An Origin story of Journey’s Greatest Friendship
Crystal wiped the sweat off her hands in the pockets of her uniform for the third time. She didn’t think she had ever been this nervous. Not when she went away to the Academy, not when Ryan first asked her out, and certainly not when she finally ended it with him. This moment right now was going to change her life. “Sir, are you sure this is alright?” She turned to Captain Reed who was leading her through The Expedition to the combat team room. She normally wouldn’t have questioned Reed, he had been like a father to her while she was at the Academy, but this time she wasn’t sure his special interest in her was a good thing.
“I’m the Captain of this ship, what I say goes. You are one of the best fighters the Academy has seen in a long time. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t put those skills to use.” The clicking of Reed’s shoes on the metal grating kept time with the beating of Crystal’s heat.
“So it’s not true that the combat division doesn’t take anyone until their second tour?” Crystal had only been on the ship for two days. The last thing she wanted to do was turn the crew against her because she was getting special treatment. It was going to be like her first year at the Academy all over again.
Reed stopped and looked at her. “Just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it’s right. Tell me honestly, do you want to be on the combat team?”
Crystal sighed. “Yes sir I do.” Both of her parents had served on combat teams. She knew that was where she belonged too.
“Then let’s go make that happen.” Reed shot her smiled and continued through the corridor. He opened the door to the combat team room and stepped aside for her to enter.
Crystal took a deep breath to try to steady her nerves before stepping inside. There were two groups of people inside the room. A group of nine to the left that were joking around with one another. Crystal assumed they were the returning members of the team. To the right was a much larger group that looked as nervous as she felt. Crystal moved to the right, but Reed steered her in the other direction. She could feel the eyes of every combat team hopeful on her back. She guessed she wouldn’t be making any friends today.
The conversation died out as they approached. An older man turned to face them, his eyes narrowing as he looked from Crystal to Reed. “Captain Reed, what brings you all the way down here?”
“Commander Lindow, I want to introduce you to Lieutenant Crystal Wolf. She’ll be joining your combat team.” Reed put a hand on her back and nudged her forward. She was making a great first impression.
Crystal stood at attention as Lindow looked her up and down. She hoped he wouldn’t notice that she was biting the inside of her cheek, or the beads of sweat that had formed on her forehead.
“She looks like she just graduated the Academy yesterday,” Lindow said.
“Last week actually,” Reed said. Crystal felt immensely uncomfortable as the two men talked about her as if she wasn’t there. She was aware of the other eight people watching her carefully. Several of them were whispering to each other.
“With all due respect Sir, that’s not now I operate my team.” Lindow folded his arms over his chest. “I need people with experience. People I know can handle themselves in intense situations.”
“This isn’t a request Lindow. I’m the Captain of this ship and I’m telling you to put Lieutenant Wolf on the team. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” Lindow said through gritted teeth.
“Good.” Reed winked at Crystal as he turned and left. She was sure that the rest of the team had seen it. Reed might be trying to help her, but she was certain he had made her life a lot more difficult.
“Don’t just stand there, get your ass over there with the rest of them.” Lindow waved her away. Crystal quickly went to join the others who all made sure to give her a wide berth. No one wanted to be associated with her.
Lindow made them wait a few more minutes before he made his way over to Crystal’s group. The eight people with him lined up behind him. Crystal looked them over quickly. They stood with a confidence Crystal longed to feel.
“It is my honor, and my duty,” Lindow said while looking directly at Crystal, “to welcome you all to the Expedition’s combat division. Most of you have put in your time on this ship and earned the privilege of being on this team. Though I want to make one thing perfectly clear, just because you are on the team doesn’t mean that you’ll be sent on a combat mission. I run my missions with a team of sixteen.” Lindow pointed over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off the group in front of him. “The eight men and women you see behind are the core of that team. You have a week to prove yourself to them. At the end of that week, they’ll all choose a partner from the twenty-four of you. Those not chosen will be our alternates. The core eight can change their partners at any time, so work hard and you’ll earn your place on a mission.”
