Friday, August 22, 2014

04: Cor and the Captain

Entry 04: In which Felix can't think, Cor can't help, and Scales can't get them to work fast enough.

                "Stupid," Felix berated himself after Tori had left, "stupid, stupid, stupid."
                He sat there with his head in his hands for some time. He was vaguely aware of the other crew members and a few of the passengers sitting around him, chatting as they ate what passed for food on an old cargo transport. On general principle Felix ignored most of them. He had never been good with people. He was always talking over their heads or, worse, saying the absolute wrong thing.
                "Case in point." He sighed and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms. "Can't even talk to Tori without screwing up." He thought grimly to himself. "I thought with her I had finally gotten it right."
                The sound of Cor sitting across from him in Tori's now empty seat cut off Felix's inner berating. The humanoid grunted a sigh as he sat his old circuits down, his tray making a muted clack as he set it on the table.
                Felix didn't bother to look up.
                “Alright genius,” Cor muttered as he started moving things around on his tray, “what’d ya say this time?”
                Felix didn’t look up, but he heard the clink of dinged up silverware as Cor dug into his breakfast. “Nothing Cor.” He grumbled past his arms, refusing to raise his head.
                Cor snorted through his nose. “Sure didn’t look like nuthin’.” He observed around a mouthful of what passed for pancakes on the Helix 7.
                Felix grit his teeth as his irritation flared. He didn't want to talk about this right now. “Leave it alone Cor.” He grumbled.
                Cor huffed as he picked up his own chinked ceramic mug, but remained silent as he went on eating.
                Felix waited a long minute for the Hybridian to stick his nose in anyway. His shoulders tensing until he felt his muscles start to seize up under the skin. But for once Cor didn’t say anything more on the subject.
                Felix finally relaxed, letting go of a pent up breath that took some of his tension with it. The knots in his back however, refused to leave.
                “How much sleep ya get last night kid?” Cor finally asked.
                Felix glanced past his grease-smudged fingers at the ship’s mechanic, but Cor was looking down at his pancakes as he cut another triangle off with the side of his fork. The knives around here were duller than village idiots and only good for stripping the crosshairs off of screw heads. At his elbow, steam rose up from his own ceramic mug, much like Tori's, making tiny sparks appear in the mists where it touched Cor's static field. It couldn't be coffee though, Felix thought dimly. Cor hated most Earth drinks, including coffee. He preferred the more oily beverages of his home world, like marne and the appropriately named tar.
                "Come to think of it," Felix's tired mind drawled, "Cor can't stand most anything we consider edible. Not enough iron content he says, though that must be another joke cause he always tries to wink at me when he says it."
                Felix stared at Cor blankly as he ate. He was too tired to think. At this point he was even too tired to sleep.
                "He likes pancakes though."Felix thought idly. "He's got a weird thing for pancakes. Even the cardboard ones they pass off on this scrapheap.”
                He suddenly shook his head, wincing as his brain rattled against the inside of his skull. For the love of-he was contemplating pancakes. And not in the normal way in that he wanted to eat them. He was just thinking about them.
                “I didn’t.” He finally answered Cor. “Stayed up all night trying to fix it.”
                Cor had been around long enough that he knew what ‘it’ was. “Ya still stuck?” He asked before sticking another forkful of pancakes in his mouth and chewing.
                Felix glared at the spot of table in front of him and then nodded his head. “Yes.” He admitted grudgingly. “The equation still won’t balance.”
                “Huh,” Cor grunted, not sounding surprised.
                Felix's eyes snapped up and he glared. "What's that supposed to mean?"
                Cor shrugged as if it didn't matter. "It's a sound. It don't mean much." He tried.
                But Felix wasn't soothed. "It sounded rather knowing for just a 'huh'." He pointed out.
                Cor just shrugged again, at a loss for what to say for once.
                Felix frowned. "What? You think I can't do it either?"
                Cor glanced up at him, but decided not to mention the 'either'. "I din' say that."
                "Well then what did you mean?" Felix demanded.
                Cor sighed through his nose and set down his fork. "I was just thinkin'," he said in an overly calm tone, "that you've been starin' at them numbers for weeks now and gettin' yerself nowhere. I think it might be a good idea if ya take a lil break. Give yerself a vacation before takin' another crack at it."
                Felix was already shaking his head. "No," he mumbled, "no, no, no. Can't. S'not possible."
                Cor eyed him. "Why? It's just a string'a numbers kid. They'll still be there when ya get back. All I'm sayin' is that it might be easier on ya if ya stop pressin' yerself so hard and cut yerself some slack for a change."
