Interlude (2)

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Shan Fung sighed as the door slid open without her permission. She knew who it was, of course. She had scheduled his meeting for this hour and, as usual, he had arrived on the dot. I suppose if nothing else, he's never late. She briefly considered pulling her sidearm on him—as she would have with most of her soldiers, to remind them that her lenience had limits—but he was the one member of her crew who might just be dangerous enough to give her a run for her money.

"You rang, O' Captain, My Captain?" he said, putting on a mockery of oozing salesman charm as he stepped through the door.

She pursed her lips; he was also one of the rare members of her crew who could test her composure. "Good afternoon, Mr. Diver."

He fell into an at ease position—even the civvies on her ship learned basic military stances and how to salute properly—and grinned at her. She was not unaware that he was good-looking, or that he was a genius; but he was also a pain in the ass, and for that she gave him a frown of disapproval in return for his grin. He was invaluable, she could not afford to lose him, but Shan Fung would not allow his every little bit of mischief to go unchastised.

"Okay, okay, sorry, Captain," Diver said. "Guess I'm just feeling real good lately, what with how well the birds are working."

"I am pleased to hear it's going well."

"So I take it you want to talk about her?"

Shan Fung didn't have to ask who he meant by 'her'; this meeting had been set up expressly to talk about Xandri. Already she'd spoken with a number of other crew members to get their opinions.

She had a stab of pain in her left temple, left over from her previous meeting, which had been with Christa Baranka. Ms. Baranka had been after the job of Head of Xeno-liaisons for roughly a standard year now, ever since their previous Head had been poached by the Alliance First Contact Division—a poaching Shan Fung had not bothered to stop, since though he was a good xenoanthropologist, he simply wasn't capable of producing the results she wanted. Needed. And while Ms. Baranka was also very good at her job, she was a by-the-book kind of worker; Shan Fung needed someone who thought outside the box.

Ms. Baranka, of course, did not see it that way. Her complaints about Xandri were numerous, though they didn't quite match what the rest of Xeno-liaisons had to say.

Shan Fung thought she might also have a slight twitch in one eye from her meeting with Lieutenant Magellan, who was also less than impressed with Xandri. As it was his job, as first officer, to be impressed with very little, she had expected his disapproval. Even so, it had reminded her of being scolded by her grandmother, a fate which no soul should have to suffer.

"Indeed," Shan Fung said. She gestured to the chair in front of her desk. "Please sit."

"Look, Captain, I gotta be honest," Diver said, as he dropped into the chair with the boneless, unpracticed grace of a cat. "If you're planning to give her the boot, I'm gonna have to raise holy hell."

Shan Fung let her eyebrows rise slightly. "And why is that, Mr. Diver?"

"You really gotta ask? Can't you see it?"

"I want to know what you see."

Diver shifted positions, legs wide, elbows resting on his thighs, body hunched over. He could be like that a lot, like he simply could not bear to be contained. Shan Fung had seen something similar in Xandri, though it expressed itself differently. Instead of taking up extra space—which she seemed to avoid with great fervor—she reacted to her surroundings with longing, taking in the vastness of space as if she couldn't get enough of all that wide open. Shan Fung had caught her staring out the windows of Mr. Spock numerous times over their week long journey.

She suspected, based on what she knew of both their pasts, that Xandri and Diver had more in common than they realized. That they had been through similar experiences. Yes, Diver had been on the streets his entire life, abandoned by his parents when he was little more than an infant, while Xandri had ended up there much later in life. Yet she was certain that something very similar had happened to both of them.

"All right, look. This ain't easy to put to words." Diver pressed his fingertips together, making a cage of his fingers. "Xan, she...she needs this place. She needs to be here just as much as I did when you found me, maybe more. I ain't entirely sure why. Her signals ain't quite what I'm used to, you know, so I don't know if it's just being autistic that makes her so flinchy or if there's more to it, but it don't matter. What I know is, she needs this.

"And honestly, I think we need her. She thinks, you know? Uses her noggin. Lord, the genius she could produce if someone had trained her up for science. But she's about people, and despite everything I've heard about this autism business, she's got a knack for people. Especially non-human ones."

All of them except for Magellan, sadly. "I've noticed that myself. She asked me a question on our trip here that quite frankly surprised me. She wanted to know why there was no information in the Alliance records about Nafta syntax."

"The space pigeons got syntax?"

"I doubt she'd appreciate you calling them space pigeons."

"Good point." Diver leaned back a bit, then forward again, showing an intensity he usually reserved for his machines. "But that's just what I mean, Captain. If she thinks the sp—the Nafta have syntax, it's 'cause she's listened. She does that, listens, pays attention, puts together the pieces. She's what you're looking for."

"You sound awfully certain of that, Mr. Diver."

He settled back in the chair at last and folded his arms across his chest, taking on a decidedly stubborn demeanor. "I am."

Shan Fung couldn't help a small smile. She wouldn't let him know it, not yet, but his answer pleased her. As busy as she had been, when she had gotten a chance to observe Xandri's work, it had surprised and delighted her. Certainly the young woman had much to learn, but she had a good foundation to start from.

"Thank you, Mr. Diver," Shan Fung said. "Your opinions on the matter have been noted. You may go."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

"Guess I got work to do, anyway," Diver grumbled. "But for the record, I ain't kidding."

"I'm aware of that, Mr. Diver. Dismissed."

Even Diver knew better than to push. He rose from the chair with a small stretch and headed for the door. But to her surprise he paused before reaching for the palm pad, and ran his fingers through his hair, shifting and fidgeting like he was trying to make up his mind about something. Finally he turned back to her.

"How much do you know about her, Captain?"

"More than I can share with you."

"There's something...it might just be this whole autism thing, I don't know. But she tries to keep these walls up around her. Sometimes I get past them a little, and sometimes she realizes that and puts 'em back up again, like she's got something she don't want seen. It's gonna make it hard for her to get along here. People are gonna think she don't like them." He shook his head. "There's something there. It might take time, but I'm gonna get past that wall."

He pressed his palm to the door lock and left. As the door hissed closed behind him, Shan Fung sighed. Please get past that wall, Diver. She needs to be free of it.


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