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Multitudinous Echoes

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Multitudinous echoes awoke and died in the distance,

Over the watery floor, and beneath the reverberant branches;

But not a voice replied; no answer came from the darkness;

And, when the echoes had ceased, like a sense of pain was the silence.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie


A metal box, with trailing wires and a fan-folded tube still attached to one of its rounded corners, whizzed by Jensen's head and bounced harmlessly off the wall behind him.

"What the hell? Rhodes!"

"Stop buying cheap crap! It breaks and then we just have to replace it again." Kim Rhodes met his glare from the open hatchway. Jensen looked away first. The box had rebounded off few more surfaces before losing enough momentum to slowly make its way towards the air exchange intake.

"Air splitter?" he asked.

She sighed. "Yeah"

"Shit." Jensen absently toyed with his communications labret as he thought. It had been a habit his father had always hated.

"The other three in the holds still work?"

She nodded. "This was the last one that needed to be installed."

"A hundred and fifty people," he mused, and then nodded. "Yeah," he said, "should be fine. We can get it fixed at Bardock Station when we drop everyone off. I'll send a message so they'll have one ready. Should receive it before we arrive."

From the wall next to her handhold, the ship's communications panel pulsed and beeped. Kim glanced at it and then shrugged. "Message for you from . . . Omundson. Friend of yours? Audio only."

Grabbing the broken splitter as he passed, Jensen pushed himself across the room to stop beside her.

"Looks like it's been on the communications relay for a few months. It was sitting on the repeater, waiting for us to stop in-system. If your ship actually worked and we hadn't needed to stop early, we'd have missed it completely."

Jensen frowned. He hadn't seen Tim Omundson in a couple of years. "Play it."

"Ackles!" His friend's voice boomed over the speakers. "It's taken you long enough! If you're by this way in the next month or so, I need to see you." Tim's message stopped.

"That's it?" Jensen asked.

"That's it. So?" Kim asked.

Jensen bit his lip. "We'll be cutting it close if we stop. The contract is void if we're not there on time." Then he shrugged. "Do it. Fuel's good so we can push it in transit."

"Alrighty then, let's get this baby working again."

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Kim muttered, as they slid in the last of the rebuilt propulsion components. "Why are we moving these people anyway?"

"Little bit towards you," Jensen yelled "Yes! Got it. It's locked in." He rotated his body so that he faced Kim. "Does it matter? They're hiring people to do it, may as well be us. You take the land, and I take the money; it's like this job was made for us."

"I suppose," she said. "All that room is going to be weird."

"Great, you mean! Be excited! And I get to go legit and get paid! Government work and all. And think of the boys playing outside . . . I mean, shit! None of Jim's little planetoid piece of crap. Newstart has near Earth-standard. You won't even need a mask!"

"Yeah." Her smile seemed wistful.

"How are they settling in here? They've been pretty quiet."

"Okay, I guess. It's still pretty new, so they're bouncing around the ship, getting a feel for the place. Mostly playing in the observation area. It's not a long transit, so I think they won't get too bored. I brought a bunch of toys for Jim to keep 'em occupied with." Jensen wondered what he'd revealed in his face because she laughed at him and continued. "Don't worry, the boys—and Jim— have strict orders to stay away from the Command module and captain's sleep station. I'm at work, and they know I'll kick their ass if they get underfoot."

"They . . ."

"Just spit it out."

"They still in diapers? The little one . . ."

She laughed outright now. "Worried about having shit flying around the room? Nah, they're both out of that stage—but you're forgetting: even if they weren't toilet-trained, unlike Jim I'm not from planet-side. I know how to handle kids in space."

"And Beaver?"

Her eyes grew fond, and he wished he knew what she saw in the man. He and Jensen had never gotten along. "He's been nauseated ever since he and the boys got here."

"So not going to be a distance spacer?"

