Posted by Darth Krzysztof
Mutalisk venom made Angel’s return to med bay a nauseating blur. Med Officer Lindy removed the spiny wheel of bone from her belly, administered some antivenin, and sent her home once she was well enough to walk.
Now she lay on her back, legs inside her little tent, staring up at unfamiliar stars. Her body was beyond exhausted, but her mind refused to give up on the day, flashing through dozens of tactical plays to try in her next zerg encounter. Her fireteam had proven themselves in every skirmish so far, but the zerg attack today was only the beginning of a concentrated effort to exterminate the terrans.
Angel had to be ready when her moment came, and it could come at any time. Now, if she could only convince her brain to let it go, to admit that she’d be useless to the mission in this fatigued condition…
“Just as I thought,” Dr. Zhang said, walking toward Angel’s tent, a small bag slung over her shoulder. “Can’t sleep, can you?” Weariness tugged the corners of the doctor’s words, but she still managed a smile.
The doctor crouched near Angel’s head. “Brain won’t quit?”
“No. How did you know?”
“Because I have the same problem. The difference is, I know what to do about it.” Dr. Zhang must have seen the interest on Angel’s face. “You need distraction – we both do.”
It was worth a try. “What did you have in mind?”
“Movie night. Do you like movies, Angel?”
“I don’t know. Is that like a holo-flick? I never went to holo-flick night on the Liberty.”
“You’ve never seen a holo-flick?”
“If I have, I don’t remember it.”
Dr. Zhang held up her bag. “Well, I had something of a different vintage in mind. You know how I like old stories.” She glanced at the tent, the light of the three moons dancing in her eyes. “But you’ll have to make some room for me.”
The doctor watched the ghost climb into the tent, head held at a curious angle. “You sleep in your armor?”
“Of course. I have to be ready for an attack at any time.”
“Isn’t it uncomfortable? No, wait.” Moira raised a hand. “Let me guess. You’re trained for it.”
“That’s right.” In truth, it was fairly uncomfortable, for the cool of evening did little to staunch the forest’s humidity. But the mission came first.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind if I lose my armor. Hold this, please.” Handing Angel the little bag, Dr. Zhang took off her lab coat, balled it up, and tossed it into the tent. She stepped out of her shoes, then stooped to place them inside the tent before climbing inside and zipping the flap shut, laying her head on her rolled-up coat with a groan. “You know I’ve had a Hell of a day if this is comfortable. Cozy, too. Bet you’re glad I cleaned up before I got here.”
Moira smelled like bottled apples, with a hint of something underneath. Angel suddenly wondered how she herself smelled. “Maybe I should have, too.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it.” Dr. Zhang pulled a datapad from her bag. “I can’t believe you’ve never seen a movie. We’ll go straight to the top of the food chain and watch my favorite. If you don’t mind.”
If it’s important to you, Angel thought, it’s important to me. “All right.”
Dr. Zhang held the datapad over her lap and tapped it until a grayscale shield filled the screen. “This was made in black and white,” the doctor said. “Color photography was expensive back then.”
Angel was used to monochromatic holograms… “How long ago is this?”
“More than five hundred years older than we are. Old Earth stuff.”
Angel held her questions as they arose, allowing the story to wash over her. She found the complex emotions surrounding the doctor even more fascinating; though she knew this film by heart, her reactions were too strong for the ghost to block out. A strange unease underlay it all, something Dr. Zhang feared to do, but couldn’t be sure if she could stop herself…
About ten minutes into the movie, when the owner of the nightclub first appeared, Dr. Zhang asked Angel to take the pad, then sat up, crossing her legs in a lotus position. The doctor began kneading the bare flesh of her own upturned soles. Angel didn’t find it distracting – until Moira started moaning. “Are you in pain?” she asked, pausing the movie.
Dr. Zhang nodded. “Those shoes are not meant for standing up all day. I’d kill for a pair of sneakers, if you could find some in a seven.”
“I believe Mr. Ashe has already salvaged everything of value from the Liberty. Have you checked with him?”
“Yeah. Not willing to pay what he’s asking.”
“Then I’ll keep an eye out at the other sites.”
