Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 7

“I just thought I should get to know you a little better, since we’ll be spending so much time together.” Kaidan cringed at stilted how that sounded. “I barely know any of you except Anderson, and him mostly by reputation.”

He asked some general questions about what ships Joker had served on, why he’d joined the Alliance, and where he was from. Joker’s answers were typically evasive but his love of flying and his disdain for most of his fellow pilots was clear. He admitted that he’d been yanked from his last assignment for insubordination not long before Chakwas had come up with the idea for the combo and that getting everyone together had kept him from going insane while he was stuck on the Citadel. The doctor’s name cropped up again and again in Joker’s stories, in fact.

“So, are you and the doctor close?” Kaidan finally asked. Joker chuckled. “Well, she’s seen me without my pants more times than every other woman I’ve known combined,” he replied with a leer.

Kaidan noticed he hadn’t really answered that question, either. Did that mean the pilot had some chronic medical condition or that the two were involved? Kaidan had a difficult time picturing the urbane Chakwas in a passionate embrace with this crude and much-younger ship-jockey, though the idea had him laughing as well. He decided to change the subject rather than indulge his idle curiosity. Whatever the relationship it sounded long-term and hopefully would remain as stable as it seemed.

“This assignment grounds you until they get tired of us,” Kaidan noted. “Why do you seem so happy about it?”

“They have me training idiots who can’t fly their forks into their mouths much less dock a ship,” Joker answered wryly. “Two days a week might save me from a murder charge after another morning spent watching kids wreck sims of every ship in the goddamned fleet trying to get into the Citadel.” Kaidan laughed. He tried to picture the pilot training green recruits and imagined Joker’s acerbic comments reducing them to tears within half an hour. “I’m stuck here for a while anyway so I might as well enjoy myself,” Joker added. “What about you?”

Kaidan described his usual work doing technical repairs on ships that came into dock and teaching others how the various systems worked. Unlike the pilot he enjoyed helping youngsters learn to solve complicated problems and loved that what they did kept people alive into the far reaches of the galaxy. “I pull co-pilot duties every once in a while,” he said, “but most of the time I’m in dock fixing glitches to keep your trainees from suffocating or crashing into a docking clamp their sensors forgot to mention.”

Joker narrowed his eyes a little, scrutinizing the lieutenant closely. “So you fly a little, hunh?”

“You’re not getting me in one of your classes,” Kaidan joked. “I’m up to date on all my certs, I’m relieved to say.”

Joker cracked a thin-lipped smile. “You’re lucky. I’d have your license pulled for a full course of re-training.” Kaidan didn’t doubt it for a minute, if it served some obscure agenda. He decided to brave the man’s acid tongue.

“So why do you show up first and leave last for every rehearsal?” he asked. Joker’s smile grew bitter. As always, he dodged the question by going on the offensive. “Is that what this little buddy-buddy session ill about?”

Kaidan made a rude noise. “You have to admit it’s a pretty big question,” he said. “We’ve been playing together for weeks and I’ve never even seen you stand up. So what’s the big secret?”

Joker looked taken aback by the bluntness of the question. “Finally decided to be a man and ask, I see,” he said, clearly stalling for time while he considered his answer. “Fine. I have Vrolek’s Syndrome. My bones are so brittle that I risk breaking a leg if I spend too much time standing on them and they’re warped from having snapped so many times.” He spoke quickly, spitting out the details as though it could remove the sour taste of them. “I can’t stand at attention, I’ll never go out dancing, and I won’t be pitied or stared at.”

That explains why he’s always hunched over that keyboard, thought Kaidan. It explains the doc, too. He knew his response would make a difference in how Moreau behaved with the rest of the group. The pilot clearly assumed they’d elected Kaidan to pry on their behalf but denying it now would only reinforce the suspicion. He stuck with his dismissive tone. “Was that so hard?” he asked. “It’s not like you got a dose of the Asari clap.” Deciding a change of subject was in order he continued, “Do you think Anderson will be brave enough for a duet?”

Joker frowned at the obvious ploy but decided not to pursue the original topic. “Nah. He may be the bravest marine in the Alliance but facing enemy fire is nothing to singing in public. I don’t think we’ll get more out of him than Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

Kaidan laughed. “We should add that one to our repertoire, though,” he said. “It’s a great tune.” The two men talked music for a time and parted amicably. Kaidan hoped he had come across as unconcerned with Joker’s condition. The last thing they needed was dissent among their ranks just when things were getting interesting, he thought as he let himself into his apartment. Tension would show in their performances and he’d hate to lose the assignment before he found out what the Alliance and the diplomatic staff were really hoping to accomplish.

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