Todd replaced a chip in the janbot and ran the diagnostics again. The panel indicators started blinking, then glowing green and blue. He sighed with relief for the janbot and annoyance for himself. Why couldn’t his own life’s diagnostics be so easy?

“‘Know your mind,’” he grumbled. “‘Find your steel.’ What does that even mean?”

A voice behind him said, “I think the ruder and more gender-specific human idiom is ‘grow a pair.’”

Todd spun to snap at the speaker. Gel leaned back, which meant the gelatinous being flared into a funny, wave-like curl. Somehow, the gelatinous lifeform managed to convey both amusement and chagrin in his posture. It amazed Todd that he could do that—and that Todd understood.

“Been talking to the LT?” Gel asked.

Todd frowned. “He send you?”

“Yes and no. Ellie’s awake. I’m to escort you to Sickbay.”

Todd heart leaped. She’s okay! “Let’s go!”

But the Globbal extended a pseudopod to stop him. “Secure your station first. You can’t leave stuff lying loose on a starship. Besides, her mom’s there, and since none of us have been called in to intervene, I’d guess they’re having a nice conversation.”

The last indicator on the janbot was glowing blue, which meant it was ready to resume duties. Thanking the Lord for good timing, Todd disconnected it and sent it on its way. Gel helped him get the tools and equipment stowed. Meanwhile, the announcement came over the intercom about Ellie. A cheer went up in Engineering. Todd smiled, but it was strained. Ellie belonged here, but what did that mean for their future?

In the hallway, Gel resumed their conversation. “It depends on context, though,” Gel said more seriously. “Usually around here, it means glooop-pippip-glu-bup, which directly translates as ‘fortify your membrane.’”

Todd thought for a moment. “Thicken my skin?”

“You can’t put a direct human spin on it,” Gel said as they entered the lazivator. “It’s more about strength and adaptability. Glooop-pippip-glu-bup means I’ve prepared myself to face the dangers—or just changes—in my environment. I’m ready to rise to the challenge.”

“What if I’m not?”

Gel called for the lazivator to stop. For a wild moment, Todd thought he was going to make good on Enigo’s threat to “break his face,” but the Globbal simply asked, “What’s going on?”

Todd crossed his arms and stared at the floor, the emotions warring within him making it hard to respond. The woman he loved was out of surgery and awake at last. He should be running to her bedside, rejoicing and eager to see her, but instead, he had a huge knot in his stomach and his mind raced with doubts. Right now, Ellie needed a loving and attentive fiancé, not a guy tangled up in his own fears and second thoughts. I’m such a jerk.

“Todd?” Gel coaxed. “Look at me…”

A laugh escaped Todd’s mouth. “But, see? That’s part of it.  You know how many non-humans I’ve met in my lifetime? Before the party, I mean? Four, including you. Until the week I met Ellie, I’d never been out of the Sol system. The biggest threat in my life was the ventilation system going out. But you guys… I mean, look at this mission. I talked to a guy with three faces, and another who smelled like cheese when he was happy. We’re heading to some planet—is it a planet?—that I didn’t even know existed much less could find on a map, and we got attacked on the way. There was a murder, and Ellie was almost killed… And to all of you, this is just a Tuesday.”

“What’s a Tuesday?”

“A Sol idiom. The point is, This is Ellie’s world, and she wants me in it, and… I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if my membrane can get that thick. I don’t know if I have that steel.”

Silence stretched, and Todd wondered if someone was waiting for the lift and if so, how long they’d wait before calling Engineering to find the problem. Then he remembered how he and Ellie would halt the lift to share a kiss, and he felt even worse.

“Do you love her?” Gel asked.

“More than anything.”

Gel shifted in a way that Todd had learned meant a nod. “There’s another saying we have on this ship: Feel my steel. It means take from my strength. It means you are not alone.”

“The ship is family,” Todd murmured.

“I think you have more steel than you know, or the L.T. wouldn’t have chosen you to father her progeny.” He paused as Todd let out a surprised snicker, then continued. “Until then, feel my steel. And hers. And a lot of us on this ship. We’ll help you find your own—for Ellie, and because we like you, too.”

“Thanks, Gel.” Todd sighed, releasing the tension that had been building inside him. He already felt stronger; at least, strong enough to put his doubts aside until Ellie was better and they could have a serious talk about their future.

As the lazivator resumed, Gel added, “Just… maybe not Lieutenant LaFuentes. I think you’re on his shit list right now.”

“Got it.”

“On the bright side, you’ve just made a bunch of us in Security a lot happier. We thought he was mad at us.”