Title:: Strange Condition

Author:: Lokaia

Disclaimer:: See Chapter 1

Summary:: See Chapter 1.

(A/N) Was finally convinced to go a little deeper into this story. This is as far as it will go, though, so I hope you all enjoy it for what it is--cute, and pretty angsty!

--

Catalina frowned at the empty seat beside her. "Are you sure, Suzee?" She paused and glanced back at her compupad. "I don't know.. it doesn't seem like it all adds up." The Saturnian rolled her eyes and sighed. "Yes, I *know* you're an engineering genius, Suzee, but you could still be wrong! Oh, you're impossible!" Without giving the other occupants of the room a second glance, Cat left the room, bickering with the space beside her.

Harlan watched her leave and shook his head. He glanced at Radu, sitting opposite him. "Are you going to move or not?"

Radu's eyes had narrowed in concentration as he stared at the chessboard. Slowly, he raised a hand, letting it hover above one of his pieces. He held it there for a moment before setting it down again with a shake of his head.

Harlan sighed and dropped his face in his hands. His fingers spread enough to peek through the spaces to the doorway. "Radu," he said suddenly. "What do you think of Cat?"

"Huh?" the Andromedan looked surprised and slightly confused. "What?"

"Cat," Harlan repeated, raising his voice in annoyance. He felt some remorse when the Andromedan winced, but wasn't in the mood for apologizing. Maybe he didn't hate Radu anymore, but that was no reason to become best friends. "What do you think of Cat? And the whole Suzee deal. Think she's nuts?"

Radu frowned in thought, surveying the board again. "I don't know. Not crazy, no. She's too smart for that. Maybe she's just.. lonely."

"So she made up a friend?" Harlan glared at the Andromedan, half in disbelief and half in annoyance that Radu had yet to take his turn. "I don't know. I don't think anyone's lonely enough to keep their imaginary friend after they're five."

"Well," Radu began, looking a bit apprehensive towards Harlan's reaction. "Maybe not lonely then. Maybe she's.. maybe she's *brave*."

"Brave?" The disbelief in Harlan's tone was thick enough to cut with a knife. "How is that brave?"

Radu avoided the human's eyes, studying the game board. "She didn't have a lot of friends, right? Maybe.. maybe dealing with that, and-and with losing her family and everything.. she kept the only friend that had been there since the beginning. No matter what anyone else said." He looked up for a moment, meeting Harlan's gaze. Seeing only blankness in his dark eyes, Radu averted his gaze again and shrugged. "Well.. I kind of think it's brave."

"Brave." Harlan glanced back at the doorway, resting his chin on his palm. He thought back to.. well, not very long ago actually, when he had last made fun of Suzee to Catalina's face. The Saturnian had smiled and insulted him in a way that was so good, even Harlan had to admit it. But then.. when she had thought he wasn't looking.. she had looked so disappointed, so alone. And under her breath, Harlan had heard her say, "It doesn't matter, Suzee. I'm fine, really. I'll never ignore you.."

Even before that, back at the Starcademy when Harlan could barely remember the Saturnian's name most of the time. He and his, admittedly large, group of friends had taken great pride in the insults they could conjure. Harlan's old friend, Nick, had had a class with Cat and had brought her to their attention one day during lunch.

"Watch this," the older Earther had muttered to Harlan with a smirk. "We'll have some fun." He stood from his place at the table and waved to a pretty Saturnian across the room. "Hey!" he cried, waving. "Over here!"

The girl, probably a year or so younger than Harlan, had turned towards them, an uncertain look on her face. Nick kicked Harlan under the table. "Just play along."

Harlan had grinned, standing and waving for her. The girl had smiled then, slowly making her way through the large crowd with her food tray.

"Hi," she said, finally reaching their table. She smiled shyly. "You're Nick, right? I'm Cat." Her smile grew and she let out a relieved breath. "I'm glad you asked me to sit here. I don't know anyone here and I-"

"I'm sorry," Nick interrupted, an apologetic look on his face. He gestured to the empty seat at their table. "See, I was waving to *Suzee*."

Cat's face dropped immediately. "Suzee?" Harlan asked.

"Oh yeah," Nick said, turning to Harlan. "See, Cat, here has an imaginary friend named Suzee. An engineering genius."

Harlan laughed. "No, really. Who's Suzee?"

