If You Want To Talk About It

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Jan 2522
Durance class Equinox
In bound to Osiris

Everything was quiet. It was a moment of pause; the kitchen was clean and all the ship was fed and now otherwise occupied or asleep. Kiera stretched as she did a mental inventory of what tomorrow's meals might be and what was available. A simple pasta fresca might be a change for lunch and would be a nice use for the vegetables that were in Botany Bay. Good break from the beef. But oh, what beef it was. Best she had in years and fresh too.

She couldn't help but smile remembering the taste of the perfect beef. Pulling her sleeves back into place from where she had rolled them up to keep them out of her way, she made her way down to Botany Bay to do inventory and to do another little chore. Rina's almost hysteria in the hidey-hole storage area had left her speechless. She planned to and would talk to the little engineer soon. But not until she had talked to Joshua. The bulk of the two second torrent of words from Rina had involved that name in vain. She poked her head into the moist air of the Bay and called out Joshua's name.

She only hoped that the man had finally taken a shower.


The pattern was obvious now, or least the fact that the pattern was there.

_Planet - Name - City - Name - City_

Joshua flipped back and forth in the pages of the green notebook, trying to stretch his moderate Chinese to his limits to read the writing contained within. Some of it was left to right English style, some right to left, even some top to bottom. There didn't seem to be any clear order, some pages were skipped, and the handwriting varied and changed oftentimes from page to page. A lot of it seemed to be useless supply notes - 300 tons fuel here, bought 5 days worth of canned goods, and so on. But that pattern kept showing up and Joshua knew it had to be important. He had already blocked away some mental space in his brain and was memorizing each name-city pattern as he came upon them. Once he had them memorized, then he could try and organize them and figure out the meaning behind the pattern that he knew had to be in there.

He squinted at some particularly badly written Chinese about halfway through the notebook. That could be something----


He sighed and closed the book. He'd have to come back to it. The voice calling his name belonged to Kiera and if she was coming to get him, it was probably something important, especially at this time of....

What time of day was it, anyway? And for that matter, what day was it?

He shrugged. Not that it mattered. He'd find out quickly if there was an emergency and with passengers no longer his duty, he had some time to spare in-flight.

"Come in," he called out to her. Not like she wasn't probably coming in already, but might as well observe the formalities.

Weaving her way among the hydroponics containers, vines, and plants, Kiera finally spotted Joshua. He had the ledger, was looking at her with that look that said What?! without having to say the word. I'm beginning to regret looking for that cat, she thought to herself and made her way over to stand in front of him.

And much to her frustration, she couldn't figure out what to say when it wasn't a sarcasm-laden comment. Her fists clenched and then unclenched helplessly. The newer, kinder Kiera was hard to be, but starting with a cannonball volley over Joshua's bow wouldn't get her any answers and would probably get her thrown out Botany Bay. And that wouldn't do her or Rina any good and sure as hellfire wouldn't help her and Joshua's relationship either.

Finally, when it seemed that too much time had gone by and she had gotten tired of looking at him as he looked at her, she asked, "Are you okay?"

"What?" he asked with some genuine confusion in his voice. Why wouldn't he be? Then he realized why she was probably asking. Oh yeah, the whole not knowing what day it is.

Joshua put on his most convincing I'm fine face. "Sorry, I just lost track of the time, I guess. With Rina busy doing her own thing, too easy for me to get a little absorbed. But I'm fine." He nodded politely. "Really."

He waited to see if that was what she wanted to hear.

She inhaled and crossed her arms. Screw it, I am what I am, her mind hollered at her as her mouth opened of its own accord and one red eyebrow rose with sardonic elegance. "Then why was Rina talkin' a mile a minute, shaking me 'til my head nearly popped off? What's all this about you not likin' the ship or the passenger deck? If you'd keep your little midnight prowlin' butt offa the passenger deck when you wake up at night, then you might like it better. And what the friggin' heck is it with you and salespeople? 'Bout to give one a beatdown for a little pinch and scaring the other by jumping in her room." Eyes blazing, she squat abruptly so that they were more face to face. "Don't tell me that you're fine." She leaned in and sniffed. "At least you're clean again."

Inside her, she could hear her kinder, gentler self sobbing in agonized frustration.

