After the thing (case?) with the crath, it took a few tendays to recover from my injuries, and during that time, I was laid out. It hurt to walk to the bathroom, and it hurt to lie on my couch and do nothing. For the first few days, I needed help to sit up whenever anyone came by. The painkillers helped, but I had ten to fifteen broken bones, several torn muscles, a mild concussion, and the lung that had collapsed hurt. It wasn’t a fun vacation.
A nurse from medical came by to check on me every day, and I had visitors, but I hated being trapped in my apartment worse than being in the Hold. Whenever I was alone, I would write in my journal, draw, watch some shows, and stare out the window at a world I longed to rejoin.
I don’t want to make it sound like I was ignored. People came by, and I appreciated their company, don’t get me wrong. Jenny brought breakfast from the cafe every morning, and it was something different each time. Kapada’Zahn, K’Jar, and a few other friends visited throughout the days. And just when I was getting ready to fall asleep, Maria came by with dinner. We ate and talked, and I tried to be as hospitable as I could for the perfect lady.
Those evenings with Maria made the pain worth it.
Sure, I could talk about all the conversations I had, about the things I learned, or about how I got to know my friends a lot better. I could talk about how some broadcasts on the ship are inspired by shows on earth (and they are very different). I could just type a list of the library of books I read, all available in the Commons library, and let you entertain and teach yourself.
But I won’t. Instead, I’ll talk about food. Since there are hundreds of species on the ship, there are hundreds of cultures and ecosystems to draw recipes and ingredients from. Yes, you can make a grilled cheese sandwich, a human favorite, but you can choose from thousands of different types of bread and just as many cheeses. And that’s just one human recipe! You could eat a different thing for every meal every day of your life, and not only would you never repeat yourself, but you would also probably get no more than halfway through the menu.
I didn’t work at Jenny’s cafe for very long, but I picked up a few non-human recipes while I was there. I’m not a professional cook any more than I’m a professional artist, but I know my way around a kitchen, and when Jenny’s cafe needs help, I’ve been known to lend a hand. I also taught the entire Eelonam District how to cook, and they haven’t starved to death yet. In fact, they seem to be putting on some weight.
Which is where the problem began. I guess the eelonam were impressed with my cooking, and other people started to notice. Jenny got calls for me every day but didn’t tell me while I was in recovery.
After medical said I was fully healed, I wandered around the Commons for a few days. I checked in with places and people I knew, bought groceries, and begged a laundry to clean the clothes I’d worn during the attack (I loved that shirt). Half a tenday later, though, the shirt was a loss and I decided to replace it. I boarded the tram to visit the Repook District to buy a new shirt and maybe a few fresh steaks, and, after a few stops, found myself alone in the car with a member of a species I didn’t recognize.
She was tall and heavy, a mammalian humanoid (I sound like a biologist…) with long hair, thick limbs, and an aggressive business suit. She had an attaché at her feet, and as she stood, she picked it up. I tried to ignore her, but every step she took was determined, and I didn’t like that they were taking her to me.
When she stopped, it was right in front of me, just as I’d feared. She looked down at me and held her attaché in both hands in front of her. “Excuse me,” She said. “Are you Jack Winslow?”
“That’s me. What can I do for you?” I asked. I shouldn’t have.
She smiled and drew a pad from her attaché. “I’m Jerrilia, with Orbira, Gazadini, and Zubralo. We’re a brokerage in the Jolofan District, and we require your services.”
The jolofran. I don’t want to say they’re my least favorite district on the ship, but their obsession with deals, business, and ‘climbing the ladder’ pushes a lot of other species away. They’re pushy and goal-oriented, but, to be fair, they’re the only species who can deal with the truple on even footing.
I looked up at Jerrilia and put down my notebook. “Ok, what are my services that you require?” I should just read while I’m on the tram.
“You have a reputation for fixing problems.” Jerrilia said. “You negotiated a trade deal between the Estud and Repook Districts and the eelonam. You convinced the obiey to work with a lab in the Commons to find a solution for their protein problem. Rumor has it you’ve ever entered the Kurama District.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, but that’s just because my friend Jyo lets me in.” She looked impressed, but it wasn’t that big a deal. I just knocked. “So, what do you want me to do? Talk to the Hold about letting your cousin free?”
