Chapter 1: all war is deception
“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."
Sheldon’s footsteps echo rather eerily on the Flandorian tiles. Were he a superstitious sort, the ominous sound, coupled with his ongoing breakthrough research and the recent rebellions in the Adarian sector, would have him worried. As it stands, though, Dr. Sheldon Cooper is instead considering the prospects of the coming paintball tournament this weekend, where his team will stand to recoup their previous losses against his arch-nemesis, one Leslie Winkle.
Leslie Winkle works in his department. Not with him, of course, but in his department nonetheless. Unfortunately, given the security measures imposed by the Government, Sheldon is rarely allowed to see anyone outside his department, which often makes it difficult to escape people like Leslie Winkle. Given that his department also does not have a name, it makes it difficult to receive and send mail, and really to have any contact with the world outside this complex that has not already been read and heavily redacted by Government officials.
Still, it’s the paintball tournament that preys upon his mind. Leslie is a surprisingly good shot, wielding her gun easily, her reflexes guiding her as if her life really were at stake. Years ago, Sheldon had practiced with real weapons with his sister and his father, and, while it is rare that he thinks of those years, Leslie brings out the desire to have spent a few more than his eight with them before being pulled away to attend the Government ordered Academy. He does not, after all, take losing well.
Sheldon pauses in place as one of the frequent mobile Scanners drops down in front of him and scans his face, ensuring he belongs in the complex. If only he were not surrounded by utter failures at paintball, he’d have a chance, he thinks. Unfortunately, Leonard’s hold on a gun can be described, if one were in a fortunate and forgiving mood, as unstable as a radioactive isotope’s grip on its beta particles. If one were not in a forgiving mood, and Sheldon rarely is when it comes to paintball, he’d describe it as completely and painfully ineffective unless his goal is to cause himself bodily injury. Howard usually seems more focused on trying to impress the other players, which, as he’s been in the complex for over five years, is hardly possible at this point. Raj, at least, who is fairly new to the complex, having arrived here only one year ago, is decent, if easily unnerved. The rest are not worth the breath it would take mentioning them.
Unfortunately, Leslie has Kripke on her team, and they both tend to take special malicious pleasure in attacking Sheldon. That alone has led to his team’s downfall countless times. (Due to Government protocol, as the department must stay unnamed, everything within the department must stay unnamed. This is especially frustrating when it comes to project names, leading to long, oft confusing conversations and awkward descriptions. On an oddly personal note, Sheldon would rather have liked to name his team.)
It is likely that Kripke and Leslie team up against Sheldon out of sheer jealousy. After all, it’s Sheldon, not they, who’s on the brink of uncovering faster than light space travel. (He calls it Warp in his head, as the project itself is unnamed. He tells himself it’s merely out of a need to distinguish projects, and not at all for sentimental reasons. He and Leonard had, after all, wasted many of their free hours at the Academy watching the Trek vids.)
Perhaps Kripke and Leslie think mere losses at paintball can shake him from his focus, but they’re wrong. He’s so close to unraveling the secrets he can practically taste it—taste it like the memory of his mother’s fresh pies before he was relegated to processed and flavorless Government Mealpacks. With a better team, he’d have solved it already, but instead he’s spent countless sleepless nights poring over equations to be where he is now: on the brink of one of the most important scientific discoveries ever made. If winning a mere paintball game assuages Leslie and Kripke’s egos slightly, so be it.
But he does not want to lose.
As the Scanner flits back up towards the ceiling, Sheldon continues to his lab. There’s a nagging thought in the back of his head, and his hand stretches for a marker and a whiteboard—both of which he’d had to force the Government officials to give him, as they had had the audacity to tell him to use VisiPads. As if scientific progress could be made like that. Fools and simpletons the lot of them, and even if saying such things aloud would result in immediate death, Sheldon has often been tempted.
Inside his unnamed project’s office, Raj, Leonard, and Howard are clustered together, speaking urgently. For now he ignores them and their most likely gossiping, and, moving to his whiteboard, begins to write.
The morning of the paintball tournament is the same temperature as every morning, given that this is a Government controlled complex, and the sun does not rise in any auspicious manner, given that they’re on a space station orbiting Canus and, given the rotation and controlled gravity, there’s no real sunrise. Or windows or even viewscreens in the complex, for that manner. Still, the air, at least, feels somewhat heavy with foreboding. If there were wind, it would be an ill one that’d be blowing through the corridors.
Sheldon wakes up at the exact same time he wakes up every morning. He stares at the white ceiling for forty-five seconds, and then slides out from underneath his white sheets and steps onto the white tile. He gets dressed slowly, with some consideration. There is still a nagging feeling in the back of his head, similar to how fragments of songs would get stuck in his head when he was younger and his sister would sing songs purely to annoy him. It’s odd, how sometimes he thinks of her in flashes—his twin, so unlike him in every way, and yet—
By the time he reaches the paintball course, he’s snapped at everyone that’s come near him, and a headache is beginning to make its presence known behind his eyes. Still, he’s not about to lose this game, not when Leslie’s smile curls into a taunt and Kripke’s hands tighten around his gun as soon as he enters the course. Raj, Leonard, and Howard are already there as well; evidently, for once, it’s he who’s running late. The thought sours him even further, and he enters the locker room with far more force than purely necessary. The door slams against the wall before the pressure sensors can catch it, and the low beep of reprove is enough to top off an already irritating morning—
He changes swiftly, and reenters the main course, determined to lead his team to victory, despite everything. Raj and Leslie are talking quietly in the corner, but break apart as soon as they see him, scattering to their proper sides as if he’s unable to notice them. He’d have Raj’s head if he wasn’t certain of Raj’s loyalty to him, despite Raj’s oft-protestations that it’s just a game. Still, it rankles—
When the automated, virtual gun sounds the beginning of the game, both sides, now on opposite halves of the course, and hidden by faux-trees and faux-rocks, begin to move forward.
Things proceed to go rapidly downhill.
There’s a point, when Sheldon is kneeling next to a faux-rosebush, thorns scratches up his wrists welling with blood, and the sounds of Leonard and Howard begging for help from the opposite side of the course, pleading for help as the paintballs pierce the air, that he wonders how things had gone so very wrong, so very quickly.
And then, as Raj half falls down next to him, breathing heavily, eyes dilated, shirt somehow half-ripped, time…slows.
Sheldon pulls in a ragged breath, the sound of paintballs loud around him. His fingers flex in the air, searching, and then he turns, finding wet paint scattered on the ground next to him from a previous close call. He dabs his finger in it and turns to the rock, because—
Maybe we aren’t moving.
Maybe space is moving.
A jumble of letters and numbers lie thick on his tongue, but before he can even begin to think to untangle them his finger is moving almost of its own volition, carving out the equation that maybe has always lain dormant inside of him, waiting to be found, waiting for its own moment to escape; the sound of Howard and Leonard have dimmed, now, their cries lost to the sharpening focus of his mind. Even Raj’s questioning voice seems to call from far away, but he hasn’t time to follow it, hasn’t time to—
He’s found it, and nothing else matters now, because this, this, this is what he’s been searching for all along, singing through his body like his sister’s melodies all those years ago, because life moves and the world moves and finding your way through it takes more than the bullet leaving the gun, it takes the preparation and the aiming and knowing how to steady your wrist and how to eye your target, and how to stand steady in your certainty, and Sheldon is standing steady in his.
Long minutes pass before he finishes, the paint drying on the faux-rock, the both of them mostly hidden by the overhanging branches of the tree above. When he finally pulls back, fingers tacky with paint, he realizes that the others have made their way over. Leonard and Howard, liberally splattered with paint, are standing to his left. Leslie and Kripke are on his right, still free of paint and therefore still in the game. The others are still out there—he can hear shouts and gunfire, and they don’t seem to realize that, in this little pocket of the course, gameplay has been suspended.
“He’s figured it out, hasn’t he?” Leslie asks, her voice pitching up higher as she looks at the faces around her. Leonard is shaking his head, eyes wide.
“You can’t have,” he says. “It’s impossible. You can’t just have—”
“Leonard, please,” Sheldon says, voice dry. “I can and I did. Just because my level of intellect so far exceeds yours as to make the very notion of my accomplishment hard to imagine, does not mean that it isn’t something that I can’t figure out while playing a simple game of Paintball. Speaking of which, what’s going on?”
Leslie shoots the equation, with very little to no regard for avoiding either Sheldon or Raj. Sheldon lets out a half murderous shout at first, but forces it back down, lip curling as he looks between her and Kripke. Both of them look desperate and almost terrified, but he takes it almost as his due, given what he just solved, given what he just managed to do for the world, and maybe it’s arrogant and ridiculous and whatnot and all of the above, but this is his due, isn’t it? This is what he’s been working for his entire life, isn’t it? The fact that fresh paint has completely obscured his work is no matter, because it’s inscribed in his mind. His memory is, after all, practically perfect. He’s not about to forget a mere collection of letters and numbers and symbols, isn’t about to forget something as perfect as what he just finished.
He won’t. He can’t.
Leonard starts to say something, words jumbling in his mouth as he starts to speak, but Sheldon stands up, his full height bringing him taller than everyone else there, his fingers twisting the fabric of his shirt as he looks around at them, something like bitterness and triumph mixed together in his eyes.
“Don’t,” he says, leveling his voice over Leonard’s stuttering, over the play of gunfire and shouting further away, over everything he has ever given up for this one moment.
Sheldon, mouth turning down at the corners, shakes his head at them. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, frank disdain dripping off of his voice. “It’s all in my head,” he says. “Your petty jealously, your attempt to ruin—” He breaks off, words stuttering on his lips as his cheeks grow flushed with fury. “Do you not understand what I’ve just done? What I’ve figured out while you were all occupied with—with trivialities?” He turns on his heel and starts down the hallway. Raj spares a moment to shoot a warning glare at the others and then follows him.
Halfway between Sheldon’s unnamed project office and the paintball course, Raj grabs Sheldon’s arm and yanks him into an empty room. The door is, naturally, unmarked, but they’ve become rather used to its location and are rather sure of the fact that’s unoccupied. Sheldon turns to face Raj, looking rather irritated.
