- AUTHOR: Trin Chardin
- TITLE: Without You
- CATEGORY: Drama
- RATING: PG-13
- SUMMARY: “Nova cursed under her breath then grimaced as the leak she’d been trying to fix widened into a gaping hole of rushing filthy water. Grabbing a greasy rag, she stuffed it into the hole to stop the flow before pulling herself out from under the pipes.”
- AUTHOR’S NOTES:
- Crew Members of the Hope:
- Fuse: Short, red-headed captain; even-tempered with obsessive-compulsive tendencies
- Merc: Dark-haired second-in-command; strong, silent type
- Byte: Dark-haired operator from Zion
- Crash: Brown-haired, blue-eyed medic
- Karma: Dark-haired programmer; silent and aloof
- Spark: Red-haired, green-eyed programmer; cheerful personality
- Nova: Dark-haired, green-eyed figher
- Pixy: Blonde, blue-eyed fighter
- Cable: Well-built, dark-haired fighter
- Shock: Albino newbie; shy and silent; uneasy around people
- Crew Members of the Nebuchadnezzar:
- Hypnos: Former captain
- Morpheus: Newly instated captain
- Micro, “Mic”: Brown-haired programmer
- Macro, “Mac”: Brown-haired fighter
- Crew Members of the Hope:
Nova cursed under her breath then grimaced as the leak she’d been trying to fix widened into a gaping hole of rushing filthy water. Grabbing a greasy rag, she stuffed it into the hole to stop the flow before pulling herself out from under the pipes.
“I distinctly remember someone saying that fixing the leak was the easiest thing in the world.”
Spark smiled cheekily as she handed her friend a clean rag to wipe her face. Ignoring the other’s scowl, she helped Nova up and took her place under the pipes. Seconds later, she came out with a look of satisfaction and wiped her hands clean on her already dirty pants.
“That’s how it’s done.”
Nova rolled her eyes, muttering the words ‘Show off’ to herself. Spark’s grin just grew wider as she helped Nova put the clunky metal tools back into the assigned box. A tool out of place would have their captain, Fuse, breathing down their necks. Despite her name, their captain was mostly even-tempered but she disliked the idea of disorder, especially on board her ship, the Hope.
After they’d cleaned up the mess, the two headed for the shower room where they quickly washed up before dinner was announced. When they got to the dining room, everyone except for Crash, who was on duty, was there. Fuse frowned slightly at their tardiness then nodded in the direction of their usual seats. Grinning guiltily, they rushed to their seats as Fuse began to speak.
“I just received a message from the Nebuchadnezzar. They will be meeting us at a cavern not far from here in a few days. They’re short of crew members because of a recent run-in with Agents.”
The short, redheaded woman paused for a moment as her crew absorbed the information. They grimly looked back at her in silence. They knew what it was like to lose people to the Agents. They’d lost friends as well as lovers to the unfeeling programs. Clearing her throat, she continued. She wasn’t sure how they’d react to the next thing she’d say. But, she was sure that some, like her second-in-command Mercury, already suspected what it was that she’d say.
“Because they are lacking in crew members, they asked if one of us could help them get back on their feet. Being my second-in-command, you’re out of the question, Merc…”
At his place next to her, the dark-haired man nodded in understanding.
“…Crash is the only medic we have on board so we can’t spare him. Shock is a newbie, so he’s out, too…”
Nova noticed the young man across her relax and sigh softly in relief. With his albino white hair and almost colorless eyes, he’d been an outcast most of his life and was still uneasy around people.
“…Karma, I need you here to work on that new program…”
The man didn’t bother to reply as he continued to stare at some invisible point. The unnerving habit and his aloof manner caused him to be left alone by the entire crew, making Nova wonder what went on inside the programmer’s head.
“…Spark, you have to stay and help Karma…”
The perky redhead wrinkled her nose in disgust at Fuse’s words. It was no secret that there was a long-standing feud between the two programmers.
“…Byte, being our operator, you’re out too…Cable, with that injured leg of yours, you won’t be much help…so, I guess it’ll have to be Nova or Pixy.”
“Don’t you need a healty fighter to stay on board?” Pixy asked with a frown.
