Who Are We?
Date: 12 Sep 2520
Between Season 2 and Season 3
Joshua and Nika (Thanks to Nika for RPing this one with me)
Joshua walked into the bridge, where Nika was in the middle of another long shift. He lowered himself into the seat next to her, looking through the cockpit at the blur of space in pulse. "It's strange, but it still feels unreal to me." He raised his hand slightly to point towards the window. "So vast. So beautiful. Makes me a little giddy inside just to watch the Black, even in motion." He settled back into quiet. If she was open to talking, she'd let him know. Otherwise, it was still nice to sit still and watch patiently and just let space roll over him.
When he wandered into the bridge, space that Nika usually considers pretty much her own domain. Though the rest of the crew has always taken minimal turns at the watch, it is here that Nika has always retreated. She's sitting back in her seat, her feet propped up on her consoles, with her hands wrapped around a mug of coffee in her lap. She didn't object to his presence, though she did reach over to turn off a softly playing recording of an instrumental piece of music that she'd been listening to. "It should feel unreal," she told him softly. "Dirtside, the Black seems to be full of lights. You think, before you come out here, that it'll be ... sort of like floating in the darkness with points of light all around. But when you get out here, it's an unimaginably vast amount of pure darkness. The human mind has trouble processing that amount of nothingness. Distances that it takes us weeks to traverse used to take months, years, centuries for our ancestors." She glanced at him and smiled faintly, the barest hint of a drawl peeping out as she speaks. "There was a reason half the old spacers were near insane."
"There's something comforting about it though, and I didn't expect that," Joshua said, his voice dropping to not quite a whisper. The bridge almost seemed like a sacred space, or at least what his best guess at what a sacred space should be like. Blue Sun was not a big believer in encouraging religious feeling, so Joshua's only exposure was through the Cortex and tangentially through a single mission a few years back. But the quiet and peace...and the way you sat in respect of something bigger than you? That seemed sacred enough to Joshua that the few hours he spent up here, he said very little, and when he did, he almost always lowered his voice.
He looked over at Nika, who was obviously at home on the bridge. She just looked more comfortable there than when he saw her on the rest of the ship. "I'd ask if you were bothered by me, but I've been around long enough to know that if I was, I'd already be out of here." He paused for a second. "You didn't have to turn off your music. I just was looking for company, honestly. Rina is off trying to fix the entire Cortex downfall from her perch in the engine room, Dr. Arden is off reading medical journals, and Rick....well, I'm never quite sure how to talk with Rick. I know that sounds weird, and I don't mean it in a bad way. I'm just never quite sure what to say to him. I mean, I could casually read him and figure out what he expects me to say, but that's not quite the same, is it?"
There was a soft laugh from the blonde as he commented about the comforting nature of the Black, though it's not actually at him. It was a sympathetic sound, and she considered her words carefully before replying. "There's a peace to it," she finally said. "I'm not much of a religious type, but... you can't fly the Black the way I have and not realize sooner or later that there's something.... more. Something bigger out there. It's chaotic and insane, violent. But there's a kind of order to it all, too. Even in the chaos." She shrugged slightly. "Or some folks might just say I'm insane," she conceded with a faint smile as she sipped from her cup again.
She was quiet for a time and when she finally spoke again, her tone held a thoughtful note. "Rick is the one person on our crew that I don't feel I know well. He rarely speaks of himself, and what I know about his background would fill a thimble. But he's a good man in a fight, and he's stood with us through some pretty hairy situations. But I know what you mean with regard to not really knowing what to talk to him about. I try to respect his boundaries and not ask too many questions of him, but I'd lay odds that if you took the time to ask him about something you know he's interested in, you'll get a good feel for him right quick." She rested her head back on the headrest of her chair, her blue eyes rolling back toward the front portholes, and then added as an afterthought, "I turned it off because it's not finished, and I can't just leave it playing in the background. I was trying to figure out why it doesn't sound right."
