"…Is it so much to ask for that something would actually go right for a change?" Suzee was kneeling next to one particular Protomix relay circuit that didn't seem to be working correctly. In fact, it didn't seem to be working at all.
Catalina stood over her, hands on her hips as she pondered the problem. If Suzee looked hard enough, she could actually see the outline of the dresser that her invisible friend was leaning on, back on Yensid. The reminder of home, even though it was incredibly minor and insignificant, set Suzee off all over again. More than a little angered, she threw the wrench she was using across the room.
"Hey, hey… Easy," Cat said, wincing a little and taking a step backward. It didn't really matter how close she was in proximity to the other engineer… Nothing in Suzee's dimension could reach across to Cat, and vice-versa. "I think you should really go check out the other engine room. You know, the one I usually worked from. That bit there…" She paused, pointing to the relay circuit, "I think that's one of the parts that's accessed along with the direct link to the ion glide, and that's…"
"…Everything can be accessed from this room," Suzee insisted, stomping across the cylindrical engineering compartment to retrieve the wrench. Blue light reflected off crystalline surfaces, effectively brightening the entire area even though there was little original light to begin with. It was casting odd shadows, too. Normally, the light on the Christa balanced itself out, but recently, bits and pieces had been failing, and any spare electrical went to boost auxiliary systems. It happened now and then. Catalina tried to explain to Suzee that Christa would eventually right herself, but the Yensidian refused to listen.
Needless to say, Cat was getting a little angry herself, mostly because Suzee was completely insistent on driving the crew completely nuts. "Did you even listen to me before? This isn't the first time this has happened!"
"I know," Suzee spat. "It's just that I can fix it!" Regretting the words almost the instant she spoke them, she still had no thoughts of taking them back. It was true, after all. Suzee could fix the ship. She knew she could.
"And you're implying I couldn't."
Suzee pretended to think for a while. "Yep. Yeah, that's exactly what I'm implying. Because you never did!"
Cat stared at her, silently. It wasn't easy to contain her temper.
The other girl had to fill the silence somehow. "We both know how much of a piece of crap this ship is."
They could both hear the Christa groan, and for a moment, neither of them said anything, opting to hold their ground and make absolutely sure Christa wasn't going to send Suzee flying somewhere. A jumptube… Into the focus crystal. Maybe even out the far airlock and into the secondary control center. None of the options was remarkably pleasant. Finally, the Saturnian looked at her friend, incredulous. "You hurt a Starship's feelings. Good job. I'm really impressed; that's not even something I can do!"
"It's true! Have you seen everything that's breaking around here?"
Throwing her hands up into the air in frustration, Catalina turned away, pacing a couple times over the conductor bracket and through a stabilizing ionizer. In reality, she was likely just striding across a metallic floor, safe at home. Suzee's home, anyway… The thought made Suzee groan. Again. Cat turned back to her. "What now?"
"I'm trying to work here," was the snappish reply.
"And I'm trying to help you."
The wrench clattered to the floor again. "Well maybe certain STARDOG cadets should just go away and leave certain engineering geniuses alone, and work would actually get done!"
The phrasing was different, but the idea was quite similar to a situation in which the pair had found themselves before. Both of them stared at each other, and then Cat smiled.
Suzee shook her head. "No, I didn't—"
"I owe you one," Cat said. Then she turned away and faded from view.
"I know you're listening," Suzee mumbled to herself, as she attempted to use her bare hands to pry a reactor casing off a circuit registry. Then again, she herself hadn't listened most of the time she'd decided to disappear from Cat's senses. Suddenly her hand slipped and threw off her balance, and she fell backward onto the floor. Deciding she'd done enough for the time being, the young engineer leaned backward onto a convenient beam and closed her eyes.
What had it been? A comet. Comet Suzee-Catalina was what they had eventually decided on, at least if you asked Suzee for her end of the story. It seemed stupid now, but they'd fought over the name of a comet, which ultimately ended with Suzee vanishing out of spite.
"…I wasn't gonna come back, either," she continued, just in case Catalina happened to be listening. "But I did. Turned out you really didn't need me." She paused. "Cat?"
Frustrated, Suzee banged her head against the beam.
A moment later, the inner compartment lock opened. Likely, it was someone looking for her… After all, she hadn't been up to the Command Post ten minutes ago, like she said she was going to.
"You and Cat had a fight, and Cat left."
Not what she was expecting to hear from Radu. She opened her eyes so she could roll them at him. "Not exactly your business, is it?" she asked.
He looked at the floor. "Commander Goddard sent me down here after you. Rosie's console just went off-"
"Aren't you even gonna defend yourself?" She snapped.
He shrugged. "I just overheard… I mean, it's not like I couldn't." He pointed over to the intercom, which was slightly dented from when it had been hit by the wrench. The transmit button was stuck down. "The whole ship heard you."
Suzee rattled off a string of curses, and Radu hurried over to the com to shut it off before the whole ship was treated to more of Suzee's swearing in several different languages. As soon as the transmitter was off, Harlan's voice came in loud and clear. "That was great, Suz. Any chance of an encore?"
She responded with something rather unpleasant, but Radu didn't transmit it through. After making sure the engineer was done, he sent, "We'll be up in a minute."
"Copy," Harlan responded.
She stared at him. "Great, now they all hate me. Not like that's any different from before!" The girl covered her eyes with her hand, as if that did anything to hide her.
Radu chuckled a bit. "It's nothing major… We just heard you talking to Catalina. We know she's there. Or… was there." There was a long pause as he actually pondered what to say. Unable to think of anything, he proceeded to shift his weight from leg to leg as he watched her. She was crying… He could hear the irregular breathing even though Suzee was doing her absolute best to hide it. After what had happened, then the knowledge that the whole ship heard what happened… Radu could empathize. He kneeled down in front of her, and after a moment, she looked up.
Her eyes were red, though she was putting forth a rather valiant effort to prevent the tears from falling. Radu wasn't great at comforting people, unfortunately… So as the distraught girl waited for him to say something, he remained silent. Eventually, her attention fell back to the floor.
"I'll be up in a minute."
Radu nodded, pushing himself to his feet. "I know… It must be stressful to worry about…"
"I said I'd be up in a minute," Suzee snapped, gesturing toward the inner compartment lock.
He didn't leave right away, though. Instead, the Andromedan cadet paused in the circular doorway, looking back over his shoulder at the girl. Having been through more in his life than one person should have to, Radu definitely had some sort of understanding as to what it felt like to be an outsider. Both of them certainly fit that role well… He, the only Andromedan cadet ever to set foot inside Starcademy, and she, the only Yensidian anyone aboard the Christa had ever seen.
"Are you still here?" She asked. Her voice lacked the edge that it carried before.
Radu waited a moment, stepping away from the door and back into her view. "Yeah, I am."
She looked up at him and smiled a bit. Somewhere along the line, she'd dried her eyes, and though they were a little red, it didn't look like Suzee was crying anymore. "You know, you don't even understand how easy you have it, do you?"
Not understanding, Radu ad-libbed. "Catalina'll be back. It's not like her to—"
Suzee shook her head. "No. No… I mean, you've mostly been accepted by the crew. Me? I just messed up. Majorly."
"Are you kidding? Have you seen some of the stuff Harlan's done?" He laughed, offering his hand to her to help her up. "What you just did doesn't even compare. They… They'll forget about it… In a couple days. I mean… Harlan might rib you a bit…"
"Exactly," she responded, accepting Radu's hand and allowing him to pull her to her feet.
"Besides," Radu continued. At least they trust you. Harlan still looks over his shoulder now and then. I mean, sure… We're friends, but nothing's ever going to change the fact that I'm Andromedan."
Suzee headed toward the portal. "Cat's told me that some of the crew think I'm stuck-up."
"And the rest of the crew… is afraid I'll break them in half one day." Radu shrugged, somewhat uncomfortable with the admission. He had, on occasion, heard them talking, though. Suddenly, he really didn't feel like going back up to the ComPost. Why had they sent him to get Suzee? Why not Rosie or Bova? Maybe they were afraid he'd…
"You want to go up to the other engine room?" the Yensidian asked, effectively interrupting Radu's thoughts. "Before she left, Cat said there was something up there that might take care of the relay circuit. I should probably check it out."
Radu was about to again remind her that the Christa would eventually fix itself, but anything that would delay their return to the Command Post was fine by him. It wasn't exactly like him to break the rules, though, so he hit the button on the com and called through to Commander Goddard. "Commander, we're heading up to the primary engine room to check on something really quickly. We'll be up as soon as possible."
After a moment of radio silence, the commander's voice came through. "Is everything okay?"
He looked at Suzee, and she shrugged. Radu hit the button again. "Everything's… fine. We just need to check out the… the… uh… relapse shortcut."
Suzee rolled her eyes. "Close enough," she muttered.
"Alright," Goddard responded, after a short period of deliberation. "Get up here as soon as you can. I can't exactly run a ship without the navigator."
"Roger that. Radu out."
He cut the link, then turned to face a very shocked-looking girl. "Something wrong?" he asked.
"You notice how he didn't mention anything about running the ship without an engineer?"
Radu blinked. "I'm sure it just slipped his mind or something… He's… Well, the Commander has a lot on his mind and all. You know… Having to look out for the rest of the crew."
She didn't say another word, opting to push past him and into the blue-lit hall that led to the main corridor alley of the ship. Radu followed behind, keeping far enough back so that he didn't interrupt the girl's brooding. Like some of the women he'd met, Suzee was just about as unpredictable as they came… One moment she was sweet-tempered, and the next, she was completely the opposite. Her various patterns of changing moods were impossible to map, which meant that if she was angry, there wasn't necessarily a good reason for it.
This time, however, she'd been embarrassed. Perhaps there was a better reason than usual for her to be mopey, though Radu still followed at a minimum of three steps behind. Suzee seemed to innately know the way right to the other engine room, anyway, so he didn't feel the need to offer her any advice on getting there. It gave him time to tag along behind and enjoy the Christa for her beauty. Everything within her was a combination of mechanic and living components, seamlessly connected in the walls, the lighting, the crystals… In fact, when the pair passed by the jumptubes, Radu swore he could almost hear laughter.
He didn't have time to ponder on that, though. Suzee rounded into another hall, and Radu paced himself so as to keep up.
"I do more on this ship than they know, you know that?"
Radu jumped at the suddenness of Suzee's comment. "What?"
She paused in front of the engine room door to allow it to open. The motion sensor detected her there, and the tri-segmented door parted to allow them through. "I keep the Christa running, and no one even cares. They care about Cat. And if you were to disappear, they'd care about you."
This wasn't like Suzee at all. Something was bothering her. Normally she'd be confident and cool as if nothing ever fazed her. This time, it was different.
Perhaps it was because Catalina was evidently missing.
"You're not thinking clearly," Radu responded. Suzee stared at him as she lifted the cover off one segment of the ion glide. She seemed to be expecting him to continue, so he did. "…There's a few other people on board the ship that can navigate… You included. You really think they'd miss me if something happened to me?" Pausing, he took his own statement in, before answering his own question. "…Probably not."
Suzee hadn't meant to make Radu feel bad, which was just one more strike on her conscience that day. She was really getting to everyone, it seemed. First Cat, then everyone else on the Christa… And when it seemed Radu had been going out of his way to help her, she'd found a way to crush him, too. Sighing, she pushed the cover aside and leaned over the artery-like wires that led away from the Protomix. "Just… come on over here. Maybe you can help."