Everyone smirked at her question. They all knew that she wanted to stay behind so that she could take care of Cable. Having almost lost him in a recent encounter with the Agents, she was worried about losing him so soon after he’d admitted his feelings for her.
“I’ll go,” Nova finally spoke up, a wry grin on her lips.
Fuse nodded in approval and everyone began to dig into the slop they called food. After dinner, Fuse took her aside and briefed Nova on the situation.
“When I said that the Nebuchadnezzar was short on crew, that was an understatement. There are only four out of the original crew of ten left. Even the captain, Hypnos, is dead. His second-in-command Morpheus took over after only a month of being the next in command. As you can guess, he’s pretty shaken about his new position. I’ve met him and I know he’s capable of handling the job, but he’ll need your support.
Aside from that, unless they get replacements from Zion soon, you might have to stay with them for some time. I heard that they’re getting someone from there to be the operator, but they still need a few more to make it a complete crew. Do you think you can handle this?”
“I guess, isn’t going to cut it when you’re there, Nova. Can you do it or not?”
Nova’s green eyes flashed rebelliously at her captain’s harsh words as she nodded sharply in the affirmative.
A week later found Nova tinkering with the Nebuchadnezzar’s pipe system. This time she was more successful. Ever since she’d arrived, she’d been helping Dozer, the ship mechanic, to repair the broken-down parts of the ship. Well, that and backing the new captain Morpheus with everything he said. Thank goodness, Fuse was right and what Morpheus said actually made sense. That and the fact that the crew was as close as hers made her job easy.
Just a day or so ago, they’d stopped at Zion to bury the bodies of those who’d died. They were also there to see if they could find any replacements for the crew. The new operator was already on board. Born and raised in Zion, Tank turned out to be the brother of Dozer. A cheerful and talkative youth, he made it his job to cheer up his older brother who was depressed over the loss of his friends. The ship’s twins Mac and Mic were obviously forcing their cheery behavior, but they seemed to be holding up pretty well. The brothers were close and if one of them had died, things would have definitely been different.
As for Morpheus, he was calm and pretty much in control. Nova was starting to wonder what Fuse meant about him not being able to handle his new position. It was only a day later that she realized how wrong she was. She’d just finished her shift at the computers with Tank replacing her. As she headed towards her room, she happened to pass by the captain’s quarters.
With her sharp hearing, she heard him tossing and turning in an uneasy sleep then a sudden shout of terror. Considering that the rooms next to his were empty, it was no wonder that no one knew about his sleepless nights. She stayed a moment longer to hear him settle down and only left when all she heard was silence from the other side of the door.
The next morning, she caught him alone at the dining room. He was looking silently at the bowl of slop before him. He was obviously lost in thought for he didn’t even notice when she entered the room and sat down in front of him. When he did notice, he looked at her for a second as if in a daze then his official mask slipped in place.
“Is everything alright?” He asked, a slight frown of worry on his face.
“I was just going to ask you that,” she said softly, tilting her head to one side to study him better.
He bristled at her unwanted attention and looked stonily back at her.
“Nothing is wrong with me,” he said firmly, if not convincingly.
He quickly stalked out of the room, his bowl of slop untouched and forgotten. Nova sighed softly to herself after he’d left. Things were not looking good.
She knew he wanted to believe that everything was alright. He forced himself to accept the lie because he seriously thought that if he wasn’t in control everything would fall apart. And he was right. But, not on both counts. Things would fall apart if he should lose his control, but he would still lose it if this martyrish behavior continued. He was keeping all the guilt and pain locked up inside of him. Hidden there, they would fester like an unclean wound. Then, one day he would reach his breaking point and everything would go to hell.
Considering that her subtle questioning had failed, she decided to take direct action. The following evening, she knocked at his quarters, which served as his room as well as his office.
“Come in.” His voice calm and composed.
Nova entered the room and stopped before his desk, where he was hard at work.
“What is it?”
She noticed the wary look in his eye and knew that he suspected she was here to talk about yesterday. Too bad. he was right.
“Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the other chair in the room.
She nodded her thanks and sat down, talking a deep breath before she began.
“Excuse me?” He asked, his brown eyes looking up from his work to meet her stubborn green ones.
“About what, may I ask?” He said as he put down the papers he’d been reading. She did not miss the flicker of worry that crossed his usually inscrutable face.
