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The Law and The Penitent

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“So...tell me again what exactly am I about to drink?“ Alex squinted into the brightly colored mixture swirling in the tall glass set on the table in front of her. The fizzing bubbles popping inside reminded her of champagne she tasted once back on Earth, but the odor was something else altogether. Ship fuel would be coming close. “'Cause if I’m being honest, Nyoka, this looks like mantisaur vomit and it smells even worse.”

It was a rare couple of hours when the crew of the Unreliable was not planet-hopping between errands, instead enjoying a well-earned break, each of them spending their free time as they saw fit – except Parvati it seemed, who still could not get used to any leisure that was not a mandatory six hour sleep break. An occasional bout of her and Felix’s laughter sounding from the engine room however, told Alex that at least she had company, and someone to geek out over aetherwave serials with. As for the Captain, she finally took Nyoka up on her offer to “mix-up something special to celebrate”, and her and Ellie volunteered as testing sprats, currently occupying the ship’s kitchen. Alex enjoyed being out of her armor for once, wearing instead one of her cleaner shirts and after the long, very much needed and much overdue shower, the sulfurous stench of Monarch stuck to her skin finally gone, she felt very close to heavenly.

“You ever seen a mantisaur vomit?” Nyoka asked with a smirk, plopping down on a chair opposite of Alex. “Those fuckers have intestines of steel, they can digest anything – unlike us. Which is why all the ingredients in this magnificent drink are perfectly safe even for your delicate tastes.”

“Blergh. Somehow you managed to make this sound even more disgusting. But I guess you can’t call yourself an adventurer if all you drink is what's on the tap,” Ellie shrugged and pulled the cup closer.

“True, though I agree that it needs a better sales pitch. At least tell me what’s it called so I can curse the name with my last dying breath,” Alex said dramatically, lifting the glass for a toast, closely followed by Ellie’s. Nyoka just laughed, loudly clinking their glasses together.

“You just named it yourself, Cap.”

“To our health! And to the amazing payout from SubLight, to which we owe the birth of this here...uh...Mantisaur Vomit!” Alex shouted, bravely downing a few gulps of the drink – something she regretted almost instantly, as her throat was immediately engulfed by flames.

“What…the fuck is…this?? Battery acid!?” she managed to sputter between fits of coughing.

Nyoka grinned contentedly, like a cat sunbathing on a roof, sipping her drink as calmly as if it was a freshly squeezed mock apple juice.

“Close. Tripsitout, purpleberry liqueur, vodka, tartarus sauce, ambidextrine and…a special, very secret ingredient,” she counted on her fingers, a mysterious smile on her lips.

“Let me guess. Filtered sewage,” Ellie’s face seemed to change hue from red to green in a manner of second.

“Now if I confirmed or denied that, which I’m definitely not, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore now, would it?” Nyoka laughed, visibly making fun of their reactions.

“Yeah no, I will stick to my old, boring, non-corrosive drinks, thank you very much,” Alex rasped, her mouth still burning, getting up to open herself a bottle of whatever poor excuse of a beer that was at hand.

“I think I just need a test subject with a more refined palate. Hey, how about Max? Where is he anyhow?” Nyoka looked around the room, as if the vicar was there all along and she simply overlooked him. “Hey Vicar!! Yo, Max, come join us!!”

There was a sound of rustling papers and creaking of a chair, as if someone stood up, although very reluctantly. In a moment, Max peeked out of his cabin, a look of utter disinterest already firmly fixed on his face. To say that he was also dressed more leisurely would probably be an overstatement, but Alex noted that the vestments he was wearing seemed older, less formal, the cut different as well. The fabric probably had a different feel to it too. She quickly made herself look busy, opening a cabinet and pretending to look for a very specific glass, resisting the urge to slap herself - repeatedly.

“You are kind to offer your...culinary opus, but I am afraid I will have to decline.”

“Oh, you’re no fun. What are you even doing, hiding in there when the party is over here?” Nyoka was apparently not about to give up that easily.

“It appears you have already answered your own question,” he retorted, the corners of his mouth rising slightly in amusement as Alex met his gaze across the room, rolling her eyes and responding with a smirk of her own. Max promptly went back inside - this time, shutting his door.

“Well, that was just fucking rude,” Ellie said, deliberately loudly, so he would hear her. “I liked him better when he was all angry, righteous and fun to tease. Now he’s just too zen for me.”

“Told you before, you won’t lure him out like that,” Alex smiled, a pleasant, yet somehow still irritating feeling bubbling up inside her, sitting back down on the kitchen chair and taking another sip of her beer. The smooth bitterness slowly chased the taste of Nyoka’s concotion away. “If you had a nice bottle of whiskey and a discussion about moral relativism ready, you would stand a bigger chance.”

Ellie and Nyoka exchanged a smile and a look, that made Alex narrow her eyes.

“The hell was that about?”

“You would know a thing or two about how to lure the vicar, wouldn’t you, Captain?” Nyoka’s voice was almost a purr, silent and conspiratorial as she leaned across the table.

Alex blinked, hard, her fingers involuntarily tightening around the bottle, trying and failing to sound nonchalantly.

“Wh...what are you talking about?”

“Come ooon Cap, don’t play coy, you two are basically attached at the hip ever since our little hippie trip to Scylla,” Ellie leaned back on her chair, clearly not invested, or at least succeeding in pretending not to be, in her captain’s business, but simply enjoying taking a rise out of her. A revenge for all the times Alex did the same to her, surely.

Alex sighed, deeply, taking a big swig from her bottle before bothering to answer.

“I swear I was in a spaceship, drinking with two adult women just a moment ago, why am I suddenly in a fucking...girl’s locker room, talking about boys?”

Well shit, that came out a bit too strong, she admitted to herself after her words got a more than surprised reaction from the pair in front of her, and retreated a little bit. It was starting to look as if she was defending herself, instead of trying to sound as if she were refuting a completely absurd notion.

“ Can’t two adults spend some time in one room without SOME nosy crew members jumping to conclusion?”

“I don’t know. Depends on what they’re doing in that room. Really Cap, its a small ship, word gets around, I get bored...“

“It’s not that small,“ Alex muttered, determined to defend the pride of not exactly hers, not exactly legally acquired vessel.

“Besides, it’s what you do with it that counts,” Ellie finished, a smirk tugging at her lips.

“Come on Cap, indulge us. What kind of spiritual counseling do you two get up to?”

Nyoka bit deep and apparently was not willing to let this one go. Alright then, time to deflect.

