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Not

By Zelda
Page 2 of 8

"Did you ever fuck the Supreme Commander?" Jenna asked.

He looked straight at her, his dead eye wide. "No," he said.

Jenna smiled. "Did you want to?"

"No," Travis answered, straightaway.

Jenna seemed momentarily disappointed, but she recovered rapidly. "That's good," she said to him. "She's dead now, your Supreme Commander. So you wouldn't be able to."

Travis said nothing. All right, let's leave him alone now, I thought to myself, but I stayed.

"Aren't you glad she's dead?" Jenna asked.

I stayed. I ought to have left, I ought to have gone and got some sleep. I needed sleep badly. I should have refused to be her audience.

"No," he said.

I stayed, and stared in at him as he answered her questions. We are children with sticks, I said to myself. She and I, and he is in our cage.

"I'll be sure and inform Blake of your feelings on this matter," Jenna said.

And there is, I thought to myself, there is something animal in his eye, something sharp and bright and flat and feral. There is something inhuman about him.

"All right," he said.

Something alien.

Jenna stepped forward, moved closer to him. "Did you ever rape anyone?" she asked.

I sighed, very vocally. "What does it matter?" I asked her. Cut off his answer. "Why do you want to know? I don't. In any case surely he's done worse. He's--" Cold like oxygen turned to ice her brush of emotion against me. I stepped away from her, reflexively, so she had to realize I had seen inside her. That's why she hates me, that's one of the reasons she hates me. Me and my tricks, which she knows are better than hers.

She smiled at me, in a way that made me want to hit her, just for a fraction of a second, the concept damped before it could propagate beyond the privacy of my mind.

Then she turned back to Travis. "Well, did you?" she asked him.

"I don't think so," he said.

Jenna looked dubious.

Not physically, I said to myself.

"Not physically," he echoed, out loud. Then fixed his eye on Jenna's face. "Have you?"

At that point, finally, I walked away from it. Left the two of them together. I was not, had never been, a part of it.

I was kind enough not to lock the door behind me.

I went to my cabin. The moondisk moved away from me when I put my hand near, until I forced myself to think comforting babble, mindless whitenoise thoughts. Which as always made me feel better as well. Two of a kind, this endangered toxic vegetable and me. Avon might say. No. Avon might think, but not say, and regret yet another good line wasted. Wasted on me.

When I was calm enough that the moondisk came happily to the shadow of my hand, I lay down, and was able to sleep for a while. Dream of nothing, warm beautiful nothing. There is a dimension, curled up, out of sight, around the corner, and in it everybody understands, everybody speaks the common language. There is none of this frustrating neverending miscommunication. There are none of these words.

***

Jenna did not look well the next shift, when she came to take over for me. Avon, who apparently had not left the flight deck since before the celebration, did not seem particularly sympathetic toward her plight.

I found Blake in the galley, looking nervous. Maybe he was waiting for me. For someone, or anyone. "No reason not to let him out of his cabin now, I suppose," he said. "Unless you have any objection?" He sounded so hopeful.

I smiled at him. "None you don't share, I'm sure."

Blake stared down into the depths of his vitamin drink. "I thought you might--"

"You think perhaps there's a question that we never thought to ask, and the honest answer would give you sufficient cause to kill him."

"Point taken," he said.

"You could let him go."

He laughed, softly. "No objection, then."

"I'll show him the wardrobe," I offered. "I'll show him whatever you think he should be shown."

"That would be very helpful, Cally, thank you," said Blake. Who accepted Travis' presence in concept, but had so far avoided going anywhere near him, since he was brought on board. Since Blake brought him on board.

"I apologize for calling you manipulative, Blake," Avon had said, at the time. "You really are just plain mad."

And you're just plain treasonous, Avon. Blake didn't say. "Is the cabin ready?" The brig.

"Yes," Avon had said, and spared me a foul look as he prepared to lead them there. Yes, well, it had not been undeserved. I'd done him wrong, even though the result might be right. I had told Jenna, and Jenna had told Blake. And Blake had told Travis. Now Travis was here. Hands bound behind and two guns to his head, but it felt very dangerous nevertheless. I think we were all a bit surprised that Blake had really gone through with it.

I'm sure Blake was more surprised than any of us.

"You want to cooperate with us," Avon had said. "With Blake." Avon, our designated interrogator, calm and articulate.

"Yes."

"Why should Blake cooperate with you?" Avon had asked.

"I don't know," Blake said to me, here and now.

"Because it is bound to be easier than fighting. One less thing for you to fight." I patted his hand. Ate half my meal, talking with him about things that were not to the point, wishing desperately I could come up with an objection.

***

Travis looked even worse than Jenna had. He was lying on his side on the bunk when I opened the door, and there was a puddle of bright yellow vomit on the floor beneath his head. Those drugs do leave one with a hellish hangover. I know the feeling firsthand, and I suppose for that reason I felt quite kin to Avon in my lack of sympathy toward the prisoner, the former prisoner, as I undid his restraints. I watched him make a face as he flexed his wrists, watched him lurch toward the lavatory. "Drink plenty of water," I said as the door slid shut. "It will pass. When you're done in there, I'll take you to the wardrobe."

Then I sat on the bunk and stared sleepily at the puddle, at the restraints undone beside me, until he came out, and then we vacated the brig together.

"Pass, I've passed, have I?" he muttered as we walked side by side down the long corridor, as I pointed out examples of Avon's little unnecessarily complicated sticky-tape signs.

I thought of last night. "Yes, I suppose you have," I said. "Do you remember?"

There may be a little pain.

I ought to have stopped her.

He looked me in the eye, and shook his head. The details are lost, which is all for the best, I thought, but there's something that sticks. A faint bruise, you don't know where it came from. You never will. A dim fever dream, on a stranger's uncomfortable bed.

We came to the wardrobe. He didn't appear impressed. Bent over the console and perused the variety of patterns available. After several seconds he pushed a button, unenthusiastically. "You should have uniforms," he muttered.

"Why?" I smiled. "So you don't have to act as though you know how to use this machine?" I leaned in beside him and entered the proper sequence.

"So you can identify one another without having to think about it, without having to see each other's faces, you can know if the person twenty metres away is someone you want to shoot or not."

"We seem to have managed so far." Better than could have been expected.

He turned around and looked at me. "You've lost your edge," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Then, when we took you on Centero. You were a soldier, of sorts. You're not, you're nothing at all like a soldier now."

I folded my arms across my chest. "I suppose I grew out of it," I said. That, then, that was a long time ago.

He looked at me. I thought of all the truths I must have told them. Told him. I could vaguely remember more than enough of it. "Too bad I was on the wrong side," I said. Attempting humour.

He turned back to the console. Humour attempt unsuccessful. "Better to be a soldier on the wrong side than a civilian on the right."

I smiled. "Is that how you see yourself now? As a soldier on the wrong side?"

"Is that how you see yourself now?" he mocked, with his back still turned. "As a fucking therapist? There is no wrong side? Everything's relative?"

The anger in him. The ghost woman had said, lovingly. One of the nightmare women on that nightmare planet. That too was so long ago now, and nobody speaks of it--perhaps it was a dream. Of mine, about him. I did not like to think that it was. The anger, the violence inside. If I reach out one finger now and touch him, I thought, touch him anywhere, his hand resting on the console, the back of his neck, any place on his bare burning skin, his hatred will arc, a psychic spark, and ground itself in me.

I kept my hands at my side.

"I still believe there is a wrong side," I said.

"I imagine you also still believe you are a soldier."

I would have liked to strike him.


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