She was running out; her bottle full of nothing but little drops now, and the room was spinning with more than just the help from artificial gravity ship rotation. When the door chimed she tried to get up and failed.
The door chimed again. "It's open, you idiot!"
Eric came in, hitting the door control as soon as his bulk was across the threshold. He had her salvation in his other hand. "I wanted to make sure I had the right store room. How are you doing, Lissa?"
Lissa snorted. "Rejected. He didn't even realize. You?"
Eric smiled a sad smile. "She might have considered me for all of two seconds; at least she had the grace not to lie to me, or try to let me down easy. Those two only have eyes for each other."
Lissa finally succeeded in grasping the right bottle; Eric let it go and she hoisted it. "To being alone."
He waited until she drank and passed the bottle before echoing the sentiment. "To being alone."
After he drank he shook the bottle experimentally. "You know, we're going to need more than this. You should have told me. Was this why you messaged me? To be your booze gopher?"
"And if it was?" Lissa asked.
Eric shrugged. "I didn't really feel like doing anything else, and Oddball can do my work in its sleep."
"Well it wasn't." Lissa assured him. "We're here and alone. But what if we're alone... together?"
Eric took a pull from the bottle and passed it over. "I'm listening."
Lissa drank. "It doesn't have to be about love. But you and I, we're two of a kind really. We're both kinda jerks, and we could get along. According to our psych profiles at least. It doesn't cost us anything to try and make it work, at least."
"And if Roger and Mouse break up...."
Lissa's face blanked. "I wouldn't count on that. But if it happens we can take things from there."
Eric took another pull from the bottle, and Lissa mourned the loss.
"So what do you think?" she prompted.
Eric stood up with another smile, a genuine smile: "I think we'll need more booze. you know, to properly cement this partnership."
Lissa smiled and sank back down onto her blanket as the door closed.
"Bring two this time!" she called as the door closed.
What did I want? Lissa all but throwing herself at me forced me to ask. No, Lissa actually did throw herself at me, just like in those cheesy old films we used to watch and suffer through as kids.
I knew I wanted kids. But given a choice between having kids with Mouse or Lissa, I knew. I wanted kids with Mouse. I wanted to be with Mouse, the way she was now; even having her so angry she could spit at me was preferable to having old, male Mouse. Female Mouse was... far more interesting, somehow. That hurt to admit, even to myself.
Was Lissa right? Did Mouse feel the same about me, even a little? If I walked up to her now, what would she say?
What could I say? Was saying anything even the right thing to do?
No, this was stupid. Second guessing any of this was stupid. Whatever happened was up to Mouse; I just had to focus on my job and make any hard decisions involving flying the ship and taking care of the crew.
"Seig, any hard decisions involving flying the ship or taking care of the crew come up while I was gone?"
"Not a single one, Captain sir," Seig replied, getting up and letting me settle in the Captain's chair.
The chair that wasn't worth it. I knew what all those pitying looks from Mouse's Dad were for, now. He knew one of us would get the worst most thankless job on the ship.
"Cheer up, we could always have a catastrophic problem and all die in the next five minutes. You'll get the chance to kill us all any time now."
That was Seig for you. "Thanks. Looking forward to it, in your case."
Seig slapped me on the back somehow, despite the fact that I was sitting down. "That's the spirit!"
I looked up and noticed the rest of the bridge crew all staring at me.
They all put their heads back down to their consoles, and actually started working. What that was even about, I had no idea. I wasn't some lab specimen. The temptation to bust them all passed with effort. Mainly because it was really meaningless, and every member of the crew knew it. I settled in and tried my best to look stern.
With the last filter changed, my job was officially done, and could offer no more distractions.
What could I do? What, in all of space, should I do? My choices had both expanded and thinned in the course of a minute; I could marry for a time and become a man again but the choice of grooms made me ill.
Mostly. Despite his betrayal, Roger was at least a friend. Maybe. He wouldn't push, and wouldn't screw me over again - I'd put the fear of me into him after the first time. Eric wouldn't do it either, I didn't think. Would he?
He was too pushy anyway. I didn't want to risk it.
I was fine with being a hermit afterward, and living alone. Carnal pleasure, as my Mom called it, was overrated. At least I was pretty sure it was; if it was the best thing ever as some media had portrayed, mankind never would have made it into space in the first place - we'd have been too busy.
The other choices just rubbed me wrong; too passive, too... weak? Beneath me at any rate, I was the best catch on this ship, as a boy or a girl. Despite my ego, if one could consider having an ego as big as mine an undesirable thing. I could back mine up, at least.
