North had brought out the video games, the console that he stashed under his bed and usually played alone, and tonight some critical mass had been reached that meant the game was indiscriminately popular. Perhaps they needed it to distract them from Maine's injuries. He was still in medical, occasionally visited by one Freelancer or another. Even Wyoming and South were in the common room, looking over the others' shoulders at York and North holding the controllers. CT had stayed in her room as long as she could but had grown bored, tired of the sophomoric approach of resisting any fun after she had started to hear the scrape of the wheels of Wash's skateboard. So she emerged into the common room, wringing her hands together inside the sleeves of her brown sweatshirt before carefully, consciously moving her hands to her sides. No need to show how nervous she was.
In the common room with nine backs facing her there was no need to show a camaraderie that now felt fake and temporary, though. Wash was separate from the others too, both his movement and his need for space keeping him at the back of the group. He pushed back and forth while South shouted and shoved and Carolina imperiously crossed her arms, wrinkling the sleeves of her blue t-shirt.
CT fell into the habit of lurking.
When she came up behind Wash he stopped without looking at her, just knowing that someone was there by the sound of their footsteps and some shifts in the air. Before he turned around she said, "I see you're working hard for your spot."
Between Wyoming's shoulder and Carolina's head CT saw York look in her direction, but he was too many Freelancers deep and too involved in the game to start protesting her self-made exclusion. Maine grunted.
Wyoming looked back at her and said, "Why so gloomy?"
"Shut up, Reggie," CT said.
Wash fetched up beside her and she turned to him, only to find him bristling but then looking away from her fast, pretending or perhaps really interested in the narrowly visible television screen.
She said, "You're not doing your job, Wash," and turned away.
When he followed, she headed for the door.
In the hallway he tipped his head and looked at her like she'd hit him.
"I don't understand," he said with his skateboard in his hand, rocking loosely a foot from the floor. "We're just trying to relax and have fun?"
Although he was right, the fire had gone out of her now and she didn't want to talk about it, especially when he knew so much about her already. Anything could be a reveal of information. She thought it was meaningful that he had followed her out here though, that her question had intrigued and frightened him.
(Not much later, she would realize that she had also simply been lonely. She had wanted to say goodbye to him. She had wanted to say goodbye to loneliness.)
He sat down on the floor, leaned the skateboard against the wall, and looked at her.
She sat next to him. Tangled her hands in the t-shirt above his ribs and even pressed her knees against him until he caught the back of her leg and pulled her into his lap, the back of her thigh tingling under his palm. She flattened her side against him and pressed her face against his shoulder. A moment later she felt him kiss her hair, then the neutral port at the back of her neck, and just stayed there.
He mouthed words against her skin but she didn't know what they were. She said "I love you," anyway, meaning it as the last time, thinking about the way he stalked her in the classroom and how Alpha came between them.
He asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else, feebly. She said, "None of us are afraid enough."
It was insulting, and he took it as no more than an insult. He drew away from her and looked hard at her, his legs shifting between hers and the floor. "Why are you nasty to me, CT?"
"Why are you tracking me?"
He widened his eyes and looked at her. "Because the Director asked me to," he said. The plainness of his answer disgusted her and she slid away from him, getting her knees under her and standing up, bracing her hand against the wall although his shoulder was nearer.
"It's not my fault, CT," Wash said, standing too but backing toward the common room door as if desperate to return to the blind camaraderie of the team. He left his skateboard on the floor. "You know that."
It's my fault, she thought, but could not feel that as a bad thing in her head. She was doing the right thing.
"You could tell me," he said. "You could tell me, even if it's...you sending those messages, even if it's not."
The fact that he didn't know, that he wasn't sure or would pretend to himself or her that he wasn't sure disoriented and stunned her, but she fell back into her reliable attitude, the same one that had allowed her to ask Wash to check his place on the board as soon as the director had finished speaking to him, and while York was still bleeding on the floor. She said, "What messages, Wash? You just keep doing your job. Do the homework that the director assigned you."
