On The Edge

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Thursday, 12 Feb 2522
Durance class Equinox
En route to Paquin
2200 hrs, ship's time

The picture fresh in her head and the ad in her hand, Kiera walked briskly around the ship seeking the XO and keeper of the purse strings. She had a mission and an idea and before another balls to the walls mess occurred, she was gonna ask for some useful stuff. She was still twitchy and irritated at herself. She could have done better, telling the captain to screw herself, weren’t no way she was turning over passengers without proof to low-down pretenda corporate law. She could have done better if she had just done what Nika asked. The “could haves” were endless. But truthfully, she had done better.

And somewhere, that poor sheriff was waking up in agony. Another minute with the tape and she’d at least gotten his arm stabilized better before they had dumped him outside. She shook her head to clear it of the man’s scream as Rina shattered his arm and his white, gray-pale face as the man hit the deck in shock. Pooch-screw of amazing proportions.

Her inner pragmatist gave a shrug. Not much that could be done now. She put a smile on her face seeing Joshua and held up her hands in a circle. “We need to get some. You know, for the passengers,” she announced.

“And what would that be? Circles? Fruity-O bars?”

She held up an ad for cupholders that could be fastened to tables and chairs. “To hold the drinks safe when we do maneuvers,” she countered, holding out the ad as he stared at her. “No really; see, for the passenger’s drinks.”

He nods and sighs a little as he pulls out a small notebook and pencil. “I’ll add that right behind ear comms.”

“Woot! Now we just need bathrooms for them.” She grins. “You know that the Duquesnes are willing to use us again and maybe send us some friends.” The grin didn’t falter although she distinctly gave the impression that she was battening down the hatches for the explosion to come.

“I’m surprised to be honest, considering how badly we borked that launch. Small miracles where we can get them, I suppose.” He shook his head. “We’re going to need all the help we can get to afford repairs.”

“Yeah, we screwed the pooch on that one.” She leaned against the wall. “I gotta get better in my head when it comes to the law. I just let him rile me up.” Her green eyes met his, half-serious, half-amused. “But I swear I didn’t know that your little woman would beat the ever-living snot outta them. Good Lord, but I ain’t ever gonna get in a fist fight with her. I’m just shootin’ her and then running like the coward I am.” Her mouth quirked into a smile. “But the passengers said to let them see what they could sell of their botanical collection and they’d donate. They were right understanding about it considering that Nika broadcast over the ship that she was turning them over to the law.”

“Yeah, another point for the ear comms side.” He sighed. “They’re not going to be able to cover even close to the costs of the repairs, nor would I expect ’em to. Just chalk this whole trip up as unprofitable. Financially ... physically ... mentally ... emotionally. Pretty much across the board.”

He looked worn as he said it, like the responsibility of the snafu sat solely on his shoulders. Kiera stated just that and raised an eyebrow. “It’s not always flowers and sunshine when you are herding cats and the chief cat herder has joined the herd of cats, mister.”

He shrugged. Not like anything she was saying was surprising. “I don’t expect flowers and sunshine anymore, Kiera. Just ready to be done with this trip. Hopefully the next and last time we come back here, it won’t be to tell parents that their girl is dead.”

She was silent for a long time, staring at him without moving. “Hells bells, you are just damn pathetic!” she finally exploded. “Aw, the Universe is sad and it’s making me sad. I’ve never been sad. Awwww! Excuse me while I cry. . .I’ve never realized before that the whole damn mess is a crap shoot and I won’t have bunnies and kittens shootin’ out my butt!” She pushed off the wall, eyebrows raised. “I’ve never met someone who found misery and decided to suck on it to make it completely their own. Cus’ damn if you ain’t got reasons to be happy, but no, you found misery and you’re gonna ride it death. Good luck with that! Anything that I can do to help?”

“Not miserable. Just being realistic and pragmatic.” If he had known it would be this easy to set Kiera off, would he have avoided this line of thought or encouraged it? He really wasn’t sure.

He stared calmly at her, not particularly fazed by her explosion. “I’ll be happy about that which I have to be happy about. But I don’t see any reason to pretend to be happy about the other stuff. If you’d prefer I lie to you about it, you just have to let me know. I am pretty good at pretending to be something I’m not, being how I was built for that very purpose, but I have to know I’m supposed to take on the role.”

The reply dripped pure venom. “Yeah,” she answered flatly, “I forgot that you are not much more than a damn robot. Guess we better find out where the happy personality is. Do I ask for it or does it require some upgrade from Blue Sun?”

“Did I piss in your cereal this morning? What the hell do you want from me?” He glared at her as she glared right back at him. “It isn’t acceptable anymore for me to feel the way I feel? You wanna tell me how I should feel? What I should feel?” The tone of his voice indicated she was stepping into very dangerous territory. He had people making the choices for him once before. That wasn’t going to happen again, friend or not.

