The paper in her hands trembled under the force of the hiccup. Novak noticed one of the engineers give her a sidelong glance and tried to shuffle her chair away from him. A few occupants of the mess were holding similar memos, none of whom appeared a tenth as nervous as she happened to be. Some had even thrown theirs in the trash.
Not Lindsey, though. Oh, no, for her this was a nightmare. It was reassignment.
But of course, there was no telling for sure if she was a target for removal. The memo stated only that 'select individuals who have shown significant aptitude in their duties will be permanently assigned to elevated positions'. Working on the Daedalus was high enough—so elevated meant the SGC, or Atlantis, or...God forbid, Antarctica.
She'd been an engineer aboard the ship for a year now, and wild horses couldn't drag her away. Oh, sure, the long trips between Atlantis and Earth, always working in the same environment could be a tad boring, but she hadn't signed up for the job for the excitement. And anyway, she was perfectly happy where she was. She'd made friends. Getting to know her co-workers was a part of her job she didn't like. No one quite understood her peculiarities.
Drat. Novak folded the paper and crammed it into her pocket. The food on her plate had cooled off, giving it a tough, rubbery consistency. She jabbed at it a few times with her fork and decided it had passed the point of 'suitable for eating'. Grabbing the tray, she stood up from the table and returned to the serving counter, where she deposited the half-eaten rations, all the while trying to calm herself down. Don't think about reassignment. Don't think about reassignment.
This time, she'd forgotten to close her mouth. The sound caused several of the ship's crew to turn their heads and stare. Flushing furiously, she made a quick dash for the transporter. Open, open, open, open, open, please please please...yes! The door slid open and she hid herself inside.
It had been twenty minutes since she'd started hiccupping. Limey, he chest hurt a lot. Maybe when she got back to work, she'd be so distracted she'd forget the memo. Maybe no one would notice. Maybe she'd blame it on a bad case of soda. Maybe it would go away.
But if wishes were horses (as her mother would always say) then...dang, she forgot how it went. She'd have a lot of horses. By the time she got back to her station, her hiccups had taken a turn for the worse. She had to remember to breathe between random, wet gulps of air or she had a feeling she'd pass right out.
It was the night shift, so Hermiod was the only other lifeform in the engineering bay at this hour. There might be one or two personnel wandering around, but as it was the only one to suffer her tiny, nervous squeaks was the passive Asgard. Maybe he didn't notice her. It usually seemed that way, most of the time. Unless the ship was on fire, he barely spoke a word unless someone bothered him.
"Perhaps," said the Asgard placidly, "You might consider drinking a glass of water."
Lindsey hiccupped again, the tips of her ears turning a visible and embarrassing shade of red. "I'm sorry," she apologized, putting a hand to her throat. "This always happens to me when I get nervous or scared."
"Are you frightened, Dr. Novak?" he implied, squinting his large, black eyes slightly.
"Well, it's just a little...personal thing, I guess. This thing...happened to me earlier and I'm worried about it happening, but it might not when it comes right down to it, even though there's still the slight possibility...I'm not making any sense, am I?
"In my experience, when relating to matters of private dilemmas, I find that humans rarely...make sense."
She smiled hesitantly. "No, we don't. Sorry."
"Why do you do that?" the Asgard inquired, almost as though the question had been on his mind before.
"I'm sorry, do what?"
"Apologize." The eyes were interrogative. "You seem to find it necessary to excuse yourself in situations where it is apparent that you are not at fault."
"Oh." She almost said 'I'm sorry' again, but caught herself just in time. Instead, she hiccupped. "It's just another quirk of mine, I guess. My parents used to get sick of it—hic—and eventually they just stopped noticing."
"I do notice. Frequently." He tilted his head to return to his task at hand, with a dour look (she was one of a scarce few who recognized the rare change of expression). "And I do not approve of your colleagues' imposing of your genial nature for their own advantage. There are some human 'quirks' that I am able to disregard objectively, but this is not one of them."
