The Captain watched the eddying gas swirling around the floor of the tent, gently frying their mugs, one of them the souvenir from that cafe on Ereb, and dancing all over the metal coffee percolator, and her shoes? When had she taken her shoes off? Had someone else? This whole injury business was much more overwhelming than she’d previously imagined.
At her back, she could feel the Navigatrix taking slow, steady breaths. How was she calm again already? Only moments ago she had looked like she was going to cry – and now they might end up trapped forever in this stone tomb being slowly shocked to death.
Some wheel in the Captain’s mind spun up and told her that no, this was not a calm Navigatrix. Calm people didn’t breathe in to a count of four and then out to a count of four, like an air cycler. A calm person’d make small talk, or discuss their escape options, not silently stew.
Well. Okay then. Maybe she could fix this.
“I’m not .. I don’t hate Lucy.”
The Captain kept her voice low this time. The Navigatrix stilled behind her, listening.
“I wish she was here. I – if she walked up right now I’d take her back, no question.”
“Back to the same routine?”
“Back to normal – yeah.”
The Navigatrix had gone from still to stiff. The Captain tried to look at her over her shoulder without making the pallet shift and stir up the electric fog, but it was awkward. The silence stretched out.
Finally she caved;
“Why? Is normal bad?”
The fog gently sparkled.
“Not bad, just..” The Navigatrix took in a deep breath. “Maybe normal wasn’t good enough anymore.”
“Well she never told me that!” The Captain cringed at her own voice. “I gave her everything she asked for.”
The Navigatrix didn’t say anything.
“She wanted to travel? We traveled. She wanted to man the helm? I bought her that ship piloting course. She wanted that one pastry on Ereb? I fucking trekked all over that planet till we found it in that novelty cafe, even after we got arrested!”
The Captain had so many of these, so many things that felt unappreciated now.
“We trekked,” the Navigatrix added, voice low. “You and I.”
“Right? Whatever she wanted – I wanted her to have it.” The Captain could picture Lucy, still just a teen, sitting at the helm, eyes shining. “Even when it was hard. That was the whole point.”
The Navigatrix’s pause sounded like a question.
“When we brought you on -” The Captain could picture the orbital dock, Lucy and her waiting to meet their new Navigatrix – “when we just had that little two-engine rig – and you walked up looking like the hero of some galactic adventure flick -” were her eyes pricking? oh no – “she pitched a fit the night before you moved in. She didn’t want anyone else; she just wanted it to be me and her against the whole galaxy -” the Captain sighed and rubbed her eyes before anything incriminating could happen there. “She made me promise her. Promise her that I’d never let anyone else get between us. Her and me, first and always.”
Her ears were ringing with the memory.
A barely perceptible sigh escaped the Navigatrix, but she didn’t say anything.
“Look, she was my responsibility! She was just a kid back then. I promised her we had each other and – no one else really counted.” The ringing was so loud. The Captain remembered standing at the helm, hands still bloody from carrying the Navigatrix back to the ship, pulling up the note Lucy had left. “I kept my promise. And she still left.”
The Navigatrix was perfectly still, perfectly silent, like she was holding her breath.
“It’s .. it’s stupid,” said the Captain, “but when you went and got yourself shot, it was my worst nightmare. And that meant I’d fucked up, because losing Lucy was supposed to be the worst.”
“And it wasn’t?” The Navigatrix’s voice was off.
“No. No. I’m mad! But I’m fine. And I know she’s fine. Of course she’s fine.”
“For a while there, Captain, we were all fine.”
The Captain looked around the tent, the smell of gently cooking canvas acrid in her nose. “Yeah, well, I’ve sure fucked that up.”
The Navigatrix did not laugh like she’d expected her to.
“Captain.” Her tone made the Captain’s neck hair stand on end. “What did you do, that night after you hired me, that made Lucy so upset.”
“Oh, I, uh-” She was sure she didn’t blush, but she could feel her face making the effort. “I told her, I, I said that you were -” this wasn’t supposed to come out this way, but oh well “- you were easy on the eyes.”
“Easy. On the eyes.”
Damn it all.
“That’s what you said?”
“Fine. I said you were everything I’d ever dreamed of, and if you were any good at your job I was going to marry you.” Silence. The Captain coughed once, her throat and chest much tighter than she was prepared for. “It was .. I was just excited about–”
“Am I any good at my job?”
Now? This was happening now?
“Captain, am I good at my job?”
“Yes, fine! Yes! You fucking mapped time!”
Was she laughing?
“Fucking be a shit about it then. I’m sure I’ll die soon anyways.”
The pallet was shaking with the Navigatrix’s muffled laughter. The Captain wanted to lie down in the sparking fog.
The laughter escalated, the Navigatrix wheezing and gasping and shaking, until she buried her face in her arms and let loose a loud, muffled yell. The Captain spun around, suddenly afraid again, but the other woman also spun to meet her, and pushed her down on her back – she was crying, and she looked like a vengeful goddess, and she shook the Captain’s shoulders as she hissed, “we had all the time in the world – all of it! – and you let a teenager talk you out of it?” And the Captain couldn’t understand, but god she looked beautiful–
– and then, the explosion happened.