Jerrilia laughed. “No, my cousin belongs in the Hold.” She said. I hadn’t expected that. “What we need is a better deal with the eelonam. My firm manages the equipment lease between them and many companies in the Jolofran District. Pads, handhelds, screens, even a few of the displays in the Commons, our companies lease them all from the eelonam.”
“And you can’t talk to them?” I asked.
“We’ve tried.” Jerrilia said. “The director of the district won’t budge, and we can’t find anyone else to negotiate with us.”
I chuckled. “That’s because eelonam manufacturing is a mess. One team builds something and takes it to the boss. If they like it, it’s sold and a bigger team makes them faster. If not, it’s thrown away and the team gets back to work.” I paused. “You do know they collect information on everyone who uses their devices, right?”
Jerrilia nodded. “I do. That’s why there’s a confidentiality clause in our contract.”
“To the eelonam, ‘confidential’ just means ‘more valuable’,” I said. “there are no secrets in the Eelonam District, just information of varying worth.”
“See?” Jerrilia asked. “You know so much more about them than we do. Please, Mr. Winslow, we need your help. If we can’t reach an agreement with them, we’ll have to walk away, and finding a new contractor could take cycles.” She held out the pad. “Please, we’re willing to compensate you very generously.”
I took the pad and rolled my eyes. There was a lot of corporate legalese, most of which I skimmed through, but at the end was a number, a large number, under the heading ‘compensation to Mr. Winslow’.
It was a really large number.
I don’t want to give the impression that I was overly interested in the money. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in any of it. I don’t care what company rips off what other company, as long as they don’t mistreat their customers. Like I’ve said before, the eelonam can collect whatever information they want on anyone who uses their devices as long as the consumer knows about it.
The main reason I did it was to get Jerrilia to leave me alone, but more than that, I’d never run into a jolofran before, and if I turned her down, I doubted there was any way I’d be invited into their district. I said yes, read the contract, then signed it on the tram. With that done, Jerrilia took the tram to the Jolofran District and I redirected to the Eelonam District.
There was everywhere else I’d rather be, but I went anyway. As the tram rolled away, I stood on the platform and saw the piles of discarded food crates everywhere. The eelonam aren’t the cleanest people on the ship, and when they’re done with something, they just throw it out. It was a mess, but I made my way through it, made a mental note to call Alteer and Hasssa about their discarded crates, and reached the gate without getting covered in trash.
The Eelonam District isn’t locked, but they don’t like visitors, so I called PowerFist74 (yes, that’s his real name) from the gate screen. His assistant answered and we had a brief conversation. I was told that PF (that’s what I call him, he hates that) would be out in a minute.
Half a minute later, the gate opened and PF walked out. He glared at me, climbed onto a stack of crates, and glared at me harder. “I’d heard you got beat up by some crath punks.” He said. “It made me happy.”
I nodded. “Yeah, nice to see you, too. I need to talk to you about a deal with a company in the Jolofran District. You lease devices to them, they want a better deal, what can we do about this?”
PF laughed. I knew he wouldn’t agree right away, and the laughter still surprised me. “Wait, wait wait,” he said and held up one hand. “My least favorite customers sent my least favorite person to negotiate a new deal? And they thought that would work?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think Jerrilia thought of that. She found out I’d worked the deal between you and the Estud and Repook Districts, and thought I had an ‘in’ with you.”
Laughter echoed around the platform, and it was annoying. “How much are they paying you for this?” PF asked. “I mean, it’d take a lot to get you back here. I only came out to see if you had any scars I could laugh at.”
“If it helps, I had ten or fifteen broken bones, a concussion, and a collapsed lung.” I said. “What I have now is a chance to make some money, so what do you need to happen for your prices to go down?”
The way PF shook his head frustrated me, but he’s just a frustrating person. “Look, these leases are a waste of time. We let someone use our products, they give us money, and after a few seasons, they give us the old product back. It makes money, but then we’re stuck with old merchandise that we can’t sell. The only way to make this deal better is to make it cheaper for us to make the stuff.”
“Ok, how do we do that?” I asked. “Where do you get your parts from?”
“We make them here,” PF said. He pointed to his district. “but we get the materials from the Urgad District. Conductive metals, silicate, stuff like that. If you want a better deal for the jolofran, get a better deal for us, too.”
