Lou stayed near silent while I helped Mr. Thomas prepare for take off. She’d taken to staring at everything with a wide-eyed, wild look. “You ‘kay, Lou?” I asked as I bolted a panel back into place.
“You’re insane. Both of you are utterly insane,” she murmured, rocking back and forth.
“Nonsense,” said Mr. Thomas as he popped the casing off the back of the lone chair on the bridge. He tossed it aside and began pulling the fluff from the cushions. Finally, his hand must have hit what he needed and he yanked something rectangular and metallic from inside the chair, causing it to sag sadly to one side. “Now, once I get the AGP fixed, we’ll be on our way!”
“What’s an AGP?” Louise asked as Mr. Thomas flounced across the bridge. He looked over at her and chuckled.
“The Anti-Grav Pump. It’s how we stay firmly on the floor while we’re in zero gravity situations. Without it, we’ll be floating freely throughout the ship, which is fine and dandy when you don’t have places you need to be, but considering the nebula is only our first stop, I figured it may be a good idea to fix it now.”
I was practically bursting out of my skin. “You really mean it? We get to go more than just one place?”
“I just wanna go home,” said Lou.
Mr. Thomas smiled and nodded, “I’ve got the time engine synchronized now. We should be able to travel for months on end and not disrupt your timeline.”
“What does that even mean?” Lou demanded. “For that matter, what am I doing here? What have you done to my sister? Why is she so excited about being trapped with a creeper like you?”
“What?” Mr. Thomas asked absently, focusing on a console he’d more-or-less completely ripped apart. But that was his method.
“What has he done to you to make you feel like you need to stay with him?” Lou asked, turning her attention to me. I rolled my eyes.
“Nothing! Mr. Thomas is… He’s nicer than anyone I’ve ever met. You’ll see, Lou. Being with him is amazing.” How could I make her understand? He made me feel safe.
“You’ve obviously been brainwashed.” Mr. Thomas dropped the tool he was using to attach the metal rectangle to the inside of the console and slumped his shoulders, glaring at Louise through his unruly hair.
“Because races not from your world obviously want nothing more than to brainwash and enslave young, impressionable children, right?” he asked with a single dry laugh, “I already know I don’t like you. You may look like Jenna, but you’re nowhere near as open-minded as her. How much has your age tainted you, Louis?”
“Louise,” she corrected him.
“Whatever. Have you really lost your sense of wonder? Is Earth really that dangerous to live on that anyone who would show you something different is automatically evil?” He reached down and picked up the tool again, raising his head to properly face my sister. “Your sister came upon me by complete chance. I didn’t whisk her away without her consent-”
“How exactly can a 10 year old consent to anything?”
“I’m done talking to you,” Mr. Thomas snapped, turning his full attention back to the console. After a few tense moments, he reached his free hand out toward me. I hurried over and he pulled me in close to him, whispering into my ear about the repairs he was making and guiding my hands so I could help.
I could feel Louise’s glare at the top of my head. He did this a lot. It seemed to calm him down when he got stressed. I didn’t mind, it made me feel almost like I had a dad.
Before too long, Mr. Thomas backed away from the console, his hands leaving mine as he stood up and reached for the panels that were meant to cover it. I sulked for a couple seconds before wandering over to where Louise sat.
“Why don’t you like him?” I asked.
“Why do you?”
“I don’t know,” I said after a few moments of thought, “He saved me, though. Isn’t that enough reason to like someone?”
“Same way he saved me?” she asked, rolling her eyes.
“No. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Oi, find yourselves some seats, ladies, we’re about to take off,” Mr. Thomas said as he finished replacing the console cover. Something told me that he didn’t want me telling Louise how we first met.
“I’ll tell you later,” I whispered before heading back across the bridge to where a smaller harness hung from the bulkhead. I maneuvered my way into the harness until I was suspended comfortably about a foot from the floor. Louise did the same, but she hung a bit higher and my view of her was obscured by Mr. Thomas, who sat in the lone chair, leaning against the console. Unlike us, he wasn’t harnessed in.
“Louise,” he said without looking at her, “did Jenna tell you how rough these can be?”
“What?” Lou asked. I could hear the fear in her voice. Mr. Thomas glanced up at me, a sly grin on his lips. He winked, then turned back to Louise.
“Oh yeah. Well it wasn’t really meant to land, so it has a hard time conceiving of land.”
“What?” Lou sounded absolutely horrified by now. I didn’t understand what he was saying. Maybe she didn’t either. Maybe that’s what was so frightening to her.
“There is a way to make sure you aren’t injured,” Mr. Thomas said after a long pause.
“There is?” Lou asked.
Mr. Thomas slammed his hand down on a large, square button on the console he’d just prepared. All around us, the ship whirred to life. I couldn’t help but laugh as I realized what Mr. Thomas was doing- what he’d done when he’d first picked me up.
“Louise Warren,” he said, unable to contain his smile. I caught a glimpse of Lou’s face as she realized something.
“What do you mean, the ship ‘can’t conceive of land?’ What does that even mean? Is the ship sentient?” Mr. Thomas chuckled.
“Listen carefully, Louise Warren,” he said, emphasizing her name in a near-perfect imitation of our Minnesotan accents, “If you want to come through this unscathed, don’t brace yourself.” He hit another button and pulled a lever, and the ship began to move.
I was tossed back in my harness, my butt brushing against the bulkhead. I couldn’t see Louise anymore, but I could hear her trying to form questions, her voice getting shriller as she went. The hum from the engines was too loud for me to make out her words, however, and eventually everything was drowned out by it. The ship jerked up violently, and Mr. Thomas lost his footing, sprawling back against the console behind him.
He caught himself and punched a few buttons on that console, before being thrown near Louise’s feet as the ship suddenly rocketed forward. The engines stopped straining almost as quickly as they’d started, and fell almost totally silent, giving way to Louise’s screams of terror and Mr. Thomas’s uproarious laughter.