In the Shadow of Heaven [ORIGINAL VERSION]by
Chapter Sixty-Four - Sid, Master of Understanding
Sid, Master of Understanding
‘You may find you’re making a mistake.’
‘Putting your love and trust in him is likely to kill you.’
‘He would never betray me.’
‘That’s not exactly what was said.’
-a conversation with the Emperor
Decompression sickness, Sid decided, was a real bitch of a thing to go through. At least he wasn't going to go deaf from it, ha fucking ha. He had heard stories of people who had died from coming up too quick from diving, or had like, nerve damage or whatever. He was probably lucky. His decompression had only lasted a little while– half a minute at most. He just had achy joints and a rash that wouldn't go away and a headache and blurred vision that he hoped would fix itself and a persistent dizziness and–
Sid lay in his cabin aboard the Impulse with his face pressed into his pillow and groaned. The vibration in his chest was a pleasant distraction from the pain. He felt like he was purring, even though it wasn't in pleasure.
For once, Sid was glad to have Kino around. She was taking care of the diplomatic part of the mission. Whatever was left of it, anyway, after someone almost murdered Sid. And everybody else on the shuttle, of course. It was a funny joke that God was playing on him. He had protested so much that this would be a safe trip for him, and then he had almost died. If he had been a little slower with the power, he would have. If it had been Kino on that shuttle instead of him, who knows what would have happened. He never wanted to go on a shuttle again.
Sid wondered what was going on with the other people on the shuttle: Cesper and Hernan. Sid had been rushed out of the shuttle to be checked out by medical staff immediately, and he had become separated from them. He could only assume that Cesper had been relieved of his duty, on medical grounds at the very least.
Sid wasn't exactly sure, but he thought that Cesper had probably saved his life. The man in the shuttle, in the suit. Probably that was Willis? Sid didn't know. Someone should bring him information. Unless Kino was keeping him on an information diet in the hopes that he'd go to sleep.
Joke was on her. He was coiled tighter than the spring in a pen. He wouldn't have been able to sleep, even if the pain in his joints was less distracting. He had been given painkillers, but asked specifically for things that wouldn't dull his thoughts. For one thing, he didn't want another taste of Vena, or anything like it. For another, he was feeling rightly paranoid, and if he needed to use the power again, he wanted his brain to be able to make that happen. So the pain in his limbs and head was dulled but not gone.
His glasses sat on his bedside table. They had freed themselves from his shirt during the mad struggle, but they had avoided floating away into space. Someone had tucked them into his hands after the confusion was over. That was good. He didn't bring a spare pair.
Sid lay in his bed, face down, until his phone vibrated with an alert. He looked at it unhappily. It was from Cesper.
> open your door, I've been standing here knocking like an idiot for two minutes
< you are an idiot. why'd you think knocking would work
Sid could practically feel the exasperated sigh come from outside the door. He got out of bed and opened it. His joints ached with every movement, but the medicine and just time were doing their job.
Cesper looked just as bad as Sid did. The same bright red rash covered every inch of exposed skin. It wasn't painful, really, but it was annoying. Cesper stepped inside, and Sid motioned for him to grab the chair at the little desk. Sid sat down on the bed and put his glasses on. The room was so little that when Cesper turned the chair to face him, their knees knocked together.
“Hey,” Sid said.
Sid wasn't exactly sure what Cesper had come here for, but he wasn't going to send him away. This was probably just like... He remembered Yan, and a bolt of sadness shot through him. At least he wasn't feeling anything like as badly as he had that other time. Cesper might be.
“You ok?” Sid asked after a long moment of silence.
“I guess,” Cesper said. He shut his mouth and appeared to be thinking. “I wanted to thank you for saving my life.”
“You want to hear me say something rude?” Sid asked, smiling a little.
Cesper didn't look entirely amused, but he said, “Go ahead.”
“It was really more of a self-preservation thing, so I can't really take your thanks.”
“The motivations may have been different, but the end result was the same,” Cesper said. He smiled a little now, too. “If you hadn't been there, we would have definitely died.”
“I guess. I kinda did a number on the shuttle, though.”
