ashmusing: (Default)
Ash ([personal profile] ashmusing) wrote2011-01-08 01:29 pm

FIC: Speak, Friend, and Enter: Providence and Stardust

TITLE: Speak, Friend, and Enter: Chapter One: Providence and Stardust
CHAPTERS: Index
FANDOM: James Cameron's Avatar
CHARACTERS: Norm Spellman, Trudy Chacon
RATING: PG-13
WORDS: 3035
WARNINGS: None.
A/N: Massive thanks to ceitfianna and the_croupier for beta-ing, and lordolorien for cheerleading.
STORY SUMMARY: Information Technician Norm Spellman first met Lance Corporal Trudy Chacon in on a ship in 2134. Twenty years later, Doctor Spellman and Captain Chacon (long-time friends and sometime lovers) are reunited on Pandora. This follows the time between, and what happens after.
EXTRACT: “Lost?”

“Yeah? What was your first clue?”

“Sixth sense.”

“Sure.”

“Practice.”

“I was obvious, wasn't I?”

“...a little.”



Providence and Stardust


Earth
September, 2134
Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean



Everyone gets lost on the USS Providence. Everyone. From the new transfers to the apprentices on their first ship to Captain Kedar herself. One grey passageway crosses with another, and another, and yet another. Norm himself often likens it to trying negotiate a dwarven city, but only in his head. His own sense of direction copes with it just fine, but add an extra battalion of combat-weary Marines to the ship, and the chaos of life on-board magnifies.

By now, all the Providence's crew have gotten used to stumbling across figures dressed in worn fatigues, standing in the crossways in various states of confusion. So, Norm is not surprised when he does exactly this. The Marine is even thoughtful enough to give him warning, thanks to a string of muttered, polylingual curse words that echo down the corridors. What does surprise him is the Marine's height; she'd (the voice is his only clue, given regulation uniform, regulation crew-cut, his view entirely of her back) barely come up to his shoulder.

“Lost?”

She turns, and flashes him a crooked grin. “Yeah?” she drawls with a laugh. “What was your first clue?” Her words are also a variant on prior experience, but her laugh and grin make him grin quickly back.

“Sixth sense.”

“Sure.”

“Practice.”

“I was obvious, wasn't I?”

“...a little,” he admits with another quick smile.

“Damn. There goes my street-cred.” She sounds entirely cheerful about this. “Mind at least tellin' me where the hell the mess-hall is?”

“I can show you.” Her eyes narrow slightly at him, so he hurries to add, “I'm going there myself.”

“Okay,” she says, rolling a shoulder back and deciding to take him at his word. Then again, leading in person is less likely to lead to pranked wrong directions than verbal instruction. Norm had learned that well over the past eight months.

“It's easy to get lost,” he continues as they fall into step. “But there is a system to it all. Every p-way, and sets of stairs, and each room and cubby hole in the ship is numbered and letter based on how far away it is from the hangar deck. Whether it's going up or down, starboard and port and fore and aft.”

She – Lance-Corporal from her insignia, Chacon from the name-tag across her breast – glances up at him.

“P-way?”

“Passageway.”

“Got it.”

The silence that falls is comfortable, which is unnerving in of itself. Well, not silence-silence; normally a home to nearly two thousand personnel, now the Providence is carrying well over three thousand, and has all the sound to prove it. Not that ships are ever silent, unless they are on the bottom of the ocean, and probably not even then. But he means the silence between him and the Marine. The girl. She can't be much older than him, if indeed she is. Pretty girl.

But he'd noticed that as soon as Chacon had grinned at him.

He shouldn't have. And normally he doesn't notice beyond the academic. But her grin was vibrant and fierce and lit up her face, which itself was a phrase that hadn't made any sense until just now. And now his thoughts are spiralling just fast enough that comfortable has shifted to awkward on his part.

“So, uh, how you finding the Providence?