“About how you were. You are NOT alright.”
“Be careful of your tone and words, Nova. I am the captain of this ship.”
His voice had taken on a hard edge, but she saw the growing uneasiness in his eyes. She had to make him see that keeping his emotions hidden and refusing to mourn his loss was not going to help matters aboard the ship. It would only make them worse. She’d rather he hate her for forcing him to accept the truth than to see him fall apart. So, she forged on relentlessly.
“A ship of which I am not a crew member. I am not under your command.”
“You are while you remain aboard. Remember that.”
“You know what your problem is?” She said in an equally cold voice, her tone clearly insolent.
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“It’s simple. With your unexpected – maybe even unwanted – burden of leadership and responsibility, you can’t get yourself to mourn your friends’ deaths and recover from your loss like any normal, feeling person would. Instead, you harden yourself to everything, refusing to admit the pain and the guilt. You keep up a facade of unshakeable calm and stabilty. And why?”
She paused for a brief moment to catch her breath and saw the blood begin to drain from his face.
“And why?” She repeated mercilessly. “Because you feel that if you showed any weakness…any small sign of human frailty…they wouldn’t show you the same respect they do now. Instead, they would think you weak and incompetent. That’s what you fear. And it’s really a shame because you could be a good captain if only you’d let yourself be human. Don’t you think you could have not only their respect for you as a captain, but their friendship as well for being one of them – someone with feelings and not some callous, cold-blooded person?”
With those last words, she stood up and left the room, leaving him to his thoughts. After she’d shut the door behind her, she stood in the corridor as if frozen on the spot. She could not believe that she’d just lectured him like that. He hadn’t said anything in reply, just sat and stared at her with those deep dark brown eyes of his.
Her head jerked up in surprise as she saw the door swing open once more and looked to see him standing at the doorway. For a long moment, they just stood there in the empty hall. They were inches away from each other, yet their minds were far away. Finally, he snapped out of his reverie and reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. She looked up to meet his eyes and a jolt of pain ran through her as she saw the look in his eyes. The consuming pain and guilt she saw there tore at her heart.
“I…” He began, then his voice broke.
Eyes bright with tears, he bit his lip and looked away. He looked so young and vulnerable – so unlike the calm, confident dark youth that had greeted her when she’d arrived. So, this was the person hiding behind the facade – a scared young man who’d been forced to grow up too fast, too soon. She took him into her arms and held him close, not saying anything.
Gently leading him back to the privacy of his room, she shut the door close and helped him to his cot. He still held on tightly to her, refusing to let her go. She remained silent and continued to hold him close all through the night.
The next morning, she woke to find him sound asleep next to her. Careful not to wake him, she silently slipped out from under the covers and put on her clothes. Then, after checking that the hall was empty, she left the room and crept down the hall to her own room. Once there, she shut the door and leaned against it, sliding down to sit and tuck her long legs under her chin.
What had she done? She’d only wanted to get him back on his feet like she was supposed to. She wasn’t supposed to end up in bed with him. That thoughtless action could just make things worse. Thoughtless…yes, she definitely hadn’t been thinking last night. He might have made the first move, but she certainly hadn’t done anything to dissuade him. She couldn’t excuse her actions by saying she’d only been trying to comfort him. She knew the truth. She’d fallen for him. Hard. And when he made a move on her, she’d come running. He’d caught her by surprise and they’d wound up in bed together. He probably thought she was some slut, who jumped into bed with every red-blooded male. Damnit.
She avoided him after that, which was pretty hard considering how small the ship was. During the few times she did bump in to him, she quickly thought up an excuse to leave soon after. He gave up after a few days and started giving her instructions through the other crew members. Still, she was happy to see that he’d lightened up on himself a little bit. He wasn’t as aloof as before and she’d even caught him laughing once at a joke of Tank’s.
Having learned that Zion didn’t have anymore replacements to offer, Morpheus decided to look over some potentials in the Matrix as well as the ‘spares’ of some other ships. They left Zion and started meeting other ships to pick up those people. On one ship, they picked up Switch, a teenager with bleached hair and intense eyes that seemed to see right through a person. Being the only other female on board, Nova tried to make friends with her, but the younger girl was distant and cold. She sort of reminded Nova of Karma back on the Hope. A week later, a dark-haired teenager by the name of Apoc joined them. The strong and silent type, he kept mostly to himself.