She couldn't storm back to her room like she wanted to, since he was between her and the door. He looked down and she wished that he was wearing his helmet, that she couldn't see the wrinkles in his skin as he frowned and blinked.
She went the other way instead. Her radio and other equipment were still in her room, hidden in plain sight since all of it was legal and standard-issue on the outside. Alone, she walked the halls, feeling like she was being watched although, for once, she was doing nothing worth watching.
When she felt enough time had passed she returned to the common room only long enough to see that the game was still going on and Wash was sitting on the couch, hands in his lap and legs pressed together like he was afraid he would take up too much space, intently watching York's and North's avatars beat each other up on the screen. She wondered whether she would rather have seen him sulking alone or trying without not quite succeeding to have fun and came to no conclusion.
The radio was in her bedside locker; she gathered it up and walked out, walking nonchalantly. She had learned from the UNSC how to look like she wasn't watching someone. It seemed fitting that she used those talents now, since she was so sure that the director was working, if not against the UNSC, not exactly in concert with them.
Inside the greenhouse, she set the radio up and called Joshua.
He wasn't available. Blonde-haired Katie told her so in a clipped voice. CT knew the other woman didn't trust her, but she didn't expect her to: they were on opposite sides, after all. Perhaps the Insurrectionists knew even more about the Mother of Invention than CT did, and she had been accused of crimes she did not know she committed.
That didn't mean she wouldn't snap at Katie too.
"He'll call you later," Katie said, and cut the connection.
CT waited in the dark, going over and over her security protocols in her head. To anyone watching, to anyone investigating, her signal would be invisible. No awkward questions. It would be all right. She put the radio down and looked at the stalks of plants growing around her.
The light went on: the signal had come back. CT looked down at the small screen for a moment like it was a portal she could fall into, and then picked it up.
Joshua was there, helmetless. "What's up?" he said.
"No big updates." She would frame this in business as much as she could, although really she was feeling that with the collapse of the Freelancers' team dynamic she needed another one to rise up in its place. "Our soldier who was injured on the highway is recovering."
"Thanks," he said sarcastically. "The big guy?"
Joshua cursed. "Got any other good news?"
"I'm still investigating."
She looked down. "I just...I think some of the Freelancers know. They don't know what I'm doing but they know it's something."
"I told you, we have to get you out of there."
"Not yet. I don't know enough yet either. I don't know what the Sarcophagus alien is for."
Joshua sighed. "We can guess."
"I don't know how much it will help. I know what it is, and a little bit about what it does but that doesn't tell you what Church wants it for."
"So what is it?"
He sighed. "An Engineer is an alien that fixes things for the bigger aliens. It's a mechanical genius in a box."
"What do they look like?"
"And it's been kept in that thing all the time? Team A - the other Freelancers treated it pretty rough."
"I noticed. If it's still alive, it's a mechanical genius in a box. If not, it's goo."
"We'd probably be able to tell if a plan of the director's as big as that didn't work out. Combined with the data I found..." She didn't know. Combined with the fact that the director was breaking AI apart, that Tex was one, that the director was using his grief to tear his team apart. ..what did she have? She was tired of getting non-answers to her question to repeated it again, angrily. "I still don't know what they're going to do with the alien."
"You'll find out."
She almost snapped at him; the way he said it was strangely personal and pitying, not the anger she had respected in return for her own. Then she realized that perhaps what she was misunderstanding as presumption was trust. She sat back, scratched at the back of her neck. "I guess."
"It'll be okay. Hey, I meant to ask...where are you from? Earth, or the colonies?"
"Does it matter? You're not really Insurrectionists."
He held up his hands. She could see his blurry fingertips at the bottom of the screen. "Just wondering. Small talk."
She sighed. "Earth. Where are you from? How did you join the...do I even call them the Insurrection?"
He smiled. She felt like she was being mocked. "The Charon group." He told her where he was from.
"Is that a town or a planet?"
She tried to care and found that she couldn't. It was tiring to listen to him talk fondly and at length about the place where had been been.
"You've never been to Earth?" she asked.
Funny. He seemed so home-grown.
"I want to go back there, really," he said.
"To my home town. I don't want to have to keep traveling."
