he said, hesitating just a moment before having to tell me, I wish
I could have the out-trip to do over. I feel so bad for the mistakes I
I thought we decided to forget about that? I scolded.
I just wanted to apologize, he sighed and gave me a little
squeeze with the arm that was around me.
Again? I teased, but then relented. Heero; I understand
what you meant to do. I understand that you only wanted to make things
easier for me to deal with. I dont blame you for how it ended up...
we both made mistakes, but its done and over with. Id rather
forget about it.
His fingers stroked up and down my arm and he said, Doing that denial
thing again? voice sounding almost amused.
Been talking to Trowa? I accused, poking at his ribs.
Like I have to talk to Trowa to know thats how you deal with
things, he snorted, sounding almost offended, but then his tone
turned serious. I just cant believe how... calm youre
being, he told me and there was this strange quality to his voice
that I had trouble identifying. I saw on the way out here just whats
in your heart... whats eating at you, and it amazes me how youre
handling it now. I just...
I never did get to hear the end of that thought. I suppose he was just
going to apologize again, or tell me something he thought I needed to
hear even though Id rather not. I dont really know.
We all know that there is no sound in space. Sound requires air, or something
damn like it, to travel. So, total vacuum equals no sound. There is, however,
air inside a space ship. Sound travels quite nicely inside a ship.
There is a veritable smorgasbord of sounds within a ship when it is live.
These sounds speak to anyone who has piloted a ship for more than a couple
weeks. You hear them without even hearing them. They tell you things as
easily as a heart monitor tells a doctor things about his patient. And
they tell you when things are going wrong.
There was a vibration that was the unmistakable result of some kind of
impact. Then there was a subtle change in the pulse of the shuttle. I
was dragging Heero out of bed before my brain had completely finished
registering the first stirrings of wrong.
A hit? Heero was asking me, a pilot as much as I, but a lot
of years removed.
Yeah, I confirmed, appalled at how unsteady my voice was.
Sounds like. Our hands were scrabbling after discarded jeans
even while we strained to hear more.
Nothing much, Heero soothed and I nodded sharply, not really
trusting my voice.
I detected the difference in the feel of things even as I was jerking
my pants over my hips. A vane, I think, I told him.
Heero was just snapping and zipping when a chime began to sound. Whats
that tone? Heero asked, not being familiar with the codes.
It was a vane, I confirmed, eyes not seeing anything as I
focused all my attention on what I could hear. I was vaguely aware that
Heero had hold of me by the upper arms. Its no big deal this
far out... But even as I was saying it, I felt the wrongness of
the responses. Could feel that the pilot wasnt following standard
procedures, I frowned, not hearing the things I should be hearing and
then it came to me.
Oh shit, I blurted, staring at Heero. Spencers
at the helm... he doesnt know...
We bolted for the door at the same moment.
You can not slam on the brakes on a shuttle, as nice as that prospect
would be. But you do have to be able to arrest its momentum at certain
times. If you take an object and flick it off into the wild blue yonder,
the theory is that it will go forever or until it gets sucked into some
gravity well. With a small ship, you simply use the maneuvering jets.
But with a big ship, that equates to a hell of a lot of extra fuel and
a hell of a cut out of the profits. So the bigger shuttles have deceleration
vanes used to dump velocity.
When one of these is damaged in-flight, its a simple matter to isolate
the vane, override the circuit, and remove it from the grid. But you can
hear when those procedures are being followed and I could
tell they werent. The mere fact that Spencer had not cut off the
ship-wide alarm told me that the kid didnt have a clue what he should
be doing and was panicking. If the vane was damaged badly enough, and
it wasnt isolated, it could overload the entire grid and then wed
be screwed; if you can not dump your velocity, your ship is pretty well
doomed to visit the outer fringes of the galaxy, because you just arent
going to get it stopped.
We were halfway through the main cabin, slowed by having to dodge distraught,
confused passengers milling around the corridor, when I felt Spencer making
his big mistake.
Spencer! I shouted, but figured I was probably too far away
to be heard. Dont!
The kid tried to hit the brake.
Guess he figured, if in doubt... stop. Or at least slow down. He activated
the deceleration grid and I heard the ship protest. Felt that damaged
piece of the whole fail completely.