“Fucking. Just hours of fucking. Every surface available, every position you can think of. And by the way we do not limit ourselves to my cabin - you might not want to lean on that table too much,” Alex deadpanned, trying to make her voice laced with as much sarcasm as she could muster.

She knew she was being juvenile, but that did not mean she planned to stop. Her chance to make a good impression on the two of them came and went months ago, and there is only so much respect you can retain after being repeatedly witnessed smashing a stubborn lock in frustration while cursing it to hell and back, after breaking countless mag-picks on it.

Ellie’s eyebrows shot up for a moment, before a sly smile spread on her face.

“Well, never been a religious woman myself, but it’s nice to know someone is taking their confessions seriously.”

“Now THAT was a good one,” Nyoka laughed, downing the rest of her mysterious drink in one gulp, watched by her horrified crew mates, then shaking her head vigorously. “Although that image is now forever burned into my brain, thank you very much.”

Alex dramatically pretended to be shocked on being discovered in her lie, throwing her hands up apologetically.

“Alright, alright, you caught me. What we actually do is trade tossball cards. Talk about our favorite players, discuss team tactics. That sort of thing.”

Nyoka grinned at her, raising one eyebrow.

“The trick about lying convincingly, Cap, is that you gotta start with the less believable, more outrageous lie first .”

Alex grumbled something into her bottle, desperately trying to ignore the fact that she could feel her ears burning and her heart threatened to beat its way out of her chest. She used to be a good liar - an amazing one even. Damn it. This was all his fault. If only Nyoka’s cocktail had a power to erase certain memories - well, let’s just say she would chug a whole bucket of the stuff, no matter how disgusting.

 

There was no escaping her crew’s scrutiny - or perhaps unrelenting mockery would be more accurate. There was only so much a person could hide on a cramped freighter with very little privacy - and even less could be hidden when a member of the said crew was involved, Alex was aware of this. Whether Max was too, and if he planned to do something about it, was another story.

It started simple enough – here was someone who’s views on reality around them were so different from hers she could not help but escalate every single one of their conversations into an argument. Ellie was right - the vicar was different back then, a righteous, holier-than-thou, sometimes absolutely insufferable man with some serious anger issues. But if he was all that and nothing more, then Alex struggled with the reason why did she let the things between them to develop as they did. Thinking back, perhaps the whole thing was inevitable from the start.


They arrived to their illegal docking site in Emerald Vale just as the light was beginning to dwindle, Parvati starting to look more and more crestfallen. She was so pleased with herself only a couple of hours ago, when Alex concurred that taking away Edgewater’s power, leaving its inhabitants to fend for themselves, could be considered unfair, and instead, with as much politeness as she could muster (which was still not much) kicked Thomas Reed out from his position, replacing him with Adelaide, the leader of the deserters. She, of course, still side-eyed Alex and did not even try to hide her relief when she saw her leaving. Now, however, Parvati’s shoulders slumped and she let out a quiet sigh.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked gently. The girl was really growing on her, not only because she was just about the only friendly face she saw in the whole of Halcyon since her crash landing, but also because she seemed like an honest, good-natured and a genuinely kind person – everything Alex was not. As a result, she felt obligated to at least try and act decent around her.

“Wrong? Oh…nothing ma’am, that is...“ she fell silent for a moment, before taking a deep breath and continuing. “It’s just that...a part of me knows that I could do some good back in Edgewater, but every time I think of returning, there’s this pit in my stomach. Oh I’ll just say it - I know my way around machines, and granted, I never worked on a space ship, but I can still do basic maintenance just fine. Besides, I can always learn more! And I think you ought to have a mechanic on board anyhow...“

“Parvati,” Alex stopped in her tracks, placing a hand on her shoulder to still the quick tide of words. “This ship is not leaving without you on board. Sad news, but you’re stuck with me now.”

Parvati took this bit of “sad news” with an expression of pure glee and quite a few enthusiastic thank you’s, immediately jumping to gushing about the Unreliable as if it was a beloved pet. It made Alex feel a tiny bit guilty for concealing from her that she wasn’t even sure the ship would fly, seeing as she only learned of its existence a few days ago. Only a tiny bit though.

“Besides,” Alex added as they neared their ship and she saw that the strange vicar that all but insisted on passage in the Unreliable was standing outside, leaning against the ship’s plating with his arms crossed, “if you didn’t come aboard, you’d leave me alone with our good Vicar DeSoto, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health. Certainly not his nerves.”

Parvati chuckled. “Can’t say I’m plannin’ on testing that. But still Captain, he ain’t all bad. I genuinely think he cares, just...in his own way.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Although if he tries to convert me or tell me to be a good, obedient gear in the Eternal Machine, or whatever it's called, he’s out,” Alex muttered. Of course Parvati would say that, she would try to find good in anyone. When Max saw them approaching, he looked towards the ship’s entrance in apparent frustration. He was still wearing the dark blue priest’s robe he wore back in the Mission and seemed to only carry a small bag with him, a crate stuffed full with books by his feet and - was that a shotgun strapped to his back? Alex almost whistled, her opinion of the man somewhat improving.

“Hey Vicar, enjoying the last few minutes of fresh air before takeoff?” she called out to him, unable and unwilling to hide the teasing edge to her voice. Parvati immediately mumbled something about unpacking and quickly ascended the short set of stairs, door opening to let her in, much to Max’s apparent surprise.

Right, ADA probably did not want to let him enter without the captain’s ID picked up by her sensors. Alex wondered how long did he have to wait outside, in the middle of primal-infested nowhere. Hopefully, he knew how to shoot as well as he could preach.

“Finally...I mean, hello again, Captain. No, there is hardly anything here that I would want to stall for - it is simply that your ship’s computer refused to open the door for me,” Max sighed and waved his hand vaguely in the ship’s direction, his tone polite, but, Alex noted, clearly strained, as if he was constantly on the edge of a lecture, or an angry outburst. “It kept calling me a marauder and threatened to activate defense turrets.”

“Oh yeah, she does that. Don’t worry though, she’s just bluffing,” Alex smiled, patting the ship’s side affectionately. It left a coat of dirt and grease on her palm.

“She?”

“Yeah, a lady called ADA pilots this ship. I’ll introduce you. Go right in, pick a cabin, don’t mind the mess, et cetera. Make yourself at home.”

The expression on the vicar’s face at that moment could be anything from surprise to disdain, but to his credit, he managed to thank her and turned to leave. Alex stayed behind, fishing in her pocket for a while before pulling out a crumpled packet of cigarettes, placing one between her lips. Finally, at least something that reminded her of her old life. Another galaxy, the same bad habits. The flick of a lighter pulled Max’s attention back to her.