"So you weren't really worried about me, you just needed someone to yell at?" Joshua raised his eyebrow at her as she leaned in close. He didn't feel any need to justify what he had done or what he felt. He had apologized to Nika and to the woman and felt bad enough about it all without Kiera throwing in her half credit. He was staying far away from the passengers. What did she want from him?

And so what if he didn't like the ship? The Gift had been the ship that rescued him. It had been his home. Just because he wasn't in love with the new ship like Rina was or she was, Kiera now felt it was ok to yell at him about it?

He stared at Kiera as she looked at him, not willing to give an inch.

"No, I'm yelling at you because I am worried, you moron." She flopped to the deck on her butt before her knees gave in. He might run, but there were few places that he could hide. And he didn't seem to be in a backing down and running mood. She might as well get comfortable. She pointed her index finger at him, gaze still holding. "If I didn't care, I wouldn't be down here. You aren't acting right and Rina confirmed it. Sue me, but I am worried, gorram it!"

"And how exactly I am supposed to be acting?" Right as he said, he shook his head and waved off her potential response. It was clear she was serious and it was kind of sweet really, watching her care by yelling at him.

He put the ledger down on the edge of the container and took a seat on the floor across from her. Joshua looked over at her briefly and then shrugged helplessly. "I don't know what to tell you, other than I'm doing a lousy job and I'd be fired if we didn't run this ship on a friends and family plan. I struggle to do what I think is best, despite no one particularly agreeing with me, which probably should tell me something. And for the moment, I have a mystery on my hands and time to solve it, since I'm pretty much self-banned from the lower decks. So I'm spending my time doing that."

A wry smile crossed his face. "Isn't your job supposed to be taking care of the passengers? You know, and not the crew?"

Kiera couldn't help but smile back, her expression softening. "The babies are fed and put down for their naps. Any other problem is therefore their own. You and I obviously have you corralled safely here." She tilted her head. "You're not doing a lousy job. You're just distracted and upset. The question is: Why? I'm here if you want to talk about it."

She realized the irony of what she was saying immediately, the evil juxtaposition of roles from a terrible past time they had talked in a Botany Bay. It seemed like years ago, the beginning of the fight that had so driven them apart and led to the destruction of the Gift and Nika's eyes, and she couldn't help but shudder as if someone had walked across her grave as the words left her mouth. Her eyes widened a little in apprehension as she waited for his response, aware that she might have just fallen into the same trap that she had laid for him on the Gift.

But she'd weather whatever he sent her way; he had earned the right to lavish her with his fury and she'd earned the right to sit right there and take it.

The irony didn't escape Joshua either. As she said it, his eyebrow rose again and he couldn't help but chuckle. "If I talk to you, does that mean I'm doomed to turn this ship into a flying deathtrap?" Joshua's offer to talk those few months ago had gone so horribly wrong. He had forgiven Kiera for her role in the whole thing, but he couldn't help but selfishly strike out a little. The Gift was gone and because of that, he was on board the Equinox, where he still didn't feel comfortable and more importantly, still couldn't do anything right.

"I just don't like the ship, which I know must irk you to no end. But I don't. And it isn't anything rational. Maybe some of it is a new drug schedule." Not that either of the ship's doctors had authorized or suggested it... "Or maybe it is the fact that the ship feels sterile. Or maybe I'm just a puss," he finished.

Her lips twitched. "Maybe, but we haven't been on this one as long, so we should have some time to prepare for the next radioactive explosion and sadistic torture. I think we’re safe for the moment." Her face grew serious. "So it's pure gut reaction?" she asked. "Not the layout, not that it was Potemkin's ship, not anything but that the Equinox hits you wrong?" She sighed, thoughtful. "The scientist in me wants you to return to your old drug schedule to see if that fixes it. But more importantly she wants to know what is making you wake up and roam the hallways to cause horror and mayhem. The two incidents that I'm privy to were nighttime walks. Does this happen in the day too?"

A huge sigh. "The first time I woke up from a nightmare. Second time, Rina woke me up coming in off her on-call. How is that somehow unusual?" It felt so mountain out of molehill to him. Two ugly events that coincidentally both happened to him at night on the ship. But they were still exactly that. Coincidences. As for the other thing...

"I'm not going back to my regular drug schedule. I'm going to work myself off of them. I don't want to be chained to them anymore."