That wasn't likely, Radu thought, though he kneeled down across from Suzee, anyway.
She pushed aside a couple of the wires, and winced as one seemed to come loose. Both of them knew that wasn't good. It was Suzee that spoke first, holding up the detached wire. "I gotta get this connected back to the hyperdrive…" Looking at it for a moment, she puzzled over its presence. "You know, I don't think I remember this ever being here. Here. Hang on to this for a minute while I figure out where it came from."
Radu reached forward to take the wire, and brushed Suzee's hand in the process.
The surge was instantaneous and unavoidable.
Time slowed as both of them realized they'd been very seriously electrocuted. Their eyes met briefly, seeing the arching purple lightning streak between them.
"Can you get a reading on that?" Harlan asked, turning around to look at Rosie.
"The power surge?" The Mercurian asked, hopping down from her own console so she could reach Suzee's. "I'm not really sure how all this stuff works."
The lights in the command post flickered, then came back on. Crystals here and there and viewscreens situated around the room also dimmed, only to return to normal several seconds later.
"This seems normal," Rosie finally stated, hovering over Suzee's console.
Bova stepped down from Tactical to join Rosie at Engineering. "Unless, of course, the indicators are malfunctioning as well," he said. "Then we might all actually be in trouble."
"Don't be silly," Rosie chuckled, albeit nervously. "I mean, seriously, what could happen?"
"That's probably the last thing you should have said," Commander Goddard mused idly. Because when someone said that, something inevitably went wrong directly afterward. "Harlan, call down to the primary engine room. See if Radu and Suzee are okay, and get them back up here."
"I'm on it, Commander," Harlan said.
They should be dead. That was her first thought. In fact, she could still hear the faint crackling of static around her. The hum of the engine was way too loud to be normal… Thankfully, she'd escaped with her life.
She sat up, surprised to see she was on the opposite side of the ion collector… At least, Suzee thought she'd been on the other side... It must have been a serious electrocution to throw her so far. Looking around, she noted that Radu was nowhere to be seen. As she struggled to her feet to look for him, she brushed some stray hair out of her face, not surprised that it seemed frizzier than normal. Electricity tended to do that to a person.
She attempted to call for Radu, but her throat was too dry to manage it. With the abnormal high-pitched whine of the engine continuing, too, she'd be surprised if Radu could even hear her voice.
Though sore all over, Suzee stepped forward to look over the ion collector, only to see herself lying on the floor on the opposite side, eyes just opening to look up at her.
Both pairs of eyes widened, staring at each other.
"Grozit," Suzee said with Radu's voice.
"Radu? Suzee? You guys down there still?"
Suzee turned her eyes toward the com unit on the wall. They weren't really her eyes, technically, but seeing as she was having a bit of an out-of-body experience, Radu's eyes would do just fine.
"It's Harlan," Radu said with Suzee's voice. There was a slight hesitation to it, which was something Suzee wasn't exactly familiar hearing from herself. It was quieter, too.
Uncharacteristic for herself was the fact that she was speechless, and felt like the best mode of action would be to panic or something similar. She was Andromedan for crying out loud. And not only was she Andromedan, but she was Radu! As she attempted to reach the com, she tripped over one of the ion collectors, falling to her knees.
"…I'm a little clumsy," Radu said.
"This has got to be a dream. No way this is real."
Radu narrowed his eyes, watching as Suzee attempted to push Andromedan hair out of her face. He had to agree with her… It did seem like something right out of a nightmare. Standing, he realized that the effort to move was smaller. He felt a lot more graceful… Then the realization hit him that he was female. Female! And what was worse, he was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt. Without gloves. That just didn't happen at all… He would have felt embarrassed, but as he was looking down at himself, he heard his own voice snap rather dangerously…
"Suzee, I don't really think…"
"…What could have happened?" she wondered to herself, ignoring him and pacing back and forth on the side of the engine opposite where Radu was standing. She nearly tripped again, and Radu hurried to catch her, only to find out that she could no longer support Suzee's weight. It made perfect sense after they'd both fallen to the floor that he didn't have a quarter the strength he did five minutes prior.
"Reflex," he muttered, rubbing the bump that was beginning to form on the back of his head.
"Look, Radu…" She sighed. Radu could see the barely contained rage in his own eyes, which was, to say the least, uncommon. "I'll figure this out on my own. This… is way out of your league."
Interestingly enough, she could feel a quiet calm in her mind, almost as if it was a naturally occurring trait for Andromedans to be pacifistic. Endorphins, she told herself. Calming agents. Chemical make-up and type that had nothing to do with her own mind. She wasn't about to lose herself. She was also slightly apologetic at the hurt look Radu offered her, and it was with great effort that she resisted the urge to apologize.
On the other hand, Radu felt a lot more confident than normal, almost as if there were no shields to his moods. Nothing to carefully guard him from saying anything he would regret later. He stopped himself just in time from telling the Yensidian off. Instead, he offered something more passive. Something his mind was more used to dealing with. "…I'm guessing you're hearing everything right now."
"I'll learn to screen it out."
Radu shook his head. "It's not that easy."
They stared at each other for a long time, until finally it was Suzee that broke the silence. "What do you think we should do? We can't tell the others. They'll think we're crazy. I mean, it's not like they're not used to thinking their crew is nuts. Look at Catalina."
"Catalina wasn't nuts," Radu retorted. "Unless you're still imaginary."
Suzee took an involuntary step back, just as Radu muttered a rather quiet but contrite apology. "No," he continued. "We can't tell them yet. But we'll have to eventually. The problem is, I failed engineering back at Starcademy. I know you can probably navigate…"
Suzee averted her eyes. Radu paused, before questing, "You can't navigate? You can do everything else, but you can't… I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."
It wasn't like it was her fault. Though she'd read a lot about practical flight and space travel, she'd never navigated before. She'd never had any actual field experience. Which meant she was pretty much good for nothing when it came to navigation. Finally, she offered a rather loaded, "No. I can't navigate."
"I'm guessing we have each others' talents," Radu offered. "Which means you probably can, to some degree. Can you feel where we are?"
After a moment's hesitation and introspection, her eyes widened. "…Yeah, I can."
Radu smiled. "Good. You'll do fine. Navigational skills are something an Andromedan is born with…"
"…But engineering is something you learn," Suzee finished.
For the sake of driving the point into the ground, Radu added again, "And I failed engineering."
Suzee brushed her hair back, again. It was a habit, Radu noticed. She was nervous. She played with her hair when she was nervous. There really was a good reason for her to feel that way, too; after all, they weren't exactly who they should be anymore. After a couple seconds of pondering, she began to pace again, casually removing Radu's gloves and placing them on a bracing beam that ran around the Protomix. It was quite warm in the engine room, and they'd both been down there a while. Still, the thought of himself not covering his skin made Radu shudder. Pocketing the discarded gloves, he, too, began to pace, if for nothing else to try to alleviate the stress he was feeling. It didn't really help him think of a solution, but at least it was easier to concentrate on how many panels there were on the floor than to think about how they were going to change back.
After a while, he leaned against the bracing beam where the gloves had been previously resting, and looked into the protomix casing just in front of him. There was a slight reflection, frosted and upside-down, and his stomach did a flip-flop when he realized it was Suzee looking back at him. Uttering a strained syllable out of surprise, he pushed himself back from the reflection, thinking it was perhaps better to lean against the wall.
Looking around the engine, Suzee was just about to ask him what was wrong when Harlan's voice came over the com again. "Guys. Commander Goddard is gonna come down there if you don't get your asses up here. Seriously. The engine can wait."
She paused, torn between asking if Radu was okay and responding to Harlan. Eventually, she opted for the com. Pressing the button, she replied to his message. "Harlan, I'll be up in a sec. There was some sort of electrical surge. Suzee's working on it."
"Yeah, we felt it a bit up here. Is it bad?"
"Not that bad. But a couple minor systems are down." She thought for a moment, then added, "She says… something's disconnected from the… I can't remember what it's called, but…"
Harlan interrupted her. "Don't worry about it. We just need you up here. We have no idea where we're goin'. Besides, I'm sure Suzee's happier down there anyway."
Temporarily distracted by Harlan's accusation that she wouldn't want to be with the rest of the crew, she faltered with the comlink, which resulted in the ComPost only getting bits and pieces of her message. "Alright… I'll… be right up. Su… Radu out."
She cut the connection. Almost immediately, Radu turned her around by her shoulder. "Are you crazy? I don't know what to do…!"
"They're less likely to see that if you're down here," Suzee replied, pulling her shoulder away with more force than she'd meant to. Radu nearly fell. "Look, you said it yourself. I should be able to navigate just fine… But you're going to have a tougher time hiding the fact that you're not me!"
"You did a good job."
Suzee arched her eyebrows. "What?"
Radu smiled a little. "…Being me. You almost had me convinced. You're a pretty good actor."
Biting her bottom lip, Suzee turned to leave. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't exactly trying…"
"There you are," Commander Goddard said as Radu finally arrived via the jumptube. The Andromedan stood there for a long while, staring at each of them in turn before heading to his post. Slightly confused, the commander turned to Miss Davenport, his eyes asking "What the hell was that about?" better than words possibly could. The teacher shrugged.
Harlan looked back at him briefly, too. "You alright?" he asked.
"Fine," Suzee responded, a little more snappishly than Radu would have. She stared at the navigation console as if it was something completely foreign.
Rosie approached, leaning on his console for a good half a minute without Suzee noticing her. Finally, she softly called Radu's name, and the Andromedan jumped back so far, she nearly fell off the seat.
"Rosie…!" Clutching her hand to her chest, she attempted to still her rapidly beating heart. "…Didn't hear you coming. Sorry… Something wrong?"
Again, they all stared. Suzee wondered if they knew…
"You couldn't hear me coming?" Rosie questioned.
Harlan turned to him again. "…You can hear everything, Radu. Something on your mind?"
There was, in fact, something on Suzee's mind. The fact that she could hear every single noise the ship was making, from the softest creak of metal to the loudest echo of the protomix. She had no idea how to screen it out, or how to deal with it. Radu had been right… She wasn't going to be able to do this alone.
Harlan's eyes narrowed as Radu simply stared at him.
Feeling the need to respond somehow, Suzee finally went for the easiest answer available to her at the time. "I'm really not feeling well… I'm hearing everything. I'm… having a tough time screening things out."
Rosie reached up to feel his forehead, chuckling after a moment. "Well, I guess I can't really feel if you're warm, huh? But your face is kinda red. Hey, Thelma?"
The android looked up from making adjustments on Bova's console. "Yes, Rosie?"
"Can you take Radu's temperature? I think he might be a little warm." Glancing down, she noticed that his gloves were off. About to mention that, too, she caught the almost imperceptible shake of his head, signaling her not to say anything. Confused as she was, she stayed silent on the matter.
Thelma approached, extending the thermometer apparatus into Radu's ear. Suzee winced slightly, but remained as still as possible until Thelma read her verdict. "Temperature is normal for an Andromedan who has just been down into the engine room. However, I am getting a reading of a high level of adrenaline and other endorphins, indicating that he was just under a rather stressful situation."
The rest of the crew waited for an explanation. Finally, Suzee conceded, trying to sound as sincere as possible. "…There was a slight electrical surge down in the engine room…"
"I felt it," Bova said, speaking up without looking away from his post, nor offering any inflection whatsoever. "It shorted out my console. Of course, I'm sure my reflexively zapping it had nothing to do with the problem. Just one of those coincidences."