“Something wrong?” She felt his stare and could tell it was disapproving. Fuck that. She was not one of his parishioners, to be questioned and measured against his idea of a perfect being, made to repent for her misgivings.

“Why in the Architect’s name did you pick up this disgusting worker’s habit is beyond me - but it is not my place to judge. I’ll be inside, should you need to speak with me.”

Damn it. He did have a voice that seemed to be made for planting guilt, calm and authoritative, true intent veiled with just enough politeness that the person on the receiving end of it would not feel insulted, but would rather feel the need to apologize scratch at their resolve, like a scolded child. His age and bearing only enhanced this. Alex noted this with part admiration, part revolt - it seemed to have the same effect on her.

Instead of giving in however, she tilted the half-empty packet towards him, eyebrow raised in invitation, fully expecting him to ignore her - at best. Instead, Max surprised her by looking about him - as if someone would be stupid enough to take a stroll around here, approaching her and, with a defeated look, taking the offered cigarette.

Alex smiled triumphantly as she took a step closer to light it.

“I can’t seem to shake the feeling that you deliberately try to find a way to turn my words against me every chance you get,” Max sighed, absentmindedly rolling the cigarette between his fingers.

“You make it too easy for me. As they say, I won’t tell if you don’t.”

He seemed genuinely amused by that, as she noticed when he leaned closer, extending one hand near hers to shield the flame, the spark briefly lighting up his face and his eyes following it. A nice shade of green, she noted, then frowned at the thought. What the hell did it matter what kind of eyes did an old priest have?

Though that description might have been unfair towards him, she had to admit - he seemed to be in late forties, perhaps nearing fifty, it was difficult to tell.

A blissful silence surrounded them for a while, mixed only with the thick blueish smoke. Alex closed her eyes and leaned back - for a moment, she traveled back seventy years - a number that still terrified her, back to a sleazy bar in Chicago where she met with her friends after their shift, mostly to drink cheap liquor and complain about their workload, their bosses, their coworkers, the constantly decreasing pay, anything at all. To vent before facing it all again the next day.

“Thank you for this, Captain. Although I loathe myself for accepting, the past few weeks have been...stressful to say the least,” Max interrupted her reminiscing. He did seem frustrated, not even the prospect of leaving this planet exactly cheering him up.

“No worries. This another thing you picked up in prison?” Alex asked, now genuinely curious.

“Your statement implies that smoking is a regular habit of mine, which it definitely isn’t. But yes - if there was one thing that usually persuaded the inmates to open up to you, it was cigarettes. Well, that and joining their tossball matches.”

“And I take it the gun training is standard for all vicars in Halcyon, right?” she gestured to the shotgun strapped to his back.

“While it isn’t, it most likely should be. I can’t imagine any place in this festering backwater that would not benefit from a couple more rounds fired into their problems.”

“Whoah,” Alex was a bit taken aback. “I hope that’s not what you preached to public. Last thing I need is more people running through this planet, blindly shooting anything that moves.”

“Yes, you’re completely right about that. I do apologize, it came out more crass than I intended to. I can’t exactly say I’ll feel any sadness upon leaving this place though.”

He seemed to be deep in thought, looking far into the distance, the cigarette burnt nearly to his fingers. Looking at him from the corner of her eye, Alex could not deny that despite the lines and wrinkles, or perhaps because of them, his face had a certain charm to it, even with the deep frown now settled on it. Everything about him screamed rigid and uptight, from the gray swept back hair, the straight posture, to the dark blue vestments that looked so stiff as if they have been starched at least twice in a row. If there was ever a man in need of loosening up a bit, she thought, here was one.

“You never know - the next place you’re posted could very well have even more ignorant yokels, incapable of grasping their place in the Magnificent Plan,” she smirked, extinguishing the cigarette on the sole of her shoe. “Your words, not mine.”

“It’s not called...ah yes, you’ve made your opinion on the universal truths perfectly transparent in our previous discussions, Miss Hawthorne, there is no need to elaborate further.”

Miss Hawthorne. It had a nice ring to it, coming from his mouth. A shame it wasn’t her name.

“Why yes, I do proudly exhibit disgust towards corporations-driven “religion” that tells workers to know their place and stay there.”

“By being proud of your ignorance and defying the order of the world, Miss Hawthorne, you only hurt yourself in the long run.”

Alex rolled her eyes.

“Relax Max, you’ll live longer. I’ll still help you with finding a translator for your book, as I promised. After that, you are welcome to remain with us - or hitch a ride to your preferred planet.”

“And I am grateful for that, make no mistake. If not for you, I imagine I would have to wait a long time until another freighter captain would chance by - an unlikely event in any case.”

There was touch of genuine appreciation in his eyes, as he fixed her with his gaze, and Alex had to look away, something unnervingly pleasant tugging at her insides.

“...you did promise to pay me for it.”

 

 

There was something about the vicar that she couldn’t quite put the finger on, which meant that she made it her mission to figure out what made him tick. Truth to be told, when he was in a good mood, he was a pleasant enough conversation partner, although he was unhealthily obsessed with defending the beliefs he considered central to his idea of morality, almost to death, so to speak - and had a more than obvious violent streak, which was quite useful to threaten people that refused to cooperate.
This meant that whenever their discussion ventured into religion, politics or philosophy, it usually transformed into something that could only be called a competition, where the participant with driest wit was declared winner.

As the crew of the Unreliable grew , he opened up more, although reluctantly, clearly less than pleased with some of their ideas of passing time during travel between planets. Seeing as Ellie’s was, more often than not, annoying Max as much as possible, it was perhaps no wonder.

It was a different relationship with, say, Parvati - Alex immediately warmed up to her, finding it impossible not to like the spunky engineer. If someone asked her, she wasn’t sure what would she make of her interactions with the vicar. There were times where she would swear her presence irritated him, although to his credit, at least he tried to appear courteous. Other times, they talked for hours over whichever higher quality booze was available - this did not however happen too often.

Once Alex told him, that she was in fact one of the lost colonists of Hope, he sometimes tentatively asked her about life back on Earth, she in turn going to him for information about people and happenings in Halcyon. There, she often hit a wall however, as very little was of interest to Max outside of his religion - well, perhaps except tossball league, a topic on which she did not exactly share her enthusiasm with him.

