AN: I'm pretty excited about this. 83
For one thing, it's the longest piece of fanfiction I've ever been able to write. Fourteen pages in MS Word. That may not ultimately seem like much, but when you consider that most of my oneshots are three or four pages long...
But more exciting is this is the first thing I've written in a long time I'm actually proud of. For quite some time I was going through this slump where I didn't like anything I wrote. It was starting to get a little depressing.
Then one day I was browsing Kila's LJ and came across some ficstubs of hers. I read them and loved em both, but for some reason one of them really stuck with me. I started coming up with material for it and before I knew it, I was having so many ideas they were keeping me up nights. (I've missed that kind writing - ideas that just keep coming like that.) After a lot of time and editing, I've finally gotten something decent.
I kept Kila's ficstub in tact; it's the scene that begins "The chip was small..." The rest is my own... doing. :)
Here's a... sort of half-link to the entry.
Just... you know, replace the -dots- and -slashes- with actual dots and slashes. ...Yes, I know it's harder than just copy-pasting, but please check it out because she has some awesome stuff up there.
Oh, about the title - I rarely ever name stuff after songs, I was having a hard time coming up with a name for this. For some reason, the name of that song just randomly popped into my head. I left it as a back-up plan. But that night when I went to watch American Idol with my family, David Cook sang "Dare You to Move."
Just coincidence, of course, but I took it as a sign. ;3
So, this fic is dedicated to Kila for getting me out of my fic rut. Thanks so much for the inspiration!
Hope you enjoy!
"Me? You want me to do it?"
"But… why me?"
"I have a feeling he would… ah, open up more to you."
She kicked at the ground. "Why can't Booster do it?"
"He's still pretty upset about it. Talking to him now might just make him feel worse."
She sighed heavily. "All right, fine, I'll tell him."
She reached out and took the plastic case from Buzz's outstretched hand.
The chip was small. Green. Covered in silver lines.
She traced them through the flat plastic with her finger, thinking about what was held inside the tiny square. She only allowed herself a second's thought before the whole thing started getting unbearably squicky, then she slipped the chip into the computer and turned it on.
There was a low hum as the monitor turned on. It was completely white. Mira gnawed her lower lip as she waited and nothing came up on the screen. Nothing had... gone wrong, had it?
Then text appeared.
-oh, man... what happened?
Mira leaned forward, her eyes widening. It worked.
-Sweet mother of Venus WHAT HAPPENED? I- I- I can't feel my body! What happened? Am I a head now? Why can't I feel my face either?
She typed in a phrase.
She repressed a chuckle. He wouldn't be XR if he couldn't yelp. It looked so ineffectual in text...
-Who's that? Where am I? Am I DEAD? Sweet mother of Venus!
She started typing again, her fingers flying over the keys.
-No, you're not dead. Your brain chip's just been hooked up to an old PC.
-Oh. Okay. Is that all. For a moment there I thought something bad had happened to me, like suddenly being unable to move, see, talk or hear- OH WAIT.
-You're talking to me right now, it's not that bad.
-Not that bad. I'm blind. Who are you? Is this XL trying to torture me? Because ohhh this is brilliant but you'll never get away with it! Not as long as my team is out there! My friends would never leave a fellow ranger in this condition, no sir! They'll be showing up any minute!
Mira bit her lip.
-What, no evil rant?
Mira swallowed and tapped out
-No, really! It's me!
-Mira would not do this to me. Now come on.
-No, it's... really Mira.
Mira gnawed her lip for a minute, then typed in
-Remember that time Booster got bunzel fever?
-How could I forget.
-And you had to let him grab you, as a distraction...
-How did this happen to me?
Mira's fingers paused over the keyboard, then continued more slowly.
-You had an accident.
-What's that supposed to mean? 'Had an accident' can mean anything from dying in a fire to stubbing your toe and I know it wasn't the last one so start talking, Mira.
-You got blown up.
-Oh? Oh? And so what? It's not like it's never happened before. It's happened before.
Mira typed a sentence, deleted it, typed another one, deleted it- before she could come up with something she liked, another phrase from XR appeared on the screen-
-I'm waiting, Mira. Where's my body?
-It couldn't be rebuilt.
-Okay. So? Get a new one.
Mira typed a sentence, deleted it, typed another one, deleted it-
-Well, the thing is, see... Star Command doesn't have the funding, right now, but when they do you'll get a new one right away.
-When they do? What's that supposed to mean?
-Well, you see, it was getting pretty expensive.
-Expensive? I'm too expensive? What do you mean I'm too expensive? MIRA!
The computer emitted a soft revving sound. Mira began typing as quickly as she could.
-It's okay, it's okay, it's only for a little while! The Junior Ranger cookie program didn't really take off this year, is all.
-I'm trapped in a blind, deaf shell because some snot-nosed kids couldn't sell enough darn boxes of cookies?