"How do you mean?" Joshua tilted his head every so slightly in question. "If it's too big to explain, that's ok, but you've got my curiosity peaked." Not it was hard to do that, he thought. But this was the kind of thing he wanted to hear about. These small details. Not just about Nika or the crew but about people in general. Finding out the details that made people different, made them unique? That's what Joshua loved about what he did. What he used to do, he amended to himself. But maybe he could find pieces of that here again with the Summer's Gift and her crew.
It took Nika a few moments to determine what exactly he was asking. At least... what she assumed he was asking. "It's a rather amateur attempt to put into actual notes the kinds of things I hear in the back of my head while I fly," she finally said quietly. "I spend a lot of time alone up here. Flying feeds something in my soul -- without it, I'm not whole. It's like the Black sings to me." She smiles a little. "Personally, I think some sailors on Earth-That-Was must have had a similar kind of mindset... they called it the Sirens. Me... I just call it the music of the stars." She shrugged. "A few months ago, when we were trapped on Miranda, I started teaching myself to actually write music. Trying to get it down. It doesn't sound like what I hear in my head, so I can't leave it playing. It disturbs me."
Joshua nodded. "I understand that." He smiled a little and nodded again. "I never would've guessed that you had a musician hiding in you, but when you said it, it seemed just right, like I could hear another puzzle piece falling into place." Back to those layers again - this crew was so interesting, so much to find out.
"If you ever want someone to listen to your music, I have a decent ear for music and I'm a good listener. I'd certainly understand if it's personal, but either way, thank you for sharing that with me, Nika. I feel like I've been through a lifetime of events with the Gift, but it really hasn't been that long, has it? And for all I know about you, and Rina, and Arden, and Rick...it's all surface stuff. It's nice to know a little of what makes you Nika." He scratched the side of his head a little, an awkward motion to go along with what had been a much more rambling, awkward statement than he had intended. "Sorry, getting a bit too stuffy and serious, perhaps. Fair is fair, though. Anything I can share with you that you'd want to know about me?"
Nika chuckled softly, a faint flush coloring her cheekbones as if she was embarrassed. "Amateur at best," she corrected him lightly. "Once you get past the surface, everyone's a lot more than they appear, darlin," she drawled with a smile. "I could give you a whole host of things I am -- pilot, sharpshooter, sister, daughter, lover, friend, brawler, rancher - sorta. Ain't none of 'em mutually exclusive." That drawl that she only employs when she's diverting attention pops out again. If he were to ask Rina, she'd say that the drawl meant he was in trouble, but in this case it seemed more of an amusement factor.
"There's any number of things I'd like to know about you, Joshua. Do you have any family outside of that job? How the hell'd you get suckered into that in the first place? Were you Core-trained in one of those schools that ain't supposed to exist? Who //are// you when no one else is around -- do you have any ideas? The list goes on and on, you realize."
"Maybe, I don't know, Yes, and I don't know again!" And Joshua laughed, an honest laugh that he suddenly realized he hadn't done for a while. Maybe this peace and quiet thing was good for him. "Sorry, I have a very simple sense of humor sometimes. Let me start with the first couple." He pulled out his silver cross on a chain from his left pocket where he always kept it and put it in one of Nika's hands. "I think this was my mother's. But I don't know. I don't really remember her or my father or if I have any family. I don't really have any memories of a childhood before the Academy. My first clear memory is about 12 years old and it is, unfortunately, a memory of getting lectured by a teacher for not paying attention to a lesson. The brain is a funny thing. I have crystal clear memories from about 16 on, but before that, it all gets fuzzy." He paused briefly, lost in thought.
"It was my first tendency when I realized what Blue Sun was really having me do to think that the memory loss must be their fault, an evil corporation doing something else evil" he said. "But that's lazy thinking. I'd get lectured for it if I were still in Academy. It might have been them doing things to my memory. Or it might just be me forgetting." He wagged his finger in a little "but, wait" motion. "Of course, Blue Sun was probably not strongly interested in helping me remember. And I'm sure some of the procedures they did to enhance my ability to read probably didn't help either."