“Not now,” he says, “Did you not just—”
Raj leans in and kisses him. Sheldon tries to protest for a moment, but then sighs against Raj’s neck and slides his hands against the small of his back.
“Is this due to my display of genius?” he asks, smirking a little. Raj backs himself up until the desk is behind him, and then slides on it, pulling Sheldon between his legs. When he leans back, though, his eyes are wide and urgent.
“I need you to listen carefully,” Raj whispers, mouthing softly against Sheldon’s neck. Sheldon’s hands tighten slightly against Raj’s hips, and Raj arches up a little, bringing himself closer to Sheldon’s ear. “And quietly, I’m sure they’re listening. The Government will use your equation to decimate other civilizations. You know how xenophobic they are. You know how dangerous they are.” His fingers slide under the back of Sheldon’s shirt, his fingertips gliding along his skin. “I know that you’re a good man. And there are other good men. Part of a rebellion. We can get you out. We’ve spent longer than you can imagine planning on getting you out, and we’re getting you out today. But you can’t finish that equation. You can’t write out the formula. You can’t give them what they want.”
Sheldon’s breathing unsteadily, his hands curling around Raj’s hips as if they’re all that’s grounding him.
“You’re with this rebellion?” he asks, his voice uncertain, bending and creasing around the edges as he leans into Raj’s warmth.
“Please,” Raj says, “Please. Trust me.”
Rajesh Koothrapalli has only been at the complex for 370 Solar Earth days. Sheldon knows procedure and protocol, has had it drilled into him since he was eight years and still crying himself to sleep at night wanting his mother and Missy and everything that that life meant; Sheldon should turn Raj in. All he needs to do is yell out the Command phrase—just a small collection of words that would leave Raj bleeding and helpless at the hands of the Government. He’s seen the training vids and the propaganda vids and hacked into too many top-level files out of sheer curiosity to pretend not to know how turning Raj in would turn out. There’d be a full cleansing of the complex, their ranks decimated by hearsay and misworded comments. They’d turn each other in on the off chance it would clear their own names from a crime few if any have committed. Treason.
And Sheldon can’t think of a rebellion in the big sweeping terms which is its due, of men and women fighting for their freedom against a Government they don’t believe in. He’s lived the last eighteen years first at the Academy and then here, at the complex. Maybe, though, he can think of Raj, how very much he does not want Raj stretched out and bleeding under Government hands. Especially not when he could have prevented it. Especially when it’s his fault.
Leaving the complex—what’s outside the complex? He knows, vaguely, unrealistically. He’s studied maps and read books, but he learned early, easily, how the Government lies about and twists facts. It’s one of the many reasons he chose to focus on the maths and sciences and subjects that are incontrovertible and untouchable by the Government.
The universe, for all that he’s devoted his life to studying it, remains foreign.
Still, when faced with adventure, how can he refuse? And this is larger than adventure, this is freedom from tyranny, and more easily, more palatable, more understandable, this is saving the life of one person. This is saving the life of Raj.
“You shouldn’t have put this on my shoulders,” Sheldon says, and there’s a touch of bitterness as he says it, even as he curls into Raj’s warmth, even as he takes what little comfort bodies can offer up to one another.
“You should have thought of that before deciding to change the way we live in this universe,” Raj says. His hand is steady against Sheldon’s chest. “Will you come?”
Sheldon has stayed within sturdy walls for most of his life. He’s never been rash (except those times, years ago, when he chased his sister and met her dare for dare and climbed trees to escape chickens, and it’s odd how those moments have come faster and clearer lately), but maybe he’s never had the chance to be rash.
“Will you come?” Raj repeats, and Sheldon lets out a shuddering breath, leans his forehead lightly against Raj’s.
“Yes,” he says, the one word a quiet declaration. “Yes, I will.”
She paces up and down the corridor, her hands balled into fists. Naturally, naturally the stupid idiot would figure it out right before they were going to get him out. He’s been dancing around the solution for weeks, they could all see that from the way his stupid head would tilt and his forehead would crinkle and his hands would pause in midair as he thought. And of course he couldn’t wait an extra day. That would make everything far too simple, wouldn’t it? And no, no they don’t go in for simple around these parts.
She nods sharply as Meritt, idiot extraordinaire, passes her. Bastard has his eyes focused south of her face, unsurprisingly, and she takes a moment and lets the irritation ground her, bring her down from the terror she’s been trying to put a cap on ever since she saw the equation written out.
They’ve spent too much time and worked too hard to get to this point. Being pulled here straight out of one of the private academies, scrapping her plans to work in the private sector and instead indenturing her to the Government for all intents and purposes, and then working out what was going on here, realizing the depth of Sheldon’s infuriating genius. And then years of coded messages, of Raj finally arriving, of this entire concerted effort to get Sheldon out. All of it at risk, now.
Still, Raj can keep a handle on the situation. She’s seen the way they lean into each other, and yes, Raj is pretty and a good kisser, but in all the years she’s been stuck on this hellhole of a complex with these stupid people, she’s never before seen Sheldon take notice of prettiness, and sure as hell never get as far as finding out if someone’s a good kisser. If anyone can calm down the insufferable man, it’ll be Raj.
They’ll get through this. The ship will come in time.
Back in the apartments, where Sheldon insists upon returning, if only to shower and change his clothes so he’s no longer splattered lightly with paint, Raj leans against the wall of Sheldon’s room, watching him study the bare trappings.
“You understand—” he says, his voice a little sharp, and Sheldon turns to him with an air of offendedness.
“Yes,” he says, “Naturally.”
He’ll have to leave everything behind. Of course, given that they’re not allowed to keep personal photographs, and the pile of letters he has is both small and heavily redacted, it’s not as if he’s making any great sacrifice leaving behind clothing and several mind clearing games. The notes would be devastating if he didn’t have them all seamlessly replicated in his mind.
He takes a moment to sit at his desk, feeling ridiculously sentimental as he leafs through the paperwork. Part of him wants to tidy everything, to clean it all up and put it all away, but he rather suspects that that is the sort of telling behavior Raj would prefer he avoided. Moreover, given that he’s given himself over to rationality and logic, it would be a shame to resort to such measures now, at this point, when perhaps he has most need of them, and certainly has just proven their worth.
Still, it’s with an unusually heavy heart that he stands.
“We have a little time before lunch?” he asks, his voice lilting around the words, easing his deception, and Raj smiles almost wearily.
“A little,” he says.
Chapter 2: "to a sacred feast, the blonde goddess demeter came"
Kripke has made good use of the last few years. He’s become friends with most of the guards, even though there, strictly speaking, is supposed to be little to no interaction between guards and departmental scientists.
Zack, particularly, is a good guy. He’s relaxed around Kripke, and they’ve spent more time than they ever should have cracking jokes. Zack’s got contacts for sports scores, since even the guards are supposed to live in relative isolation on the complex, and sometimes he and Kripke will have casual bets on teams.
Before Kripke was transferred to this complex a few years ago, he had quite a bit more freedom. He even managed to go to games, occasionally, and sometimes he and Zack will spend hours regaling each other with the smell of grass and the sound of the bat as it hit the ball, the crack of it that lingered in the air. It’s not that Kripke was ever obsessed with sports, because he wasn’t, but it was something to do of a Sunday afternoon, and those memories seem precious now. That amount of freedom, to choose where to go and what to see, to waste money on alcohol (banned at the complex) and get sunburned when he forgot to put on sunscreen.
Zack’s a good sort, if Kripke’s being honest. Not just for an asset, not just to use, but to spend time with. It’s not as if he’s ever really fit in with anyone else here, and it doesn’t help that he has to spread lies whenever he speaks. At least, with Zack, they’re not talking science and projects, and he’s not having to lie about progress or timetables.
Of course, he’s worked on all the guards, because there’s no guarantee that Zack will be the one in the control tower when things start. Their shifts are deliberately random and shuffled in order to provide better security, and generally to make it impossible for the guards to ever make plans. There’s a reason why guards are only stationed at the complex for four years max—despite being a fairly well hidden location, the security is over-the-top, and often exhausting.
Zack’s complained about it, sometimes, if not in as many words. While they hung out in Zack’s quarters and watched one of the GA (Government Approved) vids, they’d talk a bit about their week, or day, depending on how long it had been since they’d last hung out. For all that Zack’s a big guy, honest and funny and somehow ever so normal, he’s also a little quiet sometimes. Kripke’s learned to pick up a lot of Zack’s tells – too many of them, if he were honest with himself.
The fact is, he’s using Zack, and this isn’t a friendship that’s going to be allowed to go the distance. He’s known it, watched the timetable loom closer and his time here dwindle, and while it’s been a relief to know that sooner or later this will be over, the lies and the deception and all of it, another part of him has known that he’s going to miss this. Not all of it, certainly not all of it, but slow afternoons and long talks with Zack, he’s going to miss them. He’s going to miss Zack.
The Demeter arrives as a cargo ship. There’s Government Agents all throughout the complex, because this is a top level, unnamed complex, practically dripping in secrecy and obscurity. The rebels have had a fair time learning to deal in the Governments ways, though, and they’ve evidently prepared for this moment with all the panache and perfection that it both needs and calls for.
The blonde captain struts a little too much, and the shorter blonde eyes passersby too carefully, but they step out onto the landing bay in their tall Government Issued boots with a confidence and ease that’s enough of a badge for anyone nearby.
Zack’s the guard on duty, and even as he walks up to double-triple-quadruple inspect their paperwork, Kripke jogs up and leans in a little to his side, a smile bright on his face, a hushed and hurried detailing of plans for the night. Kripke’s not disappointed when Zack turns to him, an answering grin on his own face, and maybe it’s that subtle distraction, maybe it’s more than that, but the captain and her first officer step into the complex with nary a problem.
Kripke knows how this will play out, despite the way they try to keep the plans as fractured as possible, to give only as much information as each party needs to play their part.
