May 4th, 2018, Coruscant, Mimas, Saturn (Fenspace Convention #10 "CoruCon")
I love Convention... well, mostly.
A big part of it is the Friday that everyone arrives, showing up in a steady stream from practically right after midnight on through the early evening. It's a chance to meet with people one hasn't seen since the last Convention, and in some cases, a good excuse for some of us to meet up without having to schedule it weeks in advance.
The only real bad part about it is having to put on my political hat.
For example, this time it was a good time really to get together with Mal and Myk. Now, as a record, Myk in some ways works for me, at least in terms of being a consultant for Jupiter Mining Corporation, the company I run with the help of Nene and Geo. Mal runs his own little group (under token protest) called the Soviet Air Force In Exile, the VVS, or occasionally "those Red Commie Bastards". One thing few realize is that Myk and I are perhaps the only two people outside the Soviet's original core group that knew Mal before the diaspora. And that he was the one responsible for me having gotten my hands on a batch of Handwavium early on.
Nene had stayed on Starbug 1 to handle some last minute paperwork as related to the running of the JMC, before we would be shoulder deep in the panel tracks as related to the running of Fenspace itself. I was both looking forward to and dreading the next two days of negotiations and discussions, so we were together in the main cantina of Coruscant, drinking spiked milkshakes (making me wonder who here was a closet Red Dwarf fan, I mean, beer milkshakes?!), and discussing some of our strategies under the convenient shield of the noise.
"I think the biggest part is convincing Marsden that changing some of the rules regarding mining safety would be good for everyone. Especially with this 'United Belters Association' that's formed in response to his relative stranglehold on the asteroid belt," I said, taking another swig of my margarita milkshake. "Expecting them to form an actual corporation, rather than a co-op, to be able to share the load of meeting safety regulations, isn't really being sporting."
"Shouldn't be too hard,” Mal said, twirling one of the poppers we'd ordered around speculatively. “'It's all carrot and stick. We let him know how a little healthy competition will be good for his business. And if that doesn't work,” he added, “then the UMWA and the IWW will start unionizing more of his crews.”
Mal shook his head. “I never thought I'd be playing capitalist bully-boy games,” he said.
"Don't sweat it," Myk said. "We all know that things can't run without it right now. At least we're not asking you to... wait, there's Nene." He put up an arm to wave so that Nene could find us more easily. The cantina had started to get fairly crowded now, after all. She waved back, and made her way over.
Once she cleared the crowd near the table, my eyebrows practically shot up into my hairline. I’d seen Nene in dresses and skirts prior (her strapless dress she wore to Noah and Leda's wedding being a particularly notable example), but this was... the dress mimicked the general red, pink and white of her common hardsuit design, but ended pretty much as high as one could end a dress and still retain some modesty, with the pink continued down her legs via fishnets, disappearing into red leather knee high boots. The top of the dress was equally daring, spaghetti straps and a fair amount of cleavage showing.
Mal was making a definite point of not looking directly at anything Nene was showing except perhaps her face (not that I blame him, with Sora likely somewhere nearby). Myk rubbed his eyes with both hands, looked at her again, then glanced my way for a second to check my reactions.
"What'd I miss?" she asked, a little too cheerfully. I felt a slight trickle of sweat running down my back.
"Uh... just discussing the UBA and Greenwood situation."
"Get it all sorted out?"
"Almost. We've been mostly running our thoughts past our Happy Fun Commie Mal." Mal snorted at the reference, but kept quiet.
"Well... if you're about done... I was wondering if you wanted to see the WFC exhibit they just finished setting up... all the stuff they've managed to replicate from it the past two years, all in one big room..."
"Maybe later, Nene, maybe we can do it as a group, all of us," I replied, a tad too quickly. And once I said it, I realized I'd erred, and erred greatly, as Nene's happy aura visibly crumbled, her entire posture slumping.
"...you know, if you were going to blow me off again..." she started. I didn't quite hear Myk behind me make an inarticulate noise that roughly translated as, "oh no you idiot, you didn't..." as Nene seemed to shrink in front of us. She looked like she was about to actually burst out into tears right out in public. Then, she straightened up a little bit, sucked some air in through her nose in part to stifle a sniffle or maybe even a first sob. "...the least you could do for once is actually acknowledge that you've known I've had feelings for you, rather than keep me closed off..."
And then she turned and ran out of the cantina, quickly disappearing into the Friday Convention crowd filing in from the docking areas. I stood there for a few moments, my brain basically locked up as I realized how hurt she really was, and completely unsure if I should even make the effort to pursue her through the crowd.
Then, I was aware of two people who had come up behind me, one on either side of me.
"That went well," Myk remarked dryly to my right.
"I'd say so," Mal said from my left.
