Confused, Felix gives a questioning look to Parvati who, just as bewildered, shrugs. As close to cautious as the young man usually dares to err, he crosses the narrow hall and enters the Vicar's quarters.
"Close the door," the older man says, grunting as he sits on his bunk, still cradling his sore middle. "Felix, can you tell me what happened after the machine went haywire?"
The young man narrows his eyes at the holy man, crossing his arms over his chest. "Since when do you call me by my first name?"
"What are you talking about, I've always…ahhh…" The Vicar Max bites his tongue, remembering who's skin they're in. He mumbles a short reprimand, frowning. "Millstone…Mister Millstone. Could you possibly, maybe enlighten me as to the significant happenings that occurred during the electrical malfunction of the machine."
Felix senses something off about the man sitting across from him, but he can't quite put his finger on it. "You wanna know what happened when the machine broke?"
"Yeah—" The Vicar clears his throat, shaking his head. "I mean 'yes'. 'Indeed'."
"Well, let's just say I, Felix Millstone, single-handedly dragged your unconscious bodies out of a sinking lab, while the rest of the crew looked on in amazement…"
He nods, taking the rest of the story with a bags worth of grain salt.
The infuriated stolen body of the Captain stomps up a rocky hillside, fuming at her predicament. She curses and spits at any name she can think of, including her own for going along with these—for lack of a better word—shenanigans. At the very top, she stops, taking a deep breath to calm her temper.
The red and gray moonlit vista of the Monarch wilds proves a busy, yet soothing panorama to look upon while her anger simmers down to a low boil. At the edge of the plains, the smell of water waifs along the nighttime breeze, and the stiff, gray shoots of giant plants creak in time with the unheard rhythm of the wide open spaces.
Even after having walked through the grass and trees too many times to count, an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder still wells up in her chest. She looks down at the alien land and can't help but be caught off guard by it's completely foreign nature. From the back of the Captain's mind, a nagging sense of dread rears it's ugly head, and she fights back the urge to cry. After beating her emotions into submission, she dries the wet welling up at the side of her eyes. "The stress must be getting to me," the young woman reassures herself, swallowing the lump forming in her throat. "Perhaps it's time for me to meditate."
The Captain rolls the tension out of her shoulders, concentrating on a point at the dark horizon as she clears her mind. "They who...uh..." confused by the sudden memory lapse, her brow furrows. She keeps her eyes to the horizon, forcing her racing mind to slow. "They who…are…?" Quiet panic churns her stomach, at the thought of not remembering a single word of the scripture she's poured her heart and soul into studying for years. Again, she has to put a strangle hold on her emotions, thinking this through rationally. "Partial amnesia from trauma is not unheard of. Doctor Fenhill would have a better grasp of the neurological aspects, but if given time, maybe this will clear itself up."
A small updraft sends a shiver down her spine. She hugs herself against the stab of chilly air, giving a sigh of resignation. "Who am I kidding, we're probably going to be stuck like this for the rest of our lives." The young woman pushes away the urge to cry, pursing her lips as she tries to ignore the rush of thoughts invading her mental quiet.
From a ways down the dimly lit road, gunshots and shouts can be heard over the roars of the gigantic wildlife bouncing off the broken cliff faces.
Without thinking, the young woman reaches for her pistol, hurrying down the hillside. She stops mid-stride, realizing the insanity of what she's doing. Her gut screams for her to stop and think, but her head tells her to help her fellow man. The Captain sighs, leaving her gun in the holster. "This is ridiculous. First I want to cry, then I want to go guns-blazing into the fray." She massages her temples, heading back to the ship, even more frustrated and confused.
While the Vicar paces back and forth mumbling to himself in the Captain's quarters arguing with himself, the rest of the crew has an impromptu meeting in the kitchen area.
The always even-tempered Ellie stands at the head of the heavy plastic table, brows raised, jerking her thumb in the direction of the crew quarters behind her. "So, are we hearing the same thing? I don't know what they're getting at, but it's getting kind of weird."
Parvati mentions the Captain complaining about work being a little slow for the past week. "Maybe the two of them got together and concocted something fun to do."
The pirate doctor scoffs at the idea. "The Vicar? Having fun? Come on, Parvati, you don't seriously think that's true?"
The engineer shrugs apologetically. "I can't think of anything else that would make sense."
Nyoka takes her seat opening a half-finished bottle of Spectrum Red before fishing out her empty flask from her hip pocket. "Unless Felix forgot to mention something after coming back from the lab." She looks right at the young man in question from across the table.
He immediately points the finger back at the huntress, in a more literal fashion. "I told you everything! You were there, Nyoka!"
"I was there after the fact, helping you drag bodies back to the ship. That doesn't count." She refills her flask, taking a long drink after.
"Are you sure you didn't miss anything, Felix?" The engineer's dirty brow wrinkles under her cloth headband. "Could you maybe be glossing over a little detail or two?"
"No! I already told you! We shot some Marauders, we found the lab, the Boss turned on the machine, then her and the Vicar passed out!"
"While hooked up to the machine," the medic clarifies.
"What does the machine do," Parvati asks their new de-facto leader, pondering her next move. "Did the Captain say?"
