After Shade had gone, Theo only spent a few more minutes alone looking out at the stars before he returned to his quarters. He stood in the doorway for a moment before he began to pick up the books and other items that had fallen from their shelves and storage spaces. He didn’t take the time to look at them, or organize them in any way, and it didn’t take long for the floor to be cleared. One of the cabinet doors would not close all of the way, and he left it hanging on the hinge to be dealt with later.
When he fell back onto his bed, sleep did not come immediately — although he hadn’t expected it to. He was too awake now, and thinking of Boss, which made his heart ache in a way he usually tried to ignore. After the old man had died and left the ship to him, Theo hadn’t known what to do with himself. It had been Shade’s idea to just keep the business going, which Boss probably would have wanted, but there were times that being on this ship made it too difficult for Theo to keep going.
It had taken him nearly two years before he moved from the adjacent officer quarters into the captain’s quarters, simply to be closer to the bridge upon Shade’s request. When he first had, there were still several of Boss’ trinkets and books; it had hurt too much to keep them around. Eventually Shade had helped Theo move them into another room, and Theo hadn’t stepped foot in there since. He knew that it would hurt too much to see the remnants of the old man’s long life, even after all of this time.
When he was finally able to fall asleep he did not dream, and for this he was grateful. More often than not his dreams were unpleasant and messy, and some nights Theo kept himself from sleeping so that he would not have to deal with them.
But this was not one of those nights, and soon enough he woke to Shade’s voice calling to him over the intercom, “TIME TO WAKE. THE ENGINEER WILL BE ARRIVING SHORTLY.”
Theo rolled over in his bed and stared at the cupboard door that was still hanging off of its hinges. After a moment he rolled out of bed and found a shirt that seemed mostly clean to change into. The other one was abandoned on the floor to be cleaned eventually, and left to see what other mystery rations were waiting for him in the mess hall.
Shade was waiting outside of his room, already dressed in xyr android body for their guest. “Good morning,” xe said crisply, the shapes on their face morphing indifferently.
Theo grunted in response and headed to the lift, Shade following diligently behind him. “Deck two,” he croaked, and they were whisked below. Now he did not need to call for the lights; the sun shined brightly through the windows in the mess hall, nearly blinding him.
“Dimitri said that he will begin work on the lower sensor array first,” Shade said as Theo dug around in the cupboards, grabbing the first ration he found. It was the similar to one of the ones he had eaten the night before, and he found a pouch of water to wash it down with. It was warm and slightly stale, but it was better than nothing.
“He told me that he already has the parts for it,” Shade went on to explain, even though Theo hadn’t asked while eating his meager breakfast. “So it should be easy to repair.”
Theo hummed softly in response, swallowing the rest of the water from the pouch. “Fine,” he finally said, a bit dully. He still didn’t like the idea of a stranger on their ship, but this was the mess he had made. And it was beyond his scope to repair.
“MOVEMENT AT THE AIRLOCK,” came Shade’s robotic voice over the intercom system, and Theo looked up at the noise.
“You should turn that off,” he said, making his way to the lift. “So that the engineer doesn’t get confused.”
Dimitri was waiting for them outside of the airlock, holding a box full of metal and tools. He was just as huge as Theo had remembered, perhaps somehow larger, and he smiled widely as the airlock whooshed open. “Good morning!” he declared, far more cheerful than Shade had been with xyr greeting, and it almost made Theo flinch.
“Sure,” he said instead of returning the pleasantry, stepping aside so that Dimitri could board the ship. There was a second box on the landing behind where he had been standing, and Theo wondered if the engineer had brought them both up at the same time before he moved to carry it in for him. Shade was waiting for them at the lift, and it seemed awfully crowded with all of them and Dimitri’s supplies packed in.
