“WARNING: ALL SYSTEMS CRITICAL.”
The alarm blared loudly throughout the bridge, accompanied by flashing red lights, but Theo ignored them both. The ship shook around him like it might fall apart at any moment, and he hoped that it would, he hoped that it would tear him apart too—
“WARNING,” the alarm continued to scream at him as if he were listening, the pitch rising with anger. “HULL BREECH ON DECKS THREE AND FOUR. PRESSURE DESTABILIZING.”
“I hear you, I hear you,” Theo grumbled, but he didn’t shift from his seat. The course had already been laid in, and he had no plans on altering it. His hands gripped the armrests of the captain’s chair and he leaned back, letting his eyes close to block out the flashing lights.
“THEO,” the alarm blared, except this time it wasn’t just the automated tone, it was Shade standing beside him with xyr hands on xyr hips. The volume that xe spoke was just as loud as the voice screaming from the intercom. “DO NOT BE AN IDIOT THEO, THIS IS AVOIDABLE. CHANGE COURSE NOW.”
Theo opened his eyes and tipped his head to look at the hologram. Xe was watching him impatiently, and it could have made Theo smile in any other circumstance. It was an expression that he was very familiar with. “I am the captain, Shade,” he said coolly. “I call the shots.”
“COMPUTER,” Shade shouted, “ABORT COURSE.”
“CANNOT COMPLY,” the computer responded back to Shade in xyr own voice.
Shade snapped xyr gaze back to Theo, eyes narrowed on xyr blue face. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” xe hissed angrily.
The ship continued to rumble around them, the rocky ground of the moon was getting closer in the view screen. “Just changed a few of the access commands,” Theo answered a bit sadly. “I’m sorry, Shade. I can’t do this anymore.”
“THEO, YOU OVER-DRAMATIC SACK OF—”
But xe couldn’t finish; the ship was thrust into a mountain of rock, the hull cracking around them as it pressed violently into the earth. Explosions sparked and ignited, Theo was thrown from the captain’s chair, and as he lost consciousness, Shade fizzled into nothing.
The computer had stopped screaming at him, and everything ached. It took a moment for Theo to realize that couldn’t be right — he had purposefully crashed the ship with the idea that it would not only finish the job he had accepted, but kill him too. If he could feel the pain in his body, then that meant that he hadn’t died in the crash, that meant that something had interrupted his (admittedly not very well thought out) plan—
He didn’t open his eyes right away. He didn’t want to face the disappointment of what he might find. There was no smell of burning, no feeling of heat around him. The air was cool, as was whatever he was lying on, and the air smelled vaguely sterile. He knew that smell; it was the smell of sickbays and hospitals, of rooms kept clean for people who were healing. He did not want to be healing.
“I know you are awake,” came a familiar, cold voice somewhere in the room. Shade.
Theo let his eyes blink open and his vision blurred as it tried to focus. The light above his bed was blinding, and he squinted his eyes shut again. “Shade,” he said, and his voice came out like a croak that turned into a coughing fit. He tried to roll to his side, to maybe sit up, but a hand pressed on his shoulder.
“Do not move yet,” Shade answered. “You are still healing.” Xe sounded annoyed with him, but Theo thought that this was fair — and it also wasn’t unusual.
“That was a stupid thing you did,” Shade went on, not waiting for Theo to say anything in response to xyr demand. “There were a number of solutions to the problem; why would you choose the most reckless one?”
Theo pressed his lips together, not particularly keen on answering that line of questioning. He wondered if Shade would even understand, if it would even be worth wasting his breath trying to explain to xem that it was too hard to keep breathing, to keep moving forward, to keep his mind going nonstop—
“Boss would often try to explain your whims to me,” Shade continued, sounding even more frustrated. “Though even when he tried his hardest I could not wrap my programming around your foolishness. You are too reckless Theo Altair. You are stupid to want to die.”
This made Theo laugh, which triggered another small coughing fit. “Maybe,” he answered lightly. The memory of Boss made him ache more, in a different way, and he did not want to think of him. “The ship?” A change of subject.
Shade made a small, annoyed noise. “The ship is fine, no thanks to you,” xe said sharply. “The miners found us and luckily I was there to meet them. It seemed your little… stunt rebooted the systems and I was able to gain control again. Otherwise we both would have been lost.”