I thought about it for a minute, and while I was annoyed by this whole endeavor, I still did it. The best way to improve relations with the Eelonam District was to help when I could, and this was the best chance I was going to get for a while. “Fine,” I said and held out my hand. “I’ll see what I can do.”
PowerFist74 shook my hand and smiled. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
PF hopped down from the crates and went back into the district. When the gate was closed, I turned and made my way through the piles of trash to the platform terminal. As I did, I stepped into something that I hoped was old food and nearly slipped. I groaned, wiped my foot on some nearby discarded cloth, and pulled out my handheld.
Jenny answered. “Hi, Jack.”
“Hi, Jenny,” I said. “Who do I talk to about cleaning up some trash?”
The supervisor of my apartment building is an urgad, and underneath his gruff demeanor, he’s really a nice guy. I’ve gotten to know him over the seasons, and he’s a friend, it just takes some time to get used to him.
Now, take that and multiply it by an entire district. The Urgad District isn’t very inviting, but I can’t blame them.
The platform outside the Urgad District had heavy moving equipment everywhere. Lifts, loaders, empty crates, and even a few tractors were placed in an orderly fashion around the platform. I passed it all and wondered what it was for as I approached the gate. There was no sign, so I walked in.
Through the gate, I found a passage carved through stone. It led a short way before it opened up to a cavern, but it wasn’t a cave. Instead, the walls were polished, pillars held up the high ceiling, and ornate patterns had been carved into every surface. Pictures hung from the wall, of scenes I didn’t recognize, and the floor was covered in a large carpet.
“Can I help you?” A voice asked, and I turned to find its owner.
I waved at an urgal who stood by a stack of crates. “Hi, I’m Jack Winslow,” I said. “I need to talk to someone about a deal with the Eelonam.”
The urgal put down his pad and shook his head. “Sure, let me just stop whatever I’m doing to help you. You didn’t think to call ahead, by any chance, did you?”
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “And I wouldn’t have even if I had thought to. The eelonam told me this was where they got a lot of the materials they use in their devices. They asked me to help them get a better deal.”
“Why would you do that?” The urgal asked.
I shrugged. “Because the jolofran want a better deal from the eelonam, and if I ever want to visit their district, I need to stay on their good side.” I said. “Plus, they’re offering me a lot of money.”
That got the urgal to laugh, and I’d like to think it helped my case. “Can’t argue with that! How’d you get roped into that job?”
“I have a reputation, I guess.” I said. “I know it’s out of nowhere, but is there anyone I can talk to?”
The urgal shrugged. “Sure, let me make a call.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
He walked over to a desk in the corner, and as I watched him move across the room, the details all coalesced into one complete picture. What I’d assumed was an entry hall to the Urgad District was actually a warehouse. The pictures on the wall were safety bulletins, and each pillar had a number on it to indicate storage sections. Once I had a better understanding of the Urgad District, it made sense for the shipping department to be closest to the gate.
After a while, the shipping manager came back. “The chief will be down in a minute.” He said. I was directed to a chair by the desk and the urgad went back to work.
I only had to wait a minute or two before a voice called my name. “Jack Winslow?” A female voice asked. “I’m Chief Horpis. What can I do for you?”
I looked up and was impressed. Horpis is everything Jerrilia isn’t. She’s tall for an urgad, so a little shorter than me, muscular, and utilitarian. I smiled. “Well, I need a favor.” I explained the job I’d been hired to do, and everything that’d happened so far.
After she listened to my story, Horpis nodded and motioned for me to follow her. “Let me show you around. Then we can talk.” I stood and followed.
The Urgad District doesn’t make any sense if you spend too much time thinking about it. Every room, hall, highway, and structure in the district is carved out of stone, like a series of caves cut into the ground. There are three mining companies in the district and more support businesses than you can count. I was treated to a traditional urgad lunch in a restaurant. The food was hearty, a ‘meat-and-potatoes’ kind of meal as they’d say on earth. The restaurant was open and well lit, a soft, cool breeze blew across the dining area, and for a moment I forgot I was in a cavern carved out of rock.
Horpis showed me an apartment block, built by one of the mining companies for its workers. There were no huts, or stacks of ‘coffin apartments’ as they call them in the Commons. These apartments were as nice as mine, with fully equipped kitchens, at least one separate bedroom, and a bathroom with a shower that put mine to shame. As we entered we found a group of workers on their day off. They socialized in a common area, and as I met them all, not a single smile was faked.