                Felix shook his head through the whole thing. "I can't Cor."
                "But why?" Cor pressed, his own frustration rising to the surface. "If ya keep goin' on like this I'm worried yer gonna kill yerself kid."
                Felix slammed a hand against the table top, making all noise in the hall come to a sudden and abrupt stop.
                "Because I'm this close!" He shouted and held up his thumb and forefinger so that they were only an inch apart. "This close Cor! And I've got-I've got to finish it!"
                No one moved for a long moment, not even Felix where he had half stood from his bench. He could feel the eyes or sensory-equivalents of the other crew and passengers in the room boring into his back like hot lasers. And when it finally got too much for the recluse, Felix slowly sat back down and kept his head down as if that could deflect their interest.
                The crew went back to their meals first, more used to Felix's peculiar behavior than the passengers. But after another moment or so, even they went back to their conversations, although the muttering was a little softer than it had been before.
                Felix sighed when the background noise finally returned and ran both his hands through his hair. "I've almost got it Cor." He repeated in a calmer voice. "I can't give up now."
                Cor eyed him. "Taking a break isn't givin' up Felix. And finishin' this thing doesn't have to be yer last act neither."
                Felix hung his head. Why did they always worry like this? "It won't be. There'll be plenty of time to rest after I find the answer. I'll take a vacation then."
                Cor grunted but Felix wasn't sure what it meant. "Look," he said after a moment of silence between them, "we'll be in White Sails in three days. Why don't you just take the night off huh? Eat sumthin' that doesn't taste like wood pulp, get Tori some apology flowers or sumthin' like that?"
                Felix looked away, guilt over yelling at Tori rising to the forefront of his mind again. In three days she might have calmed down enough to tolerate an apology from him. "That's...not the worst idea." He admitted with some reluctance.
                Cor huffed a sarcastic laugh. "Ya only got two friends in the known universe." He reminded him. "A'course it's not a bad idea."
                Felix scrubbed at the back of his neck again. "...maybe." He finally mumbled, making no promises. "Maybe I'll do that."
                Cor grunted as he took another sip of whatever-it-was in his cup, but knew better than to push any more. Instead he waited for Felix to make the next stab at conversation.
                Felix sighed as he brought his wandering mind back into the near vicinity. "I figured since the captain won't let us fix the temp controls at the source we could rig up some cool packs for the vents themselves, at least until we can get to White Sails and fix it proper."
                Cor nodded. "Quick and dirty, my favorite-” he started to say when the cacophonous thunk-grriiiiind of strained metal suddenly filled the room, cutting him off.
                Felix and Cor looked up at the ceiling along with everyone else still in the mess hall. "Oh now what?!" Felix groaned before hiding his face in his hands. Couldn't anything go right today?
                Cor didn't seem to bothered by the noise of their ship breaking around their heads. "Huh," he mumbled as he looked up at the ceiling, ceramic mug held halfway to his mouth. "Sounds like another hissy fit. If that don't convince Scales to let us fix her good I don' know what will."
                Felix only nodded while Cor leaned back against the wall behind him and sipped at his not-coffee. He took his time about it, knowing that it wouldn't be long before they found out for certain.
                The door to the rest of the ship opened not three minutes later and Captain Skellenisti Torrik himself appeared. He stood in the doorway a brief second as he looked around the room with his shiny black eyes, forked tongue flicking out from between dry, pebbly lips to get a good read on the room. He had no natural body armor like some other Skalorians Felix had seen,  leaving only scaly brown mottled skin that was difficult to see in the muted light of the ship.
                The navy blue military cap and jacket, however, stood out like neon from the darker colors of the Helix 7. The cap was fairly subdued with its plain color and short black bill, but the jacket was complete with gold and black piping along the seams and had red and gold ranking bars at the shoulders that flickered when the light touched them. The Skaala military didn't have uniforms since they identified each other by smell instead of sight, and the jacket didn't fit Torrik well having been made for an alien body with smaller shoulders and a narrower waist, but he never went anywhere without them.
                Felix wasn't sure why the captain made such a big deal about the jacket and the hat. It wasn't like he needed them. Most other lizard-folk he'd seen wore gun belts and ammo bandoliers, if they wore anything at all.
                "And if he does it just for the kicks then why doesn't he wear the pants too?"
                Felix had always wondered, but never had the guts to ask, so he kept his idle curiosity to himself.
