Chapter 4

She was gradually and relentlessly pulled back from the depths of sleep by several things-hunger, cold, pain, and the need to pee. She tried to push the feelings back at first, not wanting to wake just yet, but they continued to increase and eventually, brought her far enough back into the waking world that she realized they weren't going to go away. Finally, reluctantly, she opened her eyes.

It was morning. A cold, almost bleak light was spilling in through the window, and when she raised her head she could see the desolate landscape outside was bathed in a reddish glow. The sun was an angry red sliver peeking over the rocky cliffs in the distance.

It looked like the escape pod had survived the night. And so had she.

She also felt much better. The fever had gone way back, and her head felt clearer. And the pain in her abdomen was also much less fierce than it had been yesterday. She uncurled from the fetal position she had been lying in and the pain in her belly increased sharply…but it was bearable. She was healing.

The Engineer was no longer huddled over her the way it had been during the storm, but it was still there next to her. It had fallen asleep kneeling beside the couch and now lay with its head resting on its outstretched arms, which in turn were resting on the couch cushions.

She almost smiled. The way the creature was slumped over almost reminded her of a student who had fallen asleep at his desk after pulling an all-nighter. In fact she felt an amusing urge to drape a blanket over the creature's shoulders and give it a kiss on the forehead.

Instead, however, she wondered if she should wake it up. Sleeping like that couldn't be very comfortable, and perhaps it wanted to lie down instead. Of course, if she woke it up now, it would probably just get up, since the sun had already cleared the horizon. And she didn't want that. It had had just as rough of a time as she had yesterday, and it probably needed sleep.

Besides…she realized that she hadn't had a chance to closely study one of these humanlike aliens she had traveled so far to find. The head she'd retrieved from the caves had been destroyed relatively quickly, and of course, there had been way too much else going on when they'd woken this Engineer up. Now, with it sleeping only a few feet away from her, she was finally free to take a closer look.

Her eyes were immediately drawn to its smooth, pale skin, which practically gleamed as the rays of the early-morning sun touched it. It almost looked translucent, the secret network of veins just beneath the skin easily visible when the light hit it. It was just as pale as the skin of the dead Engineer she'd studied earlier, but so much more vibrant, and she found herself wishing she could reach out and touch it. Of course, that would be a bad idea. The creature would surely wake up.

Unless…

Unless she was very careful…

She reached out hesitantly, but her hand only made it halfway to the sleeping Engineer before she pulled it away again. She was too afraid to take the chance. If it woke up, she had no idea what it would do to her. She doubted she'd be very happy with someone putting their hands on her while she slept, so it seemed logical to assume this creature would also be unhappy with the idea. She really didn't want to risk making it angry. As kind as it had been to her yesterday, she was still afraid of it. It was too hard to know how it would react to things, and too dangerous to take chances with its temper. If something she did made it want to rip her head off the way it had David's, or toss her against the wall the way it had done to Ford, there was little she could do to stop it.

Instead, she leaned back slightly against the couch, settling down into a more comfortable position while she watched it sleep. She was surprised to find that it was strangely handsome when its face was peaceful and at rest. Its features were heavy and masculine, but there was softness, almost a gracefulness to the curve of its powerful jaw, the angle of its strange nose, the swoop of its thick brow ridges. Its eyes were deeply set and heavy lidded, giving it a tired, almost world-weary expression, even while asleep. And its lips were slightly full and soft-looking, and the same soft white as the rest of its skin.

She realized she was smiling slightly, and she forced the grin from her face. Here she was, trapped with a genocidal monster who had slaughtered several of her crewmates, and she was smiling at it like it like she was sixteen and the creature was some hunky lifeguard walking past her on a beach.

The thought made her smile again, though in amusement this time. She had to admit it was a funny mental picture, even if she knew that her fascination had nothing to do with the Engineer's supposed handsomeness. If she did notice it, it was more just as part of a general fascination with its appearance. A fascination which she was perfectly justified in having, she reminded herself. These were the aliens she had longed to find for so long. Of course she would want to study their appearance. To marvel at the similarities and speculate on the differences.