“Interesting,” Chacon replies, stumbling as the ship rolls underneath her feet and grabbing the handrail at the stairs. He has his hands up, but doesn't step forward to catch her – it'd be patronising if she didn't need assistance, and everyone had learnt the hard way that the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines are still combat-weary and combat-shocked, with reflexes that tended to hit first and ask questions later, if it all. Which is why command have shoved them onto a ship to calm down for a few weeks before being let loose on society. It makes sense, it just makes life more... interesting than it strictly speaking has to be. “I mean it's weird the way the whole thing moves? But space-wise, it ain't worse than livin' back in New Jersey. 'Sides,” she adds as she scrambles up the ladder-like stairs, “no one's shooting at me. It's a damn vacation.”

There isn't much he can think to say to that (and anyway, he is trying desperately not to look at her ass as he climbs up because, really, you don't do that while on active duty) besides, “Oh. Right, sure, that makes sense.”

Which makes her laugh and here's the thing: her laugh isn't husky or breathy or wicked-girl-giggle, it's a cackle like she's a witch with a cauldron somewhere, and it's the sexiest damn sound he's ever heard. It's the kind of laugh that invites someone to join in the joke.

“Don't worry 'bout it. Mess-hall just up ahe- Hey, Eddie!” One of the Marines further down the corridor turns and waves. “Okay, uh, Spellman, wasn't it?”

“-Yep.”

“Right.” Chacon flashes him a smile. “Nice to meet you, Spellman. And thanks.” With that, she jogs down the corridor and cheerfully knocks into the Marine Eddie, leaving Norm to follow on his own. This probably isn't a bad thing, he reflects. It saves them from the awkward we-were-talking-but-now-do-we-still-continue dance that he hates, and in any case, he's a little too distracted to be of much conversational use.

– –

Here's what normally happens when he meets a pretty girl, particularly a pretty girl while he's on active duty; he looks, he takes note, and he dismisses because he doesn't have the time, or he can't think of anything to say, or she's entirely out of his league (whatever his league might actually be: he's far better at knowing which girls are out of it rather than which ones are in), or because he is, in fact, on active duty. Particularly the latter, because this means being on a ship somewhere on the ocean, which in turn means all the possessors of two X chromosomes and slash or a feminine identity are wearing uniform and he is going to have to work with them for the duration of their mutual assignment.

Norm doesn't even find it particularly difficult not to ponder in-depth – nineteen or no, he's just far too busy. Twelve-hour days are standard, four hours to stand watch and all the others to complete his other tasks, and then usually some time devoted to catching up on his reading. Those other tasks currently involve fixing the Providence's still damaged computer systems. Which involves coding and debugging and rewriting programs and dragging over the toolbox and taking off panels of the ship so he and the others in his team can see how good hotwiring does.

He has to frequently remind himself that if they'd caught the edge of an actual bomb, rather than the blast of an electric one, they would have had far more pressing concerns than the computers being unable to consistently talk to each other. Like, say, for instance, being pieces of floating wreckage. Sometimes that helps more than others, and he often falls asleep to images of holographic screens and symbols and flashing messages of 'CANNOT CONNECT' and 'DOES NOT RECOGNIZE'.

But still, he sees her around.

It's as if that one conversation has entered her into his personal radar, and that radar can't help but ping every time she enters his sphere of awareness. She's there, lounging on the deck with her company, their pants rolled up to the knee and flashing legs scratched, burned, scared; legs belonging to people who have far more important things to think about than razors. Unless it's razor-wire, now that, that they care about. He sees her in the mess-hall, in one of the common rooms cleaning her rifle; he sees her being shouted at by her sergeant-major, who is making her battalion run around the ship. Up and down and over stairs and from one deck to another to loop back again the bellows of DON'T STOP, YOU BUNCH OF PAMPERED PUSSIES, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU COMPLAIN' ABOUT.

Those are the times Norm is damn glad he's in the Navy, not the Marine Corps. Even if Chacon makes running look good.

On the other hand, of course he sees Chacon around. They are stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean; after a while, you see everyone around, even when you'd rather not. It's just because he knows (read) her name that she's shifted from being cargo to being a person, that is all.