The flight attendant wasnt the one who knew me, and might have tried
to stop our mad dash into the cockpit, but she looked as scared as I felt
and seemed inclined to let anybody by who looked like they thought they
knew what they were doing.
I have no idea what it did to Spencers status as my biggest
fan when I grabbed his ass and bodily removed him from the pilots
seat, practically throwing him into Heeros waiting arms. I trusted
my partner to keep the kid the hell out of my way.
Shuttle controls do not vary overly much. The big ships just have a lot
more in the way of bells, whistles and fancy gages. It was a matter of
only a few minutes to abort the hair-brained maneuver our arrant pilot
had attempted, but it was far too late to stop the damage, though I think
I kept the whole damn grid from fusing to the hull.
Behind me, I was aware of raised voices, but had more important things
to worry about. I let Heero handle it, keeping an ear tuned to his voice
for any hint that he might need me, and let the rest of it wash by.
I was pulling up status reports and telemetry as fast as my fingers could
type, scanning screens full of data, looking for telltale red flags and
cross-referencing them to the ships schematics. Trying to figure out just
how screwed we were.
The idea of overshooting Earth and kiting off into uncharted territory
was speaking to me in ways I wasnt all that thrilled to be listening
I was vaguely aware that our good Captain was in the cockpit, and he was
not a happy man. Spencer was scared shitless and there was another presence,
I assumed it was the real co-pilot, but couldnt be sure.
The conversation broke through my concentration when I heard Heero growl
darkly, Touch him and I will break your fucking arm.
My guess that he was talking to the Captain was confirmed when the man
snapped, I dont know who the hell you think you are, but Im
the Captain aboard this ship and...
Spencer broke in then, and I could almost picture him wringing his hands.
Dad! Please! Captain Maxwell is trying to help... I think I did
Shut up Spencer! The Captain barked and I could feel the kid
Then I became aware of someone climbing into the other chair and I glanced
across to see a man sitting there who looked like hed just seen
his career go down the tubes. Im pretty sure my guess about him
being the co-pilot was right.
I quirked the guy a sympathetic half-grin and hit the by-pass that let
the co-pilots screens mirror the ones at the pilots station.
Without speaking, I high-lighted the logs that clearly showed what had
just happened, and watched the poor guy rub a hand over his face. Shit,
he muttered almost to himself and gave out with a resigned little sigh.
I want the two of you the hell out of my cockpit right now,
Captain Gray was demanding and seemed to be trying to intimidate Heero
into giving ground. I almost laughed.
But then the co-pilot surprised me by turning around and saying, Drop
it, Yancy. The cats out of the bag and theres no putting it
back now. You owe this man your whole damn deceleration network. We were
about five seconds away from a complete system failure.
Shit, was the best the Captain could manage. I wasnt
sure if it was over the vane thing or the cat thing. Then he rounded on
Just what the hell did you do? he snapped, his anger looking
for a new target.
I... I tried to slow us down, the kid stammered, and I could
see, now that I was turned around, that he was indeed wringing his hands.
Spencer! Gray bellowed. Are you out of your mind? Thats
the last thing you do when you lose a vane! What in the hell were you
Perhaps, Heero suddenly said, voice that icy one that even
made me want to shiver, that is why there are regulations against
unlicensed personnel sitting watch unattended?
And damned if that little comment didnt just leave everybody with
nothing much to say.
Into that silence, I decided to insert myself; the disaster had been aborted
and this was, after all, not my ship. I climbed out of the pilots
seat and moved to flank Heero, relinquishing the chair to the ships
rightful Captain. You lost the number three vane, I told the
man calmly. But the rest is intact. And you really need to make
an announcement to your passengers before somebody has a heart attack.
Gray looked stricken, maybe realizing how close hed just come ship-wise.
Maybe realizing that hed done more than that career-wise. Then he
blew out a breath and turned to take his station, suddenly seeming to
realize that he had a job to do no matter how hed arrived where
he was. It actually made me feel better about leaving things in his hands.
Id begun to think the guy was a total screw-off.
I had a moments unease for Spencers sake, his father seemed
to have a damn volatile temper, but the kid didnt seem to fear staying
in the cockpit with the man, so Heero and I faded towards the door. Behind
us, I finally heard Gray and his co-pilot starting to get their heads
out of their respective asses.
