CHAPTER THREE: MIDNIGHT RATIONS
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Once Mila was content back in the circle of standing stones, chewing on the grass again, Dimitri led Theo and Shade to the peak of the hill, and from there they had a view of the docks. They trekked down slightly, Theo trailing behind the two of them as Dimitri chattered away, asking Shade a number of questions about xemself. Theo wondered out loud if he should have been asking about the ship instead, which only made Dimitri laugh and carry on with his curiosity. Shade didn’t seem to mind the line of questioning, and happily answered Dimitri’s more benign questions, but Theo noticed xe managed to steer away from the ones that would have made him suspicious of xyr origins.

The path that brought them down was steeper, and dropped them off at the middle of the docks. Now Shade took the lead, and the group headed toward the ship. Theo felt exhausted from the walking and heat, in pain from his freshly healed injuries from the crash and Mila’s (he supposed) gentle attack, and he wanted nothing more than to collapse in his quarters. He wondered if Shade wouldn’t mind giving a tour of the damage alone, or if he would be able to sneak away quietly when the two of them weren’t looking…

Dimitri let out a whistle at the sight of the ship, running his hand through his hair. Theo followed his gaze; he was inspecting the outer hull of the ship, the poorly repaired breeches were visible even from their distance, and for the first time Theo took stock of the damage that had been done — and then crudely repaired by a group of miners with spare metal.

“Logoth over on Imia I said you crashed the ship?” Dimitri asked, looking over at Theo curiously. “Was there engine failure?”

“No,” Theo answered shortly, and he pushed passed him to head up to the airlock. The door opened with a hiss and he stepped in, moving to the side so that Shade and Dimitri could follow inside.

The airlock opened into a wide corridor, and Dimitri seemed to take up too much space — he would have to duck to get into some of the tighter areas, Theo thought to himself. But for now he stood in the corridor, examining what was in eyesight. Once again Theo was seeing the ship with a new pair of eyes, and a different sort of embarrassment washed over him. He fought the urge to escape to his quarters, where he would feel safer.

“This would be deck three?” Dimitri asked, looking back at him.

“Yes,” Theo answered, his voice still flat. “Cargo bays are at the stern, then security and the sub-light drives. They took very little damage, as far as I know. There was a hull breech in the arboretum—” Theo pointed the opposite direction. “But the labs and sickbay took minimal damage.”

“An arboretum?” Dimitri asked, like he was surprised. “What do you grow?”

“Nothing,” Theo answered, and he turned to lead Dimitri to the lift.

Dimitri hummed curiously but followed to continue the tour. They used the lift to start on deck five, which seemed to amass the bulk of the damage, and Dimitri listened intently as Shade took over and did most of the talking, pointing out the less obvious areas that would need repairs.

On deck four, Dimitri seemed very interested in the computer core, but for the time being Shade steered him away from it — “It is not damaged,” xe promised — and showed him the warp engines that were currently inoperable. Dimitri hummed thoughtfully and pulled a small digital pad out of his pocket where he began to take notes. He was just as attentive on deck two, when Shade took him to the secondary warp engines.

Theo watched silently, feeling a bit useless following the two of them around. It didn’t cause him distress, exactly, but he wished that he could be left alone for a long nap. Occasionally Dimitri would look back at him and smile kindly, or ask him a question like he thought that he might have felt left out, but truthfully Theo was not listening very well and Shade would pipe up with the answer. Dimitri didn’t seem to notice.

Deck one was a mess, and Theo eyed the door to his quarters wistfully — although he knew whatever destruction was behind that door would only upset him. He reminded himself again that this was all his fault, and he felt so tired—

Dimitri let out a low whistle when he saw the bridge, stepping carefully over broken console pieces to head over to the captain’s chair. It sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by small consoles that had taken a bit less damage than the others in the room. “This is some ship,” he said, turning back to Theo and Shade with his hands on his hips.

“Thank you,” Shade said, pleased by his assessment. Theo didn’t say anything, so Shade continued. “I take it you will be able to help us?”

Dimitri scrolled the pad in his hand, giving them a non-committal sort of nod. “I think so. This baby is much bigger than anything I’ve worked on recently, but I should have a few things you’re looking for. The others I may need to order, but I can contact some friends of mine planetside to track ‘em down.”

There was a stretch of silence and Theo looked up from a bit of shattered glass that he had been staring at to see that both Dimitri and Shade were watching him, awaiting his appraisal of the job. “Oh, Yeah, that’s fine,” he said. “You’re hired, I guess.”