Roger and Eric had at least offered. And by offered I mean they had managed to say more than two words to me in a single day; I wasn't that scary, people could talk to me. Then again, I was getting far more female attention lately than I ever used to; were the two related somehow?
I should probably learn more psychology; even if trying to figure myself out that way seemed kind of pointless.
No, I'd learn. I needed to know how to win friends and influence people, and if the last few months are any indication, I didn't know nearly enough about it; if I had, I'd be captain, and Roger would be in my shoes. Rogina? Rogeria? Was there a female version of the name Roger?
Was there a female version of my name? I didn't know. It didn't matter anyway, I wouldn't be changing it.
Enough delaying; what was I going to do? I'd already made up my mind, hadn't I? All the crap and manipulations aside, I had, hadn't I?
I needed a second opinion. Normally, I'd ask Claire, but her opinions were suspect, so Marion would have to do. The real issues with that would be getting her alone to ask and not having it spread all over the ship before I could act on the advice after.
No, advice was stupid. It was best just to do it.
I keyed my pad, hitting the right button by memory. "Captain."
"Chief engineer," his voice came back quickly, and he sounded wary, if anything. "Is there a problem?"
"Nothing drastically important, no... but we need to talk. Meet me at forobs one?" Forward observation room one was just under the bridge, and offered the best view of where we were going. It was also the most frequented observation port of the ship, but I needed the reminder for now; if anyone was there, I'd simply chase them out.
"Sure. On my way."
Screw cleaning up for this, or anything else; my dirty uniform and sweaty self was the best he deserved.
I really should have thought my choice of routes through; just striding down the main passage of the ship made it easy for everyone who wanted to gawk. Yes, come see the amazing unwillingly female engineer, and be sure to whisper behind her back so she wonders what you're up to. Bunch of jerks; I couldn't wait until life gave them something new to gossip about.
That would probably happen just before our kids froze us all, and we joined our parents. My luck was that good.
Joe actually started to follow me, of all things. I wasn't even on shift, so if it was business he was after the wrong person.
"Go away, Joe. whatever it is, it can wait."
He stopped, opened his mouth, then shut it and left back in the direction of the cafeteria.
Forward observation one was empty; a large lounge with chairs and couches inset into all the inner surfaces, and all the outer surfaces made of some of the most massive reinforced glass on the ship, laced with some more exotic material to make sure it was as tough as everything else. They also had truly massive shutters that could (and did, just days ago) roll down for emergencies. Those shutters were currently up, and so the view offered was of the stars we were headed towards, still too small without magnification to be beautiful.
Somehow I beat Roger here, which was odd. I had started from engineering, and this was maybe five minutes from the bridge. What was taking him so long?
Whatever; I sank down on my favorite couch with a sigh. Fully healed or not, scrambling around on hands and knees changing filters all day was tiring. The stars floated ever closer, pin pricks of light in a wall of darkness.
Roger had snuck in while I wasn't looking; the drawback of this place being public and having no door.
"Roger." I greeted. I didn't bother looking at him.
He stayed silent.
"So, did you mean it?"
To his credit he knew what I meant. "Yeah, I meant it."
I turned, his eyes were wide but his face was set the same way as when we'd dealt with the rogue planet. I didn't think I warranted all that; he almost looking like he was going to puke all over the both of us.
"Hey, I don't like the idea any more than you do, but you're the one who betrayed me, so you should take responsibility. As stupid as it sounds, you're the only one I can trust not to betray me again."
His face slipped into shock. "That wasn't what I... look, I said I was willing and I am. I won't betray your trust again."
I believed him; after all, with Oddball offering this as an alternative, he had no reason to. As captain, he had to start keeping his word.
"But I have to ask... are you sure?"
That was fair. "No, not really. But if it's going to happen, I'd rather it be you. At least you're not going to make fun of me or something."
I half expected him to laugh and tell me he would, but he surprised me by stepping up and wrapping me in a hug so gentle I could barely feel it.
"No, never. For what it's worth, I'm sorry again, and I will make amends as long as you want."
"For the rest of your life?"
He didn't hesitate or stutter on the reply. "For the rest of my life."
I stepped back as much as he'd let me (he was still holding on loosely) held a fist out; an old gesture that only Roger and I knew, from an old movie we'd watched. "Friends?"
He bumped my fist with his. "Best friends."
I pulled him down with me to the couch, and dodged him when he almost hit me. "Good, got that out of the way at least."