Theo tilted his face to the sound of Shade’s voice, his eyes blearily blinking open again. Xe was standing only a couple feet away from where Theo was laying, xyr arms crossed over xyr chest. Xe had a solemn expression fixed across xyr face, the ridges that xe liked to fashion over xyr nose in this form seeming more dramatic somehow. The golden headdress that normally adorned xyr head was gone. Theo supposed there had been no time worry about a vanity projection.
To see xem standing there caring for his wounds brought the reality of the situation crashing down on Theo, and he did feel like a fool. He would have much rather forgotten what this felt like, he would have much rather not faced Shade now, with the shame roiling in his stomach.
“Would you believe me if I said I was sorry?” Theo asked softly, although he thought he knew what Shade’s answer would be.
“You are often sorry, Theo Altair,” Shade responded, and xe turned away from the bed to inspect a screen on the wall.
“Yeah,” Theo said numbly, and he let his eyes close again to focus on the feeling of his breathing. His chest ached a bit less now as he pulled air in, and exhaled shakily. “The termites?” he asked after a moment, remembering the flimsy reason he had crashed the ship in the first place.
“They are dead,” Shade answered. There was the sound of beeping as xe entered something into the computer panel. “And the remainder of our payment has been turned over. Minus the cost of a few repairs, of course.”
Theo hummed softly, not really caring about the payment. They had more than enough money, all things considered. It wasn’t like when he took this job it was a matter of getting anything from it aside from possibly finding another way out. But once again, he failed at that.
“Where are we?” he asked, tipping his head to try to get a better view of his surroundings. But he already knew before Shade answered that they were still on their ship, in the familiar brightness of their own sickbay.
“Sickbay,” Shade answered, turning away from the screen that xe was looking at and stepping back over to Theo’s bed.
“The hull breech—” Theo started curiously.
“As I said, the miners had enough metal to help make a few small repairs,” Shade explained, and xe began to adjust the equipment that curved over Theo’s body, healing him through science he barely understood. “Luckily the breech was in the arboretum; none of the medical equipment was damaged. The area is sealed off, for now.”
“Yeah, lucky,” Theo repeated sarcastically, but he knew that Shade wouldn’t pay him any mind.
The thin arch of metal that was working over his torso shifted and groaned, automatically scooting down the bed to work on his legs now. Theo could feel the warmth from them as they scanned his muscles, searched for any damage, and did their job. “Damage report?” he asked.
“Aside from your superficial injuries, you had three cracked ribs, torn knee ligaments, a concussion, and numerous sprains. No broken bones,” Shade responded, still working at the panel at the bedside.
Theo laughed, and this time there was only a small cough. “No— I meant the ship,” he clarified with a little smile.
Shade looked at him, and it was hard to read the expression on xyr face. Still frustration, perhaps? That wouldn’t have been too strange a guess. Xe got back to working at the panel. “Three hull breeches, loss of warp engines and both sensor arrays, and both the fuel scoop and landing gear took heavy damage,” xe answered. “No damage to the computer core,” xe added, and xyr voice had a certain chill to it.
“I’m glad,” Theo said sincerely, but he didn’t know if Shade would believe him. Xe was right when xe said that Theo was often sorry. It was the story of his life.
Shade only glanced at him, before turning away to fish around for something in one of the glass cupboards on the other side of the room. Silence fell between them and Theo let his eyes close again, listening to Shade work, and the sound of the ship around them. Xe was preparing something dutifully, the clinking of vials, and the muscle repair hummed around Theo’s legs. There was the vibrations of the ship’s engines, soft somewhere in the distance, and Theo thought they were lucky that the sub-light drives weren’t damaged.
“Where are we going?” he asked, his voice low.
“Imia II,” Shade responded, and xyr voice was close again. “The miners could only do so much, and they had very little fuel to spare, but they suggested the co-op located there for further repairs.”
Theo opened his eyes to look at Shade again; xe was holding a small device in xyr hand meant for injections. He could have laughed again, at Shade taking care of him so in spite of xyr frustration. “You should have just left me in the mines,” he said, trying to make his voice sound light, but it came out more strained than anything.
“Maybe,” Shade admitted, setting the device on the bedside to swab at Theo’s upper thigh with an alcohol pad. “At any rate, it is time for your injection.”
Theo had been taking hormone injections since his youth, since he was old enough to make medical decisions for himself and long before he ever managed to scrounge together enough money for the surgeries he had wanted. After he joined the ship and it was discovered that he was injecting himself under not so ideal conditions, Shade had taken over helping prepare the vials for him. He had to admit that the way that xe prepared them was much more preferable to the uncomfortable needles that he had become accustomed to.
