Isn't Life Strange - Part 03


Isn't Life Strange

Part III

by LadyNiko

"Why do we never get an answer
When we're knocking at the door
'Cause the truth is hard to swallow
That's what the war of love is for!"

Question, Moody Blues

On the other side of the galaxy, standing at the bottom of the stairs, Niko had watched Goose leave on Triton through the windows of the Wilsons' farmhouse. She was completely flustered now. Leave it to Gooseman to do the unpredictable, she thought with a small sigh, and then leave you wondering just how in the world he manages to do it. She realized she felt completely drained, as if her argument with Goose had taken all her strength. It surprised her. 
Suddenly, she went white as a ghost and had to grab a hold of the banister when her knees had threatened to buckle. She went white as a ghost.
The Wilsons and Zozo walked in at that exact moment. Mrs. Wilson rushed forward and placed a supportive hand under her left arm, and wrapped her other arm around Niko's waist. She clucked at Niko like a mother hen, "Oh, Miss Niko, you are white as a sheet. You must have overextended yourself, child."
Niko would have smiled if she'd had the energy. Only Ariel, her mentor, still called her child. She answered in a voice that sounded surprisingly thin to her, "Yes, I guess I did..."
"Well, come along with me, Miss Niko, and let's get you back to bed so you can rest."
Niko needed the woman to help her up the steps. She was surprised by how heavily she had to lean on her as they walked slowly up the stairs. She allowed the older woman to fuss over her because at the moment it was easier than protesting. She was half-asleep when Mrs. Wilson made some comment that jolted her wide awake.
"What was that you said?" Niko asked, caught off-guard.
"Oh, I just said that being in love can be very wearing in a person. It's no wonder that you are completely exhausted," Mrs. Wilson answered, fluffing up the pillows behind Niko's head.
Niko blushed and murmured a non-reply.
Mrs. Wilson dismissed it and said, "No need to hide it from me, young lady. I was young and in love once like you. I know what a trial it can be."
Niko blushed and answered, "I didn't think I was that obvious."
"You weren't, but your partner was," Mrs. Wilson said.
Niko blushed bright red again. She hadn't known that. Doc and Zach hadn't said anything to her about how Goose felt when they had visited before being sent to Tarkon. And Zozo, being from Kirwin, may not know how to read human emotions very well.
Mrs. Wilson finished with her fluffing of the pillows and helped Niko lay back against them. "Now, you just get some rest, Miss Niko. I'll bring a tray up with a little bit for you to eat after you've had a nice nap." She bustled out of the room, leaving Niko to ponder what she had said.
Niko, though physically worn out, was too emotionally keyed up to sleep, especially after Mrs. Wilson's comments.
Zozo appeared looking more than a little worried in the doorway soon after Mrs. Wilson left. "Niko, are you all right?" he asked with understandable concern in his voice, after seeing her near collapse downstairs.
She smiled to relieve his worry since Zozo was a good friend. "I'm just really tired, that's all."
"Oh, that's good," Zozo answered, not sure what else to say.
"Zozo, do me a favor?"
"Sure, Niko," Zozo replied, looking a bit brighter.
"Contact Commander Walsh and let him know I'm waiting for my ride back to BETA," she said with a smile. She wanted to get back to her own quarters at BETA Mountain.
"I'll go do it right away, Niko." Zozo said eagerly. He wanted to see that Niko got the best medical help that BETA had to offer, not that he didn't trust the local doctors, it was just that Niko was a good friend of his. Besides which, he wanted to see his old friend Waldo, the Andorian Ambassador, and tell him all about their wild adventure on Granna.
"Thanks, Zozo, I appreciate it," Niko answered, settling back into the pillows at her back as Zozo went to go complete his task, leaving her alone.
She leaned back into the pillows and tried to relax. No luck. Mrs. Wilson's comments had left her unable to sleep. She gave up on the idea of sleep at the moment and decided to meditate. On the small table next to her bed was a well worn piece of crystalline quartz. She picked it up and carefully got out of bed to sit on the floor.
