Maha agreed to meet Caleb for lunch the next day at the spot of his choosing.
“I’ll pay of course. I know the restaurant is out of a student’s budget” He said it so fast she almost missed everything he said.
Sitting in the restaurant she watched him walk to their table looking dishevelled.
As he approached she could tell he hadn’t slept. Sitting down he laid his palms flat on the table in an attempt to steady them while he took a deep breath.
When he opened his eyes he seemed a little calmer.
“Hi. Have you ordered your food yet?”
“Uh, no, not yet. I thought it would be rude to order before you arrived”
Caleb smiled and brought up the menu.
“Order anything you want, don’t worry about the price.”
Maha stared at the menu, unsure of what to choose. She had kept her diet fairly close to Nigerian food so she didn’t recognize anything on the menu.
“Not sure what to choose? Do you have any food allergies?”
“Do you want me to order for you?”
“I have no idea what any of these foods are.”
Caleb chuckled as he glanced over the menu.
“Calamari with chickpea batter and some butternut squash tempura with garlic aioli.”
“I know what the butternut squash is but not the other items.”
“Do you like seafood?”
“Then you’ll love this. What do you like to drink?”
“Green tea, the one with toasted rice in it.”
Caleb put the order into the menu. A few minutes later their food and tea arrived.
“Was that really the first draft of your thesis?”
“Yes. What did you think?”
“It’s nearly ready for you to submit. A couple of citations and some minor grammar edits need to be done.”
Maha stared at him in disbelief. Caleb tapped his bracelet to hers while he munched on the tempura.
“There, I made notes on it to speed the process up. The sooner you finish the sooner you can get hired. I’ve already started your background checks for your security clearance.”
“Eat, I’ll wait while you get the edits done and send it off.”
Maha just stared at him.
“Here, try the calamari, it’s a type of squid.”
Maha took it and put it in her mouth.
Caleb smirked while staring at her.
“Good, now get that finished, we have more serious work to do.”
“Will it really be ready after the edits?” She said around her mouthful of food.
“Yes. Get to work, I’ll wait.”
Caleb sipped his tea and nibbled away while she got the edits done. He made sure not to stare too much but he couldn’t help watching her. He made a mental note to ask her about her eyes, amber isn’t a typical colour for Nigerians.
After a little while, Maha looked past her screen and stared at Caleb.
“Are you sure it’s ready? Because if it isn’t”
“Yes, it’s ready.” Caleb said, interrupting her.
The interruption annoyed Maha but she let it go with a small indignant exhale. Her attention returned to the screen and she sent it off for review.
“There, now I wait.”
After the screen was closed Caleb encouraged her to finish eating.
“Correction: we wait. I’ll likely be chosen to review it due to my experience.”
“I read up on you after we met in the library. That’s why I sent my thesis after you asked to see it.”
“Yeah? What did you find?” Caleb asked, smirking.
“You entered the space program at 18. You were part of the Mars terraforming team and were off-planet for more than a decade. But I couldn’t find the reason for abandoning the terraforming.”
“Well, once you have your security clearance you’ll find out.”
Maha’s heart pounded hard in her chest. What did they find on Mars and what in the hell did that have to do with her thesis?!
“Do I get a choice in the matter?”
“About this? Afraid not. We desperately need your insight. That thesis you just submitted was more progress than we have made in a year. There are heavy implications about human history in its entirety.”
“I’ll tell you more once you’ve formally joined the team. Done eating?”
Maha looked at the plates and took the last piece of food before nodding. He gestured for the menu to come up and paid.
“Let’s head out. Are you free for the day?”
“Great. Let’s go to temple square.”