"Nah, once we hit Newstart orbit I'll drop off him and the boys on the station, and rejoin them when we finish." She stared out the nearest porthole and chewed the inside of her cheek.


"Yeah, well, gets them off that god-awful planetoid at least. Even if . . . We done here?"

Jensen nodded and let the topic change. Her and Jim's decisions for their family were none of his business, and he had no reason to feel bad about it. He'd just presented the opportunity and said he needed a co-pilot for this trip. Being away from her family for a year was her decision to make.

"I'll bring the Impala in to Mej-9 for the shielding retrofit, and secure a shuttle to take me planet-side to visit Omundson. We'll leave in two days."

She frowned. "That's not enough time. Not if you're heading into gravity. What—"

"I'll eat the expense and get assisted tech. Any later will throw us too far off schedule."

"You're the captain," she said, and when Jensen looked back from the hatchway, she was once more looking out into space.


"Ackles! Come in! It's open." The warmth of Omundson's greeting came through the open window and Jensen shuffled through the front door. He was all-too aware of the occasional whirring and grating of the suit he wore, and wondered how much Tim was going to make fun of him. As teens, they'd had very definite—and unflattering—opinions of spacers who'd choose to wear assistive tech as a short cut for proper acclimatization. But he didn't have days to acclimate to a gravity environment, and so needed wear his specially designed suit that compensated for his muscle weakness. As it was, the relentless pull of gravity, even with the augmentation suit, left him exhausted, though the planet's gravity was only half of Standard.

"Tim." Jensen embraced his friend and hid his concern at the man's curved back and thin frame.

In the few years since Jensen had seen him, Tim had aged. Gone was his fastidious clean-shaven look; now a full beard obscured much of his face, but Jensen still recognized the hawked nose and the sharp eyes that looked at Jensen and sparkled with mischief as they always had. A year younger than Jensen, Tim was now nearly twenty years older, thanks to the accelerated time of Jensen's last long-haul trip out-system. The wrinkles around his sunken eyes spoke of a wealth of experiences that Jensen hadn't had yet. He was sitting with a nose tube curled around his cheek, but Jensen couldn't see where it went or to what it attached. Then Tim smiled, and despite all the changes, it was still his smile, the one that sent a flutter to Jensen's stomach. And damn! The man still clearly owned any room he entered.

Jensen started to open his mouth but couldn't find words. He felt awkward standing before his best friend, and that had never happened before, not even during that painful, adolescent almost-conversation where Tim had made it clear that he knew about Jensen's feelings, but didn't feel the same. Some years later, Tim and Jensen had met a young lady during an extended stopover for upgrades on the Impala, and that had been it for Tim. Life in space was long stretches of waiting around, punctuated by brief, life-changing decisions. Tim had decided to stay and make a life planet-side.

Jensen hadn't.

Now, Jensen looked at him and felt like he'd been frozen in time. The time lag had never hit him so hard.

Jensen sat down awkwardly on the chair next to Tim's bed. The bed had been set up in a small family room, and a commode chair sat in the corner, not well hidden by a hastily-thrown sheet. Jensen didn't know where to look. Apart from the oxygen, the man seemed fine, just . . . old. Still, this room had the feel of a sickroom. Jensen didn't ask. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Got your message," Jensen said, unnecessarily. "Can't stay long. Job."

""Yeah? Where are you headed next?" Tim asked him.

"I have a government contract. Gerebund system. Osric found it and left me a message on amplified relay."

"Gerebund? You entering the war now? Turning privateer?"

"No! I'm no pirate!" He paused, caught by Tim's steady gaze. Between them lay the knowledge that Jensen's father had sometimes leveled that same accusation at him. It hadn't been a compliment. "War's over and—"

"That war's never over!"

"I'll be part of the post-war cleanup on Newstart. Resettling the inhabitants now that the new government's taken over, as part of the peace treaty." "

"And Osric?" Tim asked.