Right, Spellman, if that's the case, why are you always disappointed that she's always surrounded by people?

He rarely has a good answer to that.

– –

The advantage of Mid Watch is this: afterwards, he can walk outside, onto the main deck, and tip his head back to look at the stars as he takes a deep breath of fresh air.

Stars.

Fresh air.


It's this, more than the increased chance of not having to kill anyone, that led him to the Navy in the first place. Months and months on ships which, along with all the annoyances, have the promise of clear skies in the middle of the ocean. A chance to get away from the claustrophobic, urban sprawl and be able to breathe without a filter-mask.

Tonight, though, he can also taste cigarette smoke. Normally, he'd ignore it, but with the smoke comes a voice.

“Hey there, Spellman.”

He turns, frowning. Chacon is sitting on the deck, back against the wall, arm resting on a propped up knee. He can see the glow of her cigarette more clearly than her face, but it only takes a moment to recognise the roughened sound of her voice.

“Evening,” he says, even though it's after 0200. “I, uh. Didn't know you smoked.”

“Filthy habit,” she admits cheerfully. “But hell, it ain't like it's gonna damage anythin' more than they are fucked up already. You don't?” she adds.

“No.”

“Ah. Sorry.” The glow abruptly goes out.

“You didn't have to-”

“Filthy habit,” Chacon repeats, and he can hear the smile in her voice. “Y'like the stars, too?”

“Try to see them whenever I can,” he says, not entirely sure why. He could have just said 'yes'. But for some reason, Chacon doesn't really invite a simple 'yes'.

“Never saw 'em 'til I was shipped out,” she says. “I mean, there are images from last century and all that, 'bout the night sky. And images they take on the Moon and Mars. But it's...it's different, actually seeing them. We're lookin' into the past when we look at the night sky, you know?”

“I. Huh,” he says, moving over to sit next to her. “I never thought of it like that,” he says slowly, after a long moment of staring at the sky.

“Most people don't,” Chacon says, and he can still hear that smile. “But I mean, we're just seein' the stars as they were when the light left them. Half of them might actually be dead, been dead for centuries, but because we can't see it, we've got no idea.”

“...I think you're hurting my brain a bit,” he admits at last, and then grins as she bursts out laughing.

“Oops,” she says, not sounding at all apologetic. “Poor brain.” She reaches out to pat his head, and Norm goes still, lets her, doesn't move away. It's just a quick touch, and he's seen her around and interacting with the other Marines. Personal space what personal space seems to be the way they roll. But that's in their pack, all rough and tumble like giant puppies. This is different, far more deliberate. He wonders if she's flirting, and then wonders if it's just his own ridiculous hormones skewing reality on him.

“I'll live,” Norm says, grateful for the darkness and the way it hides the burning on his cheeks.

“Seein' as we didn't formally introduce ourselves before, I'm Chacon. Lance Corporal Gertrude Chacon, but please don't call me Gertrude, ever. Or Gertie. It's Trudy.”

“Nice to meet you, Lance Corporal Trudy Chacon,” he says, getting another quick smile. “Seaman Apprentice Norman Spellman. But, likewise, it's always Norm.”

“Norm. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.” He's prepared for the conversation to dovetail in awkward silence, but she surprises him by continuing.

“'Course, the other thing about stars is we're made up of them.”

“We are stardust.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, it's cliché,” she says, tone somewhere between wry and resigned. “But it's true. All the atoms in our body, either from the the Big Bang or, most of 'em, from the deaths of stars. Atoms of your left hand different from the ones in your right.”

A little off-balance, he says,“Could say that's morbid.”

“Oh?”

“We're made up of dead stars,” Norm says, stressing the operative word. She dismisses that with a flick of her hand.

“Atoms themselves ain't exactly dead. Can't be. They ain't alive to start with.” Chacon shrugs. “I think it's neat, myself. We're made up things that have been stars and planets and galaxies. Connects us to everything.” Without meaning to, he remembers the locket at the base of her throat, the one with the little black cross on it. “Shame, though, not many folk get to look up and see them. Stars, I mean.”