Kiera’s lips pressed together. "What nightmares? Me being fondled by a saleman? Or one of our saleswomen being fondled by me?" she retorted sharply. "What'd ya dream that made you get all macho over me and then invasive on one of our passengers? Now you're lost in that book and I'm gonna point out that it's you who gets Rina out of her obsessions, not join her in one of your own. It isn't healthy." She punctuated the statement by poking his knee gently in rhythm with her last words.

"I had a nightmare about being a kid and having my Blue Sun handlers drag me into surgery and spray something into my eyes before replacing them with new ones. I'm no psychiatrist, but I'm pretty sure I know where that came from." A brief smile, quickly vanished. "I didn't say it was the reason why I did anything. It was the reason I was up the first time."

Joshua shifted his knee out of the way of her poking. "And I thought our passenger was being hurt. Why would I leave her there? Yes, I should have knocked first," he admitted, "but I thought time was of the essence. I screwed up. See: Job, Lousy - referenced earlier in this conversation."

He pointedly ignored her comments about the book. There was important information in there and he was the one who could figure it out.

"Not Job, Lousy. See instead: Holding out, Evasive answers," she countered with a flare of her nostrils. "A quick scan would tell me or Arden if you've got scarring on your optic nerves, if you're curious whether or not the dream was based in reality. I've never tried to change your eyes; you might have blastomeres there too, you know. Maybe your eyes can change like your face." She knew the sardonic smile was back on her own face; tried to soften her expression, but he was sliding around like an ice cube on ice, and she wasn't gonna have any of it.

"How'd ya hear our passenger being hurt all the way in your quarters, my hero?" she asked softly, her eyes glittering. Moving slightly, she angled herself nearer the book, aware that he hadn't answered that particular comment and leaned back casually on her hands to put her hands closer to taking it and to pull her torso further away from him. She might get pummeled if she tried to take it, but it wouldn't be the first time she'd had to take a beating.

"I was looking for Arden's cat, which I heard mewling. I don't think you have any room to talk on that account." Since her search for the cat was what lead to all those files and the book. Or at least that was his understanding.

"As far as my eyes?" Joshua reached up to his face and tentatively patted his eyes, as if he were checking to make sure they were there. "I guess I'd be okay with a scan, even if it only reinforced the knowledge that Blue Sun really brought the happy sunshine when it came to me."

Kiera stayed in place, content not to move closer to the book. "Did you "hear" the meowing?" she asked softly. "Or did you hear it with your ears, Joshua? I'm curious."

"How would I know the difference from a real sound and a sound my mind imagines? Just because I'm a Reader, I'm not allowed to hear the cat normally?" It wasn't like his brain came with an instruction manual.

"Am I in your mind now?" Her temper was quickening; she forced it back with a swallow. "I think I'm speaking and you're not hearing me with your ears. Else you'd be answering my questions without answering with a question of your own." She sighed roughly. "Okay, so you thought the cat was calling and then decided that the trail led to our saleswoman who you thought was meowing in distress. I'll live with that. Guess I'll have to live with that for now. Why'd you come after the salesman so rough? You remember the one who was being fresh with me down in the hold?"

"I didn't think she was meowing in distress! Hell's bells!" Why was this so hard to understand? "I followed the cat's sounds to the passenger deck and once I was there," he punctuated every word slowly, “then I heard what I thought were the sounds of our woman passenger in trouble. And I didn't think I came down on that guy that rough. I yelled a little, perhaps a bit over the top."

He shrugged. The guy had deserved it - had it been Rina down there, the salesman might have ended up with a broken wrist. The thought that using Rina as a comparison point might be a bit concerning crossed Joshua's mind, but only briefly before he pushed it back down where it belonged.

"The defense rests its case, your honor." Joshua half smirked at her. For someone trying to help him, it certainly felt like he was being put on trial. Or maybe just a light interrogation before allowing him to return to his voluntary plant covered incarceration.

She nodded with a satisfied, silly smile and grunted as she rose to her feet. "Didn't mean to rile you," she laughed, her eyes sparkling darkly, her hands held up in surrender. "I judge you sane and the women insane."

Her father would have recognized the twinkle, she knew, as she moved, quick as Arden's cat to take the book from its resting place. The mismatch of expressions had always clued her father that Kiera was about to do something. She spun in place, her back to him to open the book to a random page. "So what is it about this that has you so intrigued?"

