Rodney was painting his fingernails. There were several things wrong with that picture, some of which leapt to mind like gazelles, others of which crept through the tall grass like quiet lions. Oddly the first leaping wrongness was who in the hell used their property allowance to bring nail polish to another galaxy? And then his mind began flipping irrelevantly through a mental Rolodex of possibilities, which had to be pared down against a list of who the hell Rodney would accept nail polish from. Elizabeth, strike. Cadman, strike. Heightmeyer...okay, short list.
None of this distracted him as it should have from the actuality of Rodney painting his nails. In the mess hall. He--god, was this the defining moment when John should start using feminine pronouns? screw that--he, Rodney, was reading some symbol-laden document on his laptop with an unwavering gaze, yet seemed to be managing to paint with perfect accuracy. The average observer might be led to speculate about genetics, gender, and fine motor control, but John had more than once seen Rodney dismantle and reassemble complex multilayered sandwiches while staring zombielike at his screen, so that wasn't really the issue.
Rodney was painting his nails. Pink, John noticed. Or maybe some more specific color like "Coral Reef." He tried to imagine Rodney's tendency to expound at length on miniscule nuances in quantum field theory translating into the incomprehensible passion that some of John's old girlfriends had held for such things, but he sprained himself with the contortion that thought required.
He went over with his tray and sat down. He sometimes dreamed of coming up to Rodney in the mess hall and sitting down, usually to have long conversations about missions and the Cartoon Network. Apparently this scene was symbolic of something in his life, encrypted in mundane details. Then again, possibly just a regurgitation of junk from any given day. He also dreamed about ducks a lot.
"How's it hanging?" he heard himself say, before his face froze in discomfort.
"Yes, fine, make jokes about my neutered state," Rodney replied, snappish and tight-mouthed, and yet--on a squint of inspection--more unfazed than John would have expected. He looked only about thirty percent diverted from what he was reading, the rest of him solidly lost in abstraction. John often imagined the inside of Rodney's head as an Escher maze with a dozen conflicting sets of blueprints.
"Sorry. That just slipped out." John began eating his macaroni in what he hoped was an apologetic manner.
"Well, I'm sure Herr Freud would have something to say about that. Fortunately for you, I think Freud is one of the most pernicious charlatans of our age, a quack whose sloppy reasoning has led countless disciples into fallacy, and who is at root responsible for incalculable damage to young and tender minds--and to their parents. I mean, as they say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, just like sometimes a fear of horses is nothing but a fear of horses. An entirely rational fear, by the way. Why does it have to mean anything else? And don't get me started on the anal-retentive theory of character."
"I won't," John said earnestly, as Rodney paused to catch a breath.