"Let's go somewhere private," Myk said, in the tone of voice that most people would think it a suggestion... but I could sense the insistence of a demand buried in it. Still a little numbed from the shock, I nodded, turned, and the two of them led me into one of the private rooms usually reserved for shipping negotiations.
Once Mal ensured that the door to the room was properly sealed against eavesdroppers, he turned around, looked me square in the eye, and said flat out, "Right, how long have you known, and how long did you think you could put it off by ignoring it?"
"Don't give us any sort of fucking hemming or hawing about it, Jeph," Myk snapped. "She basically said it in front of what must have been half the SMOFs, and the other half will be hearing about it soon enough." He shook his head. "I mean, I know you can be completely fucking oblivious to such things, but not for almost ten fucking years, not in these fucking close quarters, and not with the effects of your biomod. I really should have confronted you about it sooner than this." He paused a little bit. "Just your luck I've been on the road too much to notice that you had it figured out but hadn't actually done anything about it. I thought her laying off meant you'd dealt with it in a reasonable fucking manner."
Mal gave Myk a questioning look, but apparently decided to let whatever question that had come to his mind slide for the time being, as he looked at me again.
"Myk's got a point. I can't see anyone being that oblivious. Something bothers you about it, doesn't it?"
"And what if it does, Sam?" I asked, starting to get more than a little angry, although mostly at myself. Mal flinched a little bit at the use of his old 'Dane name, but held his ground.
"Then maybe you need to get past whatever it is, and search your own feelings, Jeff," he responded, the slight difference in the pronunciation making it clear which of my names he was using.
"Of course, of course, that's what I've been seeing and not connecting... damnit, Jeph, you're being a hypocrite of the highest order," Myk said, palming his face and trying to keep his voice even in spite of the fire starting to take his eyes. He slid his hand off his chin, and fixed me with a glare suitable for melting Wave Convoy's skin. "Exactly how long have you been trying to hide your own feelings behind that paternal facade now?"
Now it was my turn to flinch... a flinch that quickly turned into anger. I slammed a fist onto the table, my body shifting to female almost without me noticing it by the time flesh impacted plastic.
"Damnit, Myk, in a way I'm her father. I can't allow myself to indulge in those sorts of feelings!"
And the anger immediately dissipated, as I realized I had said what the two of them had already known or suspected, and it was replaced with a feeling of great regret and shame. I slumped down into the bench.
"oh damnit all to hell. i'm her father, i can't..."
"Can't what, Jeph?" Myk asked, somewhat calmly, perhaps too calmly. "Can't get past the 'Dane conditioning against such things? Can't get past your own disgust about those incidents that are in the redneck portion of your own family tree?" He sat down on the other end of the bench around the table. "She's only your daughter in as much as you built her body, Jeph. Handwavium does strange things, including the fact that she was already her own person, has memories of a life she never lived, parents that never existed. She isn't related to you any more than you're related to Geo." He chuckled, with no real humor to it. "You're being as bad as a self-loathing gay Turnerite."
I'll admit, it was mildly (and inappropriately) amusing to see Mal give Myk, of all Fen, a look that all but said, "you did not say that just now." I actually had to stifle the bitter giggle. Still, Myk had a point, and he had made it.
"Sometimes, I hate it when you're right, but damnit, you've got a damned point about my recent behavior towards Nene because of my own insecurities regarding my feelings towards her." I said, wiping both hands down my face. "I... can't promise anything. As you've said, there's some... conditioning to get past." I glanced at Mal. "I'm sorry I snapped at you, Mal. I... got kind of blindsided by Nene's up front approach to the matter."
"No worries," he replied. "You're not the only one who's had issues with the cultural shifts the 'wave brought. Now. What do you plan on doing about it, and what do you need out of me, since I'm effectively involved now?"
I sighed, leaning back in the booth and pulling at my hair. "I don't know quite yet. Except... be a witness for something right now."
"Myk... with Mal as my witness, I'm appointing you as my representative at the various panels regarding serious Convention matters. I know you're already versed. To be honest, I'm not sure my emotions are going to be cool enough for me to directly participate."
Myk nodded. "I'll get Geo to fill me in on anything I'm not sure of." He looked a little more serious. "I expect you to have at least apologized to Nene before we leave for Serenity, Jeph. I'm not sure I could stomach being on the same small ship with two people who aren't talking to each other at all."
I pressed the chime button on the door to the second cabin. After several seconds, I moved to press it again when Nene's strained voice called out from inside.
"Go away. I wanna be alone."
I spent a few seconds reconsidering disturbing her, then set myself, and keyed in the primary override code for the door. It obediently slid aside with a sigh.
The room inside was dark, the only light coming from the foyer and cutting a bright slash across to the double bunk. I could see her curled up in the dark near the foot of the bunk, her feet caught in the light and showing that, while she had removed her boots, she was still in the rest of the outfit she had surprised all of us with. Her face came up from where she had it buried in her knees, and I could see her eyes were very wet, and the reflection of the tear tracks on her cheeks. I could just see them widen as she read my stance and realized my own emotional state.