There went any shot Crystal had at seeing any action. She was use to having to work twice as hard as anyone else, she had a legacy she had to live up to, but she knew that wouldn’t be enough here. Not with the way she had been placed on the team. She was grateful for all the help Reed had given her while at the Academy, but at that moment she wished he hadn’t taken such an interest in her.
“In addition to your normal duties,” Lindow said, “you will be given tasks to complete as part of this team. This will allow the core eight to get to know you and assess what you bring to the team.”
Lindow started to list off assignments. The people around Crystal started to disperse until she was the only one left. He walked over to Crystal so he was standing less than a foot away from her. Crystal didn’t move, she wouldn’t let Lindow intimate her. “As for you Wolf, you’ll be cleaning the team room. And I want every inch of this place to shine like it never has before. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes Sir,” Crystal looked up to meet his eye. He held her gaze for a few seconds before leaving. Crystal let out a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding in.
The rest of the core eight started to file out of the room. Crystal noticed two women hanging back. They waited until Crystal was looking in their direction then one of them knocked a tray of food off the table and onto the floor. They both burst out laughing. Crystal shook her head. She knew they were going to torment her, but she expected them to at least be a little smarter about it. Were these the type of people she really wanted to be going into battle with.
One of the guys stopped at the door. “Don’t be such an ass Beck.” He turned to Crystal, flashed her a smile Crystal was sure he thought was charming and left.
Crystal had been cleaning for three hours. She wasn’t about to give Lindow another reason to give her a hard time. She was almost done when she noticed someone leaning in the doorway. It was the same guy that had smiled at her earlier. Crystal fought the urge to roll her eyes.
“You’re still here,” he said.
“Nope, I’m a figment of your imagination.” She knew she would have to play nice with at least a few members of the core eight if she wanted to get a spot on the team, but she didn’t have the energy for forced niceties at the moment.
“Lindow assigned me to clean the team room when I joined the team last year, though I had two other guys helping me.” He came over and grabbed the broom that was leaning against the wall. “We didn’t do as good a job as you.”
“I’m just talented, I guess.” She didn’t look up as she finished wiping down the table. He started to sweep around the table behind her. “I’m Jim Grady by the way.” He stopped and held his hand out to her.
Crystal turned and looked him over. He was a few years older than her. She doubted they had been at the Academy together, not that many of the upper classmen had paid any attention to her. His shaggy blonde hair fell into his teal green eyes, he was Sertex and Aquiean. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said finally taking his hand. She watched him carefully as he finished sweeping the area around the table before putting the broom away. “Why are you helping me?”
“We’re supposed to get to know the new recruits, right.” He raised an eyebrow at her and smirked. “Besides Lindow’s a jerk who’s spent the last hour talking trash about you and Reed. I wanted to see for myself if any of it was true.”
This time Crystal did roll her eyes. “I’m sure he didn’t say anything I haven’t heard a hundred times before. Once people realize who my parents are, they assume I’ve been given a free ride.” It was the reason she had such a hard time making friends when she first arrived at the Academy. The other students only started to give her a chance once she started dating Ryan.
“So you are the daughter of Kendra and Jedidiah Wolf?” Grady pulled out a chair from the table sat down on it backwards.
“Yeah.” Crystal went over to the janitor’s closet to put the rest of the cleaning supplies away. She didn’t want to talk about her parents. Their deaths had thrust her into the spotlight as a child. Now that she was an adult, she could avoid it, but the damage was already done. Everyone in the country knew who she was. “For the record, I didn’t ask Captain Reed to put me on this team,” she said changing the subject. “I was willing to put in my time and sign up like everyone else.”
“It’s a stupid rule Lindow put in place to make himself feel like he has more power than he does. Even if you had waited until your second tour, I don’t think it would have mattered, given what he’s said about you and your parents tonight. I guess he wasn’t a big fan of your father and he holds a grudge,” Grady said with a shrug.
Crystal went over to the small kitchenette and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. “Well that’s just fantastic.” She leaned against the counter and took a sip. She wondered if there would ever be a day she didn’t have to fight so hard to be accepted for who she was and not where she came from.
“Setting all of that aside, tell me, do you think you deserve to be on this team?” Grady cocked a smile.
