Dan was serving one of the mecha-borg engineers reheated nutrient paste when the drifter walked in.
After the captain had returned to the ship, the rumours had run fast. By the time the ship departed Bastion Shadow, he had already learned that Captain Lee had freed a temporal drifter who had been imprisoned onboard the station. Theories as to why the Phoenix suddenly needed a drifter were running rampant, but they all circulated around the same basic idea – the captain had found a way home.
Dan had never seen a drifter before, though he had heard a lot about them. Cast adrift from the normal space-time continuum by some past disaster, temporal drifters winked in and out of phase, jumping between the past, the present and the future at the whim of some unknown agency. Though few of them were able to control their movements, they generally managed to harness their abilities enough to gain a certain gift when it came to manipulating dimensional physics. Most hired themselves out as quantum mercenaries.
His clothes were a disparate collection from every period of time, and included a sleek high topped hat, a bright yellow three buttoned shirt, red soft shoes and a long flowing white skirt. All of it covered by a coating of dust. His hair was long, tumbling down over his shoulders, thick with grease and grime. He moved with quick, jerky movements, and his eyes darted from one side of the room to the other.
Kave held one of his arms while F’ryr, the ship’s science and intelligence officer with straight long black hair and pointed ears, held the other. Both of them appeared to be taking their jobs as the drifter’s guards seriously, although how they hoped to stop him if he began to slide out of their space-time continuum was beyond Dan.
Kave caught Dan’s eye and nodded to a table in the corner. Feeling a surge of hope, Dan nodded back. He had been trying to get Kave to accept him as a supplementary security officer for three years now, but the hulking warrior had always turned him down. Maybe, if he did a good job here, he might be able to convince him.
Dan piled three plates of piping hot jambalaya, a jug of replicated sythehol with three glasses, and a couple of loaves of fresh bread onto a tray. Balancing it carefully – it couldn’t hurt his chances to show Kave that he had a good sense of equilibrium – he carried it over to the table where Kave, F’ryr and the drifter had taken seats.
“Good evening Danterian Ko,” F’ryr said genialy as Dan began to set down the plates.
“Good evening, sir. Here you go,” he said to the drifter, putting a plate down in front of him. “It’s jambalaya,” he explained as the drifter stared at the steaming plate as if it were a pile of snakes.
“Thank you,” the drifter replied. Dan noticed that Kave’s left hand had never left the drifter’s arm – that would explain why he was so tense.
“Danterian, this is Lorns Gi Badel.” F’ryr introduced the two men. “He is the drifter we hired in Bastion Shadow. Lorns, this is Danterian Ko, our ship’s cook.”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” Dan said, nodding to the drifter and assaying a smile. “I hope you like it here.”
“Lorns won’t be staying,” Kave growled, his first addition to the conversation. His eyes had never left the drifter. “He’s just here to do a job.”
“Well,” Dan said into the awkward silence, “I hope the rooms you’ve been given are—“
“Fucking stars and stripes,” the drifter barked, jerking away from the table suddenly and sending one
of the plates of stew crashing to the floor. Kave was out of his chair almost as quickly, his hand already pulling his stazer pistol from its holster. Dan looked around wildly, trying to work out what had startled the man. When he saw the three men stood in the doorway, he understood.
“It’s alright,” he said, waving a calming hand in Kave’s direction. “He was just surprised by the Wise Men.”
Kave followed Dan’s other hand to the doorway. When he saw the Wise Men, he growled and rolled his eyes. Putting one hand on the drifter’s shoulder, he pushed him back down in his chair.
“Do that again and I’ll blow your chronologically impaired little brains out, you hear me?”
Lorns only had eyes for the Wise Men, though. As everyone else went back to their meals, the buzz of conversation slowly filling the room again, Lorns followed them with his eyes, watching carefully as they walked over to the hole in the wall where one of Dan’s assistants had taken his place at the pot. Dan looked them over as well.
He could well understand why the drifter had had such a reaction. The three Wise Men – no one knew their real names – were as strange a sight as any Dan had ever seen. All three of them were totally hairless, their bald skulls glistening in the artificial light. Stranger still, neither of them had any eyes. Instead, a black strip of charred flesh covered the top of their faces.
From what his mother had said, the three of them shared a mechanical eye, a quantum device that allowed them to see beyond the usual vista of human perception. It was what made them such prized members of the Phoenix crew, as their navigators. Not even the ship’s bioficial intelligence could chart a more precise course through slipstream space.
Dan turned to Lorns, who was still shaking slightly. “I wouldn’t worry,” he offered. “They’re totally harmless. Would you like me to ask them to come over?”
“No!” Both Lorns and Kave almost shouted the word, though Lorns sounded more terrified than angry. Kave glared at Dan.
“This is not a social call, boy. This drifter is not our guest. He’s working for us, and that’s it. He’s not to be trusted.”
He turned his glare on Lorns, but the drifter was staring at the three Wise Men with barely restrained terror. Dan had never seen anyone have such a reaction to the three old men. He glanced over at them to see that they had taken a table, apparently impervious to the ruckus they had caused.
Turning back to the table, he saw Kave roll his eyes and turn to F’ryr. “I think this was a mistake. We shouldn’t have brought him here.”
“And what would you suggest? Locking him in the brig?”
Although he knew that Vulcan’s did not express emotion, Dan could not help but detect a hint of sarcasm in the older man’s voice.
“That’s exactly what I would suggest. Did suggest. But Commander
Grey doesn’t like the idea. Still, having him in such close proximity to them,” he nodded to the Wise Men, “is obviously not a good idea. We should get him out of here.”
F’ryr studied the poor drifter’s trembling hands dispassionately. He nodded. “I believe you are right.” Easing himself to his feet, he nodded to Dan. “Thank you for what I’m sure would have been a wonderful meal, Danterian.”
“You’re welcome,” Dan said dumbly as the three men stood. With Kave and F’ryr on either side of the drifter, they almost looked like a strange version of the Wise Men. “Come back any time.”
Kave snorted, F’ryr nodded and the drifter continued to shake. “Come on then,” Kave growled, grabbing one of Lorns’ arms and guiding him towards the door. They had almost reached the corridor when Dan remembered what he had wanted to ask the master-at-arms.
“Commander Kave, wait,” he called out before he could stop himself.
Kave paused in the doorway, looking back at Dan. “What is it, boy?”
“I…” Suddenly, Dan realised that this was a horrendously bad idea. Still, as his mother had always said, in for a mile, in for a lightyear. “I wanted to ask you something.”
Kave heaved a sigh, rolling his eyes. He let Lorns go and nodded to F’ryr. “Get him out of here. I’ll catch up.”
Once they were gone, Kave walked over to Dan. Or rather stalked over. This is such a bad idea
, Dan thought. Too late now.
“What do you want, boy?”
“I… Well, the thing is that… You may remember how… The fact of the matter is… Umm…”
“Oh by Kahless’ balls, boy, spit it out!”
Dan jumped slightly. “Of course. You’re right. What I wanted to ask you is, well, whetheryouhadgivenanythoughttowhatiaskedyoulasttim e,” he splurted it out all in one breath, his voice trailing off at the end. Kave frowned and edged his head forward slightly.
Dan closed his eyes and took a breath. “I wanted to know whether you had given any more thought to what I asked you a few days ago. About training me as a security officer.”
Kave ran his eyes up and down Dan’s body, as if weighing him up against some invisible balance. When Dan saw the smile crease the security chief’s face, he felt this heart sink.
“Maybe next time, Pots.”
Without another word, he turned and stalked out, leaving Dan in the messhall, his dreams collapsing around him