Even now, Sheldon and Raj are hiding in storage containers. Leslie and Howard have looped the cameras in the storage facilities, and Leonard is in the middle of accidentally causing a small explosion in the labs, which should be enough of a distraction to get those fucking scanners off their backs for long enough. There’s not much space in the storage containers. Kripke checked them out a few months back, sized up the dimensions and the amount of air and Sheldon’s ability to stop himself from panicking. There’s not much space, but it will have to do.
The blonde captain directs her first officer to help Zack move the shipments. Kripke stays, telling himself it’s to keep Zack distracted and pliable, telling himself it’s not because he’s terrified. There’s a moment, when Zack activates the GravCart, that he frowns a little at the way the container settles, at the weight of it on the cart. Kripke tries to keep his voice level, tries to spare only the normal amount of glances at the captain and her officer, tries to be normal.
Zack frowns down at the cart, at the container that contains such a very important shipment, and then he looks at Kripke. Kripke forgets to breathe. He forgets to breathe, and he forgets to think, and then Zack shakes his head and smiles at him and steers the GravCart along the smooth grey floor, to the mouth of the ship. The smaller blonde takes it from there, her smile bright, and the captain takes a moment to flirt easily with the two of them, and then they’re gone and Kripke is left with Zack, with Zack and the smooth grey bulk of ship before them.
“Come on,” Zack says, nudging Kripke’s shoulder with his own, “Let’s get out of here so they can pressurize the chamber. I’m sure they want to get on the road.”
And Kripke follows him out, out onto Flandorian tiles and white walls, follows him because that’s all that’s left to do.
By the time the storage container is opened, Sheldon no longer cares if it’s Government Agents coming to claim him or, as Raj insists, the good guys. Sheldon has never done especially well in enclosed spaces, but this—this has taken it to an entirely new level. He sucks in a grateful breath as he squints a little against the light; before he can say anything, Raj untangles himself from Sheldon’s limbs and launches himself fully into the arms of the small woman in front of them.
“Bernie,” he says, squeezing her tight, “You’ve no idea how much I’ve missed you!”
“Raj,” she says, her voice fond, “I’ve told you before, if you keep calling me that I’ll have to kill you.”
“Such a flirt,” Raj smirks, pulling away a little to look at her better. He introduces Bernie (Bernadette, she explains, glaring at Raj) to Sheldon. They spend a few moments catching up, but she’s quick to say that the captain had insisted she see them as soon as they were far enough out from the complex to make it safe.
“She’s piloting,” Bernadette explains to Sheldon. Raj swallows a grin at that (“She always complains when she’s stuck piloting for too long,” he says), and they follow her down the corridors, Raj bantering with Bernadette and Sheldon uncharacteristically quiet.
Bernadette pauses in the doorway next to Sheldon, waving her hand inwards.
“This is Captain Reynolds,” she says. Sheldon steps carefully into the room, the bright stars on the Vidscreen making it hard to keep his eyes on the woman looking up at him.
“Reynolds,” he says, nodding a little at her in greeting.
“Captain,” she corrects, her expression stern.
“Penny!” Raj says, entering just then and grabbing her close. He kisses her full-on the lips, but when they pull apart Penny’s laughing.
“Raj,” she says, “I’ve missed you!”
“And I you,” he says gravely. “Tell me, is that fucker Kurt still aboard?”
“Nope,” Penny says, smirking. “Kicked him off a few months back. Worst mechanic I ever had.”
“Worst boyfriend we ever had,” Raj says. He wiggles his pinkie meaningfully. “Didn’t even make up for it in the bunk.”
Penny starts laughing in what’s really quite painful remembrance, and Sheldon watches their interactions. He’s trying for coolly aloof, or at the very least indifferent, but he’s just committed treason against the Government, who will no doubt start sending Agents to hunt him down very shortly, and it’s a little hard to concentrate on things like appearance and not on ohgodohgod what have I done??
It takes a moment of idle small talk between Penny and Raj, who are evidently quite good friends that go way back, both having dated Kurt, but finally she turns her sharp gaze on him. She looks him up and down in a considering manner for a long second, and then flashes him what is truly a staggeringly brilliant smile. She holds out her hand, and when he takes it, her grip is firm and steady.
“Welcome onto my ship, Dr. Cooper,” she says. “We’re going to get you where you need going, so no need to look that worried. She might be a bit old and a bit worn down in places, but this girl’s the best ship you’ll ever fly on.”
“She?” he repeats, looking a bit concerned, and she just pats his arm and shakes her head at Raj.
“You landlocked types are all the same,” she says, amusement flitting through her voice. “Raj, you want to show him where he’s bunking? As you know, we’re running pretty short-staffed right now, what with half my crew on all sides of the friggin’ galaxy, so you’ll have plenty of space. We’re a small crew normally, but really this is just ridiculous. At least you’re back, Raj.”
“A year isn’t that long,” he smirks. She smacks him upside the back of his head.
“If you weren’t only newly returned, and I didn’t want you to take over piloting once we’re sure no one’s following, you’d be in a helluva lot of pain right now,” she assures him. He dutifully rolls his eyes and grabs Sheldon’s arm, pulling him down the corridor to the rooms.
Sheldon has to climb down a ladder to reach his new room, but even so, it has a more comfortable feel than he’s used to. There’s a handmade quilt on the bunk, and the room is splashed with color. Raj, used to Sheldon’s particular eccentricities and space issues, leans against the wall. Sheldon eyes him, because it’s been a long day, and Raj has a tendency to request make outs on long days. (They’ve yet to progress further, although sometimes, when Raj has left, Sheldon has felt on the verge of—of—well, he’d taken matters into his own hands afterward, but it had been with a particular sort of desperation rather than his usual perfunctory manner).
Raj doesn’t appear to be planning on leaping upon Sheldon, so he sits down carefully on the edge of his bunk. “So,” he says. “I’m here. I’ve left everything behind. Might I inquire as to where we’re going?” His tone is sharper than he was intending, but he can’t find it within himself to bite it back. The slight twist of not-top line artificial gravity tugs at his stomach, and right now he’s holding himself together fairly remarkably, he thinks, given the way the day has went. Especially since he didn’t even get to win at paintball.
“There’s a scientist in the private sector,” Raj says. “She’s been working with us for several years, and has quite a few contacts with non-humans.”
“Non-humans?” Sheldon scoffs. “You mean aliens?”
“It’s, um, generally not considered polite to call them aliens to their face,” Raj says. It’s not exactly that he means anything harsh by it, but the Government’s insistence on calling them aliens had caused a big ruckus ten or so years back, and was part of protests and more before it became evident that the Government was planning on going to war with all non-humans. The priorities sort of shifted at that point. “Calling them aliens is calling them something unknown and different, and really, that’s part of the mythos that we’re trying to combat. One of the main reasons we’re having difficulties arguing that they should be allowed into the Union is that people see them as—”
“Stop,” Sheldon says. “Just stop. Stop. Where are we going? I’m on a spaceship heading somewhere, with the Government chasing me, and you want to give me a lecture in the soft sciences? Where are we going?”
Raj winces. “We’re going to try to stop a war before it begins,” he says. “We’re going to go see Amy Farrah Fowler.”
Sheldon meets the other shipmates the next morning. There’s Stuart, who he’d already seen, if not been formerly introduced to. Stuart’s the mechanic, a sweet guy who, while Raj calls him in a rather adoring way a puppy, is nonetheless a whiz at keeping them flying. There’s also Bernadette, who keeps a gun strapped to her side even around ship. She has a quick, sweet smile that makes it easy to forget the fact that she’s always armed, and she only comes halfway up his chest. Raj tells him she’s a doll, but Sheldon isn’t quick to forget the sharp edges he can see underneath, and he’s betting the scar that goes up her arm didn’t come from doing dishes.
Penny’s brother, Wyatt Jr., describes himself with a smirk as a chemist. After Penny punches him in the arm, he laughs and adjusts his title to procurer. As far as Sheldon can tell, Wyatt’s got contacts all over the place, most of them on the wrong side of the Government. The chemist crack is clearly some old joke between them, but the way Wyatt rubs his arm makes him think that maybe Penny doesn’t find it all that funny. While they’re touring, they come across an infirmary, but Penny says their doctor is off on an errand. She won’t say more, even when pressed, and Sheldon leaves it at that.
The crew is small—only four, or five now, since Raj is back—but there’s a familiarity between them that’s almost comforting. Sheldon’s used to working on his own, though. Raj refuses to let Sheldon write down the completed equation anywhere, knowing too well that Sheldon won’t forget it, so Sheldon works idly on other problems. He tapes paper to the wall of his room, writing carefully with small letters to make the most use of his makeshift whiteboard as he can. He stays in his room long hours, and tells himself he’s not avoiding the others, but merely using the time to his advantage. Raj doesn’t seem to believe him, but Sheldon perseveres.
Raj walks down the corridors easily, the familiar feel of them comforting after so much time away. He’s left Sheldon working on some problem or other, sure that, for the moment at least, he’s safe. He leans against the wall and raps twice on Bernadette’s door, waiting for her soft call of enter.
She’d greeted him warmly, earlier, holding him close and smiling brightly as only she can. Now, as she leans back in her bunk, her hair loose from her braid and her legs crossed, there’s something calm about her that was missing before.
“All settled back in?” she asks. She smiles into the words, glancing up at him through her glasses, and he’s slow and careful as he sits down next to her, for all of their history.
“I think it’ll take him a bit to get used to,” Raj says. “He’s not used to—well. To any of this.”
“Not like we are,” Bernadette says, her voice nearing wistful. She pauses, and then she drums restlessly on her legs, leaning back against the wall. “What was it like? At the complex?”
Bernadette’s been on the run most of her life. She’s told Raj only bits and pieces of her past, but he’s heard enough to figure out the broad strokes of tragedy. She’s hardly ever mentioned her family, but then he’s never asked, either.
“Our days were filled from beginning to end, and we were kept on a tight schedule,” he says.
Raj had gone to school in an entirely different sector, had come here only because a job offer had promised the possibility of proving himself to his parents. He rather wishes he’d been more confident back then.