“I do,” she said confidently. There were a lot of aspects in her life that she wasn’t sure of, but her skills as a solider wasn’t one of them. This was what she was born to do, and she had worked hard to move herself to the top of the field.
Grady sat up straight. “What’s your strongest area?”
“Hand to hand combat,” Crystal said without hesitation.
Grady snorted. “Really?”
“I’m stronger than I look.” She probably should have been offended, but she wasn’t. Something about Grady’s carefree nature put her at ease.
“I don’t doubt that, it’s just that most women who join combat rely heavily on their weapons.”
A sly smile formed on her lips. “I’m not like most women.”
“Alright,” Grady nodded and stood up. “Meet me here tomorrow at 1400.”
“I’m going to give you a chance to prove that you belong here.”
Crystal had to race to the combat team room after she finished her engineering shift in the engine room. She didn’t want to keep Grady waiting. This might be her one chance to prove herself to the team.
The room was full when she arrived. Several of the other new members were working out, while the core eight and Lindow stood off to the side talking. They stopped the moment she walked in. Her confidence wavered as she felt their eyes on her. Grady extracted himself from the group and came over to her with a huge smile that momentarily calmed her nerves. “You ready, kid?”
“I didn’t expect the entire team to be here,” she whispered as she glanced over at Lindow and the rest of the core eight who were watching them closely. She was pretty sure they were all pissed that Grady was talking to her. How would they feel when they realized he was helping her?
“How else are you going to prove you belong here? You said hand to hand combat was your biggest strength, so let’s show them.” Grady walked to the back corner of the room where a few mats were laid out on the floor. Grady wanted to spar.
Crystal stretched out her arms and legs as she walked over to him. Normally she loved to spar, but not with an audience. Grady sprung at her the moment she stepped on the mat. She barely had time to dodge his punch. She moved to the center of the mat and shook out her hands. Grady came at her again. This time she blocked the punch instead of just dodging it and landed a hard jab to his stomach.
“Alright, now we’re talking” Grady said with a sly smile.
This time Crystal went on the offense. She tried to sweep his legs, but he jumped over her leg. He threw another punch. Crystal grabbed his arm and used his momentum to flip him onto his back. She put her foot on his chest. “Stop holding back,” she said as she looked down at his shocked face.
He knocked her foot off him. “It’s on now.” He sprung to his feet.
They exchanged a round of punches. Crystal stole a glance at Lindow. He was whispering with the women who had dumped the trash last night, Beck. It was the opening Grady needed to send her to her back. A wave a laughter washed over her from the core eight. She used it fuel her. Crystal quickly moved a to crouching position and kicked Grady in the chest. It sent him crashing down to the mat. She jumped to her feet with a wicked smile. She hung back a second to give Grady a chance to recover. Out of the corner of the eye she saw Lindow and Beck leave.
Crystal and Grady went a few more rounds. They were pretty evenly matched, though Crystal was able to take Grady down more often than he took her down. Slowly the rest of the core eight left. Crystal had stopped paying attention to them by that point.
Grady held up a hand to stop her. He was bent over trying to catch his breath. “I think that’s enough for one day.”
“If you’re sure,” Crystal bounced on balls of her feet. She was having fun and would have gone another three or four rounds if he was up to it.
“I’m sure.” He walked over to the kitchenette area and got two bottles of water out of the fridge. “I think we made our point.” He handed her bottle of water.
Crystal took the bottle of water. “Do you think it will help?”
Grady was silent for moment as he took a long swig of water. “Maybe with a few of the guys, but things with Lindow and Beck will probably be worse than they were before. You just went from a forced annoyance to a legitimate threat.”
“A threat to who?”
“Beck. She likes to believe she’s the strongest female on the team and you just showed everyone that’s not the case anymore. I’d watch out for her if I was you.”
Crystal smiled and shook her head. “I thought you were supposed to be helping me make friends on the team.”
“I’m not a miracle worker. Today we got you a little respect. We’ll work on friendship later.” Grady flung his arm around her shoulder. “Let’s go get cleaned up and grab some chow.”
