“I know how this is going to sound,” I started, before stopping myself. “Actually, I don’t; I don’t know why I said that.”
“Because you’re nervous,” Elle said. “Which is making me incredibly nervous; you’re not usually self-aware enough to know when you should be worried.”
“I’m making things worse. A crew member asked me to donate genetic material.”
“His groupie?” Sam asked, frowning.
“His groupie?” Elle asked, her voice raising an octave.
“Stop reading me,” I told Sam. “And he isn’t the one who needs the material. Nor was he ever attracted to me. That was an inside joke. And I’m assuming any DNA would be provided in an approved medical receptacle, and not personally delivered to anybody’s private entrance.”
“Buh…” Elle said.
“Give her a second,” Sam said. “This has all been very
confusing. I’m telepathic, and have seen into the deepest, oddest parts of your
mind, and even I was having trouble following you.”
“Yeah,” Elle said, pointing first at Sam, and then at her own nose. “So, why do they want your genetics? They’ve met you? Heard the rumors, at least? And none of that has turned them off of the idea?”
“You are ripe with his genetics,” Sam said; “you are an arsonist living in a house of oily rags stuck together with kerosene.”
“You cope by poking me,” I said softly. “And I know your poking is one of the rare times you’re comfortable showing affection, odd and aggressive though it often is.”
“It’s not as much fun when you just take it,” she complained.
“She’s not being candid,” Sam said.
“He knows that,” Elle said. “And exactly whose side are you on?”
“I’m on our side,” Sam said, and took both of our hands. “And this is important; you should hear him out, before trying to form an opinion.”
I could feel Sam’s warmth in my head; I wasn’t sure where her confidence in me and reassurance stopped, and her telepathically manipulating my conscious mind started, but neither did she; I guess it isn’t all that different from the way humans influence one another socially: there’s always one foot in trying to get what you want, but that doesn’t mean one person isn’t trying to help the other person get what they want, either. “It’s Sasha. He and his partner want to have a baby. Because I was supportive, after Bryan died, and because I was supportive again, during his reorientation… he has a fondness for me that few not at this table would understand. And, I think, more than anything, it’s a way to be close to Bryan; we were cousins, so some degree of his genes would be common to me.”
“And you’ve already promised you would,” Elle said. “So either I play bad cop, or I just accept that our daughter’s going to have a brother before she’s even born.” Sam flushed a color, one I’d seen only once before, and I was pretty sure it was pride.
“He hasn’t,” she said. “He promised he would ask us, and that he would be bound by our response.”
“He did?” Elle asked skeptically.
“If you’d like proof, I could arrange for the pair of you to imprint?”
This time Elle flushed, at the realization of what that would entail.
“That’s an option?” I asked. “Then I’m afraid I have to insist. There’s just no way to be certain without doing our due diligence.”
“On the contrary,” Elle said, smiling, “I’m very certain that you’re an ass. And that my water broke.”
“Water?” Sam asked. “My feet are wet.”
“Oh, bother,” I said.
“Captain,” Haley came over my comms, “I appear to be experiencing an issue.”
“So are we, right now, Haley, can it wait?” I asked. My HUD shut down, followed an instant later by the lights. They were down the majority of an alligator before they kicked back on.
“Fine, Haley, your issue just jumped to the front of the queue. Sitrep.”
“There seems to have been some weaponized code in the black box. In trying to break its encryption, I inadvertently infected the ship’s systems.”
“I… helped,” Bill said from behind me. He was winded, trying to catch his breath. “And… my feet are wet.”
“Her water broke,” Sam said, before returning to trying to guide Elle through meditative breathing.
“Mazel Tov,” Bill said, then frowned. “This might not have been the most opportune moment to break the ship.”
“Might not, no,” I agreed. “It can be fixed, right?”
“Imminently,” Haley said. “Though there are going to be-” we lost the lights again.
“I need to get to the servers,” Bill said. “I need to pull the blades out of to create a physical quarantine.” He walked into me. “Once the lights come back on, or my eyes adjust.”
“Or you could just try and get to third base with every officer between here and the servers.”
“Please don’t tell me what I got a handful of,” he said, taking a step back just as the lights came on.”
“The accidental handful I can see, but I’m pretty sure I felt palpitating, and I don’t think all of that was on my end.”
“I think the lady doth protest too much,” Sam said. “Did I use that right?”
“Close enough,” I said. Either out of embarrassment, or fear the lights would drop again, Bill raced off.
“Damn,” Haley said. “My timetables aren’t functioning correctly. I believe I can defeat the infective programming, but it will take some time. A day, at least. During which time my systems will be-” the lights went out again, but this time my HUD stayed on, so I could continue to hear her,” unpredictable.”
“Anything else you need right now?”
“At the moment, I believe Bill’s help will be sufficient, but I will not hesitate to ask if there are further things I need. I would not dream of endangering our crew for pride.”
“Of course not. If anything changes,”
“I will alert you. In the meantime, you have offspring arriving imminently, which I believe is something humans tend to celebrate.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll wait to light the cigars until later,” I said. “But I appreciate the thought.”