Count Zero - Thanks, hope you catch up and let me know what you think!
Allowing the doors to slide shut behind her, Esala slammed a fist into the nearest bulkhead, cursing Lorns gi Badel and his damned machine.
, she thought. Two days of questioning, of keeping him off balance, without food and with minimal water, and she had nothing to show for it. The damnable drifter didn’t seem to know or care how Andrew, Dalilah and Danterian Ko had vanished off the ship, nor where they had gone. She couldn’t work out whether he really had no way of knowing, or whether he just thought that if he held out long enough he would slide right out of phase and out of their lives.
Not if I have anything to do with it.
During those two days, the Phoenix had been slowly falling apart. Without their herder to keep the bioficial intelligence focused, they had lost all ability to communicate with the central core and they were having trouble keeping the ship functioning. Esala knew that in a couple of days, the intelligence would begin to fail. And then Phoenix would die.
The sound of voices caught her attention. She looked up in time to see Kave and F’ryr walking down the corridor towards her, deep in conversation. She studied them as they walked towards her. Such a lesson in opposites. F’ryr: tall and thin, his dark hair hanging down like curtains on either side of his face, his ears ending in slim pulcan points. Kave: short and squat, powerful muscles rippling, his face and ridged forehead a patchwork of scars acquired in service to his captain, most added since they were exiled to this forsaken part of space. Despite all their differences, they were friends, no matter how much they argued.
They seemed to be in the middle of an argument now. As they drew nearer, she could hear their words clearly.
“… is just insane. If you’re wrong, you could finish what that drifter started.”
“We do not know for certain that Lorns gi Badel did anything,” F’ryr retorted. “The kaf that Danterian dropped seems much more likely to be responsible for the captain’s disappearance.”
“That doesn’t mean you will have any more luck using the damned thing than he did. You tell him, Tessi.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Tell him what.”
“F’ryr thinks he can get the slicer device working.”
“I may be able to, with the help of Ishulak, Bertuun and Parana,” he replied, naming the three Wise Men. “It should be simple mechanics to repair it, and I certainly understand the theory behind it. With our three navigators to help me make sense of the quantum resonance fields that the device uses to open a door, I believe I can take Phoenix through to the Crimson Queen’s dominion and recover the captain, Danterian and Dalilah.”
“Before the ship starts to fall apart around us?”
F’ryr hesitated. “I believe so.”
Esala closed her eyes, rubbing at her temples. “That’s a lot of ifs and maybes F’ryr. By all means, try your best. But I think breaking Lorns is still our best bet.”
“Come on,” she said, indicating that they should follow her. “I need some kaf. I’ll explain on the way.”
All three of them headed down the corridor towards the turbolift.
“He’s still holding out. I’ve tried everything, including more… physical means of questioning, but either he can’t help us or he is stronger than he looks. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t playing the time game.”
“Waiting until his own flux state throws him into another dimension?”
“Exactly. If we weren’t so pressed for time, I would take us back to Bastion Shadow and try to negotiate the use of their suppression equipment to make sure he is stuck here. But…” She shrugged. “I don’t think we can afford to do that.”
They reached the turbolift and the doors slid open. Esala went in first, waiting for F’ryr and Kave to join her before instructing it to take them to Deck 4 and the nearest junction to the messhall.
When they arrived, they found the place almost empty. A couple of Mecha-borg technicians and three of Kave’s security officers sat around the tables, talking in low voices. All of them looked up when the three officers walked in, and their conversation dropped off for a moment while Esala, Kave and F’ryr took their seats.
Moments later, Wicka Bay came barrelling out of the kitchen, a tray in one hand piled with three plates of some kind of steaming vegetables. Not that they would have been recognisable as such by the smell emanating from them. Esala felt her heart sink. When Wicka had offered to replace Danterian in the kitchens, she had looked on it as being one less thing to worry about. She realised now that in fact it might turn into an even bigger problem, if Wicka ended up poisoning the whole crew.
From the looks on the faces of the three security officers, they seemed to be thinking along the same lines. She could swear that one of them actually turned a shade of green when Wicka put down the plates.
“What will you have?” Wicka asked, coming over to them.
“Uhm, I don’t think I’m hungry,” Kave replied, eyeing the stains on Wicka’s hands.
“I believe I feel the same,” F’ryr added.
“We’ll take three coffees, please, Wicka.”
“Coming right up.”
Glaring at the two men, the mechaborg Bishop turned and headed back into the kitchen.
“If she’s in here, who’s in the engine room?” Kave asked.
“Wicka has it covered. She’s doing this in her free time, not when she should be working on the engines.”
“Mighty friendly of her.”
Esala nodded, watching Wicka moving through the kitchen with the same determination she showed when trying to beat one of their recalcitrant engines into shape. “She feels guilty.”
“Guilty? About what?”
“Now why should she… Oh.”
Esala turned her eyes on Kave. “Don’t get any ideas about saying anything to her, you got it?”
He held up his hands. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Esala smirked, turning back to watch Wicka. She really does care for him
, she thought. Who would have thought? Old Gerta’s boy and Wicka Bay.
“So, you were telling us about the drifter.”
“Yes. I don’t think he’s going to break. I’m not giving up, but the more time I spend with him, the more convinced I become that he actually has no idea what happened and why the captain, Pots and Dalilah vanished. And I think he’s too scared to try using the machine again.”
“Which leaves us with..?”
“With me trying to get something out of him while F’ryr concentrates on cracking the slicer.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.”
“Do you doubt my abilities?” F’ryr asked mildly.
“Only your sanity. Still, if anyone is going to get that thing figured out, it’ll be you.”
“I applaud your faith in my abilities.”
Wicka came bustling out of the kitchen, three cups and a pot of kaf balancing precariously on a tray. All three of them stopped talking as she set everything down and served them. Once she had finished and returned to the kitchen, Esala lifted the cup, cradling it in her palms.
“We need to hurry things along, though, F’ryr. We can’t afford to wait. I want you working on this as your priority, the three Wise Men too.”
Kave took a sip of the kaf, his face scrunching up as he smacked his lips. “And not just for Phoenix. If we don’t get that boy back soon, I’m not sure how long we can survive on Wicka’s cooking.”