"Young," Jensen said bluntly, and was relieved that his friend's deep, quick laugh hadn't changed. Jensen tongued his labret, and hit a couple taps on the control screen that projected onto his sleeve. He sidled closer so Tim could see and turned on Osric's video message.

"Hey, Ackles, I have a gig for you." Osric's voice sounded thin and reedy through the speaker patch on Jensen's augmentation suit.

Tim laughed. "He is young! Even younger than you. Hah! And he was the oldest. . . What a mind-fuck!"

"I'm leaving this in transit," Osric's recording had continued, "so it's anyone's guess if it actually gets picked up by a repeater. I got a line on a sweet government contract. Just the kind of thing we were talking about last week. Pay's not great—mostly land concessions, and what the hell are you and I going to do with that?—but there's serious potential for future contracts if the job's done right. Anyway, just show up around Newstart, at planet-local year 232. Oh, and you'll be transporting passengers, not cargo, so get some upgrades. I know—sucks. But should be worth your while. Osric out."

"Shit, Jen! I hadn't even met Ruth when he sent that!

"Yeah, it's pretty much a fluke we got it and are near enough to Newstart to get there."

"Think you'll make it? You never were great at time-shift planning."

"Maybe. I had my pilot—remember Kim, the girl who'd started before you abandoned—sorry," Jensen grinned. "Before you found your one true love? Anyway, she ran the numbers, taking in the relative time distortions, and there's a chance. But it'll be close. That's why this is a cut and run visit."

"Well, I appreciate it. I hoped you would be back in time," Tim said.

Jensen shrugged. The awkwardness had crept back in again. "We're finishing up passenger retrofitting at Mej-9. And that weakened side-propulsion finally gave. That was pricey." Jensen scowled, thinking of the difficulty he'd had haggling for that much needed part.

A smile lit up Tim's face, and he stared at Jensen and shook his head. "You're just the same."

"You're not." Jensen said it quietly, and they shared a moment of silence as they contemplated their different paths. "Hey, how is Felicia?" Jensen asked, searching for a less melancholy subject.

"She's . . ." Tim's eyes drifted off, and his small smile was warm. "She's phenomenal. Smart, beautiful—got her mother's red hair—stubborn. All the best of her mother, and the worst of me." Tim chuckled.

"So where is your better half?" Jensen asked. He hadn't seen Ruth when he came in, and didn't hear anyone else puttering about. When he had left, the young firebrand that Tim married couldn't have been pried from his side, though Jensen had tried at first.

"Well . . . that didn't quite work out."

Jensen raised his eyebrow, and Tim shrugged.

"We split when Felicia was twelve."

Jensen blinked at him. "But you left m—the life. For her."

Tim shrugged again. "It happens. Ruth moved to the lower orbital station a few years ago, and Felicia came to live with me." He studied Jensen. "I'm not sorry," he said, and the words cut more than Jensen thought they should. "We had a great few years—and a few bad ones—but I got Felicia, and that's just . . . well, you'll see someday." Jensen privately doubted that he'd ever get to know what Tim was talking about.

"This little Felicia?" Jensen turned around a photo of a smiling redhead, who looked only a few years younger than he was.

Tim's pale face broke into a wide smile. "It sure is! Studying to be a doctor. Top of the class." He beamed as he spoke, and, after a hesitation, continued.

"What do you think, Ackles? You and kids? Worked for me." Jensen turned from the picture of the young woman and tried to imagine Tim playing with his young daughter. Even just talking, his eyes had lit up for her in a way they had never lit up for Jensen in all the time they had travelled together. As much as he wanted to, Jensen couldn't deny that family had meant happiness for his friend—who was still looking at him, apparently waiting on an answer.

Jensen shook his head. "No. Not my thing."

"No?" Tim 's look seemed sad. "Maybe when . . ." He paused when Jensen shook his head and then continued on a different tack. "If it's about your dad, you don't have to be like that. You have a choice. . ." He trailed off again in the wake of Jensen's hard stare. Sick or not, Tim should have remembered that there were issues Jensen wouldn't discuss. Maybe Omundson had lived long enough to gain a new perspective, but Jensen hadn't. His father was off limits, and his best friend should have known that.

