Into the Dark: Four \ Conversations on the Fortune's Smile: Eight

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


It ought to fit. Mitch turned the gasket a millimeter to the left, turned it back. It ought to fit.

It didn't.

He held it under the worklamp bolted to the side of his bunk and considered whether or not to file another fraction off the rim. Too much more and we'll be dealing with lateral movement when she spins up.

Maybe one more pass with the file ...

The door chime interrupted his thoughts. "Yeah," he said. "S'open."


She stepped inside, breaking rule one, tapped the keypad by the door to close it behind her in violation of rule two, tapped it again to engage the privacy lock in flagrant and direct contravention of rule three.

Never be in each other's quarters. Never be alone together in any place either one of us might be known to expected to be. Never do anything that might make Luisa suspicious.

"Sweetheart ... " Mitch said. His quarters were so small he would only have needed to stretch a little to touch her. He resisted the temptation. "This is asking for trouble from the XO."

Nerila folded her arms and hunched her shoulders, shot one quick glance at him from red-rimmed eyes, and stared at the floor. "I don't care," she said to the deckplates. "I don't care."

Mitch put it together then: her hair still damp from the shower, the false-floral scent of soap that eddied around her every time she moved, her long surgeon's hands reddened by scrubbing, the note of sour alcohol on her breath.

"Autopsies?" he asked gently.

Nerila nodded.

It turned out he didn't need to stretch at all, or perhaps she was already moving towards him as he opened his arms to her. She pressed her face against his shoulder, clutching at him as if she were drowning.

As if we both were.

"Six!" she blurted, heaved a shuddering sigh, and was silent for a long time.

When she finally let go of him and lifted her head, Mitch asked: "Were they all .. in Significance?"

Nerila nodded. "Yeah. So tomorrow, or the next day, or next week ... " She shrugged. "It'll be like it never happened. For them, anyway."

He brushed his fingers over her cheek, erasing traces of tears. "That's good."

"It happened, Mitch." She sighed, slipping her arms around his neck, more loosely this time, and leaning against him. "But yeah. It's good. Mitch?"

"Mmm?" he murmured against her hair.

"When did you have your last scan?" she asked.

"Dunno, exactly." He thought about it. "Couple of weeks after the first one? Maybe ... three months?" He shrugged. "Got busy, you know?"

"Me too," Nerila said. "If I got shot in the head tomorrow, I'd wake up ... none of this would have happened."

He ran his hand down her back. "It would have happened."

"Not to me," Nerila said. "Mitch, let's go tomorrow, let's get the scans done. I don't want ... I don't want this not to have happened. I don't want to forget. Tomorrow, Mitch, I don't care how busy it is. Please?"

He tightened his arms around her. "Yeah," he said. "First thing."

Nerila sighed in relief. "Okay," she said.

Mitch hesitated, and then asked: "Do you ever think about it?"

"About what?"

"About ... about what it'll be like. In the long run. Once, twice, three times ... losing a week here, a month there. Who we'll be, ten years in the future. What we'll keep."

Nerila shook her head. "Ten years? I don't think about ten days, Mitch. Day at a time." She laughed without humour. "Had a future, once. Traded it for a glass vial. No. Ten years? No-one can plan that far ahead."

"You never think about it?" he said, smoothing his hand over her hair, gently so the callouses on his palm wouldn't snag the strands. "What you want?"

She sighed. "You know, if Pilot doesn't ... if Ami can't find her, if she's too late ... you know where she left her money to?"

"Camille, right?" he said. "And her family. If anyone can find them."

"Mostly. Enough, for the kid to live out her whole life in luxury, that's for sure. But not all. The rest ... to the crew. To us." She drew back a little, looking up at him. "That's how life is, Mitch. Someone can just stop, a pilot even, a pilot inside her own security. And people like you and me can wake up richer than we ever dreamed. What kind of plans can anyone make in a universe like that?"

Mitch shrugged.

Nerila narrowed her eyes. "What, you have plans?"

"Some," he admitted.

"Like what?" When he hesitated, she poked him in the chest with one long finger. "Like what? And so help me, if you say anything that involves marriage and babies and a fishing lodge on some backwater planet ..."

He smiled down at her. "Marriage and babies such a bad idea?"

"With me it is," she said seriously.

"Not what you want?"

"What I want ..." She shrugged. "This ship. This job. My license. This. Today, and tomorrow."

"And the day after?"

"Worry about it then," Nerila said. She studied him. "That a problem?"

"No," Mitch said. "No. It's not a problem."

"Good," Nerila said. She yawned suddenly. "Can I stay? Tonight?"

"Bunk's pretty small," he said.

She grinned. "I'll fit."

"Sweetheart ... " Mitch said. "Asking for trouble."

"Not if Ami can't find Pilot," Nerila said sadly.

"She'll find her," Mitch said.

"Let's blow that bridge when we're on it," Nerila said. "Mitch. I can't be - let me stay."

He couldn't say no to her. I couldn't ever say no to her, not from the first time she sauntered into the engineroom with that smile.

And I knew we were asking for trouble, even then.

The bunk was small, and neither of them were built on the petite scale. Nerila fell asleep almost immediately, her drop into oblivion one Mitch remembered from the days when he was still drinking his way down the ranks, one he envied her now.

No, it's not a problem.

Not yet, it isn't.

He shifted her a little, not needing to worry she'd wake, trying to stretch the cramp out of his arm. Marriage and babies ... He wouldn't have put it that way, exactly, but he couldn't deny that some idea of a life where he and Nerila could eat together without worrying about rumours, could talk about the day ... Could wake beside each other, every morning. Could lie like this, every night ...

Maybe in a bigger bed, he thought, trying to stretch his arm again.

Blow that bridge when we're on it, he thought. Won't be today, or tomorrow.

Or the day after, even.

He lay and thought about the uncertain future, about bridges and trouble and somewhere there might be a bigger bed and shared breakfast, listening to Nerila breathe, staring sightlessly into the dark.


Want to read more of the 'Conversations?' Head on over to Ciarente's IC blog, where there is a complete list. Don't forget to read the blog while you're there!

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