This made Dimitri laugh, and he slipped his pad back into his pocket. “Well, I’ll be heading out to check my stock then,” he said, tilting his head a bit. “You can come along, if you’d like?”

“No,” Theo answered, trying not to sigh. The friendliness here seemed to make him feel even more tired. And, frankly, he didn’t trust it. No one could be as kind as the people here had been so far without something lurking under the surface — at least not in his experience. “I’ll stay here, but, uh, thanks.”

Dimitri seemed confused, but mostly unaffected by Theo’s response. “Well, there are a couple inns in town that probably have empty beds, if you don’t want to stay here. They’re quite comfortable.” He looked over at Shade for a moment, who was watching the scene in front of xem with a morphing look of curiosity on xyr face. “Right. I’ll go check my stock and see you in the morning? Oh-seven hundred?”

Now Theo did sigh, just a little. “Yeah. I’m… gonna’ go to my quarters now,” he said, feeling awkward and tense.

But if Dimitri noticed, he didn’t do much more than smile. “It was nice meeting you,” he said, and then he turned to Shade. “Will you see me out? I’d like to ask you a few questions about some of your systems, if you don’t mind.”

Whatever Shade responded with faded into the background, as Theo had already turned away from the two of them to the door on the bridge that lead to the captain’s quarters. He could hear Shade’s feet move down the hall outside of the room, but Theo mostly looked around at his belongings, knocked from shelves, some cracked and broken. He pushed a pile of books that had toppled onto his bed to the floor, and collapsed to sleep.


Shade didn’t return to Theo’s room immediately — or if xe did, xe didn’t take the time to wake him. When he finally did wake up and peek behind the screen over the window, everything was dark. Huge, bright stars sparkled in the sky, but there wasn’t much visible to him aside from that. The view of the town would be on the other side of the ship, so he could not use the distant activity to guess what time of night it might be.

At any rate, he found that he was hungry. He did not want to leave his quarters quite yet, not wanting to have a conversation with Shade, but his stomach growled impatiently and there were no more rations stashed in the corners of his room. So he climbed out of bed, stepped over the mess that he would eventually have to take the time to pick up, and made his way out of the quarters.

The captain’s quarters where he slept were attached to the bridge, but he took the exit that brought him out into the hall so that he could take the lift to the mess hall on deck two. He passed empty crew quarters and the lift was waiting for him; the doors slid open with a comforting hiss. “Deck two,” he said once they had closed behind him, and in a moment he was there.

The hall was dark, which he supposed made sense given the time of day, and if Shade was wandering around xe wouldn’t need the light to see. It would have been creepy, Theo thought, if he hadn’t grown used to xyr skulking about the ship after all these years. And he couldn’t fault xem — the ship was more Shade’s than anyone else’s.

“Computer, lights,” he commanded when he was in the mess hall, only a few steps away from the lift, and they flickered to life like they didn’t want to. The bulbs above him buzzed, as if annoyed by their activation, but their constant flickering was another thing that he had gotten used to. He had, for many years now, gotten into the habit of only replacing what absolutely needed to be replaced. Lights in a mess hall where he rarely spent his time were not exactly a necessity.

He moved past the tables that were always empty to the small kitchen and food storage at the end of the room. The ship was never meant to carry more than a few dozen people, so the galley was quite small. It was still much too big for Theo, the only one left on the ship who still ate, and he often wondered if he should even bother keeping the food down here. Shade hadn’t been too thrilled at the idea of moving a miniature galley to the ready room on deck one, as it disturbed what xe had grown used to, so Theo never pressed the subject.

The light inside of the refrigerator flicked on when he opened the door, but the contents were… bleak, to say the least. There were a few plastic jugs of questionable looking liquid; some had gone a bit foamy. Theo scowled and pushed the jugs aside, but there wasn’t much left for him to chose from.

He closed the refrigerator and stepped to the side to dig in the cupboard, which still held a few stacks of various field rations. Theo chose one at random and hopped up to sit on the counter to tear into it. It was a block of something salty, perhaps some kind of dried meat, although a bite of it didn’t tell him much more than that. He continued to eat it anyway, staring off into the distance, through the opening in the wall that looked out into the dining area and into the stars in the wide window past that.

“I believe Boss would have called this a ‘midnight snack’,” came a voice suddenly beside him, and Theo nearly fell off of the counter in surprise.

