In A Good Place
By Karen Hart
Disclaimer: The Xenosaga series is the property of Monolith Software, Inc. and Bandai Namco. I write these fanfictions for love of the game(s) and make no profit off of them.
Juli Mizrahi could smell the oregano as soon as she stepped through her front door. She inhaled as she shrugged out of her coat and hung it up in the closet. She took a moment to look around.
It was a new house, located on Fifth Jerusalem's surface, much more spacious than her apartment on the orbital tower. She and MOMO had transferred her old furniture planetside, and the living room had looked barren with only the small grouping of sofa, chairs and coffee table in it. So they'd added a couple of bookshelves, a few small tables, another chair and a curio cabinet to the space. Juli looked forward to filling up the unused surfaces.
The old apartment had been less of a home than a refuge, a place for Juli to escape the world, periodically. It'd also been close to the Contact Subcommittee headquarters, and far (in a manner of speaking) from the lab where MOMO had resided. Now those perks were no longer quite so enticing. Though she did miss the view of the planet glowing beneath her.
Juli wondered if she was overcompensating. It still felt a little strange to be on good terms with MOMO: she'd spent years thinking of MOMO as her ex-husband's replacement for Sakura. Juli'd never forgiven Joachim for denying their daughter's death, not when she'd had to force herself to accept it. She'd never allowed herself to see MOMO as her own person.
Not until Jan Sauer had voiced the thought she'd forbidden herself to think. Not until MOMO had almost destroyed herself, because she thought the data that'd been stored inside her was more valuable than she was.
Juli turned to the large front window, focusing on the late afternoon sunlight and the big shade trees in the yard in an attempt to clear her head of the dark turn her thoughts were starting to take. She and MOMO were family now, and she was going to try not to botch things.
She took another breath of the herb-tinged air, exchanged her boots for comfy slippers, and wondered what MOMO was making tonight. The two of them had started bonding over cooking lessons.
The kitchen was bigger, too, with more cupboards, counterspace and light than Juli'd become accustomed to. Her old counters had been crammed with jars of dried staples, vegetable baskets, canisters stuffed with utensils and a stack of cooking flimsies that was several centimeters thick. She'd had to do most of her work at the pass-through counter to the living room. Now all her cooking paraphernalia was spread out with room to spare.
There was even an island full of drawers, with two wooden stools, painted white.
She heard voices before she reached the kitchen doorway. MOMO was at the cutting board, piles of chopped fresh oregano and parsley in front of her. To her left was a bowl with what looked like three, maybe four diced tomatoes, their seeds retained. To her right was her connection gear, powered up and showing Jan Sauer's face. Farther right was the cooktop, where a skillet sizzled gently and a large pan of water was beginning to boil.
"–been asking me to tell you that Layla has taken on a new employee at Our Treasure," Jan was saying.
"A kid?" MOMO asked, scooping up the herbs and dumping them in the tomato bowl. She turned to Juli. "Welcome home, Mommy!"
"No, an adult," Jan said. "He's behaving well, though."
Juli had heard something about this. Several months ago the Kukai Foundation had been attacked by Gnosis, and the proprietor of the Our Treasure Inn had been killed. His eight year old daughter had taken it upon herself to run the inn in his place. Apparently she'd developed a fear of adult help, believing they were only interested in taking her family's inn away from her. MOMO and Rubedo had had a hand in changing her mind.
From the bowl of tomatoes, and the shallots that were just browning in a puddle of olive oil, Juli surmised that they were having tomato-cream penne. She pulled the block of parmesan cheese from the refrigerator and rummaged in one of the drawers for the hand grater. Out of the corner of her eye she saw MOMO pour the tomatoes into the skillet; they hissed.
"It's good to be back down. There was a point I was worried I'd have to stay up there another day." Juli picked up her daughter's connection gear, while MOMO made a quick dive into the fridge for the butter and the jar of basil pesto. "And hello to you too, Jan."
Now that she was looking at him straight on, she noticed that he wasn't in his quarters on the Durandal, or the ship's bridge, but the park. And he'd called her Juli, not Dr. Mizrahi, in a place where he might have been overheard. She didn't know she was smiling until she noticed her cheeks start to hurt.
Juli shook her head, and set the device where Jan could see both of them. "Is Rubedo doing well?" She got to work on the parmesan.
"He is. Procuring Alby appears to have been a wise idea on his part. Though allowing a dog on the bridge has been some cause for concern. His collar has been outfitted with a motion sensor to prevent people from stepping on him." Jan paused. "That reminds me: Banny says there's a file in the shared database you should see."
