Goddard rested his elbow on the table, and a jowl on his fist. "I wouldn't describe her as 'amiable', if I could help it."
"True, she was a bit twisted, but she was more amiable than those awful Spung." She couldn't help but wince at the name of the lizard creatures. "We just keep running into them, and each time it seems more and more hostile."
"They're not exactly the friendliest bunch, no." He sighed. "They're getting a bit quicker on their toes, too."
She swallowed another mouthful. "Well, Warlord Shank only had two henchmen with him, correct? We dealt with killcruisers before."
"They were well trained. And they tried to use tranquilizer darts before; now they're just firing shots. Timed shots, shots to kill." Looking discouraged, he opened his mouth to speak, but then paused. His voice lowered. "Honestly, with the way things were going..."
He stopped speaking, as though he had been told to. She gave him a look that nudged him to continue, and he sighed. "I wasn't sure we could pull through."
"Don't say such things, Commander." She looked down at her glass, swishing the liquid around like some sort of aqua-tinted typhoon. Her lips pursed, and she lifted her head. "Were you scared?"
He scowled, a half-frown that soured his face. "As a Stardog, I don't usually talk about emotions in time of duty."
She shook her head in small swivels, and she couldn't help but respond with a melancholic smile. "You're about as transparent as this glass, Seth."
He took another swig of blue liquid and set the drink away from him.
She looked away to the ground. "When Rosie and Bova and I were being chased around, it took all the strength I could muster to not lose my cool. I was suddenly aware of the power of things. Of Thelma, the ship, the technology, fate... And I was petrified. I think if it wasn't for the fact I had to look after those two, and that they were staying calmer that I could ever be, well... I don't know if I would have made it, either."
She turned back to him; his gaze rested on her hands, fingers intertwined, securing the drink to the table. She tried to catch his eyes, but he didn't respond. She spoke, a gentle tone: "I guess we're lucky, aren't we?"
His gruff voice lingered in the back of his throat before she heard it clearly. "Luck's not the word for it, T.J."
The words, steeped in deep-seated thought, continued. "I told Harlan and Radu, as we were trapped by Shank, that we should go down fighting. I had seen those kids' eyes, and they were behind me- beside me- one hundred percent, and it was just one of those moments... I didn't know what was going to happen, and I didn't know if we were going to be alive at the end of it, and I still don't know. I don't know."
"Stardogs don't have to know everything," she reassured him. "They're subject to the same rules of chaos and chance as the rest of the universe."
"But we're supposed to regulate that chaos!" he blurted out, a stunted rage in his voice. "We're supposed to calculate that chance! And I haven't been able to do any of that. Even when I'm trying, I can't keep a clear picture of things. I'm not doing my job."
She sighed. "At least you still have a job."
Her fingers would have quoted the word "job", had they not been woven around the glass' base. She didn't have a title, but she knew what she was doing: once a teacher, always one. At the moment, the muscles of her arms defied the signal to do anything; she wasn't moving for the sake of vulnerability. Why was the commander of the Christa's crew telling her about doubts? It was like a standoff between predator and prey, the long pregnant pause before action. She wasn't sure if she was the aggressor or not.
He finally let her into his line of sight. "I'm sorry."
She read his eyes like compupad text flickering across a screen. So many feelings seemed to be held in such a small look: disappointment, uncertainty. She felt like he was apologizing for much more than the previous comment, for something even deeper than this whole crazy trip.
She let the flute support itself, and moved both her palms to rest on his hands, blanketing them. She could feel him wanting to pull away. "You don't have to apologize for anything. You've been a wonderful role model and leader for the students. I've seen you straightening up your act, and you've been doing just fine."
"A Stardog- a commander- isn't supposed to..."
"Stop with that nonsense," she chided. "You're starting to sound like me." Her smile faded. "What matters is what you're doing, and how that will help out the situation at hand, and what does it matter if you're not crunching numbers or if you're taking a risk? You're leading these kids safely back home, and teaching them along the way, making them better for it."
She could see him untensing, slowly. He smirked. "I see you're taking a page or two from my book."
"Mmm hmm." She glanced downwards before letting her faint grin reappear. "Required reading."
Silence sank between them as the last echoes of words faded. She let her touch on him linger, uncertain, until she felt the need to give him space. He remained unmoved as she finished the last of her beverage and stood up from the table, gliding over to the sink.
She turned on the tap and her ears became accustomed to the sound, letting herself concentrate on the task of washing the dishes and the few pieces of silverware that had found themselves dirtied over the day. She hardly noted the shift of the chair behind her; upon hearing it, she began to dismiss the Commander before he was to leave. It had been a long day. "Good night, Comm..."
She was startled enough to stop the air from her lungs, the buzz of the syllable drifting away. His hand fell on the small of her back; he let the empty glass dotted with blue slip from his fingers into the sudsy water. He wasn't touching her, save for the warm pressure on her spine, but he was close enough that his space was mixing with hers; he felt the blush from her cheeks on his own.
His farewell was clear, genuine. "G'night, T.J."
She shifted her head towards his voice. "Goodnight, Seth."
His presence lingered beside her, and when it registered that he had left the next sound she heard was the closing of the door. She reached over and turned off the faucet, grabbing the dishcloth with the same hand. Her mind kept running. Before she could pick up a glass she felt her eyes close; her lashes felt as if they were iron on her cheeks. A long, heavy sigh, and she opened them again, proceeding with the chore at hand.
There wasn't a thing she could do about it, she told herself. Based on everything that had already happened, far too many people were looking for a showdown. There would be a time that they would have to face all of them. She was as unsure of that time as much as she was unsure what the outcome would be, and yet no amount of self-motivation or knowledge could change that.
Miss Davenport didn't normally consider herself a morale booster. But, she shook her head, cheerleaders showed their pep at away games as well as home ones, didn't they? She knew he had waivered before, and she knew that she had hated him for it. Nonetheless, seeing him now made her want to believe more than ever that he was the noble man she told herself he was. She didn't know how to bring him back to his former confidence. She had to figure out some way to lift his spirits, no matter how far, far away the games were.
As she put the plates and cups away, she wondered if luck really was the word for it. She wasn't one for fortune; neither was the Commander. So, it was then fate instead? It knotted her stomach to think that the universe was plotting against her in such a manner. Between the silverware clinking into their respective slots, a thought sprang to mind.
At least he came back.
She couldn't help but feel slightly guilty at the singular pronoun that left her students unaccounted for, but she knew it wasn't in spite; it was mere concern for the one she had known for so long. The last time he had left the ship, he was the one that hadn't come back. They had to bring him back, and then they had to wait. With the amount of stars they were traveling through, perhaps today she had counted the right ones, as it were. She would spend time counting all of them, she thought in a rather frazzled romantic way, if it would keep bringing him back.
The day I am satisfied, Bova, will be a rather dissatisfying day indeed. The phrase she had said earlier echoed in her head.
One of these days, she said to herself, I want to be utterly dissatisfied. Just one.
Now standing on the raised threshold, she looked around the galley, clean and in order. Davenport sighed. She passed her fingers over the orb on the frame, and the cogs parted with a familiar mechanical whir. She let her eyelids drop, shaking her head in the same omniscent manner from before. She had warmed up to- perhaps even gotten used to- the life she was living now, but she wasn't burning for any more adventures like the ones she knew were in store. I can only try.
She forced herself to step through the doorway, and started the walk to her chambers. The echo of the door closing trailed her.