Teaser: “The Vintner’s Luck”
ORI BREATHED in deeply. On the gentle breeze, she recognized the delicate fragrance of three distinct varieties of grapes. She let out a small sigh, knowing that in this part of the vineyard, she should be able to detect the kasis fruit as well. She closed her eyes and inhaled again, shutting out the bright afternoon. And then it was there—on the edge of her senses—slightly sour and wholly delicious.
Relief washing over her, she opened her eyes again and smiled. Sometimes she worried that this artificial environment would start dulling her senses, but the sunshine and the wind that felt so real to the tourists aboard the Dionysus could never trick her acute perception. Reaching out to the closest vine, she bent down and rubbed the leaves between her fingers and inspected the fruit closely. She glanced down the row of vines to her left and to her right, then buried her face in the bunch of grapes and inhaled.
Standing up, smiling, she noticed a man a few rows away with his back to her. He was humming a tune under his breath that she didn’t recognize. As suddenly as she had done, but without checking to see if anyone was watching, he mirrored her motions almost exactly, burying his face into the fruit. He cried out, “Marvelous!”
Then he walked along the row of vines, continuing to sing quietly, almost under his breath. He looked like a human—she’d met those before on the ship—but something was off. Perhaps it was his paleness. Certainly, he didn’t dress like the humans she had met, standing out in his high-collared cape. He continued walking down the row and just as she couldn’t quite make out the song anymore, he burst into full volume. She couldn’t help but smile.
* * *
Later that afternoon, when the edges of the artificial sky were tinged with pink, Ori stood near the bar looking over the tasting menus. Little café tables sat in a grove of trees, with branches stretched out over them. There were groups or couples at every table except one, where she noticed the strange pale man sat alone. One of her newer bartenders approached his table. It seemed that everything he offered the man was turned down. Ori positioned herself closer to hear them.
“…enjoyed that Earth Carménère on my last visit. What do you have to offer that’s a bit more… bold?”
“Well, we have a Centauri Garnacha that is quite popular.”
Ori chuckled. She didn’t think this man had any interest in what was popular among tourists. The pale man chuckled as well.
“The Garnacha? I’ve tried it. I’m looking for something new.”
Ori decided it was time to save the young bartender. She scanned the bottles in her reserved section and selected a rather unique and fragrant Recioto from Florana, which she was certain he couldn’t have possibly known.
Ori walked up to the man, bottle in one hand and an empty glass in the other. When he glimpsed the bottle, his face broke out in a large grin.
“Now that’s more like it!” he exclaimed. “The people on Florana have developed some of the most complex flavours you’ll find for the next two centuries!”
Pushing aside this odd remark from her mind, Ori replied, “Well, they should, with each cask taking over four hundred years to age.”
She uncorked the bottle and poured him a large measure. He raised the glass, examining it carefully and then smelling it deeply. He tipped the glass toward her in a cheerful gesture and emptied the contents in one drink.
“Ah, just as wonderful as I remember it,” he reminisced.
“You’ve had it before?”
“Oh yes, quite a long time ago. Feels like a lifetime ago.”
Ori nodded. Recently she had been feeling that way herself. She reached for an empty glass and, with no hesitation, settled into the seat next to him. “I must say, you seem to have almost as much appreciation for the vineyard as I do!” She smiled and added, “Almost.”
The man filled her glass, then his own, and raised it in a toast. “To fine wine!”
She raised hers as well. “And fine company.”
They took a long drink. Setting his glass down, he said, “This is exactly what I was looking for.”
Ori was so curious about this man, she hardly knew where to start. “So how is it that the Dionysus left port over a week ago and I’m only just now seeing you in my winery?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Your winery?”
“Perhaps I’m too possessive. It’s just that I’ve grown rather attached. This is my third year as head vintner.”
He clapped his hands together. “Marvellous! Noble pursuit!”
She pressed on. “Ah, but you’ve avoided my question!”
He thought for a moment, then said, “Well, I’ve only just been brought aboard. I wanted to relax over a glass of wine before undertaking a rather important mission I have set for myself.”
He twisted the stem between his fingers, watching the wine swirl against the glass. She got the sense she wasn’t going to get many specifics out of this mysterious stranger. “What’s your name?” she asked.
He raised his glass to her again and replied, “I am the Doctor. And you?”
“Orizrekit’Gehm. You can call me Ori.”
“Gehm?” He thumped his glass back onto the table and leapt to his feet. “Gehm?! Not the Gehm? The Gehm family from Adrilia? The Gehm family of the Gehm winery, makers of the finest wine in the sector?”
She laughed and pulled on his arm to get him to sit back down. “Yes, that Gehm. Thank you, I’m quite flattered.”
The Doctor reluctantly took his seat but his enthusiasm couldn’t be contained. “I have always meant to visit that winery but something or other keeps getting me side-tracked.”
Ori stood immediately and held up one finger to him. “Don’t go anywhere! I’ve been waiting for just the right person to come along for me to share this with!”
She rushed off behind the bar and opened the door which led to the cellar. Her excitement mounting, she clamoured down the steps, wondering which of the Gehm wines she should offer. The Taurasi from 178 was quite good. But perhaps she should start with something drier—the Orvieto? Lost in thought, she sifted through crates and boxes.
From the other side of the cellar, there was a sudden noise. A movement. She put down the bottle she had been examining and listened more closely. She couldn’t hear anything, but she realized she had the distinct feeling she was not alone.
“Hello?” she called out.
She hesitated, then walked further into the cellar. In the darkness, she could just make out what she could only assume was a large crate or barrel. The way the small amount of light reflected, the container seemed to be made of metal, but she didn’t have any shipments that arrived in metal cases. Two rods stuck out from its side, and it was covered in rows of spheres protruding from the metal casing. Anxiety started to rise in the pit of her stomach, though she couldn’t identify why. There was movement again as the whole top of the container swivelled around and a pole attached to it turned toward her. At the end of the pole, a circle of light began to glow softly, coming to life.