“Kept on a tighter schedule than Penny?” she asks, a smile hovering around the corners of her mouth. It’s an old joke, after all—Penny knows she’s a rather slipshod boss, too easy and too relaxed, but she’s also sure of her crew, and there’s something to be said for trust. They all have her back, after all.
They’re quiet for a moment, lost in each other’s smiles, and then Raj stirs.
“This is a terrible plan,” he says. “You know it’s a terrible plan.”
“Well,” she says, “It’s the only one we have.”
Late on the third night of their journey, Sheldon’s been working for hours, caught up in the quiet distraction of almost-normalcy, as if he can pretend he’s still back at his unnamed office instead of here. It’s gotten later then he was expecting, and it takes him a moment to realize that what distracted him was the grumbling and ache in his stomach. He wanders out towards the kitchen area in search of food.
He rummages through the cabinets looking for something familiar. There’s cans of food which he doesn’t know how to prepare, and dried food that he’s unfamiliar with, but finally he comes across crackers and some sort of jam, and he’s a memory of something similar years ago, so he pulls them out and starts spreading it on.
Penny wanders in quietly as he works. She glances at him, and then pauses against the table, the wood solid against her hip. Her fingers drum on the surface for a few minutes, but finally she peters off, and Sheldon pauses in his preparations, eyes skimming up to take her in. She’s watching the black expanse of space sweep past the portholes, her breathing even and steady, her stance almost religious.
“Your ship,” he says, his voice cutting through the silence. “Did you name it? Her?” he stutters as he corrects himself, forces himself to consider metal as life, to consider a ship to have a pulse. There’s beauty in the imagery, and he can imagine why people choose to bequeath life on the inanimate. There’s comfort in believing the shell of a ship is living and protecting you.
Penny turns and looks at him, her eyes sharper than he was expecting. “Yes,” she says. “You’ve heard the old stories?”
Sheldon considers the blonde goddess of old, the corn mother, the goddess of harvests, and staring at her he can remember the dirt underneath his feet, the wind in his hair as he ran, the smell of rain and the feel of sunshine and the way his father walked after a long harvest, and it rolls over him in a great wave, what he lost, what was taken from: home.
“Yes,” he says. His voice is rough and ragged and he turns away, because he has had enough reminders, has heard Missy’s fleeting songs too many times these past few days, and there are far more urgent matters to consider, far more at stake than one lost little boy, crying as the Government Agents pulled him away from his family, reaching for Missy even as she reached back for him. “Yes,” he says. “But that was a long time ago.” Lifetimes ago,he doesn’t say.
As they get closer to civilization, Bernadette spends more time tracing transmissions and trying to hack into official channels to get news. When she finally does, Sheldon almost wishes she hadn’t succeeded.
Penny comes into his room without knocking, sliding down the ladder with an ease he very nearly resents. “Sheldon,” she says, and her voice is pulled tight along syllables, and it’s enough to pause the pen in his hand. He turns to look at her.
“What is it?”
“They locked down your complex,” she says, still with that tightness to her voice.
“We were expecting that, weren’t we?” he asks, careful. Something is wrong here, and he’s not sure he wants to know what.
“They took everyone into custody. Everyone.”
“What?” His voice is sharp and angry and furious and desperate, because they’d left everyone else behind, he’d left everyone else behind, everyone that he’s known, it seems like, and Sheldon’s maybe made a habit of leaving people behind but it doesn’t get any easier with time. Leonard and Howard and even Leslie and Kripke, and he knows what the Government does, especially when they’re trying to make a point. He knows what to expect. “I trusted you people! You said this wouldn’t happen, you said that they’d be safe!”
He pulls away from the wall, and when one of the papers snags on his wrist and his shirt and his pen, he pulls it off and lets it flutter loose to the ground.
“Where’s Raj?” he says, fury arcing underneath his skin, and it’s easy, maybe, easy to feel in full color, but maybe he’d be better off in back in black and white.
“He’s—Sheldon, he’s crying,” she says. Her hand is gentle on his arm, and Sheldon wants to shake it off, wants to—wants to do something. Anything. Everything. “He would have told you himself, but he can’t stop crying,” she says. Her voice is soft, and maybe it’s that that finally breaks him.
His knees buckle, and despite her diminutive stature she manages to pull him towards his bunk, her grip a vise on his arm until finally he sinks onto the bed. His arms and legs feel awkward and unnecessary, and for the first time in his life he’s not sure what to do with them; they hang loosely until he draws them in close to his body.
“What will happen to them?” he asks, his voice almost strangled, and it’s foolish to ask her, ridiculous, he’s seen all the Vidtapes and read the books, he knows what will happen to them, knows that it’s all because of him, and how is one supposed to manage that? How is one supposed to deal with the realization that people are being hurt because of you?
He knows, logically, rationally, that nothing is quite as simple as that, that if anything it’s the Government that’s hurting them, and that they risked their lives to ensure the Government would not be able to use yet another technological advance as weaponry against other cultures, but now, in this moment, it’s hard for Sheldon to pull that realization close, hard to push away the image of Leonard’s face as he pressed Sheldon’s hand between both of his, a goodbye that could not be said aloud. Sheldon had met Leonard at the Academy—two small boys pulled away from home and forced into sterile white rooms and harshly enforced rules and regulations.
Leonard, at least, had had some idea of what to expect, as his parents had both come from Academia and had been forced to attend the Academy. Sheldon, so much more used to sun and air and earth, to the wilds of New Texas and the sound of his sister’s trilling laughter as she fished for Agess, was entirely out of his element. Oh, he’d learned more and learned faster than anyone ever had at his school before, but it was a rural school with too many kids and a schoolteacher that delivered punishment to fit the crime, sometimes allowing for intent or righteous anger to slide through without discussion.
At the Academy, every minor infraction was punished corporally or with loss of privileges. Sheldon did not do well socially the first year, even as he caught up with homeschooled children and then proceeded to excel past them. It was Leonard who started sitting next to him at lunch, and choosing him as partner for classes, and generally adopting him. It was Leonard who made sure he was all right.
Now Leonard is—where? In a Government Holding Facility? Being questioned and probably tortured to find out Sheldon’s whereabouts and plans? Why hadn’t they come with? Why?
Penny’s arm encircles his back, her voice low and soothing, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s sobbing, his head buried in the crook of her neck, his body slowly shuddering against hers.
“It’s all right,” she says. “They’ll be all right, Sheldon. We think they did it as a scare tactic. They can’t think any of you scientists had a hand in this, and we’re still hoping they’ll think you were kidnapped. They’ll be all right, Sheldon, they won’t want to damage valuable assets unless they’re sure they’ll find out where you are, and they can’t be sure, because no one knows where you’re going. Even you only have a name. We’ve done this before, Sheldon, if not with quite such a highly prized target, still with important political figures. It’s going to be all right.”
Sheldon would like to know how she knows that, would like to press her in all the areas that he knows she’s weakest, but it’s hard to turn down unlooked for comfort, hard to push away kindness. Instead, his hands settle on her hips, on her back, pulling her closer, as if that infinitesimal gap can somehow erase what he has just heard, as if it can somehow ease the sharp pain inside, the guilt that coats his lungs. Her hands smooth circles against his back, and he lets himself be lulled by the sound of her voice, the repetition of words that mean this is not your fault.
Penny is quiet around Sheldon for the next few days. Sheldon carries himself closely, pulls himself inward, and she watches from afar his mass collapse in on itself.
There are scattered conversations (“Do something about him, Raj.” “I don’t think there’s anything I can do.”), there are moments when he pauses and looks past metal to something more, there is her, watching him, waiting.
(She is the Captain and this is her ship and these are her crew and she is responsible for each and every one of them, for heartbeats and tears and laughter and frailty. And sometimes being a Captain is the same as being a bartender, it’s waiting and it’s drawing people out and it’s listening. And she’s good at that. She is.)
She met her crew over the years, knows where they’re weakest and where they’re stronger than they realize. She’s known Wyatt all her life, and almost half of that she spent waiting for him to stop throwing his away. He’s shaped up, though—she wouldn’t have him on this ship, brother or not, if he was still the self-destructive mess he’d been back then.
She met Bernadette not long after she moved off of Omaha – a little settlement that, despite the harsh environment, had been home, and homey, and everything except what she was searching for. She met Raj because of her ex, Kurt, and it’s the only good thing the dumbass ever did for her. Stuart she met through Raj, working in a little supply store on some shitty little settlement, and Raj was right, there was more strength under that softness than she saw at first. She sees it now. And her doctor – no. Her doctor, and the rest of them, everyone that risked their lives to get Sheldon and his secrets out, she can’t think of them, not until she knows they’re all right.
It’s because of them that she’ll make sure Sheldon gets through this, though. There’s too much riding on this, too much at stake, and she’ll be damned if it all falls apart because she fails at her job.
“He’ll be all right,” Raj says, but his eyes skim past her as he says it. She doesn’t pursue his lie, though. That’s not what she’s here for.
“Me?” Raj asks, flustered, and she stops herself, narrowly, from gathering him up in her arms.
“They were your friends, too, weren’t they?” she presses. Raj pulls himself in a little, his arms crossing in front of him chest, his still overly long hair—this straight-laced scientist hair that doesn’t suit him, brushing near his eyebrows. She gives in to her impulse and brushes it away, further up his forehead.
“They’ll be all right,” he says, and there’s determination lining his voice, even while she can see the fear in his eyes. He catches her hand in his own and draws it downward, holding it between their bodies.
“They will,” she says, certain to the core, strong in all the ways he needs. “They’ll be all right.”
Raj presses Bernadette against the wall in her bunk as she curls her leg up along his hip, head tipping back against the wall, fingers curling against his skin.
“Raj—” she says, “Raj—”
And he kisses her throat, her cheek, holds her through it, follows her down, until words are unnecessary, until he doesn’t see the faces of the friends he left behind.
