Thursday, October 7, 2010

Partners

It didn’t take much convincing to get Carbon to take the afternoon off. As much as the ship had an afternoon, anyway. She said there was only about a week’s worth of work on the engine left, with his help. The calculation for the waveride was going to take longer than that anyway. The thought of a little bit of down time seemed to perk her up a bit, as well.

Which was good. She had a death grip on his torso for awhile there. Those thin, comparatively small arms had quite a bit of strength in them, at least enough to keep him from breathing properly. Alex drew in a full breath of air as she extricated herself and slipped onto the bench across from him.

She knitted her fingers together on the small table, worrying them and looking guilty. “I do not want to impose on you, Alex.”

“The situation here is a little unusual, don’t worry about it”

Carbon nodded, but she still sat there looking guilty.

“You said you hadn’t grieved, yet... I thought that was, uh, mandatory?”

A smile crept onto her face, thin but there. “The primer they gave you is lacking in depth, Alex. It is not surprising, we have never been forthcoming with our ways.”

He mostly understood that, but the vagueness bothered him in a few different ways. “So you don’t have to at all?”

Carbon shook her head, “there are exceptions. Despite the urge to do so, I was Lan on a Kshanev - I think you call them mako class - at the time of the disaster on Schon. They require a lot of maintenance and have almost six hundred crew.”

They had drilled ship profiles into him during training, for friend and foe. He would have no problem spotting a Mako dreadnaught, the centerpiece of Tslao offensive capabilities. That must have been a prestigious post. “You had to take care of all of them.”

“Yes.” She pursed her lips and nodded, reflecting for a moment. “It was easier to do at first. The urge to ensure my ship and crew were safe and functional was strong and I could ignore my own needs quite easily. A few weeks went by and I was still fighting to keep my crew right. They stabilized slowly, but a quarter year passed, then a half year... They told me others had grieved for my family. That helped.”

“That sounds rough.”

Her brow furrowed as she sussed out what he meant by that. “Yes, it was difficult.” She said it almost as a question, expecting some sort of feedback from Alex. He nodded apologetically and she continued. “The ship was on alert the whole time, it just wore down the crew. It wore me down, but I would not let anyone help me. It was not much longer before I was transferred to this project. I oversaw the production and installation of the engines myself.”

Carbon paused and sucked in a ragged breath, “they marveled at how strong I was. How I could just keep going so tirelessly. My race needed me, and I could not let the survivors down but now I cry and shake in the corner when someone shows me compassion.” Her voice caught and she barely whispered, “I do not know what I have become.”

“I.. uhm.” Alex swallowed and didn’t know what to say to that. That hadn’t been his intent at all. “I’m sorry if I caused you any distress.”

She crossed her arms on the table and laid her head on them, eyes closed. “It is nothing you have done, Alex. Truthfully, I could not have asked for a better shipmate. You have been better than many I have had in the past.” Carbon rested silently for a moment before a smile crept onto her short muzzle and she laughed quietly. “With the exception of almost dying. I did not appreciate that.”

He chuckled, “I’m difficult to get rid of.”

Carbon looked up at him with sad eyes, smile fading. “Would you-” she stopped and her eyes fell to his hands resting on the little table. “No, nevermind.”

“What is it?”

She pushed herself up onto her elbows and rubbed her fingertips together nervously before taking a deep breath, apparently steeling herself for rejection. “Would you be my partner?”

She had mentioned this in passing when he was still in recovery. Something to do with the emotional well being, which they both could use a lot of right now. “After all you’ve done for me? Yeah, of course.”

Carbon started to speak, stopped and snapped her mouth closed. Her head cocked to the side, “really?”

“Yes... Is there something you’re not telling me about this I should be concerned about?”

“No, I had just thought...” She looked at the table, introspective for a moment. “I did not think clearly.”

“That happens to everybody.” Alex waved a hand dismissively, pleasantly surprised at this turn of events. Part of it may have been his natural urge to learn about others, but there was some other happy feeling hiding in there he couldn’t identify yet. “Nothing to worry about.”

She smiled, reached across the table and clasped his hands in hers delicately. The skin of her palms and fingers hot against his. “It feels like all I have done lately is thank you, Alex.”

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