Chapter 22

They made it back into KND airspace without any incidents beyond a giant spaceworm trying to eat the ship (the very last of V8's veggies fixed that one) and a failed space bandito ambush ('Your potato chips or your lives!' ended up being 'neither'). They just started to run out of fuel when they got near to the Moonbase. Which was fine, 'cause they could have used the drifting time before facing the music. None of them had really talked to each other about what was going to happen or what they wanted to happen when they got back. In fact, they'd pretty much specifically avoided talking about anything that wasn't related to the asteroid weather or the cruddy food.

When One did talk about the KND, it was to mutter about how he wouldn't mind seeing his old friends again, for a vague amount of time without commitments or expectations specified. And he talked about it mostly to her, because he and V8 still got along like two ticked off deer with their antlers stuck together. But he and 362 didn't look at each other much. She couldn't seem to focus on him without blushing for some reason, and he didn't want to make her self-conscious so he didn't stare.

V8 had messed it all up, was the problem. V8, who was quietly flossing his teeth and cleaning the ship with disinfectant and doing everything he could to not have to talk to either of them for more than half a minute at a time. Because that would involve feelings and confrontations and stuff, and there wasn't a kid on board who wanted to deal with that junk.

Especially not her.

The way V8, who'd been so loyal to her before this mission and everything had gone sour as his broccoli, had snarled out 'THING' just ran over and over again in her mind. He thought she had a THING for One. Just because she'd gone off to fetch the bald dork back with nothing more than a scientist-interrogator for backup. And argued in the face of some of the highest GKND authorities. And kind of kidnapped him a little bit. And gone against every instinct she'd ever had to do reckless, unSupreme Leaderly things from one day to the next. And lied to everyone about all of it.

Alright, fine, so maybe she'd gone a little overboard, that didn't mean anything. So she'd missed him, a little, as a friend, she could admit that! And her pride had been hurt, so naturally she'd gone a little crazy. Was it so wrong to want someone to care about you? Even for the second when she'd thought that maybe, maybe even Father could be nice, could care about her... was that so wrong?

Maybe Fanny could have cared. Maybe. But there was rank between them, and rank was lonely when you were the highest one there was. It took someone equally high to bridge that gap. Or someone who didn't respect rank much at all, like One. He was an irreverent, smarmy, smooth-talking jerk who stuck to his ideals and somehow always made it turn out alright, except for the collateral damage. Which no one cared about except her. Because it was the Supreme Leader's job to count those things.

Again, and again, and again.

Liked him?


She maybe even hated him.

A teeny bit.

"362? You okay?" The voice of the same kid he was brooding over drifted up from behind, sounding almost concerned. She kept resting her head on the nice cool metal of the ship's side. She couldn't look at him. He still didn't look right without his shades, as far as she was concerned. "Um. Rachel?" One put a hand on her shoulder lightly, casually, and somehow it made an icy tendril run through her, just a bit.

She looked up with a smile, trying to at least fake normal. "Only a few more minutes till we dock. Guess this is it, huh."

"Heheh, yeah. I, uh, guess so." They looked at each other. They hadn't looked at each other really solidly since they'd left Father behind on that asteroid base. "So... what are you gonna do? I mean, you mentioned about maybe retiring or something... but if you wanted to spin things different, I wouldn't... I mean, I don't see any reason why you can't still lead the KND...."

"I dunno." She really didn't. "One thing's for sure, though," she said with a crooked smirk, "I definitely can't leave 86 in charge. She'd like it, but the boys... not so much. I really don't know what I'll tell them. A lot depends on what V8 wants to say, I guess. He's been through the most for the least reason, out of all of us. I'll follow his lead."

"Okay, if that's how you want it." His hand dropped. "Just so you know, all our differences aside, I still think you've been a great leader. And a great kid. And... whatever you grow up to be, I'm sure that'll be great too."

"I... I think I need someone to tell me that. Every once in a while," she muttered, looking down at the floor with a blush. "I try so hard... I really do... and it's like... no one appreciates it..."

"Sometimes the only thing you get back from trying hard is knowing that you tried hard. But yeah... if you need a word in your ear every once in a while, I don't mind hanging around. You know. I mean, there's no real reason for this stupid gap between the GKND and the planetary KNDs anyway. I figure, maybe I could act as a lesion to get people in both bunches cooperating better."

"Liaison," she correctly automatically, mindlessly. Between V8 and Father, her vocabulary was really pretty well-developed for a kid her age.

"Yeah. That." He cleared his throat. "So. We're almost there. Is anything you wanna do, any last minute instructions or stuff like that, before everything hits the fan..."

She thought about it for a second, as V8's 'THING THING THING' bounced around in her head. It bothered her a little less now, for no reason that she could figure out. Oh well. There was only one thing really that she wanted to do, and it was silly and childish and girly. But she was silly (sometimes), and she was a child (most of the time), and she was a girl (all the time). "I want a rainbow monkey plushie to snuggle," she announced matter-of-factly, leaning against him. "And since I don't have one, you'll just have to do."

He eeped, arms halfway going around her and then just hovering in the air uncertainly. "Um. Yeah. Okay. Are you sure... this is the only thing you wanna do..."

She pressed her head into his warm chest a bit, sighing. "Yeah. It really is."

"You're weird," he said after a long moment.

She smirked into his shirt. "It's a leadership trait."


(and 86 starts yelling...)