Part Four - 36 - Hopper

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"Ito Min-Hee's journal, 411. We finally got Kala back. The Ushus collapsed the mines but she survived. She is tough. Being a spy, I knew what was happening on Mulsong. During all those years before I joined the Capricieuse, I never questioned anything. My world was black and white. Simple. I was raised and trained to be the perfect human tool – just like Hopper, now that I think about it. I wasn't genetically modified, no. But my way of thinking was. But now...Now I don't know anymore. I question everything. I wonder every day. My brain was messed with and it was painful, but now I see how it freed me. I am free of any nation. Free to believe whatever I want and fight for whatever I want. What does it say about me that one of the first choices I made for myself was to fight for a bunch of reckless scavengers?"

The ship they were now traveling on was a Voyager-98-PX, model five. She still lacked a real name, which always made Hopper sad and uneasy. Ships weren't just tools, they were organisms, made of metals and wires, filled with machines in lieu of organs. Bulkheads were the arms embracing the crew, protecting them from the harsh emptiness of space. You entrusted ships with your life, the least you could do was name them. But it seemed that the rebels couldn't be bothered. Hopper had to refrain himself from naming her. It wasn't his ship. The naming was something sacred for captains.

The cohabitation with the rebels was a little...tricky, to say the least. The two crews didn't mix well. Some of his prison friends had tried, but they just couldn't follow the strange dynamic that the Capricieuse's crew had built over the years. They formed a weird surrogate family, full of arguments, hugs, inside jokes, and glances. Rudra and his team were always baffled by their lack of hierarchy and social norms (and the complete lack of modesty and social filters shared by the twins).

Kala had been the catalyst. The reason why they all met in the first place and how they ended up together, flying toward uncharted territory. Yet now she was also the most difficult part of the equation. The rebels' admiration for Kala was undeniably mixed with fear and sanctity. Every time she walked into a room they all fell quiet. She tried to mingle a few times at first but gave up after the second day when they all treated her like a fearsome goddess. Her jokes and teasings all fell short. Her smiles were answered by shiny eyes and stuttering.

If Kala was the catalyst, Hopper was the glue that held both crews together, and it was challenging work, to say the least.

Hopper was in the engine room, helping the rebel mechanic with a few busted pipes. Adrianna was a woman in her thirties, wearing a pink overall covered in grease, her hair in a messy bun.

When he finished hammering the last pipe, she glanced at him sideways and asked, "So...How did you end up with the Lightning Sprite as your girlfriend anyway?"

Hopper smiled. He knew she had been chewing on that question for quite a while. They all wanted to know more about the Lightning Sprite, but rarely had the courage to ask straight-forward questions. He shrugged, "I ask myself that same question every day." He pulled out a cloth from his back pocket and started rubbing the grease off his hands

She didn't look satisfied with that answer, so she pushed a little farther. "Is she... You know...electric, in bed?'

Hopper threw the dirty cloth at her face. As he left the engine room, he could still hear her laughing.

Hopper found his way back to the leisure garden. A leisure garden...He still couldn't believe this ship had one. It was a special room at the back of the ship, providing a safe space for the crew to nurture mental health and peace. At least that's what the manual said. Only big ships with more than a handful of crew members had those. He wondered briefly where the rebellion got a ship like that. In the garden, you could relax sitting in front of the glass walls, admiring the universe. Or you could smell the flowers and plants growing in the hydroponic systems all around the room. When they had arrived two weeks previously, the room had been empty, no plants grew. That changed really fast once Kala discovered the place. She found some seeds and it took less than a day for all the plants to bloom. They even had fresh fruits and vegetables now, that Min-Hee was eagerly cooking for them.

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