"When's your term up? Does it work like that?"
"Not really. I need the money. And...I like the people here."
I like the people here too, she started, to say, but didn't. He was opening up to her. It was his turn to give information. She wasn't planning on becoming his best friend, even if he was more emotive than she'd expected. He was awfully soulful for someone with aggressive hair.
She said, "Last time, when I started to talk about the director, you looked distracted. What do you think of it all?"
"Oh, I...I think it's sad. He's willing to go so far for someone that he'll try to resuscitate them?"
"I hadn't thought of it quite like that," she said, because she hadn't. Empathizing with the director was far from her feelings or plans.
Joshua shrugged, and turned the shrug into a stretch where he lifted his arms and rotated his head on his thick neck.
"I've gotta go," CT said, because empty airtime was a waste of space, and dangerous.
"I'll see you later. Let us know when you want to leave."
"I know," she said, and cut the connection.
She hadn't wanted a long goodbye from him, because she felt she might start to like it. She could empathize with his need for secrecy, his uncooperative team.
And in the thick of her talk it had felt for a moment like she was alone, like no one was watching her.
It had felt easy.
Wash did not ignore the fact that she had rebuffed him. He was shy but not without a backbone, and the confrontation came just after she had left the locker room between a quick, light lunch and firearms training.
Joshua had called her again.
The string of numbers on her comm meant that he, or the Charon soldiers as a whole, had something urgent to tell her. She needed to get to a screen. Her own was in her room, though and she only had a few minutes before she needed to report to the training room where the director might be waiting.
CT moved town an out-of-the-way hallway, trying to breathe quietly even as her heart pounded in her ears. She tried to calm herself with the fact that she knew where all the cameras in the ship were, and that there were none here. No overlapping fields, no eyes, no invisible radio waves breaking against the shore of her spine. She was so frightened, though, and the more frightened she became the more sure she was that someone could see that.
In a long stretch of hall that looked deceptively open he skidded to a stop and keyed in his code, knowing that she hadn't put any of her usual protocols in place, knowing that just because this was a different screen made her task many times more dangerous. This hallway seemed incidental to her; she thought that she had only ever seen sim troopers use it. No one would see her. No one would know -
But she was leaving more than usual to chance, because he had called her.
Joshua appeared with his helmet on.
"What do you want?" CT muttered.
"We need you to know how important it is we extract you. People are getting suspicious."
His use of 'we' made CT think that Katie or someone else had talked him into this. She wondered whether the Insurrectionists' internal politics were as messy and sad as the Freelancers'.
You called me just for this? she wanted to shout, but that would also take up time she didn't have.
"Your people took a lot of our resources, Connie, and we can't afford to lose our informant too."
"I'm trying. I understand. I just need more time -"
She heard footsteps. Idiot, she thought, giving the title indiscriminately to Joshua for thinking he could call her at any time, and herself for picking up, and whoever was walking toward her for existing.
"I have to go." She cut off whatever he had been going to say.
Wash ambled around the corner, looking lost. She thought he might have been looking for her, but when he stopped dead still it didn't matter any more. Whatever he had been looking for, it wasn't here, and maybe he had seen her talking, or had heard Joshua's voice.
"What are you looking at?" she snapped, falling into the scornful tone that came easily to her. She could distract him with that. "Mind your own business."
"I could say the same," he said, quicker and harsher than she expected. For once his reflective visor looked blank, no expression at all on the false face, although he stood the kind of still that meant he might be about to shake.
She walked past him, feeling like her shoulders were going to shake too.
In training he wouldn't look at her. In a room full of gunfire his shots sounded loudest, thunderclaps of sound, punctuating her heartbeat.
She hated him, but it was a hate that paid a lot of attention to the epiphanic blue of his eyes, the imperfections in his skin, the fearful ways he moved. For his sake, Wash was perhaps reassured by the fact that although she snapped at him, she wouldn't leave him alone: outright rejection would have been worse, and he fell into the role of scapegoat easily because he was used to it.
For a while, they enjoyed the novelty of openly, passionately disliking one another.
Like other passions, it faded.