CHAPTER FIVE: DECISIONS, AND FALTERING
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For the next week Dimitri appeared at the ship’s airlock at the same time, with a new box or pallet of supplies that he had apparently carried up on his own. Theo was always there to greet him, a bit bleary-eyed but somehow awake. Dimitri always smiled when he saw him and Theo found his smile hard to look at sometimes, as if it was too bright like the sun, and might hurt his eyes if he looked at him for too long. Shade wasn’t always with him but when xe was, xe was silent, observing Theo as he awkwardly fumbled out a hello, good morning, can I help you carry anything—?

They would make their way to a deck, seemingly at random, where Dimitri would get to work on whatever part of the ship he had picked for that day. The lower sensor array had been a simple fix, considering, and when they had finished on the second day they began to work on the breech in the arboretum as it was the smallest one.

Theo would watch him work, feeling less useless as the days went on and Dimitri would begin to walk him through what he was doing, or ask for a tool or a drink. Most days, eventually Theo would make himself scarce for a bit, if Dimitri got too chatty or curious, but sometimes he would stay close enough that he could hear Dimitri absently singing while he worked.

He had a handsome voice, and it comforted Theo somehow, even if he could never understand the words to most of the songs that he sang. Theo would have guessed that this was a habit he must have picked up working long hours in the fields at his family’s farm, a way to pass the time and fill the silence, but he didn’t ask him about it.

Dimitri would bring him lunch every day, too. Always some sort of sandwich and a cold drink, sometimes a handful of nuts, and a piece of fresh fruit from the orchards. It was always his sister who prepared the meal for him, and Theo began to wonder what the rest of the Croft family was like, if they were always caring for each other like this with simple gestures. He almost could not understand what that must have been like. At any rate, it was always the best meal of his day, as the emergency rations were quickly dwindling.

On the eighth day Dimitri was not there, and Theo sat at the steps of the airlock staring out into the open sky for a long while before Shade appeared behind him. “Dimitri will not be here today,” xe said, startling Theo. He looked back at xem, with his brow furrowed in confusion. “He said that he had to make a trip to the planet, to pick up parts for the scoop.”

“Oh,” Theo said dumbly, looking away from xem. He remembered the conversation now, but he didn’t understand why he felt so disappointed. After a moment longer he rose, and turned to face Shade, who was still watching him curiously, the shapes on xyr face bright and yellow. “Well, what now?” he asked not exactly expecting an answer. And then he realized Shade was in xyr android body, and holding Theo’s bag. “Why are you dressed? Are we going somewhere?”

Shade thrust the bag into Theo’s hands, the shapes on xyr face turning orange for a moment, and then green. “I am ‘dressed’ because we are going into the market,” xe answered pointedly. “You are out of rations.”

Theo blinked, Shade’s actions of care once again confusing him. But he supposed it seemed like the most rational course of action, even if he wasn’t very thrilled at the idea of going shopping. So he slung the bag over his shoulder, and headed off the ship.


The town was just as bustling as they last time they had visited, and Theo felt just as uncomfortable stepping into the circle. What appeared to be the same group of children that they had seen before were kicking a ball around the fountain, the same men and women were tending the stalls that looped around the circle. The tavern was emptier now, but that was to be expected during this time of day. In a matter of hours, Theo supposed that it would fill with people ready for their midday meal. In Theo’s mind, this meant that they had a limited amount of time to find food and other supplies, buy them, and head back to the ship to avoid the inevitable growth in the crowd.

Shade did not seem to mind the crowds, but xe still kept close to Theo as he moved stall to stall to find something to buy. At the far end of the circle he spied a booth being tended to by a familiar looking being — the one from the orchard who had given him fruit to eat on his walk. What had Dimitri called it? Theo couldn’t remember, but he headed to the stall anyway.

“Ah!” the being said, their voice as musical as Theo remembered. “You are still here. Did you enjoy the trecha fruit?” Their yellow eyes glinted in the morning light, their toothy smile wide and friendly.

“Yes,” Theo admitted, only just smiling in spite of himself. “Do you have more for sale today?”

The being nodded and gestured with a flourish to a box at the end of the stall filled to the brim with the soft, pinkish fruits. “Please, help yourself,” they answered. “Tell me, stranger, what should I call you?”