-Well, and MALIK needed funding...
She returned the next day to find an embittered rant that stretched beyond the area of the screen. Near the bottom of the page the text just sort of trailed off, stopping in the middle of a rather angry phrase.
She sat down in front of the PC, wondering how to begin with him. Her fingers hovered over the keys for a moment, before she just typed out a simple
-Who is this? Is this Mira again?
Mira chewed her lip anxiously. Clearly he was in a mood today. …Well, okay, she had to admit she'd probably be in a mood too if she'd suddenly found herself unable to see, hear, anything…
-Yes, it's Mira.
-Okay Mira. I've given this a lot of thought since the last time we talked, and I've decided that you need to GET ME OUT OF HERE! I DON'T CARE HOW YOU DO IT, I DON'T CARE MIRA, JUST GET ME OUT, GET ME OUT!! NOW!!
-XR, calm down!
-NO! I'm not calming down! I want out!
-I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do!
-Nothing you can do, huh. Pfft. Some friend YOU are.
She couldn't help but feel a twinge of anger at that.
-Hey, that's not fair, XR.
-Not fair?! Don't tell ME what's not FAIR!! I'm TRAPPED here, Mira! I can't do ANYTHING!!
Ugh, what was she supposed to say to him? He had a point of course, it wasn't really fair, what was happening to him, but really, what could she do? What could she say? Her mind was coming up with absolutely nothing at all helpful. So she was relieved to hear Buzz call her name.
-XR, I have to go.
-Yeah, sure. GO. Leave me behind. Everyone does.
She blinked at the screen.
-Hey, I'll be back.
-Yeah, okay Mira
The very next day she ventured back into the little room with the old PC. This time it was even harder to initiate the conversation. She just… wasn't quite sure how to proceed with him anymore.
She let out a heavy sigh. She was just making too much of a big deal out of this. He was still XR, still the same annoying, witty little friend of hers, it was still him… in… some form or another…
Before her mind could run off again with the utter weirdness of this whole situation she shook her head to clear her thoughts and typed a hasty greeting.
She waited for him to say something else. He didn't. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Why wasn't he saying something? He wasn't saying anything… She was starting to feel awkward, just sitting there, staring at a near-blank screen… Finally she had to break the… silence.
-How do you feel, XR?
-How do you THINK?!
Mira drew back, blinking at the screen. What was she supposed to say to that? How did he expect her to respond? She was still struggling to come up with something when another message appeared.
-I'm so bored, Mira! I can't do ANYTHING!!
-That's not true, XR.
-Oh, isn't it? What can I still do, huh? What?
Mira bit her lip. What could he do?
-You can still…
She leaned forward, trying frantically to come up with something. What could he still do? Talk? Well, no, it wasn't really talking that they were doing…
-You can still… read…
The screen was blank for a long time, until finally she saw
-Oh yeah? READ THIS!!
The longest trail of obscenities she'd ever seen appeared on the screen, interspersed with self-pity rants, odes of hate to the world, and gripes about how unfair life was.
She waited patiently for him to run out of steam. The words became less and less offensive as he started slowing down, finally coming to a halt. She could almost see him standing there, glaring up at her, his shoulders heaving, his fists clenched, play-acting deep breaths. For some reason, it made her smile…
He was silent for a moment, before answering
-…Yeah. I guess. A little.
He didn't like this. He didn't like this at all.
It was dark and silent. And nothing else. The darkness and the silence pressed in all around him until he felt he'd be crushed.
He tried to open his eyes and nothing happened. He tried to stretch his legs and nothing happened. He tried to scream for help. Nothing.
He couldn't scream. Couldn't cry. Couldn't even whimper. He'd go crazy if he had to go on like this. He imagined his old body curling up into the fetal position and some morose part of him actually felt a little better.
But just a little.
-Is that you, Mira?
-Yes, it's me again.
-Why are you the only one who ever comes here?
She raised an eyebrow at the screen.
-What's the matter, don't you like talking to me?
-…oh, no, I didn't mean… of course I like talking to you! I just meant… I just wondered… how come no one else comes to visit me?
She placed her fingers over the keys, then paused, thinking. Why was she the only one who ever came down here? That couldn't be a real confidence-booster for him. Booster… Booster was still pretty shook up about the whole thing. She probably shouldn't mention that, though. Maybe she'd say something to Booster later, about how it really wasn't that weird… all things considered. And Buzz… well, he always had something to do. He probably hadn't even thought about coming down to visit XR. …That probably wasn't a good thing to mention, either. Nebula… okay, Nebula was probably grateful for a little peace and quiet. She definitely shouldn't mention that.
-I don't know. I guess… they're all really busy.
Wow, that sounded lame.
Apparently XR thought so too.
-I wish I could be busy. It gets boring back here, you know.
-I know, XR.