“They weren’t like you,” Raj tells Sheldon, his voice low. Sheldon’s eyes flick up to meet his, and Raj struggles to hold his gaze. “They knew what they were getting into,” he says.
The tension in Sheldon’s shoulders doesn’t ease, but his lips curl into something like a smile. “Well,” he says. “I suppose that’s something.”
Raj shrugs. “Sometimes it’s all we’ve got out here.”
Chapter 3: ; meanwhile...
Leonard and Leslie are curled up against each other in the corner of the cell. Rather than dealing with them individually, for the moment everyone from their old complex has been shoved into a massive indoor cell. It’s about the size of their old paintball course, except, of course, it doesn’t have any of the obstructions and fake plants and trees and the like. Unfortunately, it’s also missing those necessary things like food and blankets and anything else. There’s water, near the cell doors, but that’s it. The bare necessities, evidently.
“It’s a good sign,” Leslie says. She strives for confidence in her voice, but her grip on Leonard’s hand tightens, as if looking for reassurance. “If this was anything but a power play, they’d have pulled us out one by one and interrogated us, wouldn’t they?”
Leonard’s been a jumble of nerves and anxiety ever since the Government ships landed, spilling out Agents, but the one good thing about it has been no longer needing to hide his and Leslie’s relationship. (Government Agents tended to frown upon too close relationships between workers, and, if there was no discord in a working environment, tended to force discord. It had been easier for Leonard and Leslie to continue to be at odds, at least on the face of it, even as they shared talk of the rebellion on their pillows and escaped to empty office rooms. No doubt the Government knew of their affair, but they would assume that they were sneaking around because they were only in it for the sex, and ashamed of their liaisons, rather than the truth.) (To be honest, the liaisons had been kind of hot, sex-wise, though.)
“You think they’re trying to scare us, or everyone else?” he asks.
“Don’t tell me you’re wimping out now,” she says, but there’s laughter in her voice for the first time in two days, and he curls his free arm around her, pulling her closer. He’s not sure why, but it’s easier to be strong when there’s someone you wish you could protect with you.
“Well,” he says, “You know me. Always the first one to go down in paintball.”
“That’s just because I always liked to hunt you down,” she says, grinning a little at the way Leonard tries on offended.
“Pulling my pigtails, were you?” he asks, and she tilts her head against his shoulder, feels the rise and fall of his chest against her arm.
“You know me,” she says, “I like a good chase.”
Nearby, Howard and Kripke are playing cards. Leonard’s not too sure he wants to know where they got the cards from, but for the moment he’s ignoring those sort of questions and focusing on the fact that he can hear their voices, the rise and fall of syllables. Whatever’s happening, whatever’s going to happen, he thinks, at least they’re together.
The Demeter docks into Caltin around midnight local time. A few hours earlier, Raj had crawled into Sheldon’s room and they’d spent the time since departing from their usual, instead lying together on the bed, curling against each other for warmth and for comfort and something like forgiveness.
Now that they’ve arrived at Caltin, the energy’s picked up. Sheldon’s still not entirely certain of what’s going on, but on the bright side everyone else seems to have very definite plans.
They go down a tunnel, turn into another tunnel, and follow a fairly labyrinth path until finally it feeds out into a large room. The equipment inside is both extremely expensive and quite sensitive, some of which he’d been haggling with the Governmental lackeys for years to try to get his hands on. He manages to put a cap on the drooling seconds before a tall woman steps out and eyes them squarely.
“Amy Farrah Fowler,” Penny says, grinning a little at the other woman, and Amy grins at her with real delight.
“Penny! It’s been too long, bestie!” she says. Amy’s dressed in a long green skirt that swirls around her ankles, but she carries herself almost stiffly, her arms straight at her sides and her head tilted slightly as she examines the newcomers.
“You must be Sheldon Cooper,” she says, stepping forward.
“Must I?” Sheldon asks dryly. Her lips twitch, and she inclines her head slightly.
“Point taken,” she says. She turns to Raj, and for the very first time that Sheldon has ever seen, Raj becomes unaccountably flustered. “Rajesh,” she says warmly. “How have you been?”
“Good,” Raj says, “Well. I’ve been well. Thanks to you, of course.”
As Sheldon eyes them curiously, Penny smiles and leans in. “Raj used to have a bit of a problem speaking to women. Amy helped him out of it.”
There are so many questions that raises that Sheldon is left momentarily flummoxed. Before he gets a chance to ask any of them, though, Bernadette has slipped past them and, opening a side cabinet, begun pouring large glasses of wine for all of them.
“So,” Penny says. “War council. We doing this?”
Kripke had been counting on the fact that he’d be flagged for interrogation after his little stunt with distracting Zack. He’d really rather hoped that it would only be him, though. He had an escape all set up, with Siebert tagged for an excellent breakout plan. He was supposed to be in a small interrogation cell on the fourth floor. Instead, he’s in this giant holding cell, with far too many people who work for the rebellion and even more innocent scientists that are terrified out of their timid minds, and no escape in sight. So. He’s had better luck with plans.
Howard had found a deck of cards from somewhere (and Kripke would really rather not ask where, given the way Howard has a tendency to leer at anything moving and the limited options Howard actually had at getting the cards). They’re playing poker (which Kripke had to talk down from strip poker), and Kripke, surprisingly, is…actually enjoying himself.
“So was this how this was all supposed to play out?” Howard asks, leaning in a little over the cards in his hands, his hair messy across his forehead. There’s something naïve about him, for all of it, and Kripke shrugs.
“There’s plans on top of plans,” he says. “I’m sure someone somewhere knows what’s going on.”
“Someone that’s one of the good guys, yeah?”
Kripke looks over the cards in his hands, the oils on his fingertips making the cards feel slick against his skin.
“We got him out,” he says. “If nothing else, we got him out.”
Howard is quiet for a few minutes, except for a distracted raise and call.
“It was worth it, yeah?” he asks at last, and there are so many things Kripke could say to that, so many words and paths that stretch out before him, that he’s momentarily struck speechless.
“It was the only thing we could do,” he says at last. “It was worth it. It was worth more.”
Howard tries on a smile, his lips stretching uncomfortably to accommodate the sharp edges that cut their way onto his face. “It figures,” he says, “It figures it would be Sheldon.”
And Kripke’s watched Sheldon, watched the way he holds himself and carries himself, watched the way he bends into Raj’s touch and leans on Leonard’s strength, and even how he’s molded into something that fits against Howard’s shape, despite all of his fears and eccentricities. More than that, he’s had front row seats to the curl of Sheldon’s lip and the irritation in the set of his shoulders, and no, no he’s not surprised it was Sheldon at all.
He licks his lips and says none of this.
“At least we’re out of that place,” he says instead. “Had my skin crawling.”
“Oh, yeah, prison is so much better,” Howard half-snorts. Kripke grins.
“We’re only being detained,” he says. “No prison yet.”
“Just locked up for the foreseeable future,” Howard says. “Well. At least the food can’t be worse.”
Kripke looks at the cards in his hand and can picture the room he learned to play poker in, the bedroom walls and his older brother’s voice washing over him as he explained the rules, grinning at little Barry, who was still so young.
“Right,” he says.
There must be something in his voice, in the way he holds himself, because Howard’s hand settles lightly on Kripke’s knee for a second before retreating, a brief brush of comfort.
“Hey,” he says. “It was worth it. It was.”
“Wil? Wil Wheaton? From Trek and all those propaganda vids? He’s part of your rebellion?” There’s a vein in Sheldon’s head that’s really quite distracting, but Raj pats him on the shoulder anyway.
“He’s really quite a magnificent undercover spy,” Raj says. “Who would ever suspect him? Especially as his propaganda ads became more…”
“Risqué?” Penny cuts in, snorting.
“He does like to put on a show,” Bernadette says, sighing a little in dreamy remembrance.
“Ah, but you wouldn’t have seen them, Sheldon,” Raj says. “Much to my disappointment, I found that those sorts of subjects were all banned from the complex. Can you pull one up? He should know what he’s getting into.”
Amy smiles in a demure, and slightly evil, manner. “One moment.”
The entire vidscreen is suddenly filled with Wil.
Sheldon lets out a little noise of terror. Raj pats him reassuringly on the shoulder.
“Come now,” he says, “It’s not that bad.”
The picture Sheldon is holding has Wil in fishnet stockings, red stilettos, red lipstick, and a strategically placed teddy bear. The caption at the bottom says, “We care about you beary much.” Worse, it’s an official Government ad, the Seal in the bottom right corner, and the ad paid for and representing the Department of Health.
Sheldon lets out another high pitched whine, and Penny glances over. “He all right?”
“Oh, his brain is just breaking a little,” Raj says, squeezing Sheldon’s arm reassuringly. “He’ll be fine.”
“Wesley?” Sheldon says, more breath than air. “Wesley Crusher?”
After entirely too many images that have now seared themselves, quite permanently, into Sheldon’s memory, there are three quick beeps and then an odd whirr from one of the many machines around them.
“We hacked Government channels and use them to send messages,” she says. “Unfortunately, they still use faxes.” She tears the paper from the printer with a flourish. If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was enjoying herself.
“He’s contacted us,” she says. “Once Kripke’s rescue had to be aborted, he’d said he’d examine the situation and get back to me.”
“He who?” Sheldon asks. Penny gives him a fond smile and Amy sends him an annoyed glance.
“Classified,” she says, her voice sharp.
“Need to know,” Raj adds, apologetic. Penny just shrugs, lounging against the marble countertops. She grabs the paper from Amy’s hand and skims it, with Raj leaning over her shoulder, making appropriately noncommittal noises as she reads, but when she looks up her eyes are bright and there’s something soft in her cheeks.
“Well,” she says.
“It’s about Leonard and the others, isn’t it,” Sheldon says. “What does it say?”
“We have more information, but—” Raj starts. He looks between Sheldon and Penny.
“We can’t go off on a rescue mission,” Penny says. “Not with him. Raj, I know how much you’re worried, but we can’t risk Sheldon. You know that.”
“Can’t risk me?” Sheldon half-snarls. “I think I have a say in the matter.”