Theo stepped toward the fruit and picked one up, pleased by the weight of it in his hand. “I’m Theo,” he answered, bringing the fruit up to his nose to smell it. Truthfully he didn’t know what he should have been inspecting the fruit for, but he had seen Boss do this once when they were in a market together, not unlike this one. The fruit smelled as sweet as it had tasted days before, as sweet as the breeze in the orchards.

“Theo,” the being repeated sweetly, reaching for a cloth bag, which they handed over to store the fruit. “I am Lux Zaxia.” They looked over at Shade, who was hardly paying attention to the conversation. “And your friend?”

Theo carefully placed the fruit he had been inspecting into the bag, followed by several more. “My business partner, Shade,” he answered, remembering how Dimitri had mentioned someone named Lux giving his sister the best fruit from the orchard.

“Charmed,” Lux said with a soft purr, and Shade nodded xyr head in response. “So, Theo, how are you finding our Dimitri?”

“Hmm?” Theo looked up from the new fruit he had picked up — it was orange and rough, with a purple sprout of leaves from the top. “He’s been very helpful, I suppose.”

“He’s very good with ships,” Lux said with an approving nod, and they reached forward to pluck the orange fruit from Theo’s hands. “This one’s a bit sour, usually it’s only used for baking,” they explained. After returning the fruit to its box, they picked up something hard and yellow, which they easily peeled. It fell apart into wedges almost immediately. “Try this one.”

Theo took the wedge that had been offered to him and took a bite. It was crisp and tangy, with a satisfying crunch when he bit into it. He hummed, delighted by the taste. “What is this?” he asked, devouring the rest of the slice.

Lux smiled, pleased with his assessment, and handed over the rest of the peeled fruit. “My family’s special breed of ople fruit,” they answered, before carrying on with another question of their own. “How much longer do you think you will be with us?”

“However long repairs take, I guess,” Theo answered, adding a few of the fruit he had just sampled into his bag. “How much?”

Lux let out a soft hum and tapped their chin, thinking. “For a friend of Dimitri’s, let’s say ten slivers.”

Theo nodded and passed the bag of fruit to Shade so that he could fish the money from his own bag. He handed it over and Lux counted it dutifully, before placing it in a small pouch that they wore on their waist. “Thank you,” Theo said with another small, awkward smile, and he turned to leave.

“Wait,” Lux called after him. “Will you be joining us for the festival tonight?”

“The festival?” Theo repeated, confused.

Lux nodded. “It is the long month’s end, we will have a grand meal here in the town to celebrate. Games, music — it can be quite the spectacle. Guests are more than welcome to join us.”

Theo let out a soft, nervous laugh. “No, I don’t think so,” he answered, unable to imagine enjoying something like that — all of the noise, all of the people. But he would not say that to Lux. “Thanks, though.”

Lux simply nodded and smiled wide again, their teeth shining as brightly as their eyes. “Of course. You will know where to find us, if you change your mind.”

At that, Theo and Shade turned away from the stall and continued on to see what else was for sale. There were plenty of options for them to choose from — fresh meats, vegetables, beverages both alcoholic and non…

“I think that they like you,” Shade said after a moment, while Theo was looking over a loaf of dark brown bread. He gathered it up, and another loaf of braided yellow bread, sprinkled with purple petals.

“Who?” he asked, dropping coins into the man behind the stall’s hand.

“Lux Zaxia,” Shade answered, as if it should have been obvious. And then after a moment of thought xe added, “Dimitri, too.”

Theo let out a soft huff, but he didn’t answer. It didn’t seem strange that people on this moon would be friendly — that was how they made their money, after all. He supposed if he showed up to the festival tonight there would be more wares being peddled, or a surcharge for the food. He didn’t see how it could be any other way. It was better if he kept to himself and got out of here as soon as possible. It was bad enough that he had already started getting used to Dimitri’s company on the ship, and the sound of his voice echoing against metal.

Suddenly a bell rang out in the distance, signaling midday, and Theo realized they had been wandering in town far longer than he had wanted to. They had what they came for, what Shade had declared they needed, and now was a good as any to head back to the ship before the circle filled with more people looking for food. He nodded at the man selling the bread and tucked the two loaves into the crook of his elbow.

“Come on,” he said to Shade. “Let’s go home.”