Deck five was small and squat, and Dimitri had to duck below beams of metal to make his way to the sensor array controls at the bow. He set his box down and squatted to get a better look at the controls. “So I’m just gonna’ yank this whole thing out,” he started, looking up at Theo. “I’ll have to get on the outside to install the replacement array, which I can bring up later, or tomorrow?”
Theo just shrugged, and Dimitri went straight to work. For a moment Theo just stood there watching him until he felt useless, and he turned to examine the rest of the damage on the deck. He had never been much for mechanics, even when Boss tried to teach him a few basics, and he was mostly all thumbs if it didn’t involve actually flying the ship. Without Boss around, Shade handled most of the repairs, and Theo would stand around to hand xem tools and bits — but the ship had never been this damaged before.
So as much as Theo was uncomfortable with a stranger on the ship, there wasn’t another option for them now. You made your bed, now you lie in it, Boss would have said with a chuckle. And Theo had to say at least this engineer was apparently less sketchy than some of the other ones they had bought parts off of in the past.
Shade would be careful anyway, xe always was, so that Dimitri would not discover the truth about the ship’s operating system — or rather that xe was the operating system. Both Boss and Shade had regaled stories of scalpers and other miscreants discovering the truth of what xe was, and the trouble that it had caused. Since Boss’ death, Shade had become even more cautious than Theo at times, so as not to let anyone discover where xe came from.
Theo was still foggy on a lot of the details himself, but it didn’t particularly matter to him. Shade could fly the ship better than any pilot he had met, except for maybe himself, even if the ship hadn’t been built for xem. Apparently it had taken some serious retrofitting when Boss had helped Shade escape xyr last ship, some government commission something or other, and the two had been on the run for quite a bit time before they settled into pleasant anonymity. But now the ship was as good as Shade’s, and xe was comfortable here.
Thinking about this as he examined the elevator controls made Theo’s guilt return with a vengeance. He didn’t know what he could say to Shade to express this, if there were the right words, or if he should even say anything at all. Shade would carry on, so perhaps he should too; but there was a little voice in the back of his head, a voice that sounded an awful lot like Boss, telling him that he just needed to suck it up and say something sincere.
He had the panel for the elevator controls removed and was mindlessly checking the wiring, his thoughts elsewhere. At any rate, there hadn’t been much damage to the panel, at least none that he could see, and he thought a bit dumbly that they had been using the lifts. The task he had set for himself to kill time was quite meaningless.
Theo glanced back over at Dimitri, who was now bent forward so far into the crevasse that held the inner section of the sensor array all that was visible was his legs. Theo might have laughed, if it was in his personality to do so. Instead, he stepped away from the controls he had been examining and decided to leave Dimitri to his work.
The lift took him to deck four, where he found Shade running a diagnostic on the computer core. Xe had a cable running from the chest of xyr body that went straight into the core’s control panel. It seemed as if everyone had a job to do but himself, and Theo felt like pouting, even though it would solve nothing.
“You are distracting me,” Shade said after a moment, and xe tipped xyr face to look at Theo. While it had been the body that spoke, there were no shapes morphing on xyr face, just a blank screen staring back. It was unnerving.
“Sorry,” Theo grumbled, shifting his weight and glancing away. He felt like a child standing there, waiting for a parent or other adult to give him something to do. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Shade did not look at him when xe answered, “No.”
Theo sighed softly and waited a moment longer before turning to leave, not exactly pouting yet, but he might as well have been. Instead of heading back to deck five to check on the engineer, he made his way from the computer core across the hall to main engineering. The whole space was an absolute mess, computer screens shattered, metal pillars buckled, and the usual comforting glow and hum from the warp reactor was gone; the reactor just as shattered as the rest of the things in the room. Theo stood at the panel in front of it, staring into it longingly. Shade was right — he did miss the stars.
“Ah— there you are,” a voice piped up from behind him, and Theo didn’t have to turn to know who it was.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, still staring into the dull reactor as if he might be able to will it back to life.