-There's nothing I can do. I don't like this, Mira.
He fell silent for a moment.
-Do you think… do you think you could… do something to get me out of here?
She chewed her lip nervously. He obviously wanted out… she'd want out, too, if she was in that position… clearly this was not a good thing for him… but what could she do about it?
-I don't know if there's anything I can do…
-C'mon Mira, isn't there ANYTHING you can do?
-I don't know, XR. I don't think so.
He was silent for a long time after that. A long, long time. Starting to worry, she read over her last statement… and cringed. That probably wasn't the best thing to say, that made it sound like his case was hopeless… Hurriedly she added
-But that doesn't mean I can't try.
She was hoping he'd have something to say to that.
Apparently he didn't.
-I could… I don't know, I could talk to the LGMs before we go out on patrol today.
-I could see what they have to say about it.
-Yeah, okay. You talk to them.
Mira paused. She couldn't really tell if that had made him feel better (although something inside her seriously doubted it), but at least she was leaving him with something.
-In that case, I'd better go. I'll talk to you later.
-Wait, DON'T GO!!
She blinked at the screen, startled.
-Can't you… can't you stay for a little while?
-Don't you want me to see if there's anything I can do? If I can talk to the LGMs…
-Talk to them later. Talk to me now.
Mira stared at the screen. He sounded so… he sounded so frantic…
-Are you okay?
-Oh, I'm… I'm fine, just fine…
He was silent again, for a moment, before he went on, slowly.
-It just… It gets… you know, there's nobody… well, I mean, it's not like I can go anywhere, and you…
She hung her head, covering her eyes with her hand. It probably seemed heartless to him, her sporadic visits; the way she dropped in only when she had a second, only when it was convenient, only to rush off again… and that meager effort was the only contact he ever got anymore… She lifted her gaze back to the screen. It was the least she could do, really.
-Sure, XR. I'll stay.
Booster stood in front of the PC, wringing his hands. He'd finally gotten up the nerve at least to come into the room, but now he was wondering where to go from here. XR had been gone for a long time now… he missed his little buddy, and wanted to talk to him… but what should he say? What could he say? How would XR respond? Would it be too weird, talking to a screen? Mira had said it wasn't a big deal… but then, she was just better at handling this sort of thing… Maybe he just couldn't do this… Then again, Mira also mentioned XR was getting kind of bored and lonely… XR was his best friend, he should at least try to talk to him.
He sat down in front of the PC, his fingers hovering nervously over the keys.
-What do you want Mira?
Booster drew back in surprise. He seemed mad at Mira. But why should he be mad at Mira?
-No, it's me, Booster.
The screen stayed frozen for a moment. Maybe XR was surprised too…
-Oh – hey, Booster.
XR said nothing more after that. Booster sat wringing his hands, wondering how to continue.
-How are you doing?
-Oh, well, I'm… I'm fine.
Booster bit his lip. This was weird, after all… this wasn't his talkative little buddy, this was… this was someone entirely different, someone who was so listless, so unresponsive….
He was starting to feel really awkward and almost excused himself when something inside him said to take another chance. This was his best friend, after all, coming up with something to say shouldn't be that hard… Maybe he just needed to try something else. What was it that Mira had told him?
-Mira says you're bored.
-Does she now?
-Yeah. She said… she said you're kinda sick of this.
-Well, she's got that right. There isn't really anything I can do, y'know.
At least he was talking now.
-Gah… it's so boring back here, Booster!
Booster blinked at the screen, scratching the back of his neck. His eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers, leaning back over the keyboard with renewed enthusiasm.
-Hey, remember when Buzz had us take the land rover out on Karn, and we crashed right into the middle of that lake?
-Oh… oh yeah, I do remember that! Haha!
Booster straightened up in his seat, smiling broadly. He could almost hear his friend's laughter… this was so much better.
-Oh man… we were so lost…
-Did either of us know what we were doing?
-Hahaha… I seriously doubt it.
Booster slumped back in the seat with a relaxed sigh. This was better. This, at least, felt like XR.
-We need to get you back. It's just not the same without you.
-Sure! It's not nearly as fun!
-…Yeah. It's no fun back here, either.
-Don't worry XR, I'm sure you'll be out of here soon! Everything will work out, you'll see!
-Yeah… yeah, it probably will. Thanks, Booster.
An alarm went off in Booster's wrist communicator; he glanced down and checked the time.
-I should be going now. We're leaving soon.
-It was good talking to you!
-Yeah… yeah, you too.
-What is it?
-Thanks for… thanks for visiting me.
Booster grinned at the screen, happily tapping out a response.
-…Come back again, will you?
-Sure thing, Buddy!
Mira made her way through the halls of Star Command to the dark back room where XR was being held. It was really sad, the more she thought about it; this room seemed so remote. No one ever came down here, except for her. And Booster'd been here, a few times. Other than that XR was pretty much alone most of the time.
