She could have been home in bed in the sleeping quarters, or enjoying a late brunch. She had the batter for waffles. Instead, her Sunday was being wasted. Miss Davenport thought of the principal, who was probably eating waffles right now. In bed.
She really didn't think that the faculty of the Starcadamy required a "team-building workshop", as the pamphlet had put it. She knew her colleagues; they were a well-oiled machine, able to take on the most daunting tasks with a sure and steady hand. Well, moderately oiled, and perhaps the hand was a bit shaky sometimes... It was a competent enough group that didn't need to get up early on a weekend to know so.
If T.J. Davenport never saw a circle of people again, she would be just as well. Everything in this dumb workshop was done in a circle. And if they did one more "game" about trying to know each other, she would pull her hair out and eat it. She could have done something much more productive with her time, like translating Latin or reading up on the latest programming news. Her train of pessimistic thought was interrupted by a clap.
The over-enthusiastic man at the front of the room clapped his hands to get the attention of the small crowd. "Now," the sandy-haired gentleman began, "today is not so much about work, but having fun." Miss Davenport crossed her arms, and folded her right leg over her knee, and frowned. "Today," he rearranged his tie, smoothing it over a purple-striped field, "we are going to get to know each other better."
Being the well-trained employees they were, no one expressed any sign of remorse, or for that matter, elation, over the coming activities. You could hear a pin drop from the back of the room, until the loud klankbang of a folding chair interrupted the silence momentarily. The redhead rolled her eyes. He should know better than to be late.
The speaker in the front continued. "The first things we're going to do is fill out nametags." He motioned to the one stuck to his chest: an index card-sized sticker with "My Name Is" in large print. "I know most of you know each other, but this way it'll stick in our minds. You get it? Stick?" He laughed obnoxiously. "Now, please come up to the front and fill one out."
As if orchestrated, the three rows of people formed a single file line up to the front of the room. The leader looked a bit overwhelmed at their efficency. "Today you're going to call each other by your first names."
A hand shot up from the back of the line. "Yes, sir?"
"No, sir, no ranks."
"Maybe just our rank and then our first name?"
"No, just your name." The speaker smiled. "My name's Tim. What's your name?"
"Commander Seth Goddard."
If there weren't a perfect row of people between them, the glare would have struck Tim dead. "Seth."
"Nice to meet you, Seth."
A halfhearted "Same," was the reply.
The line stood in silence, waiting patiently for their turns, until their enthusiastic leader decided to interfere again. "Well, I see we have a quiet bunch, now don't we? Everyone, turn around and say one thing to the person on your right."
The majority of them catching the slight logical snag to that plan decided to continue facing forward, while a few people- the leaders and the newcomers- executed the request. Ms. Davenport decided to get it over with. She turned to the woman behind her. "How has your morning been, Ms. Fre..."
Miss Davenport could see violet out of the corner of her eye. "First names, please!" the leader called.
T.J. turned back to the woman. "How has your morning been, Cecelia?"
"Just wonderful, T.J." The assistant principal laughed inside; the disdain in the woman's voice was more than what she was used to hearing. "I'm sure my afternoon will be fine as well." She leaned closer. "When we get out of here."
As if on cue, the purple shark appeared again. "Now talk to the person in front of you! I'm already starting to see improvement!"
T.J. rolled her eyes.
"It's time for our final exercise! Are you all ready?"
A chorus of "Yes"es rose, along with a gruff "Yeah" as an echo. "Rearrange yourselves!"
They all shifted their spots in the circle, just as they had many times before. Shuffling over to a random chair in the small room, T.J. looked around at her weary colleagues. She figured that if it were a Saturday, many of them would go to drink after this interesting adventure. She didn't doubt that some of them would go anyways. If she were the sort, she would have made sure liquour was in her hand as soon as she was out the door. Perhaps she could pick her day up with some Tchaikovsky later.
"Look at the person across from you," Tim grinned, "because this will be your partner for the last task."
T.J.'s eyes glanced across the rim of chairs. Seth waved from across the circle, and proceeded to finish scribbling on his pamphlet. She rolled her eyes.
"Please go sit next to your partner!" Tim chirped with the sort of excitement in his voice that signaled anxiety for the rest. "Remember to introduce yourself!"
"Seth," T.J. politely tipped her head in his direction as she sat down next to him.
"Teej," he mumbled as a loosely-drawn Spung recieved a moustache.
"Why can't you just do this and get it over with?"
"Because I don't need to learn charisma and people skills from workshops," he hissed below the leader's radar.
"It's not the skills, it's the principle of the thing."
He lifted an eyebrow. "I hope it doesn't have to do with the assistant principal of the thing."
"No, in fact, I had no knowledge of this until I was told on Friday." She scowled. "At least I'm participating."
