Prompt: Childhood Friends

She was alone in the room—the only child who was not too scared to be. Her brother, despite being older, hadn't even glanced at the closed door in almost a week, as if he were afraid that the prior occupants would somehow come forth from the shadows in the corners. Her sister, only three and far too young to formulate such elaborate worries, knew only that the sight of the room made her sad, and upon seeing the neatly made bed, she would cry for hours. Since figuring that out, her aunt had explicitly forbade any of them from going anywhere near that quiet, empty space.

Aunt Vela was asleep now, as were her siblings and the rest of their temporary guests. In the morning, they would leave the whole house behind forever and live with her Aunt and her husband just outside the city proper. As such, she had felt an overwhelming urge to see that room just one last time—one last time before her mother's cousins came and cleared away the signs of life that were once there and it would be as if they had never been there at all.

She climbed out of her bed, careful not to wake Thetia, who would have insisted in copying her and following her on this adventure. Once past the sleeping child, she crept down the hall, past her brother's room and past the simple guest bedroom where her aunt slept soundly. Her destination was that last door at end of the hall, in gleaming white, with a silver handle. She approached the door, turned the old knob, and pushed it open.

There was little inside, really— large bed, a sleek dresser, a comfy black chair illuminated by the moons outside. She sat on the bed and faced an end table just to the right of the bed, where it had always been, and stared at the contents on top.

There was a powered-down compupad, worn from over-use, an empty glass, and a small Gondarkian pig clay sculpture she had made in her grade school class and painted a retina-burning bright pink. Nereid had laughed at her when she brought it home, saying that it was too fat, its nose too flat and crooked and was way WAY too pink. Still, it hadn't been for him, and so she had stuck her tongue out at him, and presented it proudly to her mother, who had cooed over the gift and given it a special place by her bed.

"So I can see it every night before I go to bed. It'll remind me that someone thinks I'm special," she had said as she smiled fondly at her.

She pulled the pig into her hands along with the item immediately to its right. The generator was nondescript and could easily be missed when one wasn't looking for it, but she had known it was there and that she wanted it. Clutching the pig in her left hand, she palmed the generator in her right and flipped the switch.

The unit hummed to life, and a holographic image was produced in front of her.

She was in it, of course, except almost a year younger, just after her fifth birthday. Thetia was facing away from the cameraman, grinning at Nereid, who at seven could hardly be expected to sit still OR behave. They had been trying to take a family photo, but Nereid wouldn't have any of it, Thetia wouldn't look into the lens, and she couldn't stand that awful, awful collar on that awful, awful dress that Grandmother had bought her. The whole thing had been shaping up to be a disaster, and if her parents had hoped for a pristine, calm photo of the family with all smiles, they were going to be disappointed.

Maybe that's what made them so wonderful.

Her father had turned to her brother and started making faces at him, and suddenly, it was a contest to see who could make the other laugh first. Thetia was already loving it all, cackling at the mens' antics. Her mother and she had met eyes at one point just as both of them were simultaneously pawing at their collars. They stopped, then laughed at one another, and the pandemonium rose as the photographer snapped away and tried to gain control.

In the end, they had gotten a perfect photo out of the bunch, but her mother had bought the data file for this shot instead, with Thetia (who was barely even visible in profile) clapping her hands wildly, her brother and father with their mouths open and tongues hanging out , and her and her mother smiling gaily at one another. It was her favorite shot of them, and the nostalgia and the current events hit her all at once.

The bed, the chair the dresser. The pig she slaved over in art class. They belonged to people who were never, ever coming back, no matter how much she wished it, and no matter how many deals she made with the Gods her mother prayed to.

She curled her hands into fists, around the generator and the pig, brought them to her eyes and sobbed quietly.

Mama. Papa. Mama. Papa. Gone gone gone. Never coming back.

Time passed as she sat there in the dark, mouth clenched shut against the crying so as to not rouse her aunt. She couldn't even begin to tell how long she sat there with eyes shut, tears overflowing onto her cheeks (even though she learned to tell time in class last month).

Her tears flowed. Her nose ran. Never never coming back.

"What's wrong?"

Her head was up like a shot then. The voice wasn't Thetia's, nor was it her aunt's, and they certainly would have known what was wrong in any case. She scanned the room in front of her, but nothing appeared. She sniffed hard. Maybe she had been hearing things.

"I said, 'What's wrong?'" the voice was a little peevish now, aggravated by being ignored.

She jumped when she realized the voice was at her back, and nearly fell off the bed when she saw the girl standing there.

"W-w-w-w-ho…"

The girl cocked her head at her, "You're very strange."

She took offence to that. "I am not."