She paused in the doorway, trying to imagine what that must be like. Being stuck in a cramped back room where no one seemed to want to go, unable to control how much interaction he had with people, unable to go anywhere, do anything, talk to anybody, surrounded by nothingness…
She shuddered. It was too much to focus on. She took a moment to compose herself, then crossed the room and took her seat in front of the PC.
The screen stayed blank for a while. Maybe he was sleeping. …Could he sleep like this? What did he do when he wasn't talking to her?
She paused. What was she supposed to say next?
-How are you feeling today?
-How do you think. I don't feel anymore.
She blinked in surprise.
-What do you mean?
-I mean, I don't feel anything. I can't see, I can't hear… I don't have a body anymore, Mira. I can't feel.
She blinked again. She'd never really thought about what it was like on his end of the conversation. What was he going through in there… She took a moment and tried to imagine what he was talking about.
-Listen, XR, I know how hard this is…
-Oh right, cause you lose your body ALL THE TIME…
-You're still alive, XR. You should be grateful you weren't completely destroyed.
-Grateful, huh? What kind of life do you think this is? I can't… I can't do… I can't feel… Would you be grateful if you'd suddenly lost all your senses?
She placed her fingers over the keys, then paused. What would she do if she'd suddenly found herself completely powerless, unable to move, no sight, no sound, no way to connect to the world… She had to admit…
-I… I don't know, XR.
-Right. Exactly. You have NO IDEA.
She sat still, staring at the screen, at a loss for what to say next. Seconds turned into minutes and still she couldn't think of anything. Part of her hoped XR would say something else, anything to break the tension, but he didn't. It was odd… he was so vocal when they first started, now she had to pry to get him to talk. Why couldn't she think of anything…
"Mira? We have to leave now."
Mira turned. Buzz was standing in the doorway, looking at her expectantly. She sighed.
"Right, Buzz. I'll be right there."
He nodded, lingered for a moment, then left. She turned back to the screen.
-XR? I have to go.
He still didn't say anything.
She hesitated at the keyboard. Something inside of her didn't want to leave… something didn't feel right about leaving now, leaving things all unresolved like this. She wanted to stay with him, to figure out what it was he was going through… what he meant by all that…
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming!"
-Listen, XR, I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"
-Yeah. I'll be here.
Mira leaned back in her seat, her eyes squeezed shut. What would it feel like if she could never open them again?
She tried to block out all the noises around her. What would it feel like if she couldn't hear anything? She tried sitting as still as she could. What would it feel like if she suddenly couldn't move anymore…
She jerked upright; her eyes opened wide. "What?"
"I said, we're ready for lift-off."
She straightened up, shifting awkwardly and reaching out aimlessly over her panel. "Oh, oh right."
Buzz eyed her strangely. "Is everything okay?"
She nodded distractedly. "Yeah, sure, Buzz."
Mira leaned back in her seat with a heavy sigh. She had no idea what he was going through; couldn't even begin to imagine it.
Buzz strode through the halls of Star Command, head high, frowning determinedly, until he reached the tiny room at the far end of the station. Mira was acting strangely lately. It seemed as though her conversations with XR were getting to her somehow. He figured it was time he talked to XR himself and found out what was going on.
Once in front of the PC, though, he felt a little ridiculous. How was he supposed to communicate with someone he couldn't even see or hear?
He cleared his throat, straightening up and typing
There was a pause. A long pause. He was feeling even more ridiculous. Mira didn't seem to have any problem when she did this; she'd never told him of anything going wrong. Buzz drummed his fingers against the table. Was something preventing him from responding? …Maybe XR just wasn't in the mood to talk. In any case, this was starting to waste his time, he had to be…
Buzz sat up, blinking at the screen.
-How do you feel, XR?
He waited. There was another pause, shorter this time.
-Okay… okay, I guess.
Buzz waited for more, but XR said nothing else.
-Everything's okay? Nothing's bothering you?
There was another drawn-out pause, before XR answered simply.
Buzz narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. XR wasn't giving him anything here.
Mira never complained about XR not talking to her. How did she get him to open up? …Maybe he needed to try a different tactic.
-You know Ranger, Mira's been pretty worried about you.
-Really? She has?
Buzz smirked. That got 'im talkin.
-Oh, sure. She's in here every chance she gets.
To his chagrin, this just prompted yet another gigantic pause before XR reverted to his simple ambiguous answers.
-Oh. Oh, right.
Buzz leaned over the table, tapping his chin. It shouldn't be this hard to get a conversation going with one of his own teammates…
-What do you talk about?
-Oh, nothing really.
Buzz waited. And waited. Mother of Venus, what did it take to get him to open up? Normally he couldn't get XR to stop talking…
-Well, we talk about… about what's going to happen to me…
-Rest assured, XR; you'll have a new body in no time.