"And Suzee's known there trying to fix it," Goddard asked. He wasn't quite comfortable with the fact that Radu hesitated before he nodded.
"I'm fine," Suzee added quickly. "Just… Not feeling well." What would Radu say in this situation, she wondered…? By the time she'd thought of anything at all, the moment had passed, and Commander Goddard had turned away.
"Alright, then. Collect your wits and plot us a course, alright?"
Suzee nodded, not entirely convinced it was a great idea to masquerade as Radu. But she couldn't tell them everything… Not yet!
"You think you can handle that?" Harlan asked. The question was good-natured ribbing, though Suzee took it as an insult. Wordlessly, she proceeded to enter the coordinates into the console, hoping to whatever gods were watching over them that she was right.
A few moments later, Commander Seth Goddard looked between Radu and Harlan, then finally to Miss Davenport. "I'm going to go help Miss D. with that lesson plan about STARDOG history," he said, casually, tugging on her sleeve discreetly so she'd follow him. She caught his eyes for a moment, before nodding. He continued for the benefit of the others. "You all be good. I'll be back within fifteen minutes."
"Short lesson," Harlan quipped, smiling between the two of them.
Goddard rolled his eyes. Leave it to Harlan to think of that. Smiling and shaking his head, he simply turned and marched out of the Command Post, doors automatically parting as he reached them. The less he argued, the less likely Harlan's mind would continue on that line of thought.
As soon as Miss Davenport exited, the doors closed behind them, and Goddard led her a little bit further down the hall.
"They saw right through that," were the first words out of her mouth. "They know you're talking to me about something, and I don't think that's really fair to Radu."
"Harlan seems to think we're doing something else," he replied.
There was a brief comedic pause as she caught on to exactly what the other earther had been talking about. "You'll set him straight, won't you?"
Commander Goddard shrugged. "You worried about something? Cuz I'm not. I'm secure in the fact that I wouldn't ever…" Uncomfortable himself, he stopped in mid-sentence. "I didn't mean it that way."
T.J. Davenport chuckled, shaking her head. "Well, as long as we're clear on that, I'm fine. But we do actually have a lesson in a half hour, and I'm going to need to work something about the STARDOGS into it now. Thankfully it's a history lesson."
"What I need to say won't take long. Then I can tell you a couple things the kids don't know about the war."
"Alright. Fair enough. What is it?"
Suddenly finding himself faced with the task of addressing the situation so someone else, Seth hesitated.
"Time isn't a renewable resource, Commander," she reminded him after a long moment of silence. Unsure of how to begin, he rubbed the back of his neck, pacing up and down the corridor, back and forth, covering just a few strides each time he turned.
Finally, he figured out something sensible to say. "…I know that the kids on the ship are quite capable of thinking for themselves."
"…But the fact is, this is still school. And there's still a set of rules that have to be obeyed."
T.J. nodded again. Seth could tell she was finally starting to see where this was going, because her nearly perpetual frown deepened. He continued. "…I think we're going to have to talk to Suzee and Radu about those rules."
She blinked. "You don't think they're… I mean, they… I might imagine Suzee, but Radu? You really don't suppose…"
He looked away from her. "Yes, Miss Davenport, I do."
"You can't be serious, Commander! Radu?"
"It's not Radu I'm worried about, Miss Davenport." The commander turned away from her, placing his hands on the Christa's living wall and leaning forward on them.
"But you think… You think maybe…" T.J. shook her head, disbelieving.
After a moment, Seth faced her again. "What they do on their own time is up to them, just to make that clear."
"I'd rather have them do nothing at all on this ship, thank you very much!" Incredulous, the instructor started back toward the Command Post, but found herself stopped when the commander laid a hand on her shoulder.
"I know, Miss Davenport. But the fact is…"
She shook her head. "I'm not about to believe Radu did something indecent while he was on duty."
It was a tough situation for Seth Goddard. So far away from home, he couldn't possibly condemn his students to a monastic environment. Even if they were in a military situation… Or at least, he thought, a curricular environment… it hadn't exactly been their choice to leave the school. Though Harlan had, in effect, caused their little journey, it had been by accident. As for as the commander was concerned, since dating was allowed at Starcademy, it would be allowed on the Christa. However, Suzee wasn't quite as subject to those rules as those in charge wanted her to be… After all, just as it hadn't been the students' fault that they were on the Christa, it wasn't Suzee's fault that she was trapped in this dimension.
But there were still rules.
"You know Suzee baits Harlan and Radu." Goddard waved his hand toward the Command Post. "We all know that. We know she's been interested in them both from day one. And hell… Radu even asked me one time…" He paused, thinking of exactly how to put what he wanted to say. Thinking better of it, he dismissed the thought. "Maybe Radu is innocent. And maybe nothing extreme happened. But after seeing Radu so flustered when he came back to the Command Post… It isn't earning any points for Suzee."
Davenport nodded. She really didn't want to admit that something might have gone on between the two… They'd all become so close during their voyage… It was difficult to think about. Commander Goddard was right, though. What they did on their own time was up to them. Perhaps it was the matronly attachment that she felt to them… They were growing up, and there was nothing she could do to stop that. Simultaneously, she felt a bit of a lump in her throat, and a wetness in her eyes.
Goddard smiled a little. "Can you talk to Suzee? I'll have a chat with Radu after class. We can't talk to one without talking to the other. It wouldn't be fair."
Again, she nodded. "Now, Commander," she continued. "I believe you owe me a bit of a history lesson."
She was almost looking forward to chatting with him, until he pulled a text-film out of his pocket and handed it to her. "That'll pretty much cover everything for a lesson," he stated, turning back toward the ComPost.
T.J. held it out, blinking at it. "You had this ready?"
Goddard shrugged. "With Harlan around…" He pointed to his head, smiling. "I have to plan some scenarios ahead of time. I'd get to work on that lesson, if I were you, Miss Davenport. There's a fair amount of reading there."
As Seth retreated to the relative safety of the Command Post, Miss Davenport rolled her eyes. "Hold them over a few minutes then. I'll need it." Turning, she headed toward the jumptubes, which would take her to the classroom. She hated being late, but sometimes it was a necessary evil.
Perhaps they underestimated Radu's hearing. Or perhaps Radu had just learned to block certain things out over time… But once Suzee caught the conversation between Miss Davenport and Commander Goddard, she couldn't not listen. It was like a magnet of sound, and she couldn't pull her ears away. After she heard the subject matter, she didn't exactly want to stop eavesdropping. It was just frustrating that she couldn't.
She tried her best to look busy as Commander Goddard entered the room, but she still felt extremely warm. Probably from stress, or fear. She hated to admit it (and likely wouldn't tell anyone), but she was scared. Scared that she'd be stuck as Radu for the remainder of her life, and also afraid of the moment that the rest of the crew would inevitably discover that she and Radu weren't who they all thought they were.
Plus, she was embarrassed that the commander and Miss Davenport would even suspect she would seduce Radu. Flirt, yes. But there was a point where she drew the line!
"I have morals," she muttered to herself.
Harlan looked back at her. "You say somethin', Radu?" he asked.
Suzee shook her head. "I just…" She paused, still unfamiliar with Radu's voice coming out of her mouth. "I don't really feel well. Just going over some… Andromedan litanies. It's calming."
She thought she saw Commander Goddard give her a funny look, but the answer seemed to satisfy Harlan. Hoping she'd given a satisfactory answer, she went back to feeding coordinates into the Helm. It wasn't that difficult, once she learned how to do it. Besides, she literally felt the space around her as if she was living on a three-dimensional grid. It was weird, but at least Suzee knew she wasn't going to get the rest of the crew lost. Her shoulders slumped slightly, though, as she wondered just how Radu was faring down in the engine room…
Everything felt weird.
He had no senses anymore. His hearing was gone, just as it was when he was an earther for that short amount of time. He couldn't feel where he was, and it was frustrating. At least he'd located Suzee's uniform jacket back in the Secondary Engine room, so he had something to cover his arms… His gloves were a little large, but they worked fine for the time being. Since he really didn't have anything else to do, he was staring at his upside-down reflection in one of the core accelerators.
It was so hard to believe. He pondered over and over in his head how it may have happened, but the fact was, Radu had little technical know-how. And what he did know was limited to his prowess on the navigation console up in the Command Post. Now, for some reason, Suzee was staring back at him, wearing an unsure expression very uncharacteristic to her.
And it didn't make any sense!
"Then again, what does?" he asked himself as he lifted a bit of blue hair out of his face. Ever since they'd left Starcademy, some entirely unexplainable things had been happening to them. Why should he be surprised that his mind was in Suzee's head?
"Because it's creepy," he answered himself, pushing up off the floor so he could stand. The graceful, balanced feeling was also strange, almost as if he could walk along a narrow beam and never fall. "Don't get used to it," he continued. Perhaps it was because he couldn't hear everything anymore, and had to listen to Suzee's voice to remain sane. "We'll be going back soon enough, just as soon as we figure out what happened."
Usually, he could hear the com click on as someone activated it, but when Commander Goddard's voice came through, quite loudly, he nearly jumped a foot.
"All students report to the classroom."
Sighing deeply and attempting to slow the sudden rapid heartbeat he'd developed, Radu trudged off to the jumptubes. At least he'd get to talk to Suzee before class. Maybe they could get something sorted out in that time.
"How are you faring?" Radu asked. His stomach flip-flopped again as his own eyes stared coolly back at him. Understandably, Suzee was upset.
They were alone in the classroom. Both of them evidently had the same idea… While the others were stopping off in their rooms or doing whatever else it was they did in the few minutes between ComPost work and school, Suzee and Radu figured they could both meet each other in the classroom to talk.
Suzee stared at him for a moment, and he could detect the slight glaze in her eyes. Radu looked away, muttering softly as his eyes fixed on the floor. "You can cry, if you want to. I won't tell anyone."
She sniffled. "…They think we… You know. In the engine room. I heard 'em…" Her throat tightened, and she couldn't stop it. She was far more emotional than she'd been when she was in her own body. Finally surrendering, she allowed the pent-up tears to fall. It was, however, only a momentary lapse in her stoicism, and after composing herself, she continued with a calm voice. "…I couldn't not. I swear I tried to screen 'em out, but…"
Radu stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Suzee's shoulders. She practically fell into the embrace, and had Radu not been anticipating it, she would have toppled him. Embarassed, she backed off, muttering a hasty apology and deciding it was perhaps better to sit down instead.
"What did they think we did?" Radu asked, genuinely curious.
Despite herself, the engineer chuckled. "…You're still clueless."
"I'll take that as a… compliment," Radu responded, though his voice was unsure. It was still strange, even to him, to hear that insecurity in Suzee's voice… Just as it was difficult to listen to the confidence in his own.
Tilting her head to one side, Suzee grunted in annoyance as blonde hair fell across her eyes. "Don't you ever put your hair up?" she snapped.
"C'mon, Suz. Don't change the subject. What were they talking about?"
"They think we had sex in the engine room," she muttered.
Interestingly enough, his first response was, "While we were on-duty?" When he noticed Suzee staring at him with a lop-sided smile, he attempted to salvage the response, but it was already far too late. Shaking his head, he settled for, "I don't even… know you… that well yet."