Grady had been right, things only got harder for Crystal over the next few days. The more Grady helped her, the more the rest of the team shut her out. Lindow was no help. He always assigned her to do her grunt work alone while the rest of the new recruits were assigned tasks as a team. It had gotten so bad that even her engineering team had started to distance themselves from her. At least she had Grady. He didn’t seem to care that she was being shunned by the rest of the boat.
She was on her way to the combat team room to meet him. He wanted to review some past missions with her to explain the team’s typical strategies. He assured her that the team room would be empty. It was late and almost everyone not on duty was asleep by now. He was wrong. She was about to walk in when she heard voices coming through the open hatch. She knew she should leave, she didn’t want to add spying to the list of reasons why everyone hated her, but she heard her name.
“I can’t believe you’ve been spending so much free time with Wolf.” Crystal didn’t need to look into the room to know that the voice belonged to Beck. She had been throwing insults at Crystal all week.
“What’s the big deal? You should give her a chance. She’s an interesting person. Not to mention she’s damn talented,” Grady said in an off handed way.
“She’s not talented. She’s just been given a free ride her whole life because of who her parents are. She doesn’t deserve to be here.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one,” Grady said.
“You’re naive, Grady. She’s playing you to get a spot on the team.”
“And you’re jealous because it’s clear to everyone that she’s better than you.” Crystal could hear a hint of anger in his voice.
“You’re only defending her because you think you have a chance of scoring with her. You’re not fooling anyone. We’ve all seen you chasing after every hot new recruit the moment they set foot on the ship. She’s nothing but the next conquest to you,” Beck said.
Crystal had heard enough. She headed away from the combat team room as fast as she could. She didn’t want to be there when they decided to leave. She should have known better than to trust Grady. If he was only helping her in hopes of having sex with her, he was in for a rude awakening. She was no one’s conquest.
Alone in the engine control room, Crystal felt safe. The machines powering the ship were the only company she needed. Machines wouldn’t pretend to be her friend one minute then turn on her the next. Machines just worked and if they broke down she could fix them. They were logical. Something she hadn’t been in the last few days. She had let the idea of having a real friend on the boat affect her reasoning. That ended now.
No one was scheduled to be down here right now. Not even her. She had run into the chief engineer after overhearing Grady’s conversation and asked if she could get started on the detailed system check that needed to be done by the end of the month. He had readily agreed. It was the distraction she needed at the moment.
Crystal nearly jumped out of her seat at the sound of someone knocking on the control room door. She turned in her chair to see Grady opening the door. She turned back to the control panel without acknowledging him.
“I’ve been looking for you for over an hour.”
“I’ve been here.” She shrugged and continued to work.
“I thought we had a date to review combat strategies?” Grady plopped down in the chair next to her. He looked completely at ease. Not a trace of anger in his body. It was not what she was expecting after standing him up. Still she wasn’t about to let him off the hook.
Crystal rolled her eyes. His use of the word date only confirmed what she had overheard. Grady was only helping her in hopes of hooking up with her. “I forgot.” She refused to look at him.
Grady grabbed the arm of her chair and spun her around so that she was facing him.
“What do you think you’re doing? I’m trying to work here.” The words flew out of her mouth. He had no right to move her. He shouldn’t even be here.
Grady put his hand up in surrender. “I’m sorry. Something is clearly going on with you. Why don’t you tell me what it is?”
“Why should I?”
“Because I thought we were becoming friends and that’s what friends do,” he said defensively.
Crystal laughed. When would he give up the act and let her get back to work?
“What was that for?” The annoyance now clear in his voice.
“We aren’t friends. I know you’re only being nice to me because you think I’ll have sex with you.”
“Why would you think that?” Grady sat back in his chair with a thoughtful look at his face. “Have I done anything to give you that impression?”
“I overheard you and Beck talking in the team room when I showed up for our date.” She made air quotes with her fingers at the word date to get her point across.
Grady folded his arm. “Did you stick around long enough to hear me shut her down?”
Crystal looked away. “That’s what I thought.”
“I’m not just some kind of conquest for you?” Crystal asked, her anger starting to abate.
“My conquests don’t usually want to have in depth conversations about combat strategies and they most certainly can’t kick my ass like you did the other day.” Grady flashed her a smile and she started to relax. “Trust me, I normally don’t have to put in this much time or energy to get a woman to sleep with me.”