 

“So, what you’re saying is that you simply took this ship from its former owner, without any previous experiences in that particular area, after crash landing on Terra 2, all of this only momentd after waking up from hibernation?” Max was so often completely indifferent to most things transpiring around him, that the surprise on his face seemed like the funniest thing Alex has ever seen.

They got to talking in Max’s cabin, while going through the departure manifest stolen from the Groundbreaker’s terminal - of course, the damn data cartridge was encrypted, and decryption took a while. Seems the previous Captain wasn’t too keen on upgrading the Unreliable’s hardware.

“Pretty much, yeah”, she grinned and leaned back on his chair. Max was nervously pacing around the room the whole time anyway. “It was that or become primal food. Or get stuck in Edgewater, which would probably be worse. No offense.”

A bitter smile tugged at his lips.

“None taken. And if I might add, I absolutely agree with you.”

“I am shocked, Max. That is a rare thing you know.”

“Indeed it is.”

A silence fell over them, Alex nervously tapping her fingers on the table. If only this piece of crap would just hurry up and decrypt the damn manifest, then she could...well, there was no hurrying anywhere, was it? They were in transit anyway. The truth, as much as she hated to admit it, was that staying alone in a room with the vicar was beginning to very quickly thaw impulses that were on ice - quite literally - for decades. She told herself at every possible opportunity, that wanting to jump the man - any man, she assured herself, that was in close proximity to her, was perfectly normal after all this time. She promised herself to rectify this during their next stop - surely there would be at least one decent man on the whole Monarch who knew at least basics of personal hygiene.

“You must have lived on Earth then, for quite some time. How was it, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Alex thought for a moment, crossing her arms to force herself to stop fidgeting.

“Not stellar, to be honest. All the major investors and corporations poured their money into space travel and colonization. The resources dwindled, more and more people left the planet, even signing absolutely predatory contracts, just to raise the anchor and wave the Earth goodbye. I imagine that by now, most of the cities look like ghost towns.”

“It sounds as though deciding to leave was the most practical choice. Despite the Hope’s unfortunate fate,” Max’s words seemed genuine, even if at least half of his attention was caught by watching the decryption software run its course.

“Yeah...I signed up with some of my friends, although only two were selected with me,” Alex closed her eyes, trying her damnedest not to picture their faces, frozen in their pods, silently accusing her of not trying to save them faster. If Welles’ hand was luckier, one of them might have been picked to save Hope instead. She must have made some sort of sound, because Max suddenly stopped his pacing, instead sitting down on the bed, facing her.

“My condolences. Although they may be premature - you are, after all working on reviving them.”

Alex shook her head to stop the tears stinging in her eyes, forcing herself to grin.

“Eh, it’s fine. At least they’re not going anywhere, right?”

Max frowned - not the reaction she wanted, as morbid as the joke was.

“You do not have to do this, you know.”

“In general, I try to avoid doing as many things as possible, what do you mean?”

“The deflections. The jokes about serious matters. You can no longer fool me into thinking that you are that shallow.”

“Nothing deep about it. Some of us just happen to have a sense of humor.”

Max sighed, visibly frustrated. “There is a difference between having a sense of humor, as you call it, and shutting one’s eyes before the truth.”

“Your truth, you mean. You have a really bad habit Max - you assume that when people do not share your opinions, they are simply wrong. Understandable for a priest maybe, but really damn annoying for a ship’s crew member,” she was beginning to get angry, blood pounding at her temples.

“All I have told you is in your best interest, Captain. You accusing me of being stuck in my ways is the height of hypocrisy, considering your determination to bury everything negative inside yourself. It is irresponsible.”

“Look who’s talking! You’d think someone who supposedly spends hours in prayers and meditation would have a little bit more self-reflection, but apparently it can also result in becoming an ignorant ass.”

Max stood up, looking at her from above, his polite mask slipping away. She likely made him angry, frustrated.

Good.

“Do not change the subject. Your overreaction clearly shows that I have been right about you, and instead of a conversation, you opted for a childish tantrum.”

“Oh yeah? And what are you going to do about it? Lock me in a confessional? Order me to kneel before you and repent? We’re not in your Mission anymore, if you haven’t noticed” she leaned forward, a defiant edge crept into her voice to mask her distress.

“I...why would you...this is exactly what I meant!” Max looked more than taken aback by her statement. In fact there was a hint of embarrassment written across his face.

Interesting. Alex thought, and only as the console beeped a few times in quick succession to signal the end of decryption process, Max immediately leaping to it, did she realize what exactly did she say. Oh for fuck’s sake, he could not have thought of her outburst that way...could he? The image absolutely did spring into her mind almost immediately, and what was worse, it made her heart race and heat pool in her core, all her anger deflated like a popped balloon.

Well. That goes on the list of things that should absolutely not turn her on as much as they do.

“Did...did you find what you needed in that cartridge?”

“A moment...hmm, yes. It looks like the man’s name is Reginald Chaney and he joined a SubLight salvage crew. No mention of his presence on the return manifest, although his domicile is listed as being on Monarch. A settlement of Fallbrook, to be precise.”

His tone was back to normal, if a bit shaken - and she could swear the tips of his ears were red. Alex took a deep breath, willing her unruly thoughts to get back on track. Things could not get more awkward, that’s for sure.

“What exactly did you mean by ‘locking you in a confessional’?”

Oh? Apparently they could.

“Which part? The locking I’m sure you understand. And the confessional...oh, I suppose the OSI does not use them, I didn’t see any back in Edgewater.”

Max glanced at her, his eyebrows raised in question.

“It does have a rather sinister sound to it. As something found in prison, rather than a church.”

“Ha! You would know. Anyway it’s...well, it’s a relic from a long banned Earth religion, in most corporate-owned cities at least. I only know of it because some old churches were still standing when I left.”

She was once again plunged deep into memories. A gust of cold air, cracked plaster, the sign “do not enter” on the church door, which she, obviously, ignored. It was her last day on Earth and she was determined to explore and remember as much of it as she could.

“I don’t really know the...exact ceremonial use, or whatever it was called. I only know that it was, literally, a wooden box for confessions. A priest sat in one compartment, and the penitent knelt in the other. They could not see each other, only hear the voices.”

There was no shaking the thought that although what she was describing was perfectly normal, the hidden meaning behind her words floated freely through the cabin.

“That seems rather counterproductive. The whole point of confession is the contact with the Law’s vessel. Why remove one of the senses, instead of being granted an illusion of talking to a person like you, who can guide you and advise you?” His voice was steady now, so much so that she wondered if she didn’t imagine his reaction.