Roger adjusted himself, getting comfortable. "So, what happens now?"
"Well, I guess we marry."
"Do you want a ceremony?" he asked, just before his pad chimed.
I raised an eyebrow right into Roger's chagrin.
"I have a good reason for it still being on, I promise." He took a look, and called out "Come ahead Marion!"
Marion walked in, wheeling a tray ahead of her. She kept her mouth firmly closed, even when i asked her what she was doing here. Instead Roger answered for her.
"I thought you might be hungry or thirsty - I know i am. So I dropped by the cafeteria and asked her to make something for us for this meeting. She promised not to eavesdrop or say a word while delivering it, too."
"You must have blackmail on her then, for all that." The look of exaggerated hurt on Marion's face was priceless; she really wanted to say something.
"The best. I know who is likely to ask her to marry."
Marion blushed, but didn't say anything. Instead she uncovered the food, an actual feast of things direct from Earth that Oddball had sent me, including more of that macaroni and cheese stuff, as well as a few things I didnt recognize. The drinks were water, some of my mentor's old fuel cleaner, and raspberry tea, an old favorite of mine I thought we were out of.
There was even a candle in the center; a small long white one which Marion lit with great care. Then she winked at me and left.
I snagged the tea and took a drink; it was cold and stronger than I was used to.
Roger went straight for Corbie's product, but stopped with a glance from me and went for the water instead. "So, back to business. Do you want a ceremony? A party?"
Oddball usually handled the party and ceremony set up, though the Captain was the sole marrying authority on the ship. Heh, Roger would be pretty busy soon, come to think of it; I'd heard stories of all the weddings and after parties from my Mom and Dad, they had been a subject of fond reminiscence decades later.
"No, I don't need a ceremony, and you're the Captain; if you say we're married, we are. That's good enough for me."
Roger fumbled with his pockets. "Right, well in that case, I came prepared."
The object he brought out was a small white loop - a ring. Titanium or an alloy of it unless I missed my guess, more valuable on this ship than the more standard gold. It was old and smooth but without signs of wear. Something made from something else, as all things were on this ship. A sign of value. There was no gemstone to get caught up or rip something either, which was a bonus on older rings I'd seen.
It was surreal. I held my hand out, and he gently took it and slipped the ring on my finger; it fit perfectly; a cold hard symbol of our contract with each other. I wanted to take it off, but I didn't dare.
"I'll admit I had some help sizing this." He told me softly.
"I'm afraid I don't have anything for you." I hadn't really been thinking about all this in terms of rings and ceremony.
He waved it off and took a bite of pasta. "Don't worry about it, I had a bit more time today than you. I don't care about it anyway."
Yeah, no. "I'll have one for you by tomorrow and you'll like it."
If I was getting claimed like this, so was he.
"Yes Ma'am," he agreed quickly. "There is just no need to trouble yourself over it. I can wait. I thought you'd appreciate the gesture yourself, is all."
I didn't want to tell him I did appreciate it. "Ma'am huh?"
Roger smirked back at me. "Blame your father for that one."
Yeah politeness was how Dad operated - when he was sure he stepped a foot right in the compost.
"Alright, so what's next?" I knew I was forgetting something.
Roger held up his pad. "Making it official."
Right. He handed his pad over rather than just send it. The marriage license was already filled out on it, My last name was changed on it, as was tradition, and Roger had already signed it with his thumbprint.
Dad would just have to get over the fact that there would be no little Zamirs running around. I pressed my thumb next to my name, sealing the deal. With a ting, the document saved, and a swipe sent a copy to my own pad.
"Well, that's done." Roger was taking a drink of the good stuff; perfect. "Pass that over and strip."
The spit take was caught on film for all posterity, courtesy of my pad.
"Can't we finish eating first?" Roger begged, giving his plate a soulful stare.
"No can do, friend of mine. Not a single hour, not even five minutes longer than I need to. We can eat after, the food will keep just fine. You understand, don't you?"
Roger sighed, but stood up and started unbuckling.
Then of course it was my turn. "Wh - wh - what the heck?!?"
Roger looked up. "What?"
"What the heck man, did you grow more?"
"Well, you know Mouse, when a man sees a hot woman or a reasonable facsimile, such things tend to happen. Surely you haven't forgotten how these things work already?"
"I meant in general, jackass!" he certainly looked bigger since the last time I'd seen him in a locker room. "It's just... deal's off, man. There's no way that thing'll fit!"
Roger stepped forward with a warm, lopsided smile.
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