“I'm not sure if that can be fixed. Luckily we're going into dock for a while, so I'm sure a new one can be arranged.”
“Am I going to get a bill? For wrecking Fleet property?” Sid asked jokingly.
“They're going to haul you in front of a Tribunal,” Cesper said. The look on his face indicated that he was also joking.
It felt like a little barrier between them had come down. Maybe all it took to endear two people to each other was a little bit of life and death experience. Sid liked that shortcut.
“Can I ask you something?” Sid asked.
“I was a bit out of it in the end there. After I fixed up the doors, anyway. Did you shoot that guy?”
“Yeah. I did.”
“Thanks,” Sid said.
“I could say the same line about self-preservation,” Cesper said.
“Well, he was holding a gun to my head instead of yours.”
“Did you make the gun missfire?” Cesper asked.
“You don't know? You sensitives are worse than I thought.”
“I was kinda out of it. I think-- there's this, like, trick that I learned ages ago. About redirecting bullets? I might have just done that.”
“They teach you how to redirect bullets in school?” Cesper asked. His face was incredulous.
“Hah. No. I learned that when I started my apprenticeship. From my boss's bodyguard. Halen.” Sid kept on adding more and more information as afterthoughts, He was careful not to reveal too much about Halen. There was a lot he wanted to tell Cesper.
“That makes sense. Have you had to use that trick?”
“In training, one time. And a variation of it, last time I was on a ship.” It wasn't technically the last time he had been on a ship, but those other journeys were uneventful and thus inconsequential. Not even worth mentioning, really.
“You had to redirect bullets during training? What kind of training were you doing? Were you getting shot at?”
“Haha, yeah.” The panic and chaos of that dark room in the simulation chamber in Stonecourt seemed almost funny to him, now. He could better relate to what Kino had gone through, though. “It kinda sucked. But looking back on it, it's like. Whatever.” He flapped his hand in the air, waving the thought away. “Kino honestly has a more dramatic story about it than I do.”
“I'll have to ask her.”
“She's taking care of everything, right?” Sid asked.
“Yeah. My most recent update said that the evacuation is going smoothly.”
“Are we able to actually identify some of the people on the LT? Did we figure out what is going on with the fake names?”
“I think we're going to have to wait until we're in port for that, so that we can check people against the citizen database.”
“What, your beautiful ship doesn't have a copy of that in internal memory?”
Cesper laughed, his mouth open wide. “I'm not sure what use it would have when we're out exploring, halfway across the galaxy.”
“You never know, you could find a wandering and lost soul out there and bring them home.”
“If we found anyone out that far who belonged to the Empire, I think we'd have bigger problems on our hands than just identifying them.”
“Point taken.” They sat in silence for a few moments. Sid stared at Cesper. He looked a bit tired. Maybe more than a bit. “You okay?” Sid asked, finally.
“Mostly.” There was another long pause.
“You gonna elaborate on that?”
Cesper's chest heaved up and down in a sigh. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, like a fish. Sid thought it was endearing. “I killed that guy. Willis. He's dead.”
“Really? I thought you just got him in the shoulder?”
“Went right through some arteries. He bled out in his suit before we could get him to the medical area.”
“That kinda sucks, I guess.”
“More than 'kinda'.” Cesper rubbed his eyes with the back of his arm and leaned back heavily in his chair.
“He would have been given the death penalty, anyway,” Sid said. “I don't think any tribunal would put a guy who multiple times disabled ship life support onto a mining colony.”
“I know, I know.” That didn't appear to comfort Cesper, because he stayed in the same position.
Sid tried to stop and not put his foot in his mouth when he said his next line.
“Killing someone sucks, even when it had to happen, or was going to happen anyway. Trust me, I know. It'll be okay.”
“It's not even that, really,” Cesper said. “I get it. I don't think I did anything wrong in the situation, except maybe not shoot him earlier, because if you hadn't been blocking the bullet you would have died when his gun went off, but...”
“What is it then?”