I slowly entered the room, allowing the door to close behind me before I cross the room in a single stride, and sat on the portion of the bunk she wasn't occupying, setting down the polymer canvas bag I'd been carrying. I gave a few minutes for her to adjust, hearing her sniffle from her crying, before I began.
"Nene... I... I'm sorry, I've been a serious ass to you the past couple of years... since... since I learned of your feelings." I closed my eyes, took in one shuddering breath. One thing about my biomod having kicked in is that it was a lot... tougher to keep my emotions in check, especially when they were running high like they were now. "Nene... I let... I let my discomfort with the way you came into this world... my... my role in it... the way society told me a parent has to be towards their child... to affect my judgement..."
"...so you want me to leave?"
I looked at her, eyes wide. "No! I... no, I don't want you to leave... I..." I took in another breath, sucking in the somewhat cool air of the cabin, then let it out before I forged on.
"...I've loved you too, and not in the way of a parent, Nene. But... I felt like I couldn't let myself do so... so I pushed you away when I found out..." I could feel the tears starting to well up and slide down my cheeks. Slowly, I curled up on the opposite side of the bunk, unconsciously mirroring Nene's pose, pressed my shoulder against the bulkhead, and shuddered out a sob. "...i just couldn't, because i've seen myself as your father for too long..." I thumped my head against the bulkhead, closing my eyes against a fresh wave of tears.
I didn't feel her move across the bunk, but I felt her hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes, blinking out the tears, and looked over. She had turned on the little bunk light, and I could see her eyes now, still wet, but her mouth was quirking up a little bit. From the angle, I could see right down her top, but to be honest, I had more important sights, for her eyes were lighting up again, even as fresh tears came to them.
"...Jeph... I..." She sobbed loudly, as she smiled, putting a clenched hand to her cheek. "...you don't hate me... YOU DON'T HATE ME!"
And with that, she grabbed me into a tight hug, gripping me for all she was worth, like I might evaporate at any moment.
We were like that for a few minutes, as the initial wave of emotional intensity passed.
"I guess I didn't need to buy that cheesecake then," I commented once we got into a relatively calm period. Nene started, and looked up at me from where she was cuddled against me.
"Cheesecake? You were going to ply me with cheesecake?" She gave me a mock punch in the side. "Not that it wouldn't have worked, mind you."
"Well, to be certain... it's the good kind. Real cream cheese."
"Ooooooo... with fresh strawberries?"
"Of course. You think I'm going to apologize for my behavior with a common market freezer cheesecake? As if. Even I have my standards."
She giggled. I found that one giggle to lighten my own mood.
"Word travels really fucking fast around here," Myk groused at Mal as they came out of the Tarkin Officer's Club, which was currently hosting a rousing Rock Band party, where the drum kit pads had been replaced somewhat morbidly with various stormtrooper helmets. "I've literally lost track of the number of people who've asked if Nene's had some sort of falling out with us, or Jeph with her." He tugged at the lapels of his loud shirt. "He'd better well have fucking made some progress with her by the time I get back on board Starbug, or there's going to be hell to pay."
"If so, can I come watch?" Mal asked, deadpan. "I could use the pick-me-up."
"Sure, why not? I need a witness for when Great Justice puts me on trial for killing him. 'And that's why I spaced him, your honor.'"
"You can't mean that," Mal said. Myk stopped and looked at him.
"Mal, this is the worst screw up he's ever had, and he's had a nice string of them. This one might well be what breaks the leadership of JMC. Between him, Nene, and Geo, they all keep JMC running on all cylinders. I can guarantee things won't go well if Nene up and leaves." He started walking again, making Mal have to double his step to catch back up. "Nene's basically the morale officer, and half of what keeps the paperwork from overwhelming him right now. Partly because of his resistance to incepting another AI, given some of the abuses we've heard about the past few years."
"Yeah, I can see where he might be rather reluctant," Mal remarked as they made their way into the docking complex, and over to where Starbug 1 was berthed.
"Well, either way, I don't plan on letting him off the hook if he hasn't done it yet," Myk continued as he walked up the rolling stairway to the starboard airlock, waved his JMC identicard in front of the lock to open the hatch, and stepped inside, with Mal on his heels.
Once inside, they were forced to stop as soon as Myk opened the inner hatch and they could hear the conversation inside, accompanied by a soundtrack of primitive electronic sound effects.
"-ONONO get that egg!"
"DAMNIT HERE COMES THE DAMNED DRAGON!"
"I SHALL AVENGE YOU!"
They let the inner hatch close, and Mal looked at Myk.
"What was that about killing him?"
"I take it back now. Apparently he can correct for his mistakes."