“Thanks,” Moira said with a warm smile. “You’re gonna save me again, Angel.”
Angel knew what Moira really wanted, if not why she feared to ask. “In the meantime, I can rub your feet for you, if you like.”
She didn’t miss the doctor’s gasp. “I didn’t want to impose.”
“It’s all right; I don’t mind.”
“I’ll be your best friend,” Moira said in a sing-song, childlike voice.
They shifted around until they faced each other, Moira’s feet in Angel’s lap, the datapad propped up on the bag between them. Angel went to work as the movie continued, finding a strange satisfaction in her friend’s relief, in the gentle rhythm of her breathing, the softness of her skin.
“I think you are my best friend,” she eventually told Moira as she worked the doctor’s heel.
“Sure.” Well, you might be my only friend. “I… I don’t wholly understand your interest in me. But I appreciate it.” I don’t understand why I’m interested in you, either.
“That’s great, Angel. I’m happy to be your friend. This is… this is nice.” Something bittersweet hid beneath her words. “You can – you should use more pressure, though. You’re making me ticklish.”
Angel complied, pressing her knuckles into one sole, then the other. “Why are you sad, then?”
“Is it that obvious?” she said with a dismissive, defensive laugh.
“I’m having a hard time blocking out your feelings.” She’d never been this close to Moira, had never been alone with her. And Angel was too tired to concentrate on maintaining the psychic wall.
“This just reminds me of what I gave up to be here.” She sighed. “I was engaged before I signed up for this expedition. I thought my fiancée shared my need for a new start, for adventure.”
“But he didn’t?”
”She didn’t, no.” Moira reached to pause the movie again, keeping her feet in Angel’s hands. “That doesn’t weird you out, does it?”
“What? That you were going to marry?”
“That I was going to marry a woman, Angel. That I’m gay. Does that weird you out?”
“No, of course not. Why would it?”
“People are still weird about it, sometimes.” Her eyelids fluttered as Angel worked on her instep. “Religious types, mostly.”
The idea that someone could hate someone else over something so innate as sexual orientation struck Angel as unfathomable. Didn’t humanity have more important things to worry about? “I’ve visited the dreams of nearly everybody in this camp,” she said, trying to sound reassuring. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
Moira swallowed her reply and restarted the movie, watching in silence until a man and woman appeared on the screen, entering the nightclub. A wave of desire rolled off the doctor to wash over Angel. “Hallelujah,” Moira said. “Here she comes.”
“I imagine the man is Laszlo, but who is she?”
“Ilsa Lund, my Angel. Portrayed by Ingrid fuck-mothering Bergman.”
“You’re… fond of her.”
“Understatement of the year. Wait for the close-up.” As the prefect of police complimented Ilsa, the friendly reserve of her smile triggered a… reaction in Angel. Though similar to what she felt from Moira, it didn’t come from Moira – this was something entirely her own. Ilsa Lund was indisputably beautiful, but Angel’s sudden appreciation of that beauty was not strictly intellectual.
“I know, right?” Moira wore a knowing expression. A telling expression. “Isn’t she luminous? The first time I saw her in this, I was too young to know I was gay… but it showed me that I’d never be 100% straight.”
Angel glanced from the screen to the doctor. Something about the way Moira looked at the ghost reminded her of the way Moira looked at Ilsa – both more immediate and more guarded. Not the idealized longing for a fictitious woman portrayed by someone who’d been dead for five centuries… no, this was something else.
And she suddenly realized how beautiful Moira was. She sensed luminosity in the doctor’s being, stronger than Ilsa’s camera-granted aura. Something foreign surged up in Angel again, an odd, secret thrill that left her more confused than before. She wants me, Angel thought, and she hates herself for it. She looked down at the bare feet in her lap, wondered if there were a sexual element to this massage she hadn’t realized… and her hands kept working, pulling each toe in turn. Even her feet are beautiful… “She is very pretty,” Angel managed to say. “I’m not sure if I’m sexually attracted to her, though.”
Moira snorted with laughter. “Hey, I didn’t say you had to agree with me.” She paused, becoming more serious. “Have you experienced sexual attraction yet, though?”