Back at the ship, Theo took time to carefully clean out the refrigerator in the mess and tuck all of his purchases away. It seemed almost odd to have such fresh, beautiful looking food on the ship, but it would have been a ridiculous thing to complain about. Once he was done he broke off a piece of the brown bread and grabbed one of the trecha fruits and made his way back to the airlock where he could enjoy his small meal in the fresh air. He sat with his legs hanging out, his food placed neatly beside him. The breeze ruffled his hair; it was nearly picturesque.

He took a bite of the bread, which was was sweet and the crust was covered with small seeds that had a soft, pleasant crunch to them. He thought of the butter spread that was sometimes on the sandwiches Dimitri had been bringing for him, and how it would make the bread he was eating taste even better. For some reason, this made him scowl, but he continued to eat.

It had only been a week, and yet Dimitri kept drifting back into his thoughts. Had this happened before? Theo couldn’t remember. But he felt like a fool sitting there, daydreaming about sandwiches and strange songs, and the way that Dimitri laughed whenever he caught Theo off guard—

This seemed dangerous, more dangerous than the types of jobs he preferred to take, more dangerous than purposefully crashing the ship, and it irritated Theo that it did not give him the same sort of thrill. Instead he felt breathless and afraid, and he wished that Dimitri were here now— But he also wished that he would never see his smiling face again.

He finished his lunch and tossed the pit of his fruit into the worn and patchy grass below. But now Theo did not know what to do with himself. He pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin on his knees. Fluffy white clouds drifted across the sky, the sun was shining, it was more idyllic than anything Theo could have hoped for. But he was still frustrated and angry.

He sat like this for a while, until he felt too restless. And not knowing what else to do, Theo rose and headed off of the ship, down the dock and toward the worn path that wove up the hill toward the standing stones.

It wasn’t as hot as it was the day they arrived, and he wasn’t wearing his jacket now, so the trek up the hill was a bit more comfortable. A few times when it got particularly steep he scrambled a bit, his hands falling into the grass and dirt, but eventually he made it to the top of the hill. The stones were just past the peak, and today there was no Mila grazing about them.

They were arranged in a circular pattern, each stone a different size. Some were propped up so that they were taller than even Dimitri, some lay on their side like benches. There was even a group on the end in the shape of a structure that cast a long shadow, with intricate carvings along the edges. Theo sat on one of the stones on its side, staring across at the structure, wondering how it got up here, wondering what the carvings meant, wondering if Dimitri would be able to tell him if he were here.

He felt sick, but not in any way that he was familiar with. There was no reason that he should have felt so attached to the engineer, there was no reason that he should have plagued his thoughts like this, it simply wasn’t rational. But he thought of Dimitri standing on this same hill and telling him — “You’re just the man I’ve been looking for” — and his face went warm. He felt so foolish. It would be best to forget all of these thoughts, and leave this rock as soon as he was able.

It was decided then, Theo thought as he pushed himself off of the rock to head back to the ship. No more stray, mindless thoughts of the engineer, fix the ship, and leave. He felt buoyed as he made his way down the hill. It would be easy, because there was no reason it shouldn’t be. He took the steps up to the still-open airlock two at a time, nearly smiling—

“Theo!”

He faltered before stepping into the ship, at the sight of Dimitri waiting for him, smiling his usual bright smile.

“I was just about to leave,” he went on. “Shade said xe hadn’t seen you since you returned from the market midday.”

“I thought you were on Keria today,” Theo managed, feeling frozen.

“Just got back,” Dimitri answered, gesturing through the airlock to ship that was now docked in the next space over. Theo hadn’t noticed it. “I was dropping off the parts before I head to town to help get ready for the festival. Will you be there?” There was something in his voice that Theo didn’t recognize.

“I… don’t know,” Theo answered slowly. “I’m not much for festivals.”

Dimitri smiled like he might have understood, giving a little shrug. “Well, I’ll be there,” he said, stepping past Theo to step off the ship. “I hope to see you.”

Theo didn’t know what to say, so he just smiled a bit too, and watched as Dimitri made his way down the steps. He turned before the engineer was out of side, and Shade was standing watching from outside the lift, as if xe had just stepped off of it, the shapes on xyr face slow and soft.

“Another invitation?” xe asked, but Theo only frowned and pushed past xem to head to his quarters for a nap.

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