Timande Mei'Rhakarndi's Story: Chapter One
Even if Timande has thought to see the place of his birth again-- which, honestly, he has not really considered until recently-- it would certainly not have been so soon. Eight months since leaving it, triumphant, with a new name, new weapons, new rank, and new mission, he is once again staring at its closed metal doors, docked in its habitual platform at Star City station. Last time, he had been with his bond. This time, he is alone.
With more than six months of being alone behind him, one would think Timande is used to it-- but he's not. Being alone has not suited him. He began his supposedly free life with plans to rid a world of evil all on his own, but even half a year later, he's still turning to someone who isn't there and the world is as evil as he'd found it, with only a few knocked heads shaken back to sense. Certainly not his own.
But there has been enough staring. Timande, maskless and with his various weapons all sheathed, stowed, or otherwise not in easily accessable positions, steps up to the ship where he was born and lets the hanger doors open to admit him. He paces down the short hallway between the hatching bays, ignoring what might be in either in favor of the small door at the very end of the passage, the only admittance to the rest of the ship. At the door he stops, rumbles uncertainly to himself, and finally projects through it, in the most polite manner he can without trying to swallow his tongue at how prissy he sounds.
::This is Timande, blooded of Rhakarndi. I would request entrance to the ship.::
After a brief moment, the video-screen intercom beside the door flicks on, showing a face Timande doesn't know. It is a brown-skinned and fiery-haired young man, human-looking but for the strange coloring, but with the amount of dyes and pseudo-hair around Star City, perhaps it simply isn't natural. Presumably it is someone on the security team, some guard or another that Timande has never had the chance to meet. There are, he assumes, many he has never had the chance to meet.
"This is Officer Amigu Rufasilex at the front desk," he says, his expression calm and friendly, and his eyes showing recognition-- of Timande's species, at least, since he could not know the yautjadragon's face. Timande replies with a solemn nod of greeting, though just why he would be greeted in such a friendly manner after his personal shame is beyond him. Perhaps this Rufasilex man simply does not know. "Welcome back, Timande. Just give me a moment to warm up the size-enchantment of the gateway, please."
:: ... thank you.::
The faint sound of typing comes through the intercom and then the halves of the small door slide apart. The perimeter of the doorway soon builds up a light blue glow, looking exactly like the frame is made of thick lumi-wire or neon tubing, though there is no kind of electric hum, or any other sound, accompanying it. "Slowly step towards the door, please," Rufasilex instructs, his voice coming both through the intercom and, more faintly, through the door itself. "You'll shrink to fit as you approach. Don't step too fast, or you may get motion-sick from the reduction. Otherwise, you won't feel a thing."
Timande peers through the doorway a moment, then ducks his head and steps inside carefully. True to Rufasilex's word, he feels nothing as he passes the threshold, but the officer seems rather bigger once he's through. Or, really, he's gotten rather smaller. A discomforting feeling, especially once the door whispers shut behind him.
::I would like to speak with the Doctor,:: he requests as diffidently as he can manage. ::If he is not busy.::
As there is only one "the Doctor" on the ship, there is no hesitation in the reply. "I can page him, certainly," Rufasilex replies, turning his attention to something below the high counter on his desk, blocking the field of vision below it. Probably a computer of some sort, to do his paging. Timande waits with a veneer of patience, though he can't help from shifting his weight from one side to the other with repressed nerves.
"Is this a casual visit, or otherwise?" the guard asks.
::Otherwise,:: Timande answers with a blink. He has never been good at casual visits, though Joqout attempted them now and then while they lived on the station. He has never been able to think of anything to talk about, and, really, never really tried all that hard to do so. Though right now, he would much prefer an awkward casual visit to what he's here for, now. ::If he is busy, I can come back another time. Or make an appointment.::
Though he may have imagined it, Timande thinks he catches a look of amusement flickering across Rufasilex's face. Before he can scowl at him, though, the guard says, "Doctor Schroeder always seems to have time for drop-ins. Can you elaborate on your reasons for visiting, or shall I say it's a private matter?"
::It is private,:: Timande says firmly, shifting his weight again and wishing this whole interview was already over.
Rufasilex nods agreeably and taps something below the counter, producing a beep and then some quiet orchestral music. Timande flicks his tail restlessly: hold music? Or....
"Doctor Schroeder?" Rufasilex asks.
No, not hold music. "Hello, Amigu," that familiar, kind voice answers. "Do you have who I think you do?"