"No. I don't think me or the Vicar understood. The Captain definitely didn't." Ellie's lips pull into a one-sided frown, as she crosses her arms. "And what the nervous guy in the smock said didn't make much sense either, he was pretty cryptic about the whole thing." Her eyes light up in realization. "But he did hand over a blueprint. I remember he was adamant about that."
"I could have a look at it? Maybe try to figure what it is?"
"Knock yourself out, the Captain's data pad is in her quarters." Ellie nods in the direction of the stairs.
She shifts uncomfortably in her seat. "I'll get it later. When the Vicar's not busy."
The front door of the Unreliable hisses open bringing an abrupt end to the crew meeting.
Their Captain walks in, massaging her temples as she passes through the kitchen area.
"Hey, Captain," the doctor calls after her before she can enter the Vicar's room.
She ignores the call, heading inside and slamming the door shut behind her.
"This is getting weird," Nyoka says, tossing the empty bottle in the sink.
Hunched over his data pad, the Vicar sits himself down on the Captain's bunk, knees together, flipping through the numbered sections of the blueprint screen by screen. "Maybe if...no." The old man shakes his head, grunting at the singular, nebulous idea that pops into his head. He goes back and forth on the sections showing how the helmet circuitry connects to the console labeled 'CONDUIT'. "What if…It's never that easy." The same idea nags at him as he keeps reading the annotations between the fine lines of the drawings.
He sighs, placing the pad on the floor by his feet before leaning back against the cold metal wall of the thin bunk. "My brain—his brain," he immediately corrects, massaging his temples. "Is too quiet. How does he do it?"
The nebulous idea gradually becomes an urge to act. "Except for that. Does that happen often?" He crosses his arms, staring out the panoramic glass windows at the Monarch foliage.
There's a hard knock at the door, followed by an unsure call of "Captain" from a voice that should be his.
"Yeah?" The door slides open, and the Vicar in her body steps inside, a look of pure enmity coloring her features.
"You have no idea how much I want to put my hands around your neck and just…" the young woman reaches out, her hands ready to strangle. "…Throttle you into next Tuesday." Instead, she grabs the warm air and slowly shakes her hands back and forth, imagining it to be the old man's neck, never breaking eye contact.
The Vicar scoffs. "You think you have it rough? You have no idea how slow and boring it is in your head. It's like you don't have any thoughts at all, and when you do, it's one at a time."
"I meditate daily," the young woman snaps. "Which is something you should consider doing, considering your thought process for, well, everything, is a mess."
"Who has time for staring at your navel when you have a whole planet to explore!" He smiles, gesturing at the wide window overlooking the Monarch wilds.
"Look, I'm just as excited as you are about exploring new civilizations, but we should concentrate on the problem at hand."
"I'm trying, Vicar, but I can't do it with this head." He points, emphasizing his words dramatically. "I don't understand how all this quiet works for you, it makes me nervous."
The Captain can feel a small headache coming on. "And the way you piece things together from nothing makes me question your sanity, but here we are, stuck in each other's bodies, using each other's minds. Now, we can either ignore it, or we can try to figure out how to fix this, which would mean going back to that machine and setting it in reverse."
The corner of his pulls into a soft frown. "It can't be that easy. It's never that easy."
"And how would you know?!" The Captain starts to raise her voice, but immediately clamps down on her emotions to keep up civilized discourse.
"The O.S.I. doesn't make 'reverse' buttons. Science is science, whether it succeeds or fails. All experiments yield a result dictated by the Grand Plan." He's surprised by his narrow-minded eloquence. "That was almost smart."
"It is smart. It's also true. But my question is, how did you know to say that in that exact way?"
"Uh…" he furrows his brow. "I don't know, it just came out like word vomit."
She narrows her eyes, concentrating on his now concerned face. "Say something else, but really focus on it as you say it."
The Vicar's orderly mind blanks. "What do I say?"
"I don't know." The young lady shrugs. "How about giving me the basic tenets of Scientism."
"There's six," he clarifies as he counts them off on his borrowed fingers. "Survival of the Fittest, Determinism, Empiricism, Stoicism, Teleological Order, and the Patronage of Science." He's astounded by the ease of his recall. "I didn't even have to think about it, it just came to me."
"And how did you know that?"
"I…" he throws up his hands. "I feel like I've known that for years."
"Which means…" she wrinkles her nose, telling herself to concentrate. "My long-term memory is still in one piece." She folds her arms, resting her chin against her loosely closed fist, picking a spot on the wall to stare at as she attempts to do some deep thinking.
"Oh no…" a fleeting thought catches his fancy, but he squashes it out of existence immediately.
"Oh no, what?" Her thoughtful eyes snap to his.
"Nothing…" he gives a quick, uncomfortable smile, sitting back down on the bunk.
She paces the room, slowly, figuring her way through the information in an agonizingly slow fashion. The young woman, sighs, letting her arms fall to her sides as she gives up trying to wrangle the river of ideas that is 'her brain'. "This is frustrating. Nothing is orderly, yet everything connects in your mind. It's insane. I can't follow any single train of thought to the end."