The other girl shrugged, and from that movement she could see that the stranger wasn't entirely corporeal—no, if she squinted hard enough, she could make out the dresser behind her right through her bright dress.

The implications were shocking. "Are you a ghost?" she gasped.

The "ghost" girl threw her head back and laughed, clutching her stomach. "That's a good one! A ghost!"

She only blinked at the stranger.

The other girl regained her composure and placed her hands on her hips. "There's no such thing as ghosts, dummy."

"Then...why are you…"

The girl gave her a confused look. "I'm communicating with you via our brainwaves and junk."

"What…?"

The stranger looked exasperated. "We have the same brainwaves. Everyone in our whole universe matches with someone in the other dimension."

"The…what?"

"Sheesh," the girl said, smacking her forehead, "Everyone from my home can communicate with someone in yours. Didn't you know that?"

She shook her head.

"Weird and dumb," the girl muttered.

"I'm not dumb! And I'm not weird! And I don't wanna talk to your brain anymore, so just leave!" she shouted, wiping her face on her pajama sleeve. She clutched the items in her hand to her chest and shut her eyes, willing the pain in her heart to go away and the stranger in her head to do the same.

"What were you crying about?" the voice said, softer and more kind this time.

"Go away," she replied.

"It'll make you feel better if you talk about it," the girl said, "That's what my Mom always says."

She frowned. "My mama said that too."

The girl blinked at her.

"She's gone now."

"Where'd she go?" the stranger asked.

She swallowed against the lump that was forming in her throat. "She...she died. And papa. Last week."

"Oh," was all the stranger said.

Silence reigned for a few minutes as she choked back a few sobs, determined not to cry in front of this pushy girl any further.

"I'm sorry you're sad," the girl spoke, cutting though the silence in the room.

She looked up at her then, and the stranger looked genuine, any trace of her previous cockiness gone.

"I'll never be happy again," she lamented, "I don't wanna leave here and I don't wanna go to school anymore. I just wanna go where Mama and Papa are."

"But they're…" the stranger paused, wary to use the word.

"Mama says there's a place we go when we die. I wanna go with them."

The stranger looked nervous. "But…"

She blinked at the girl as she chose her words.

"If you go there," the girl said, "We can't be friends."

"Friends?"

"Yeah. And you won't get to be what you wanna when you get big."

"I wanna build ships," she muttered.

"I wanna build all sorts of things," the girl whispered, "We can build them together. We can be best friends. And we can get big. My Mom always says she wants me to get big and strong and I bet your mama would want you to too. So let's be big and strong together. Let's be friends and build stuff."

She looked at the girl and reached for her, only to find that her hand passed right through the bright dress.

The girl shrugged apologetically. "We're not in the same dimension, remember? Dad says that we can't touch anything in the other dimension. I can only see you and where you are because of our brainwaves."

"So how do we build things together?"

"I will tell you how and you can tell me how. We can think of stuff to build together. Maybe one day, I'll think of something to build so that we can be in the same place and we can build stuff together. An android! A whole ship!"

The prospect was tempting, and for the first time since her mother and father had died, she felt almost ALIVE again.

"You really think my Mama would want me to get big and build a ship?"

"Do you?"

She thought about this. She could see her mother in her mind's eye, standing there, smiling at her, telling her to be good, and be happy. To take care of Thetia, be nice to Nereid and mind Aunt Vela. To grow tall and strong and smart. To build ships like the ones that had taken her all over the galaxy on all of her diplomatic missions.

"I guess. Yes. Yes she would."

"We can be friends then?" the girl smiled excitedly.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Good," the girl said as she sat cross-legged on the "floor." "I'm gonna tell you a funny story."

"Why?"

The girl's "dummy!" look was back. "Because it'll help you stop crying and make you happy. You are my friend now. It's what we do, right?"

She smiled at the girl as she spun her tale and her laughter carried on into the wee hours of the morning, until after she had fallen asleep, curled up in her parent's bed, artifacts in her hands.

They had thought she was nuts for years. They thought it was a coping mechanism at first—that the young girl had invented the best friend in order to alleviate the pain of her loss. But as the years passed and the transdimensional friend did not go away, family began to worry, and peers and teachers began to talk.

Still, she insisted that her friend was THERE, as real as she was.

The crew, they had thought she was nuts too. Probably even more so than anyone.

And then, the explosion happened. And suddenly, there she was, an extradimensional stranger who was, in fact, real.

Cat still feels smug about that event.

It's the middle of the night on Yensid, and she's alone in Suzee's room. She would wait until the morning to track down her oldest friend via their shared link, but the urge was overwhelming, particularly on this given night. Cat reached out to her, and was surprised when she saw her in the engine room, awake despite the fact that lights out was over three hours ago.