Joshua was startled at first when she bolted for the book but then smiled to no one in particular as he could see the motions of page flipping, even with her back to him. "Why don't you tell me?"

He was pretty sure she didn't read Chinese at all.

She hugged the open book to herself, turning to look down at him. "That seems to be the format for this conversation," she answered drolly. As rapidly as she took the book, she twisted, coming down to settle cross-legged across from him once more.

"Rina is worried about you, Joshua. She thinks that you've withdrawn, not only from the passenger section, but from us all and her in particular. We can keep doing this dance; I'm notoriously stubborn. And you've actually answered my questions. I really can't complain about that." She leaned forward, the book still clasped firmly against her. "What I want is what lies beneath the surface answers. You know something isn't right; you've admitted as much. You've given me the symptoms and a few of the causes." Her green eyes narrowed, her face becoming still. "Let's go back to the happy Joshua on the Gift. And you and I can switch places right now in our imagination. What would past Joshua be asking to find out why we all think you, Joshua now, are not acting right? What would he tell me to ask you? I need his help."

“Past Joshua is dead. The lesson he learned about pushing too hard didn't come soon enough to prevent that tragedy. But from the ashes of that rose current Joshua. Whether that is for better or for worse is yet to be determined." His look was serious, but his eyes seemed to almost stare through her. Then they snapped back to the moment and he made a small resigned shrug. "But worse is several lengths ahead as they're coming around the bend."

"Past Joshua isn't dead," Kiera replied quietly after a long moment. The air seemed brittle between them; that, or laden with a heaviness not from the humidity alone. "He's in pain. Instead of letting him be confused as to what he did wrong and learning the wrong lesson from it, how about letting the innocent man out? His tormentor is here and she's willing to face the music. Joshua, come on and let yourself free." She reached out a hand to take his chin, cupping it for a moment before letting it go so that she knew that she had his attention. "I hurt you. Tell me about it." The next word was plaintive and pleading in a tone she'd never used before with any of them. "Please."

There was a long silence as he sat there thinking. A subtle distinction he hadn't made before came to him as the quiet noises of the hydroponics’ system served as a rhythm to his thoughts. He had forgiven her for her role in the destruction of the Gift. But he now understood he still blamed her for the way she reacted to his attempts to help her, to a simple offer to talk. Hated her a little for it, even.

His voice was very quiet, barely audible over the background noise in the room. "I don't trust myself anymore, Kiera. How much of that is your fault? I don't know. Lots of potential reasons." He started ticking things off on his fingers. "Getting rejected from the captaincy, whether deserved or not? That's one. My mistake with you leading to the Gift's death? Another one. Screwing up with the passengers, over bribing Patience's thugs, my dislike of a ship that everyone else loves...the list goes on and on."

He motioned with his eyes over to the book in her lap. "I don't have any answers in my own life. So for the moment, I try and figure out what's going on with a small mystery. At least that means I'm out of the way. No decisions to make for a little while means no decisions to screw up either."

Kiera studied his face as he talked and the words fell on her ears and knew that she'd know every line of his face forever from that moment on. Rejection. From her, from the captaincy, from the kitchen, from approval of his abilities, from the job he loved, and in his mind, even from this ship. The Gift had died. So even she had left him, a ship alive in ways that Kiera only understood when she fell in love with the Equinox, but a ship that had ejected him from the only home he had ever had when it had been destroyed. Everything Joshua reached for now rejected him back with everything from scorn to disregard. Even Joshua rejected Joshua. She understood. And it twisted her up inside enough to almost make her wince with the pain. Instead, she bit her lip, hard enough to draw blood, and handed the book back to him.

"I was wrong to reject your help." She blinked back the wetness in her eyes fiercely, determined not to cry. Tears detracted from her serious honesty, and she wanted him to know, and have no question, that she was not playing him. "I needed you so badly that it hurt. I needed someone like you to keep reaching for me to bring me back from the hell that I had put myself into. And you tried, bless you that you tried. But instead, I dragged you back into hell with me. And somehow by sacrificing you and the Gift and all the goodness that was the crew, I bought my way out. Somehow, Rina and Arden came out on their own, and I think I've pulled Nika free, but you. . ." She inhaled and the exhale shuddered through her though her eyes remained fiercely on his. "You've gotta walk out with me. You are too good at what you do to leave us all without you. You are too damn kind to be beating yourself this way. You are too gorram wonderful to stay in hell and let the devil play with your mind." She took his hands and prayed that he wouldn't yank them away. "Rina needs you, Joshua. The crew needs you. And for what it's worth, I need you. You gotta keep me human."