The next pause was, thankfully, a short one.
-Yeah, sure, Buzz.
-Now, you're sure there's nothing bothering you?
-Yeah, I'm… yeah, I'm sure.
Buzz was about to sign off when XR suddenly wrote
-Well, it's just… just… being… well, stuck here, it's… it's a little boring, that's all.
Buzz smirked at the screen. Finally, something about XR's situation that made sense. Boring he could relate to. He knew what it was like to be pulled from duty, after all.
-Well, don't you worry XR, you'll be back in the action soon.
When XR said nothing more, Buzz assumed he was finished talking. He turned to leave when he saw
-What is it?
XR was silent again. Silent for a long time.
-Come on XR, whatever it is, you can tell me.
-I'm… I'm sorry I can't… do my job…
-Don't worry, Ranger. You didn't ask for this to happen. Just take it easy, your post'll be waitin for you.
Something… strange was happening. Strange and not at all good.
Before he'd at least been able to imagine he was still able to move around, but now when he tried… it didn't seem to work. He tried imagining lifting his hand, but couldn't imagine what was supposed to be happening…
He couldn't remember how moving was supposed to work. He couldn't remember how to feel… Couldn't remember what it felt like to touch something, to feel something touch him…
He could barely even remember what having a body was like. He tried to focus on how his old body looked… he could barely picture it…
What was he supposed to do now?
He wanted to… he wanted to… what was it? …He wanted to curl up in a ball, but how was he supposed to do that?
He felt like crying. …Now, how did that work again?
He'd lose it if he went on like this…
She crossed the room slowly, quietly, as if afraid of disturbing something inside. Cautiously she eased down into the seat as though afraid it would give under any sort of pressure. She placed her fingers over the keys, delicately, as if the whole thing could fall apart at any time.
He was silent for a long time. He was taking longer and longer to respond, she noticed. She was about to try again when he answered.
-Yes, it's me.
She waited for more. He added nothing. He was saying less and less. Was he losing his power to speak? Was being trapped in his inhibited state having a more serious effect than they knew?
-XR? Are you okay?
-Mira, I hate this…
-No, I hate this! I can't see anything, I can't hear anything, I can't…
He stopped there. She waited with growing tension. When she couldn't bear it any longer she cautiously typed
-I CAN'T FEEL ANYTHING!
She jumped back as if she'd actually been shouted at.
The screen stayed the same for a long time. A long, long time. She was starting to worry that something had gone wrong when a sentence began to appear, slowly, one letter at a time.
-I- I- I c-can't… f-feel… an- any… th- th- thing…
She stared at the screen. She could almost hear him sobbing… it made her ache in a way she'd never felt before… Oh, if only she didn't feel so helpless, if only there was some way she could reach him…
Her eyes lit up and she leaned forward, typing hurriedly.
-Can you feel this?
She ghosted her hand into the PC's tower, carefully feeling along until she came across something small and square and smooth. She rested her fingertips against it, careful not to put to much pressure on it.
-What? F-feel wh-what? M-mira, I c-can't
The sentence stopped abruptly. Mira watched the little black bar flashing at the end of his last word, on, off, on, off, on, off…
She stared at the screen with bated breath, her heart pounding. Nothing was happening. Nothing was happening, oh mother of Venus, what had she done…
With her free hand she reached frantically over the keys.
-XR, please, answer me, can you fe
She sat straight up on the edge of her seat, transfixed by the screen. The seconds seemed to stretch by like hours.
-Yeah, I… I can…
She slumped down in her chair, letting out a long, heavy sigh. Very carefully, she tightened her grip ever so slightly.
-It's gonna be okay, XR, it's all gonna be okay… don't worry, everything will work out…
She began absent-mindedly stroking the chip. Anything to make him feel better… anything to make him feel something. It may not have been much, but at least it was better than nothing. At least she didn't feel powerless. At least she'd thought of a way to get to him.
-Mira… stay with me…
She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing back waves of guilt. It felt so terrible, it felt like abandonment, just leaving him here… like this… When she opened her eyes again she saw
She couldn't leave him here, she couldn't, not like this… she should stay, she should just stay with him, couldn't she just…
-XR, I… I can't. I have to go.
She expected him to put up some kind of a fight. She waited for him to whine and beg and plead.
Instead, he was silent for a long time before up on the screen popped a simple
She stared at the word in disbelief.
-But you'll come back, won't you?!
She couldn't help but smile a little at that. Some things about him would never change, no matter what. She could almost see those wide round eyes of his, staring up at her beseechingly…
-Of course I'll be back. Don't worry. Everything will be okay.
She held on for a moment longer. Unwillingly she pulled her hand away and got to her feet.