"I'm participating," he smirked as he pointed to a stick figure labeled "Tim" with donkey ears and a tail. T.J. let out a small chuckle of amusement, but replaced it by clearing her throat almost immediately.
"Uh-uh, first names," he taunted.
"Seth, that is not anywhere near participating. Have a bit of team spirit."
"Let me get my pom-poms and I'll be right with you." He added a bow to the mustached Spung sketch.
T.J. could only sigh.
"The last task should be a fun one!" Tim clapclapped and stood on the outside edge of the chairs. "Now, decide amongst yourselves which person is the stronger one physically."
T.J. glanced over at her partner, noting his physique. "I think it's obvious."
"I don't know, it took me a bit to get a jelly jar open this morning. At least two tries." He smirked. "I bet you've carried an unabridged dictionary or two."
"Have we decided? Good!" Tim began to roll up his sleeves. "I'd like you all to move to the outside of the circle."
Seth cupped his hand near his mouth, sending words in T.J.'s direction. "I knew it; he's going to slaughter us all, skin us, and make more name badges." He felt a smack on the shoulder. "What?"
The purple shark weaved in and out of the partners as he spoke. "This is a common trust exercise that I'm sure you've all heard of before. One of you will fall backwards, and the other will catch them. Simple? Yes. Important? Yes." He smiled. "Do it."
"Let's get it over with." T.J. turned her back to her catcher. "Are you ready?"
Seth tried not to grin, keeping his voice serious. "How do you know I'm going to catch you?"
That was enough to get the confident redhead to whip around and stand at attention. "Are you implying that you're going to let me smash my head open on the ground because you don't feel like catching me!?"
"Woah, woah," he stepped back, jolted by her reaction. "I was only kidding."
"I'm not doing it. Find someone else to catch."
Seth let out a nervous laugh. "It was just a joke. C'mon," he glanced around at his colleagues dropping like flies into honey-covered arms, "let's do this."
She glared at him. "No."
He moved within muffled earshot. "Are you serious? What's wrong with you?"
"Seth, I am tired. I don't want to be here."
"Well, then, let's do this one exercise and be done with it. He said it's the last one."
"I do not want to be put in a position that makes me question whether or not I will end up with a head injury!"
He crossed his arms. "You have trust issues."
She mirrored him. "I'll have you know that..."
"Alright!" Tim chirped above the crowd, "the course is over! Please proceed outside and collect your certificates. Except!" The hands on their shoulders made T.J. jump and Seth raise a defensive arm. "You two need to finish the assignment. I'll be waiting outside when you're done."
The rest of the class filed out of the room as the pair remained. T.J. stepped back to the inside of the circle, sat down and began to dig the toe of her boot into the ground. Hands on his waist, Seth looked down at her. "Stand up. Let's finish this."
"I am not one of your subordinates."
"One joke and you get your pants in a twist..." He paced for a moment, frustrated. "I was joking. I was seriously joking."
"How do I really know that? You're not the most reliable person based on word, now are you?"
"That's totally different than some stupid workshop exercise."
"Oh, really? Where were those papers that you were supposed to file last week? Those grade reports due no later than four o'clock Friday afternoon? And oh," she frowned, "how about the promise not to almost start a war?"
"You're punching low, T.J."
"Low enough to hit the floor?"
He gripped the back of the folding chair. "Listen. You stop with your pettiness, and we can get this done, and then we go home. Get up."
"You've given me no reason to."
"So I can catch you."
"Are you really going to?"
"What, do you want it in writing?"
Both of them, under normal circumstances, would have noticed the absurd nature of their standoff, but with blood boiling, the two resigned themselves to bickering. Seth oiled his words with frustration. "What's going to convince you?"
T.J. was to the point of fed up. "If you'd stop with your foolishness and your irresponsiblity, maybe I could believe you."
He pressed his lips together, spiteful. "I don't think I can ever get this through to you. So I don't use paperwork, or forms. If anything, you can take my word."
"Then say you're going to catch me."
"I'm going to catch you."
She frowned. "I'm not convi..."
"T.J.!" Her name rattled in her ears. "I'm going to catch you. In fact, I'll put down the offer that I'll catch you ANY time you fall. Here, tomorrow, on Mars, in the middle of blasted space, anywhere! Is that enough? Let's get this stupid thing over with!"
She really had nothing to respond with. Her resistance was just drawing out the unbearably long day, and conceding would save another half-hour of squabbling. "Fine," she mumbled, standing up and turning around.
She heard a small metal clink, and T.J. felt her weight shift from her leg to the air in front of her.
Her freefall seemed like a long time, but it was time enough for Seth to step out in front of the woman in distress. He caught one arm in a daring swoop, hooking her at the elbow with his own. Hoping for a full save, her other arm clawed upward but met with thin air, hitting his waist and slipping down his side. She heard the rip of his uniform belt before she felt her right knee smack into the floor.