He looked at Nika and then at the cross in her hand. "I wish I could remember. It would be nice to have something other than a necklace that I'm not sure belonged to her and a bit of faint hope that she might still be alive somewhere. But if wishes were fishes, we'd never starve, right?"
"Ain't it the truth?" Nika asked with a wry smile. She held the cross he entrusted to her hand and studied it for a long moment. "It's beautiful." She held the piece of jewelry out to him so he could take it back. "Most people remember things from before they were sixteen. Before they were twelve, too. So ... seems to me that you have the right to be pissed that those memories are gone, whether it was a deliberate wipe or just a side effect of their enhancement procedures. That said... if you're //not// pissed, more power to you." She paused and considered. "Do you even know if Joshua Drake is your real name, Joshua? If it is, you might be able to find a birth registration somewhere. Assuming you were born in the Core. The Border and the Rim aren't as good about records."
And then Nika smiled. "And there I go trying to fix your problems for you. Ignore it. Thinking about other people's issues is a sight easier than thinking about your own."
"No no, I'm happy to have other people putting their brains to it. I don't know if Joshua Drake is my real name." He shrugged and absently pocketed the cross. "It could be. I suppose my parents could've volunteered me for all of this. They wouldn't have known, might have had their reasons." He hadn't really thought about that though. What if they had they HAD known?
Joshua said with another shrug of the shoulders, "You know, I don't think I know if I'm pissed yet. As weird as it sounds, there hasn't been enough time for me to figure that out. I went straight from figuring out what was going on to escaping with you. And since then, there's not been a lot of quiet processing time. Never really having had a family, I'm not sure I know what I'm missing. I heard sister and daughter in that list earlier. What's your family like?" He stretched his legs out a little, thought about propping them up, but it just didn't feel right. Not in her space, anyway.
Nika still hadn't moved from her comfortable sprawl, drinking the last of her coffee and merely settling the mug back in her lap. "They're... interesting, I guess. My sister and her .... well, hell, I don't know if she married him yet or not. He's her second husband. Anyway, she and her man run our ranch. My half-brother's old enough to ride the fence and he's learning the business too, my stepmother keeps her hand in at the ranch. My parents are dead." The pang that twists her guts is reflected in the faint twist of her lips as she says it. Thoughts of her father still have the power to hurt her heart. "My mom died when I was a kid, my dad not too long after the war." Then she smiled a little. "And my other family... they're out in Blue Sun. Guess you could call Harry my other parent and Shyla sorta like the older big sister willing to beat you over the head and love you in equal measure." Toying with her empty cup, Nika looked down at the vessel. "Nala's my twin, but we're as different as two people can be in a lot of ways. She loves being planetside, and the Black's been my home for as long as I've been allowed to head out into it."
"Sounds comforting, having a family." Joshua lost himself for a moment or two, dreaming about growing up with a family, with a sister or a brother. Oddly, he couldn't manage it - he could picture him as someone else living that life, but it wasn't his life. Not even in dreams, he thought to himself. Ah well.
He shook his head a little, coming out of thoughts, and said, "I should answer that last question of yours - who am I when it's just me?" He leaned forward now, putting his elbows on the panel and propping his chin in his hands. "That's really the million dollar question, isn't it? I had a life in the Academy, but it was proportioned way in favor of Blue Sun. 4 weeks on, 1 week off. I like to cook. That's mine. But other than that, I'm having a hard time filtering the truth of me from the lie of me."
He looked up at Nika. "Is the way I decorated my apartment at the Academy me or was it something they did that I liked because I always had it? I try not to go down the rabbit hole of do I like what I like because they programmed me that way. I feel like I've not experienced anything real."
"This life," he said, hand pointing at the cabin, "feels a thousand times more real than anything of my life in the Academy. I mean, I think even my girlfriend at the Academy was a fake. Toward the end, things just started to feel off about the way she would react to things, the way she would talk to me, the way she held herself when she was near. Heck, we were together for close to a year and we didn't even...ummmm, well..." And Joshua blushed a crimson red all the way up his face. Stupid blush reflex. No wonder Virgil would always get him injected with something to suppress it pre-mission.