Dimitri walked up to stand beside him, leaning himself casually against the damaged control panel. “I’ve gotten all the broken parts from the array out, it looks like I should be able to salvage some of them,” he started, quite cheerily. “I need to get on the outside to get a closer look at the damage there — do you mind giving me a hand? I’d ask Shade, but xe seemed a bit busy.”
After a moment Theo looked over at Dimitri and gave a little shrug. “Sure,” he answered, pushing himself away from the panel.
They were both silent in the lift, and this was a different silence than what Theo had become accustomed to around Shade. He did not like it. Thankfully they were only going down one deck, and he could hurry out of the small space without worrying about Dimitri’s eyes on him, or the way that he smiled kindly when their gaze met.
The box of tools that Dimitri had brought with him was open, pieces scattered about where the internal bits of the array had once been. Underneath, Theo could see where he had already opened the access hatch, and a good drop below it was a patch of grass that had not yet been crushed by any docked ships, swaying gently in the breeze.
Dimitri rigged up a small harness that looked a bit like a swing that would hang in a tree, that he tethered to one of the columns that had not buckled in the crash. Theo watched, a bit curious now, as Dimitri slipped into the harness and adjusted it around his waist dutifully.
“Just pass me down what I need, I may pass some things up to you, but the larger pieces I’ll drop and collect later,” Dimitri explained. And then, with a smile that might have been mischievous, he sat himself down on the edge of the hatch, legs hanging out. With one hand on the cord to check the tension, he dropped.
Theo ran over and dropped to his knees to peer out at him, but Dimitri was hanging safely in his harness, and he gave a little wave as he rocked back and forth, like a child on a playground.
“Don’t look so worried!” he said with a little delighted laugh. “I have done this before, you know. Hand me that pneumatic wrench.”
Theo looked around the tools and found the wrench and leaned forward through the hatch to pass it down. He watched as Dimitri got to work on the outer portion of the array, careful not to lean too far out of the hatch. He was not afraid of heights exactly, but it was a long fall.
“It’s cracked pretty badly, but I should have an array back at the barn that will fit nicely,” Dimitri was saying, undoing the bolts one by one. As he worked at a particularly stubborn bolt, he stuck his tongue from his mouth and cursed a bit in a language that Theo didn’t recognize. With Shade’s ship controls offline, there would be no automatic translator to help. When the bolt finally came free he cheered, and then smiled up at Theo, who couldn’t help but smile back, however small.
“How’d the ship crash anyway?” Dimitri asked, an innocent question to fill the silence. He freed another bolt, which went into the small pouch attached to his belt with the rest of them.
Theo thought that perhaps the engineer didn’t like the silence too much, but that didn’t mean he was very keen on answering the question. “I don’t know,” he said instead, but he didn’t look at Dimitri as he spoke.
Dimitri let out a little hum like he was thinking, but if he had anymore thoughts on the crash he didn’t voice them. He worked on the bolts instead, and the metal of the panel creaked as it began to loosen away from the ship. “Well, you’re lucky you crashed so close,” he said lightly. “Even with the repairs you had, I’m not sure this ship would have gotten you very far.” He looked up at Theo with another little smile. “But I’ll take care of you; get you flying in no time.”
There was something about his smile and they way that Dimitri spoke that made Theo’s face warm now. He hoped that Dimitri wouldn’t see, but he still looked away for a moment when he said, “Yeah, lucky.”
It wasn’t very long before the panel fell to the grass below, with a soft thud. Dimitri looked down at it, swinging a bit in his harness again before he looked back up at Theo with a grin. “Okay, pull me up,” he requested. “There’s a crank in the line.”
Theo rocked back where he sat and found the lever Dimitri was talking about, moving the piece of metal back and forth until the engineer could clamber back on the ship. He stepped out of the harness and dropped the bag of bolts. They clattered and echoed a bit in the metal space.