"No," Jensen said. "The family thing, it's just not what I want."

Tim nodded. "Then this is going to be a bigger favor than I thought." Jensen found he could no longer read his friend as well as he used to—Tim now had so many more unshared experiences—but he knew that expression couldn't be good.

"What do you need?"

"When you go, take Felicia with you."


"Ackles, look at me. Look," Tim ordered. Jensen took in the too-large clothes, the off- colour skin, and he hadn't missed the fact that his friend had not once left the chair during this visit. Tim nodded once, and he continued. "I'm dying. I have about two months, three maybe." He chuckled, with no trace of mirth. "I thought you might not get here in time."

"What is it? Can't they do something?" Jensen was unable to modulate his voice, and his shock rang out loudly in the room.

Tim shook his head, calmly. "No. I've talked about it, to everyone and their pet monkey, and I'm done. I'm not interested in dwelling on it anymore. Yes, there is a treatment—it's nasty and probably wouldn't do much—and no, I'm not taking it." He held up a hand to forestall Jensen's objections. "I mean it, Jensen." And Jensen knew that nothing he said would change his mind. "And that's why you're here. I need you to take Felicia."

"But your wife —ex-wife . . ."

"No," he said firmly and Jensen raised his eyes. "Felicia and her mother . . . they're like oil and water. Always have been. Never goes well. Ruth checks in sometimes—not as much now that Felicia's all grown—but she has another family. They don't really keep in touch." He paused and looked out the window at the darkening clouds in the orange sky. "She and I have always been close; it's why she came to live with me when her mom and I split. But now . . . well, she's angry. At me. Because of the treatment, or the lack thereof." He sighed before continuing. "She's dropped out of school. She scuttled her scholarship. She's looking to leave anyway, determined to go off-planet. Told me that she refuses to stay and watch me die." He cleared his throat. "I found her checking out some rather unsavoury looking ads for a deckhand. You know the type I mean?" Jensen grimaced and nodded. "I don't think she'd go with them, but . . . she tends to run when under stress. And if I. . . Will you take her? If she needs to go, at least I can make sure she's safe."

Jensen opened his mouth, then closed it again and nodded. "Timmy . . . I need to leave soon. Tomorrow. This contract . . . it's just some boring taxi job, but it's legit. I make a good run and they'll throw something significant my way. I can't give that up."

Tim nodded and sagged back in his chair. "Still trying to get away from the old man's legacy, huh? Don't sweat it, she should be here soon. I didn't tell her you were coming. And Jensen . . . this can't be my idea. It has to come from her; it has to be her choice."

Jensen's eyes opened and he said, incredulous. "I don't know how . . ."

But Tim just laughed. Jensen hadn't realized how tense his friend had been until his tacit acceptance let Tim relax. "I know my girl. Don't say anything. She'll come to you. Don't worry. Now tell me more about this job of yours."

The door opened and it banged against the doorstop harder than necessary.

"Ah, there she is!" Tim perked up as she stormed in. "Felicia, this is Jensen! You remember me talking about—"

"Did you start treatment?"


"Did you? Because I told you already. I won't watch you choose to die. I won't."

When Tim next spoke, his voice was quiet. "No. I didn't."

"Then I think we've already said everything. Bye, Dad." She said the last with a hitch in her voice, spun around, and stormed out of the room. Tim's face had fallen and Jensen stared at his friend helplessly.

"Now go find her." Tim's eyes were sad, but his voice was strong, with only the faintest waver. "And thank you. Oh, and Jensen?"

"Yeah?" Jensen forced the words past the obstruction in his throat.

"Later, after I . . . when she regrets what happened and starts blaming herself about leaving, you tell her that I understand, and I approve, and that I'm proud of her. So damned proud. And not to take shit from anyone, especially from you." He finished with a watery laugh.