                Besides, that wasn't the kind of question Torrik would stand for. He was very proper, their captain. Very old world. Keep your promises-pay your debts-never insult a lady sort of thing. Felix didn't rightly understand his utter devotion to this code since, like the uniform, it wasn't from his home world of Skaala, but like most everyone else on board he didn't give Torrik any flack for it either. Cor was the only one that actively tried to annoy him, though Felix wasn't sure why he did that either. It wasn't like Cor stood for the opposite after all. If anything he was even more predictable when it came to debts and ladies than Torrik. He just wasn't so prim about it all.
                Captain Torrik finally made out where Cor and Felix's scent was coming from and was now making a bee-line towards them. Felix had never had an easy time reading the captain's reptilian expressions, but even he could see Torrik wasn't happy with them.
                "Cor'althan, Mr. Cauldwell," Torrik greeted them with his dry, slightly hissing voice, "enjoying your meal?"
                Felix wasn't reassured by the question and decided it was best if he didn't speak unless Captain Torrik asked him something specifically.
                Cor had no such misgivings and smiled widely as Felix ducked his head in the captain's shadow. "Why yeah, thanks fer asking." He waved at the seat next to Felix. "Care to join us?"
                Torrik's tongue flicked out again and he turned his head so Cor would be more in the center of his limited vision. "No, thank you," he hissed with displeasure. "You didn't happen to hear a...sound a moment ago? Perhaps one that didn't belong on the Helix 7?" He asked with veiled frustration.
                "Oh yessir," Cor answered him cheerily, fully enjoying the game, "it was downright disturbin' if ya ask me. You should really get someone to look into that, right quick."
                Felix shot Cor a frustrated look. "Why do you insist on prodding him like that?" He tried to telepathically ask.
                Cor may not have heard him, but he certainly understood. He threw Felix a wink as Scales started to instinctively hiss behind him, his neck frill beginning to stand upright with his emotion. Cor got more fun out of playing 'poke the lizard' than anyone else Felix had ever met. If it had been anyone else, Torrik would have dumped them planet-side so fast gravity would have made their heads spin, but Hybridian mechanics were a rare find away from their home planet. Torrik knew his luck and wasn't about to let Cor go just because he strained his patience.
                The captain seemed to realize he was letting Cor get to him. With obvious effort, he stopped his subdued hissing and resettled the bright red folds of his neck frill. Cor and Felix were quiet as he did – Felix because he didn't want any of the captain's attention right now and Cor because he knew he was winning.
                When he had gotten control of his temper, Torrik opened his black eyes – eyelids sliding off to the side instead of up – and summoned up his most polite, disinterested expression. "That's what I hired you for Mr. Althan." He finally told Cor in a dry voice.
                Cor frowned as Torrik scored a point in their game. "Now how many times do I gotta tell ya Scales? We put our given names last on Hybridia. Only my brother gets to call me Althan."
                Torrik's face didn't change. "I imagine as many times as I've told you I am not Scales." He retorted. "Now quit messing around and fix the problem or the cargo won't be the only thing I leave at White Sails. I already have passengers complaining of the heat so do whatever it takes." He hissed at them where the aforementioned passengers at the other table couldn't hear.
                It wasn't much in the way of threats – the captain threatened to leave Cor on any world in a five hundred mile radius practically every day of the week – but Cor rolled his eyes and muttered a, "You got it Cap'," anyway. The game was over for the moment. Rematch scheduled for whenever Torrik came to check on their progress later that afternoon.
                Torrik stood a little straighter, tongue flicking out to taste the air again. Skalorians didn't smile – their skin was too tight and dry for that much stretching – however his eyelids reappeared, covering the outer third of his black eyes in reptilian triumph.
                It was possibly the happiest Felix had ever seen him in Cor's presence.
                Felix snuck a look at the Hybridian as the captain clasped his hands at the small of his back and left with a muttered, "Gentlemen." The older man was fiddling with a corner of his paper napkin, rolling it between his fingers as he stared off to the side with a slight frown.
                Felix fidgeted. Was this what it was like being around him when he got wrapped up in his head? Ugh, no wonder no one else like to hang out with him.
                "Well," he finally dared to speak, "at least now we can fix the glitch. Captain did say we could do whatever it took."
                Cor raised a gray-streaked eyebrow at him. "Oh sure, now yer the silver linin' one." He grumbled, but cuffed the back of Felix's head in a friendly enough fashion before leading the way out of the mess hall.

< Entry 3                                                                                                                                                     Entry 5 >

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