“No. I don’t think so. What are the symptoms?”
“Symptoms? Well, it is like a disease, I suppose. Harder, faster breathing. Increased heart rate and blood pressure. Erection of the nipples. Swelling of the external genitals, and increased lubrication inside the vagina.” Moira listed these with clinical detachment, ticking them off on the fingers of one hand. But Angel suspected that the doctor might be experiencing some of those symptoms herself. “Any of that sound familiar?”
“No,” Angel said again, over a hitch in her own breathing. “I don’t think so.”
“I see. Well, asexuality is a possibility. But I should tell you.” Moira paused the movie again before dropping her voice. “The Dominion had you on a regimen of hormonal suppressants before the crash. I don’t know how long it’ll take your system to flush that out, or what the effect will be once you do. But… I thought you should know.”
A chill swept through Angel’s body. Her hands paused, still lightly touching Moira. “They did what?”
“I know; it’s awful. But now that you’re off that stuff, and your chip is fried, I think you’ve got a shot – a real shot at being human.”
“Human? I don’t know the first thing about being human.” The Dominion had certainly seen to that. Anger bloomed in her heart, and she wondered if this was how Sarah Kerrigan felt when she turned her back on her own people.
I’m not like her. I’m loyal to the Dominion.
Of course you are, Agent X72037N; that’s how they made you. And that’s how they made her.
“Maybe not,” Dr. Zhang said, ending Angel’s mental tangent. “Maybe you don’t have a foundation of experiences to help you make any sense of what you’re feeling.”
“I’m not feeling anything,” Angel lied. “My emotions are under control.”
“I don’t have to be psychic to spot that lie. My point is that you can learn to be human.” Moira pulled her feet away from Angel and rose to her knees, taking hold of her hands and bringing her face closer to the ghost’s. “Your alternative is to end up like Revenant, and I know you don’t want that.”
“No.” She finally admitted it. “No, I don’t.”
“Then let me help you.”
“Out of kindness, I suppose.”
Moira looked hurt. “Mostly, yes. If you must know, Dr. Dark is invested in our relationship. He appreciates any soldiers who are sympathetic to us scientists – but I promise, I’m not going to use you like that.”
“That could ruin your plans to get into my pants.”
“I – is that what you think this is about?” Moira’s face flushed, and she looked away.
“I know that’s part of it, yes.”
When she met Angel’s gaze again, she did so shyly. “Okay, yeah. But it’s only a small part.” She let go of Angel’s hands. “I won’t push you into anything, Angel. If you don’t feel the same way, that’s fine. You’d hardly be the first unrequited crush I’ve ever had. But I swear to you, I only want to help you find yourself. You can…” She swallowed. “You can read my mind if you don’t believe me.”
“No,” Angel said at once, knowing what a compromise that would be for Moira. “I don’t need to do that, Doctor.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, call me Moira,” she said with nervous laughter, grateful for the broken tension.
“All right. Moira.” It felt good, and right, to call her friend by her first name. Maybe Moira would be more than a friend to her, in time; this was a good place to start. “So what happens now?”
“I think we should finish the movie, or try to, and get some sleep. I don’t know how much awake I’ve got left in me. We aren’t gonna work everything out tonight, so let’s not try.”
Angel nodded her agreement and stretched back out to her original position. Around the time Rick told the band to play “La Marseillaise,” Moira laid her head on the ghost’s shoulder and softly said, “Thank you for sharing this with me.”
She looked into the doctor’s dark brown eyes, at the enigmatic smile on her lips, and the urge to kiss her exploded inside Angel. She wondered if she’d ever wanted anything so badly… if she’d ever felt something like this before, only to have the Dominion steal it from her. As much as she loved the terran cause, this seemed like a far better thing to fight, and to die, for.
“You’re welcome,” she finally said, and turned back to the screen.
Moira fell asleep soon after, leaving Angel to watch the end of the movie alone. Finding its message almost impossibly relevant, she knew she and the doctor would have much to talk about at their next opportunity…
When she awoke with Moira’s arm across her armored chest, Angel knew she’d had a dream, but couldn’t remember a thing about it.