On a whim, she reached out a hand and placed it next to the Engineer's own outstretched hand, their fingers almost touching. Its hand was even more humanlike than its face, the only differences between it and her own being size and color and lack of hair. Those were enough though, and she couldn't help but notice how childlike and almost primitive her hand, with its fine smattering of hair, looked beside the Engineer's large, flawless one.

The familiar feelings of rejection and inadequacy she had felt yesterday came rushing back, and she pulled her hand away and looked back up at the humanoid's sleeping face almost reproachfully. It slumbered on, its face looking handsome and serious and noble, its cares greater than her own, its purpose more important, its business more serious. Far too grand to ever bother to worry about a tiny, hairy, insecure failed experiment like herself.

Her face twisted slightly in anger when she realized she was being unfair to herself. This creature may have looked noble, but its actions yesterday and the discoveries they had made since landing here had cast it and its people in anything but a positive light. It probably deserved as much contempt as she would normally reserve for the most monstrous dictators in the history books.

She sighed as her eyes came to rest once again on its peaceful, sleeping face. It was hard to muster up any contempt at the moment, what with it looking so peaceful and vulnerable. It was even harder to make herself feel contempt for it after it had been so kind to her during the storm last night. She tried to remind herself that one good deed directed at herself didn't absolve it of its crimes, nor was it right for her to overlook them because she personally hadn't been harmed. But such reasoning did no good. She still couldn't make herself hate the slumbering Engineer.

Which was probably just as well. She hadn't forgotten the conclusion she'd come to last night. That she needed it too much to hate it right now. Hatred was not practical at this point. So if she couldn't muster up any sort of loathing for it, despite the fact that it certainly deserved it, that was probably a good thing.

She sighed again. That felt like a cop-out, but there was no help for it. She didn't know what else to do.

Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that it had been a long time since she'd eaten anything. Not since breakfast yesterday. She and Charlie had eaten it together. He'd still been alive then.

Grief forced itself inside of her like an unwelcome visitor, hollowing out her chest and making her throat close up, but she pushed it back. She didn't want the Engineer to wake up and find her crying. She'd humiliated herself enough in front of it already.

Once she had regained her composure, she decided it was time to wake the creature up. Her wound was better then it had been yesterday, but she still didn't think she should chance walking. She needed the Engineer to get her more medicine, and water, and food. And maybe a blanket if it could find her one.

She laughed at her mental demands. There was very little difference between a sick person and royalty, as far as how they expected to be treated. At least in the former case, it was out of necessity, but she still felt like a royal pain.

Quit putting it off. Wake him up.

Him? Was the being a "him" now?

Strangely enough, she wasn't ready for that, although she could not say why.

Wake it up then.

She reached out to shake its shoulder. And hesitated again, when her eyes fell on the odd texture of its neck, so close to her hand now. She supposed….she supposed…

She supposed it couldn't hurt to touch it…as long as she was going to be touching the creature anyway to wake it up. If it woke up while she had her hands on it, she could just pretend that she was just getting ready to shake it awake. And she was terribly curious about how its flesh and rubbery suit seemed to merge together like that.

Summoning up all the courage she could muster, she placed a single finger onto the sleeping Engineer's neck. The flesh there was warm and soft, but also felt tough beneath her fingers. And it had a similar texture to its suit, although not nearly as rubbery. Which surprised her a bit. She had expected the merge between flesh and suit to be a clean one, that she would be able to identify by feel which parts were skin and which parts were suit. True, the merge appeared to be a gradual one-she could tell that just by looking. But she thought that she would be able to feel a…seam of some sort. Somewhere. A marker where flesh ended and inorganic material began. A clue as to how the merge was accomplished. But that wasn't the case at all. It was as if suit and flesh had actually mixed together and taken on each other's properties. The further down its neck she moved her fingers, the more rubbery the combination became. The further up she moved them, the softer and fleshier it felt. The transition between the two was seamless.

On a whim, she suddenly trailed her fingers from the base of its neck upward toward its head, feeling her fingers go over each "bump" in the skin, feeling the ridges become softer and more alive as she moved along them.

