But better than either.
Capitaine Elienne Desorlay looked from the object that had just appeared on her desk to the man who'd put it there, and back. "What is it?"
Lieutenant Charles Etay smiled at her, bland and innocent. "It's a rimpon."
"Baise moi." Eli sniffed again. Yes, definitely laundry. Maybe with a little bit of that flavoring they put in the double-price coffee at that place on Rue Gervain. "And what's a rimpon when it's at home?"
"It's a fruit," Etay said calmly.
Eli snorted. "I can see it's a fucking fruit, farmboy. Where did you get it?" Merde, there's some sort of fruit black-market and Charlie's the mastermind. It's the only explanation.
Etay pulled out the chair from his desk and turned it around, sinking into it to rest his arms on her desk and his chin on his arms, staring at the golden not-quite-globe with a faint smile. "Someone gave it to me."
"Someone gave you a rinpond," Eli said flatly.
"Rimpon," he corrected. "Yes."
"For what?" Eli eyed him suspiciously. "You selling that fine body of yours for produce, farmboy?"
The smile turned into a laugh, almost soundless. "She said I was too pretty for her."
Eli poked the rimpon with one finger. "I bet you don't hear that too often."
"No," Charlie admitted. "Not too often."
"So she gave you this as a consolation prize? Who's she, anyway?"
"Amieta. And I think it was more of a reward," Etay said thoughtfully. "Or something."
Eli narrowed her eyes. "Reward? For what?"
Etay shrugged. ""Dunno. I got her sister to confess to murder and arrested her CTO on an outstanding warrant, and she gave me that."
Now it makes sense. "Have you tested it? For poison?"
"Poison?" Etay said, sounding shocked. "She wouldn't poison it, Eli. It's fruit!"
"Fortune fuck me and save me from innocent boys," Eli picked up her handset. "Yeah, connect me through to the lab. I have a - "
Etay reached out one long arm and pushed the button to cut the connection. "There won't be anything left of it by the time they run their tests. Or at least, that's what they'll tell us. And it isn't poisoned." He smiled. "Amieta wouldn't do that, Eli. She'd just throw me out an airlock or something. And not waste the rimpon."
"Uh-huh." Eli folded her arms. "Well, you eat it then."
He picked up the rimpon in one hand and studied it. "I will."
Eli shook her head. "I'll make sure and tell a lot of nice lies about you at your funeral. So, you made a couple of arrests? They must be happy with you upstairs."
"One arrest," Etay corrected. "And I don't think they're miserable, no."
"One?" Eli asked. "You said ... what, the sister was the CTO too?"
"The CTO is a CTO," Etay said. "Sarakai Voutelen, you can look her up. Warrant made out, oh, years ago. Nasty little incident at a colony. Lot of deaths."
"And that's who you went looking for?"
Etay shook his head, smiling. "No. M'selle Voutelen was a bonus. Like the rimpon. No, I was looking for the sister. M'selle Ciarente Roth."
Eli scratched her nose. "And you found her."
Etay tossed the rimpon into the air and caught it. "Yeah."
Fortune fuck me, it's like getting Jules to tell me about his day at school. "And she confessed, this Ciarente Roth."
"But you didn't arrest her."
"No." Etay's gaze traveled from the rimpon to Eli, and then back. "She's a podder."
"Exactly." Etay set the fruit down.
"And you met her? The podder?"
There were a dozen questions that Eli knew she should be asking. Questions like What fucking murder, farmboy? and Is this connected to all those files from the University of Caille? But ordinary human curiosity won over all of them. "What was she like, when you met her?"
The corner of Etay's mouth twitched up. "She had a whole bowl of apples on her kitchen counter."
"Well, sure," Eli said. "Podders are rich, aren't they? Like, crazy rich?"
"So," Eli said, and shrugged. "I'd have a whole bowl of apples on my kitchen counter, if I was crazy rich. I'd have a kitchen counter big enough for a bowl, too. So what was she like besides rich?"
"Not what I expected," Etay said thoughtfully.
"What did you expect, then?'
He gave her a rueful smile. "You know. Like the holos. Master of the cluster? Or mistress, I suppose. Guns and dangerous stares and so on. But she was ... "
Etay shrugged. "Soft. Gentle, you know?"
Uh oh. Eli hadn't raised three sons without knowing the signs. "Pretty?"
Etay shrugged again, but his fair complexion betrayed him, the faint color clear in his cheeks. "I suppose you could say that. I didn't really notice."
"Sure you didn't," Eli said dryly. "Very pretty?"
"I guess." Etay looked intently at the rimpon, rolling it back and forth with one finger.
"Mmmhmm." Eli folded her arms. "Farmboy. This woman, this capsuleer. She might look sweet, like that rimpon. But she's poison."
"Rimpon isn't sweet," Etay corrected her. "An acquired taste, I was told. Some people eat them with sugar." He picked up the fruit and studied it. "And Ciarente Roth is just a girl, Eli."
"Charlie," Eli said flatly. "She's a podder."
"She's still just a girl," Etay told the rimpon.
Just a girl, yeah, right. Fortune fuck me, there's no way this ends well.
She looked at him, SCID's literal and figurative golden-haired boy, slouched in his chair with the easy grace of a man who'd never made a clumsy movement in his life, and her heart ached the way it had when she'd found Tomas crying in the cupboard beneath the stairs and had no good answer for his tearful question But Maman, why doesn't Jacques like me the way I like him?
Pretty as he was, her farmboy had nothing to catch a podder's jaded glance, used to the best eye candy the cluster could offer, and better for him that it's so, bad as that'll hurt. The air was thin where capsuleers lived, up in the rarefied heights, too thin for mere mortals to breathe long and live.
Why did she have to be pretty?
The silence stretched out, thinner and thinner, until finally Eli shook her head, and sighed.
"What?" Etay asked.
Eli nodded at the rimpon. "Are you going to eat all of that?" she asked.
Etay gave her a small, slow smile. "You want some?"
"We're partners, aren't we?" Eli said. "What's yours is mine."
Etay nodded. "That's the rules," he said.
"That's the rules," Eli agreed.
What's yours is mine, all right, she thought as Etay turned back to his desk and rummaged in a drawer for a knife.
What's yours is mine.
Poisoned fruit, podders and all.