“Yeah, I...” can't think of anything to say.

“....and now you're probably wonderin' how to get out of this conversation,” she says, awkwardly.

“No,” Norm says, sharply. “Not at all. I just, uh.”

“What?” Her voice is wary.

“It's been a while since I heard anyone really talk about things like stars and atoms and the universe. Just took me by surprise.”

Cautious, “Y'sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“Yeah, well. Might be safer if you chose the topic of conversation. I'm outta practice at pretendin' to be normal.”

“Nothing wrong with not being normal,” Norm says, and sees the flash of her teeth as she smiles at him. “So, uh. Why did you enlist?” he asks, at a loss himself. He'd rather go back to talking about stars. Normal small talk is somewhat beyond him, too, and he doesn't even have the excuse of a long tour of duty in a warzone.

“Couldn't afford to go to college,” she says, a little shortly. “And I was broke. Was actually gonna be Air Force, but only had enough money to get to the Marine recruitin' place.” Beat. “I'd appreciate it if you didn't go 'round tellin' people that last bit.”

“Yeah, I won't.” Her comrades wouldn't let her hear the end of it, rivalry and scorn being alive and well between the military branches. “Why Air Force?”

“I've been flying choppers since I was fourteen. I love it. But figured Marines won't be too bad. Do my four years, use the GI Bill...” Her voice trails off.

“And then what happened?”

“Huh?”

He shrugs. “Just, way you said it. Sounds like you changed your mind.”

There is silence, and Chacon huffs a laugh. “Maybe I did. I can't.” She pauses, thinking. “It's home, now. This. The Marines, the military. It's...there is somethin' really liberating about, well, uh, surrendering, I guess you'd say. To something bigger than yourself. Something with rules. Not bombarded by buy this, buy that, if you don't look like a movie star you're never gonna get laid. All this choice. Constantly. You're free from all that.”

“America's Spartans,” Norm says, a little sardonic.

“Exactly,” she says, perfectly serious. “Still, wouldn't mind bein' a pilot,” she admits. “God, I miss flying.”

“Quickest way would be Naval Academy.”

“Oh, yeah, I know. But then I'd be a freaking officer. A class-traitor.” He nods, slowly, and gets her laugh again. “Joking. I'm not that much of a socialist, I swear.”

“No, no. I get it. I'm enlisted, too, remember?”

“Yeah. Nice boy like you, with an accent like that? What happened, you get dumped and decide to run off to the military or something?”

“Well...”

“...fuck, seriously?” She cackles. “Oh, man. Let me guess, for the football captain?”

“No. Worse. Captain of the debating team. It's okay, you can laugh.”

“Oh, god. That's terrible. I shouldn't laugh. 'Specially as I got dumped for the football captain,” Chacon says, giggling.

“It wasn't only because of that,” Norm says, attempting for dignity and falling far short.

“Ah-huh.”

“I'm serious.”

“Sure,” and then she laughs again. “Yeah, I know. It's rarely simple.”

“I didn't know what I was doing. And the financial assistance would be really useful. Figured it couldn't hurt.”

“Makes sense.”

“...and, sure, there was a little bit because Keyna. A little,” he stresses. He sees the flash of her teeth again.

“Knew it. Where she end up?”

“Think she ran off to Harvard. Economics.”

“See, boring. Way more boring than joining the Navy and doin'...whatever you're planning to do next.”

“Might even stay.” He can feel her studying him, even in the dark.

“Doubt it,” she says at last. “You don't seem like a lifer.”

He doesn't have to ask her to clarify. “I, uh. I should be getting back, though. Get some sleep.”

“Yeah, I should do the same.” Neither of them move, then both of them do. They stop, and she snorts a laugh. “After you, Spellman.”

“Going. Night, Chacon.”

“Night.”

It takes him ten meters down the corridor to work out she's stayed out on the deck. Probably, he thinks, with her head tilted back, watching the stars.

next chapter

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