He fingers cleared the final ridge and now were traveling along the smooth white perfection of its skin. It was every bit as lovely as she had imagined. She had wondered if the creature would have tough skin, maybe even cold skin, due to the gleaming whiteness of it, but she now knew that to be completely wrong. Its skin was softer and smoother than a baby's, and she wondered for a moment how it could possibly go around in something so delicate and perfect. How could it not be torn, be marred, be ruined at the slightest touch, the slightest scratch? Perhaps that was the reason for the leathery suit covering most of its body, but she didn't think so. How had they been able to survive before they had invented clothing that functioned as a second skin?

She pushed the question aside for now and traced her finger along the curve of the creature's jawline, moved it up behind its ear, so large and humanlike, and then, skirting the glistening wound that covered much of the left side of its face, slid it along the almost perfectly rounded dome of its skull. Then it traveled downward, tracing one of the Engineer's thickened brow-ridges, following the wise, elegant curves to the bridge of its nose, where the two brow ridges met to form a slight triangle between its eyes. She traced her fingertip along this slight indentation with a smile.

A smile that dropped off her face instantly when her eyes traveled a few inches below her finger to the creature's eyes.

They were open.

She drew back with a gasp, her momentum strong enough that she actually hit the back of the couch and bounced forward slightly. Useless, discoordinated sounds came from her lips as she tried to stammer an apology, an apology that was useless because the Engineer could not understand it. She suddenly felt herself trembling.

Calm down, she tried to tell herself. It's not going to kill you. It played nursemaid to you yesterday and sat up with you half the night. Why would it kill you now, after going through all that, just because it caught you poking at it?

But rationalization did little to quiet the primitive fear within her. It didn't change the fact that this being could do anything it wanted to her, she'd violated its privacy and she didn't know how it would react to that.

It didn't give her long to wonder, however. It regarded her blankly for a moment longer, then unhooked its eyes from her own and raised its head sleepily to glance at the window, and the daylight coming in.

The familiar feeling of being unimportant welled up inside of her again, but she squashed it angrily. A second ago she'd been terrified the humanoid wouldn't just shrug off her busy fingers. And now that it had, she was angry with it? How was she ever going to make this strange alien understand her if she couldn't even understand herself right now?

And besides, if she wanted it to pay attention to her, maybe she should do something besides stare at it with her mouth half-open.

She shut her mouth and cleared her throat, loud enough to make the Engineer's dark eyes dart back over in her direction.

"Good morning," she said, her tone friendly.

Its response was a mighty yawn.

As she tried to remind herself that is wasn't dismissing her, that it simply had no idea what she'd said to it and therefore had no idea how to respond, she saw the humanoid wince slightly, as the movement of its facial muscles had jarred the open wound on its face. It raised a hand to its cheek and touched the blistered skin gingerly.

Shaw made a concerned noise in her throat. That would have to be tended to. She wondered if it would let her look at it later. She wasn't sure how much she could do with the supplies she had, but she could at least clean and bandage it and perhaps give the humanoid some antibiotics.

Finished with its inspection of its wound, the Engineer started to get up…and winced sharply, as if it had accidentally knelt on a tack. It pitched to the right, as though it suddenly couldn't support its weight on that side and Shaw let out a shriek of alarm as it over balanced and fell sideways. She reached out and seized its shoulder, trying to help it stay upright.

She knew instantly that that action would soon find a place near the top of the list of Dumbest Things She'd Ever Done. She wasn't nearly strong enough to pull such a massive creature back, and instead, she ended up being pulled down with it when it fell. It fell over and hit the coffee table with a thud and she fell over on top of it with a shriek.

Oh God, it's definitely going to kill me now! she realized in terror as she felt it flail beneath her. It was snarling something in its deep, rumbly voice that, from the sound of it, could be nothing other than curse words. I'm done for!

But instead of killing her, it twisted into a sitting position as quick as a flash. It scooped her up with surprising gentleness and set her back on the couch. She saw it wince slightly again, and noticed that it still seemed to be favoring its right side. It ignored the pain, however, and soon its hands were touching the wound in her abdomen, feeling it, checking to see if anything had come loose.

Shaw knew she could thank her lucky stars one by one, because nothing had. She could feel it.