Novak blinked at him in surprise. It was nothing like Hermiod to openly opinionate himself so strongly about anything, especially not about her. But then—she hiccupped—they had been stationed in the same section of the Daedalus together for over thirteen months and it was impossible to not form an outlook on something in such a long period of time. Even for an Asgard.
"Well," she said, a little sheepishly. "If there's one thing about us Homo sapiens, it's diversity. But...I'm sure you realized that already."
"Indeed." He went calmly about his business, leaving her uncertain of whether or not the conversation was over.
"God darn these hiccups!" she cursed, gesturing rigidly with her fingers splayed apart in defeat.
"Dr. Novak," said Hermiod. "May I presume your dilemma is in some way related to Colonel Caldwell's rearrangement of the ship's personnel?"
The enormous compulsion made her jolt abruptly. How the heck did he find out about the Colonel's decision so soon? She felt uncomfortable all of a sudden. "You know about that?"
He nodded barely. "I also...received the notification."
Of course. She felt like banging her head against the console in front of her in futility. In his position, he'd have to know about the crew arrangements in his quarter of the ship. It hadn't occurred to her that Hermiod even had memos delivered to him, but that was a stupid thing to assume since he was the only one with the full knowledge of how Asgard technology was operated.
It also hadn't occurred to her how much she enjoyed working with the little alien. If she was reassigned, someone else would fill her position and she'd end up somewhere, like Atlantis. There was a good reason she didn't accept the assignment to Atlantis the first time—and it was still a good reason. Besides, who understood Hermiod as much as she did? Colonel Caldwell wouldn't really transfer her then, would he?
Somehow, she still wasn't convinced.
"Oh!" She jumped again. Deflating under his omnipotent stare, she trudged across the room to lean over the back of his workstation. "Okay, you got me. I'm worried sick about being assigned somewhere else. I mean, not that anyone would notice that I'm gone, but that's not why I like it here so much. Do you know how hard it is to move to a new place—hic—full of strangers who think you're a just a weird, social oddball?"
His composed, wordless blinking made her realize the idiocy of what she'd just asked. She let her head down on the console with a 'thunk'. "I'm sorry, that was a dumb thing to ask."
"No," he objected. "Dr. Novak—"
"Please, just call me Lindsey," she interrupted intently. "I never can get used to being called 'doctor'. It's too—hic—professional for my type."
The Asgard's gaze narrowed again in assessment. "Very well. If I may be as bold, Lindsey, I would prefer that you remain at your current position." He paused meditatively. "I believe, in order to enforce a positive working environment, my understanding of the human species requires...distinctive cultivation. Our partnership remains a crucial factor to guarantee my further employment in this vessel."
Novak stifled another hiccup with her hand as she absorbed this. Maybe the Asgard's outward, impartial attitude would fool the untrained human eye, but she had an ear for translating his body language and read his message loud and clear. "Is that a nice—hic—way of saying you'd leave the Deadalus if I was ever transferred?"
"Of course, an Asgard representative of equal capability would be consigned in my stead. However, that is precisely what I am trying to say."
She blinked in open-mouthed surprise, but remembered to swallow before the next wave of hiccupping struck. Hermiod returned to his quiet study of the computer in front of him, unaware of her shameless staring. A full minute later, she recovered enough of her senses to speak. "I...well, I...that's—hic—very decent, H-Hermiod, I just never thought—
"You are welcome," he said.
Lindsey knew when a conversation had ended with Hermiod, and there was no use in beating a dead horse (what was it with her horse analogies today?), so she left the subject dangling in the air. She felt a sudden flash of affection for the Asgard—platonic, she reminded herself, that would just be weird—and felt at least a hundred times better than she had when she left the mess hall.
"Do you like coffee?" she asked, the question popping out of nowhere.
The large, black eyes studied her for a moment. "I find it suitable," he replied dubiously. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I'm going to the mess to get myself one. I thought it's only fair to ask if you needed anything while I'm at it."
He blinked. And then, "Three sugars, please."
Novak tilted her head with a concealed grin, and hurried to the transporter to carry out her appointed task. Not only was she feeling more comfortable, but there was also something new and profound about her friendship with the Asgard.
By the time she returned with the coffee, her hiccups were forgotten.