Thursday, September 9, 2010

Used

“And?” Alex was thoroughly confused as to why she seemed upset at this. Szhaan had just been another word she’d left behind, as far as he knew. There didn’t seem to be anything else going on in his head.

Carbon stammered and looked at her hands, fingers knitted together in her lap. “I am sorry. I was not entirely honest about what I did when I linked with your mind.”

“Alright.” As nebulous as his question had become, he was still no closer to an answer, as far as he could tell.

“There are... We need to, to feel at ease, have a certain amount of emotional contact with others.” Carbon edged away from him in her seat, voice getting softer and softer as she spoke. She looked like she expected him to reach out and hit her.

“Still not following.”

“While I did inspect your mind to see if you still lived, I also used the connection to experience that emotional connection without your permission.”

He nodded slowly. She was saying a lot but he wasn’t really catching anything yet. “Okay. This still means nothing to me and you’re over there acting like you accidentally mind raped me.”

Carbon seemed to shrink away at that, curling up into her chair.

“It is not- It is not unlike that.”

He found himself exasperated at this but still tried to hide it, closing his eyes and exhaling to calm himself down. He sounded positively understanding when he spoke. “Look, I don’t feel like anything untoward happened. If you want me to feel violated, you’re going to have to try harder. Please explain what is going on so I can understand it.”

It seemed to settle her down a little. “As Lan, I am in charge of more than just the upkeep of the ship itself. I monitor the mental and emotional well-being of the crew as well. I was chosen to be the Lan of this ship because I am of excellent breeding and am considered emotionally durable.”

He nodded, the very edges of the puzzle starting to come together. Her use of Lan over shipmaster made sense, the original word was gender neutral like most Tslao titles and she had earned it. Being in charge of the emotional health of the crew? That was entirely new by him. It did make sense that someone would be watching over that as they could link to each other’s minds so easily. But to add that on to the duties of the Lan? That seemed a bit much. “Please, go on.”

“I had not understood how difficult it would be to be alone out here. The maintenance never seemed to end and you... did not seem to be very interested in dealing with me. I do admit I did nothing to help that.”

“Yeah, we were both pretty standoffish for, uh, since we met.”

She smiled a little and continued, “I overestimated my own abilities while ignoring why you acted the way you did. As Lan I always had the captains ear, but you received orders on where we were to search from Earth. I always received first choice in partners as well.”

“Partners?”

“Yes, for emotional bonding and monitoring the crew’s health. It’s important that a non-family crew be very close for optimal ship performance.”

Alex’s brow furrowed. If that meant what he thought it meant, mixed crews were going to be pretty rare. “Very close, like...” he made half an obscene gesture with his functioning hand, “partners?”

“Oh, no.” She shook her head and then reconsidered, ”Well, yes, on occasion. Not often.”

“That’s... Good.”

Carbon nodded in agreement. “I was unprepared for this mission and while I had just intended to just be sure you were still alive, I did let our emotions mingle while I was in your head.” She sighed and ran her fingers down her antenna. “It was like finding water during a drought, I could not stop myself. I believe that is why you remember that link.”

“Oh. I suppose you did what you had to do. Do you feel better?” His response surprised him a little bit. He actually wanted to know if she felt better.

“Yes, I did for some time. Even unconscious, you have a wonderfully vivid mind. It was exhilarating.”

“I’m glad.” It was almost a question. “If you need to do that again, please just ask first. I don’t think I mind.”

“You will have much more control over what is experienced when conscious.”

“I guess I won’t mind at all, then.”

She relaxed noticeably and sighed with relief. “I am glad this did not end how I initially envisioned it.”

Alex laughed, “I figured. You looked pretty worried, but it’s not like I could have done anything in my current state.”

She smiled in earnest again, “Thank you. I did not think we would ever be on good terms, I am glad they let me pick you over the others.”

“What?” They had said he’d been chosen because he was an exceptional pilot and this was important. Both those things were still true, as far as he knew, but no one had told him Carbon had gotten to pick.

“I thought your background in anthropology would be useful in understanding each other. They did not tell you?”

“No. When did they have you do that?”

“Shortly after the project was started, over four years ago.”

“Four years? I wasn’t brought into the civil pilot program until about three years ago.” Alex was starting to feel uncomfortable with the slow realization that he was just a small cog in a big machine.

“The documents said you were already a pilot.”

“I had my atmospherics license at the time, but my aptitude scores were just below the threshold to get in. I had my choice of schools for sciences. Then about four years ago they came to me and offered to let me in the program, I ended my classes in anthropology for this. It’s what I’d always wanted.”

“What?”

“Since I was a kid, I had wanted to be a pilot.”

“Not that... You were still in college?”

“Yeah. I’d almost finished my undergraduate work. I had good grades, probably would have gone for a doctorate.”

“I had been told you had achieved that rank and had also become a pilot.”

He laughed a little, “No. I was still several years away from that.”

Carbon had started to look a little upset again, starting to talk several times without success before she finally spoke. “How old are you?”

“Twenty six.”

She body relaxed, conforming to the shape of the chair she was clipped to as shock spread across her face. “I had been told you were thirty, four years ago. I am very glad I chose you now.”

“Wow. Looks like they lied to both of us.”

“How could- If you did not have the abilities they claimed, this could have been more disastrous. We could both be dead.”

“Having met a lot of other pilots, I think it is because I was studying social anthropology. I am interested in other cultures, while other pilots... Eh, Some of them still don’t like having women on board their ships. Having an alien on their crew would be a slap in the face, they just wouldn't have gone along with it.”

Carbon’s face was resting in her hands, fingers massaging her temples and she rocked slowly. “I am sorry, this is a shock. Do not take me wrong, I am pleased you are as capable as you are.”

“We can file a complaint when we get back, ok?” He laughed, hoping to lift her spirits.

Carbon sighed quietly before a smile crept back onto her lips and made a sound akin to a snicker. “We will, for what good it will do.”

5 comments:

  1. I like the dialogue. Carbon sounds like English is a second language to her, while Alex just seems to flow. Great job!

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  2. Thank you! I always worry about the dialog and think I'm going to slip a contraction into her lines somewhere.

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  3. Aww this chapter made me smile. So there IS a chance for intergalactic lovings, huh? YAY! I like these two a lot and you have done a really great job of depicting the awkwardness of such a situation and how someone might feel when trying to be honest about something they don't have to be honest about, and which could be detrimental to their relationship with another person, especially marooned in the middle of space. I'll be looking for an autographed copy to go on my bookshelf one of these days!

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  4. I like that, in the midst of her awkward confession, Alex is more interested in making her feel better than feeling violated. Also the line he made half an obscene gesture with his functioning hand had me laughing out loud.

    So... why is she relieved that he's younger than she thought?

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  5. @Monja: Pilot Sorenson is a curious guy by nature. Just putting that out there. Carbon does not like lying, to do so is an affront to her duties as Lan. She would rather come clean and hope to pick up the pieces afterwards but was hoping to put it off longer. Sometimes I wonder if what what I say in comments won't make it into a longer cut of this...

    @J. A. Platt: Alex is a nice guy, he can't help himself... And I hope I managed to get it across that he really didn't feel violated as he's got no base of reference at all for that kind of thing. Glad you thought that was funny too.

    She's not relieved per se, she's dumbstruck but glad that he turned out as capable as advertised.

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