With the crystal in one hand, she began focusing on clearing her mind. She closed her eyes, and concentrated on slowing her breathing. It took her longer than usual be able to achieve a meditative state because her emotions were so keyed up. When she came out of her trance sometime later, she felt all the better for doing it and much more relaxed than she had been in days. While still not happy with the current situation between Goose and herself, she was no longer angry with him, only even more determined to get him to admit his feelings for her. She gingerly got back up off the floor and climbed into the bed, the last of what little strength she had at the moment quickly fading. She laid back against the pillows after putting the piece of crystal away on the nightstand and was asleep almost immediately.
Zozo was true to his word and contacted Commander Walsh on Earth. He was told that there would be a ship passing by Granna the following day that was heading back to Earth. Commander Walsh said he would have the ship's commander send a shuttle down to Granna to pick them up. Zozo went by Niko's rooms a short while later to tell her his news and found her deep in meditation. Rather than disturb her, he decided that his news could wait until morning. He went to find the Wilsons and tell them that they would be leaving the next day.
The next day after bidding their hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson a fond farewell, Doc Addams drove Niko and Zozo into town. He dropped them off at the spaceport to meet the shuttle that would take them to the SS Cheyenne.
At the spaceport, Doc Addams gave Niko an approving smile as she insisted on seeing Mel and Triton tucked away in their transport shells herself. This was one tenacious young lady, he had said to himself on more than one occasion. The Rangers had a reputation for their tenacity, and since she had survived being attacked by that Scarecrow creature at least twice and had fought back every time, despite receiving serious injuries she was living proof of it, he thought. Her injuries had been severe enough to kill a lesser person, but she had survived and was well on the road to a full recovery.
He bid Zozo a warm farewell, and then lightly cautioned Niko about not over-exerting herself. "And, as for you, Miss Niko, don't go rushing off and getting into trouble right away," the doctor cautioned.
Niko answered, "Who me? Go rushing off? No, that's Goose who goes rushing off looking for trouble. Besides, Commander Walsh won't even think of letting me return to active duty until I have been given a clean bill of health by no less than three different doctors." She laughed as she shook hands with him. She bid him farewell, before turning to join Zozo and the shuttle pilot on the shuttle.
As soon as everyone was strapped in, the shuttle pilot requested take-off clearance from the control tower and was given permission immediately. Shortly after that, the shuttle was docking on the SS Cheyenne, and they were truly on their way back to Earth.
Niko had seen to the unloading of Mel and Triton's transport shells off the shuttle so she could make sure that both of the cyberhorses received a full power charge. She didn't know if or when she'd get a chance to do it once they reached Earth, and she had a suspicious feeling that both of the cyberhorses were going to be needed before long. Besides, she needed a sympathetic ear to pour out all her doubts and worries about the situation between her and Goose who wouldn't try and give her useless advice, and Mel and Triton were those ears.
She rubbed Mel down with a soft cloth to give his metallic body a nice glossy shine and said as she worked on him, "Oh, Mel, just what am I going to do with Goose? I mean, he was programmed to be this ultimate fighting machine, but I know he's so much more than that..."
"I think that spot is shiny enough, my dear. You buff it any more and you'll wear it away," a voice that had laughter in it remarked from just over Niko's right shoulder, lightly teasing her about her obsessive polishing of a spot on Mel's back.
"Ariel! What are you doing here?" Niko spun around to face her mentor.
"I wanted to check up on you and see how you were doing, as you haven't been writing again." replied Ariel, or rather, Ariel's image. The projection was of a spry, gray-haired older woman wearing a light green pants suit with pale yellow trim and pale yellow boots. A pair of prince nez glasses perched on the end of her nose did nothing to hide the twinkling eyes behind them.
"Ariel," Niko protested, "I've been a little... well, there's been a lot on my mind... Duty and all."
"Is one of those distractions a handsome young man?" the sage old woman's grin was decidedly devilish.
"Oh, Ariel, what am I going to do with him?! I know he has feelings for me, but I can't get him to admit it."
"I know, my dear," Ariel said with a smile. "It didn't take much for me to read his feelings for you as well. He was practically broadcasting them after you had been attacked by that Scarecrow creature. Do you return those feelings, dear?"
"Of course I do!" Then, stalling a bit, "Well, he's a good man... a good friend..."