...call up the power level report and...
...course and heading...
...he isolated the number three...
...damn fast work...
I found Heeros hand resting on my back and he guided me the hell
out of there. The last thing I heard from the cockpit was the Captain
telling Spencer to call for the flight attendant. We passed her right
outside the door and she gave us a breathless thank you as
we went by.
Im pretty sure every passenger onboard was standing around in the
main cabin, looking nervous and staring at us as we started to walk through
on our way back to our cabin. I was suddenly very damn aware of the fact
that neither of us was wearing anything but pairs of jeans.
Something of Heeros Preventors instincts seemed to kick in and he
paused long enough to tell the room at large, The shuttle is in
no immediate danger. There was a minor mishap that has been dealt with.
The Captain will be making an announcement momentarily. That set
the room to buzzing, but there seemed to be a lessoning in the tension
levels at least. Heero nudged me into motion again and we retreated to
our room as fast as we could manage without running.
Heeros hand never left my back the whole way, and the instant the
cabin door slid shut behind us, I was in his arms. It was a mutual thing.
Are you all right? he needed to know and I gave him a shaky
Be better if we could finish getting dressed... Im freezing
So we dressed and I found I needed my sweatshirt over the t-shirt I started
with, and it still didnt quite quell the shivers. Damn that
was close, I said after we were sitting side by side on the bed
and Heero pulled me in close against him.
Your reaction time is still... damned impressive, he told
me, smiling gently and kissing the side of my head.
I snorted, letting my own arms wrap around his waist. I couldnt
say; those first couple of minutes are kind of a blur.
We just sat like that for a minute and then I had to sigh. Well,
at least we dont have to feel guilty over turning Captain Gray in,
anymore. Its kind of a moot point; no hiding this mess.
He sighed softly, but had no real answer to that. Neither Captain Gray,
his co-pilot, nor Spencer were ever likely to see the pilots chair
again after this trip. Out of all of them, I wasnt sure which one
to feel the sorriest for; naïve Spencer who had only wanted to dance,
Gray who had only wanted to give his son an edge of experience, or the
poor nameless co-pilot, who had only been doing his Captain a favor.
Or maybe the damn passengers who were nothing more than innocent bystanders.
Of which I was one.
Maybe Id just feel sorry for myself and leave the rest of them to
their own devices.
Do you fucking believe this? I found myself asking Heero,
a little surprised at the strained sound of my own voice. Do you
think Ive got some kind of curse on my head or something? This can
not be happening.
He turned more fully toward me, the better to shelter me in his arms.
Its all right. Its a simple repair; the shuttles
mechanics should have everything in order before long at all. Spencer
was the weak link and hes been removed completely.
I know, I grumbled. But come on... what are the fucking
odds? Im started to feel a little persecuted here.
He laughed gently, but mostly because I wanted him to. Maybe we
should just try to go back to bed?
I snorted mirthlessly. No way in hell can I go to sleep now.
He didnt look all that surprised, but he didnt look all that
happy either. Duo... he began but I cut him off.
Im sorry, Heero... maybe once the repairs are done, but that
was too much of an adrenaline rush and too damn close to... to things
Id rather not be thinking about. My voice kind of cracked
on that last and he let go of me long enough to climb across and straddle
my lap, wrapping his arms around my shoulders to bring me in against his
chest. Gave me the calm, steady sound of his heart and the warmth of his
body next to mine.
Im here, he told me and I would have been irritated
if the bubble of anxiety in my stomach hadnt been in the process
of exploding. As it was, I just put my arms around his waist and shivered
hard while my head told the rest of my body what Spencer had just almost
done to us, and the whole of me had one of those oh shit moments.
Heero just held me while I remembered how to breathe.
You know, he whispered against the top of my head, when Id
stopped clutching at him so much. I think Im going to need
some kind of keyword to let me know when youve had enough. Youve
been too damn good at covering up.
I drew back and looked up at him, a little taken aback, thinking he was
mocking me, but the look on his face was genuine. I realized this had
taken him a little bit by surprise. It kind of made me feel good at the
same time that it made me nervous. While I was delighted to think that
I might have spent part of the day not looking like a raving loon, enough
so that Heero had let his guard down a little, it also made me fearful
that I might reach for his support and not find it. I was a little appalled
at how fast I had come to count on his being there.