"Apparently I've earned a reputation," she mused, gently. "Even though I haven't done anything. I guess it's enough to flirt with you two." Settling back between two seats, she propped her feet up on one as she watched Radu start to pace. It was actually calming for her that the other victim of Christa's electrical surge was just as worked up as she was. Maybe even more so. Still, it was good to know that she wasn't alone.
"Suzee, I wouldn't…"
"I know, Radu," she said. "It's not you they're worried about. It's me. But I'm afraid that means you're going to get The Talk." Suddenly distracted, she looked toward the jumptube, then back to Radu. "Bova's coming."
Radu followed her gaze as he sat down as far away from her as possible. It was subconscious on his part, but understandable. "I miss being able to hear that," he commented, idly.
As Bova arrived, she whispered, so quietly she wasn't even sure Radu could hear her… "You can have it. Any day."
"Well, that was disappointing," Harlan grumbled. Usually he wasn't one to complain when class was over. However, this time he was willing to make an exception. Bova idly entered some last minute data into his compupad before boredly glancing up at the Earther.
"The fact that she actually had a lesson planned." Rolling his eyes, Harlan rose to his feet, looking back at Bova to await what would surely be a similar expression of disappointment.
"…Isn't that the point? Miss Davenport teaches…" The Uranusian arched his eyebrows, gesturing to the display screen which was still on. "…And we waste one-hour chunks of our lives listening to her. It's been that way for a while, Harlan. I'm surprised that you're just now catching on… You know, with your high level of intelligence and all."
Rosie chuckled from across the room. Harlan shot a look in her direction before chuckling himself. "You know that's not what I meant."
Without looking up, Bova asked, "Well, what did you mean then?"
About to respond, Harlan gasped as a strong hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "…Radu!" He exclaimed, backing away. "Tryin' to give me a heart attack or somethin'? What's wrong?"
"Just curious to know what you meant," the Andromedan replied. Harlan narrowed his eyes… Radu was wearing a rather cold expression. Cocky. Egotistical. It was unnerving.
Harlan shook his head. "Didn’t mean anything. I was just…" He searched for an out, finally coming up with a plan on the fly. It wasn't great, and it relied heavily on Bova being agreeable for once. After a quick glance toward the younger cadet, Harlan knew he was equally surprised by Radu's behavior.
"Don't we have ComPost duty in ten minutes?" Harlan asked.
Hurriedly, Bova got to his feet, tucking the handheld computer into his pocket. "We'd better get goin'. I almost forgot."
Suzee crossed her hands over her chest and stared at them. She had a feeling that Radu's expression was probably pretty intimidating, but that was exactly what she was going for. She'd heard enough talk about sex for one day, without hearing Harlan hinting at it like he was. Frankly, she was pissed, and felt she had every right to be. A little alone time wasn't too much to ask for. Smiling sardonically as the two boys dashed into the jumptubes, she, herself turned to head down the corridor and back to the engine room, which was where Radu had gone as soon as class had gotten out.
"…Radu?" A small voice asked from behind her. Damn. She'd forgotten about Rosie.
"I'm busy," Suzee replied.
"…Is something bothering you? Cuz you know, I'm always here if you wanna talk…"
Suzee whirled around to face her, but registered the concern on the younger girl's face. Normally she'd just ignore it, but given the fact that she was likely under the influence of Andromedan brain-wave patterns, she couldn't just walk away. Eventually, the trapped Yensidian relaxed, sighing. Rosie's eyes narrowed the slightest bit, though she didn't say anything else. Likely, it was just concern. Suzee hoped it was concern, because she really didn't want anyone else angry with her. Least of all, Rosie.
She did her best to smile, which caused the corner of Rosie's lips to turn up just a bit in a confused, lopsided grin. Suzee chuckled a bit. "…What?"
Rosie shook her head. "…Nothing. Nothing… I guess you're fine. Just… You scared me there for a sec."
"I'm gonna head down to the engine room, okay?" Suzee paused, nearly stumbling over her own name. "…Suzee needed some help moving stuff around. You'd better get up to ComPost." She waited there, anticipating a response from the Mercurian, but Rosie just remained silent, offering her that strange, lopsided grin. Finally, Suzee gave up, and, rolling her eyes, headed off down the corridor.
"Whatever you say, Suzee," Rosie whispered.
Suzee stopped dead. Turned around.
"…I heard that."
Rosie smiled. "I figured you would."
"I'm glad you understand," Miss Davenport was saying as she attempted to look into the eyes of a rather embarrassed and unnerved Suzee. She couldn't quite catch the Yensidian's eyes, though. They were sort of looking straight down at the ground. The talk had been way too easy. There hadn't even been any arguing…
"Yes, perfectly," the quiet voice finally responded.
"Alright then," Davenport said as she headed off. Though concerned, there were lesson plans to update, and Suzee certainly seemed fine, if not a little embarrassed. Telling herself that it was a perfectly normal response to such a talk, T.J. contented herself with humming an old tune as she took the Jumptube to her quarters.
"He was gonna attack me. D'ya see that look in his eyes? He was crazy. Sick or somethin'." Harlan waited in front of the compost door for the motion detector to register his presence.
"He wasn't acting normal, that's for sure," Bova droned, following the Earther in as the door slid open.
"He's gotta be sick. You know what he said earlier… He didn't feel well and all."
Bova nodded, idly and boredly, taking his spot at the Tactical console.
Harlan leaned up against the Helm. "So it's our job to stop him before he hurts someone. Like he almost did last time."
The Command Post was relatively empty. There were a few lights flickering here and there, and Thelma was busy taking care of the ship's operations while the crew was away. She completely ignored them for the most part… The computer's mainframe was currently much more amusing than the conversation that Harlan and Bova were having. Not only were they navigating toward an unknown alien sector, but it looked like they'd already received several cryptic warnings from something. Perhaps she should say something. Then again, that would require her to detach her mind from the Christa long enough to warn the crew… And she couldn't do that, due to the fact that the message was still coming in a slow, steady stream. So she smiled, and pretended to appear as if they weren't about to potentially get smashed to bits.
Bova shook his head. "Well, I suppose the best way to die is at the hands of your friends."
Taken aback, Harlan hesitated. "…No it's not."
"You're right." Bova yawned. "But Rosie's been telling me I should start being more positive."
"Hell of a time to start!"
"…Isn't it, though?"
Thelma shuddered as the message stopped transmitting. Even as she was reverse-encrypting it, she shuffled toward Bova and Harlan.
"Where is everyone, anyway?" Harlan asked. "Can't warn anyone about Radu if no one's around to hear me."
Bova rolled his eyes. "First of all, I think you're overreacting. Radu seems fine. Seriously. He's probably just a little stressed. Second, ComPost duty was an excuse, remember? We still have two hours 'til we're due back up here."
"Oh. Right," Harlan conceded. "But—"
Both cadets turned to face Thelma, who was, as usual, wearing a pleasant smile.
The android continued. "I do hate to interrupt, but… The coordinates Radu entered into the Christa are taking us directly into Caniiric space. For reference, the Caniiric are a rather unknown and highly defensive group of people that do not take kindly to tresspassers."
Harlan shook his head.
Thelma appeared distressed. "Hm. 'No' as a response is not acceptable in this situation. Perhaps I've missed something in the translation."
"No, no…" Harlan waved his hands. Thelma watched the maneuver with rapt attention until the Earther spoke again. "…Who are the Can… ary…? Can't you just tell them it's a mistake or something? Before they try to blow us out of space?"
"I'm afraid they do not make warnings in the conventional sense. They only alerted us to our eminent destruction." Thelma looked truly apologetic as she turned back to the communications console. "They are allies of the Spung."
"Figures," Bova said.
"He led us right to them," Harlan whispered, not believing it himself. All the time they'd know each other, and right when he'd finally started to never question Radu's coordinates, the Andromedan decided to lead them right into a trap.
Rosie tagged along behind Suzee as she headed for the engine room. Shortly after the Mercurian had guessed Suzee's identity, Radu's pale face had flushed bright red… There was literally no way she could deny the allegation. It actually felt better to know that someone knew, as humiliating as it was. Unfortunately, since that time Rosie hadn't stopped talking. "What's it like? How'd it happen?"
Suzee looked down at her. "…How did you figure it out?"
Glad that Suzee had finally at least said something, Rosie clasped her hands in front of her and leaped a couple times, bouncing on her feet and wholly unable to keep still. "Because, you were acting like Suzee. She… You… You do that sigh thing when you're frustrated. And then there was the eye-rolling thing. Radu never rolls his eyes at me, but you do all the time!"
Suzee rolled her eyes and forced another smile.
"And that!" Rosie explained, skipping on ahead of Suzee. "That smile."
Suzee chuckled. "…So you read people," she stated matter-of-factly. "You're empathic. Kinda."
Rosie shrugged. "I guess you'd know," she said. When Suzee tilted her head, confused, she added, "You being telepathic and all."
Genuinely contrite, the Yensidian stopped and looked down at the grated floor outside the engine room. "…No, Rosie. I don't know how to read people at all. Not like you do." She chuckled a bit. "That's a nice gift though. I wish…"
Both Rosie and Suzee looked up in time to see Commander Goddard round a corner and start heading toward them. Eyes widening, Suzee turned her eyes to Rosie and whispered, "Don't tell him anything."
"Radu, I need to talk to you for a sec, if I could." He patted Suzee on the back, before looking to Rosie. "If I could, Rosie?"
With a confirming look to Suzee, who tilted her head just slightly to indicate that she was fine, Rosie nodded again, before heading off down the corridor.
It was right around that time that Harlan's voice came over the com.
"Hey, guys… Just wanted to let you know… I'm up here with Thelma… Apparently Radu fed some bad coordinates into the navigation system. We're… headed for Spung alliance territory. It doesn't look good up here. I don't know what's goin' on, but I don't really think… Well, maybe you should keep an eye out for Radu, in any case."
The Commander looked at Radu, whose eyes were wide. Guilty? No. They looked scared.
Why, though? Scared that he'd been discovered?
It didn't make any sense!
Before he had time to question the Andromedan's motives, Radu had broken away and was on an all-out sprint toward the jumptubes.
…Bad coordinates? No, there wasn't any way. As an Andromedan, he should have had a perfect directional sense. There wasn't anything as strong in the Andromedan mind… Feeding on wave patterns of other sentient beings, the directional sense was nigh perfect. There was just no way the coordinates could have possibly been wrong!
Radu sat with his back to one of the ion collectors, his eyes wide, terrified. They were looking for him again, and there wasn't anything he could say or do that would change their minds! Trapped. He was trapped. Why wouldn't they trust him? Was it so much to ask for to be part of a team? Why wouldn't Harlan just…
And then he remembered. They weren't looking for /him./ They were looking for Suzee. That wasn't exactly a comforting thought, though… Since he considered Suzee one of his close friends, one within his circle of protection, so to speak, it hurt him to think that she'd gotten herself into trouble. And to make matters worse, they thought it was Radu, himself! How were they going to convince them that it wasn't?
The first step was, of course, telling them the truth. It was something Radu would have done right away, though he felt an unmistakable sense of pride and fear that made him second guess his initial instinct to go right to the commander. The Yensidian mind… He felt totally out of his league.
There was a whoosh from one of the jumptubes, which made Radu start a bit. Normally, he'd be able to hear all the way back to the beginning of a jumptube journey, and by the footstep pattern each person on the Christa made, he'd be able to tell exactly whom it was that was approaching. It would take a lot of getting used to, to live in the moment, so to speak. The Andromedan still wasn't used to it.