“I'm in the Fleet. I have to be okay with this. It's what we do. I'm planning to make this my career. It's not what I thought it was going to be like when I signed up for it, but it's...” Cesper seemed lost and struggling to come up with the words to explain how he was feeling.
“Yeah. This is kinda what the Fleet does.”
“How do you cope with it?” Cesper asked.
“What, killing people? Or the Fleet?” Sid asked.
“I don't know. Both.”
“Uh. Well I've only killed people once, and it was in stupid circumstances. Pirates. And I didn't cope with it very well. I did a lot of drugs, and I tried to run away from my problems, and I made a lot of people really mad at me. My friend, Yan, she coped with it a lot better.”
“What did she do?”
“I think she prayed about it a lot?” Sid didn't really know how Yan had coped, but after that first little while, where they had huddled up in her bedroom, Yan had seemed so on top of things. She probably had still been worrying about it and thinking about it, but she hadn't let it destroy her life like Sid almost had. Sid was a little jealous that Yan was more competent than he was in almost every respect, but then again, she was gone and he was here. This was a poisonous line of thought, and he tried to kill it as he waited for Cesper to respond.
“I've never been particularly religious.”
“Don't they make you attend service like, every day at the Academy?”
“No. Not sure where you got that idea from. Just once a week, same as anybody else.”
“Nobody really knows what goes on at the Academy,” Cesper said. “We have, uh, two guys on here who are Academy graduates, and they never, ever talk about it.”
“If I had to guess, they're just cultivating a sense of mystery in order to look more impressive. Can't really blame them.”
“I find it hard to believe that sensitives would need any extra sense of specialness about them, considering.”
“Well once you've got one thing going for you, it gives you a bit more incentive to inflate your own ego,” Sid said. “Can't you tell?” He gestured at himself.
“You seem mostly fine to me,” Cesper said. “Kino, too.”
“You don't think Kino cultivates a sense of mystery? She's practically steeped in the stuff.”
“I'm not sure what's mysterious about her,” Cesper said. “She's just a little quiet.”
“I guess you haven't hung out with her as much as I have. She just never, ever talks about her past, or what she's thinking about. I don't think she's ever given me a personal detail without me prying it out of her. Like if I asked her what's her favorite color, she'd give a three word answer that somehow doesn't answer the question.”
“You seem to have a lot of built up anger about this.”
“Am I losing control of my tone?” Sid laughed. “Sorry. Kino's great, I guess. But she doesn't really connect with people very easily.”
“So what's your favorite color?” Cesper asked.
“If I told you I was colorblind, would you believe me?”
“No,” Cesper said.
“Are you dodging the question intentionally to prove a point?”
“Caught me. It's green. But like, a light, yellow-y green. What's yours?”
“Really? You don't strike me as the purple type.”
“What do I strike you as?” Cesper asked.
Sid contemplated for a second. “Maybe an ocean-blue type guy.”
“How dreadfully common,” Cesper said.
“Now we're all putting on airs,” Sid said. “Have I sufficiently distracted you from your misery?”
Cesper laughed, mouth open and teeth glinting in the dull light. “I guess you did, for a minute, until you brought it back up.”
“There I go, running my mouth when I shouldn't again.”
“It's okay, I guess I'm just glad you understand what I'm saying.”
“That's me, Sid, master of understanding.” Sid didn't entirely get what Cesper was going through, and he hadn't even answered the second half of his question, but if the conversation had switched on to lighter topics, then he wasn't going to go diving back into the depths of despair without needing to.
“Your decompression sickness still killing you?” Cesper asked.
“I'm not really dying of it, but it does suck. You?”
“I think I'll be ok in a day or so. Pretty sure my case of it is lighter than yours.”
“Aren't you lucky.”
“I guess I am. How's your head feeling?”
Sid reached up to touch the swollen lump where he had effectively been pistol-whipped. “I was told it wasn't a concussion, but I'm just going to have a nasty bruise for a couple days.”
“Hair would protect you from something like that.”
“I somehow doubt that.”
Cesper reached across the distance between them, and softly took Sid's hand off his head, to inspect the place where the gun had hit him. His fingers were gentle on the swollen, ugly bruise. Goosebumps sprang up all over Sid's body. “Hair would have at least stopped everybody from having to look at it.”