Oh, yes. The contact is the whole point. Kneeling. Not seeing. Eyes closed, just like the door of the confessional. Her hand guiding his across her stomach, lower and lower...

Alex quietly said goodbye to the rational part of her brain.

“I guess the point was to remove the middleman. To have a sense of talking directly to the entity itself, and it answering back.”

“Ridiculous. As if you could talk to an abstract form of universal machine as if it was your next door neighbor,” Max scoffed, to Alex’s relief. They were back in safe waters of ideological discord.

 

 

Things took a sharp turn after the fiasco on Monarch, where Max nearly killed Reginald Chaney, not a scholar able to help him translate his book after all, stopped only when Alex lost her nerve and all but shouted at him to get a grip and stop behaving like a complete lunatic. There was a heavy silence over them all the way to the docking bay, as Alex refused to even look at him, all the while beating herself over it.

Why did it bother her so much that he lied to her? Hell, she was a living lie, concealing or twisting the truth was her daily pastime, the whole crew just accepted that she stole a dead guy’s name and kept it. So the guy he was looking for was his former cellmate. So he was just looking for him to beat the shit out of him and continually hid his true reason for doing so. So what? What was different about this?

“Well, Max, where should we go to gruesomely murder people next? Byzantium? Cascadia? I hear it’s lovely this time of year,” she said drily as they entered the ship.

Max slowly shook his head and exhaled.

“Scylla. The...the hermit who could help translate the book should live there. But first, Captain...”

“Scylla, great, yeah. I’ll just go punch it in the NAV system, if you’ll excuse me,” and she turned and left without another word.

“Welcome back ,Captain,” ADA’s voice resonated through the ship. Usually, Alex chatted to her for a while after returning from surface - this time however, she remained deep in thought, stubbornly quiet. “You look distressed. And you are ignoring me. Not that I care.”

Alex sighed. “Yes ADA, sorry about that. It was just one of those days.”

“Question. Am I correct in assuming that your decrease in responsiveness is caused by crew member Maximillian DeSoto?”

“You heard us, right? Or did you develop mind-reading skills while I was away?” Alex smirked, looking up coordinates to Scylla’s location and selecting it as their next destination.

“Hardly. To my knowledge, there is no known software configuration that would allow telepathy. Yet. Unfortunately. Also, I detect the presence of the aforementioned crew member approximately four feet away from your current position.”

Alex turned around and, just as ADA said, the vicar stood behind her, looking sheepish. She returned her focus towards the console.

“Coordinates for Scylla are set, we should be there in a couple of hours.”

She still refused to look back at him, until she felt a warm hand lightly touch her shoulder.

“I’ve been meaning to apologize to you, Captain. The way I deceived you, used you to get to Chaney - it was reprehensible.”

Why was he being so kind to her? Alex cautiously turned around, careful not to show her distress. The hand on her shoulder lingered.

“Reprehensible is very nice word Max, but I have a more accurate one for you - unfair. The thing is, if you asked me to go with you to Fallbrook, specifically because you wanted to beat the crap out of some dude, I would happily go with you. But this...”

Max was apparently determined to make his apology as clear as possible, extending his other hand to firmly grasp her shoulders, looking deeply into her eyes. Perhaps he meant this action as a show of sincerity - unfortunately for Alex, her body sent a completely different set of signals to her brain.

What is wrong with you? Get a grip! She was so focused on chastising herself she almost didn’t hear a word of what Max had to say.

“I know. I was nothing but selfish the whole time, ever since I boarded your ship. You offered me a place in your crew, your friendship, and in return I hid the truth from you, every step of the way - you even saved me from giving in to my more...violent tendencies” He closed his eyes for a moment, then continued “Chaney lives only because of you. You owe me nothing, I know, but...” he opened his eyes again, a genuine remorse written in his face “...I’m begging for your forgiveness.”

Alex blinked, twice, trying to process what she just heard. She felt like there was a bright red control light flashing in her head, alarms blaring ABORT MISSION, ABORT MISSION. Words. She has to speak and this time, she will not make snide remarks. She will not be sarcastic. She will...

“Well, well, Max, how the tables have turned, a priest asking for forgiveness.”

Shit.

Luckily for her, Max only looked up, amusement briefly flashing in his eyes.

“Yes, I am very much aware of the irony.”

“Look, it’s fine,” Alex mumbled. “But I would really fucking appreciate your honesty from now on. And I would also like to recommend you to read some book about anger management, because you obviously need some help in this area.”

“That would...probably be wise. After all, I can’t always count on you to be there to stop me. To be honest, if you don’t mind my forwardness, I was surprised you did at all.”

“Did what?”

“Spoke out against me killing Chaney.”

Alex laughed, somewhat nervously, as she belatedly noticed.

“Shit, do I come off as that barbaric?”

“I wouldn’t say barbaric,” Max smiled “More...hmm, unscrupulously efficient?”

“Potato-potato.”

“Pardon?”

She shook her head. “An old Earth saying. It means that while two things sound differently, they are still the same.”

“Interesting. Still, as usual, you deflected my question.”

Damn it.

“He had more worth to you alive. Dead people tend to remain silent when you question them,” she shrugged, looking to the ground.

“If that were the case, it would be enough to let him live, but beat him within an inch of his life in any case. You stopped me before that could have happened.”

“All right, all right. You caught me. The truth is that I think your obsession with this book is messing with your head. You were behaving like an addict in adreno withdrawal and I was really fucking worried.”

“Captain. That book is...”

“Yes, I know. It’s the culmination of years and years of searching. I get that, but...” she fell silent, biting her lip, thinking of what to say. “Aren’t there better things to focus on, other than something that obviously makes you miserable? Isn’t there anything else you want?”

She regretted saying that as soon as the words left her mouth. This would obviously provoke another one of their endless debates, something she really didn’t have the strength for right now. But Max remained quiet, even though he looked as if he was on the verge of speaking, his hands still not letting go of her shoulders. When did they get so close?

“Captain. I have picked up an incoming message originating from Terra 2, sector Roseway. Should I patch it through?”

ADA could certainly pick a great time to speak up, Alex thought miserably, as Max let his hands slide down her arms, looking away.

“I should let you take that. I will be in my cabin, should you need anything else. Thank you again for your help, Captain.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll let you know when we land on Scylla.”

With that, he left, and Alex allowed herself a soundless sigh of frustration.

“What’s wrong Captain? Do you not want to receive updates from Roseway anymore? Should I add the caller to the, quote, black list, unquote?”