"That's not what I asked, child." Ariel's grin was ear-to-ear.
Niko sighed, "Yes, I think Shane's very handsome. I ... care about him."
"You're avoiding the word as much as he is, my dear," Ariel teased.
Niko sighed in frustration and sat down, "Ariel, how can I get him to admit it? I tried on Granna, but he just didn't seem to get the hint..."
"Well, first of all, dear, you have to admit it to yourself."
"Easier said than done," admitted Niko. "I don't know when I started to think of him..."
"As more than just a friend?" Ariel questioned wisely.
Niko nodded. "Worse yet," she said, "I think I first realized it when I started mouthing off at a Princess."
Ariel tutted at her favorite student, "Niko..."
She blushed bright red and said, "I was jealous. He was flirting with her, and I was jealous."
Ariel's projection just shimmered as she waited for Niko to continue.
She sat down. "Ariel, I couldn't believe what I was saying."
Ariel fought back a grin. Niko wouldn't appreciate it very much if she laughed right now. Instead she said, "Oh, Niko..."
"And when I thought about it...I scared myself. I don't know...I always thought he was handsome, but I start thinking about him, and..." She blushed.
Ariel said nothing, but waited patiently for her to continue.
"...And I don't know how to describe it..." Niko sighed. "Before this incident with the Scarecrow, I had just told myself that he enjoyed his lady-killer lifestyle too much to be interested. But, I could hear him..."
"Hear him?" Ariel questioned, puzzled. "Niko, what do you mean, 'hear him?'"
"One time...He told me that he was in a trap. He warned me to get out before I was caught." Niko shook her head. "The radio was out on the ship. Goose couldn't tell us that he'd canceled an auto-destruct. He... was under a lot of stress... I heard him in my mind, Ariel." she shook her head. "He told me he used his badge."
Ariel looked at her in surprise. She hadn't heard this before...
"According to BETA's database, he shouldn't have that ability. I guess it blew something open in both of us."
Ariel just thought for a moment.
"Ever since, it's like there's a... link between us. I sometimes can hear what he's thinking, and when we were on Granna, I just sensed something. We were dancing at the Harvest Ball. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but..." She blushed again.
"Out with it, Niko," Ariel said. Her student was being much too missish about this.
"We got into a pretty serious conversation..."
She was dragging her feet on this, Ariel noticed.
"His thoughts through the whole thing were... romantic. I never expected him to start thinking of me that way. He was dancing with a few farmer's daughters, but when he was dancing with me, it was different. I was half-expecting him to kiss me right on the dance floor." Looking up at Ariel and blushing, she said, "I felt like I was one of those farmers' daughters, being squired about by the 'Gallant Galaxy Ranger.'"
Ariel couldn't help it. She chuckled, "Oh, Niko..."
"I guess...I just never expected he'd ever feel the same way. After all, we've served together for two years almost." Niko sighed and turned serious. "Unfortunately, all hell broke loose before we could say anything...
"I've seen him injured, sick, crazy... he's seen me in a few less-than flattering states. We joke, we talk, we sometimes go out for coffee after work."
"Child, you're just going to have to corner him and not let him go until you get him to admit his feelings for you. But, first, you're going to have to tell him your feelings for him," Ariel advised. "That means, admitting them to yourself. From what you've told me, he's not known a lot of 'softer' emotions, my dear, so it's not going to be easy for him..."
Niko's voice was distant. "He's just as frightened as I am, I suppose. I don't think he knows too much about love."
"No, child, I don't suppose he has," Ariel's voice was comforting. She decided to turn the topic, "Now, my child, when are you going to come back to Xanadu to complete your training?"
Niko looked at her in confusion, "My training?"
"Yes, dear. From what you told me, your powers have increased, and you've developed thought-sensing now along with your increased gifts."
"I hadn't even thought of that..." Niko was caught off-guard.
"You need to learn how best to use and not be used by your new talents." Ariel was serious. "It's rare for any Circle member to spend long periods away from home, and even then, they come home frequently to continue working on their gifts.
"You've also become quite dependent on your implant to control your gifts."
Niko tried to protest, "Ariel, no..."