Our last stop was one of the mines, which Horpis had to get special permission to show me. As we entered, a question occurred to me, just as it probably occurred to you. “How is there a mine inside a spaceship?” I asked. “We’re in a massive spaceship, how is there stone to mine?”
“I knew you would ask that,” Horpis said. “but I have no idea. No one does. Maybe the Finders brought an asteroid onto the ship so we could get building materials. You’d have to ask them.”
I nodded, then another thing occurred to me (I never said I was smart). My apartment building is made of concrete. “So they put in somewhere you can mine for precious metals and other stuff, but what happens if you run out of ore here? Are there other districts to mine?”
Horpis shrugged. “Who knows?” She asked. “We have legends that say this wasn’t our first district, though. The stories say our first district ran out of materials to mine, we’d carved it completely hollow, so we were directed to another one. Maybe that’ll happen again, but that was hundreds of seasons ago.”
We walked down the mine shaft, and as we turned a corner, Horpis pointed at a wall. “Look here.” She said. “See this?”
I looked close, but couldn’t see anything. The wall was the same red-gray color as everything else, but as I focused, and squinted a few times, a thin line of silver came into focus. I was shocked, but after I saw it the first time, I couldn’t not see it again. “What is that?”
“It’s silver.” Horpis said. “They must have missed it. This is a new mine, after all.”
I stared at the thin line of silver in the wall and nodded. “Ok, so you mine the district and sell materials to whoever buys them. I understand that. And this looks like a lot of work. But what would it take for the eelonam to get better rates on the materials they buy?”
Horpis laughed again. “You’re persistent, I’ll give you that.” She said, then sighed. “If we lowered prices for the eelonam, we’d have to lower prices for everyone else. That could make them all buy more, which would mean more work for us. Urgad have never shied away from working harder, but we have to be careful how much we pull from the mine, and how fast we do it. The only way we could offer the eelonam a better price is if we had another source of materials.”
I nodded. “Ok, so I need to find an empty district that can be mined. That’ll only take forever, assuming the Council wouldn’t shut me down.”
“Now you see our problem.” Horpis said.
“Yeah.” I held out my hand. “Thank you for showing me you’re home, Horpis. And for answering my questions.”
Horpis shook my hand and led me to the gate. She explained more of the Urgad District as we went. We passed schools, shopping centers, and the cleanest refineries I’d ever seen, all of them strange and familiar at the same time. At the gate, she said goodbye and went back to work while I thanked the warehouse manager who’d first met me. Then I left, but don’t worry, I’ve been back many times.
On the platform, while I waited for the tram, my handheld rang. It was Jenny. “Hi, Jenny.” I said, holding the handheld to my ear.
“Hi, Jack. I found out who takes care of the trash. Each district takes care of their stuff, and there are companies in the Commons that do it here.”
“What about the tram lines?” I asked. “Or the platforms outside of the districts?”
Jenny paused for a second. “Well, no one, really.” She said. “I guess the ardani pick up some, but they don’t clean everything, they just collect trash when they find it.”
I tilted my head (as though she could see that). “Who are the ardani?”
There’s a type of story back on earth that I call ‘the swap meet story’. People come to swap meets to find things that are considered out of the ordinary. Antiques, old collectibles, hand-made trinkets, stuff like that. Everything is sold in little stalls or booths, with one or two people who handle everything. Sometimes they’ll sell for money, but often they prefer to trade, like a barter system. In ‘the swap meet story’, a character finds something they want, but the seller wants something specific in trade. To get that specific thing, the character has to talk to another seller, who wants another specific thing, which the character has to obtain. Rinse, repeat as necessary to make the story interesting. I’ve seen ‘swap meet stories’ with ten to fifteen trades, and it’s just a long train of deals where everyone gets what they want.
As I stepped off the tram onto the platform outside the Ardani District, I felt like I was in a ‘swap meet story’. I hate ‘swap meet stories’.
The Ardani District is almost as close to the Underplace as the Hold is. The platform outside the district was occupied by piles of trash, each pile organized and neat. As I passed I saw paper bags, plastic bags, cartons, scrap metal, and a large pile of electronic devices. I wondered how many of them had been leased to the jolofran as I passed.
