Chapter 20
Outer Rim of the Neptunian Sphere
Date: Sun 10 May 123
Time: UST 0118

One thing about being a combat pilot was that you became a light sleeper. It was probably true for most servicemembers, but especially the ones who could be called up at a moment's notice any time, day or night, not that day and night were anything but abstractions to people serving in the Space Forces. You did not last very long if you slept through a scramble. Even in the relative comfort and safety of the freighter with nothing in particular to do, it did not take much to wake Matt up. However, he would never have expected what was going to wake him up now.
The mattress gave a little and something pressed against him on his left side. He was woken but not with a start. It the dark, he could barely make out the shape a person lying next to him, just barely on the edge of the bunk.
"Scoot over," a woman's voice whispered. It was Lydia.
"Shut up," she said. "Don't talk. You'll jus' piss me off."
Matt was not entirely sure why he did it, but he moved back to give her more room. The bunks were barely wide enough for the typical man of average build and not exactly designed for two people, Still, Lydia took the few senches he could give her.
"Haven't slept worth shit past sev'ral days," she mumbled. "Can't settle down. Leg's throbbin' like all hell. Felt calmer bein' 'round you back on the shuttle. Willin' ta try jus' 'bout anythin' right now."
There was really no comfortable sleeping arrangement all those days on the shuttle, but leaning on each other in their seats was about the best they could get. Now that they actually had individual bunks, Matt could not see how doubling up would make things any better, but he kept his silence. If she wanted to hear any input from him, she would ask for it. For now, it would be best to just play along with her.
She scooted back a little more. Even with Matt rolling onto his side, there was not much more room for her to take. Her back pressed up against him. His heart started to beat faster. Maybe it was because he was no longer getting the suppressants, but he never used to think of Lydia as a woman. Lydia was just Lydia. Only now it did not seem so simple.
"I don't get it," Lydia said. "I hate people touchin' me, but Sis... Sometimes Sis would get in bed with me ta try an' settle me down. It was nice. Some reason bein' 'round you's like bein' with her."
Lydia never talked much about her sister, never talked much about herself at all in all the years Matt had known her. He did not talk much about himself either, so a mutual respect for each other's privacy was one of the key aspects of their relationship. It seemed to work for them, but when he stopped to think about it, Matt wondered how much actual substance there was to the bond between them.
Completely oblivious to what Matt was thinking, Lydia muttered, "Fuckers outed us. Ain't noplace safe now. What the hell'd ol' Chow-chow say? We're voosay-rondin' it with the Tico? How the fuck's that s'pposed ta work?"
One of the more recent reports from MCN revealed the identities of the so-called 'Ticonderoga Nine', further exposing them to the world. In theory, it was possible for them to stay off the grid, but Lydia was pretty well on the money. Nowhere was safe for them and the plan to rendezvous with the Ticonderoga seemed like a terrible idea. What purpose would it serve but to put the lives of the crew in danger? What would happen if people who believed the report decided to take matters into their own hands?
Lydia elbowed him in the stomach.
"Dammit, Cav. Why'dya keep all this shit from me?"
Matt did not say anything, prompting Lydia to tell him, "Ya can talk now."
At this point, there was no reason to keep it secret from her any longer. Perhaps if he leveled with her, she would understand.
"Lieutenant Wallace warned me that if they found out you knew about the program, they might just kill you off as a liability. It was clear that these were powerful people who don't put much value on human life. I couldn't risk it, even if it meant you'd hate me for it."
Lydia did not say anything for a moment and when she did speak up, it came off as reluctant, grudging.
"I don't hate ya, Cav. I'm pissed, yeah, but when ain't I pissed 'bout somethin'? I hate how ya always play Daddy with me. Makes me feel like a damn kid..."
"Nyx, I--"
"I know I got it comin'," she said. "Shit, I may have half an excuse if these people've been fuckin' with my head all this time. I've always been a head case, though..."
What was Matt supposed to say to that? She would call him out if he tried to deny or downplay it, but agreeing to it, even jokingly, would not improve the situation any. Ultimately, the best thing he could say was nothing at all. Although she never said as much, she was clearly wanting someone to listen. No, not just someone. She specifically sought out Matt and he owed it to her to hear her out.
She continued, "But for a while there, I was makin' it better, 'round the time I decided I was gonna join the service, on ta when I started out at the Academy. I was doin' good for a change... Then Sis..."
Lydia shuddered. With their bodies pressed against each other, Matt felt it keenly.
"I try not ta think 'bout it too much. Otherwise I get ta thinkin' how I screwed shit up, how it's my fault Sis is dead."
Was it just survivor's guilt talking or did some actual action or inaction on her part lead to her sister's death? Matt thought of his own responsibility for his mother's death. Had Lydia been carrying around something like that all this time?
"Why'd she hafta die?" Lydia asked no one in particular. "She was better'n me. She shoulda lived. I was a dumb kid, got in over my head. I was the one... I was the one shoulda died..."
"Nyx, there is no 'should've lived' or 'should've died'," Matt told her. "There's just the one who live and the ones who don't."
Lydia was quiet for a while. Matt thought about saying something else, but he thought better of it. Saying anything more would just cloud the message.
"Dammit... How is it ya always find a way ta piss me off an' make me feel better at the same time?"
"I guess everyone needs a talent."
"Heh... Alright, no more talkin'. Jus'... jus' be there."
Even though it was a little awkward for him, Matt put his arm around Lydia. If this gave her even a little comfort and helped reconcile her to him, a little awkwardness was a small price to pay.
They stayed there like that for quite a while. No talking, no sound other than each other's breathing. Before Matt knew it, he found himself drifting off to sleep.