“You really don’t,” Penny says.
“Do you not get what we risked to save your ass in the first place?” Penny snaps, turning around to face him. “Do you know what sort of concerted effort it took? Who we still don’t even know is alive or dead because of the stunt we had to pull passing off as a Government transport—the planning, the hacking into records? Where the hell do you think our doctor disappeared to? We don’t even know if she’s alive, Sheldon, so yeah, yeah you don’t so much get a say in the matter. You’re staying safe if I have to tie you down and lock you up myself.”
“This is what my life is going to be?” he asks, because he’s angry and he’s lost and he’s never learned to censor himself or pick his battles. “This is it? This is your plan? Hiding me from the Government forever? Always on the run?”
Amy’s smiling a little as she steps between Penny and Sheldon, her green skirt twisting a little on her hips.
“That can’t really be what you think,” she says. “You must realize that we’ve plans upon plans, don’t you? You must realize that.”
“Then what’s going on?” he asks.
“There’s very few people who know the whole plan,” Amy says. “It’s easier, and safer, that way, in case you get caught. But I believe Penny told you that I’ve contacts with other, non-human cultures. Those central governments, of course, don’t know that the Government plans to attack them, as we can’t be sure that their reaction wouldn’t simply be to preemptively strike, and let’s be honest, that probably would be their reaction. However, there’s a whole collection of people, human and non-human, that are working together. We want them to be allowed into the Union. More than that, though, we don’t want all-out war between the different governments, with all the little people caught in the middle.”
“That doesn’t explain your plan of action,” Sheldon says. Amy looks quietly amused, somehow, even though her face is still painfully straight.
“You’re going to tell a hand selected group of top engineers how they can create an engine that will allow one to traverse the galaxy. And then they’re going to build it. And then? Then we’re putting the Government on notice.”
“That doesn’t actually explain anything, though—” Sheldon says, irritated, and Raj interrupts, grabbing his arm and shaking his head.
“She’s right,” he says. “We keep the plans under wraps to avoid leaks. We can’t afford to have to start over again, not at this point, and especially not with you already here, with them looking everywhere for you. So no, you can’t come with us on some harebrained rescue mission that will probably end very badly for all involved. And yes, harebrained or not, we’re still going to give it a try.”
Sheldon is quiet as he looks at Raj, at the set of Raj’s mouth.
“You’ll save them?” he asks. It’s a stupid thing to ask, and he knows it, but he can’t seem to stop himself, and it’s not as if he’s really been showcasing his intelligence lately anyway.
Penny leans in, her hair soft around her shoulders, her eyes firm. “We’re going to do our goddamned best,” she says.
Chapter 4: we planted the seeds
The Demeter leaves Caltin a few hours later. Raj is quiet as they take off, and Penny’s not sure if it’s because they’re leaving behind Sheldon or because they’re heading off into what really is an unknown situation. Despite the update from Siebert, busting people out of holding cells is hardly going to be a picnic, access codes or not. Still, it’s not like they really have a choice in the matter. Even if Penny had been wavering on risk versus gain (she’s not), it’s not as if Raj’s puppy dog eyes and trembling bottom lip wouldn’t convince her in a second.
Their plan isn’t so much as well thought out as thrown together at the last second, but then that’s always kind of been their M.O. over the years, and it’d almost be a shame to change it now. Flying by the seat of their pants has practically become an art form for them.
Siebert can get them the codes to the cell and to the transport hanger, but his position in the Government has always been more of a figurehead than one with any real power. If it all goes south, as it most certainly will, he won’t be able to back them up. They know that the Government is searching for a Firefly class ship, like the Demeter, but they were under Government tags when they hit the complex, so they won’t be ID’d that way. Unfortunately, their real tags don’t give them a shot in hell of getting anywhere near the facility they’re being kept in, and Penny’s left her other spaceship in her other pair of jeans.
If their doctor’s still alive, if she kept her cover, she could get them new Government tags. It worked once, there’s a chance it will work again, but no one’s heard head or tail of her since they grabbed Sheldon, and the general consensus is that she went to ground, or… well.
There’s really only one option on the table, and Penny’s not keen on it, but it’s not like she’s got a whole lot of choices right now.
“Leonard is in a holding cell?” Beverly repeats. Her voice is uncomfortably cool, and Penny knew, she just knew this was a bad idea.
“That’s what I’ve heard,” she says.
“I notice you still haven’t told me your name,” Beverly says, eyeing her in a direct manner. Penny eyes her right back.
“I need to know what you’re willing to do to get your son out of there,” she says. “I need to know what you’re willing to risk.”
“Surely,” Beverly says, her voice dry, a touch sarcastic, “Surely if he’s not guilty of anything, the Government will release him.” They stare at each other for a long minute. “Well,” Beverly says, “If you were working for the Government, that would have been enough for you to slap me in the proverbial irons. What do you need?”
Penny sucks in a breath of air, something releasing inside of her. There were parents, after all, that would willingly feed their children to the Government spies. She hadn’t been sure.
“I hear you have a ship,” Penny says. “I’d like to borrow it.”
Beverly lifts a cool eyebrow. “Certainly not,” she says. “You’ll never get him out of there without my help. I’ll be coming along.”
This is how Penny finds herself smiling at two attractive Governmental Agents as they board Beverly’s ship (the Curie) and examine Beverly’s papers.
For the record, this is not something she ever wants to repeat in her life.
Also, she really, really, really misses her ship.
He’s not too keen on this plan, which has him walking, with a long haired wig that looks truly awful on him, into a room full of pro-Government people and getting “picked” by Wil, whatever that means. (He’s sure it can’t be good.)
Amy, however, is adamant that it’s the only way he’ll be able to sneak past the Government checkpoints. Wyatt, who’d stayed behind with them in order to drop them off on the Demeter, is now out of range, and he’s feeling quite exposed. However, the thought of engineers modifying engines in order to allow a ship to travel easily between stars, to reach even their farthest settlements with ease instead of week or month long journeys, all due to his calculations is—well, it’s worth the momentary trepidation.
Besides, Wyatt will be able to meet them once they’re through the checkpoints—Demeter herself won’t be flagged. It’s only Sheldon Cooper, after all, that has the large target painted upon his face.
“What?” Raj asks, biting the word off. She shakes her head.
“They changed the codes,” she says.
“How long until the guards circle back again?” he asks. She looks over his shoulder and winces.
Penny grabs Raj and yanks him toward her. Even without the threat of imminent death hanging over his head, he’s pretty much always up for making out with people he has crushes on, and it’s not like he hasn’t been half in love with Penny ever since she first saved his ass in the middle of a bar fight, a brawl that Kurt, of course, had initiated. So when she yanks him toward her he goes easily, hands finding her waist and curling into her hair. And he gets that yes, this is to hide them and to keep them safe, but as he licks inside her mouth and her body curls against his, her hand sliding underneath his shirt to settle on his waist, her mouth twisting into a smile against his, he takes a moment to appreciate the feel of her, the taste of her, the smell of her.
Penny curls her leg around the back of Raj’s, pulling him back into her and hooking him closer to her. She hears the way his breath hitches, and it’s hard not to fall a little in love with Raj, as long as you know that he falls a little in love with everyone else. She’s seen the way Sheldon looks at him, and the way Raj so easily catches Sheldon’s hand. Still, this isn’t just about hiding, and this isn’t just about Government business, this is about friendship and trust and sometimes it’s just about kissing someone because they’ve got an easy smile and pretty eyes and know you better than maybe you’d ever like to admit.
They listen, with only half an ear, as the footsteps come closer, pause, and then continue past them, the two guards chuckling with each other. When they pull apart, they’re both a little flushed, but they don’t jump apart, guiltily one might add, until Beverly appears practically out of thin air.
“There appears to be a delay?” she prompts.
Penny practically swallows her tongue.
“They changed the codes,” Raj says.
“Well,” Beverly says. “We’ve come this far, surely we can manage the rest?”
“I can try to—to get it out of one of the guards,” Penny says.
“I assume you have a getaway vehicle?” a new voice chimes in, and all three of them whirl around. A guard is standing there, hands up a little as they fall into defensive positions. “Hey,” he says. “I’m only here because I’m trying to get out a friend.”
“Who are you?” Penny asks, her voice sharp.
“My name is Zack,” he says. “I was the guard at the complex that let you waltz out with Dr. Cooper?”
“Oh. Oh,” Penny says.
“Look, I’m not interested in toppling the Government or what have you, but I’d really like to get Kripke the hell out of there. So. You have a getaway vehicle?”
“Hell yes we do,” Beverly says.
(Penny and Raj stare at her in shock.)
“Mom?” he practically squawks.
Beverly pats his cheek in a rather misguided desire to be maternal. “Hello, Leonard,” she says. “Do hurry, we’re on a bit of a schedule here.”
Wil looks from Amy to Sheldon and smirks, a little bit condescending, a little bit arrogant. “You,” he says, curling his finger at Sheldon, “Come here.”
In front of everyone, Wil leans in and kisses Sheldon—openmouthed and wet and pure sex. His fingers are sure and steady as they start unbuttoning Sheldon’s shirt, and when Sheldon starts to make a dismayed sound, Wil swallows it down and keeps kissing him.
The pretense is complete. There’s no one in the room that would suspect that Wil was taking Sheldon with him for any reason but to have hours upon hours of sex. Even Amy is left a little unsure.
Wil’s fingers tangle with Sheldon’s as he pulls him down the corridor, and Sheldon stumbles a few times because he’s having trouble keeping his eyes off of him. Wil’s clothes are less artfully disheveled like they were earlier, and more tugged and pulled at in ways that give little doubt to what he was just doing, and Sheldon’s hands curl against his sides against a wave of—of feeling, and it’s not something he can place or pin down or categorize. He tries to push it away, tries to numb it with the facts of xenocide and rebellion and all those things that really ought to have far more precedence in his head right now, but he’s finding it a little difficult to draw his mind away from the way Wil’s hair felt under his fingertips.
