Tila spent the rest of the day in the workshop at Malachi’s computer becoming increasingly irritable as the day dragged on.
The archived news that she uncovered emphasised the spectacle of the adventure of the colony mission and the pioneer spirit of the volunteer colonists.
Most of the stories avoided dry details like the complex web of funding for the mission made between dozens of corporations across multiple star-systems. It was all fluff and no substance.
I thought computers were supposed to make this easier.
Tila didn’t doubt that Malachi could have found the information she sought in a fraction of the time, but she was already asking a lot of him.
Getting the ship wasn’t going to be easy. Without an airtight reason Theo would have no reason to let his son leave the system, and there was no need to complicate things by telling Theo that Ellie and Tila would also be coming. Some things were best left unsaid to Theo as far as Tila was concerned.
But should Ellie come?
Tila needed Malachi. Although she didn’t expect the trip to be dangerous, she was grateful that he was capable enough to look after himself.
Ellie, on the other hand, was neither of those things. Sure, if they needed someone to flash a smile and look pretty Ellie would be her first choice, but otherwise she would just be in the way, wouldn’t she?
Do I want to spend the whole trip worrying about Ellie when I have something this important to do?
Tila grunted to herself as she read and made notes, annoyed that Ellie was distracting her already and they hadn’t even left yet. How bad would it be when they arrived?
Maybe it was for the best that Ellie stayed behind.
Tila tried to concentrate once more on the task at hand, when Ellie suddenly arrived in person, bounded into the room and shrieked that Malachi was chasing her with dirty hands.
“Tila, help me!” she squealed. Ellie leapt behind Tila to use her as a human shield. Ellie bumped against the chair as she turned and accidentally nudged Tila’s elbow. Tila’s hand stumbled against the keyboard and erased the work of the last twenty minutes.
Malachi ambled in. He was filthy, with black stains covering his already dark skin and most of his clothing.
“I told you it wasn’t going to work!” He pointed a playfully accusing finger at Ellie.
“I didn’t make you do it!” Ellie protested.
“It was better to take the chance than listen to you keep badgering me about it.”
“Hey!” shouted Tila. “What’s going on?”
“Somebody thought it would be a good idea to drain the lubricant from her racer without depressurizing the system,” said Malachi.
“Well somebody who is an engineer should know better than to listen to my advice,” countered Ellie.
“I was trying to save time so you would stop nagging me.”
“I don’t nag!”
“You haven’t stopped all day!”
“HEY!” Tila slammed her hand down on the table. Couldn’t they see that she was trying to work? “Do you have to do that in here?”
Ellie and Malachi exchanged a glance.
“Sorry, Tila,” said Malachi, his smile fading. “But I need a detergent from the stores. It’s the only thing that gets this dirt out.”
He shrugged at Ellie behind Tila’s back and began searching through storage boxes for the cloths and sprays he needed. As far as he was concerned that was the end of it.
As far as Ellie was concerned it was not. “What’s your problem?” she demanded, turning on Tila. “We’re only trying to get ready for a race.”
“Why does that mean I can’t have any fun?”
“Because things are not always fun, okay? Sometimes we have to do things that we don’t enjoy because they need to be done.”
“So, if you’re not happy then no one else can be happy? Is that it?”
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s not fair that we have to be miserable around you all the time.”
“You’re never happy.”
“Hey! I never said you have to be miserable, but you don’t have to be so over-excited all the time either. I’m going to Parador for a reason. It’s not going to be a game, or another race. It’s serious.”
“So why can’t I be excited to go with you? It doesn’t mean I’m not taking it seriously.”
“You could try acting like it for once,” Tila snapped.
“You could try smiling! I thought we found something that would cheer you up, but you’re moodier than ever!”
“Hope always lets you down. If you grew up you’d understand that.”
Ellie flinched at that comment, and Tila was ashamed that it pleased her. She turned back to the computer and tried to retrieve the work she had just lost.
Ellie took a breath and counted to five in her head to keep her temper in check before she spoke again. “I’m here for you, Tila. We both are. And we both know what this means to you, but that doesn’t mean we have to mope around when we come.”
“Well, I’m not asking you to come!” Tila yelled, exasperated, and immediately regretted losing her temper when she saw the hurt in Ellie’s eyes.
They both fell silent, holding each other’s gaze, each of them frustrated and infuriated by the intransigence of the other. They searched each other’s eyes for a glimmer of understanding or sympathy, but if it was there, neither of them could find it.