When Jensen exited the room, he closed the door behind him and rested his forehead against it until he could see again. After a few moments, he swallowed and blinked rapidly. When he looked up, he saw Felicia leaning back against the wall a short distance away, watching him.

"Last time I saw you, you couldn't walk yet," he said. He couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Did you try?" She said suddenly. "To get him in treatment. You did try, right?"

Jensen sighed. "I never could change his mind, not when he's set on something."

"Yeah," she said softly. She swallowed, blinked quickly, and turned away. After a moment her shoulders straightened and the next words she spoke were in a hard voice.

"He used to fly with you. You own a ship."

Jensen nodded, though it didn't really seem like a question.

"Take me with you." She didn't wait to hear an objection. "My dad told me all about what you did when he was my age. Told me about saving your life. You owe him."

"I do owe him. Don't owe you, though."

"I work hard, I learn fast."

"Hmmm." Jensen pretended to consider it.

She took a deep breath and continued. "It was his dream, you know. Dad. He and I traveling together. We were waiting for me to finish and get my papers to hire on to a cruiser . . . He misses it." She eyed him up and down with a slightly puzzled look, obviously registering the augmentation suit that allowed him to walk, as if wondering what it was her father could possibly have missed. "But he's given up. Won't even try. I can't be here for that. It makes me so angry. . . He tell you what he has? You ever seen Terrilean sundown before? What it does?"

"No." Jensen replied. "Not firsthand, anyway."

"It's bad. I won't watch it." She took a step forward and grabbed his arm. Startled, he automatically took a step away, but his unfamiliarity with the gravity made it impossible. This young woman he both outweighed and towered over could easily hold him in place with one hand. "I will be the best deck hand you ever had," she continued. "Please."


Jensen looked into the Felicia's wide eyes. The last time he had seen her, a couple dozen months ago, she'd been only days old. He didn't recognise that baby in the young woman now before him.

"But you'll earn your keep," Jensen warned. "We leave tomorrow morning."

He saw hope and sadness fight for dominance. Hope won, and she pulled her shoulders back and stood taller. "I'll be ready."



It was only when he had returned to the Impala, with a quickly thrown, "Kim, this is Felicia, find her a bunk," and had retreated to private quarters that he allowed himself to break down. For their teen years, he, Osric, and Tim had been inseparable, the only teens in his father's ad hoc crew of low-lifes.

When he finally responded to Kim's repeated demands for explanations, no trace of his tears remained.

Jensen maneuvered the last grey storage containers out of the main cargo hold and into temporary storage in the tiny storage area near the conditioning room. He lined it up and with a push, let it sail into place in the last available slot. The other two containers would have to get strapped somewhere in the personnel quarters.

They were half-way through their deceleration procedure and well into Gerebund system space. If he put it off any further, it would be near impossibly to move the totes. The new planetary government had requested that ships activate their artificial gravity while they welcomed the colonists. The heavy grey totes were not designed to be moved by one person without vacuum.

"Done," he said, and his labret ship's link picked up the vibrations and sent them to Kim.

Jensen fastened the strapping into place when Kim's voice came through a second tragus piercing by his ear.

"Good. Hold cleared?" she said

"Doing a final sweep now," Jensen said as he banged his fist on the circular door release. "You know," he continued, "we probably should call the hold something different. Just for this trip."

"What, you think a name change will make it any classier? Something like passenger quarters or guest accommodations?"

Jensen swept his eyes over the large steerage compartment, paying close attention to the new pipes that wormed their way across the ceiling.