Apparently, the Engineer felt it too, because it took its hands away a moment later, a relieved expression on its face.

"I'm sorry," Shaw offered up uselessly.

The humanoid looked at her a moment more, seemed to consider her, then gave her an almost offhand pat on the shoulder before turning away from her and leaning over. Its head disappeared from her view and all she could see for a few moments was its broad, intricately patterned back as she heard it rummaging around on the floor, picking up the medical supplies that had fallen off the table.

Soon it popped back up, holding a handful of glass vials and pointed metal. It turned to put them back on the table, but paused when she called out "Wait!"

The being turned back to her, and she pointed to the medical supplies it was holding. Its heavy brows knit together in confusion for a moment, as if it was wondering why she needed them when she hadn't been hurt. Maybe it didn't realize that human medicine often needed more than one application. She was sure its Engineer medicine didn't.

She pointed to the handful of supplies again. The Engineer hesitated a moment longer, then finally held them out to her, its expression clearly stating that it found her request to be an odd one.

She picked through them and found more regenerative solution, antibiotics and a syringe, but she had to have it gather up the stuff still on the table and let her look through it before she was able to find the painkillers.

She smiled at the creature and nodded her thanks, then got to work. The wound in her abdomen looked much better today, the flesh looking like it had begun to knit and the red color faded to a dull brown. As long as she kept her activity to a minimum (and didn't fall off of any more couches), she thought she might be healed up enough to get up and walk around by tomorrow.

Once she was finished injecting herself with the various medicines, she looked back up at the Engineer to find that it was wearing the same disgusted expression as yesterday. Suddenly tired of feeling like some primitive caveman on display, Shaw battled with a childish urge to stick her tongue out at the creature. She won (for now), and instead reached out to hand the supplies back to the Engineer. It wrinkled its nose in distaste as she held out the instruments, and the action made it wince again.

"Are you all right?" The useless words came unbidden to her lips, but she didn't beat herself up for them. She couldn't never talk in its presence, after all. That would drive her crazy. If it couldn't understand her, so be it. People talked to a lot of things that didn't understand them. Animals, babies, machines…it was just human nature to address the things around you. Besides, maybe the Engineer would be able to read her tone, if nothing else, and know she was asking about it in concern. It was possible her words could accomplish something, if that was the case.

The Engineer was ignoring her, however, and concentrating once again on gingerly feeling the huge wound that covered the left side of its face.

"That looks bad," she told it. "Do you want me to look at it?"

It ignored her, its face twisted into a grimace of pain as it probed the wound.

"Hey!" she said more sharply, trying to get the creature's attention. It looked back up at her and she held out the handful of vials and syringes she had used on her own injury. "Do you want me to look at your wound?" she asked again, stretching out each syllable in that stupid way people often did when they were talking to someone who didn't understand English.

Its eyes darted to the supplies in her hand and its expression clouded. She had the feeling it understood now, but just to be sure, she pointed to the supplies in her hand, then pointed at the Engineer's injury.

This time, there was no doubt it understood. Its eyes widened in horror and it drew backward so sharply that it hit the coffee table behind it with a clonk! There was a clatter as the medical supplies on the table fell to the floor again, but it was drowned out by Engineer spewing out a string of what she suspected were curses. She thought she might have even recognized a few of the words from earlier, when the two of them had fallen over. The creature's hand left its face and started rubbing the small of its back instead.

"I'm sorry!" she told it, even though she'd done nothing wrong. "Are you all right?"

Its only response was a nasty glare that made her shrink back against the couch.

"I…I…uh…" she stammered, trying to think of something to say. It looked like useless babble was going to win out again. "I'm…uh….I'm sorry I…uh….startled you, b-but you really should…uh…let me look at that," she said, gesturing to its injury. "I know….uh…I know you don't like the needles, but…but you can't just go around like that. It could get infected and…and the medicine will help." She held out the handful of supplies again, her expression hopeful.

Its response was to get hurriedly to its feet. It winced as it did so, and Shaw saw that it was still favoring its right side. As it got to its feet, she saw why. It had a nasty gash on that leg, just above the knee. She hadn't realized how badly the Engineer had been injured yesterday. She'd been too concerned with her own injuries.