“You don't like looking at my head?” Sid asked, smiling. He grabbed Cesper's hand.
“I like it just fine,” Cesper said.
“That's what I thought.” Sid was a little smug. He wondered just how far he could push this. He liked Cesper, quite a lot. And if he needed something to take his mind off of the events of the shuttle, Sid was happy to provide a distraction. “Are you off duty?”
“For the next day, or until I'm cleared, anyway.”
“So this is a purely social visit?”
“Is that not allowed?”
Sid laughed. “No, I'm just wondering how much of your time I can monopolize.”
“As much of it as you want. Fleet ships can be dull when you don't have any assigned duties.”
“I'll try to make this less dull for you, then. Want to watch a movie? It'll get my mind off my headache.”
“Won't that make it worse?”
“Nah,” Sid said. “I'll turn the brightness all the way down.”
“Then sure, if you don't have anything better to be doing.”
“Kino told me that I should stay away from her business. She's handling it. I'll take her word for it.”
“I know she said that, but I didn't entirely expect you to obey her.”
“Am I not allowed to take a day off after a traumatic experience where I almost died?” Sid acted fake offended and Cesper laughed as expected.
“What movie do you want to watch then.”
“I don't know, I'll find something.” Sid reached down underneath the bed and pulled out his computer. He browsed through his media library until he found a random movie that he liked.
“Ever seen Jonathan Lingdron is a Dead Man?”
“Don't think so, what's it about?”
“It's a comedy. About a gangster.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Here.” Sid scooted over on his bed so that Cesper could join him. Cesper considered it for a second, looking hesitant. “Come on, you idiot, it's not like I'm going to have you watch a movie sitting on an office chair. What type of bad host do you take me for?”
“It's not exactly proper.”
“Not like I'm your commanding officer or anything. Besides.” Sid didn't know what exactly he was saying besides to. He thought that there was mutual attraction between him and Cesper, or at least some sort of possibility of there being some. And he didn't want to leave him out in the cold, not when he was feeling down about what had happened on the shuttle. They could both use some comfort. That was normal. Right?
Cesper still looked slightly unconvinced, but at the same time, the look he was shooting at Sid was a desperate one. Sid grabbed his arm. “Come on.”
He relented, and Cesper lay down on the bed next to Sid. It was a small one, so they both had to squeeze. Sid kicked the blankets so that Cesper could get underneath. This curling up in bed with someone after a crisis was becoming a real tradition, wasn't it? But Cesper was shorter than Yan, by a good few inches, and his body and Sid's mirrored each other. The colors and details were different, but there was a symmetry there.
“Comfy?” Sid asked. Cesper nodded. “Hit the light, will you?” Cesper struggled to reach it from his position on the bed, and almost got up, but Sid sighed, pushed him back down, and used the power to turn off the light.
Cesper turned his head to look at Sid, his face illuminated by the gentle glow of Sid’s computer. “Why didn't you do that in the first place?”
“It's rude to show off,” Sid said.
“It's not showing off if you're just being practical.”
“Shhhhhh.” Sid put his finger clumsily over Cesper's mouth. “Don't worry about it.”
“If I didn't worry about it, I wouldn't be the person that I am.”
“At least take your mind off it for a few minutes while we watch a movie, okay?”
Cesper was stiff and tense next to Sid as the movie started, but after a while, he began to relax. Their shoulders touched, and Sid casually moved his legs closer to Cesper's as well. They both made comments occasionally as they watched it, and Sid had a better time than even he had expected. How long had it been since he had done something simple and fun like this?
When the movie finished, they lay there together in the darkness for a second. Cesper made a move to get up, but Sid grabbed his arm.
“You don't have to go, you know.”
Cesper tensed up, but didn't get out of bed. “What do you want from me?” he asked.
“I don't want anything from you,” Sid said. That wasn't precisely true. He didn't want to be lonely. “But I don't want you to go back to your room still feeling like, I don't know.” Sid didn't have the words for what he was both trying to get from and give to Cesper. Sid rolled over onto his side, so that they could look at each other. “If you want to go, you can go. But I wouldn't mind if you stayed.”