“Dammit Shade!” he yelled, more embarrassed than startled now. He looked over, and xe was back in xyr hologram form, safe from the prying eyes of any strangers. “You could at least… announce yourself or something.” He took another bite of his ration, chewing angrily.

Shade shrugged and turned to lean against the counter next to Theo, following his gaze. “What are you looking at?” xe asked curiously.

“The stars,” Theo answered. “They’re big here.”

“They’re the same size as they always are,” Shade answered, tilting xyr head curiously.

Theo rolled his eyes and finished off the ration, digging around in the cupboard for another one. When he tore away the silver wrapper, this one was a greenish color, but it smelled fine so he took a bite into it anyway. “I just mean, they seem closer,” he clarified between bites, although Shade hadn’t asked for clarification.

Shade hummed softly, a noise xe seemed to like in this form. Xe couldn’t make it when xe was in xyr android body, at least not in the same capacity. “You miss them,” xe said. “You miss them already.”

Theo shrugged and took another bite of the ration. It was true he didn’t like to stay on solid ground for too long, and he was certainly ready to leave this rock, but he didn’t know if he would say that he missed them. It seemed like the sort of observation Boss would have made, and Theo did miss Boss.

“How long do you think the repairs will take?” Theo asked; a change of subject so he wouldn’t have to think about his old friend, long gone.

“Dimitri could not give a definitive answer,” Shade started, “but he seemed certain it would not take much more than a month and a half.”

“A month and a half?” Theo cried with an unhappy little groan.

“You did crash the ship,” Shade answered pointedly. “And purposefully damaged systems to do so. Did you expect it to be an easy fix?”

Theo only grumbled, chewing on his green ration, still staring out at the stars. Silence fell between them, but he didn’t think that Shade was actually waiting for an answer to xyr question. There was no reasonable answer for him to give, and in fact a month and a half seemed like a rather speedy repair considering their location and the damage done to the ship, and that it would only be the three of them to carry out the repairs.

“Dimitri does seem like a capable engineer,” Shade continued after a moment, xyr gaze also still fixed on the stars out in the sky. “As I was walking him back to the airlock he said that he had many parts in his… collection… that should fit our needs.”

“Collection?” Theo asked, looking over at Shade curiously.

“Yes. It seems that starships are more of a hobby for him than an actual career,” Shade responded. “And he was exceedingly curious about this one.”

“Well,” Theo starting, popping the last little piece of ration into his mouth. “It is an impressive ship.”

Shade rolled xyr eyes. “Flattery will not get you anywhere, Theo Altair,” xe said, although xe seemed to stand a little bit straighter. “I am still angry with you.”

“I know.”

“At any rate, Dimitri was more concerned with our lack of crew,” Shade went on, with xyr previous line of conversation. “He worries that it is too much ship — for an exterminator.”

Theo laughed a little, remembering the time he had said the same thing to Boss, when he first stepped foot onto the ship. He hopped from the counter and closed the cupboard. There were only a few rations left, but that would be a problem he could think about later.

“He’s not totally wrong,” Theo admitted, and he made his way out of the kitchen and back into the dining area, to get a better look out of the window. In the blink of an eye, Shade was beside him again, standing with xyr arms clasped behind xyr back. It didn’t startle Theo this time, as Shade often took shortcuts to follow him as he moved about the ship.

“Boss would disagree with you both,” Shade said thoughtfully. “He thought that this ship was ideal for the job — even before I joined the crew.”

“Maybe,” Theo answered, leaning against the sill of the window as if he would be able to lean far enough to tumble back out into the stars. “But Boss was also crazy.” He said this with a sad fondness and a small smile.

“He did keep you around,” Shade said flatly, perhaps xyr attempt at a joke although xe had never been one to hide xyr disdain for Theo — even in the beginning before they had a chance to get to know each other better.

It still made Theo laugh, and he remembered a time he had tried to leave the ship only for Boss to track him down in the rain, decked out in the ugliest yellow slicker and matching rubber hat that he had ever seen. All that had been visible peeking out was the old man’s beard, gray and drenched. He had made Theo buy him a drink in a nearby bar to warm his bones before they headed back to the ship together.

“You miss him, too,” Shade pointed out.

“Yeah,” Theo answered, because it would have been pointless to lie. “So do you.”

Shade hummed in affirmation. “I think I will retire to deck five,” xe said after a moment. “To prepare for tomorrow.”

Theo didn’t answer immediately, and when he looked over, Shade was gone.

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