“Go ahead and get mad. It’s at least a change,” Kiera answered softly. “I can take what you can give.” Slowly, carefully, she shook her head. “I’m not telling you what to feel, mister. I just think it’s time you stop emoting beat down, rode hard and put up wet. I’m okay that you’ve found pragmatic and I’m okay that you feel sadness that you’ve found that humans are basically selfish little prigs who don’t give a damn about their fellow man. And I’m okay that you’ve found that those that do are for the most part a lot of cowards who tsk as they walk by suffering but don’t do nothing about it. I’m okay with all of that. Hell, I live by that mantra. Hell, I am that person, Joshua. But I still wake up hopeful that I’m wrong. And I like to say that ever so often, I am.” She pointed a long finger at him, her eyes alight with a cool fire. “Maybe I’m wrong and you do wake up with that hope each day.” The finger motioned. “But it sure hasn’t seemed like it for a long time.”

He let the frustration flow out of him, a little sigh the only external result. Kiera meant well, but she wasn’t going to be able to mad him out of what he was feeling.

“It’s hard,” he admitted. “I wake up every morning feeling on edge. I spend the day feeling like someone is rubbing a rough cloth across my brain. I’m sleeping less. None of it is conducive to waking up with hope every day.” The ship wasn’t haunted, at least not in the traditional sense but sometimes he felt even if it wasn’t haunted, it was still haunting him.

“Besides,” he said darkly, “everytime I get shown that people aren’t what I want them to be, it gets a little more difficult to bring up the hope. I imagine that someday, I just won’t be able to do it and that’ll be that.”

“Define “that’ll be that,” she retorted, her head lowering as if she were an attacking dog.

“What, are you on suicide watch or something?” he asked incredulously. “No, just means I’ll stop hoping that things will be better...that people will be better and just accept that things are not going to change.”

Let it go, Kieracat, let it go! You’ve already screwed up badly this week, don’t heap onto the pile. But this friendship thing was maddening and she was pretty certain that she wasn’t any good at it. She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes with a deep sigh as she gently began to bang the back of her head on the wall. “Why, why do I give a rat’s ass whether or not you space yourself or just suck yourself into a morass of black?” she asked of the air, her eyes still closed. “Why the hell did I come back? How the hell do you make me care?” She opened her eyes, fixing his face with them. “I think, no, I’m certain, that I hate you.”

“Join the club,” he said simply. “You can be the second member of the I-Hate-Joshua-Drake fanclub. Hurry, operators standing by.” It was funny, really. He hadn’t been in that bad of a mood. Until Kiera pushed him into where he was now.

She suddenly slid to the floor into a squatting position, her head down for a moment before she looked up at him. “I can’t do anything but disappoint Arden . He expects nothing but the worst and I’ve done it, so I can’t go any lower for him. Kinda of a nice place to be. Rina, bless her, understands my mind a little, even if she’s a bit more kind than me. She’s with me in spirit and thinks I foundered a little, but she’s been there sometime in her life and grokked my state of mind. Nika is my captain and I would die for her. I respect her to stupidity sometimes and she is beginning to just forgive me a little. She doesn’t understand me or why I did what I did, but she is willing to let me prove myself again.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “But you. . .you kill me.”

Letting the air out slowly, she continued, “You look at me and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be. You had a vision of what I was and I disappointed that. I’m not a good person. I know I’m not. I suck at it. I feel that every time you look at me, you’re judging me, blaming me for not being what you thought I was. I don’t know what to be to you, Joshua. I keep trying to figure out what I need to be, who I need to change to, how I need to talk to get beyond that mad in your eyes. I don’t know what to say to you if I’m not fussing, smarting off, or lecturing you. I don’t wanna join your damn club. I don’t want there to be such a club as the “Hate Joshua Club.” But I don’t know how to talk to you or even be a friend to you.” She stood up slowly. “Never did. I better go before I make things between us even worse than they are. Cupholders would be nice, tho.”

Uh-uh,” Joshua said firmly. She didn’t get to start this and then just walk out of it. No, sir. He motioned her towards the nearby lounge area. “Let’s go have a seat and continue this conversation you were so anxious to start.” He moved on in and had a seat, waiting for her to arrive.

A deep frown creased her forehead, but she followed and took a seat opposite him. “All right then. Talk. Is it true or am I just paranoid? You know we can’t ever seem to talk except about ship stuff and other mess. All our talks end up in arguments or me feeling like old gum on the bottom of a murderer’s shoe. Why? If you got an idea, share it, cus’ all I know is how I feel, not why.”

