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The New Normal

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Heller woke up to the sound of something exploding.

He jerked awake, cursing as his head collided solidly with the bottom of the bunk above his. Eleven years on board The Ariel, and the ship still tried its damnedest to give him a concussion at least once a month. He rolled out of his bed, the metal floor cold under his bare feet, and immediately made a dash for the cockpit.

An alarm was blaring, echoing through the cargo hold. What that meant, Heller had no idea. The Ariel had exactly one alarm, and it could mean any of approximately five thousand different things, ranging from "a mistake that means nothing" to "the ship just collided with a star and you're dead."

He was hoping for the former. The fact that he could smell smoke and was almost certain it had been an explosion of some kind that had woken him up, though, implied that it wasn't a complete false alarm.

"Damn it," Heller muttered as he full-out sprinted across the mostly empty hold. "What could have possibly happened in the—"

... and he ran face first into the forcefield protecting the cockpit.

"Fuckity, fuck, fucking—" Heller's hand shot up to clutch his nose, and he wasn't surprised to feel a little blood trickling between his fingers. It wasn't too bad as nosebleeds went, but it was still more of one that he would have liked.

He squinted, trying to see through the semi-opaque forcefield. It was bright orange, giving everything on the other side a similar hue. Inside the cockpit, a familiar figure was leaning over the main console. A smaller console off to the side was smoking lightly, a foam covering it that looked suspiciously like something from the fire-suppression system. Which was kind of impressive, actually, since Heller was fairly certain that system hadn't actually worked when he'd bought the ship in the first place.

"Ghoti, what in the hell's going on in there?"

Inside, Ghoti looked up from the console se'd been studying, all four of hir silver eyes going wide at the sight of Heller standing there. "Vargys!" se exclaimed, and after almost six months Heller was fairly certain that was guilt he was hearing in hir voice. "One moment."

Se moved away from the console, heading towards the doorway and hitting the hatch control with hir upper right hand. The forcefield in front of Heller faded away.

All of Ghoti's eyes immediately darted towards Heller's bleeding nose, and if anything se looked even guiltier. "My apologies, Vargys. I did not intend to wake you."

Heller stared at Ghoti for a long moment, his eyebrows going up. Then he let his gaze drift over the rest of the cockpit.

It looked better than it had after that incident with the solar flare a week after the wormhole had dropped him in the far end of the universe. That was about all he could say. The smaller console he'd noticed through the forcefield was definitely smoking a bit, and judging by the scorch marks and cracks in it, he suspected he'd found the source of the explosion that had woken him up. Luckily, it was one of the auxiliary systems, rather than something actually vital.

Although, considering the way his luck had been going lately, even back-up systems were still pretty important.

Heller kept moving his gaze over the cockpit. A toolkit was sitting on the floor next to the less-than-working console, and several panels had been opened on both the wall and the floor. There were a variety of wires, pieces of metal, and some things that he didn't even recognize strewn out all over the cockpit, at least three of which were glowing a shade of bright green that he was almost certain he'd never seen anywhere on The Ariel before. Or possibly ever. Anywhere.

"Do I want to ask what you were doing?" Heller asked slowly. He reached up to tuck some loose strands of hair behind his ear before grimacing as he realized that there'd been blood on his hand. Oh, well.

Ghoti rocked back on hir heels, looking more nervous than se had since hir first week on board the ship with him. And the two of them hadn't even been able to communicate with each other back then because the translators had still been recalibrating.

"I remembered what you said about some of the systems not working properly," se said. "So I thought that I would try to fix them."

Heller's eyes darted to the still-smoking console and back.

At that, Ghoti's light blue skin flushed to a darker shade. "Perhaps I, uh, overestimated my knowledge of your systems," se admitted.

"You don't say," Heller said dryly.

Ghoti's skin flushed to a blue so dark it was almost navy.

Heller took another look around the disaster zone that was the cockpit before glancing at the viewport. The ship was still parked where he'd left it when he'd gone to bed a few hours earlier, at least, hidden on the far side of a moon that would hopefully keep anyone from noticing them unless they were really looking. He'd count that as a win at that point.

"Well, at least you got the fire suppression system working," Heller said, grasping for anything to try and make Ghoti stop looking like se was afraid he was about to space hir. "That's a plus."

Ghoti opened hir mouth. Then se closed it, shifting awkwardly in a way that Heller definitely didn't want to ask any questions about whatsoever. This was one of those situations where he was almost certain not knowing was the better option.

"Come on, kid," Heller said, throwing his arm over Ghoti's shoulder. Se was a little taller than him, so it was a bit awkward, but he made it work. "Let's get breakfast."

Ghoti shifted. "But it's the middle of the night," se said, and there was no missing the confusion in hir voice.

"Human tradition when you get woken up by something exploding," Heller said without missing a beat. "Come on, let's break out some of that weird goopy fruit you picked up at the last market. Then you can explain to me exactly what you were trying to do to the ship."