Seth froze in horror, looking down at the slumped figure at his feet that was moaning softly in pain. The arm that he held was drawn from his touch with a pathetic pull of her shoulder, dropping beside her with the weight of the original fall. She became silent, and his eyes widened. "T.J., are you alright?" He bent down in front of her and braced her shoulders. "T.J.?"
She didn't say anything. It took a moment before she glared up at him, biting her lip to stop the tears from forming in her eyes. "I think that's enough for today," she said quietly.
"T.J., I..." He didn't finish the sentence, but instead concerned himself with her well-being, making sure she was balanced and supported before she stood. He framed her like a doll stand, holding her by her elbows to prop her up, the majority of her weight to her left. "I didn't mean to..."
She steadied herself, kneeling. "You did nothing, Seth."
He sighed heavily, glancing away before focusing on her again. "I didn't mean it that way," she whispered, letting the words get stuck between them.
With one foot, and then the other, T.J. rose from the ground. Feeling pressure on her forearms, she realized he was trying to lift her. "I can do it."
"The least I can do is help you up."
Standing off balance, she began to assess her knee by bending it. He looked down at the swinging pendulum. "You know, T.J., that I meant what I said. I was going to catch you. It's just that it happened so fast, the chair was in the way and..."
She shushed him while she put her foot down and tested her weight. "Seth, it was an accident. Things like this happen."
"They're not supposed to." He added in a mumble, "At least not to commanders."
She smirked. "Funny, I thought today you were Seth Goddard."
He responded with a "hmph".
Now upright on both feet, she looked up to find him staring at her, still concerned. The realization that she was still in his arms gripped her, and so she stepped backward; he followed. "I will be just fine," she gently insisted.
"Are you sure? You're sure you're OK?"
"Yes, I am."
He loosened his grip, still clinging to her arms, until she gave him a halfhearted smile to signal her fortitude. With hesitancy he let her go, and she turned towards the door. "Fine," he said as he observed her first steps for stability, "let's call it a day."
They dodged their way through the chairs, the majority still organized in a circle. Before they could exit, T.J. stopped a few steps away from the door and pivoted to face him.
"Does it still hurt?" Seth rushed to her side. "I can carry you, if you want."
She looked at him sheepishly. "I'm sorry about your uniform."
"Oh." Picking up the strip of fabric hanging at his side, he examined the ragged end between his fingers. "I'll fix it later."
She looked at him in amused disbelief. "You do your own tailoring, Seth?"
"Heh." He unbuckled the opposite side of the belt and shoved the whole article in his jacket pocket. "I guess I meant, I'll try to fix it later."
"If it's not fixed by tomorrow," she pointed out, "I'll have to give you demerits for uniform infraction."
"Well, then, I better get to stitching." T.J. turned her head and smiled.
They walked out of the room to find an rather empty gallery of chairs facing the front table. "Guess even Tim didn't want to wait for us," Seth mused.
Glancing at the stark setting, the two began to leave until the redhead noticed a change out of the corner of her eye. "I think there's something left on the front table," she said as she started towards it.
"Probably pamphlets or something," Seth pointed out.
"Leaving us to pick them up," T.J. muttered.
When they reached the front, they were surprised to find themselves confronted with two Certificates of Completion, "T.J. Davenport" scrawled in cursive across one, with "Seth Goddard" written in the same hand on the other. The shiny gold stickers that marked the document's official status rested at the bottom, accompanying the signature of their leader Tim. "I guess we can take them," T.J. remarked.
Seth placed his left hand on top of his, and with his right lifted the corner and tore his neatly in half, the ripping sound echoing through the room. He waved the piece in the air in front of him, seal sparkling. "I'll take the half I earned," he declared as he turned and walked down the aisle.
Miss Davenport shook her head, amused, as she caught up to him. "Well, have a nice day, Commander," she nodded as they proceeded through the doors and down the hall. "I'll see you tomorrow at oh-seven hundred hours."
"Check." With a nod, he rolled up the half-piece of paper and put it in the same pocket as the belt. "If you're up to it, there's a bunch of us meeting in the galley for... to unwind. Grueling workshop, you know."
She glanced down at her boots. "I appreciate the offer, Commander, but I think I've had enough socializing for the day."
"Suit yourself. G'evening, Miss Davenport."
Reaching the fork in the road, they parted ways, and T.J. began the trek back to her quarters. Something came of the day, she told herself, although she wasn't quite sure what, save for the bruise on her knee. Planning the rest of her evening, she was still a bit curious as to what was going on in the galley, but decided that the best thing for her would be some alone time after a long day of "team building". Besides, she had a Latin text and waffles waiting for her.