“I’ll pick that up before I leave,” Dimitri promised, gesturing toward the hatch. “And bring the replacement panel tomorrow.” He lifted the edge of his shirt to wipe sweat from his brow, and Theo pointedly looked away from him. “Are you hungry?”
“What?” Theo asked, looking back over at Dimitri, who was now hunched over his toolbox. He only just caught something wrapped in foil that Dimitri tossed at him, the little square fumbling in his hands. It made Dimitri laugh.
“It’s just a sandwich,” he said, pulling another foil-wrapped square and rocking back to sit beside the hatch with his legs outstretched. “My sister packed one for you too. Considering your line of work, she said it’s probably been a long while since you had good food.”
Theo looked down at the sandwich and pulled away the foil carefully. It was two thick slices of a light brown bread, with meat, cheese, and neatly chopped vegetables stuffed between them. It looked much better than the ration brick he had for breakfast, that was certain.
“Was she right?” Dimitri asked, chewing a bite of his own sandwich.
“What?” Theo asked lamely, looking back up at him. “I mean, Yeah, I suppose so. Been eating rations for a while.”
Dimitri made a fake little gagging noise and took another bite of his sandwich. “Can’t stand that shit,” he said. “They made us eat it at the academy, to get used to emergency situations in space travel. You know, you could grow plenty to eat in that arboretum of yours. And you’re not lacking for space to store real food.”
Theo took a bite of the sandwich; it was good, and he took another. “Academy?” he asked, instead of mentioning that he couldn’t be bothered to try to grow anything. He was a worse farmer than he was engineer. And his stash of “real” food had run out months ago. Acquiring more would mean stopping, and he did that as infrequently as possible.
Dimitri had already finished his sandwich and was crumbling the foil into a little ball. “Yeah, I went to the interstellar academy over on Keria,” he said with a little shrug. “Where do you think I learned about starships?” He laughed. “Definitely not on a wheat farm.”
Theo didn’t say anything at first, just continued to take bites of his sandwich, thinking. He supposed that made more sense, but the truth was that he hadn’t considered where Dimitri might have gotten his education from. Them coming here hadn’t even been his choice; he would have much rather tried to make it a bit further into civilization. He didn’t tell Dimitri this.
When his own sandwich was finished, Theo folded the foil neatly until it was in a small, tight square. “Here,” Dimitri said, and he passed him a pouch of something that seemed to be sweating cold. “Fresh juice from the orchard.”
Theo took that from him too, and drank it down. It was cold and sweet and somehow a little bubbly, but not too cloying. When he looked back at Dimitri, the engineer was smiling like he was pleased. “It’s good,” Theo conceded, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I’ll tell Harmonia,” Dimitri said, packing up their trash back into his toolbox. And then he clarified, “My sister. She pressed it this morning. Lux always gives her the best fruit.” And as if to prove it, he brandished two extremely ripe fruits like the one Theo had eaten the day before while walking through the orchard. He tossed this too, but Theo was prepared now and caught it easily.
When he bit into it, it was just as sweet as the one he had eaten then, and Theo could have sighed happily. He would not think that he could get used to eating like this, although in all actuality this was a rather simple meal. While Dimitri ate his own he rose, and began to inspect the inner mechanics of the fuel scoop, which under normal circumstances would be able to filter particles during their travels and convert them to fuel for the reactor, and then the fuel storage. Theo remained seated, watching as the other man lapped around them, devouring the fruit.
“This should be an easy enough fix too, but I may have to head to the planet for some parts,” he declared after a moment, licking his fingers. Theo would not let the gesture distract him. “Don’t see many scoops ‘round here.”
“Okay,” he answered, looking away and taking another bite. When they were finished, the both tossed the pits out of the hatch, and watched them fall into the grass. Dimitri’s clanged against the panel that had fallen earlier and then bounced away. He smiled, pleased.
“So,” Dimitri said after a moment, “Let’s go check out the breech in your arboretum.”