Peeking around the ion collector, he saw a rather frazzled-looking Miss Davenport. She was doubtless troubled by the broadcast Harlan had made over the com, and wasn't likely in any sort of condition to be told something as insane as the fact that Radu and Suzee had switched bodies. Still, he didn't make any move to hide himself again. Despite the fact that Suzee had asked him not to tell anyone, plus the fact that the Yensidian mind itself was screaming at him to at least keep his dignity, Radu felt it was time that someone knew.
"Miss Davenport?" He said. She looked toward him, forcing a smile.
"Suzee… I take it you heard the broadcast about Radu." She paused, composing herself slightly by brushing some residual static out of her hair. "You were the last one… with him, though. Are you alright?"
Radu had to think about that for a moment. How would Suzee respond? "Just… fine," he offered lamely. It lacked the self-confidence Suzee would have had. Plus, he couldn't seem to get out the words he wanted to get out.
Miss Davenport didn't mention the fact that Suzee had never defiantly met her eyes during class or the talk afterward, nor did she bring up the fact that Radu seemed to be uncharacteristically bored and tempermental while she was asking questions. It was almost too much of a coincidence. T.J. of all people knew that the Christa had interesting morphing capabilities when it wanted to… Though they were usually used to fix parts of the Christa herself, they were also used occasionally on the crew. The healing chamber could literally create and repair damaged tissue, and the Christa could actually rearrange DNA… it was a well-known fact that even T.J. Davenport had been subject to an interesting transformation or two in the past. She knew. She sensed it. But she couldn't quite tell why or what she sensed.
Suzee was staring at her, an expression in her eyes that measured halfway between insecurity and boredom. Had Christa added a bit of Radu's compassion to Suzee's mind? Had the ship given Radu the ability to be stronger in his convictions?
…Had the Christa made Radu more dangerous?
"Why are you back?" the Yensidian finally asked.
Something had happened in the engine room. T.J. was certain of it. But she was also sure that it wasn't what Commander Goddard thought. It had been a ridiculous theory from the start. Still, the best way to get someone to talk was to accuse them of something, and it was certainly worth a try.
"Well, Suzee… I…" She actually fumbled for a moment, and noted the concern in Suzee's eyes. It wasn't right.
"Are you okay?" the cadet asked.
T.J. nodded, gathering her thoughts before she continued. "There's a lot going on, isn't there? With Radu's supposed defection and all." She noted the slight challenging expression on Suzee's face… That was more like her, however, would she be so concerned about the others on the crew? Perhaps she underestimated the girl.
"I don't think he meant to do it," she responded, her voice small. Radu could not, for the life of him, figure out why Suzee had entered the coordinates wrong. There was no way she could have, with an Andromedan sense of direction. Not unless she meant to. But that didn't make sense, either, unless she had a theory that the aliens they were approaching could actually help them. That was suicide, though! Not even Suzee would subject the rest of the crew to death in an attempt to solve a problem like they had. Besides, it was a well-known fact that Andromedans weren't exactly on the Spung best friend list… And Suzee was currently Andromedan.
It had to be something else.
"I need access to the ship's navigation system," Radu said. T.J. narrowed her eyes, confused. Radu closed his eyes, and searched through his mind for something to say that would be satisfactory to both the Yensidian mind and his own conscience... Something that wouldn't give him away outright, but would lead Miss Davenport to draw a rightful conclusion.
He opened his eyes, but could not meet hers. Smiling, or trying to, he finally decided on saying, "I'm not quite who you think I am."
And then T.J. got it.
"I know I entered those coordinates right," Suzee muttered to herself as she crawled through the jumptubes. She'd be untraceable if she didn't actually use them. The problem was, if the crew decided to contact Thelma and ask as to the whereabouts of Radu, she'd likely lead the others right to Suzee.
Tired, she paused at a junction, leaning back against the floor. It definitely felt comfortable here, and she wasn't the least claustrophobic, even with the jumptube walls pressing in on all sides. It felt more homey, almost as if she was in a place where she could spend the rest of her life.
Comfort. The Andromedan mind… It was so calm. So unconcerned with details and pride. It was so opposite from hers. And yet, her own mind was still there, goading her on to find a place to hide. Where she wouldn't have to admit that perhaps the coordinates were wrong. She could let the others fix it. Maybe Radu would be able to discover the problem, and he'd tell them what happened and Suzee would be able to show herself again.
How could the coordinates have been wrong?
Her heart must have skipped a beat as she heard the familiar voice. Suddenly alive with adrenaline, Suzee scrambled to climb farther away from whomever it was that had found her.
"No, wait! Radu… Why am I… I don't…"
Suddenly, Suzee stopped fleeing. Frustrated, she sighed, turning around as much as she could in the cramped jumptube to face Catalina.
"Great time for you to show up," she snapped, more harshly than she'd meant to.
Catalina sat there, her face blank.
"Something happened while I was trying to fix the engines. Some sort of surge." Suzee looked away. Seeing another junction not too far ahead, she climbed toward it. At least then she'd be able to turn around.
"…Suzee?" Cat asked. Her voice held a bit of humor to it.
She calmed the urge to verbally lash out at Cat by digging Radu's fingernails into the jumptube, only stopping when she heard them start to crack under the pressure. "I don't need you to laugh at me right now, Cat. They're after me."
Catalina said nothing, and for a moment, Suzee thought she'd left again. Realizing how much she really needed her friend right then, she attempted to turn, smashing her head on the wall. Whimpering slightly in pain, she managed her plea. "Don't leave me again. Please."
"What happened, Suz? Why are they after you?" Cat figured she'd skip asking how Suzee was now in Radu's body, and question instead about why Suzee was apparently in hot water with everyone else.
"…They think I entered the nav coordinates wrong." Finally reaching the junction, Suzee turned so that she could actually face Cat. She was relieved to see that the Saturnian didn't actually appear as if she was about to crack up.
"What were you doing on nav? You don't know…" Pausing, Catalina realized that she likely hadn't told the others that she wasn't Radu. Which led her to believe that Radu probably looked like Suzee at the moment. "You switched places somehow, didn't you?"
"Yes!" The other girl's voice carried a frustrated edge to it. "…And we can't exactly tell 'em who we are. I mean, Rosie figured it out, but that's just one person, right? And are they really gonna believe her?"
"You don't give her enough credit," Cat responded, somewhat hurt. "You should at least go to the ComPost and try to fix what you did wrong."
"I didn't do anything wrong. Besides, Harlan wants to tear me apart."
Cat rolled her eyes. "Because he doesn't know what happened! You have to tell them!"
"And you really think they'll listen to me? They're already pissed enough as it is. They're going to think I'm trying to cover my tracks." Hefting herself up into another jumptube, Suzee continued to pull herself as far away from the others as possible.
"Maybe Radu can show them," Catalina responded, calmly. Suzee turned back to look at her friend, before altering her course to lead her back to the command post. She didn't say anything else, mostly because that would mean admitting she was wrong. She'd already done that enough for one day.
Thelma was getting some interesting mixed signals from the Christa. It almost seemed as if the ship was distressed about something, and amused at the same time. The distress Thelma could understand fully. After all, it wasn't exactly fun to know that you were likely going to be blown up in a matter of moments. Well, not moments, really. It seemed as it they had about an hour – standard Rigelian time – before they were to end up as particles of space dust. However, that was still good cause for alarm.
It was the amusement that Thelma didn't get.
So she asked. In a roundabout way, of course. The Christa didn't quite communicate with Thelma in a traditional way.
What the Christa said was very interesting. Very interesting indeed! So apparently it wasn't Radu who had entered the coordinates incorrectly. It was Suzee!
She should tell the crew.
The crew was currently in an argumentive mood.
Thelma was patient. Thelma could wait.
"She's just staring," Harlan snapped, gesturing to Thelma. He glanced at Bova, who held a very unreadable expression on his face. "Bova, focus here!"
"I am focused," the Uranusian said. "But it's kinda obstructed by the fact that I just missed second lunch. And I didn’t even get first lunch today."
Harlan muttered something to himself that not even he could understand. Really, it was just a place-filler to diminish the silence in the room. Since he'd made the announcement, no one had responded, and he was getting worried. There was no Radu. No Rosie or Goddard. No Suzee or Miss Davenport… No one. Nothing was happening.
Suddenly the door slid open. Harlan was quite sure it would be Radu, arriving to claim revenge or something similar. Raising his fists to defend himself, he was actually slightly disappointed that it was Commander Goddard and not an insane Andromedan that stepped onto the Command deck.
"Commander!" Harlan said.
"He took off," Goddard said, covering the short distance to the helm in a few short steps. "I couldn't really follow him… He was into the jumptubes before I knew what was going on. He's definitely up to something."
"I don't mean to be the bearer of more bad news," Bova droned, leaning his elbow against his console, "But there's still the issue of the aliens. I'm getting some readings here. Looks like they've launched at us."
"I tried to take the ship to hyperdrive, but Christa's not responding. There's something off on the engines… There was that surge earlier, but that should have been cleared by now." Harlan again tried the hyperdrive controls on the helm, getting nothing as a response. "Suzee's been down there all day. Besides, without coordinates in the system, we could end up somewhere we don't want to be."
"And we don't have a navigator," Bova added needlessly. It was something that was hanging above everyone's head. Why would Radu lead them to the Spung?
Harlan stopped attempting to coax the ship into hyperdrive, and turned his attention to the commander instead. "Radu's leading us to allies of the Spung."
"I heard," Goddard responded, almost boredly. It still wasn't coming together for him, and Harlan's temper wasn't helping him concentrate.
"Commander, this is serious," Harlan insisted. "…I don't think he was ever… I mean… Maybe he was just waiting for this chance. Maybe he's still allied with them."
"Radu was born free, Band," The commander said. "He'd never ally with the Spung."
"And how do you know that?" Harlan asked. "What about Elmira?"
The boy had a point.
"Thelma?" Goddard called. The android broke free of her blank stare, and approached.
"I need you to locate Radu for me."
Thelma, seemingly confused, hesitated. Did they mean Radu's physical form, or his mental signature? Humans tended to want tactile proof that something existed, so it would be logical to lead them to Suzee, who was currently emulating Radu. However, if they wished to speak to Radu himself, she would have to lead them to Suzee's physical form. It was quite confusing. Maybe she could just tell them where everyone else on the ship was located. That way, they'd eventually find both.
"Radu is currently crawling through the jumptubes. Suzee and Miss Davenport are in the engine room. Rosie is on a course in the corridor headed toward the Command Post."
Goddard considered this, then nodded. "…Bova, you stay here and wait for Rosie. Ask her if she knows anything about Radu… She was talking to him earlier. Band, you come with me. Thelma? Where's Radu heading?"
Thelma's eyes rolled back briefly. "It looks as if he's on his way to the cargo hold."
"Then we meet him there. Let's go, Harlan."
Bova didn't look back as he heard the rush of air from the jumptubes. He was going to go crazy if he didn't get something to eat, and soon. Perhaps he could make it to the galley, then reach the command post with enough time to actually meet up with Rosie. That seemed to be the most logical course of action, especially where his stomach was concerned.
"Thelma, stick around here and wait for Rosie," he said.
"Alright," she replied, that perpetual smile still on her face.
