A/N: This is a short story, not really sure how many chapters yet. It's not a sequel but something inserted into the time period where Dr. B was working on Ceres.
It was not a word I had ever encountered before. In fact, I can't imagine being able to comprehend the concept, if I had still been with the Others. To create trouble just for amusement? "Amusement" was not in our vocabulary at all. Causing trouble was for our enemies, not each other. And not even the lethal kind, just a small piece of the concept aimed at allies. Causing trouble for allies! What nonsense was this?
Of course, mischief was forbidden even among the sentient beings when in a dangerous environment. Since I spent most of my time in the labs, my introduction to this concept came fairly late in my work at Ceres, when we were in the eating place. A hominid, one that Oltar did not particularly like, had come to visit. There are few people that Oltar likes, so I really had no warning that anything unusual would happen.
So when I saw the visitor leap to his feet, his hands to his throat, I immediately stepped forward to assist. But he waved me off, grabbing his drink and downing it in several gulps. At that moment I noticed the others around the table laughing, some of them pounding on the table with such gusto that I must admit I got a little angry. I demanded an explanation.
Oltar stood and apologized to me, to which I replied angrily that I was not the one who had been injured. The visitor coughed a few times, then asked me to forget my anger. I must confess that I took some time in calming down, sentient emotions can be difficult to control. He told me it was a joke, and was not angry at Oltar.
I have a lot to learn about humor, but this did not seem like a joke to me. I told him the only joke I had learned, from Samus: "A Space Pirate, a Federation Captain, and a Dilphii walk into a drinking place. The Dilphii uses his appendage to…"
Lydia cut me off. "Dr. B! That joke's not appropriate to tell in public!"
"It is just words," I shot back. "How is hiding highly reactive plant juices in the drink of another person ever appropriate?"
So that is where I got the definition of a "practical joke", a type of mischief, and admittedly one of the less useful kinds. But there are other kinds of mischief, ones that can actually be useful. One night as I browsed through hominid mythology, I came across tales of sentient creatures, creatures not normally considered sentient. Of course this intrigued me, even though later on I figured out that they were only stories, not real.
Some of the creatures were birds, some of them canids, and I even found a few stories about a sentient arachnid. These creatures were more intelligent and powerful than hominids. But they were also easily bored, or overly confident. Sometimes the creatures would take pity on the hominds, who were at a pre-starfaring level, and challenge the keepers of early technology. They then gave the spoils to the hominids. Or, sometimes, a hominid would take advantage of a fault in one of the creatures, and either enacts revenge for previous mischief or steals something of value from the creature.
This kind of mischief I could understand. The stealing part at least was something the Others did all the time. The only difference, really, is that the Others did it openly while the theft was always carefully concealed in the stories. Also, I had committed this kind of mischief against the Others, early on when I first met Samus. Back then, I only wanted to learn more about the I and how it worked, for our benefit. But early on I decided it was illogical to benefit those without an I, for the I is the source of power in the universe.
One day, I was working in the labs as usual when I got a message on my hand-computer, stating that I had a visitor. Samus was the only person who ever visited, so I knew of course who it had to be. This did not dampen my enthusiasm. Samus would take bounties throughout the galaxy and it might be weeks before I heard from her again.
But Samus did not seem happy when I came to meet her. "Dr. B, I'm going to be gone for a while," she said at last.
"You have been gone a while already," I pointed out. "But I understand the need. Why did you return to Ceres to tell me this? Is it a particularly dangerous mission?"
She made a short laugh, one that she makes when I am incorrect but there is some ironic truth in my statement. "No, not exactly. But I don't really want to go. I've been summoned to Earth by the Federation."
"Earth? Is that not your species of hominid's home planet?"
"It's not my home planet, Dr. B. You know that."
Technically, Samus did not have a home planet. The closest was probably Zebes, where she had been raised by the Chozo. I do not think she considered K-2L to be her home planet, considering that she declared speaking about it forbidden. "Have you been to Earth before?"
"But this will be fascinating! It will be a whole new planet to explore, one where you do not need to worry about defending yourself!"
She gave me an odd look that I couldn't decipher. "Just because I won't be physically attacked doesn't mean that I can let my guard down."
I said nothing for a long time, before finally voicing my thoughts, as I could not find a better one to replace the one stuck in my head. "I do not understand."
Samus sighed. "I probably shouldn't have come. I was hoping you'd try to talk me out of it, but…"
"Why would I do that? Besides, did not you not say you had been summoned by the Federation? There is likely a penalty to pay if you do not, correct?"
She made a sound in her throat that I knew meant she had become impatient with me. "Look, Dr. B, I'm sorry. This was a bad idea. I'll just go there, make it as quick a trip as possible, and then come back here. Sound ok?"
"Shall I come with you?"
Her reaction surprised me. She jumped ever so slightly, then stared at me as if I had suggested we have a friendly chat with Ridley. "Dr. B, you can't go to Earth. You'd be shot on sight."
"I have been to many places where Space Pirates were forbidden."
She frowned at me. "Earth is different, Dr. B. It's…there are lots of things forbidden there that are perfectly natural here. A Space Pirate on Earth…that would be unthinkable."
"But I am not really a Space Pirate."
"Doesn't matter, Dr. B. No evidence of sentience is going to be enough to convince them to allow you. All they care about is what you look like."
I took a few moments to mull this over. "That seems very superficial. Not to mention terribly unscientific."
"Well, you just found the two best words to describe it," she said with a bitter laugh. "Superficial and unscientific."
"But I have heard most hominids speak very highly of Earth."
"I'm not 'most hominids', Dr. B. And neither are you."
At an impasse, I reverted to my default. "Then what do you think I should do?"
"Stay here, Dr. B. As unpleasant as this trip will be, it's nothing I can't handle." She clapped her hand on my shoulder. "I'll tell you all about it when I get back, okay?"
"I…will await your return," I said, though my brain swam in an odd juxtaposition, hearing myself say what I knew I should do, when part of me contradicted that statement entirely. I stood still for a good few minutes after she left, people starting to stare and wave their hands in front of my face. When I finally roused myself, I headed straight to my quarters. It was eating time, but I did not feel hungry.
Her manner radiated with the jagged shapes of disquiet, and no matter how many times I ran her words through my head, I could not understand them. It was as if she were speaking in reverse, shaking her head to say "yes" and nodding to say "no". I had gotten to know Samus quite well in the short time we had known each other, but now I felt as puzzled as I was when I first started probing the mysteries of sentience.
But one thought kept recurring in my mind: I had to follow her. Something bad was going to happen, perhaps not dueling-with-the-Mother-Brain bad, but bad all the same. As Samus's 'friend', I had certain responsibilities. She had defended me even when I had not asked for it, so perhaps I needed to return the favor. But how could I go to a place where my very existence was forbidden?
I knew of several people with unorthodox solutions to problems, but only one that I could count on to make a reality. I headed for Siskin's lab.