“You know why you’re here?” Wil asks, except his voice dips a little lower than maybe even he was intending, and Sheldon’s cheeks are still flushed. Wil bites back a groan. As much as he’s been living a lie for the past however many years, he’s become used to certain things, like the ability to take advantage of mutual attraction and lust. It’s hard for him to keep his hands off of Sheldon, hard to look away from his kiss-swollen lips.
“Amy Farrah Fowler told me that you could sneak me past security checkpoints,” he says. “She said you’re a spy for the rebels, and no one would ever suspect you, and that I ought to make sure you don’t take advantage of me, because she’s heard rumors.”
Wil grins, slow and amused. “I knew I’d like her,” he says. At Sheldon’s frown, he shrugs a shoulder carelessly. “We’ve had contact over the years, but I’ve never had the chance to meet her face to face. Too risky, given the integral part we both play—if either of us were to fall under investigation, we’d both have ended up ruined, and given the contacts we have…well. Best to stay separate.”
Sheldon looks around the room carefully, trying to avoid looking at the mussed sheets on the bed or the array of scanty looking clothes thrown over the sofa and chairs. Wil slinks (purely out of habit) over to the dresser, and runs a hand through his hair, leaving it perilously on end.
“What am I doing here?” Sheldon asks, voice low as his eyes follow Wil’s journey. Wil looks over his shoulder at him, eyebrow raised, eyes dark in the lowlights of the room.
“We’re going to tear down the Government,” he says, snarky delight lighting up his face. “Don’t tell me you missed the memo?”
They drop pretty much everyone off on some shitty backwater planet that the Government hasn’t visited for anything other than tax collecting in over a decade. Beverly decides to stay on the ship and see it through, and Penny kind of appreciates the steel backbone the lady has.
Bernadette and Stuart, who’d guarded the ship while they’d broken everyone out, had been having a hard time around that many people, used as they are to the small crew on the Demeter, so they were both excessively relieved. Leonard and Leslie and Howard had been relieved, but for other, more life-saving reasons.
Kripke and Zack had…disappeared.
“You were breaking me out of prison? Out of prison?”
“Technically,” Zack says, “It was a holding cell.”
“That is possibly the hottest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Zack shrugs. “Isn’t that what friends do?”
Kripke worries his bottom lip, shifting awkwardly in his seat. “Is that what we are? Are we friends? Is that what this is?”
“Of course we’re friends,” Zack says. He narrows his eyes at him. “And next time you’re up to something stupid, let me know.”
Kripke smiles weakly and starts to stand, but before he can make it up to his feet, Zack has one hand on each armrest, pinning him in. “I didn’t say we were just friends,” he says, and leans in and kisses him.
(And the rest of the crew doesn’t see them for a few days.)
They get past the checkpoint well enough, although Wil has a habit of making Sheldon as sex-messy as possible whenever they get close to them.
“Part of the deception,” Wil always says.
Sheldon protests the logic, but not the actions.
A day out from their destination, Wil drops the ship and his whole entourage off on a Destination planet - Come See the Stars At the Edges of Civilization! - and he, Amy, and Sheldon set off in a little chartered ship that's got little to no engine power and the worst artificial grav that Sheldon's even been subjected to. Wil would very much like to distract him, but Amy's running navigation which leaves him as pilot. Sheldon has the official job of freaking out, which he manages oh so well.
When they finally reach the location, a Dr. Gablehauser meets them. Sheldon hates him on sight, but talks him and his team through the principles, and the modifications they’ll require. They stay there for two weeks, and despite hearing nothing from Penny and Raj, Sheldon is finally starting to feel better.
Really, the plan is doing quite well.
Suspiciously well, but then Sheldon's never gone in for luck and superstition. Maybe he should start, though, because half a day out of the engineer's hidden base, a Government ship hails them, requesting they immediately stand down. Wil, who's still piloting their little crap heap of a ship, engages in evasive maneuvers, while Amy looks for any possible hiding place in the sector.
Station 17 isn't too far away, and the Government ship doesn't seem too keen on firing upon them — which gives Wil further proof that they suspect who's on board — but their little ship is vastly out of it's depth engine-wise.
"Sheldon, Sheldon it's going to be—fuck—it's going to be fine, okay?" Wil shouts, unable to look away from the view screen.
Behind them, Sheldon's started opening panels and pulling out wiring.
"Hey, Sheldon, now's really not the time to start having a nervous breakdown, okay? Keep it together, all right? Are you—Amy, are you—"
"I'm boosting the engine speed," Sheldon says. "The ship will most likely fall apart if it's kept at this speed for more than two hours, but it's not as if we have much choice in the matter."
"You—what?" Wil asks, sparing a moment to look back at him. Just in time to see a few sparks and then a small explosion. "Sheldon?"
"Try it now," Sheldon says, grabbing onto the back of Wil's seat as the artificial grav cuts out for a moment.
"Try it now," Sheldon and Amy both say, and Wil guns it.
An hour and a half later, the Government ship farther behind but still tracking them, the ship starts to fall apart as they enter the atmosphere; they crash land on the surface of Station 17.
Penny likes the Curie, she does, but given it’s just been used in one of the most massive prison breakouts ever seen, she’d really like to ditch it. Unfortunately, Wyatt isn’t at the meet-up, and when she uses the truly awful Government radio/fax channels to message Amy, there’s no response.
She heads them toward Apris, where Sheldon should be working with the engineers. (It’s not something she’s strictly supposed to know, but then Penny’s never been one to stay out of the loop.)
Penny could fly most ships blindfolded, which, at the present time, is quite a useful skill to have, given the way they’re having to fly completely under the radar. Not even Beverly’s credentials are going to get them past the Government checkpoints.
When she hits Apris, she finds out three things: Wyatt and the Demeter have beat her here, Wil and Sheldon and Amy left a day ago, and they intercepted a call for backup on Station 17, regarding the capturing of certain undesirables.
Because nothing but nothing could ever be easy.
Chapter 5: and we never stop, can't stop
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
They run and they run and they run, feet scrambling for purchase on the ground. Sweat pools at the small of Sheldon’s back and his lungs are burning, and whatever mandatory exercise he used to do at the complex is no match for this, did nothing to prepare him for this. Wil is keeping pace better than Sheldon would have expected from all of those posed photographs and propaganda vids, and Sheldon’s reminded of the muscles he felt along his arms as they’d kissed, the way he holds a gun, and sometimes the dichotomy of actor and rebel spy have seemed too far to consider real, but right now it’s easy to see the both of them in Wil.
The complex they’re running towards gleams in the distance, ground stretching between them, and Sheldon embraces the ache in his muscles and the blister rubbing its way onto the back of his left heel and even the way the wind burns his eyes as he runs.
They run and they run and they run and they don’t stop for anything.
He catches them all the same.
The Gentleman steps closer. He’s dressed all in black, typically evil and menacing, and Wil would be quietly amused at the theatrics of all of it if there wasn’t a gun pressed against his back. As it is, his eyes are focused on Sheldon.
Sheldon’s standing, back braced against the wall of the complex.
“I can’t allow you to abuse it,” he says. His voice is steady, steadier than Wil expected. Amy, twisting against the arms of the two men holding her back, lifts her chin a little at the sound of it, pride tugging her lips into an awkward smile.
The Gentleman’s lips curl into a too-sharp smirk. “You will tell me how you solved the equation, Dr. Cooper,” he says. “You will tell us how to bypass the speed restrictions we’ve encountered.”
“You’ll use it as a weapon,” Sheldon says. “I can’t allow you to do that.”
“Dr. Cooper,” the Gentleman says, glancing first at Wil and then Amy, and finally at Sheldon, standing alone. “You haven’t much of a choice.”
And Sheldon has learned a thing or two about choices. He’s learned a thing or two about trust and about responsibility, and while the whole debacle hasn’t exactly been a very special episode of anything, it’s been…something. Something that tastes like chocolate and wet kisses, something that sounds like Missy’s songs and feels like Penny’s curves against his body; and he gets that doing the right thing is hard, but maybe life isn’t just science and figuring things out, maybe it’s figuring things out for the right reasons, and maybe it’s deciding what those reasons are.
He’s tempted to say something profound and overstated, like there’s always a choice, but instead he bounces lightly on the balls of his feet. The cool breeze slides against his skin, and he’s grateful for that, for the reminder of wind against his face and sun against his cheeks. The ground gives slightly beneath his feet, the way the Flandorian tiles never did, and he’s gathering himself, pulling himself together, giving himself over.
“Dr. Cooper,” the Gentleman says, because the Government’s Agents don’t get names. Sheldon’s tired of namelessness, and he’s tired of hiding, but he’s just starting to fall back in love with air and sunlight and dirt and trees, and most of all running. So far he’s loving running.
He takes off, hearing Wil’s voice lurch up with a desperate collection of words, and Amy’s overlap as he tears past her. More than that, though, he can hear the slow, deliberate, insidious crawl of the Gentleman’s voice as Sheldon gives his everything over and skims past him. The complex is tall and wide and metal steel, and it casts a long shadow on the dirt, but it’s earthbound, tied inextricably to the ground. And Sheldon’s learning the ground. He’s learning crater and mountain, molehill and ditch. He runs for the cliffs’ edge and he doesn’t look back.
There’s the sound of a scuffle from somewhere behind him, but he keeps running, hearing the soft echo of footsteps giving chase. He knows he’s too valuable for them to shoot. He’s counting on it.
He can remember Missy’s hand in his, the smell of hay from the stacks below, the heat of the enclosed space. You want to fly? she’d ask, and he’d squeeze her hand in reply, and they’d never count out loud but when they got to three they’d always known, always jumped together.
You want to fly?
And the cliff is twenty feet away, less, and there’s wind at his back pushing him forward, and he’s ready to fly, ready to give his all, ready to give up in all ways but one. He won’t let them win. He does not, after all, take losing well.
