Mearr was in the back of a sub-zero food storage container. Which really didn’t mean anything when the entire ship was floating open to a vacuum. She looked up at me, briefly, when I came in before turning her attention back to the food supplies.
That sliver of contact between me and Mearr was electrifying. I hadn’t realized how desperately I’d been craving her attention these past two months until our eyes met in that storage cooler.
Sys leapt to the ceiling, then crawled around to the wall facing Mearr. She chittered on a private frequency, no doubt informing Mearr of my warnings from Gator. And maybe telling something of my past?
No. That was between me and Sys. We both knew that. There was no reason to mention it to anyone else.
Mearr turned away from the shelves of supplies and faced me.
My pulse raced. I felt a flush in my face and hoped it didn’t show in the dim lighting. My hands began to tremble, ever so slightly, and I could feel a yearning in my hips that did little good for my mental focus.
I also felt a pang in my side. Where the blade had pierced me. It was all I could do to keep myself from reaching up and massaging the spot.
“Sys tells me you’ve come from Gator.”
I nodded, not yet trusting myself to speak.
Damn. Guess I’d have to speak after all.
But then Sys intervened on my behalf. A show of good faith, perhaps? Or maybe just an effort to monopolize Mearr’s attention.
“He says Gator wants us all to regroup. Something about reassessing our position.”
Mearr turned to listen to Sys before snapping her attention back to me. I noticed she often held a hand to her belly while standing, and for good reason. The bulge there was such that I imagined it must have been difficult to walk without some sort of support.
“If that’s true, why didn’t he just call down?” she said to me.
I cleared my throat, motivating some moisture to wet my dryness. “He said he tried. He said he was having difficulty reaching you. Maybe the bulkheads are interfering with the signal?”
“Unlikely,” snapped Mearr as she glanced away, lost in thought. After a moment, she turned back to me. “Alright. Let’s pack up. You can help.”
She strode past me without another glance or word, brushing my shoulder with her own as she went.
Out in the main galley, Mearr pointed out a pile of supplies she and Sys had begun stacking up, prioritizing the supplies for our own purposes.
“We’ll start with the dried meats. We’ve been running low on protein-sufficient foods lately. Something about special needs in the medical bay. Chief’ll be happy to have some back in stock.”
I felt a plunge in my gut as Mearr jabbed out at me, and I thought of all the warm, brothy soups Tic-Toc had brought to me while I was abed in the medical bay. Suddenly, the homey comfort they had brought to me no longer held any appeal.
“Did you happen to bring a cart?” she said, turning suddenly to me.
I gulped. “Uh, no,” I said, silently cursing myself. How could I have forgotten the cart? I used it to load up the mechanical supplies that Em and Guhle had set aside, but then I just left it on the ship when I made my way up here.
Then I remembered the reluctance with which I had approached the galley. How my feet had seemed to drag me here automatically. My lack of awareness about the cart no longer seemed unbelievable.
Even so, I had to offer Mearr something. Some explanation.
“I didn’t think we’d need it,” I said. “I figured the pantries would’ve been picked clean.”
Mearr sniffed. “Hm. Don’t know why you’d think that. Whatever. We’ll just carry what we can. It’s not like the stuff is heavy way out here.”
“I can go back and get the cart if you’d like,” I said.
She waved me off. “No need. It’ll take too long. Besides, you’d never get it through that door.”
That’s right. The door. The half-open, unpowered door. There was no way we were going to get half this stuff out through the gap in the door. Some of it was too bulky.
Maybe Mearr would have preferred I bring a cutting torch.
“Come on, make yourself useful,” she said, hoisting a few bundles of food boxes and shoving them into my arms. “Carry these out to the entrance and Sys’ll feed them through.”
I wondered what Mearr meant by that, but I didn’t want to catch myself on her bad side. So I dutifully carried the bundles back to the galley entrance, where Sys waited on the ceiling.
“Pass one of ‘em here,” she said, reaching out for me.
I tossed one of the bundles up and Sys began a flurry of movement. She untied the cords binding the boxes together, wrapped the wire around her arm, and then floated the boxes through the gap at the top of the doors — which was wider than the bottom. Once the boxes were all on the other side, she scurried through, bound them all back up again, and settled the bundle on the floor before darting back through to start the whole process over again.
“You can go back and help Mearr,” said Sys. “I’ve got this now.”
I wasn’t sure if Sys was giving me permission to help Mearr, or a suggestion to help Mearr. The one was an attempt to assert her dominance in our new roles pertaining to Mearr’s relationships, the other was a simple operational observation.
I decided not to take anything Sys said for granted. If the words could be a message — or a threat — in disguise, it was best if I assumed they were.
In any case, I left Sys to finish pushing the boxed supplies through to the other side of the doorway and headed back to where Mearr was binding up some more bundles. She had a few ready, so I grabbed those and dragged them out into the entrance room, where Sys busily set to work on them.