Hmmph. Serves him right, after what he tried to do. She glared after him…it… as it headed toward the doorway, although ridiculously, her annoyance had more to do with its refusing treatment than its attempted genocide. Was it just going to walk around with gaping wounds on its body then? She had a feeling it was going to be in world of pain before long, much more pain than a little needle stick would bring it. She was almost tempted to call it a baby if she hadn't known that the insult would sail right over the Engineer's head just like everything else she'd said to it.

It hit the button that operated the doorway, then strode out into the hallway without so much as a look back.

"Where are you going?" she called after it, knowing it would almost certainly hear her question only as more unintelligible complaining from the whiny little brat it was taking care of, but unable to stop herself. Was it so scared of needles it was actually afraid to remain in the same room as her? Or was it leaving her here, having assumed she would be all right now? The thought sent a cold wave of alarm through her, but she squashed it quickly when she remembered that its ship had crashed. Perhaps there was a way to repair it, but even if there was, it would probably take quite a while. It certainly wasn't going to be leaving today, anyway. It would come back.

The rapidly increasing pain in her bladder that she'd trying her hardest to ignore put an end to any further speculating about the Engineer's destination. She looked around the room uncomfortably, wondering where the bathroom was. She was sure there was one here, but…

But nothing, she decided. She could walk. She'd been in much worse pain yesterday and had been running, for crying out loud! True, she didn't want to risk jarring the wound as it was healing, but she thought it would be all right, as long as she walked slowly and was careful.

Wincing in anticipation, she slid her feet off the couch and onto the floor. To her relief, there was only a dull ache in her abdominal muscles as she straightened up. Moving slowly and carefully, as if she were made out of delicate blown glass, Shaw turned in a circle, scanning the room for doorways.

She found one in a small alcove on the other side of the room behind the couch and hobbled toward it, hoping she was going to make it. Now that the destination was in sight, her body's warning to her had seemed to go up several degrees in the urgency department.

She crossed the last few feet in a hunched over, shuffling run, and pushed the narrow little door open, revealing an equally narrow room. To her relief, it contained a sink, shower stall, and a toilet. She pushed the door shut behind her.

As she sat, she looked around at the sink and shower, wondering where the water came from. A tank of some sort, she guessed, but she couldn't help but wonder at the practicality of that. Water was heavy, after all, and the logistics of carrying a large amount were bound do be complicated. Her best guess was that there were advanced filters and purifiers in the plumbing below, and that that same amount of water was constantly recycled. There was no water at all in the toilet, and she supposed it was probably a chemical toilet.

Hardly a fancy setup, but it would do. Still, she couldn't help wondering how long all of this was going to last. Vickers had said the pod was designed to last about two years, but Shaw knew that there was no guarantee that complicated machinery would cooperate with that estimation. If something did break, she was sure she wouldn't have a clue how to repair it. She doubted the Engineer would have much luck with it either. He didn't even know how to operate a sewing needle.

The thought made her giggle, and then, as if the action had awakened some sort of silliness within her, she suddenly wondered what the Engineer was going to use while it stayed here. Every item in this room was much too small for it.

Her giggles became snickers as she imagined Mr. Holier Than Thou being forced to use an improvised chamber pot…and then dumping it out the door. Or sitting awkwardly on the tiled floor, dabbing at his massive muscled body with a human sized washcloth.

"Do you want me to scrub your back?" she suddenly imagined saying to him, and her snickers became outright laughter.

Almost immediately, she doubled over, clutching her stomach. Oh, it hurt to laugh. But at the same time, it felt so wonderful.

The sound of the door to the living area opening announced the Engineer's return. She suddenly got the most irrational idea that it had somehow known she was laughing at it and was storming back in here to give her a piece of its mind. Of course, that was silly, but still, she decided she'd better finish up. It was surely going to wonder where she went, start looking for her, and find this little room. She really didn't want it bursting in and finding her on the toilet.

As she got back to her feet, she heard it make a startled sound, followed by something that sounded like a baffled question.