Timande is too caught up in a surge of shame-- the doctor knew he would come? was it that obvious what would happen?-- to take offense at the guard's renewed amusement. "If by that you mean Timande of the Genesis Clutch...."
"That would be who I mean," Schroeder's voice agrees. "Send him up to the crew's deck. I'll meet him at the lift."
"Understood, sir." Rufasilex taps something else, producing another beep, and looks up with a hand pointed at the elevator down the hall. The light over its door, which had been red, is now green. "Just step in the elevator and hit the button that says Deck Three. I've removed the security locks for you, and Doctor Schroeder will meet you at the top."
Timande nods stiffly, dreading the disappointment he's sure Schroeder will have for him this time, and stalks down the hall towards that green-lit door. It slides open for him, and carries him up to the third deck of the ship without fanfare or difficulty. It opens onto said third deck with even less fanfare and difficulty, revealing the corridor-- carpeted and lined with framed posters and pictures, and a multitude of doorways, through which come the various muted sounds of the people in their unseen rooms-- and Doctor Schroeder.
The portly little human isn't in his lab coat, but in his "casual" wear, khakis and a gray argyle sweater. Other than that, he looks the same as ever. Unsurprisingly, he is shadowed by Valentine, though Timande rather wishes the bodyguard were standing a little farther away. Like, out of ear-shot, and preferably not looking at either of them.
More surprisingly, and to Timande's intense discomfort, a small, silver dragon is pressed against Schroeder's ankles. Having Valentine present as witness is one thing, impassive and generally disinterested in the shame of others, though a fellow warrior and so probably more likely to look down on that shame if he paid it any attention at all-- well, it is deserved, if he does, Timande tells himself morosely. However, having a... a child... looking up at him with wide, innocent, blue eyes, making her first impression of Timande with this horrible meeting, is just disconcerting.
"Hello, Timande," Doctor Schroeder says with a smile and open arms, either oblivious to his discomfort or ignoring it. "Welcome home." He sticks out one of his hands. Timande, shrunk down some but not really all that much, stares at it uncomprehendingly for a long moment.
::I do not particularly deserve welcome,:: he finally says. Privately, of course.
"Nonesense," Schroeder scoffs kindly, giving his forearm a paternal pat with the untouched, outstretched hand. "You are as a prodigal son to me and-- oh." Timande is saved from having to figure out just what a "prodigal son" is, and why that term should apply to him, by the doctor turning away from him to face his bodyguard without any more warning than that one syllable. "Valentine."
"Yes?" Valentine doesn't even blink at the sudden change of subject, though Timande does.
"There's really no need for you to sit in with me with one of my own Venators. Why don't you go find Devika and take her out for lunch, or something? She took today off."
For some reason, the mention of Devika, the doctor's Avengaean assistant, startles the one person Timande would have guessed to be unstartleable. "But sir--"
"Hush, I insist. Take her someplace nice and I'll foot the bill. Go on now, I believe she's just a few rooms around the corner. Shoo!" And thus the dark hybrid is "shooed" off with a push to the hip by a stout little man who just barely comes up to his shoulders. Judging from the slightly dazed expression on Valentine's face-- another one Timande has never expected to see on him-- Timande suspects a mental shove, as well.
"There." Shroeder nods with satisfaction before turning back and beckoning Timande after him. The yautjadragon follows obediently, albeit uncomfortably, trying not to warily eye the child trailing between them. "Come along then, my boy, and we can talk in my study. And don't mind Shalene; she may look like a child, but she's really an immortal."
Oh, an immortal. Much better. Now he can show his foolishness and shame to someone nearing the status of demigod.
"And unlike Valentine," Schroeder continues obliviously, "she doesn't have anyone I can distract her with."
"I protect Grandpa," Shalene, the child-immortal, answers proudly.
::I am... sure you do so admirably.:: Timande only manages solemn neutrality after a moment to try and collect himself.
"Yup," Shalene agrees with some semblance of cheer. "I'm scary when I turn big like you."
Uncertain just what to say to that-- she gets big "like him"?-- Timande simply nods uncomfortably and remains silent. He doesn't have to do so for long, however, as Doctor Schroeder stops at his office door and opens it with a palm to the security panel. The office within seems to suit the man: formal but worn and comfortable, though for Timande it is a deceptive comfort. It's automatic and without appreciation that he takes in the faux-wood paneling decorated with various paintings, matching large desk settled on wine-red carpeting, four plush chairs-- two longer in the seat and meant for dragon-like occupants, obviously-- and one old faux-leather chair for the doctor himself. The doctor, unsurprisingly, settles himself into it.