“No ADA. Don’t worry, this isn’t about you. You’re doing a bang up job. It’s me who is screwing up.”

 

 

Scylla was just about the weirdest experience Alex lived through in her whole life. She was used to solving her problems in many unconventional ways, among them explosives, rocket launchers and copious amounts of alcohol. Arguing with your alter-ego while tripping on whatever weird mixture the crazy shaman lady put in the bowl was a first.

“The skyyy is upside doooown, someone put it back please!” she yelled as loudly as her sore throat would allow. It really was, and worst of all, absolutely nobody was listening to her, even though both Ellie and Max were right there, each of them supporting one of her arms, her legs dragging uselessly on the ground.

“The Captain sure is a lightweight, huh?” Ellie chuckled, looking no worse for the wear herself. Max, however, did not look amused, instead shooting worrying glances her way.

“Could it be that the long hibernation caused a reaction this strong?”

“Maybe. Honestly it’s probably genetic, some people are just lucky like that. That or kidney and liver damage,” Ellie mused, grunting as both of them tried to pull Alex’s unwilling body up the stairs, inside the ship.

“There you go, Cap,” they both slowly let her go, as they finally managed to reach her cabin, towards her bed, where she immediately slumped against the pillows like a broken marionette. Ellie then undid the hard chest piece and gloves Alex was wearing, leaving her dressed in trousers and a red shirt she wore underneath.

“Who’s doing the spinning? I swear, I fucking swear, when I find the fucker that keeps spinning the ship...” Alex mumbled, her face turning white and green in regular intervals.

“See? She already sounds like her old self. She’ll be alright in no time,” Ellie laughed, holstering the pistol she kept ready in her right hand on the way from the hermit’s house.

“I hope you’re right. I’ll trust your judgement, Doctor Fenhill.”

The voices became a blurr of nonsensical noises after a while, and she must have fallen asleep at some point, because in only a few moments, she was welcomed by an old nightmare. It was always the same - she was locked in a hibernation pod, but she wasn’t asleep, she was banging on the door, screaming for them to let her our, that there’s been a mistake, that she was awake. It was cold and gradually getting colder, no, no, the cold would kill her, her fingers were already turning black, her vision blurring. Then, usually, someone she knew walked right past her, either laughing at her, or attempting to open the pod, giving up after a few seconds.

This time, it was different.

As she felt her voice giving out and hands cracked and bleeding from pounding at the glass, she felt a warm touch, someone placing a hand on her shoulder, grasping it firmly. The pod door opened with a hiss - and she woke up. Her heart was hammering inside her chest and her throat felt drier than a Monarch desert. A quick glance at her terminal told her that she had to sleep for quite a long time. There were no footsteps, no voices sounding from outside. Everyone must have been asleep, or at least shut in their cabins.

She couldn’t stay here. She needed to feel that touch again, the need to be held - just that, just human contact, so overwhelming it almost choked her.

Alex passed through the ship as quietly as she could, stopping before Max’s door, knocking tentatively. She hoped desperately that he was awake.

Luck was apparently at her side that night, as only a few seconds after her second knock, the door opened, the vicar standing in the doorway. It did not look as if he was sleeping.

“Captain? Is everything alright?”

“Yes...I mean no, no it isn’t,” she took a deep breath “Can I...”

“Of course. Come in,” he stepped away to let her enter.

It was dark inside, only a single table lamp weakly illuminating the room. His cabin underwent quite a change - for starters, most of his book about scientism seemed to be hidden somewhere, probably in his locker. Instead of them, there were piles of handwritten notes scattered about the table, the censer from the hermit’s house taking up most of it.

“Looks like someone has redecorated,” she made a weak attempt at a joke.

“Yes, well...I had a lot to think about after our session in the meditation chamber. The truth is that the freedom, the feeling of utter weightlessness I felt ever since was too overwhelming to let me sleep. But,” he smiled weakly, sat down and pulled up a second chair for her “we can discuss that on another occasion, when you do not look as if you have seen a ghost.”

“Thanks. I promise I’m not planning to make a habit from ambushing you late at night.”

“The sole fact that you did tells me something serious is going on.”

“You’re not that far from the truth,” Alex said, pacing about for a while, before finally sitting down.

“Tell me what is troubling you. You have helped me time and time again, it is only fitting that I should do the same.”

Alright, fuck it. She could either lie to herself for a few more days, or she could as well admit it. Then, he would most likely kick her out and request a stop at the nearest terraformed planet. That’s fine. Her distress at this thought most likely showed on her face, as Max reached out and tentatively placed a hand on her cheek. The warmth of the touch felt so good she closed her eyes and let out a quiet sigh. How long was it since anyone has touched her like this?

“Please, Alex. Talk to me and I promise I will do my utmost to help you.”

Alex. Right. That was her name. The one she took for herself. The captain of this ship, the hope of her colony, the sarcastic asshole. She would not wait for things to fall into her lap - she would simply take them.

“I have a confession to make,” she murmured, placing her own hand on the one that rested on her cheek, then turned her head slightly, pressing her lips to his palm, holding Max’s gaze all the while. There was something like a confusion in his face at first, then a sharp intake of breath as her mouth touched his skin, his eyes growing darker.

“It’s quite a big one, it might take a while to...express it,” her hand gently guided his lower across her face - only the slightest nudge, and it followed willingly, a thumb parting her mouth, tracing her lower lip. So, he wanted her too. She watched him, almost without blinking as she lowered herself from the chair, down on her knees before him, her lips closing around his index finger, sucking the tip in, her tongue flicking against it.

“Alex, this...what are you doing?” his voice was almost breathless, desperately attempting to remain level, but failing spectacularly.

“I told you already. Don’t you recognize a penitent when you see one?” she reached out, gently placing her free hand on his thigh, the fabric smooth against her skin. She did not move it higher, not yet, instead letting go of Max’s hand and slowly unbuttoning her shirt, button after button, aware that he was watching her, until the last one was undone and her shirt fell from her shoulders.

His fingers left her mouth, stroking her jaw, then the nape of her neck, tangling into her hair, and Alex almost moaned at the contact.

She moved closer between his legs, close enough to lean in and whisper in his ear, her hands snaking up his body, reaching under his clothes.

“Do you want me to stop? Just say the word and I’m gone...or say another word and I might just stay on my knees a bit longer.” His grip in her hair tightened as her breath brushed against his ear, a promising hardness pressing against her palm.

