Hands deep in the soil, knees sore and what felt like an entire branch full of leaves up her nose. Ellie was happy.
She grinned as the plant began to sparkle and shift below her hands, the roots shifting against her fingers as they grew stronger and settled once more. Sometimes she imagined that she could hear the plants talking back to her.
It wasn’t that she was lonely, as such. It was impossible to be lonely in a house with six other people. Still, sometimes the only person she felt really understood her was her papa. She’d managed to get Leo to help her with the harvesting, but he had flat out refused to do the rest. Her sister was too easily distracted to be of much help, as much as she tried, and Al…
Al was completely wrapped up in his new relationship. It was sweet, really. She was still helping him work on his self-esteem, but the rest of his time was either taken up with painting or his girlfriend. Not that he’d asked Yaritza to be his girlfriend yet, but it was only a matter of time.
Shea kept asking to help with the rocket, sweetheart that she was, but Lor had taken one look at her holding a blow torch and freaked out. Ellie could understand that, what with the torch being more than half the size of the little girl, but she found herself wishing that her little cousin would just grow up already. She could use a sidekick. All the best space pirates had a companion.
“We should be able to finish this tonight,” Ellie called over to Lor, wiping her forehead with a dirty hand. It had taken them almost two years, but it was worth every moment. The S.S.S. Aurora was so close to space ready she could almost taste it. Actually, she winced, that was probably engine oil she could taste. Yuck.
“No flying tonight, ok? I want to do a couple of safety checks first,” Lor said, grinning at her with such enthusiasm that the years seemed to be falling away from him in front of her eyes so that, for a moment, he almost looked young again.
“Can’t you do them now?”
He smiled, shaking his head. “It’s one in the morning, Ella. Wouldn’t you rather wait until tomorrow, so we can all wave you off?”
She pouted, considering it. It did sound appealing.
“Please,” he continued, “for me?”
Well, how could she refuse?
He drew her into a hug, and she smiled against his shoulder. “Goodnight, Ellie. Sleep well.”
Maybe that fourth cup of coffee had been a bad idea, she finally admitted as she completed yet another lap of the pool. There was no way she was going to be getting any sleep tonight. Maybe she’d take tomorrow- well, she amended, today off school. She could do some checks of her own before the flight, that way.
“Are you actually mad?” came a voice from behind her.
Ellie turned quickly, mouth open, only to promptly choke on the water. She spluttered for a few moments and looked up into the amused eyes of a particularly lovely redhead. Wow, Ellie, smooth. This whole embarrassment thing was becoming a regular occurrence.
“Hi, Ash,” she managed, eyes watering. “What are you doing up?”
“I could ask the same of you,” the other girl said, biting her lip to keep from laughing. “Other than drowning, obviously.”
Ellie hoisted herself out of the pool and walked over, a faint grey blush still in her cheeks. “Couldn’t sleep. Too much caffeine.”
“Ah,” Ash nodded. “I get that.”
Ellie looked around and cursed under her breath. Of course she’d forgotten to get a towel before jumping in the water. That would have been sensible. She looked over at her friend again, trying not to shiver.
“So? How about you?”
“There’s meant to be a great view of the Talon nebula tonight, but there are clouds everywhere. I was looking for some clear sky, and…” she paused, looking up, “… I’ve found it.”
Ellie grinned. “You don’t need to stand on the pavement, you know. The grass is far more comfortable if you want to lie down, and you won’t get a sore neck.”
“Are you sure?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, before gasping in excitement as she remembered the reason she had consumed so much coffee. “I finished the rocket! Want to see it?!”
“Plum yes! I can’t believe you didn’t lead with that.”
“Well, excuse me,” Ellie sniffed, “I was a bit preoccupied with trying to drink the swimming pool.”
“Well, if that’s the case,” she grinned, before leaning forward and tapping Ellie on the shoulder, “last one there’s a rotten banana!”
She watched in stunned silence as the redhead darted past her towards the rocket, then started to run after her. She wasn’t feeling so cold, anymore.
The lab was different at night. It somehow seemed sinister, as if he wasn’t meant to be there.
The again, Lor thought to himself as he crept through the room, that was probably because he wasn’t.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“I think so.”
“I’m going to have to carry you bit by bit, so I’ll need your help. I don’t want to hurt you by disconnecting something vital.”
“I will do my best.”
Back and forth.
Piece by piece.
Down the stairs…
…and into the light.
STATUS CHECK: –
The circuits hummed as the scan was conducted.
STATUS CHECK: COMPLETE
“Where am I?” Steve spoke to the empty room, not expecting an answer.
“Somewhere safe,” the answer came anyway.
A man walked into his line of vision. He looked nervous, and expression that conflicted worryingly with his previous statement.
“Are you well?” he asked. That was the appropriate question for this situation, he reasoned.
The hand that reached out to pat the side of his head was warm. “I’m fine, Steve. How are you? I tried to do everything the way you explained.”
“There are no errors.”
Lorcán smiled. “I’m glad. So, what do you think of your new home? It’s only until I can make you a more mobile body, but I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”
A new body?
The man kept talking, his sentences running into each other in a way that was highly illogical.
“… and I programmed the television to respond to your voice, so you can watch whatever you like,” he was saying, waving one hand at the small screen above the door. “I didn’t know what colours you liked, so I haven’t put up any paintings yet…”
This was quickly becoming overwhelming.
“Because you’re my friend. I promised I wouldn’t let them get you, and I meant it.”
His circuits whirred loudly. Lor smiled. “You sound like a cat when you do that, did you realise?”
Steve had never seen a cat, but he made a note to look one up when the opportunity presented itself. Maybe there would be cats on one of the television channels.
“Now, let me show you the ideas I’ve had so far. You’ll get the final say in the design, because you’ll be the one living in it, but I wanted to show you a few options for your future body.”
He could choose?
He had a future?
Had he been physically capable of it, Steve would have smiled.