Suzee knew what she was doing. If she could head to the cargo hold, then walk toward the ComPost, she'd actually be able to listen for whether or not people were waiting there. She was pretty sure they were out looking for her… Or rather, they were out looking for Radu. Hopefully she'd be alright. It didn't comfort her that the air rushing down around her made it so she couldn't hear what was going on ahead of her in the cargo hold, but she was going to trust luck that there was no one there.
Finally seeing light, she crawled toward it, sensing that Catalina wasn't too far behind. She heard nothing but the steady flow of air around her ears, plus the hum of the engine somewhere in the distance. "I hope you're right," she muttered to Catalina.
It would take a lot of work to knock out an Andromedan. Having fought them in the war, Commander Goddard knew exactly what it took to render one unconscious. Occasionally, they would have to employ various techniques in order to take one alive for questioning. That's how they discovered some of the best-laid plans of the Spung. That's how they discovered that the Andromedans weren't naturally hostile.
That's how they won the war.
Silently, he and Harlan held onto a rope, attached to a crudely assembled pulley that fitted into a crane track that ran the whole length of the cargo hold. Luckily, the track ended just above the entrance tube. Just above the point where Radu would exit, had Thelma's directions been correct.
Attached to that rope was a large box filled with some sort of dried rations. It was heavy enough, and, if dropped with enough force, would knock an Andromedan out cold… At least long enough to secure him.
They didn't make a sound, afraid that the smallest noise would alert Radu to their presence. It was taking a long time. But just as Seth was about to give up, he heard a voice from the jumptube. Idly, he wondered if Radu talked to himself. There wasn't really any time to think about that, though, as moments later, Radu appeared out of the exit tube, and stood up.
"Now," Goddard said. He and Harlan released the rope.
Radu must have heard it, because he looked up just in time for the box to collide with his face.
It fell off to the side, spilling dried rations everywhere. More importantly, though, Radu faltered, ultimately falling to the floor to take what Seth hoped was a lasting nap.
"Hey! Miss Davenport!!"
The voice sounded shallow and distant, but Miss Davenport looked up anyway. It was definitely Rosie on the com. Offering a matronly smile to Suzee, whom she now knew was actually Radu, she excused herself in order to press the button on the com. It stuck, thanks to the earlier incident with the wrench, but eventually, she managed to get it down.
"Rosie?" she responded.
The voice answered, "Bova and I are in the Galley. Can you come up here for a minute? It's important."
T.J.'s hand hovered over the button as she looked back at Radu. He smiled, cheeks flushing slightly red as she stared at him. "Go on. I'm gonna try to find Suzee."
"Just… Take care, Radu," she offered as she headed for the door.
Rosie was just about at the Command Post when the com next to her buzzed to life. "Rosie? Are you there?"
Confused at the bitmapped quality of the sound, Rosie hesitated, before pressing the link down. "Miss Davenport? I was just heading toward the ComPost. I shouldn't be too much longer."
"Forget that. Bova and I are in the Galley. We need you here now, please."
The voice was almost too flat. There wasn't enough of Miss Davenport's normal panicked mannerism to it. Maybe they were hurt!
"I'll be right there!" Rosie exclaimed, turning from her previous course toward the direction of the mess hall.
Thelma idly stood at the Helm, pondering the inner workings of the Christa and whatnot with one circuit, while she pondered the infinite mystery of cheese with another. If an android could come anywhere close to being bored, Thelma was definitely there. She knew what was going on, at least as much as the Christa told her, but there wasn't anyone around to listen! Besides. Christa had asked her to keep a secret, and Thelma could at least do that.
Suddenly the door opened, and a person similar in appearance to Suzee entered.
"Hello, Radu," Thelma said pleasantly. The Yensidian paused.
"You know? He asked.
"Of course I do, Radu," Thelma answered cheerfully. "I am quite knowledgeable of all that goes on with the Christa. At least, that which she chooses to tell me. There are some things she is withholding, but she does seem amused."
"Oh, yeah. This is really funny. Well, I'm glad you know, in any case. It… makes things easier. I guess. Christa will let me access nav, won't she?" Radu asked as he headed over to his console.
"Yes," Thelma said. "As part of the crew, you can access any of the terminals on board."
Radu stepped up, looking at the readouts on Navigation. "After what she put us through, I'm not exactly sure," he responded.
"Christa does what she needs to do. That is… how it's always been."
Radu watched Thelma carefully. Somewhere behind that rather vapid expression was an extremely intelligent mind… It had been one of the first times he heard her refer to the Christa's past.
"She has a sense of humor," Radu added, matter-of-factly.
Thelma buzzed a bit. "I suppose that would be the best way to put it."
Setting the most recent coordinates to print, Radu stepped off his console station to wait by the Helm. As the microfilm printed, he retrieved it.
"…You know, it's funny. It's hard to made sense of these numbers now that I can't feel them."
Thelma simply stood there, staring.
"I know we were here when I headed down to the engine room." He traced a fingernail across the sector of space in which they were located. "And now we're here. Which is almost the exact opposite direction we wanted to go. But why would Suzee…"
His eyes widened. Smiling, he took another glance at the coordinate printout. "Thelma, where's Suzee? I know what she did. It's so simple…"
"Suzee is currently unconscious," Thelma relayed, smiling as if it didn't concern her in the least.
Radu stared. "Unconscious? Where?"
"Her current location is in the cargo hold with Harlan and Commander Goddard."
Normally, Radu wouldn't utter too many expletives. But considering the fact that some of his inhibitions were muted by the Yensidian mind, he thought of a couple interesting ones before heading off at sprint toward the Jumptube.
"You think we hit him too hard?" Harlan asked.
"He'll come to," Commander Goddard responded, boredly. "You seem concerned."
Harlan paused for a moment, watching the barely-moving Andromedan on the floor in front of him. They'd tied Radu's wrists and ankles together, though it was only with rope. They were relying on him waking up and actually listening, because if he decided he wasn't in a listening mood, they were, to put it bluntly, screwed. "I am, a little. I mean, I was starting to trust him. I keep having this feeling that something else happened, you know? Like… I don't know. It doesn't add up."
Goddard regarded him with a nod. "He's become your friend."
"I wouldn't say…" Harlan looked up at the Commander. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess you could say that.
"Sometimes when you're in space for a while, you get a little bit of… Well, it's a dementia. I've seen men on my crew, some of the best, mind you, just lose it after seeing the stars one too many times. Radu's a little sick. He'll be fine… What I'm really concerned about is the plot he set out for us. That doesn't sit right with me.
"Maybe he's been communicating with…"
"I checked the outgoing logs. Radu's no engineer. There's no way he could have figured out how to secure a transmission I wouldn't have access to."
Harlan snorted a bit. "Well, at least you know your students."
Goddard said nothing.
"I just want to know what's going on," Harlan finally added.
Radu started to stir, drawing both of the other mens' attention toward him. "Hopefully we'll find out now," the commander stated, softly.
Miss Davenport entered the Galley, only to find Bova blissfully chowing down on a sandwich. "Hey, Miss D.," he said as he noticed her. "Come to join me for pre-dinner? Actually, it's more like pre-dinner and post-pre-dinner right now, since I missed both lunches. Not used to you observing Uranusian meals, though. Glad you're getting some culture into your life."
"You seem awfully happy," T.J. offered, sitting down across from him.
He held up the sandwich.
"I see," she drawled. "But where's Rosie? I got a call from her… She seemed upset about something."
"Last I knew, she was headed for the ComPost, where Thelma was waiting," Bova answered between bites. "She hasn't been here at all."
It wasn't exactly like Rosie to lie… Perhaps she was hurt? Delusional? Maybe she didn't have any idea of where she was!
Suddenly, the Jumptube whirred, and Rosie fell out of it. Landing unsteadily, she quick-stepped the rest of the way over to Bova and Miss Davenport, nearly out of breath. "What's wrong?" she asked.
They looked at her.
"The com… You were… In the galley. Something happen?" Doubling over to attempt to slow her breathing, she rested one hand on the table… Which started to glow slightly red.
"I didn't call you," T.J. said, backing away from the rapidly heating tabletop. "I thought you called me."
Rosie shook her head. "Someone's playin' games…"
"It's not Suzee or Radu," Miss Davenport said, brushing her hair back out of her eyes with both hands. "I have a feeling they have enough to worry about at the moment. I was talking to Radu in the engine room when I though I heard you on the com."
"Talking to… So you know?"
Miss Davenport nodded.
"Know what?" Bova asked.
"I caught Suzee after class, right after she bullied Bova and Harlan," Rosie added.
"That was—" Bova began.
"And I realized what had happened after talking to Radu about…"
Somewhat ruffled that he had very little idea as to that the two girls were talking about, Bova started in on his post-pre-pre-post-dinner. After all, there was so little time left in the day, and he still had another meal to take care of before he reported for ComPost duty.
"So if you didn't send a message, and I didn't send a message, who did?" Davenport asked.
"I suppose Thelma can emulate our voices," Rosie pondered. "But why would she?"
"Someone didn't want us somewhere," T.J. guessed, glancing at Bova as his last sandwich disappeared. "Let's head up to the Command Post. We can put a call in from there… Hopefully find out what's going on. Or at least talk to Thelma. You said she was up there, didn't you, Bova?"
"Yeah, when I left," he agreed, brushing some breadcrumbs off his shirt.
"Uhnn…" Suzee muttered. She could hear Catalina's frantic voice, but couldn't seem to work up the energy to respond to it. There was something about being hit on the face with a crate full of rations. Something about blood… Blood. She could feel warm blood dripping from her nose. The realization brought pain to the forefront of her mind, and she realized that her nose was broken.
No, not hers. Radu's. That much weight, and she'd escaped with only a broken nose.
Her head sure hurt, though.
"Quiet," she muttered to Cat. The Saturnian's voice stopped, though Catalina's translucent face appeared in front of her eyes.
"The Commander's here with Harlan. Don't say anything yet. Just take it easy. They knocked you out, Suz."
The situation returned to her thoughts. They thought she'd deliberately set the Christa up on a course for destruction. Maybe she should fake sleeping again.
It was Goddard's voice. She winced… He'd spoken in a normal tone, but it sounded as if he was shouting.
"Sorry, I'll speak more quietly. Is this better?"
After a brief hesitation, she nodded.
"We have you tied up for now. You realize we can't trust you, after what you did. But I'm going to give you a chance to explain."
"…Didn't…" she managed, opening her eyes. The intensity of the light forced them closed again, though. Reflexively, she inhaled deeply, only to choke on blood. Gagging, she forced it back up. It wasn't pleasant.
"Give yourself some time to wake up."
His voice was too calm. Tugging on the ropes, she felt them begin to snap… But she forced herself to relax, not having any desire to find herself unconscious again… Or worse.
"…Suzee," she muttered.
"In the engine room, last we checked," Goddard replied. "Look, I know you're probably a little lost right now, but we're going to help you, okay? You've become a bit of a worry to the crew."
They didn't understand. Suzee shook her head.
"Radu, I know this isn't easy. But we need you to tell us what you did on nav, and why."
"I entered the coordinates right."
Harlan stared at the Andromedan. He was a friend… Almost a confidant. Harlan felt betrayed. "Then explain why we're heading for enemy territory."
Goddard put a hand out, pushing Harlan back. He didn't need the conflict right now.
Suzee pushed herself up on one elbow, opening her eyes a bit. The light was still too bright. "No… I need Suzee here."
"Why? Does she know something, too?" Harlan snapped before Goddard cuffed him across the ear.