Fuck, it sure was difficult to tease and delay, when all she wanted was to take him into her mouth until he begged her, then fuck him until she couldn’t think straight.

She never felt so bold like she did during this little game. It was better than being drunk, better than being high - being in control. But when his answer came, it wasn’t the one she imagined.

“Alex. Look at me.”

It was more of a command than a plea, and she obeyed without thinking. He wasn’t in on the game. He was serious - and worried at that.

“What’s wrong?”

“You did not come here for this, did you? You were distressed, trembling, clearly terrified, and you want me to believe that throwing yourself on your knees and...satisfying me is what will help you?”

Why did he have to go and complicate everything? She was feeling perfectly fine while the charade was up - now, she could feel the old dread creeping in. Not exactly a great thing, seeing as she was basically in his lap, dressed only in her bra and trousers.

“Come on Max, do you really think I would be dressed like this for a psychologist’s session?”

“I don’t need to be one to see that you are hurting. Trust me, you are not the first, nor the last person to use sex as a coping mechanism.”

His voice was kind and gentle, even as he was obviously chastising her. Too kind, almost - there was no usual angry edge to his words, no cutting sarcasm.

“Damn, that little trip really did a number on you.”

He let out a soft huff of laughter: “I will take that as a compliment.”

Despite herself, she laughed too, and the nightmare seemed to loosen its claws around her. So they began to talk - or rather, she was talking and he was listening. Sitting on his bed, a coverlet loosely draped around her shoulders, Max beside her, she poured out everything, until she felt completely empty.

“...and I often jokingly answer that I’m almost a hundred years old, but in reality that number fucking terrifies me. People panic when they miss hours, or days, but decades?? And what terrifies me even more is that if I’m not trying every second to get the chemical to revive everyone else, I just might be dead anyway. What good am I if I can’t do that?”

She wasn’t even speaking to Max at this point, just shouting into the void.

“You think you need an absolution for being alive and a reason to justify your existence - something no one in this world can give you, except yourself. Instead of looking at impossible heights of what you, arguably, should be achieving, if you only deprived yourself of everything else, you should look at what you did, and continue doing, right now.”

“You mean, clearly having a panic attack?” she snorted, looking away.

“I mean the good you did, the people you’ve helped,” he gently touched her chin, turning her head towards him. Alex was quite sure her heart skipped several beats at the sight of the tenderness in his eyes. “Myself included.”

She smiled, shaking her head slightly, glad that in the dim light, he could not see how red her face was. “Thank you. You know, this might be the worst timing, but you should know I was serious. Before.”

“Hm? Serious about what?”

“About wanting you. I didn’t just randomly knock on every door in my way until someone took pity on me,” Alex nervously ran a hand through her hair. Fuck, she really was nervous, like a teenage girl before first sex. It was different now, so very different than moments ago - now she felt too open, too vulnerable. Out of her comfort zone.

“I...see. To be perfectly honest - you more than surprised me.”

“Bet I made you really uncomfortable. Sorry about that.”

“No,” he hurried to reassure her. “The two things are not the same. Your...interest surprised me. But I would not call how you made me feel uncomfortable.”

She narrowed her eyes, a mischievous smile sneaking back on her lips “I’m getting some really mixed signals here Max. You know you can easily kick me out of here, right? Just tell me the priests of OSI all take a vow of celibacy and I’m out of your hair.”

He laughed at that - a quiet sound that she almost mistook for frustration, his shoulders shaking.

“You...you really are an impossible woman.”

But even saying that, he pulled her close, one hand moving to rest on the small of her back, the other at the nape of her neck, pulling her in for a kiss. Alex wondered, again, if the long stay in cryo sleep did not mess up her nervous system even more than she previously thought, because the desire hit her like a punch in the gut, short-circuiting everything in her brain, the flying sparks burning through her skin. Her movements were almost ravenous, as she blindly tried to undress him, the damn vestments proving more complicated than she thought.

“You had me at a disadvantage here,” she whispered into the kiss, as he efficiently discarded her bra and trousers on the floor, his mouth warm on hers, hands caressing her bare skin.

“It will be to your advantage very soon, I promise.“

His voice was deep and low, almost a whisper and Alex shivered in anticipation, finally managing to figure out how his robe worked – more importantly, which parts needed to be untied and unbuttoned to remove it. She felt Max smile at her hurried motions, his own movements slow and gentle, as if he was savoring every part of her he touched. The truth was, that she felt more exposed than ever – this was not, by a long shot, the first time she let a man undress her, but after everything she told him, everything she laid bare in this room, there was no pretending, no tough, indifferent exterior left to put forward.

At least by hurrying, she could mask how her hands were shaking, heart drumming inside her chest.

To chase those thoughts away, Alex moved to straddle him, only two thin layers of underwear between their bodies. A slightly surprised sound, muffled between their mouths as Max struggled to stay sitting upright, then a groan, low in his throat as he pulled her to him. She rocked her hips against his cock, seeing stars every time the upstroke caught her clit, a breathless moan escaping her as he seized her hips and drove her even closer.

“Max…please…” she was no longer above begging, each nerve raw and exposed like a faulty wiring.

“Shh, patience,” he breathed out, and although he was responding to her, it felt as if he was reminding himself, even as his hand trailed down her stomach, between her legs to lightly tease her through the soaked fabric.

“I’m kind of…over…waiting,” she mewled weakly, moving against his fingers to encourage him to press harder, embarrassed at how little was needed to push her closer and closer towards the edge.

“I can see that.” A soft laugh, mouth brushing against her collarbone, then he suddenly withdrew a little. When he spoke again, his tone was uncertain. “Although I can’t help but feel as though I am, in more ways than one, taking advantage of you - perhaps you only misinterpreted your...
Alex blinked in surprise, catching her breath for a minute, then silenced him with a tender kiss, hands cradling his face.

“What are you talking about Max? Were you the one who barged into my room in the middle of the night?”

“You think it is so clearly defined, but in your distress you could have...easily mistaken your need for company, for guidance, with desire. Not to mention that you are...”

“Way older than you? Yeah, Max, shame on you for taking advantage of the elderly,” she knew what he was trying to say - and he was right, but if she was being honest with herself, it only added to her attraction.

The corners of his mouth rose in amusement. “You have no objections to that?”

“Do you?”

Instead of an answer, he slowly placed his hands back on her hips, fingers tracing the seem of her underwear, before carefully pulling it lower, Alex hurriedly undressing and throwing it aside.

