He can’t concentrate on his report, no matter how hard he tries, no matter how many times he tells himself that the Council can only take so much before they over-regulate. Still, he cannot help but think of Nihlus’ choice in shore leave purchases. He could care less about where Nihlus found it. He could care less about how many credits of his meagre allowance he spent. The question is: why? Why does he have that thing?

Scenario one. Saren’s sitting at his desk. Suddenly, he hears music from the upper deck. The commons. Percussion music. The notes seem genuine–and the ship’s broadcast system isn’t that good. Nihlus must be up to something. Saren tenses. No. Not his prized tableware. The harmonics do match very well. He rushes upstairs, only to find Nihlus happily tapping away at a soda-bottle-xylophone.

Ludicrous. Nihlus can use his voice to that end already.

Scenario two. It’s past midnight and a long way into their FTL journey. Saren leaves the cabin to find something edible and more palatable than the emergency carbohydrate pack in his cabinet. The staircase smells of alcohol. The overhead lights are off in the commons; only the ankle-high strips, efficient but dim, provide illumination. He therefore trips over something. Looks down. Nihlus is passed out on the ground, and half the bottles are empty.

Not likely. Nihlus would not dare smuggle contraband. Saren made that quite clear in the beginning. Nihlus toed the line sometimes, but not when the other side of the line was hard vacuum.

Scenario three. He’s awakened from slumber by an alert from the VI. The airlock’s been opened. He bolts up. As he runs, the AI reports that the thrusters are off. Drifting. He finds Nihlus smiling, only because he’s been caught in the act. Helpfully, the AI feeds him the view to the stars from the airlock cam. Ten glass bottles, drifting into the darkness, tell-tale slips of torn cardboard inside. Nihlus must have some form of sugar overdose.

No. Much too far-fetched.

Scenario four. He wakes up the next morning, checks in at the bridge. Does a double-take at the state of his usual seat. The cheeky little–

His door chimes.

“Come in,” he says, dismissing the lock.

Nihlus is leaning against the frame, an uncapped bottle in each hand. “They’re on to something with this organic soda thing. Tastes like I used to make with sweeteners and water and an abandoned oxygen tank behind the factory. Except better. Want some?”

Saren stares at the bottle offered him. It’s half-empty. The full one is in Nihlus’ other hand, but he doesn’t notice.


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