"Yes, Child," Ariel's visage was grim.
Niko sighed. she knew her mentor was looking out for her, but her duties as a Ranger could be quite demanding. Finally, she said, "I'll have to clear it with Commander Walsh, but I don't think he'll have any problems with it...Especially since I'm still considered to be on medical leave...
"I'd still hate to leave the guys. I'd miss them."
"I'm not saying you need to come right now, but don't put it off for too much longer, my dear," Ariel said, letting up a little on her.
Niko nodded. "I'll file the request later today. It might be a while, but I'll get there. Don't worry."
"Good. This is not something you can put off indefinitely, my dear. You need more training.
"Now, I've spent enough time here. I've got a council session to attend."
"Good-bye, Ariel. I'll see you as soon as I can."
"Don't forget it, child," Ariel admonished before the projection shimmered again and vanished completely.
Niko stood back up with a sigh and picked up where she had left off on polishing Mel. "She's right, Mel. I've almost been as bad as Goose about this. I guess I will have to corner him when he gets back from Tortuna and have a nice long talk with him."
She wasn't looking at Mel's head, or else she would have seen him turn his head to look at Triton. The two cyberhorses had long since grown tired of their riders strange behavior and had been waiting for a chance to take matters into their own hands. But, the two would talk later after Niko had finished polishing them and most definitely before they got back to BETA Mountain.
While Brutus was known for not saying much; Voyager, on the other hand, was so scatter-brained, that she would tell everyone and every computer in BETA Mountain about what the two cyberhorses were planning. No, Voyager was definitely going to have to be left out of the loop on this. If the cyberhorses could smile, then they would have had very mischievous grins on their faces at that point.
Eventually, Niko finished up with the horses and returned to her cabin. It was going to be late before the SS Cheyenne dropped out of hyperspace and docked at the BETA Space Station, and she would need to be fully awake to make certain that Triton and Mel were off-loaded onto the shuttle heading down to BETA Mountain.
Several hours later, the SS Cheyenne dropped to sub-light speed for normal navigation inside the solar system. The battle-cruiser pulled into its docking berth in the space station at oh-zero-hundred hours local time, and by the time Niko was able to get the two cyberhorses tucked away in their transport shells and loaded on the shuttle heading down to BETA Mountain, it was another two hours. She was finally able to walk into her quarters just as the sun was beginning to peek up over the eastern horizon. Niko barely managed to get out of her uniform before crawling into bed and crashing into a deep sleep.
Niko felt like she had barely been asleep when the computer chimed incessantly for her attention.
"You have an incoming call and one new message in your in-box," the bland female voice said.
Niko came awake slowly, not wanting to wake up. She pushed herself up in bed and shoved her hair out of her face with her right hand.
"Computer, what time is it?" she asked groggily.
"Time is oh-eight-thirty hours. You have one incoming call and one new message in your in-box."
Niko sighed and said, "Put the call through out in the main room."
She grabbed a robe from her closet on her way out to the main room of her apartment and slipped it on, wondering who was calling her already.
"Good morning, Ranger Niko," said the person who appeared on the monitor. It was a woman in a starched nurse's uniform. Her brusque, business-like tone indicated that it was not a very good morning at all. Just the opposite in fact.
"Can I help you?" Niko asked, a little puzzled. She hadn't contacted medical. At least not yet...
"Commander Walsh requested you see the doctor on duty when you returned from Granna. I'm just calling to let you know that your appointment is scheduled for oh-nine-thirty hours this morning." the woman answered briskly.
"Oh-nine-thirty hours? Why- that barely gives me enough time to get dressed-" Niko tried to protest.
"I'm sorry, Ranger Niko, but that's the only opening the doctor had. We'll expect to see you here at oh-nine-thirty hours." the completely unsympathetic woman said and cut the connection.
Niko gasped, "What- oh!"
She just stared at the blank screen in surprise for a moment before collecting her thoughts. "Computer, who is the message from?"
"Commander Walsh."
"Play message," Niko instructed.
A second later Commander Walsh's image appeared on the screen, "Niko, I know you got in late last night, but report to my office after you've been to medical." Then, the screen was blank.
"Computer, is that all the messages?" Niko asked.