"Actually, I do…"
They turned toward the sliding portal. Just inside stood Suzee. Uncharacteristically nervous, she stepped forward, holding a microfilm in front of her. Glancing at Radu, she winced.
"I'm fine," Radu's voice came, somewhat rusty.
Goddard reached out, taking the film from her. She gave it up easily. "What's this?" he asked, looking over the printout. He could see it was a navigation readout, and while he knew a little bit about navigation, he didn't know where in the galaxy they were, or in what sector. The numbers were unfamiliar to him.
"This is all right," Suzee noted. "Except for the fact that the x-axis and the y-axis were switched. It's exactly opposite of what we wanted."
"So he was trying to cover it up. Hoping no one would notice." Harlan turned toward Radu's reclined form, pointing accusingly at him.
"Show him," Radu said, looking past Harlan. Harlan turned back toward Suzee, looking into her eyes for an answer.
"Just relax, Radu continued. "Your mind'll know what to do."
Drawing on the bit of knowledge he'd received from the time Suzee had actually entered his mind, Radu allowed his thoughts to quiet, and nearly panicked when he felt an uncomfortable detachment. He could see Suzee's eyes in Harlan's… They were glowing bright violet. Harlan, mesmerized by them, was unable to move. Though he almost pulled back, Radu allowed the process to continue, ultimately feeling an almost painful chill as his spirit separated from him. Suddenly, he was inside Harlan's mind.
Scared, he opened up his memories, pouring just about everything he could about what had happened in the engine room into Harlan's mind. He continued, showing both his fear, and Suzee's fear as he saw it through his own eyes. Everything he knew about the incident, he transferred, and it was far too much in too little time. The Earther's brain couldn't interpret it so easily, and with a final jolt, he threw Radu's spirit back into Suzee's body – unintentionally – and they both fell backwards onto the floor.
"What the hell was that about?!" Goddard snapped, lifting whom he thought was Suzee up by her collar. Radu stood there weakly, unable to support his weight.
"That's not Suzee!" Harlan shouted, backing away to sit next to the Andromedan who was still on the floor. Unsteadily, he started loosening the ropes. Finally free, Suzee was able to push herself up into a sitting position. Thoroughly embarrassed, she avoided Harlan's eyes.
Seth Goddard, thrown for a loop, dropped the Yensidian, who fell to the floor with an unceremonious thud.
"She—He—He—She…" Harlan stuttered, pointing between Radu and Suzee. Radu looked up at him, starting to laugh. "I thought you'd have been a bit more trusting by now," he said with Suzee's voice. He rubbed his wrists, somewhat pained by his fall.
"Suzee's Radu… And Radu's Suzee," Harlan finally managed, looking toward the person whom he could now identify as Suzee. "The surge in the engine room… It switched them. Radu showed me. It was like I was there."
Goddard looked toward the print from Navigation again. Christa had taken the painstaking liberty of printing Suzee's name up in the corner of the log under the 'user' field. "Well," the commander said to himself. "…I'll be damned."
"I don't know how to switch us back," Suzee mumbled. The haziness in her head was starting to clear a little, and she was able to keep her eyes open without too much pain. Uneasily, Harlan placed his hand on her shoulder.
Radu crawled over, sitting cross-legged in frond of Suzee. "We should get your face looked at…" he said, noting the growing bruise across the bridge of her nose.
"This is surreal," Harlan muttered.
"What did you do?" Radu asked, looking up at the commander.
Folding his arms behind his back, he met Radu's eyes. "You realize that we thought you… Or, rather, Suzee, was a danger to the crew… And you also know how much pressure it takes to knock an Andromedan out." He gestured to the broken crate and the dried rations all over the floor.
"Don't worry about it," Suzee said, looking up and managing a small smile. She could feel the ease in her mind. The willingness to accept the situation. It was an almost blissful feeling, and with her head being in so much pain, she didn't have any desire to deny that Andromedan instinct. "You did what you had to do."
Radu, likewise, allowed his newfound confidence to affect his response. "You hit her with a crate?" he snapped, incredulous. Noticing as Suzee clasped her hands over her ears, he thought better of continuing the conversation. Maybe later. Maybe.
"Harlan, see if you can contact the others." Seth held his hand out to Suzee, who accepted it. He pulled her to her feet before continuing. "I'm going to get these two to MedLab."
Unlike most medical labs, this one wasn't the pristine, spotless white that most of the crew was used to back at Starcademy. This one was much more homey… Instead of being hospital-like, it was much closer to the rest of the rooms in the Christa. Catalina figured out years back that somehow the ship's recyclers kept the room sterile.
Suzee was stretched out on the chair in the middle of the room, head resting back while puffy Andromedan hair acted as a pillow of sorts. Radu sat next to her on a stool, legs crossed, as he attempted to figure out a way to switch them back. "What if I pitched into you?" he finally asked.
"Wouldn't work. I wouldn't be able to remove my spirit." She turned her head a little, but Rosie gently guided it back.
"I can't fix your nose," the Mercurian stated, "If you keep moving."
"It's not as if it didn't look broken before," Suzee muttered.
"Nice," Radu returned. "Real nice."
Miss Davenport looked between the two. It was obvious that tensions were mounting. Sooner or later, they were going to get sick of the fact that they had no discernable way to switch themselves back. "I know it's hard, but it would be easier if you'd both remain in good temperament. It's likely that we'd be able to solve this if we all kept our heads."
Radu practically stared her down. "This coming from the one who panics. All the time."
It was almost hard for everyone to believe that the girl perched up on the stool actually had Radu's mind. The comment was so unlike him. For a moment, there was silence, until he whispered an apology.
"Radu and I seem to have acquired a few of each others' mannerisms," Suzee explained. Brain-wave patterns and the like… Andromedans are more reserved while Yensidians are-"
"Bitchy," Radu supplied.
"I was going to say 'More confident.'" She winced as Rosie shifted the cartilage in her nose. It hurt, even though she'd been given a local anesthetic. She hated to think of how it would feel when the pain-killer wore off. When Rosie backed away, Suzee sat up, wiping the last of the dried blood from her upper lip. Turning toward Radu, she stared at him for a while… It was so weird, seeing herself sitting there. Granted, she was used to it from pitching consciousness, but this was different. He sat there with a cold compress pressed against his head, blue and violet hair sticking up in ten different directions… He looked absolutely miserable. It was so ridiculous, that Suzee couldn't help but chuckle.
Radu narrowed his eyes, then joined in. "There's absolutely no way this is happening," he remarked.
"I wish that were the truth," she replied, swinging her legs over the side of the chair.
The lapse in tension seemed to put the other crew more at ease. They were all crammed into the MedLab… Miss Davenport and Rosie were by Radu and Suzee, while Goddard and Thelma stood just off to one side. Bova wasn't too far away from them, but Harlan was off in the corner, leaning against the wall. With the exception of Harlan, they were all considerably relaxed, all things considered. Suzee was surprised he wasn't taking the opportunity to make hers and Radu's lives miserable… Not that she wasn't grateful for that, but it wasn't like him. She'd have to remember to ask later.
"I'm curious as to what caused the surge," Bova said, speaking up for the first time in a while. "I mean, it was something I actually felt, as if it were tied to the Christa herself… Not just the electrical systems."
"Radu and I were talking…" She looked pointedly at Commander Goddard, who met her eyes without turning away. "About how… I didn't feel wanted, and how everyone thought I was just... Anyway, we were also discussing how he didn't feel as if the crew trusted him. I guess I know how he feels."
"You understand the danger, though," Goddard asked, looking at both of them. They nodded. "We can't trust you if you don't tell us what's going on. And neither of you did."
Suzee noticed out of the corner of her eye as Harlan turned and left the infirmary.
"What happened then?" Rosie asked.
"A wire came loose in the engine room, and we were gonna try to fix it," Radu supplied.
"It was one I hadn't noticed before," Suzee added.
"Oh, if I may…" Thelma stepped up, cheerily waving at them. "That is because the Christa put it there for you to find. And if I may also add… Complete annihilation of the ship will occur in approximately twenty-eight minutes and eleven seconds."
They all knew they'd forgotten something.
"To the Command Post. Now." Commander Goddard was, of course, the first to speak, having been able to throw off the shock of Thelma's noncommittal statement. How could she talk about it wish such ease?
No one had to be asked twice. Though Suzee was still a bit unsteady, and Radu still had a horrible headache, they were right behind the others as everyone filed out of the MedLab and into the corridor. They all passed right by Harlan, who was sulking in the hall… Suzee wouldn't have even seen him if her ears hadn't picked up the Earther's slight shift in position. As the others hurried off, she turned back toward him.
"Harlan? We gotta get to ComPost. The coordinates I entered…" She paused, biting her lip.
"Not easy to admit you're wrong, is it?"
She shook her head.
"Not something I'm used to admitting either." He leaned back against the wall, unwilling to follow Suzee to the Helm.
"Look. Harlan… We both messed up." Her eyes narrowed. "But I can carry you right now. And I will if you don't get your ass up there and pilot us out of here."
She thought she could detect the faintest of smiles as he pushed off from the Christa's living wall and passed her by. "Remind me to mention how weird this is later," he mumbled, as he started off at a jog for the Command Post.
They were the last ones there… The others were already in their positions, except for Radu, who looked almost lost standing between Engineering and Navigation. When he caught Suzee's eyes, he realized that she was torn the exact same way. On one hand, Radu knew Navigation… It's what he'd done since boarding the Christa. He had no knowledge of engineering. But while Suzee knew Navigation, she was currently the only one on the ship that could feel where in space they were. After a moment's hesitation, she pointed Radu toward the Nav console, while she took Engineering.
Radu watched her for a while as she began adjusting output to the engines. She was in her element there, while he was somewhat lost without that ability to automatically know what course to plot. Reaching into a pocket, he withdrew the sheet full of errors, and realized that he'd been in the position long enough where he actually knew what to do to fix things. He didn't need the innate talent he used to have. Without a second though, Radu began repairing the damage done to their former course.
Meanwhile, Suzee was staring down at the Engineering console in confusion, muttering through her teeth in a voice that only Catalina could hear. "The ship must hate me. Nothing is working out, Cat! It's still messed up just as badly as when I started. I can't get output to the engine, 'cuz the relay is still down."
"You checked that, though, and it was fine," the Saturnian said.
"Structurally, yeah. But there must be something inside…"
"You mean, like the brain of a sentient ship," Cat mused.
The idea would have seemed ridiculous to her before, but now, Suzee found that it didn't seem so terribly far-fetched. Her very mind seemed as willing to listen to the input from others just as her ears were.
"The course is in," Radu said. "You should get a readout, Harlan."
Harlan looked back toward the navigator. "You're sure it's right this time."
"Of course I'm sure!" Radu snapped.
Suzee winced. "He sounds just like me," she muttered to Catalina. And she didn't particularly like what she heard.
"Why are we still sitting here?" Miss Davenport demanded, looking toward Suzee.
"C'mon, Suz," her invisible friend urged. "Think about that later."
Looking back down at the console, she couldn't particularly see anything wrong. There was just nothing else she could possibly do. Sure, the ship was going, and the levels looked fine, but she couldn't seem to coax it into hyperdrive. Sighing, she decided to rely on the last possible farfetched attempt she could muster.