"No. Really." Nick grinned. He turned to Cat. "Isn't that right? Where's Suzee from again?"

The Saturnian didn't answer, lips in a thin line in what Harlan translated as trying not to cry.

"Well, anyway," Nick continued. "Suzee is from *another dimension*."

Harlan raised an eyebrow at his friend, sparing a glance at the girl in front of them. "Another *dimension*," he repeated, fully expecting a joke.

"Oh yeah." Nick tried to put on a serious face. "Didn't you know, Harlan? *All* imaginary friends come from other dimensions! Isn't that right, Cat?"

Returning his gaze to the Saturnian before them, Harlan saw the girl's face flush in embarassment and anger. "Suzee is *not* imaginary. She's *invisible*. There's a DIFFERENCE!" The last word was a shout, accompanied by the slamming of her lunch tray down on the table. With most of the cafeteria staring at her, Catalina whirled around and stormed from the room.

After standing in shocked silence for a moment, Nick turned to Harlan, laughing. "What'd I tell you? Fun!"

"What a nut job," Harlan laughed. The rest of the period was spent without another word towards the Saturnian.

"Harlan?"

The Earther turned back towards Radu in surprise. The Andromedan smiled slightly and gestured to the board. "It's your turn."

Harlan glanced down to see the position of a black pawn moved in a completely unimportant position. He could even see an extremely simple way for him to claim the Andromedan's queen.

"Harlan?"

The Earther took his turn. Lifting his head, he met the Andromedan's eyes. "Your check."

Radu's eyes widened as he surveyed the board. "But.. you *knew* that was going to happen. Why did you move there?"

Harlan shrugged. "Wanted to finish it. I'll talk to you later, okay?" Rising from his seat, Harlan left the room in the direction Cat had.

--

"Suzee, will you *go* away?! I'm not going to tell him!.. No, I don't care if you know! Until you find a way to communicate with him, I couldn't care less if you know who I like!"

Harlan stopped outside the girls' bunk, waiting.

"*Grozit*, can we talk about this later?" Cat was snapping. "Because I don't want to right now!" Harlan could hear her stomping angrily about the room. "Suzee, *no*! I'm not going to tell Radu I like him, and there is *nothing* you can say to change my mind!"

Harlan experienced a feeling he didn't get very often. A feeling of something deep in the pit of his chest deciding to go and visit the soles of his feet. It was *not* a pleasant feeling.

He was so caught up in his own emotions and thoughts, he didn't even realize Cat had left the room until she had smacked right into him.

Cat grumbled, practically baring her teeth in anger. "You should watch where you're going, Harlan!"

Dazed, Harlan nodded, standing and offering the Saturnian a hand up. "Yeah, you're right."

Cat stared at him from her position on the floor. "I'm.. I'm what?"

"Right." Finding her completely unresponsive, Harlan reached down and hauled her up by the wrists. "Um.. I came down to get you. Command duty today.. you know?"

"Yeah, I remember." Catalina was still looking at him as though he were a few planets short of a system. "Er.. are you feeling all right?"

Harlan's wide grin didn't seem too forced. "Me? I'm just fine. I'd be more worried about how *you're* doing, Rainbow Head. The commander's supervising ComPost duty today."

Cat rolled her eyes as they began to walk down the corridor. "Oh, please. Harlan Band, you think you're the greatest thing in the universe."

"Yep!" Harlan said with a smug smile.

"And I can't wait until the right girl sends you crashing down from your high pedestal," Cat finished.

Harlan only laughed. "Jeez, Cat, who needs 'the right girl' when you're right here? Doing it for her!"

Laughing, they made their way to the jumptubes, neither quite realizing the hold they still had on each other's hands.

--

"What's going on?" Commander Goddard demanded, fighting for balance in the rocking of the ship.

"It's not us, Commander!" Harlan replied. He grabbed onto the helm's crystals, half to control the ship, and have to control his balance. "The Christa's gone crazy! It's not responding at all!"

The crew fought to regain control of a ship who reported all systems were online, but would not allow her crew to access them. Slowly, very slowly, the rocking of the Christa subsided as she came out of hyperspace. As the crew began to survey their surroundings, Harlan gaped in surprise.

"Look! On- on the screen!"

Cat followed his gaze, her eyes growing wide. "It's- another Christa!"

..