Never designed to carry live cargo, the cargo hold had no windows, and until recently had no adequate air filtration. Jensen painstakingly checked the connections they had added for water and oxygen, and he jiggled the carbon dioxide splitters to ensure the boxes were secure. He announced the in situ readings to Kim, who compared them to the Impala's Command display. He stepped through the hatchway into what used be a working airlock before the extension had been added. Now it was just another entry into the hold, and for this trip it would be the only entry. The holds had been designed to be extend away from the main flight modules for rotation, should simulated gravity be needed. The holds had had no life support system of their own until Jensen added them during the retrofit, but now all of the Impala's systems met the minimum standards stipulated for passenger transport.

When everything was all checked out, he drifted along the walls of the hold, listening for any sound that shouldn't be there. Like hissing.

"Looks like we managed to patch the oxygen leak."

"Bout damned time!"

"We're a go for hull integrity," he said, after a moment, and he could picture Kim checking it off the list. "Did Felicia finish going over the water reclamation system?"

He heard Kim's sigh in his ear. "Of course she did. And learned about the propulsion system, and now I think she's doing an inventory of the food. Can you get her to relax a bit? It's tiring just watching her."

Jensen laughed. "I'll have a word. Have you heard back from our contact yet? Did they say when to expect the supply shipment, or when people would start to board?"

"Nope. I'm finished up here. If it's okay with you, I'm going to go help Jim pack up the boys' stuff."

"Yeah, sure. We dropping them off at the station or are you calling a planetary shuttle?"


"Sounds good. While you get them settled, I'll pop over to the bar."



"Hey, I hear you're making Kim look bad," Jensen said, by way of greeting as he made his way into the galley kitchen. The room was little more than hidden storage and wall-to-wall panels with a velcro surface. As he entered, he moved aside a handful of floating cubes about the size of a fingertip.

"This is not food! You can't feed people this crap," Felicia said. She didn't look at Jensen as he approached, focusing on catching all the escaping cubes and fitting them back in their storage unit. Since he didn't have time to train a new crewmember as he and Kim took care of last minute details, Jensen had tasked Felicia with learning the ins and outs of the Impala, a task she apparently was taking very seriously.


"They need rehydration, but there's nothing nutritionally bad about the ration packs. Anyway, they're just emergency food."

"They're four years past their date!"

"Emergency rations," he repeated. "No one expects to ever use it. Got the crate on sale. It's not ideal past due, but you can still eat it. Anyway, we have plenty of actual food and we're getting fully provisioned for this trip when we enter orbit. It's in the contract."

"Better be," she said, with a disapproving eyebrow, as she fitted the last of the cubes back and fastened it closed.

"So, um," Jensen paused. In the few weeks Felicia had been with them, he's found it hard to connect with her. Tim's presence always seemed between them. Had Timmy been here, he'd have kicked Jensen's ass for pawning off Felicia's orientation on Kim. "How are you making out?"

"The water reclamation system checks out, I followed the diagnostic maintenance procedures you gave me. I inventoried our fuel supply and just finished tallying the food. If there's nothing else, I was going to take a look at basic piloting guidelines."

"Great! That's . . . great. Not exactly what I meant though." He paused and waved his arm around, generally indicating the Impala. "We made it in time, but it was kind of a quick departure. Been adjusting okay to . . . space and stuff?"

He got the feeling she was laughing at him, though her response was a perfectly appropriate. "Yeah, getting used to it."

"So . . ." Jensen said, as he helped her repack the provisions. "Really? A pilot?"

She shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"

He studied her and nodded. "Okay. I guess I could give you a piloting apprenticeship, sort of. If you want."

"Really?" Her eyes danced like her father's did when he was particularly excited about something.

"Yeah. You can start when we enter the inner orbit. I'll even let you try the controls—not much for us to hit, and pretty easy to adjust it. But when we make an approach to Station Seven, you only get to watch. I'll try to remember to explain stuff, but . . ." he shrugged, "never had an apprentice before, so I might forget."

"That's okay."

"You know, other than me and Kim, your Dad was the last person to pilot her." He'd said it casually, just an interesting tidbit of information, but it slammed down like a ton of bricks. Felicia's mouth opened to speak, but she hesitated. He waited.