"Good," she said, before turning to go back to her bedroom. She went into her closet and laid a fresh uniform out on her bed before heading for the shower. She had a difficult time trying to wash out her long hair with one hand, and keep her cast on the other arm from getting wet. It took her longer than she wanted, and didn't leave her time to dry her long hair without being late to medical.
She muttered a curse and struggled into her uniform. She slipped the sling on and moved her hair out of the way of the strap as she adjusted it. Next, she pulled her boots on using only her right hand and put her belt on. The last thing she did was to put her badge on over her belt buckle.
"Computer, time," she called out as she quickly moved from her bedroom.
"Time is oh-nine-ten hours."
"Blast," she cursed and headed out the door, her damp hair flowing out behind her. She walked across the complex to where she could catch a shuttle tram over to the medical center.
It was over three hours later that Niko left the medical center. The doctor had run a battery of tests on her, removed the heavy plaster cast on her arm and replaced it with a sturdy, lightweight brace. He was pleased with how the bones in her shoulder and arm were healing, along with her fractured ribs. But, on the other hand, he still wouldn't let her return to active duty and kept her on medical leave. His reasoning was that it was not because of the almost-healed broken bones, but because of how easily she still tired. She was still at risk for a pneumonia relapse while she was still so weak.
Niko reluctantly had to agree with him, and so, feeling completely drained once again, she headed for Commander Walsh's office. She was grateful that the medical center was close to where the command staff offices were at. Upon reaching his office, she was ushered in without delay by his aide.
Walsh stood up to greet Niko and waved her to sit in a chair by his desk. He explained why he wanted to see her, mission debriefing and the report from the medical center. He asked some tough questions about Scarecrow and Ariel that Niko had a difficult time answering.
"I honestly don't really know, Sir." she answered to his question about if she thought that Scarecrow had truly been imprisoned by Ariel with no chance of escape. "I was so out of it when Ariel had her big showdown with him, that I have no idea what happened. I would hope that we have seen the last of him, but you never know. He always seems to come back when you least expect him to." Niko rubbed her left collarbone absently. Her injuries were proof to that.
Walsh was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again it was to say, "I was reading over the doctor's report, and he said that he still won't release you from medical leave and allow you to return to active duty. Do you think he was right?"
Niko frowned. It left a bitter taste in her mouth to have to admit, "Yes, sir, unfortunately I have to agree with him. I would be lying not only to myself, but to the team as well if I were to go out on an assignment right now. I would be more of a liability than a help, since I still haven't gotten my strength back, and I have no stamina whatsoever right now."
Walsh nodded, "Good. You recognize your weakness and realize what it means." He paused for a moment again before saying, "Q-Ball was asking about you this morning. I believe that he just received a shipment of archeological artifacts from an excavation on one of the outer worlds and wanted your help in cataloging them."
"Commander?" Niko didn't follow.
"It's not active duty..." Commander Walsh's voice trailed off. "In fact, it's rather tedious work-- slow and detail oriented..."
"I'd be willing help him out on the side, Commander," Niko answered, grinning now. She had a passion for archeology and anything old. "Like you said, 'it's not active duty,' and so medical can't complain."
Commander Walsh dismissed Niko and told her to see Q-Ball first thing in the morning.
Niko thanked him again for giving her something, anything, to do and left to go back to her quarters. She made it as far as the couch before her energy gave way and she was forced to lie down. She stretched out on the long and comfortable couch and was asleep before she knew it.

* * * *

On Earth, the sun was beginning to set by the time Niko finally awoke from her exhausted slumber, her stomach grumbling loudly since she had not had a chance to eat earlier in the day. She looked in surprise at the clock on the far wall of the room as she sat up and pushed her hair back off her shoulders. Had she really slept for over five hours? She shook her head in amazement and got up slowly from the couch, and headed into the kitchen to fix herself something to eat.
The next morning, she went and saw Q-Ball first thing and the two of them began the task of cataloguing the artifacts. Q-Ball was glad to see her but still would not let her overwork herself, no matter how busy he got. Every two hours he would make her take a break. He was so obvious in his attempts to keep her from overworking herself that Niko had to smile.