She had asked why she had come back...why the hell Joshua made her care. In return, he would ask, Why did he feel compelled to solve her problems? Of course, an outside observer would probably comment about that question just being a subset of the bigger question...

Why did he feel compelled to solve everyone’s problems?

But he was here, no point in turning away now. “No, it’s not true. At least about me judging you. The only person on this ship I’m really judging these days is myself and I’m coming short. Maybe you’re taking that and projecting. I don’t know.”

He shrugged helplessly and stood up, pacing in the empty lounge space. “I’m trying to figure new Joshua out and you just seem to be unhappy that I can’t magically put myself back the way I was before Potemkin took us. I’m truly sorry if that makes things harder between us.”

She watched him pace, feeling drained and lost. “I am unhappy that you won’t go back together. I don’t like feeling guilty. Everybody on this ship loves you and I’m very aware that you ain’t coming back together and so are they. You judging you harshly reflects on what I did and what I did is my fault. I feel like I’m getting a measure of forgiveness from everybody else, but not you. You say you’re okay, but your eyes don’t say what your mouth does.” She crossed her arms, annoyed that she felt so wrung out and yet couldn’t find a way to explain what she felt in any other words. “You are mad at me for something and I don’t know what it is, but you emote it. How can I apologize if you and I don’t know what it is you’re mad at me for? Hell, how can I even tell you that I don’t give a rat’s ass about it if I don’t know what it is. But your eyes never say what your mouth does anymore and neither do your actions.”

“I wish I could let you read my mind and see that I forgave you, Kiera. Just because Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again doesn’t mean I’m mad at you.”

He looked at the redhead trying to figure out what was going on in that head of hers. It was like she was trying to punish herself by feeling he was angry with her. Just like he was to her, she was a complete enigma to him. Frustrated the crap out of him sometimes.

“I’m trying my best, Kiera. I swear to you, I am.”

“Well your best ain’t good enough!” she stated quietly, looking away. “This all started because you tried to help me through a bad spot. I understand now what you were trying to do, but I ain’t not a whit better at it than you were. I feel inadequate to the task of redeeming myself and feel like the worst human possible for destroying your faith in humanity. Maybe we can’t ever fix it now that the secret is out. And that makes me feel worse.” She looked up then, stared at him, suddenly realizing something. “You don’t begin to understand how hard it is to care for people when you’ve spent so long not doing it. How much a shock to the system it is. And you don’t begin to understand how much it hurt when you kept lecturing me that I wasn’t allowed to feel sorry for myself, that I hadn’t really begun to understand responsibility and forgiveness if all I kept thinking about was poor me after that mess with Potemkin.

“So maybe I began to feel like I hadn’t been punished enough for my sins, that I was still too selfish and inhuman. Maybe I’ve come around to your line of thinking that self-punishment and internal guilt is the way to go. Maybe everybody else forgiving me has made me feel worse and I’m coming to you to help me beat on myself some more since you seem so good at doing it to yourself. I don’t know.” She bent over again, putting her hands to her temple, and her voice though loud was muffled. “You were the one who seemed to know who I am supposed to be! I don’t know how to take this much emotion, Joshua. I don’t have it in me to care this damn much. You know what I feel right now?” She looked up again, waiting.

“You’re not selfish and inhuman, Kiera.” Now he felt guilty, like he was responsible for the way she felt. Irrational and silly, but there it was just hovering in his brain.

He sat down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “So, what do you feel?”

The shudder came upon her before she could quell it, a violent shake as if his touch had released a tension that exploded through her nerves and yet not released. It hadn’t released. It coiled through her, frustration that the last piece wouldn’t go into place in the puzzle that was the Gift and now the Equinox, that the repair wouldn’t ever finish no matter what she did. She lifted her head to stare at a piece of the wall, afraid that the coolness welling inside her would show in her eyes, knowing that she couldn’t let it come back. But it was so easy not to care, so easy to let go.

She could feel the beating heart slowing in her hand, knowing that she had to let go of all feelings and let the body die and not care. Caring meant that she hadn’t done enough. Not caring meant that there was nothing, nothing that she could have done differently so that her patient wasn’t dying in her hands. Joshua was the puzzle piece that wouldn’t fall into place, the repair that wouldn’t take, and there was nothing that she could do about it. And yet, it was very apparent that it was her fault. No fix, no end, no control. She blinked, determined not to let him see the stilling quiet in her face. “It doesn’t matter, does it?” she said softly after too long of a silence. “It doesn’t matter at all.”

She rose to her feet, biting her lip fiercely. Death and stillness, entropy and stalemates, hand in hand, locked and irresistible. There was no fighting it at a certain point. She just had to get her head around this particular stalemate, this particular death. Old Joshua was gone. He was right. Why was she fighting so hard?

“Hell yes, it matters!” What was her problem?