"You really need to get your emotions under control, Vicar." He lays back, staring up at the metal plating of his bunk. "It'll help you clear your head."
"I've tried! Numerous times! I've also tried meditation! That doesn't seem to work very well!"
"You need to stop getting outwardly upset," he commands, pointing at her. "Redirect it to somewhere useful."
"An armchair psychologist is giving me advice?" The Captain looks down her nose at the old man pointing stiffly at her. "How quaint."
"Isn't that what you do, since it came from your brain?" He cocks his head. "Or me in this case."
"You know what…" she rubs at her tense forehead, moving on from the passive-aggressive fighting. "There's only one way to fix this, that I can see. We go back to the machine."
"Okay. And if it doesn't work, what then?"
"Then, we find the man who gave us the job, and tell him what happened. He might get spooked enough to fix this mess if he found out we broke his damn machine."
"And if he's not there?"
"We go look for him."
"On Monarch. Now stop asking me questions I clearly don't have answers too, and let's go."
The Vicar sits up, unbuttoning his cassock. "You should wait until morning."
"Two reasons." He slips the royal blue vestment over his head, tossing it unceremoniously on the desk across the room. "The first being, I'm tired, and the second being, the scientist isn't going to be in the cave until morning because it was in shambles." He slips off his polished shoes, tucking them side-by-side at the side of the bunk.
"Oh…" The young woman curses her poor memory, finally realizing why she writes everything down in bullet points. "I see."
He lays back down, nestling under the thin cover. "Good night, Vicar."
She grits her teeth, cursing under breath as she leaves.
In the early morning, the Captain passes through the narrow hall, heading into the kitchen for some breakfast. To her surprise, she finds a fresh pot of coffee on the kitchen table, and a wide-awake Parvati sipping on a mug of the steamy brew.
"Good morning, Miss Holcomb," she greets, grabbing the least wet mug from the crying rack. "A fine day we're having."
"Um...Morning, Captain." The engineer nervously sips her beverage, giving the young Captain a sideways glance as she sits and pours in a non-characteristically stoic fashion.
Dragging herself out of her alcohol-scented room, Nyoka knocks on the bathroom door with her fist, demanding the occupant let someone else have a turn.
"Just a minute," the masculine voice from inside shouts through the door.
"Come onnn, Vicar, I gotta go." The hungover Huntress pounds her fist on the door again.
"Can you give me a Law-forsaken minute, Nyoka!"
Hearing the Scientician's voice from behind the door, the Captain looks up from her steamy mug of coffee as the color drains from her face.
Following a tense few seconds of an angry, hungover Monarch hunter threatening to bust the door down, the Vicar comes out of the washroom, a towel over his head, and fresh set of clothes on his back. "You couldn't wait a couple seconds, could you?"
"She shoves past him almost immediately, slamming the door behind herself.
"Bah." He waves her off, drying his damp hair as he enters the kitchen. The old man grabs the bigger of the ceramic mugs and shakes the water off, heading for the pot on the table.
The Captain, doing her best to hide the incredulity of the thought of him taking a shower, stares him down as he takes a seat across from her.
"Don't worry, I didn't look." He drapes the damp towel on the back of his chair, then proceeds to fill his cup two-thirds the way up, reaching for the cream and sugar.
"Why would I be worried." The irritated young lady puts on her best poker face. "It's not as if it's completely foreign to you."
"Now you sound like a dirty old man." He heaps spoonfuls of sugar into his cup, chuckling as he stirs.
She grimaces at the biting tang of the black coffee. "You know exactly what I mean."
"I'm a doctor, not a pervert. Since you're not a patient, it's gonna get awkward if I do decide to look." He sips gingerly at the sugary concoction, his taste-buds repulsed by the overwhelming sweetness.
The old man nods in the affirmative. "Yeah."
The Vicar and Captain switch mugs, finding the other's taste in morning beverage preferable.
From the other end of the kitchen table, Parvati clears her throat. "Captain, I…um…"
"She needs the blueprints to the machine that made you two crazy," Ellie says, grabbing a cup of coffee for herself.
"It's in my—I mean, it's in the Captain's quarters," the Vicar tells her, gesturing down the hall.
The pirate slurps her morning coffee, after adding a spoonful of sugar. "Don't you two think its weird you acting like this all the time? I'm all for bets, but, come on, you're scaring Parvati."
The aforementioned young lady uncomfortably leaves the table.
"Acting like what, Miss Fenhill," the Captain asks as nonchalantly as she can.
"Like you're each other. Are you trying to break some kind of record for the longest impersonation?"
"No." The older man furrows his brow. "Why would say that?"
"Because, you dimwit, we haven't broken character."
"Don't call me a dimwit, you bigger dimwit."
The two get into a verbal boxing match over the proper use of the word 'dimwit' until Ellie gives up trying to get a word in sideways and leaves the table.
"Smooth, Vicar. Really smooth." The Vicar chugs down the rest of his coffee, leaving the table as Felix and Nyoka enter.
"Where are you going?"
"To find the cave scientist, and to get my green coat. Should I pretend to invite you, so you can invite yourself guilt-free?"