Wondering where I am? Well, too bad. If you can just walk out without telling me where you're going, I can too. The thought was childish, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

She heard a bunch of thunks from the living area, as though it had dropped a big armload of something, then the sound of footsteps coming toward the bathroom.

She had just managed to get her underpants back on when the door came swinging rudely open. The Engineer leaned inside, and she almost laughed at it again. Its body was almost too wide to get through the doorway.

It looked at her with a relieved expression, and she couldn't help but feel slightly touched. It had been worried about her. But she was still mostly annoyed at it for barging in on her. She turned and hit the silver button on the top of the toilet pointedly. There was a puff of air as it flushed.

The humanoid's eyes widened as if it finally realized the purpose of the room…and what it had almost walked in on. It withdrew from the doorway immediately. And silently. With a carefully blank expression on its face. That almost made her snicker again.

She heard its footsteps going back to the couch as she washed her hands in the tepid water from the sink. Back to pick up whatever it had dropped? Seized with a sudden curiosity, Shaw quickly finished washing her hands and shuffled back out the door.

She returned to find it sitting on the floor near the couch, a bunch of boxes and cans and jars with plain, nondescript labels on the floor in front of it. Crackers. Noodles. Cereal. Green beans. Canned peaches. Oatmeal. Peanut butter.

Food.

She was at its side as fast as she could hobble. Sitting down was a bit more difficult, but she managed to ease herself to the floor by using the Engineer's shoulder for support. It didn't seem to mind, being preoccupied with opening the peanut butter jar. Once sitting down, she snatched the can of peaches and pulled the tab, breaking the seal and then pulling the top back. She tossed the piece of aluminum aside and brought the can up to her lips. Hardly dignified, but the Engineer hadn't brought any utensils with it. Then she forgot everything else as she slurped down the sweet bits of diced fruit and the heavy syrup they were floating in.

Once she was finished, she lowered the can from her lips, still licking syrup off of them, and glanced over at the Engineer. It had opened the peanut butter jar and was sniffing it experimentally, its expression hesitant. It must have decided that the thick brown substance smelled edible enough, because it dipped its index finger into the jar and scooped up a tiny bit. It licked the peanut butter off its fingertip almost delicately, and its expression reminded her of a gourmand investigating the flavor palette of some exotic foreign dish.

The peanut butter must have passed inspection, because soon it was dipping its finger back into the jar and pulling out a bigger glob. It stuck its finger into its mouth and sucked the peanut butter down with a loud slurp.

Shaw managed to hide her smile at that, but wasn't so lucky with the laugh that came out after it stuck half its hand into the jar, pulled out a huge blob of the peanut butter and stuffed it messily into its mouth.

It looked over at her slowly, almost hesitantly, and she could see horrified embarrassment in its dark eyes as it must have realized its faux pas. It took its now-messy hand out of its mouth and looked away from her uncomfortably. There was peanut butter on its nose.

She felt an unexpected rush of tenderness as she looked at the now-mortified Engineer. She suddenly felt like she was dealing with a giant child instead of one of the "superior" creators of humanity. He…he had absolutely no idea how to eat peanut butter. He probably had absolutely no idea how to eat any of the food. She glanced down at the package of uncooked noodles and can of dry oatmeal he had also brought out. Would he try and eat those raw if she didn't help him? Would he know how to get the can of green beans open or realize they needed to be cooked?

She suddenly wondered what Engineers ate. Was it something very different from human food? A single biscuit, packed full of all the calories they needed to get through the day, that they could quickly munch on as they went about their oh-so-important Engineer business? Or maybe they had dispensed with food entirely and just took some sort of nutrient pills or injected nutrients right into their veins.

Maybe eating seemed as primitive and disgusting to them as tearing into a freshly killed carcass would seem to her.

Even if that was the case though, this was the only sustenance available to it right now. And that meant she had to help it.

"Here," she said kindly, motioning for him…for it…to give her the jar. It handed the peanut butter over to her after a slight hesitation, and she set it down in front of her. Then she grabbed a package of soda crackers, opened it, and pulled one out. She dipped her own finger into the peanut butter and used it to spread it on the cracker. Then she handed it to the Engineer.