On a ship where people minded their own business, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly conducive to making close and lasting relationships. And now that he had new crew members to think about, Morpheus had set up his in-control facade again. He didn’t want to let his crew down, so he slowly detached himself from the others and began acting more and more like his former unfeeling self. Only the occasional pranks of Tank lightened things up and even that didn’t get much laughs anymore.
Pushing away her personal problems, she decided to take matters into her own hands and have another talk with Morpheus. It was about time she talked to him anyway. She just couldn’t keep on avoiding him, especially when she hadn’t heard from her own crew recently. It seemed like she was going to be on board the Nebuchadnezzar for a long time; she had to get used to being there and working with the crew.
Knocking softly on his door, she entered as soon as he heard his voice.
“Oh, it’s you.”
He put down the file he’d been reading and nodded towards the other chair. She took it with a forced, uneasy smile on her lips.
“Yes, it’s me.”
He cleared his throat and waited for her to speak. From the way his hands were clenched before him on the table, she guessed that he was just as nervous as she was. When she still refused to say anything, he remarked casually.
“I haven’t heard from your captain recently. You might be staying here a little longer than expected. With the three new members, we don’t really need you anymore…uh, I mean…”
She absently thought of how cute he was when he was flustered before hurriedly reassuring him that she understood what he meant.
“I know what you mean…”
“Oh…well, that’s fine then…”
She swallowed nervously, her throat dry and words refusing to come out.
“…about that night…” She finally started, the rest coming out in a rush. “I know you must think I’m some slut who took advantage of you when you were vulnerable…I didn’t mean that to happen…not that I don’t like you…the problem is I do like you and now you probably don’t like me…expecially after I’ve been avoiding you and all…”
She cracked a nervous smile as she stopped abruptly. He just sat, staring at her in disbelief.
‘Great,’ she thought. ‘Now, he probably thinks I’m some ditz. Shit, you were suppose to keep your personal problems out of this, Nova. I swear you really are a ditz.’
“Nova…” He started hesitantly after an uneasy pause. “I don’t think you’re some…slut…” He blushed as he said the words and she couldn’t help but smile when she saw that. “…and as for that night…well, it wasn’t your fault, I made the first move and you probably thought that you were trying to comfort me…”
“I wasn’t,” she said before she could stop herself. She flushed red as he looked at her in shock. Unable to control herself, everything else came pouring out. “I mean…I tried using that as an excuse, but the truth is I’ve liked you ever since I came on board…I mean you know you were the young, in-control captain…and…”
‘Shit, I sound like some babbling school girl with a crush…well, fine so technically I AM a babbling school girl with a crush…I mean I’m about eighteen and he’s only a year or so older than me…but, shit…I didn’t come here to get a boyfriend…’
“Oh, I see…I suppose that should make me feel better then…” He said uneasily.
“I suppose,” she agreed lamely. “Well, I just thought that I should clear things up, seeing as I’m going to be here for some time.”
“Is that really why you came?” He asked curiously. “After you’ve been avoiding me and all…”
She flushed again as she was caught in her own lie.
“Well, actually, I came to try and get you to lighten up on yourself. You might be captain, but you’re also human. I’m sure you’re crew understands that.”
He smiled as he heard her words and nodded.
“Why is it that you’re the only one who can come up to me and tell me the truth?”
“I don’t know. Because I’m the only one who isn’t going to be around forever? Soon or later, I’m going to go back to my own ship…”
“Right…” His smile faded at that. “…Nova…about us…”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as she turned red and looked down on the floor.
“…Is there anything at all aside from physical attraction or comfort…something to base an actual…ahhh, long-term…relationship on?”
She just knew she was as red as a tomato when she heard his words. She wished the floor would open up and swallow her. She bit her lip and spoke so softly he had to lean forward to catch her words.
“I really don’t know…”
“Well…like you said…you’re not really one of my crew, so we don’t have the standard captain-subordinate relationship…there wouldn’t be anything wrong about a…relationship…between us…”
‘Oh shit, he’s serious. He really likes me…but, I don’t know yet how I really feel about him…I don’t want to lead him on and then dump him when I realize I don’t feel the same way…’
“Like I said, I don’t know…can I think about this for awhile?” She asked nervously, biting unconciously at her lip.