How about Holy fuck? I teased, pleasantly surprised
to find my voice almost steady. Almost.
He snorted a little sigh and pulled me close again. Got it,
Do you think, I ventured after a minute or three of just being
where I was. That we could go back out to the cabin? I really think
Id feel better if I knew what the hell was going on. This is too...
He readily agreed, and I had to suspect that he would much rather have
stayed where the action was himself. Had only come back to
the cabin because he felt I needed some privacy. Well, and the clothes
thing. But maybe he hadnt been so taken by surprise by my moment
of panic after all. He slipped off my lap and reached for my hand to draw
me to my feet.
You sure youre all right? he had to ask me and I repressed
the urge to blow him a raspberry.
Yes, mother-hen, I grinned at him. I am fine now. Anxiety
attack all done.
He caught me by the arm as I started to open the door and gave me a look
as serious as a funeral. Duo... I need you to be straight with me
about how youre feeling. I was only half joking about the code word;
I need to know when youre getting overwhelmed. I need for you to
stop trying so hard to be fine.
I flushed and looked away. Heero... I dont know what to tell
you. Yes, Im a little freaked out... but Im coping, ok? Thats
the best I can do.
Im with you, he told me, voice intense and hand tightening
on my arm. Trying to impart to me all the reassurances he had to offer.
I leaned in and gently kissed his cheek. And thats part of
the problem, love. As scary as it is to think about being... stranded
out here; its even worse thinking about you being stranded
He didnt have a clue how to answer that, so we just left the cabin.
I dont know what Captain Gray had chosen to tell his passengers,
but it seemed to have gotten mixed reactions, because while some of them
had been reassured enough that theyd gone back to their cabins,
the ones who had stayed seemed agitated.
The flirty flight attendant had joined the one who was on-duty and they
were answering questions and attempting to keep people calm. I struggled
for a minute, recalling that Spencer had told me her name and finally
dredged it up; Leslie.
When she saw us, she smiled brightly and came straight away to greet me;
I thought for a minute she was going to grab my damn arm. I didnt
register that I was retreating from her until I bumped into Heero.
Oh, Mr. Maxwell, she gushed. You saved us all!
I repressed a groan and tried to make more of an effort to hold my ground.
Uh, really Leslie... I didnt do anything the Captain wouldnt
have done the minute he got there.
Using her name was apparently a mistake because she blushed and giggled
and actually did reach out to touch my arm, though she didnt grab
it, thank God. But he would have been too late, Spencer said so.
I dont know about that... I began, but she wasnt
Spencer said you were there so fast he thought you flew! she
was beaming at me and I jumped on the only thing I could think of to interrupt
the flow of words that werent giving me any of the information I
was looking for.
Is Spencer around?
Oh yes! she was happy to report. Hes in the cockpit
with the Captain. Ill tell him you came back.
That would be... very kind, I managed and the woman finally
let go of my arm and went away. I remembered to breathe again, and behind
me Heero chuckled.
I think we need wedding rings, he whispered near my ear. Im
getting a little tired of other people fawning all over my husband.
I couldnt help the sudden nervous laugh, but stifled it quickly
when it made everyone left in the room turn to look at me.
If itll make them leave me alone, I whispered back.
Then Spencer was coming out of the cockpit, and I was thankful as all
hell that Leslie ended up rejoining the other flight attendant and didnt
come over with him.
The kid, at least, was a little more subdued than he had been so far this
trip, but then I imagine he was having to do some heavy thinking about
his next career choice. I wondered if hed figured out that his father
might well be up on charges when this was all over.
Duo, he greeted me, giving me a ragged little smile. Leslie
said you were looking for me?
Just wondering how things were going, I told him. Have
your mechanics started repairs yet? How do things look?
He sighed and his fingers found his class ring in a nervous gesture Id
not seen him use before, turning it around and around on his hand. Avery
just finished suiting up and is on his way out. Would you like to come
into the cockpit to watch?