Suddenly, the Protomix bar indicator flared to life. Suzee had to stare at it for a full quarter minute before she could bring herself to believe it was possible. "…Radu! We need a course plotted in for hyperdrive, now!"
"You got it working?" Bova asked incredulously as he turned toward her.
"Yes! Yes! It's up! We have five minutes before we take off!"
Radu compared the readout to the coordinates he was entering. For the sector they were in, they should have a clear shot right past an active supernova… If he remembered correctly, and he was sure it was fine. They'd be far enough away from the star to cause any alarm. He was about to send the coordinates to Harlan, before he realized that there was actually a possibility he could be wrong. Granted, he knew the sector. But this was the first time he was flying blind, so to speak.
"Suzee, I'm sending the readout over to you. Check it."
She was about to protest, but there was already a printout from her console. The numbers meant little to her, but if she thought about their location and their current trajectory, the code that made up the axes seemed to fall into place. For a moment, she thought they were reversed… Then remembered that was the exact same mistake that had gotten her into trouble the first time. "It's fine," she finally responded.
The Protomix started to emit an audible hum… One everyone was used to and glad to hear after it had been silent for so long. The Christa's wings tucked inward, and just as Radu finished sending the course to the Helm, Harlan punched the hyperdrive into action.
"It's only enough for a short jump," Suzee cautioned, stepping away from her station. "Hopefully it's enough, but I didn't want to push the Christa too hard. We're gonna need to collect some ions from the supernova we're passing." Her arm rested just next to the control.
"Shut it down," the Commander stated.
"Entering normal space," Suzee confirmed. "We're right where we should be."
Seth allowed himself to relax a bit. He deserved it, after all that had happened in the past few hours. "Alright team—" He began.
"Wait." Rosie stood up, raising her arm. "I'm getting an incoming message. Just audio."
"Play it," Goddard commanded.
The voice that came through the com was foreign, and spoke in tones that none on board the Christa could hope to reproduce. It was guttural, low, and menacing… And while they couldn't understand it, they had a feeling they knew who it was from.
"It's them, isn't it?" Harlan asked. "The Canary People."
"The Caniiric," Thelma confirmed. "They say that the wake from our engines has carried their missiles after us into deep space, and we are still doomed. But they would like to add that they have added our particular maneuver into their repertoire, just in case."
Rosie narrowed her eyes, playing the message a bit more quietly. "Does this sound bitmapped?" she wondered, mostly to herself. It was almost as if the voice had come from a machine. It sounded not too much different than Miss Davenport's voice had earlier.
"Probably the translator," Suzee said, glancing in her direction before looking out through the viewscreen. Her voice was tense… Rosie could tell she was trying to think of a way out of the situation. The light from the supernova was incredibly bright, and created interesting shadows throughout the Command Post… It was also increasing in temperature… Slightly, but enough for everyone to feel it. They weren't in any danger, as long as they kept their distance.
Then Suzee said, "How close can you get to the star, Harlan?"
"Are you insane?" he hissed. "We're already too close as it is. We need to get out of here."
"We can use the gravity of the supernova to draw the missiles away from us. It won't be enough to draw them away completely… If we got that close, it would just suck the Christa in, too." Suzee paused in thought. "But if we can slow 'em down, I can patch into their systems and remote detonate them, hopefully at a safe distance."
"I'm not sure you're exactly in your right mind, Suzee," Bova droned. "No offence, of course. Call me crazy, but falling into a sun is slightly less preferable to getting blown up."
Rosie muttered something as she worked at her console, though it didn't seem important, at the time. Something about decoding the message.
"You're all crazy!" T.J. interjected, sitting down right on the floor and holding her head. "If you wouldn't have gotten us into this situation in the first place…"
"Well, we are in this situation," Radu spoke up.
"Let me try to get us out of it," Suzee added. "Trust me, please."
Goddard looked at Radu, then back at Suzee, before turning to the Helm. "Band, get us as close to the star as you can."
Biting back any comments he might have had, Harlan steered the ship toward the star. "Suzee, we're going to need more output."
"I'm giving it all we have. Just hold us steady." She fell silent as she started her endeavor to hack into the alien missiles.
"Course is altering," Bova commented, "But they're going to compensate for that as soon as their computers adjust."
"I'm into the system…" Suzee muttered, though her voice was taking on a bit of Radu's insecurity. "It doesn't seem like it should be this easy."
"Just get rid of them!" Harlan practically shouted, as he continued fighting to keep the Christa from slipping backwards.
They all heard the explosion through the ship's audio output, though since they were pointed away from it, no one could see it.
"Brace for a concussion!" Goddard shouted, just as Harlan pulled free from the star's gravity and set them back on course. The metal surfaces inside the Christa had actually become warm, and as he grabbed onto the helm, the sweat on his palms prevented him from getting a good grip on it.
As the internal noise from the explosion died away, they all prepared for an aftershock that would rock the ship… But it never came.
After a short confused silence, it was Rosie that spoke up first. "…I got a fix on that transmission. It was sent by a Starship with a registration of P-0Z2R45Y-H. That's us. That's the Christa."
Blinking, the Commander looked toward the Mercurian. "That can't be possible."
Giggling, she shrugged. "Looks like we were set up."
"As I have mentioned before, the Christa does what is right for her crew." Thelma looked toward each of the crew in turn before continuing. "And in the case, she was of the opinion that Radu and Suzee were unhappy. She wanted to do something about it."
"So… You didn't tell us until now?" Commander Goddard leaned an elbow on the helm. He didn't exactly find it amusing.
"I did not know until now."
Suzee shook her head. "She was right."
Harlan looked back at her. She sat next to the navigation console, with Radu seated just on the other side. "Who? Thelma?"
"No," she replied. "Christa. I thought… I thought that I was useless. I couldn't fix the ship. I couldn't make it work."
"The… Christa thought that perhaps Suzee could benefit by both learning how to react through the mind of another, and also seeing herself through the eyes of another." Thelma smiled at her. "Radu just happened to be in the right place at the right time… Though Christa was able to turn that into an experience for both of them."
Harlan looked toward his two mind-addled friends. They seemed fine, but he could tell they were on edge. The Andromedan eyes held none of Suzee's spirit, while Radu chose to hide his face behind brightly-colored Yensidian hair. They wanted to know if there was a way for them to change back, but neither of them wanted to hear the bad news if there wasn't.
Harlan finally asked for them. "Thelma, is there a way to… You know… Get them back to normal?"
"Yes, of course," she said cheerfully. They'd just need to be connected to the Christa at the same time."
"Like… The wire. In the engine room?" Suzee questioned.
"Yes. Like that," Thelma confirmed. "I could also send a shock through you both, as I am connected to the Christa. I would have to build up the proper charge, first, of course, else I could potentially create a rather interesting chain reaction that could kill us all!"
Radu winced. "…Take your time," he said.
Nodding, Thelma did nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but she stopped moving almost entirely.
"So now… I guess we wait," Suzee mumbled. She turned toward Radu… It was almost like looking in a mirror, and that made it all the more strange. "I think you should go talk to Harlan," she added, nodding over to where he stood at the Helm.
"Any reason?" Radu asked.
"I just talked with him a bit on the way up here. He seemed a little upset."
Uncertainty fought with quiet confidence in Radu's mind. He couldn't exactly change who he was, but he could certainly draw on whatever resources he had available. After steeling himself, he got to his feet, looking back at Suzee, who urged him on.
"Hey Harlan," he said as he neared the Helm. He tried to make it sound casual, but the attempt fell flat.
Harlan glanced over, automatically responded with, "Hey, Suzee."
"Sorry." Harlan shook his head. "Radu… Sorry. This is just…"
"And you're not even the one living it." Radu looked back at Suzee, who had already grown bored with just sitting there, and was now concerning herself with the navigation readouts. "Suzee said you wanted to talk to me."
Harlan said nothing at first, but just as Radu was starting to think maybe he was wrong to address the Earther, he spoke up. "…Look, I trust you. You know that."
"I'm not the one you knocked out with a crate," Radu pointed out. He wasn't looking forward to feeling the pain of a broken nose when he was himself again. "Though I'm sure Suzee was acting pretty strange."
"Oh, she was," Harlan laughed. "Said something about Andromedan litanies and how she wasn't feeling well. I should have been able to see through it."
Radu scrunched up his nose. "Andromedan… litanies? I didn't know we had any."
"I think that's when the Commander started thinkin' something was wrong," Harlan replied. "But like I said. I should have been able to figure it out."
"It wasn't just you," Radu shrugged. "We should have told everyone what was going on from the start."
He heard footsteps behind him as Suzee approached. "What?" she leaned on Radu, careful not to knock him over this time. "…And ruin the Christa's fun? That would have been mean."
"So you guys aren't mad?" Harlan quested hopefully.
Radu was about to answer that they weren't, when Suzee spoke up before he could. "Oh, we are. I'm tempted to break your nose myself and return the favor."
The color drained from Harlan's face, which was interesting, to say the least. He laughed, though. "Hey, it wasn't my idea. Besides…"
"She was kidding," Radu interrupted, elbowing Suzee in the ribs.
She was about to protest when she suddenly felt a painful jolt course through her. Mercifully, it ended with a complete loss of consciousness.
As Suzee and Radu fell to the floor, Thelma drew her hands back to her sides. Harlan blinked at her, surprised… But she commented simply, "The charge was ready."
The first thing he felt as he came to was pain. All over. It was as if each of his nerves was burning, and the synapses were all firing at once. He was hesitant to open his eyes. Eventually, though, the realization that his face hurt brought him back to full consciousness. He felt like himself again.
Just next to him, Suzee was stirring. Her face was contorted in pain as she fought to regain wakefulness. All around him, he could hear the quietest shuffling of footsteps… And could actually listen to the conversation Rosie was having with Bova from all the way across the Command Post.
"You awake yet?" Harlan wondered, nudging Radu in the ribs with his boot.
"Yeah. Yeah… Getting there." He looked over at the sleeping Yensidian. "Check on Suzee. I don't think her system can take as much as mine can."
Harlan kneeled down next to the girl, gently shaking her shoulder. "So… Does this mean you're back?"
Radu nodded, instantly regretting it.
"Radu…?" The voice came from behind him, and he turned to see that Rosie had approached. He smiled as much as he could without causing excruciating pain… It was rare for an Andromedan to break a bone, but when it happened, it tended to hurt like hell.
Rosie appeared to find something in his face… Maybe in his eyes. His demeanor. Kneeling down, she hugged him, and as he pulled her close, he whispered, "I'm going to need something for the pain, when you have time."
She buried her face in his shoulder, offering a muffled, "No problem," before pulling away.
"Next time a warning wouldn't go unappreciated, Thelma," Suzee said, turning her head toward the android.
"Note taken," Thelma replied.
Sitting up, Suzee attempted to bring her double vision into focus… And yelped in surprise as not one Rosie, but two, practically tackled her.
"Rosie… My head…"
"Yep, you're definitely Suzee," the Mercurian observed. Despite the mental fuzziness, Suzee chuckled, returning the embrace.
"I hate to interrupt the moment," Goddard remarked dryly. "But we still have a ship to fly. And unless I heard incorrectly, we'll have to fuel up around this sun."
Rosie stood up, holding out her hand to help Suzee up. "It's almost as if nothing even happened," the Yensidian remarked.
"Well," Rosie wondered, thoughtfully. "If you think about it, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary."
Suzee pulled herself up to her console, muttering under her breath… "Because actual ordinary would be so much to ask for."