“Sure, I don’t want to rush you into something you might regret…”
‘Why the hell must he be such a sweet, understanding, and vulnerable guy…shit, I am seriously falling for him…this was definitely NOT part of the gameplan…’
“And Nova…” He began, almost shyly.
“If it doesn’t work out between us…I’ll understand…and I’d still like to be friends…if want, that is…”
“I’d like that.” She agreed with a shy smile. She bit her lip again, then finally got up and left.
‘What a sweetheart,’ she thought with a sigh as she walked down the corridor.
“Well, that takes care of it,” Nova said with a happy sigh.
She accepted Tank’s hand and get up from her position under the bridge communications system. It had conked out the other day and she had to do it because Dozer couldn’t fit under the tight space.
“You’ve got a really magic touch when it comes to fixing up things…and I don’t mean just mechanical problems,” Tank grinned with a not so subtle nod in the direction of Morpheus who was talking to Dozer near them.
She flushed slightly, then tossed her head haughtily as she fixed her long hair in a ponytail.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah right…” Then, he continued in a serious voice. “But, you know I’m glad you got together. Morpheus really needs someone to turn to when he gets down in the dumps – which happens a lot considering his job.”
“Do the others know that we’re…you know…” She flushed.
“They’d have to be blind not to know.”
“Do they mind? I mean he is captain and all that…”
“Considering how it doesn’t get in the way of your jobs, not really. Besides, without you, we all know that he’d have driven us crazy long before.”
“Oh really…” She smiled mischievously. “So, you guys consider me some sort of savior, huh?”
“I wouldn’t go that far…” He said with that devil-may-care twinkle in his eye.
She shook her head with a laugh then turned to the communications system, turning it back on with a flip of a switch. The system buzzed to life, various buttons on the panel lighting up. She pushed a button to catch what calls they’d missed and listened absently to the system’s vocal reply.
*1 missed call from Zion command…2 missed calls from Zion command…1 missed call from the Hope. A total of 3 missed calls.*
“What?!?” Her green eyes blinked in surprise as she heard about the call from the Hope.
She hadn’t heard from her ship lately because they’d been out on a mission and beyond the standard transmission range for communications. She frowned as she punched in the communication number of the Hope and waited for it to connect.
“What’s wrong?” Morpheus asked with a frown as he joined her at the system unit.
“There was a missed message from my ship. It could be nothing…but…” She trailed off, leaving her statement unfinished as her fingers tapped impatiently on the panel.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. They probably just wanted to know how you were doing,” he reassured her.
She nodded in reply, staring intently at the panel. Finally, a loud beep was heard as the connection was made.
*Connection with the Hope confirmed.*
The screen in front of them flickered to life as the face of Merc, the Hope’s second-in-command, appeared.
“Merc? Where’s Fuse?”
She bit her lip anxiously as she saw his pale, bandaged face. Spark stood behind him, her face in a frown as she looked worriedly at Merc.
“She’s…she’s dead…” He said bluntly, the expression on his face unreadable.
“Dead.” She dumbly repeated. In a distant corner of her mind, she sensed Morpheus put a comforting arm around her.
Fuse was dead.
The woman who she’d thought of as her surrogate mother as well as leader was dead.
“Anyone else?” She found herself saying in a voice she didn’t recognize as her own.
“Crash didn’t make it.”
She wasn’t even seeing the screen anymore although her eyes remained on it. Her eyes glazed over as her mind screamed inside her to react. To cry. To scream. Anything.
She forced herself to look at Spark as her friend gently pushed Merc aside so that she could speak. The usually perky redhead had her green eyes rimmed red from crying while her face was drawn and pale.
“We’re going to have a short ceremony for them. We’ll returning to Zion to bury them. If you can come…”
“OK…*crackle*…we need to go now…*crackle*…transmission’s breaking…*crackle*…bye.”
The screen flickered and died as the system spoke in its monotonous, electronic voice.
*Connection with the Hope terminated.*
Nova looked dazedly down at the panel were her hands were clenched and drained of color.
“Nova…” She heard Morpheus say softly from next to her.
“I just need to be alone for awhile.”