"Some days havin' a family is the best thing ever. Some days? Well, some days it's just as complicated to have 'em as it is lonely to not." She shrugged. "I can tell you that when I'm cut off from mine, part of me feels ... adrift. Lost. Like I'm not quite whole."
Nika listened quietly to the rest of his thoughts and when he blushed, she couldn't help a faint chuckle. "You'll rapidly learn to quit doing that around here -- the table talk inevitably falls into the gutter with this group." She pondered the rest of what he said and nodded slightly, "Best advice in this instance is 'who cares?' For better or worse, darlin, you're on the run now with the persona you'll keep from here out. It's up to you to make of yourself what you will. Whatever was programmed in there in terms of likes and dislikes... I'm not real sure that matters as much as where you go from here," she told him frankly.
"That's true enough and I have some thoughts about what I need to do. It's just harder doing all that without a foundation to build from." He got an odd smile on a face. "You know, I never blushed on mission. I think it was because I was someone else and that someone else wouldn't blush. Doesn't make it any less embarrassing when I do it now."
"To diverge from how inexperienced I am in multiple different ways," Joshua said ruefully, "let me ask you a question. If we arrived at our destination and found out that the Cortex was gone and the Alliance as it existed was dead...how would that make you feel?"
For a long time, Nika looked toward the windows of the cockpit, trying to sort through the thoughts she has. Finally, perhaps just as he thought she maybe wouldn't answer because it had been so long, she spoke quietly. "I don't know." She paused. "That's the short answer. The long answer.... has more words and far more complex thought processes attached. But... the bottom line is that I don't know. I fought the Alliance in the war. I have seen things in the past couple of years that make me believe that... it is not what it should be. And my family is split down the middle -- my sister, her son, and the ranch are out in Georgia... and the rest of my family and one of the men that I love are out in Blue Sun." The other being on board the Gift. "Honestly, if the Alliance were no more and I didn't have to struggle with the balance between the two? I ... might be a real happy woman, Joshua."
One of the men? That was interesting. Nika really did have an abundance of love - he hoped she knew that. It seemed like she did. He nodded slowly. "Not having to decide something like that - I can understand how that would ease a huge burden on you." He took a deep breath and sighed a little.
"If it seems," he said, "like I'm asking lots of questions about what you feel and what you think about situations, it's not because I don't want to make decisions for myself. I'm just trying to gather all this information that hasn't been available to me until now. Then I can use it all to make a good decision." He was maybe 50/50 with good decisions up til now, but that didn't mean he would stop trying. Exact opposite was more likely. "I mean, all I've ever known is Alliance up until recently. My life was the Core, so the thought of a universe without the Alliance scares me. But there is someone I trust telling me that it would make them happy. So I reevaluate my feelings and my thoughts."
He really did trust her, didn't he? He knew that he did, it wasn't a surprise so much, but having the words out there in the air made it real. Of course, the last folks he trusted turned out to be controlling his life and using him, so maybe it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.
Nika smiled just a little. "I don't know for sure if it would make me happy. Anarchy isn't necessarily a good thing. But... something good could come of it. It's a gamble either way." She shrugged a little bit and glanced at him. "The Verse goes on -- the people in it go on -- regardless of whether the Alliance goes on. Sometimes you just have to have a little faith that it'll turn out okay, Joshua."
"I wonder why it keeps coming back to that? Faith, I mean." He grew silent for a while. "Would be it okay if I spent a few minutes in here just being quiet and thinking? You can even turn your music back on if you want. I'd like to think some, but I'd rather not do it alone, if that makes any sense."
"No, I don't mind. I do it a lot," Nika admitted with a smile. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, though she opted not to turn the music back on. Silence reigned in the cockpit and it didn't seem to bother her whatsoever to share the silence with another body.