“Then why are you spending all this time with me?” The anger was gone, but Crystal was still having a hard time believing his motives were pure.
“Because I actually enjoy your company. I know it’s hard to believe, but you’re one of the inserting people I’ve ever met. I mean look at this.” Grady grabbed her tablet off the desk before Crystal had a chance to stop him. “What is this?”
Crystal reached for the tablet, but Grady pulled it away. “It’s nothing,” she said quickly.
“Is this a subfighter?” Grady was carefully examining the screen.
Crystal shrugged. “I like to design ships in my spare time. It’s not a big deal.”
“This has to be the coolest looking ship I’ve ever seen. Have you shown this to anyone?”
Crystal shook her head. “I’m just messing around. These aren’t serious designs.”
“If this is just goofing around, I’d love to see what you come up with when you put your mind to it. You should show it to Reed.” Grady set the tablet down on the desk.
“Maybe one day, but for now these are just for me. Something to help me relax.” She picked the tablet up and looked at the drawing. It would feel amazing seeing one of her ships in real life, but she knew the chances of that happening were so small she didn’t like to dwell on it.
“I’d gladly fly that ship into battle, just like I’d happily go into battle with you at my side.”
Crystal sighed and put the tablet down again. “But you shouldn’t.” She had given this a lot of thought. She had seen how the rest of the team was treating Grady differently because he was spending time with her. If he chose her to be his partner, he would be an even bigger outcast on the team than she was. She couldn’t let him make that sacrifice for her. Especially after she had misjudged him so harshly.
“What do you mean?” Grady asked with a seriousness she wasn’t use to hearing from him.
“You can’t pick me to be your partner. They’ll never let you live it down if you do.”
“I don’t care what any of them think.” The smile returning to his lips.
“They’ll make your life miserable. What Beck said tonight was just the beginning. Trust me I’ve been handling shit like this most of my life. They’ll try to break you. You shouldn’t have to deal with that. Not because of me.” Crystal stood up and grabbed her tablet. “I’m going to get some shut eye. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She left the engine room before he could say anything.
The time had come for the eight returning members of the combat team to pick their partners. Crystal stood in the back of the anxious group of hopefuls. She knew she wasn’t going to get chosen, but that was alright. She would be here to support those who did. It would be a small way to start earning the team’s acceptance. She had continued to spend time with Grady over the last few days, though they had stopped most of their training and he didn’t bring up what she said in the engine control room. She had seen him spending more time with the other new members of the team which was good. He would choose one of them and his relationship with the rest of the team would be repaired.
“Alright everyone,” Lindow said as he filed into the team room with the core eight. The new members all fell into line. “It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Now remember if you aren’t chosen this time, keep working at it. The core eight can change their partners whenever they like. Let’s start with Beck.”
Beck walked up and down the line of new members, making sure to skip Crystal at the end of the line. Crystal wasn’t sure what point Beck was trying to prove. No one in the room really thought that Beck would choose her as a partner. It was too childish to even bother Crystal. After a few moments of exaggerated thinking Beck chose her partner.
“Grady you’re up,” Lindow said.
Everyone turned to him. Crystal caught his eye and nodded. She needed him to know that she had meant it when she told him not to choose her. Grady nodded slightly and turned away from her.
“There’s really only one person here who I want to go into battle with. Someone I know will always have my back, no matter what it costs them, and that person is Lieutenant Wolf.”
“What?” Lindow whipped around to look at Grady. “You can’t choose her.”
“Why not? Captain Reed put her on the team.”
“We all agreed,” Beck said not bothering to hide her anger. This is exactly what Crystal had been concerned about. Why hadn’t Grady listened to her?
“I didn’t agree to anything. I need a partner I can trust. One that can hold her own in battle. That’s why I chose Wolf. She’s crazy smart and easily the best fighter here. I’d be a fool not to want her as a partner.”
Slowly Crystal made her way over to Grady. “Are you sure about this?”
Grady draped his arm around her shoulder. “Yeah kid, I’m sure. I have a feeling we’re going to make one hell of a team. We’ll make them all regret underestimating you.”