Little Shalene watches him from her own seat in a basket against one side of the desk until he's seated, then starts turning around and around before curling up and shutting her eyes. Timande, feeling very bemused still, watches her with continued wariness until Doctor Schroeder speaks again.
"Will you sit, Timande?" he asks, motioning to the dragon-sized and -shaped chairs, and making Timande's wings twitch in unaccustomed discomfort. He would honestly prefer to stand, but how does one say no to the doctor when invited so cordially to sit without being rude? Normally, he wouldn't care, but this is Doctor Schroeder. He eyes the bench-like seat with definite misgivings, trying to think of a halfway-graceful way to decline.
::This is not a visit for pleasantries, Doctor,:: he finally says, more gruffly than he'd intended.
"Yes, Timande, I am aware of that," the doctor says with studied patience. "But there is no need for you to stand at attention. I am a doctor, not a general, but more than that, you are and will always be as a grandson to me, so I would rather you sit as family."
Timande does not say that he would be happier if Schroeder were a general; he expects the man already knows. But how is he going to explain his shame, how will he manage to say anything much less humbly beg for employment, if he cannot stay formal? Reluctantly, stiffly, he lowers himself onto the nearer bench, flicking his tail and the folded tines of his wings out of the way. Perhaps he can sit at attention, instead.
"Thank you, Timande," Schroeder says, folding his hands over his stomach and leaning back in his chair. "Now tell me why you've come home, and I will listen."
It takes two false starts, where he'd gathered his thoughts to send them, then sputtered out in shame and embarrassment, before he manages to actually say something-- and when he begins, he cannot stop for fear he will not start again. ::I have been on my own for this past half of a year. My bond does not need or want me, and replaced me within three days of our first parting. I have failed with what I have set out to do with my life. Even alone, I am ineffective. I can think of no other alternative but to come to the place of my birth in search of some kind of position, no matter how lowly....::
"Timande, you have done nothing wrong," Schroeder says gently, "As much as you believe otherwise." The look in his eyes is not pity, however, but understanding-- which is almost worse. He cannot be angry at understanding, he cannot even be properly chastised, just more ashamed. This is nothing like the steel-willed doctor who once held him by the tusks and reprimanded his behavior-- which, honestly, he would prefer. He deserves a reprimanding, he would be happier with one, but it looks like there is not one coming.
"You saw promise and potential in Joqout," Schroeder goes on, either oblivious to Timande's discomfort or ignoring it. Probably the latter. "And you did your best, the only way you knew, to try and bring it out. But it is no fault of yours that you did not succeed." It is all he can do to keep from snorting his disbelief, mandibles closing over his muzzle suppressively. "Few things in the world are harder than trying to change someone who does not want to be changed. Perhaps someday I will tell you an old story about a young soldier I once knew--" Timande this time can't help a mildly panicked moment, certain that if he has to listen to some kind of allegorical story he would go mad sitting here. It's hard enough, as it is.
Thankfully, the doctor checks himself, and moves on to something more appropriate. "But I know you didn't come to listen to me reminisce. If you would work, then you shall have work. Most of it is slow, boring business, as it's been a long time since we've seen a spy or a saboteur, but there are still halls to be patrolled and security desks to man, and every now and then there's a new recruit in need of a combat teacher. Will that suit you?"
Really, it doesn't, but Timande has nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Six months of directionless travel across Joqout's homeworld proves that. Without some kind of purpose, he is worthless. Dissatisfying as this simple sort of duty surely will be, at least he might be of some use. He nods shortly. ::If you have a place for me, I will take it.::
"And you shall have it," Schroeder answers, rising with something like resignation, and moving around the desk towards the door. Timande is on his feet almost immediately, anxious to get moving again. Little Shalene doesn't even stir, fast asleep despite the conversation around her. "I'll show you to the closest security office," the doctor says, "and they'll register you as a resident of the ship, assign you quarters, and shuffle you into the workforce. You'll have a few days to start acclimating to the ship and then you'll be put to work."
::More than I need.:: What can he fill "a few days" with? Exercise somewhere, probably; exploring the ship surely can't take that long. ::Thank you, Doctor.:: And ashamed though he might be, he still means it.