Good at what he did? What exactly did he do, anyway? Negotiate? Clearly he didn't do that very well. Serve the passengers? Not his job anymore and at this point, probably a good thing. A dissenting opinion? That he could do. He didn't think he really did anything all that well. But he didn't let go of her hands.

He shoved all the self-pity back into a corner (to be revisited later). He looked down into his own hands and the book in his lap as he said, "Thanks, Kiera. I appreciate the apology." Joshua knew it had cost her to say it. "I'm not going to run off into the darkness or anything never to be seen again. So no worries there. I'll figure it all out. Not going to abandon the crew. Especially not going to abandon Rina." Like she'd let him, he thought with some fierce pride about her determination and new found willingness to commit.

"Part of learning to grow up, right? Anyone can handle the easy times. It's figuring out to stumble through your failures that test you." He raised his face slowly to look at her. "I promise I'm still trying and I think that's all you can ask."

"That's my optimistic boy," she answered with a smile. He still made her feel like his mother at times, but it didn't irk her as it had before. Okay, she corrected, not as much. He was still older. And then, Was he? Only Blue Sun knew. "Or should I say, gangly teenager?" She winked and let go of his hands. "So, does this mean that you'll let Joshua free from the whipping pole?"

"I'll do my best. Doing something right would help, but that will eventually come." Didn't it?

The leer came unbidden, a bit of the old Kiera coming forth, and she let her come. "Maybe you need to be tied up and gently spanked for real. See what that does for you guilt, mister." She had to make him smile somehow.

A weak smile at the quip, but the memory of thinking their passenger was being beaten was a little too fresh to get a full dose of humor out of it. Joshua pushed up to standing and picked up the notebook. "I'm just going to keep working on this for a while." He waved his hand across all the plants in the bay. "In-between tending them, of course. I figure I should avoid potential passenger contact for the trip and this is a nice out of the way spot." Mistakes had consequences, even the well meaning mistakes. If the only consequence from his one in the passenger quarters was a voluntary exile to hydroponics, then Joshua figured he got off easy.

Her heart sank a bit at his tepid response and she rose to her feet. Turning, she began to walk off, but turned abruptly to fling herself against him in a rough hug before leaping back like he was on fire. "Come back soon. Plants and books are nice, but the Joshua I know thrives on people. Let Rina know that you're okay and see if you can pry her from her books. You keep her human too." Her brows fell over her eyes, the worry on her face open to see in the tightness of her mouth. "You've got a lot of people who need you, Joshua Drake. I won't let you stay here forever. You didn't let me go until I took you down. I'm a hell of a lot meaner and more stubborn than you ever had nightmares about. I am a redhead and I'll keep at you until we have you back. I'll let you play with your book and I'll let you feel like a failure." She nodded in punctuation. "But not forever. And this is not a threat, but a promise." She turned and started to leave.

Joshua opened the notebook and started attempting to find the page that he thought had the next name on it. As she started to leave the bay, he looked up towards the entrance.

"I won't be here forever," he called out to the departing redhead. "Just long enough."

She paused where she could see him through the leaves. "I trust you. I don't trust hardly anybody. Don't make me come back for you, dammit. I ain't gonna be so gentle next time." She began to move again and then stopped at the door. "You're making breakfast tomorrow. I'll burn the eggs on purpose if you don't come outta here and cook tomorrow morning. I'll just let the crew bitch at you. Just see if I don't." She tossed her head and left him to the book.

He looked back down at the notebook and found he had flipped to the page. A couple of minute’s heavy study gave him the names. Boros, Rosy, Mechanicsburg, Dandelion, Larsen City.

_Planet - Name - City - Name - City_

Kerry - Carrie - Pena - Abigail - Providence

_Planet - Name - City - Name - City_

New Melbourne - Jun Jun - Lane's Ferry - Amber - Hamm

_Planet - Name - City - Name - City_

And as he flipped to the next page, his brain continued churning through ninety plus names and growing. Maybe there would be some answers when he had them all. And even if they were for questions that didn't matter, that was okay. Some answers would be better than none.

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