It took it from her, the cracker looking like a tiny hors d'oeuvre in its huge fingers. It stuck the cracker into its mouth. There was a quick crunch and then it had swallowed the tiny piece of food.

Realizing it would take forever for the large creature to get enough to eat that way, Shaw decided to improvise. She began to stack several crackers on top of one another, using peanut butter to glue them together. Once she had made a fairly tall "sandwich" for the Engineer, she handed it to him. He took it and this time took a bit longer to eat it. Better.

Still feeling hungry herself, she made a smaller sandwich for herself, ate it, then started working on another one for the Engineer. They continued on like that until all the crackers and most of the peanut butter were gone.

Shaw re-capped the peanut butter contentedly, feeling pleasantly full, but the Engineer began picking through the other boxes it had brought out. It was still hungry. She began looking through the food herself, found a box of cereal and handed it to the humanoid. Soon it was loudly munching huge handfuls of corn flakes.

She did her best to hide her grin as she began to gather the rest of the food up to put it under the coffee table. That would be an okay place to store it for now. Although she probably should set the things like noodles and canned vegetables aside, at least until she communicated to the Engineer that it shouldn't-

The thought trailed off as she picked up a flat, wide box and felt its contents shift. She could tell by feel that the items inside were long and rectangular. She could recognize the soft whisper of waxy paper against cardboard as they slid around inside the package. She knew what was inside even before she turned it over and read the label.

Chocolate bars.

She ripped it open, silently thanking Vickers for having a sweet tooth. Or maybe it was David. Or Weyland, for all she knew. Whoever this escape pod was meant for.

Soon she was holding what looked like a generic version of a Hershey bar. She broke it in half and popped one of the halves into her mouth. She smiled. It tasted just like a Hershey bar too.

Then she noticed that the room had gone silent. The loud crunching had stopped. She glanced at the Engineer and saw that it was looking at what was in her hand curiously.

She held it out to him. "Dessert," she said happily, as he reached out toward the waxy brown rectangle hesitantly.

He took it from her and bit off a tiny corner of it, his expression the same as when he tasted the peanut butter. Then the entire piece disappeared into his mouth she saw pleasure fill his eyes as he sucked loudly on the chunk of candy.

This time she didn't bother to hide her grin as she gathered up and put away the rest of the food. Beside her, the Engineer got to its feet and headed toward the bar area. A moment later there was the sound of the refrigerator opening.

Soon it had brought back three bottles of water. She took one of them gratefully and gulped it down, the lunch of peanut butter and crackers having made her terribly thirsty. The Engineer made short work of the other two. She felt uneasy for a moment as she wondered how long the food and water would last them, given the creature's appetite, but reminded herself that there was supposed to be two years worth of supplies stored here, and she certainly didn't plan on staying here for two years.

That raised the question of just what she was planning on doing…and how she was going to accomplish it, but she decided to save those worries for another day. She was still too injured right now. She'd let herself recover first, then worry about getting off this planet. It would only take a day or two more. Not nearly long enough to make their food supply an issue.

Instead, she got back up and headed toward the couch. Although she didn't really feel sleepy, she didn't know what else to do with herself (it wasn't like she and the Engineer could talk or play parlor games together), and anyway, she really ought to stay lying down as much as possible. She made it to the couch and placed both hands on the cushions, wincing in anticipation of the painful effort it would take to hoist herself back onto the couch.

Then there were footsteps behind her and then the Engineer was picking her up, as gently as if she were a newborn baby, and setting her back on the couch. It sat her on the edge of the cushions, then knelt down in front of her. The action brought back faint memories of her childhood and how her father would sometimes kneel down in front of her when she was very young and give her a talking-to.

There was no reprimand from the Engineer however. It looked at her with soft dark eyes, its expression surprisingly gentle, almost tender. She smiled at it, wondering what prompted the sudden fondness she saw there in its black eyes. True, it had been benevolent toward her ever since it had brought her here, but it had always been a touch cold and indifferent before now. Was it grateful to her for helping it with the food? Was it surprised to find that a human could be benevolent too? It clearly didn't have a high opinion of humanity, so perhaps it was surprising for it to find one who acted kindly toward it instead of making arrogant demands.