The gate was cleaner than any I’d seen, and the screen was in perfect working order. I entered the gate and walked into the district, not sure of what to expect and still surprised. Inside, the district looked like an abandoned city. Buildings had been built near the gate, but none were occupied. The road, which stretched off toward a distant town center, was cracked and pot-holed, though it had been repaired somewhat. Holes were covered with plates of scrap metal and cracks were filled with a dirty, but secure-looking material.
I made my way past the abandoned buildings and reached the center of the town, and still hadn’t seen a living person. Plants grew through the cracks of sidewalks, and trees grew in wild, unplanned manners. One building had been destroyed when an old tree fell onto its roof. I thought that I had walked into an empty district by accident and took one last look around. “Hello?” I asked the empty town, in case someone had waited for me to speak first.
That was when I noticed two small eyes that looked back at me from the shadows of a storm drain. I waved, but the creature was gone before I was done. Skittering footsteps could be heard from the sewer drain, and, without another thought (or thought at all), I rushed over to it and climbed down.
The sewers under the abandoned town were nicer than many towns I’ve visited. The tunnels were wide and tall, and a river ran down the center. Walkways were built on either side of the river, and the water that flowed was clean and clear. The tunnel was bright, illuminated by lights that hung from the wall, and in the distance, I could see a running figure.
I slowly made my way in that direction, so as not to scare the figure, and as I got closer, I held up my hands. “Hey, sorry, I know, I’m probably intruding,” I said. “but I’m just looking for someone from the Ardani District. This is the Ardani District, right?”
“Yes.” A small, quiet voice said ahead of me.
“Ok, thank you. I’m Jack Winslow, I’m just visiting.” I stopped and thought for a second. “Sorry I chased you into the sewers. I really don’t know what got into me.”
I heard a giggle but didn’t know the source. “That’s ok.” The same voice said. A head peeked around the corner, small and furry with dancing whiskers. “What do you want?”
That took me back. “Well,” I said. “I was curious. A friend said you guys cleaned up trash in the ship, and I wanted to find out more.”
“Are you the ‘Jack Winslow’ who caught those truple a cycle ago?” The voice asked.
“Uh, yeah, that’s me.” I said.
“Ok!” The voice said. As she spoke, figures stepped out of the shadows all around me. Children, adults, men and women, even a few senior citizens, a few dozen Ardani stepped forward and allowed themselves to be seen. On average they were a little shorter than me, with thin hands, thick legs, and fur all over their bodies. They had slightly prognostic jaws, reminiscent of mice on earth, with long noses and delicate whiskers. One stepped closest to me and smiled, holding out his hand.
“Hi,” The closest Ardani said. “I’m Quick. Welcome to the Ardani District.”
I shook Quick’s hand. “Thanks.” I pointed to indicate the sewer we were in. “What is this? Where are we?”
Quick gave me a wry look as the other ardani around us chuckled. “We’re in the sewers.”
“Yes, sorry,” I said. “why do you live in the sewer? Why does the town up there look like it’s been abandoned.”
“Follow me.” Quick said, and we started walking. The ardani around us moved back into the shadows and didn’t so much hide as they went about their business in a way that suggested that it was natural for them to go unnoticed.
We made our way through the sewer tunnels, though I didn’t know where we were heading. “A lot of us are new arrivals,” Quick said. “there was a catastrophe on our world. It destroyed our civilization more than a hundred of our years ago. The last new arrivals from before the catastrophe died seasons ago, and the rest of us are just used to living like this.”
Quick led me around a corner, and as I turned, I saw exactly what ‘living like this’ meant. We found ourselves in a wide cavern. Cisterns were scattered around in the floor and streams flowed into them from the main sewer line. Around the cisterns were buildings, one, two, and three stories tall, all different, all made from scavenged materials.
Walls and doors were built with old sheets of metal, plywood, and plastic, and many of them still displayed the markings from their source. Roofs were constructed of the same materials, with discarded pads used as sunroofs and windows. There was a garden in front of every house, with plentiful fruits and vegetables in the lights from the ceiling above.
“Wow.” I said. I knew I was in the sewers of a semi-abandoned district, but I saw the quaintest village I’d ever seen, stunned that everything was made from other species’ trash. “Yeah, this is an improvement.”