Well, he thought, he had a way of finding out. And she had said she preferred him to do it this way. And so, feeling a little black pit in his stomach, he opened his mind and Read Kiera trying to understand what he had done...what he was doing to her.

If he had ever felt cold, then it was warmth compared to the fierce, icy will that was slowly freezing all feelings inside her. Beyond that, a frightened desperation born of helplessness blazed from a inner need to help, a warmth and hope too often smothered, but still reaching out against the cold with a hope almost too raw to ignore. But binding it was frustration, holding tighter and tighter, until he could almost feel the physical strangulation of effort and the cruel discipline taking hold to compensate lest madness set in. Madness danced on the edge of the cold, where emotion had gone, where failure and death waited hand and hand, more powerful than hope and dreams. The light was fading, she knew it and was accepting it, her mind compensating the best way that it knew how. She was too inexperienced, too raw to do anything else.

Having reached out with his mind and found depression, Joshua now reached out with his hand and pulled Kiera into a tight hug. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly as he rubbed her back, trying to do his best to console her. “None of this was really your fault, you were just the catalyst for something that was destined to happen.” Which was true. He was becoming more and more convinced that old Joshua couldn’t have survived as he was. But how to convince her of that? Maybe put it in terms she was familiar with...

Pulling away a little, holding her by the shoulders as he looked at her face to face, he said, “Think of me as a ligament that tore because it wasn’t up to the strain. You’ve performed surgery and it can be stronger after the surgery than it was originally. But there has to be recovery time. Healing time. So I’m asking you to do what a doctor does.” He paused and smiled. “Be patient with your patient and have confidence that you’re doing good work even if the recovery is long and painful.”

The mask that her face had become abruptly broke with his last sentence and she blinked, her brows meeting. Her mouth opened and then closed as a tiny smile finally fought its way onto her lips before fading. “You are good at that brain reading stuff.” Her gaze turned inward for a moment as she frowned with bemused puzzlement. “Good analogy too,” she muttered softly almost to herself as his words sank in. Her eyes found his face again in a moment, softer and with a bit of the old twinkle as her stiff and unyielding body relaxed under his hands. “You mean that? I’m just not letting you have time to heal, but that you are healing?”

Joshua let go of her shoulders. It seemed like she had stepped away from the brink, which was really all he could ask. Funny how he could help everyone’s problems better than his own. “I think so. This ship just wears on me in ways that make it hard to figure out what to do sometimes. And I can’t seem to explain that in any way that makes sense to people.” He gave a what-can-you-do shrug. “But what I need you to accept is that I may never be exactly like what I was before. But I’ll try to get as close as I can.”

He paused briefly before giving her a fake scowl and playfully shaking his finger at her. “But if I manage that, I don’t want to hear any complaining if I wanted to do some damn fool risky thing to help someone out.”

She took a long breath, shaking her head. “Have I or have I not spent an inordinate amount of time making certain that your damn fool butt survived those risky things, mister? I think I’ve worn more of your blood than you’ve got in your veins, thank you very much.” She winked, though her face was still solemn. “I reserve the right to fuss after I’ve put my fingers where not even your lover goes.”

His laughter was an old friend back from vacation, providing relief Joshua hadn’t realized he needed so much. “Fair enough. Still feeling stepped on?”

“Sure.” She leaned forward and put her arms around his neck, holding on tightly. “But not ground down so much anymore and hopeless to boot. Thank you.” She pulled back, the twinkle muted and introspective, but back just the same. “I told you that you kept me human.”

“Well, you do your best to remind yourself that you’re a good person in there,” he said, taking one of her hands in his and patting it lightly. “And I’ll do my best to remind myself that there is a light shining from the darkness. Deal?” He removed his hand and held it out to shake.

She wrinkled her nose. “All handshakes are a contract. But what the hell. . .better a deal with the angel you know than one you don’t.” She clapped her hand in his and pumped it twice. “Feel like I shoulda spit into my palm or somethin’. The devil promising to try to remember to be an angel should have some sorta fluid involved.” She raised an eyebrow. “Got any whiskey?”

“Aren’t you the steward?” he asked with a smile.

“You want me to use mine? How damn special do you think you are, sunshine?” Kiera snorted. “Ship’s store is for the passengers. Let’s toast our eternal battle with our own angels and demons with a cup of the Eternal Coffee. Probably need to go check the cursed thing anyway.” She grinned. “Like Satan and Michael making a deal to be warm and fuzzy, huh, you and I?”

He shook his head. “As usual, I think you give me way too much credit and you not enough, but that’s for another day. Coffee it is.” And they wandered off into the galley in search of the spare mugs.

Go to Joshua's Crew Page or Kiera's Crew Page
Go back to: Timeline Season Five, Jan 2522 to Aug 2522