There was barely a pinch as Shade administered the hormones, the injection device hissing softly as it did its job. Theo didn’t understand why Shade was still doing this, if xe was so frustrated with him. But he didn’t say anything, just kept still as the hologram cared for him. It felt a bit awkward and Theo didn’t like to feel awkward, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now in his state.
“How far are we from the moon?” Theo asked after a moment, once Shade had deposited the injection device into the small box that would clean its parts.
“Only a couple hours,” Shade answered. Xe was looking at Theo intently now, xyr arms crossed back over xyr chest. It was a thoroughly human gesture that Theo thought xe must have picked up from xyr time spent with Boss. Once again xyr expression was unreadable; Theo found it hard to guess what xe was thinking when xe was in this form. Perhaps that was why Shade took it instead of mirroring xyr android body while aboard the ship.
“You should rest,” Shade finally continued. “I must return my full attention to the bridge to prepare for communications and landing. Without the sensors I will have to land manually.”
Theo looked away from Shade’s deep gaze, and let his eyes close again, thinking again that he did not understand why xe was doing this. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just let him die? Then, Shade would have the ship to xemself, and xe wouldn’t have to worry about babysitting him. “Okay,” he finally answered, but Shade didn’t respond. When Theo opened his eyes again, the hologram was gone.
A loud rumbling throughout the ship woke Theo, and he would have bolted upright if he were able. The bed he was in shook, as did everything else in the sickbay, clinking and clattering with the motion of the ship. He gripped the sides of the bed and pushed himself up so that he was sitting; the metal that had once been over his legs healing his muscles had retracted down now which meant that its job was done, and he was free to move — although he didn’t know if it would be a wise choice.
“Shade!” he called to no one, “Report!”
“NOT NOW THEO,” Shade’s voice answered over the ship’s intercom system. “WE ARE JUST LANDING. DO NOT MOVE.”
But Theo had already moved so that he was sitting in the bed, his legs hanging over the side. The floor of the sickbay was cold against his bare feet as he shifted his weight tentatively, seeing how much strength he had. The ship rocked again and he nearly tumbled forward. “Can’t you be a little more careful?” he shouted, not caring about the irony of that question considering he had very recently purposefully crashed the ship.
“I WOULD BE MORE CAREFUL,” Shade responded, “IF I STILL HAD MY SENSORS. DO NOT MOVE!”
Theo scowled and gripped the bed tighter, not wanting to fall out as the ship rocked and heaved, the metal groaning in protest.
“WARNING,” the ship’s alarm system began to shout. “HULL ON DECK THREE WEAKENING; AT SIXTY-TWO PERCENT.”
“Shade!” Theo shouted again. “In case you forgot — I’m on deck three!” Again, he did not think of the irony in the slight panic in his voice.
There was no response from Shade this time, just the sound of metal scraping and the glass vials and other medical instruments vibrating around him. Theo pushed himself from the bed but his legs were weaker than he thought they would be, and he held tightly to the console attached to the bed to regain his balance. As the ship rocked he made his way to the display on the far wall, his legs trembling like a baby deer learning how to walk for the first time. But he had worse injuries in the past, and at least most of the pain had subsided.
He leaned against the wall to keep from falling as he pulled up a mirror of the operations display. They were nearly to the ground now, but he couldn’t tell the terrain of where Shade was putting them down. He didn’t know anything about the Imian moons, aside from the one they had previously crashed on, but Shade had said this was a co-op — so a farm?
“Shade!” he called. “Report!”
The only response he got was more creaking from the ship, and then a violent shudder and thud that threw him back onto the hard ground. And then everything went still.
“I told you not to move,” came Shade’s voice after a moment, this time in the same room as him.
Theo groaned where he laid on the floor, and when he tilted his head back Shade was standing above him with a look of firm disapproval fixed on xyr face. Xe still held out xyr hand, though, and Theo accepted the help to stand. “I take it we’ve landed?” he asked.
Shade rolled xyr eyes, another gesture xe surely picked up from Boss, and turned away from Theo to reach for a pile of clothes that had been neatly folded and placed on the spare bed. “Get dressed; as far as I can tell it is not polite to meet new people in your undergarments.”
Xe tossed the clothes to Theo, who barely caught them. “Was that a joke?” he asked, but Shade had already made xemself scarce.