I couldnt help glancing at Heero at the news, and saw a frown dancing
around his face that told me hed caught the odd part of that statement
too, but I just gave Spencer a smile. If you dont think your
Da... Captain Gray will mind.
Spencer ducked his head and grinned, a little more like his old self.
Hes calmed way down. Come on.
And just like that, he turned and led the way back toward the cockpit.
We passed the flight attendants and Leslie looked... oddly upset, while
the other one looked kind of smug and I had to wonder about it, but didnt
figure Id ever know, so I forgot about it.
Captain Gray had indeed, calmed down, finally having gotten his shit together
and taken control of the situation. His co-pilot was no longer in the
room and I assumed he was down supervising the repair crew. Though...
that Avery remark kept nagging at me, insinuating, as it did,
that only one person was going out.
Captain Gray spared a glance up as we came into the cabin, and I got to
see the big man blush. He turned back to his boards, but cleared his throat
and managed, I guess I owe you two an apology. Im just not
used to having my cockpit invaded.
It was a grudging apology at best, but an apology all the same, and I
suppose in his place Id have been a little territorial too. Though,
when I stopped to think about it, there would have been no way in hell
anybody would have beat me to my own pilots seat under an impact
alarm. So I still couldnt work up to feeling too much sympathy for
No apology needed, sir, I told him anyway, just to get passed
that two dogs pissing at the edges of their territory thing. I
guess we were just working on pure engrained instinct. Didnt mean
He burst out with a scornful little snort. Well... youre polite,
Ill give you that.
I was still trying to decipher just what he meant by that when the voice
of the co-pilot came over the comm. unit. You still awake up there,
About damn time, slacker, the Captain said and his fingers
began moving over his keyboard. You going to give me live feed,
or just tell me about it?
There was a bit of tinny laughter and then one of the overhead screens
flickered to life. The view was outside the ship from a suits camera.
I blinked for a minute, the pieces starting to fall into place in my head,
but my conscious mind refusing to believe the picture that was starting
Heeros hand fell on my shoulder as he leaned a little toward the
pilots chair. Avery is your co-pilot? he asked Gray
in a deceptively quiet voice, and when he got a sharp little nod, asked,
Where is your ships mechanic?
Spencer, perched on the edge of the co-pilots seat, looking as though
he were trying to become very small, said, We dont have one.
What? I blurted before Heero had a chance to.
Spencer ducked his head even further and his eyes flicked toward his father,
as though he expected to get yelled at, but the good Captain seemed to
have decided to fess up to all his sins and told us, Its how
I managed a berth for Spencer.
Its rather amazing that Spencer wasnt wearing a hole in his
finger as much as he was turning that ring around and around. I found
my eyes just watching him, trying to get my head around what the Captain
was saying. He wasnt telling me... He couldnt be saying...
Nobody is that... Nope. I had to have heard him wrong.
Heero seemed to be having the same problem with comprehension, because
he pushed for clarification. Captain Gray, are you telling me this
ship has no maintenance crew and you just sent your co-pilot out-ship
to do repairs as difficult as changing out a damper vane on his own?
I could see Gray getting defensive, but I could also feel Heero nearing
his idiot tolerance level and realized things were going to get pretty
ugly in a minute. I was struggling with something to interject into the
conversation, when the speaker crackled to life again. Id forgotten
the co-pilot was on.
Dont worry about it, kid, the guy said, voice sounding
almost bored with the whole thing, addressing Heero directly. Yancy
and I are old veterans. We did a lot of stuff during the war; you learn
to make do with what youve got. Ive done out-ship repairs
a dozen times.
I wanted to laugh, but figured the timing on that would have been a little
bad. Heeros hand was still on my shoulder, and I felt it tighten
almost reflexively. I think my lover was getting a little bit pissed off.
On the overhead monitor, I could see that Avery hadnt stopped his
progress while hed been talking to us, and was just arriving at
the worksite. It crossed my mind that I didnt even know the guys
Captain Gray seemed to think that ended the conversation with Heero and
gave his attention completely over to his boards. Hows it
There was a pause while we watched Avery squat down next to
the damaged vane. Took a hit, alright, he confirmed. Though
I cant tell from what. His hands reappeared and we could see
him activate the magnetics in the equipment cask he had with him, attaching
it to the hull near where he would be working.