She felt tears prick her eyes and blinked hard, forcing them back. This felt so terrible, it felt like she was abandoning a lost little kid… Her hands shook slightly as she typed out
-Goodbye, XR. Don't worry. I'll be back soon.
She waited for a moment, half expecting a response from him. When none came, she let out an exhausted sigh and began to turn away… one last thought seized her and she typed it out.
-I'll see what I can do.
Mira stood in the door of the science bay, chewing her lip. The place was full of LGMs bustling about, tinkering with one invention or another.
Now, they obviously had enough funding to spend on testing new weapons, though WHY they were throwing that money into lasers that worked just like the previous FIFTY instead of building XR a new body was BEYOND her, she had half a mind to…
She shook her head. No, that just wasn't the right way to go about it.
Taking a deep breath, she approached the nearest group of LGMs.
"Hey, guys…" she began lamely.
One of them looked up at her and smiled serenely. "Hello, Booster!"
"I'm not…" she began, then sighed. "Fine, whatever. Listen, I wanted to… I, well… I was just curious… well, about XR…"
She trailed off, rubbing her arm nervously. They stared up at her, unimposing.
"How- how much would it cost to build him a new body?"
The LGMs exchanged nervous glances, then one scampered off to another part of the room. It returned a moment later with a clipboard that held several slips of paper, which it began to flip through. The other LGMs crowded around it, making "ooooh"-ing sounds.
"What? How much would it cost?" she prodded.
The LGM flipped the papers back and stared pointedly up at her. "Too expensive."
She frowned at them. "What makes it so expensive? It's never been too expensive before."
The LGM flipped back through the forms. "Accidents too frequent… not enough spare parts."
Too frequent… Mira made a mental note about being more careful in the future before turning back to the problem at hand. "Don't you guys… well, don't you have any extra money you can spend on him?"
The LGM shook its head. "Funding not available right now."
A nasty comment about the lasers surfaced in her mind and she fought it back.
"But… don't you have some amount set aside for emergencies?"
"Well, why don't you take it out of that?"
"Only the Commander can authorize use of emergency funds."
Mira cringed. Asking Nebula to go out of his way to help XR was akin to asking Buzz if he wanted to go square-dancing. Possible, but highly unlikely.
Well. She wasn't about to leave here without some results. XR was counting on her, she wasn't about to let him down, no way…
But what else could she do? If Star Command didn't have the funding, then they just didn't…
An idea struck her and she turned back to the LGMs, who were once again busying themselves with their latest gizmo.
"What if you received the money from another source? Outside of Star Command's funds?"
The LGMs blinked up at her. They exchanged glances, hmming softly.
She watched them anxiously. "Commander Nebula would approve of that, right? I mean, it wouldn't set you back at all, it wouldn't take anything away from your other… projects…" she trailed off hopefully.
"Might be okay," one LGM finally conceded.
"But where would other funds come from?" another asked.
Mira chewed her lip. It was the least she could do…
"What if… what if I paid for it?"
Mira stood in front of the vidcom screen, cringing. If she actually pulled this off, it'd be a miracle…
Nervously she punched in her father's number.
Was it too late to try to talk to Nebula?
After a moment her father's face appeared on the screen.
"Hello? …Why, Mira! What a surprise!"
"This is a pleasure, indeed! We haven't spoken for quite some time!"
She cringed. "Yeah… sorry about that… we can get pretty busy around here."
His face took on a bored, slightly haughty expression. "Yes… I can well imagine."
Mira had to suppress a ripple of anger. She could have countered with any number of carefully-worded arguments… but now was not the time. No, she wanted to keep him in the best mood possible.
"Daddy? I… I have a favor to ask…"
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
She nodded, pulling anxiously at her gloves. "See… well, one… one of my teammates…"
Her father made a point of letting out a long, drawn-out sigh, rolling his eyes to the heavens. "Now Mira, if one of your pets can't take care of itself…"
"Can't the brilliant space-monkeys solve their own problems?"
Mira fumed at the screen. There was only so much she could take.
"These people are my friends, Father! And one of them is in trouble!"
He considered her for a moment, studying her resolute expression, then sighed heavily. "Very well, Mira. What is it you need?"
She folded her hands behind her back, chewing her lip nervously. "I need to borrow some money…"
Something didn't seem right…
Mira said she'd be back soon. She told him she'd be back soon. She told him everything was going to be okay.
But she still hadn't come back. It just seemed like she should have been back by now. Of course, he really had no true sense of how much time had really passed, but it seemed like it was taking her too long, much longer than it had ever taken before…
And with nothing else to do, his mind kept coming up with terrible possibilities, each one worse than the last…
What if she'd failed… what if she'd gone to the LGMs about him and they'd told her there was nothing they could do? What if there really was nothing she could do, and she just couldn't bear to face him? What if… what if something bad had happened to her? What if she couldn't get to him at all? What if… someone had somehow forbidden her to talk to him? Could they do that? …Would they do that? What if… what if she couldn't talk to him because… because something had gone wrong? What if his brain chip wasn't working with the PC anymore? What if they'd decided it was just too much trouble? What was going to happen to him? He needed to know!