Ten feet away, less, and then the sound of an engine gunning rolls over him. He skitters to the left, feeling ground give way, shifting on the sand until he falls to his hands and his knees. He’s looking up when Demeter rises above the edge of the cliff, her pale grey skin bright with reflected sunlight. There’s a figure standing on her top, feet settling on the metal. Another’s climbing out of the hatch behind, but even with the glare and the heat and the Gentleman behind him, he knows that standing figure, knows her as he knows himself. She levels the gun and aims behind him.
“You want to fly, Shelly?” she calls out, her voice rolling between them over the sound of engines, and Sheldon stands, and runs, and jumps.
Missy makes sure her brother’s clambering up the side of Demeter in one piece. Once she is, she stops herself from saying run or are you all right? or all those overly saccharine statements that can wait until they’re all no longer on the verge of dying. As it is, she’s just still in a degree of shock that she can see him, that he’s there, that he’s alive. There was a lot of time when she wasn’t sure if she’d ever even get that. If she’d ever even get that little degree of hope, of success. It’s hard, she thinks, hard to have to wait and have to suffer and have to hope, and be consigned to hope and hope alone. And it’s not fair, but maybe these things are never fair. At the very least, she knows the Government isn’t.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, out of breath and struggling to remember the particulars of standing. “How are you even here?”
“Sheldon,” Penny calls, smirking, “I don’t believe I’ve had the chance to introduce you to our doctor?” She loops an arm through Missy’s and kisses her cheek, grinning at the way Sheldon looks torn between disbelief and irritation. It becomes moot when, after a moment of deliberation, he runs straight for Missy, dignity be damned, and envelopes her in his arms.
“Shelly,” Missy says, almost crooning as her hands come up to squeeze him tight, “Shelly, you don’t know what I had to go through to get you out of there. But it was worth it,” she says. “It was worth it.” She pulls back from him a little to get a better look at him. “Look at you!” she says, “Look how tall you got!”
And maybe it’s been eighteen years since the last time he saw her, but there’s the same mischief in the corners of her eyes, the same telltale lilt to her voice as she speaks, and the sheer fact that’s she here, the sheer fact that she came for him—
“Hey, Sheldon,” Wil calls. He’s closer, now, still with the gun at his back and the Agents around him. “You maybe want to break up the cuddle fest and help out a little?”
“Wil Wheaton,” Missy calls, shaking her head. “Awful shocked to hear you had a hand in this.”
Sheldon looks between Missy and Wil and then decides he truly, desperately does not want to know that story.
“You know me,” Wil smirks, “Never could turn down a pretty face.” He winks lasciviously at Sheldon, and Sheldon’s cheeks go a rather flattering shade of red.
“Get down from there,” the Gentleman orders, irritation coloring his voice. Penny pulls out her gun and aims it at him.
“Seems we have ourselves a standoff,” she says, voice cool and steady. Sheldon looks between the two of them, worried, because Wil’s—well. He’d rather not have Wil killed terribly, if it’s all the same. He gathers himself up, standing forward a little on the balls of his feet.
"Captain," he says, relishing in her small smile when he says it, "Do you happen to have an extra gun I could use?"
Wyatt presses a gun into his hand as he comes up behind them, and now it's the four of them standing against the Agents below. Wil's smiling up at Sheldon as if he doesn't realize there's a gun at his back, and then Bernadette comes flying out from a hatch down beneath. There’s a scattered collection of shots, and then Wil’s picking up a gun from the dropped Agents around him, and Amy’s doing what is possibly supposed to be some sort of kung fu but is mostly just deeply disturbing.
Sheldon drops to his knee to take better aim, while Penny flings herself off the ship and down into the melee, jumping on the back of an Agent just as he was about to attack Amy. ("Bestie!" Amy shouts with a grin.) Missy's steady with the gun in her hands, but Sheldon's not surprised at that—she always had a good aim and a careful ease.
He's never shot a man before, so he makes sure the first time he does, it counts. The Gentleman falls to his knees, and Sheldon can hear his pulse in his ears, the overwhelming pressure of it all, but—
The last battle isn’t pretty and it isn’t quick, but when it's over, it's finally over, at least long enough for them to catch their breath. Wyatt Jr. gets shot in the arm, but it’s nothing too serious, nothing that won’t heal with time. So basically, as long as they outlive the next ten minutes, they should be in the free and clear.
Wil and Raj set up the Vidcam.
Given how Sheldon’s face has been plastered pretty much everywhere as the kidnapped scientist in the last few weeks, it’s been decided it’ll be him and Wil that deliver the announcement via vidcast. Now that Missy’s here, though, he tugs her with him in front of the camera, his grip tight, his eyes continuing to skim over her face, ascertaining that she’s real, that she’s there, that she’s not going anywhere.
Wil gives a long foreword, slipping in innuendos like he can’t help himself (and let’s be honest here, he probably can’t), but when the time comes to wrap it up he glances over at Sheldon and grins. And Wil has a lot of smiles in his repertoire—eager and amused and aloof and distant and cold and sharp and hungry and so many more it’s impossible to count, impossible to tie him down to numbers—but this is the first time this grin, this relieved and giddy and grateful grin, has ever made a public appearance.
Wil gave the foreword because he’s Wil Wheaton, celebrity, and it’s nice to have backing, good to have people listen up and take notice, and because he’s the fucking poster boy for living in a Government ruled world, of giving in and backing down and saying please sir, may I have some more? when you get stepped on. Maybe that’s always been part of his persona, maybe he’s been building it all up for this moment over the years, building up the perfect soldier just for this chance to tear it all down.
Because this time, oh, this time he’s saying hey, guys, let’s not do this. Let’s not be dicks. And if the Government is going to be a dick, then maybe they shouldn’t get a chance to play. Maybe we should cut them out and do things the way we know, deep down, we should.
So by the time Sheldon steps in front of the camera, his palm damp against Missy’s, there’s silence in the control room; the sort of silence in which breathing sounds loud from someone next to you. There’s a feeling in the air, of waiting, of hoping, and Sheldon looks at Leonard and Leslie, standing together hand in hand, and he looks at Howard and Raj and Bernadette, and Amy and Penny and Wyatt Jr. and all of the rest of them, everyone who’s had a hand in bringing him here today, even when he didn’t realize why, even when he was content to stand in his unnamed office and change the world for all of the wrong reasons.
“This is my sister,” he says. “Her name is Missy, Dr. Missy Cooper. Before today, the last time I saw her we were eight years old. We’re twenty six, now.
“I’ve worked for the Government for the last eight years, because I was told I was supposed to work for the Government. I was taken away from New Texas when I was eight years old, and I was enrolled in the Academy, and I’ve spent my entire life doing exactly what the Government wanted me to do, because that’s what I was taught.
“I figured out how to make spaceships break the speed of light. Right now, we’re trapped in our solar systems, and forced to travel slowly from world to world. Trips between space stations take days, between planets weeks. The alien cultures that we’ve encountered all exist months away, and how can we begin to foster a relationship with them when we haven’t had the chance to truly meet?
“The Government wants to use what I have solved to create armed spaceships. They want to start a war with our neighbors. They want to eradicate all non-humans. And I can’t allow that. I won’t allow that. And you shouldn’t allow that, either.
“I’ve lived my life inside complex walls, in a Government sanctioned environment. I ate Government sanctioned food and I slept on a Government sanctioned bed and my entire life I’ve bent to the whims of those who are neither more intelligent nor more concerned with the wider political ramifications of my work.
“I was born in New Texas, and my daddy had a saying. He said “No guts, no glory.” We have to draw the line somewhere, and I’m drawing mine here. I think it’s time the Government steps back and allows it’s citizens the chance to change things. Because this isn’t a world that I want to live on. And right now, I’m the only one in the universe who knows that equation.
“There’s a ship, though. Her name is the Demeter, and she has a new engine installed.”
Raj has the portable Vidcam working, and he flips it on, taking in Sheldon and Missy and Wil, all of whom are now slowly following Penny and the others outside. The Demeter glistens a little in the sunlight, and it’s hard not to feel a wash of home and freedom and something like safety, something like hope, upon seeing her.
“Here she is,” Sheldon says, as Raj and Wil hook the camera up on the tripod stand, so it’s facing the ship. “We can’t activate the Warp engines inside the atmosphere, but once we hit it, you’ll see a blue glow instead of the normal orange. And we’ll disappear.
“Right now, we’re on Station 17. The complex is unnamed, naturally, but I think it’s time we start naming things. I think it’s time we stop hiding.”
Penny leans in over Sheldon’s shoulder, grinning for the camera and the viewers and everyone else.
“We used to have a little place called Omaha,” she says. “Government shut it down and relocated everyone. Never did tell us why. I think maybe we should call this place Omaha, Sheldon,” she says.
“Omaha,” he says, smiling at her, and then he leans forward and kisses her, maybe for the sake of the viewers, maybe because she’s beautiful and has perfect timing and he’s lost his heart to her, lost his heart to everyone here, to the way they embrace this cause and the way they’ve pulled him into something larger than himself, filling something inside him he didn’t even know was empty. He’s flying high on adrenaline and anxiety and happiness and hope, and she smiles into the kiss, wraps a hand in his coat when he pulls away.
“And hey,” she says, turning back towards the camera but not letting him go, “Hey, all you Government fucks? How ‘bout you try to catch us?”
And then they’re running, piling into the Demeter, laughing and swearing and panicking and hoping, because the one short burst they did to get here wasn’t a real test of the engines, and this is important, this is everything right here, bundled up in a metal shell and human bodies. There’s too many of them on the ship, but no one’s caring right now. They all want to see.
They’re packed into the pilot room, Penny in the seat and the rest of them half on top of each other, but they want to see this; they need to see this.
“No going back,” Penny says, and she looks around at them one last time, these people that she loves so well.
“I think we crossed that bridge a long time ago,” Wil says, leaning in over her shoulder and just about as much into her personal space as he can manage without actually sitting on top of her. Still, she smiles up at him helplessly. He has that effect.
And Sheldon can hear the wind in the trees, can feel the dirt underfoot as he runs, and he has a history of moments to remember, a lifetime to reclaim.
“Let’s start a revolution,” he says. "Warp speed ahead."
A/N: Thanks for the ride, lovies! ♥