My stomach was starting to knot, just thinking about what he was getting
ready to do. Changing out a vane is not a one man job.
Captain Gray... Heero began, and I watched the man in question
lose his temper. He turned sharply in Spencers direction and snapped,
Shut them the hell up or get them out of my cockpit!
Spencer was quick to leap to his feet, coming over to stand in front of
us, a pleading look on his face and doing that hand wringing thing again.
Duo, he whispered. Please...
Heeros hand tightened so much it was starting to hurt.
I was kind of ignoring all of them, eyes fastened on the screen. I watched
Avery open the cask and immediately pull a spanner wrench out of its niche.
I think my knees went weak. My hand rose of its own accord and settled
over Heeros where he gripped my shoulder. Avery, I called,
surprised at the calm quality of my own voice. Wheres your
I thought Gray was going to burst a blood vessel, but before he could
speak, Avery answered me, laughing lightly. What the hell do I need
a meter for, kid? You isolated it yourself.
I blinked for a second, not quite able to believe hed said that.
Just because the ship says its isolated, doesnt mean
its isolated. You never trust the computer when handling something
like the deceleration network.
He chuckled at my fears. Didnt bring one, kid. Guess Ill
just have to wing it.
Avery, I tried again, going for calm and reasonable. Listen
to me; you are trusting a faulty system to tell you... and that
was where Captain Gray finally completely lost his temper.
Get the fuck out of here! he bellowed, turning away from his
station to level a finger at us. Ive had all Im going
to take out of you...
Since Spencer and his father where both facing us, Heero and I were the
only ones to see Avery die.
I had known my words were useless even as I tried to convince the man,
because I had been watching him continue to work through everything Id
said. And as I had worried, as Id tried to tell them, the vane was
still charged. I watched that grainy video screen and saw the wrench enter
the frame. There was an aborted scream, a flash of white, and then the
screen went dead as it lost its feed.
Avery? Gray was shouting at the comm. Hill! Report!
Later, I would very distinctly remember thinking that the man was dead
before I even learned his last name.
Heeros hand left my shoulder and suddenly had me around the waist.
I think I sagged a little, but I refrained from the cursing, because quite
honestly... I hadnt been all that surprised. On some level, Id
known things werent good from the moment Spencer had told us that
only one man was going out there. No qualified mechanic who knew his damn
job would have gone alone to begin with.
Ill give the Captain credit; he didnt panic, though he was
to the point where he should have been. He forgot about us completely,
his fingers pounding on his keys to bring up the video feed from another
angle, picking up first one and then another external camera until he
finally found the right one.
Spencer screamed and began to sob brokenly.
Avery Hill was floating a good twenty feet from the ship, tethered by
his anchor line. His magnetics cut out along with the rest of his suits
systems, by the shock he took off the number three vane. Vacuum suits
are speckled about with idiot lights and tell-tales under normal operation
and there is nothing that will chill a spacer quite as fast, on an almost
sub-conscious level, as seeing a suit out-ship as dark as the one we were
looking at. I shivered convulsively and suddenly had both Heeros
arms around me tight and sure.
I was thankful as holy hell that that suit was totally immobile. It meant
the charge had killed the man, and he had not had to suffer through the
three minutes it takes to die in a suit that has shut down. We could not
have gotten to him in time.
I was about two seconds away from delivering my holy fuck
to Heero when he turned us bodily away from the monitor. Turn the
damn thing off! he barked at Gray, but I didnt look to see
if he immediately obeyed.
There was nothing for a couple of long minutes but the sound of Spencers
gasping sobs and Heeros soft assurances.
What a fucking waste, I managed, after a couple of minutes
and Heero eased off, but didnt let go immediately. My head was absolutely
pounding and I knew my blood-pressure was probably through the roof, but
I couldnt spare the attention to do anything about it. There was
a hamster waiting in the wings needing to present me with a thought that
I just did not want to think about, and it was taking all my concentration
to avoid the little bugger.