Its eyes left her face and rested somewhere just to the right of her. Its heavy brows knit together in curiosity and it reached out a hand. She caught her breath as it delicately took a lock of her hair between its thumb and index finger. It rubbed the hair between its fingers, feeling the texture of it. The curiosity on its face had given way to what almost looked like fascination.

She couldn't help but feel slightly confused. What was so damn interesting about her hair?

Whatever it was, it certainly held the humanoid's attention. It spread the lock apart, seeming to marvel at how slender and delicate each individual strand was. Then it rolled them back together with another movement of its fingers and gave the lock a gentle tug.

It didn't hurt, and only made her grin widen. Did the being think that human hair came out easily? Did it think it could stick the hair back in again when it was done?

The Engineer let go of her hair and its finger moved to her face and gently stroked one of her eyebrows. It rubbed its finger back and forth a few times, feeling the shorter, bristlier hairs, then it moved down to touch her eyelashes.

It tickled and she barely bit back a giggle. She dropped her eyes down to her lap, feeling a bit like some exotic little animal being studied. She could feel her cheeks reddening.

Perhaps the Engineer noticed the color change too, because its hands left her eyebrows to touch her cheek. Its brows came together in startled curiosity again, and it began stroking her cheek with its thumb.

She began to feel a touch of discomfort, being poked at like this, but decided against telling the creature to stop. It wasn't hurting her, and besides, she had done her fair share of poking at him while he'd been asleep earlier.

The Engineer stopped rubbing her cheek and instead began to scratch at it with the nail on its index finger.

Her eyes widened. It didn't hurt (yet), but she had no idea what it was doing, or why.

It brought its fingers up to its face and looked at them curiously, as if it had been trying to scrape something from her skin so it could take a look at it. It didn't appear to find anything, and reached back toward her face. This time, the nails of its thumb and index finger just barely grazed her flesh as they came together like pinchers…and then pulled.

"Ouch!" she said in surprise as the short, fine hairs on her cheek were given a sharp tug. The Engineer let go of her and looked its still empty fingers in fascination.

"I think that's enough of that for now," she told it gently. So it liked her hair, did it? She supposed that made sense. Its own kind appeared to lack hair of any kind, so maybe human hair-even the short, fuzzy kind that covered otherwise "naked" human skin, was as new and exotic to it as its own smooth, white skin had been to her.

It reached out its hand toward her, as if it wanted to touch her "fuzzy" cheek again, but her expression must have made it think better of the idea. Instead, it reached down and lifted her feet, helping her to lie back down on the couch.

She settled down contentedly, feeling safe and glad that all her immediate needs had been met, but also feeling a bit bored. She wondered again what she was going to go with herself during the next few days. Surely this escape pod had some means of entertainment for its inhabitants, especially if they expected to be stuck in here for two years.

She scanned the room and spotted a short bookshelf over on the far wall. Ah. There was bound to be something worth looking at in there.

Not really wanting to get up again, she looked around for the Engineer. She spotted it coming toward her and cried out in delight when she saw it had a blanket in its hands. Where and when had it found that?

Soon she was wrapped in soft fleece, feeling warm and comfy…and thinking that curling up with a book was sounding more and more appealing.

She pointed to the bookshelf, and the Engineer obediently went over and retrieved a few of the books for her. She smiled and took the creature's hand and pressed it gently against her cheek as a way of saying thanks, then started sorting through her choices. They were mostly classics…apparently Vickers (or David or Weyland) had sophisticated taste. She picked through the pile the humanoid had brought back for her, looking for something light. She'd been through too much lately to want to read anything too thoughtful…or depressing. After passing on Paradise Lost, Crime and Punishment, A Tale of Two Cities and Moby Dick, she happened upon the misfit of the bunch. A slim, brightly colored volume titled One Hundred and One Cat Stories.

She could only shake her head for a moment, wondering just which one of the three had insisted that be included among the rest of the literature. Then she cracked it open, pulled her blanket closer, and settled down to read while she waited to heal.

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Who else wants to hum the Odd Couple theme song? :P