He tried crying out for someone, anyone, but of course nothing happened.
He pleaded silently with Mira to come back soon.
Mira headed into the science bay, check in hand, still amazed at what she'd managed to pull off…
She approached the nearest group of LGMs, wondering vaguely if this was the same group she'd spoken to before. Well, if it was, they were still working on that same stupid laser. She cleared her throat to get their attention.
One of them looked up and smiled. "Hello Mira!"
She blinked. How these little guys functioned, she'd never understand. "Hey, guys. I, umm… well, I… I got the money for XR," she stammered, holding out the check.
"Thaaank yooou!" they chorused. One of their number took it from her and handed it to a passing colleague, who carried it off to another part of the room. The rest went back to their laser.
Mira blinked at them. When exactly did they plan to take care of this?
"So… how long is this going to take?"
"Hmm… hard to say," one answered slowly.
"A week, maybe."
"A week?" she squeaked at them.
They were now all staring at her in mild alarm. She forced herself to take a deep breath.
"But… can't you work any faster than that?"
One LGM shook its head. "Parts must be obtained. Takes time."
"But… but… isn't there anything you can do now?"
"It will all be taken care of," one LGM said with the air of one trying to calm down a small child.
Mira sighed. Really, what more could she do? She'd done as much as she could here… at least now there was some hope for him.
She trudged out of the science bay and began wandering aimlessly through the halls.
She found herself at the far end of the space station, outside the room with the old PC in it. It was all dark inside, and totally empty… it was depressing, how cut off from the rest of the station this room was.
Mira headed inside, reminding herself again what was contained in this room. She shuddered. It was absolutely mind-boggling, the way they'd been talking over the past few weeks. She still couldn't quite wrap her head around it.
She sat down in front of the PC. The screen was completely blank, absolutely devoid of any trace of their previous conversations. She placed her fingers on the keys, hesitated for a moment, then began typing.
She jumped back, startled. Her eyes widened at the screen. That was the quickest he'd responded in a long time… and the "loudest." There was something off about it, something that bothered her, it just didn't seem… right… She was just starting to wonder if something had gone wrong when more text appeared.
-Mira? Is that you?
She could almost feel the anxiety in his words… quickly she typed out
-Yes, it's me…
-You… you c-came b-b-back…
She stared at the screen in disbelief.
-Of… of course, I came back…
-Wh-what t-took you so l-long?
She let out a regretful moan, hiding her face in her hands. She hadn't even been thinking… she'd been so caught up in her business with the LGMs, she'd forgotten to stop in on him.
-Oh, XR, I'm so sorry. There was something I had to take care of, I just got caught up
-I was getting worried!
-I know, I know XR, and I'm sorry, I didn't
-I… I thought something bad had happened…
-Oh, no, no, nothing happened. Don't worry, everything's okay.
He was silent again. At least he seemed to be calming down. She bit her lip. Should she tell him about the LGMs? They didn't seem sure when his body would be ready… what if it took even longer than expected? He'd probably just get anxious, waiting for it… what if he had to wait for months, what if he started thinking it was all just a trick… He'd be furious with her…
But then again, wouldn't it be better for him to know? Any kind of hope, no matter how small, was better than nothing…
"Mira! There you are!"
She jumped and yelped. Buzz was striding across the room, looking slightly irritated.
"What are you doing back here? We're due on patrol," he said, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder.
She got to her feet. "Okay, I'll be right there."
He hesitated a moment, then marched back out of the room. She turned back to the monitor to find a response from XR.
-What is it, Mira?
-Sorry XR, I have to go. But I promise you, things'll get better soon.
-How do you know that?
"Alright, I'm coming!"
She leaned over the keyboard, typing furiously.
-Just trust me. It's all going to work out, XR. You'll see.
Voices… they sounded soft and distant, but they were there…
He slowly became aware of a low humming sound, what sounded like the steady whir of a very large machine operating. That was… strange… He hadn't… he hadn't heard anything in… he didn't even know how long. And the voices… yes, there were voices, they were close, he could tell… They were mumbling, he couldn't quite make out what they were saying… he couldn't see where they were coming from, it was all dark around him, but… but he could sense… he could sense that somewhere nearby, there was light…
Yes, there was light, he knew it, it was there, his eyes were just closed…
He could… he could feel his eyes…
Was he… dreaming?