Suzee hasn't taken notice of her yet, but it wasn't really hard to see why. The engineer was perched in front of a machine, tinkering madly like a woman possessed. She stopped after a few minor adjustments, flipped a switch, and jumped back and yelped in surprise when a fuse shorted. Frustrated, she lobbed her tool at the machine and cursed loudly at it. When the front faceplate came off in response to her toss, she lost her composure and started throwing every tool in her toolbox at any surface that was unfortunate enough to be in the way.

It was a frenzy, to be sure, and Catalina felt obligated to cut into the tirade before the engine room was in pieces.

"Is that your new way of fixing the engines? Not very affective," she grinned.

Suzee nearly jumped out of her skin. "What are you doing? Don't sneak up on me!"

"What are YOU doing?" Cat looked pointedly at her, "Those are my tools."

Suzee glared hard at her, but then set about picking up the thrown objects one by one.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"No," she snapped.

"It'll make you feel better if you talk about it," Cat said quietly.

Suzee peered at her, thoughts churning as if she had heard those words before.

"At least that's what my friend told me that her Mom told her."

Suzee cracked a brief grin, but then frowned. "I'm supposed to be able to fix this."

"What? The engine problem?"

"The engine problem, our dimension-switch problem," she spat, tossing tools back into the box with a loud clang, "Everyone back home tells me what a damn genius I am, and I'm got the crew convinced that I have this all under control. Up until now, I could find a way out of the problem, but now...now, if I can't figure these things out, what kind of so-called 'engineering genius' am I? I'm supposed to FIX things—it's what I do and it's all I'm good for."

Cat sighed. Suzee was often a relentless perfectionist when it came to matters of her engineering prowess, and the praise and meddling of her family and teachers probably hadn't helped. So while it certainly stroked the girl's ego, it also put a tremendous burden of pressure on her shoulders to perform. She was a prodigy, a GENIUS, and she would be so DAMNED if anyone doubted that about her.

Still, she never thought that Suzee counted that as her one and only good trait.

"That's not true," Cat replied.

"Yeah," she snorted, "I'm beginning to doubt whether or not I'm actually good at that too."

Cat rolled her eyes. "That's not what I meant. You're not just 'the engineer,' you know."

Suzee just gave her a withering look.

"Seriously," Cat said, then reached into her pocket. She pulled out a small object and held it out in front of her.

"What the hell is that?" Suzee asked as she stepped closer to observe it.

"I made it for you yesterday afternoon."

"Is that a…pig?"

"Yup."

"Why is it bright pink?"

"Doesn't it look familiar at all?"

Suzee scrutinized it further before the similarity dawned on her. "Looks like that one you made your mother. You kept it on your desk at the Starcademy. Next to that hologram. To remember her by."

"Down to the crooked nose," Cat replied. "It's been ten years today. Ten years since you met me in my parents' room that night. I guess I just wanted to say 'thank you.' You had no idea how much I needed someone then—a friend."

Suzee felt an odd sensation, one that was halfway between blushing in modesty and crying with emotion.

"Now you can have one like I do. To remind you that someone thinks you're special."

Suzee brushed away an errant tear.

"That's so cheesy."

"I know," Cat grinned, "But the sentiment is sincere. Really, thank you."

"How the hell am I supposed to get that hideous thing anyway? I'm stuck here, remember?" she replied, her tone falling back into melancholy.

"You'll figure it out. We'll build something together, you and I, and we'll meet, face to face. You can have the pig then, and we'll build that android. And a ship."

"We can build a functioning Thelma," Suzee giggled.

"If we want."

"You really think we can pull this off?"

"I'm counting on it," Cat replied, "You promised me, all those years ago."

"Yes, I did."

"So back to work then."

Suzee picked up a wrench and took her place in front of the misbehaving engine again. "I'll be up all night just figuring this out. Maybe you want to go to bed?"

Cat sat down cross-legged. "Nah, I'll wait it out with you. You seem like you could use a funny story."

"Funny story?"

Cat gave her a "duh" look. "To laugh. To get your mind off the problems with the engine and the switching and junk," she yawned.

"You're seriously going to stay up all night telling me funny stories? Even if you're tired?"

"It's what friends do, right? And that's what we've been forever, no?"

"Alright, if you insist," Suzee relented as she dove into the inner workings of the engine in an effort to keep Cat from seeing the genuinely pleased expression on her face.

They laughed together until they had both fallen asleep in exhaustion on their respective floors, smiles on their faces, a wrench and a pink clay pig left to lie between them.