Malachi decided the wisest thing he could do was to say nothing.
“Okay. Fine,” said Ellie, without looking away. “We can talk about this later.”
“Fine,” said Tila, turning back to the computer. She didn’t lose fights to her enemies. She wasn’t going to lose one to her friend.
Ellie softened first. “I’m just trying to help you, Tila.”
I know, thought Tila, but she said nothing.
The moment passed from hesitation to awkwardness and then to deliberate silence too quickly for Tila to make a peace offering. Ellie waited for Tila to say something, offer anything, that meant this barbed exchange would be relegated, like countless others before to a minor fight quickly resolved but nothing came, and Ellie’s heart broke.
Without saying anything else, Ellie walked from the room.
“Who are you racing?” Tila turned quickly, but too late. Ellie was already gone.
“Good luck,” Tila called after her.
“She’s a little whirlwind sometimes,” observed Malachi.
Tila just nodded and stared at her hands.
Malachi drummed his fingers on his seat as he watched Tila lose herself in her thoughts again. He snapped his fingers to get her attention. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“What was that about? She doesn’t have a problem with this but it’s obvious you do. So, what is it?”
Tila leaned back in her chair and stretched her legs. “I don’t think she should come,” she admitted.
“I know that. Why not? She wants to help you, just like I do. So why give her such a hard time?”
“She’ll get in the way. I know she will. And I can’t spend my time looking out for her. And she’s too young and fluffy and—”
“Useless?” he suggested.
“I didn’t say that,” she objected. “But you can look after yourself. She can’t. She’s vulnerable when she’s alone.”
“She won’t be alone. She’ll be with us the whole time.”
“What if something happens?”
“Like… I don’t know. Anything! She’s safer here. It’s not that I don’t want her to come but…” she trailed off. “She’s safer here,” she repeated.
Malachi circled the room as Tila spoke, giving her the time and space to express herself, until he faced her again. He pulled over a stool and sat down. “You underestimate her T, you always did. She’s very capable. Look at the races she wins! Don’t you think that takes something the others don’t have?”
“Oh come on!” Tila replied with a wave of her hand. “They let her win.”
Malachi sat back in surprise. “You really think that?”
“Of course they do. They let her play and race and win because they like having her around. She’s cute and fluffy and harmless and…”
“And they like having her around.”
“Ha! You have no idea! She might be cute and fluffy but put her in a race and she is anything but harmless. Did you know some people refuse to race her now? She’s gained a reputation for being too aggressive. Don’t laugh! Do you even know what her winning streak is? She hasn’t lost a race in months, but you wouldn’t know that because you write her off too quickly. We might not all be like you, but don’t underestimate her. She can out-fly anyone.”
“So she’s a good pilot. Whatever. How will that help me on Parador? We’re only travelling there and back. There won’t be anything for her to do!”
“I thought you said she was safe here because you didn’t know what was going to happen?”
“Don’t turn this around! I’m just trying to keep her from getting hurt. Look, I’m not saying she’s useless but she won’t be any help.”
“But she wants to help. I don’t know why you can’t see that, or why that’s not enough for you. She wants to help you because she cares about you. This is about looking for your family, well you’re the closest thing to family she has, and honestly the irony of you trying to mother her now, of all times, is hilarious.”
“She just wants an adventure.”
“Tila, I want the adventure! I’m getting out of here because all I do is work and build and fix things and do what my dad tells me to do. I don’t mind that, really, I don’t. I enjoy it. But I want there to be more to my life than just work. I’m not going to get a chance like this again anytime soon, and I’m going to be in so much trouble when we get back my life won’t be worth living. This little jaunt of yours is an excuse for me to do something I could never do alone. But Ellie? She just wants to help you. She cares about you. Isn’t that enough? Be humble enough to accept what she can offer, even if her company is all she can give.”
Tila stared at him as she thought this through. “Let me get this straight. You don’t really want to help me but you’re using me as an excuse to get out of here?”
“Absolutely.” He tried to keep his expression serious and concerned but failed and broke into a grin.
“Good. As long as we understand each other.” She stood and offered him her arm which he took and stood next to her. “So, what now?” she asked him.
“Now,” he replied, wandering over to the Rhino and giving it a kick, “We have to borrow this ship.”
“First you have to fix it,” Tila pointed out.
Malachi nodded at the doorway through which Ellie had fled. “Deal. I’ll fix this if you go and fix that,” he said.