No. No, it couldn't be a dream, it couldn't… in his dreams, he hadn't felt anything, nothing at all, not like he did now…
His eyes were there, he could tell… would they work? He could… he could try…
Very slowly, he opened his eyes. The light was blinding… he squeezed his eyes shut, wincing. Ow. Cautiously, taking it even slower this time, he eased his eyes open…
This time it didn't hurt so much. He blinked around. He could see lights above him, and a metal ceiling…
He could see…
He slowly became aware of his face. He could feel his head again, he could feel his eyes and his mouth… and that wasn't all…
He lifted his head and gasped.
There it was… there was his body, like it had never been gone… lying stretched out on a metal table that was cold… He shivered.
He could feel cold…
His gaze swept over his hands, lying motionless on either side of him. Did he remember how to do this? He could definitely feel his hands there, they were definitely connected to him, and that alone made his insides churn with excitement… He concentrated on lifting a hand. It worked… it slowly came off the table… Slowly he raised it up to his face, turning it over, flexing his fingers… He tried the same with the other hand… It worked, it worked, it all worked…
He pressed his hands to his chest, a wave of happiness breaking over him. He put his helmet back and felt over his face, it was there, it was all there!
He let out a joyful cry, clutching his hands to his chest. He sat straight up and felt a wave of something like nausea hit him… he was overcome with a strange mixture of sickness and elation, what did it matter what he was feeling, at last, he could feel again, he could feel, he could hear, he could see, speak, move, feel again!
"All systems gooooood!"
A group of LGMs stood around him on the table and for once he didn't feel annoyed by their presence. Tears of joy sprang into his eyes and he turned and pounced on the nearest LGM.
"Hey, guys, thank you, thank you, thank you!" he cried shakily, wringing the LGM's hand.
"Noooo prob-lem!" they chorused.
He released the LGM to paw at his eyes. "But… I thought… I thought I was too expensive."
"We received funding," one LGM informed him.
"Oh… you did? What, did the Junior Rangers sell more than you thought?"
He blinked, frowning in confusion. "Then, where'd you get the dough?"
"Ranger Nova," another LGM stated simply.
XR froze, gaping wordlessly at it.
"Mira? She- she paid for me?" he spluttered.
"How… how much of me?"
"All of it."
He stared at them.
Mira had paid for him… She'd given him a new body, she'd single-handedly gotten him out of that horrible void...
She'd had to do it all herself, too… if she paid for it herself that meant she'd met no help here… He focused back on the LGMs, who had by now found some other project to occupy themselves with.
"Yeah, thanks for everything guys," he murmured weakly.
They gave a collective nod of acknowledgement and went back to whatever it was they were working on. Some sort of new laser, it looked like.
She had asked the LGMs about him… and she'd been told nothing could be done… But she hadn't let that stop her – she didn't let anything stop her… She'd found a way to help him herself…
He slowly turned to stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed and the science bay door.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone come into the doorway. She looked up…
There he was… standing there… like nothing had ever happened…
He looked just like she remembered. …Well, maybe he looked a little shinier. Maybe his eyes looked a little brighter… But it was definitely him.
Had he always been so… cute? He was staring up at her with large puppy-dog eyes, a wide smile that lit up his whole face, that seemed to radiate happiness… He was just standing there, quiet and unassuming, watching her patiently… The way he held his hands behind his back made him look so sweet and innocent… she'd never noticed that before…
"Umm… hi Mira."
His voice sent chills down her spine, for reasons she couldn't explain.
She stared down at him. All she could do was stare. But she couldn't help it, couldn't look away…
He grinned sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm back."
She gave a trance-like nod. "Yeah…"
He certainly was. There he was, standing before her plain as day… And yet for some reason it just wasn't sinking in. She hadn't seen him for so long, and suddenly he was just there. She had to prove it to herself. Crossing the room she knelt in front of him, still staring. Slowly she reached out to him, placing her hand on his shoulder and letting out a soft gasp.
"XR… you- you're really back…"
He blinked up at her, watching as she took in his sudden appearance. It felt like it'd been an eternity since he'd seen her. He'd… he'd forgotten just how beautiful she was, how sweet her voice sounded… he'd been around her every day for years and he'd never, ever before now had such a strong urge just to reach out and hold her…
He hesitantly reached out and took her free hand in his. He let out a heavy sigh, closing his eyes. It felt so good to feel again, to reach out and touch someone, to feel someone actually there…
"Mira… I… I don't know what to…"
She just smiled down at him, biting her lip.
He sighed, squeezing his eyes shut and pulling her hand to his chest. "Thank you," he murmured.
"You're welcome, XR."
He opened his eyes and looked back up at her. She was beaming down at him, she looked so happy to see him again… He didn't give himself time to second-guess. He threw his arms around her waist, burying his face in her shoulder. He trembled slightly when he felt her wrap her arms around his shoulders and lean her head against his helmet.
"I missed you," he whimpered against her.
She stroked his back soothingly. "I missed you too," she whispered.
He sighed deeply, letting himself sink into her arms. It felt so good to be held again.
Reviews and critiques greatly appreciated.