Spencer was about to drive me mad with his hysterics, half from the pure
irritation factor, and half from understanding the guilt that was eating
Let me get him out of here, I whispered to Heero and he let
me go almost reluctantly. I didnt bother with Spencer myself, quite
honestly not able to deal with him in the frame of mind I was in, and
I simply went out into the main cabin to enlist some help. Leslie was
not even a blip on my radar of useful people, and I looked to the other
woman for aid, partially because between the two of them... she was the
one not weeping and wringing her hands. For a totally surreal moment,
I wondered if Spencer and Leslie were related.
She let me draw her aside, out of Leslies earshot. I figured if
that girl was crying just from hearing Spencer scream, I didnt want
to be the one to announce that Avery had been... less than successful
in his attempt to fix the ship.
Im sorry, miss, I told her softly. I need you
to do a couple of things if you dont mind?
If you tell me whats going on, she bargained, and I
had to give her points for chutzpah. I spared a glance over her shoulder
and then drew her a step further away from Leslie and other prying ears.
Mr. Hill just... I began, cringing internally, wrestling with
wording. In that moment I felt a horrid sympathy for cops and doctors.
I tried again. He was killed trying to repair the ship.
Her eyes flew wide and though she looked rather stricken, I could see
her mind working and she finally said, What do you need me to do?
I ducked my head and sighed, finding my hands running through my bangs.
Can you take charge of Spencer? The poor kid is a mess and hes
just... in the way wasnt polite. He just doesnt
need to be seeing any more of this.
She nodded understanding, of both my points I think, and let me lead her
into the cockpit. I forgot about both her and Spencer when I realized
that Heero and our stalwart Captain were in each others faces. But
from the looks of things, Heero had the man on the ropes... he was white
as a damn sheet and staring at my partner like hed just suddenly
announced he was a space alien here to tour the Earth and was looking
for a guide.
...fully within my power to declare you unfit for duty, Heero
was saying, and I knew just which trump card hed pulled. I moved
up to stand beside him, attempting to fill the position of the other cop,
just not sure yet if my role would be the good one or the bad one. So
do not address me again as you fucking asshole or I will have
you locked in your quarters for the duration of this trip. You have to
understand that you have essentially committed career suicide, and will
be facing an inquiry when we return planet-side. Do not compound your
problems by insulting an officer of the Preventors.
Gray just sort of sank back down in his seat, looking very much like a
puppet whose strings have been cut. I was afraid for a second that he
might just pass out. I was distantly aware of Spencer leaving the immediate
area. I hoped like hell that the attendant could get him out of here without
panicking the entire shuttle full of passengers.
Captain Gray suddenly dropped his head into his hands and moaned, It
doesnt matter now... were dead anyway. I cant land this
ship without the damper network. You two claim to be pilots... you should
It was apparently the cue that my little hamster had been waiting for,
because he darted out, stopped dead in front of me, planted his banner
pole, smoothed his fur and finally unfurled a sign that simply said. You.
I choked on a heavy sigh and figured out that I must be the good cop.
Thats not necessarily true, Yancy, I told him with a
smile that managed not to turn into a smirk. You see... were
not just pilots. Were... Ex-Gundam pilots who are perfectly
capable of building a new shuttle out of Popsicle sticks and bubblegum
given enough time. We can do zero-g repairs.
He jerked around to look at me, hope trying to catch light in eyes that
suddenly seemed to be a hundred years old. I finally managed to work up
just a tiny bit of sympathy for the man. You can do it? he
had to ask and I nodded.
If you have a pair of vacuum suits we can use, I told him,
feeling Heeros eyes on me. Yeah... we can.
In the end, the man relinquished the Captains chair to me because
he really didnt have much choice. The death of his co-pilot, a man
hed obviously been friends with, seemed to have finally taken the
wind out of his sails. He went out into the cabin area, to make an announcement
while I sat down and took over his boards.
While I called up all those telemetry reports again, verifying readings
and going by the damn book, because the book exists for a fucking reason,
damnit, Heero came to stand by my side, resting his hand on my back. For
a while, he simply read over my shoulder, but when we both knew Id
gleaned all the information I was going to get out of those reports and
logs, he quietly asked, Are you sure you can do this?
I turned to smile up at him, and knew it was a shadow of my normal grin.
I dont really see that I have a lot of choice.
I... he hesitated, knowing the reaction he was about to get,
Im sure. I can try it alone, if...
Do not make me deck you, I told him flatly. Because
we both just saw the results of somebody trying to do this job alone.