Quick laughed. “Thank you.” She said. “We would rebuild the town above, but we can’t really afford it. There isn’t a big market in trash, and none of us have the skills to do anything else. Most of us are new arrivals from a world without civilization, but we make do.”
We walked past some buildings and I took a closer look at the garden. The soil was gray, with small flecks of red and yellow, but the soil outside the planting area was regular dirt. “Why is the soil a different color? Do you add some kind of fertilizer?” I asked, then paused. “Do I want you to answer that?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think,” Quick said. “but it is dust. We’ve collected it from other species and compacted it into a planting compound.”
I nodded and wasn’t as grossed out as I thought I would be. “So, it’s skin flakes, stuff like that?” I asked. Quick nodded. “Well, as long as someone’s getting some use out of it.”
“We try to get a use out of everything,” Quick said. “I know, it’s probably not as exciting as other districts, but we call it home.”
“Quick,” I said, looking around the town and chuckling. “Every district is exciting. Thank you for showing me the exciting parts of yours.”
We continued to walk, but as we passed a row of houses, I glanced toward the wall of the cavern. Around the outside of the village were stacks of materials, all in organized piles. Plates of plastic, metal, and wood were placed in neat rows, with planks, boxes, and rolls of cloth as well. The only pile that wasn’t as organized was a heap of discarded electronic devices. That pile, on its own and mostly forgotten, reminded me of my original job, and suddenly my current diversion made me feel not one bit guilty.
“What are those?” I asked as I pointed to the pile of devices.
Quick looked, then groaned. “Oh, those. They’re useless. People just throw old electronics away, and even we can’t find a use for them.”
I walked toward the pile. “Is this all of them?”
“No,” Quick said. She eyed me with suspicion. “not even close. We have thousands of them stuffed into crevices around the district. Why?”
“I have an idea.” I said and turned to Quick. “How would your people like to have the money to improve their lives? Learn new skills, maybe fix the town above us?”
Quick looked stunned. “Um, that would be great.” She said at last.
“Good!” I said and smiled. I pulled my handheld from my pocket and called a new contact. “Hi, Horpis? Jack Winslow! How good are your processing plants?”
The idea was so simple I was ashamed that no one on the ship had thought of it earlier. I really was. I even called my Councilor (not Bendi) to ask why no one had thought of it before. He didn’t have an answer for me.
I guess the ‘swap meet’ worked out. Here’s how it went: The Ardani District collects discarded electronics and sells them to the Urgad District. The Urgad District processes the devices and breaks them down to their base components (silicates, conductors, even the silicon boards are broken down). They then sell the recycled components to the Eelonam District, who use that to build devices for their lease customers like the Jolofran District.
Jerrilia wasn’t thrilled about the recycled part of it, but once the eelonam sales representative proved that they were just as good as new, and looked like new, she was fine. In the seasons since this deal, I’ve seen plenty of jolofran walking around with leased devices like badges of honor, like the recycled stuff made them special or something. No one else cares.
I’ve told this story before, in recent seasons, and people always give me a look like they think I’m crazy. These days the idea of an ardani that isn’t well dressed is preposterous. They’ve rebuilt their district into one of the most sophisticated districts on the ship. They’re more public about their scavenging, too, but that’s now, and we were talking about then.
I was at a park near my apartment, notebook in hand when Jenny found me. She was careful to stay out of my line of sight, but I knew she was there. “Hi, Jenny,” I said as I finished a picture of a tree from the Iglahi District. “What can I do for you?”
“You went for a walk and came back rich, Jack.” She said. “How’d you pull that off?”
I shrugged as I put away my notebook. “I don’t know. Some lady on the tram asked me to help with something, it wasn’t illegal, as far as I knew, so I helped.”
Jenny sat on the grass beside me. “Not bad for a short-order cook.” She said. “I suppose you’re just going to sit around and draw now. Live comfortably for the rest of your life.”
“You think so?” I asked with a laugh. “We both know I’d get bored in a week. I’m actually going to the Jolofran District tomorrow to look around. Jerrilia said she’d give me a tour.”
“Next you’ll say you’re going to the Dravir District for some holy festival.” Jenny rolled her eyes.
“Who knows?” I asked. “Stranger things have happened.”