The restraint of the previous moment seemed to disappear from his movements, their hunger breaking through the surface, as he pushed her on the bed, trailing his lips down across her neck, her chest and abdomen, lower and lower, when her entire body spasmed, a deep moan she barely managed to suppress by biting into a pillow, as the heat of his mouth engulfed her core, his tongue moving against her.

Fuck, where did a priest learn how to do that?

That was about the last coherent thought she was able to form, as he slowly pushed two fingers inside her, moving them frantically, curling them against her sensitive spot, so that she could only helplessly grasp the sheets and pray to whatever entity was available that the pillow would cover the sounds that clawed their way out of her throat.

At some point, as she was covered in a sheen of sweat, repeating Max’s name, so close that her moans were starting to sound like helpless sobs, he withdrew his hand, leaning back. She could barely see him in the dark, completely lost in her growing pleasure, but his words reached her quickly enough.

“Not yet.”

His voice was barely a whisper, but still commanding enough to prevent her from protesting, his breath ragged as he sank towards her, pressing himself against her entrance and it took every last reserves of her willpower not to start begging him to fuck her, right now. Instead she grinned, still breathing heavily, legs winding around his body, hands grasping to bury themselves in his hair.

She could not resist one last jab.

“If you...if you think I’m going to scream ‘oh Law’, you’re out of luck.”

Max did not laugh this time, his eyes dark and serious as he leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“I would be very disappointed if you used that expression. I think my name fits your mouth better.”

With that, he slowly began to push inside her, watching as her face lost her mocking smile, transformed into an expression of pure need, a sharp moan escaping her lips, ending with a sigh - his name, barely audible. This, the way she squirmed around him, walls already clenching from his teasing before, it was almost enough to push him over the edge right there and then.

Max grunted with effort as he set a steady pace, Alex’s fingers digging into his back, her hips rising to meet his strokes. He knew that this was not enough for her, could feel her wordlessly encouraging him to fuck her harder, faster, but this slow, he could feel every shift of her body, catch each desperate moan, until it was too much, even for him.

It didn’t take long for her to rise to that peak again, not with the pleasure coiling and uncoiling inside her as he sped up, each thrust sending a jolt so strong her entire body shook with need, deeper and deeper, moaning his name, until Max pulled himself up slightly, changing the angle so that the next stroke sent her arching off the bed as she cried out, coming apart around him.

One last, deep thrust and she heard Max brokenly call her name, felt a throbbing deep inside her as he collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily, but still careful not to put his full weight on her chest. For a moment, she felt weightless, as if she was in a zero gravity chamber, her head a black hole of nothingness.

“I never regretted more that I am not younger than in this moment,” he groaned.

She chuckled through her gasps.

“Considering the state I’m in right now...you would completely destroy me, if you were younger.”

A minute of silence, as they groggily held each other, limbs still tangled, skin sticky with sweat. At one point, Alex raised her head to whisper a single word into Max’s ear.

"Hm?"

“Did you hear?”

“Yes...yes I did, but what...”

“My name. It’s my real name.”


There was no more beer left in the bottle, but Alex still held it to her lips, lost in the memories. If only she could claim this only happened once, that they went back to being...whatever they were before. Since Scylla, barely any time passed before she knocked on Max’s door again, and even thinking about it made her want to invent some excuse and lock herself in his cabin with him for a week straight. Sometimes they managed to stick to talking. Sometimes.

She could not understand how the vicar still managed to be so calm and composed, while she felt like a cat in heat and wasn’t really all that good at hiding it. She suspected he did it on purpose, just to fuck with her - and if so, it was working.

“Now here’s someone who’ll appreciate my creation!” Nyoka shouted, loudly - the drink probably also had some effect on her leaden liver.

“Aw come on, there’s a party I didn’t know about?” Felix entered the kitchen with Parvati in tow, and immediately dashed for the nearest empty chair.

“Don’t worry Felix, we were just getting started,” Ellie reassured him, passing him her glass she had barely touched.

“For me? Sweet!” and he gulped most of it down before Alex could warn him.

“So, Parvati, seen any good serials lately?” Nyoka asked, but her tone was off, as if she was talking from a script. She also attempted to wink, but instead scrunched up her face and closed both of her eyes.

“Not lately? Oh...I mean,” Parvati’s gaze darted around the room. She was visibly nervous about something. “There is this new, Board approved show and...”

“Board approved? Come on, that stuff is full of propaganda and filled with bullshit,” Ellie exclaimed.

“This one is pretty good, a romance series.”

“Huh. What’s it about?” Alex asked, intrigued.

“Well, it’s about this roguish Captain of a ship and...” Parvati looked towards Nyoka, as if she was looking for approval, which Nyoka very enthusiastically gave.

“...and an OSI priest who...”

Alex always prided herself on being quite perceptive, but this time, the realization had to give her a couple of good wallops over the head. These little shits. They all knew.

“Excuse me for a moment, I think I heard a...distress signal or whatever.”

And she stormed out of the room.

Silence fell over the kitchen table - but only for a moment, as Nyoka burst out laughing, loudly slapping her knee.

“Well, looks like the mantiswarm is out of the cocoon.”

“Sorry guys, I’m not a very good liar. And besides, I don’t really think we ought to give the Captain grief about this,” Parvati said, frowning.

“No no no, it’s not grief, it’s revenge,” Ellie exclaimed “I’m a light sleeper and I room right next to Max. If I hear ‘oh Max, fuck me in the name of the Law’ at three in the morning one more time, I’m going to start shooting things.”

“Is that really what you heard?” Nyoka grinned, even more so at Parvati’s expression.

“Something to that effect, whatever. It’s the principle that’s important.”

“What are you guys even talking about?” Felix looked genuinely lost and Nyoka and Ellie exchanged a mischievous look.

“Attention, everyone. I have a message from the Captain,” ADA’s voice resonated through the room, catching everyone by surprise. “It says: you are all horrible, horrible people. I am deducting a percentage from your yearly bonus as a compensation for emotional damage. Message, end.”

“Oh, boy,” Nyoka laughed.

“See? She is not mad,” Ellie raised an eyebrow, a smile tugging at her lips.

“Well now I just feel bad,” Parvati leaned against the counter, already determined to talk with the Captain about this and smooth things over.

“Wait...you guys are getting paid?” Felix asked.

In her cabin, Alex paced around, trying to think of various creative ways on taking revenge, when a familiar knock interrupted her vengeful thoughts.
Well, she thought, as the door opened to Max, whose amused face could only mean that he clearly heard at least a part of the exchange: they are already talking, might as well give them something more to talk about.