His eyes got a little bit hard and he said, But Im not idiot
enough to take short-cuts.
I blew out a breath and found my hand reaching for his. Love, going
out is going to be bad enough. Sitting in here and watching you would
be... more than I could handle.
It seemed to please him and distress him all at the same time and he leaned
in to give me an almost harsh kiss. I love you, he whispered,
all tight voiced.
Forever, husband-mine, I whispered back. Now lets
go try on some vacuum suits. I hope they have something in my size...
I hate when they dont fit in the crotch.
He smiled for me, but didnt back off to let me stand. Status?
he asked me, and pulled my fingers up to kiss the back of my knuckles.
I wanted to be irritated, I wanted to force him to just let me out of
the stupid chair so we could get the hell on with this, but damn it...
he was going out there with me and he had a right to know as much as I
could tell him. I sighed and dropped my head back against the head rest,
closing my eyes and looking inward.
George had all the appropriate expletive banners sorted and ready to go,
Guilt beast seemed to be off spending the evening with Spencer, and the
kid in the back of my head had been given a drink of water and was currently
being entertained watching old cartoon reruns on the wide-screen that
is my imagination. Yep. Ready as Id ever be.
Im scared shitless, I told him bluntly. But Ive
done this before. I... think I can do it again. I opened my eyes
and looked at him. Because youll be with me.
The kiss I got for that was much gentler.
I was doing this by the books, so the first thing on the agenda was a
trip down to engineering where I killed the entire deceleration network
with the manual overrides. Id seen it quite obviously demonstrated
that the section isolation hadnt worked. I dont play with
live-wires. While we were there, I dug up and tested a couple of power
meters, and a replacement spanner wrench, I figured the one from the tool
kit outside was probably long gone. My motto when working with shit that
can kill you, is always error on the side of caution.
I would have made a good boy scout.
Heero shadowed my every step, helping where he could, but mostly just
being with me. This seemed to be my show, not that he wasnt perfectly
capable, but this was shit Id done for so long I could practically
do it with my eyes closed, and he was letting me lead.
I noticed as we had to pass through the passenger sections, that people
were starting to look at us as though we were crew. Turning to us with
questions on the tips of their tongues, and faith in their eyes. It made
me shiver. Bad enough to be doing this, but having all those other lives
hanging over my head wasnt making it any easier. I had to force
myself not to really look at people or I started wondering if they had
families. If that guy with the graying hair had a wife. If that woman
in the green blouse had kids. I wondered if there was a Mrs. Gray somewhere
and if shed known about all the rules her husband was breaking in
order to get Spencer into a good flight school. I wondered if shed
support him, or rip his head off when she found out about this trip.
But that just led me around to thinking about the fact that Spencer and
his Dad might not actually make it back to tell her, if I couldnt
do what Id said I could, so I just did my best to think about something
When there was nothing more to be done inside the ship, it was the level-headed
flight attendant who led us down to the airlocks. Thinking about Avery,
as we walked those cold corridors, I blurted, Whats your name?
Bobbi, she told me, seeming a little bemused and trying to
Im Duo, I told her, not that shed asked. But then,
maybe Leslie had already told her. And this is Heero.
She chuckled and said, Pleased to meet you.
It did seem kind of stupid, but I couldnt have explained it if Id
tried, so I didnt bother. Whatd you do with Spencer?
I asked by way of subject change.
She lost her smile as she ducked through another section seal. Put
him to bed, she said shortly. You were right; hes a
mess. Guy... the bartender, is sitting with him.
I nodded, though I doubt she saw, and then we were there. I had to take
a deep breath looking at the row of vacuum suits hanging in their re-gen
niches on the wall. I shivered when my eyes swept over the one empty slot.
Thank you, Bobbi, I heard Heero say. I think we can
get it from here. Would you ask Captain Gray if he could stand by in the
She said something affirmative, gave us an odd little look that was somewhere
between grateful and sympathetic and then finally left.
Warm hands settled on my shoulders.
Holy fuck? Heero asked gently.
I snorted, shivering again. Not quite.
Are you... he began, but I cut him off.
In full denial.
He turned me around and looked me in the eyes. Well be together
the whole way.
I know, I smiled.
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