MOMO nodded. "I'll look after dinner." A pat of butter and a spoonful of pesto went into the skillet. She gave everything a good stir.
"Don't forget to salt it," Juli reminded her.
"Right!" MOMO salted the skillet, and the pan of water, before measuring out the penne pasta. "How'd you get out of an extra day at the Subcommittee headquarters?"
Juli shrugged and looked upwards. "I threw a fit."
MOMO looked shocked. "You did not!"
"I did. From the beginning, I was very clear about what the arrangement would be. I would spend four days at the station, then six down here with you, then four up there, six down here, et cetera. There was no emergency, and my work can be done remotely."
MOMO stirred the penne into the water. "But if there was no emergency, why did they ask you to stay?"
Juli took the empty tomato bowl and the hand grater to the dishwasher. "They thought they could either bully or guilt trip me into staying. Neither tactic worked."
"It would seem they'd grown accustomed to having you already present on the station, and they don't like the change," Jan observed.
"Indeed, no! I should've moved to the planet years ago," Juli said, with a sidelong glance at MOMO.
MOMO flushed. "It's okay. It's good we're together now."
Juli pulled out one of the stools at the island, and sat down. "It is good." She looked around again. Yes, there were all her kitchen tools, but there were signs that this was MOMO's place as well: a set of pink dishtowels, bordered with orange flowers, and matching potholders; red salt and pepper shakers, shaped like cats with black and white ribbons around their necks to set them apart; a new set of measuring cups, with pink handles. She realized somewhat belatedly that MOMO was sitting beside her, and that MOMO had brought the connection gear with her.
There was movement in the screen's background; Jan was leaving the park and heading for the Durandal's train.
"Headed home for the evening," Juli asked, "or is your shift starting?"
The image steadied. "I'm returning to my quarters. I'll need to recharge in a couple of hours," Jan said. "Until then, I'd like to continue our conversation."
"I was wondering," Juli said, "did MOMO call you, Jan?"
"No, I called MOMO. I've been trying to maintain some social contacts, lately. And I'd hoped to have a chance to talk with you as well."
That got Juli's attention. "Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"
The image shook, as if Jan had momentarily lost his grip on his own connection gear. "No, there was no particular reason."
MOMO turned the screen towards her. "Oh, Ziggy! I almost forgot to tell you: I beat Mary's high score on Hakox Dance a couple of days ago."
Jan nodded. "She knows. She checks the rankings frequently. It appears she can't get past the level called Rhythm Shock."
"Tell her the trick is to throw your weight as far to the other side as possible when the cube starts tilting." MOMO stood up to give the sauce and the pasta a stirring.
"I will relay the message," Jan assured her.
The conversation seemed to stall a bit, and Juli took some time to look at Jan. They often spoke in an official capacity, but she thought she detected something warmer in him during these personal calls. She might have been imagining it.
"You're looking well, Juli."
Juli played with a strand of hair. "I'm doing well." She looked over at MOMO. There was a lot she wanted to say, but maybe not in MOMO's hearing.
Jan's eyelids lowered. He understood.
"Oh yes." Juli turned to MOMO, who'd been pouring some heavy cream into the sauce. "Do you mind going with me to the lab?"
Juli saw MOMO's back stiffen, and tried not to wince. MOMO had lived at the Mizrahi Lab for most of her life. It was understandable if she'd rather avoid it.
When MOMO turned around she was smiling. "Of course I'd like to go with you. Can I see my old room?"
For just a moment Juli's eyes were damp. "I had it dismantled a few weeks ago. But your things are in storage." She took a deep breath. "You're not going back there."
The tension went out of MOMO. "Mommy!"
Juli stood up. "If you're adding the cream, it's probably close to done. Shall I chop up some basil?"
"Yes, please. And the word is 'chiffonade.'"
"Now you're being a showoff." Juli went to pick some leaves from the basil plant.
MOMO took a slotted spoon from the canister and began transferring the penne to the sauce, where they'd finish cooking.
When Juli brought the basil to the cutting board, it occurred to her that she might have gone a little overboard. She shrugged. She'd never had too much basil, before.
There was a sound of clattering dishes as MOMO brought out the heavy ceramic pasta bowls. Forks and napkins emerged from separate drawers. MOMO set the island.
Juli took the bowls to the cooktop, and turned the heat off under the skillet. She started spooning out the pasta. The parmesan went on next, and the basil on top of that. Juli finished by sprinkling a few pine nuts on top. She carried the bowls back to the island.
MOMO had gone back to talking with Jan. "Will the Durandal be in our space anytime soon?"
"We should be in port next month."
"Early next month, I hope?"
Juli took a bite of her penne. It was good.
It was very good.