“People will talk.”
“No, they won't.”
“Well at least I won't hear it,” Sid said with a little smile. “I don't really care. What's the worst anyone can say?”
"The truth, maybe," Cesper said.
"And what's that?" Sid asked, trying to make his voice barely louder than a whisper. There was a conspiratorial nature to their conversation now, like they were the only two people who mattered in the world. He smiled a tiny bit, but it was probably invisible to Cesper in the dark.
"I don't know," Cesper said.
"Do you like me?" Sid asked, abruptly switching the topic of conversation back to something less abstract.
Sid propped himself up on one elbow, and leaned over toward Cesper. "Can I kiss you?"
Cesper's face blushed a hot red in the dim light of Sid's glasses. Sid wasn't sure what he was embarrassed about. After all, he had been flirting just as much as Sid had. What else had he touched his head for? Sid was just more willing to be forthright about it. Cesper gave the tiniest nod, and Sid dipped his head down. Their mouths met.
They awkwardly adjusted their positions so that the kiss would be easier. It wasn't much at first. Cesper had dry, chapped lips, and Sid hadn't had much practice with kissing recently, and certainly none with anybody outside the Academy, but this was… nice. It was nice. It was just two people who had saved each other's lives, having a nice time.
Cesper's hands stopped laying on the mattress like dead things, and began to move around, touching Sid's back, his arms, his neck, his ears. Sid reciprocated and used the arm that wasn't propping himself up to touch the side of Cesper's cheek and back into his hair. Cesper's breathing was shallow, and his face felt warm against Sid's. Sid broke off the kiss.
"Do you like that?" he asked.
"Yes," Cesper said and dipped his head back toward Sid's. Sid pushed on his shoulder a little bit so that they could lay back down on the bed. Cesper tugged off Sid's glasses, and turned briefly to put them on the desk behind them. Sid would have protested, but he didn't think that much intellectual discourse was going to be happening here anyway. He closed his eyes. He was a creature of only touch. His lips were on Cesper's– no, Ervantes, that was his first name– and his hands were on his shoulders, on his back, up in the space between his ear and his hair, pushing and pulling, touching and being touched. Ervantes's breath was heavy and hot through his nose, blowing onto Sid's face. Sid leaned into it, pushing Ervantes back down into the pillow. They were like that for a long time.
Eventually, though, Ervantes broke away, gently disentangling himself from Sid's grasping hands. Sid opened his eyes. They were both sweaty and flushed, and there was a strange gleam in Ervantes's eyes. It was probably matched by the one in Sid's. Ervantes opened his mouth and said something. Sid reached up over him to grab his glasses from the bedside table.
"What did you say?" Sid asked.
"We should stop," Ervantes said.
"Because I'm starting to feel like I'm breaking some sort of professional ethic."
"At least that's taking your mind off of everything else," Sid said. Ervantes heaved a sigh and closed his eyes. Apparently that had been the wrong thing for Sid to say. "Sorry."
"It's fine." The mood was gone, though. Sid flopped back down on the bed as well.
Sid closed his eyes. "This is going to sound stupid, so don't like. I don't know. I just… I know what it's like to be in the situation you're in. And when I was all I wanted was for there to be somebody to hold me."
If Ervantes said anything in response, Sid didn't know. He was too good at just turning off conversations that he felt too strongly about. He could just close his eyes. It was like his sister, when she was watching a show, and one of the characters did something embarrassing, she would have to turn away until it was over. Except it was him, just letting the words tumble out of his mouth, free of consequences for as long as he kept his eyes shut.
Ervantes nudged his shoulder, and Sid opened his eyes and turned to face him.
"Thank you, again," Ervantes said.
"Thank you," Sid said. "I mean it."
"Yeah, me too."
Ervantes got up, and Sid made no move to stop him. He left the room, leaving Sid alone in the dark again, with nothing but his aching joints, ugly rash, and headache for company. He groaned and clutched at his pillow, feeling the warm, empty space that Ervantes left.
Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].