"Jensen—Captain—I think I made a mistake." Felicia's eyes were wide open, and so sad. "I left him alone. . ."

"He thinks you made the right call."


"He told me to tell you, when you had doubts."

Felicia took a breath and nodded, then looked up. "I want you to stop home before you continue on. I need to go home."

"I can't do that."

"But. . . "

"I'm under contract to carry people to Bardock, and they're expecting it to take us two weeks. A detour like that," Jensen looked out the window and avoided her eyes, "we wouldn't make it. And . . . Sorry. I can't."

"How much time has passed for him, do you think?"

"Not sure, exactly," Jensen said. "Months. We can calculate it more precisely, if you want. Takes a lot of processing power, so check with me before you run it."

"'Months," she said, staring at the wall. "He might be . . . It would be advanced."

Jensen didn't look at her. "Yeah."

"You know he told me about his diagnosis before I went back to school. And I went onto the floor, that first week and I treated two people with Terrilean who had refused treatment. I even ccompanied them to palliative."

Jensen nodded.

She continued. "The first one died pretty quick. The second took a long time and I couldn't do anything, and I hated it. Never returned after break."


"He wouldn't even try!" she said, but the shadow of anger was overshadowed by pain, confusion. Jensen said nothing.

He tried to think of what Tim would say, but drew a blank. The kid he'd known was not the man she did. His friend didn't do serious, and until Tim met Ruth he'd shirked anything that looked remotely like responsibility. He would have joked during a serious moment like this, no matter how inappropriate. And maybe that's what Felicia needed to hear, but Jensen couldn't do it. He and Tim had always been very different.

"Jen?" He felt guilty for the massive relief he felt to hear Kim's voice.

"Yeah, Kim." Jensen shrugged in apology to Felicia and pointed to his labret.

"Made contact with your guy. Says the supply shipment has been delayed. We have to wait for further instructions. He's on the line, waiting for your confirmation. "

"Okay, let me get to Command—signal's clearer." He turned to go, and paused. "Felicia—"

"I'm okay. Go on." She smiled weakly and motioned for him to leave. He did.




"So?" Kim asked, lounging in the cargo hold with Felicia. She and Felicia were passing the time playing darts, and from the way conversation shut down as Jensen entered the room, he knew he was interrupting something.

Kim lined up her shot and gave her rounded dart the smallest nudge. Everyone waited as it crept past one of Felicia's blockers, just touching it enough to nudge it aside and lose momentum. It came to rest directly in front of the bull's-eye, but about a foot short. Kim whooped and spun in a little dance. "And that's how you do it, newbie!" Felicia gave a small, longsuffering smile, and moved around the play area, studying her options. Darts were a common pastime in space, though it bore little similarity to its planet-side counterpart. Felicia had said it looked like some kind of whacky curling thing, but Jensen had no clue what she was referring to, so the conversation had fizzled away.

He shrugged. "Nothing he didn't tell you. Supplies are delayed, wait for instructions. You?"

She didn't look at him and her voice was suspiciously toneless. "I got Jim and the boys settled on the station, and we spent four fucking hours filling out paperwork."

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah, it's all straightened out. Just a pain in the butt. Listen, Jensen," she stopped lining up the shot and looked down at him. "If you're going to the Lounge tonight, you mind if I hang around some more with the family?"

"Felicia?" Jensen asked, and the redhead turned towards him in surprise.

"You feel able to crew the Impala for the night? We won't be far, and there shouldn't be any problems."

"Unless you're looking to pick-up too," Kim added, with a nod to Jensen.

"Oh! No," Felicia hurried to say. "I . . . I'm going to wait for Echelon. You are planning a stopover, right?"

"Smart girl," Kim muttered with a nod. Jensen shot her a fake glare.

"Yeah, we're stopping when this run is done," Jensen said. "She's yours for the night then. Don't touch anything."