrupted by the remembrance of his deal with Claudio, meaning he would have to make stops in Switzerland and the Central African Republic before he could return home. His manager’s love of his hometown had given Barney a reasonable knowledge of Geneva, and to see the influences of European history would be an interesting thing. He knew next to nothing about the city of Bangui, despite it being the capital of the Central African Republic. He knew only of its difficult history due to mining interests, which he could sympathise with.
The second interruption was his finally arriving at Léana’s living quarters. He knocked on the door, and heard some movement behind the door. She opened the door, and Barney smiled at what he saw. Léana was wearing her favourite emerald dress, which hugged her figure just enough to attract interest without seeming to flaunt it. Her normally tied back hair was loosened, falling in long curls around her shoulders. She returned his smile.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Barney. The food is getting cold.”
Barney stepped into her quarters. Being an interplanetary freight ship, the rooms were uniform in their sizing and layout. He noted some of the small touches of Léana in the room, such as a large leather-bound book of ancient Irish history on the edge of the main table, and a vase of blooming yellow flowers.
He looked to her, and gestured to the flowers. “I know you have a preference for all things Irish, but those flowers don’t look very Irish at all.”
“But they are,” she answered. “Those are blooming shamrocks. Most people outside of Ireland think only of the small, green-leaved variety. They were quite rare for a time, until some fiercely proud horticulturalists endeavoured to bring back the true shamrock. They were not happy with white clovers or wood sorrels being treated as real shamrocks. No-one realised the difference until they bloomed, and the fervour spread quickly.”
Barney appraised the flower with his newfound knowledge. “They are a pretty flower, so they did well to increase their numbers. The little flowers seem to be rounded or pointed, and some seem claw-like. That reminds me of a plant called the Kangaroo Paw, which is found in the south-west of Australia, and flowers red, green and sometimes yellow.”
Léana nodded at his words. Suddenly, she fell into a fit of coughing that doubled her over. She pulled a handkerchief from her dress pocket, and covered her mouth with it. When the coughing subsided, she took the fabric from her mouth and looked at it. Her gaze darkened, and then she quickly replaced the handkerchief in her pocket.
Barney looked at her, concern clouding his features. “That was a nasty fit of coughing. Have you been seen the ship doctor about it?”
She shook her head. “It’s only started in the last day or two, and we’re almost back on Earth. When I’m back home in Athlone, I’ll see the doctor there. He always says the ancient divinities who resided on the Hill of Ushnagh aid him in curing the sick. And besides, it’s just a tickle in the back of my throat. You know those ones that seem impossible to dislodge, no matter how hard you cough?”
He nodded. “My tribe and I get that quite a lot in the dry season, when the winds kick up a bit more.” He looked at the food on the table. “This looks a traditional spread.”
She gestured to a bowl coloured green and white. “This is Colcannon, which has cabbage and mashed potato mixed with chives, spring onions or leek. Then we add in some butter and some salt and pepper for some extra flavour. Such a dish was a staple in the older days.” Her hand moved to another, which had some meat in it. “And this is Coddle, which is braised pork sausage and bacon mixed in with potatoes and onions.”
A smile crossed Barney’s face. “So it isn’t an exaggeration about the Irish and their use of potatoes.”
Léana shrugged her shoulders. “Potatoes seem to be the easiest to stock these freighters with, alongside the lettuces and cabbages, so it would certainly seem that way.”
The pair sat down, and took turns in scooping the food onto their plates. He looked across the table at his host, who looked back and smiled. He could not be sure, but it seemed to him that her eyes were not as pale a blue as he remembered.
“What do you have planned for your Earth time, Léana?”
“Catching up with all the relatives I haven’t seen for a couple of years, and taking part in the Samhain festival that will start a couple of weeks after I return home. But, most of all, I just want to enjoy as much of the landscape and culture of Ireland before it’s time to return to Venus.”
Barney nodded. “You are a lady after my own heart, separated only by geography and culture.”
She laughed at his words. As they looked at each other across the table, Barney could have sworn he saw small globules of black swimming across her eyes. He had never seen anything like it before.
She noted the shocked look on his face. “What is it, Barney?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “My eyes are playing tricks on me. Would you do me a favour?”
“See the ship doctor before we arrive on Earth. I would hate to think that your cough could be something more.”
Léana raised an eyebrow at him, and narrowed her eyes. “You’re lucky I like you, Barney. Fine, I’ll go see them tomorrow.”
They ate in silence for a time before Barney spoke again. “Did you manage to fix that AMRD unit?”
She nodded. “I have, but those black diamond-like grains did some significant damage. It was such as I’d never seen before, but it was repairable in the end. A new bit of knowledge for the maintenance department is always useful. But that was not the most interesting thing.”
“Those grains changed colour. After I had been working on the unit in the common room, I took it back to the maintenance room. I picked out a container to place the grains in, and when I dropped them in, they had turned pure white. It was like the black melted out from the diamond.”
– X –