Mass Wasting: Chapter Nine

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The reclaimer woke on his back to Sidra staring down at him. “Have a good nap?”

“The console!” The man’s metal gray eyes flashed as he attempted to unfurl himself from the bed, but Sidra put her hands on his shoulders.

“Relax, samurai. I took care of it.” He did as bade and the foggy anxiety went out of his face and was replaced with the characteristic expression of dour, pertinacious remoteness. But in this instance a tinge of relief and appreciation lightened the morose aspect. Sidra drew back and looked away, bashful. “I can thank you for saving me properly now.”

Rhiner sat and looked around. He was in the bedroom, on his mat. The hideous teddy bear had resumed its previous position. “All I did was pass out.”

“Nonsense. Your idea to use the autocus is the only reason we’re alive. I was so focused on getting to the hub, so scared, the thought didn’t occur to me.” The mechanic fussed with her finespun hands, as if attempting to untangle some invisible skein. “It really was very stupid of me.”

He dismissed her self-reproach with a curt exclamation. Then queried. “Did you drag me here yourself?”

She chuckled. “No. You’re far too heavy. I had the autocus carry you.” He threw his legs over the side of the matting, and rolled the stiffness out of his joints. His antimonial eyes met the stuffed animal and he glanced to its owner. “Why do you keep that creepy thing?”

“Its adorable,” she replied, feigning deep offense.

“Macabre is the word I’d use.”

“Ha! Well I never.”

“How’d you come by it?”

Her normally bouyant voice tinged with solemnity. “It was a gift. From my sister.”

“You should see if you can nudge her tastes.”

“I might, if I could.”

“What do you mean?”

“She died, several years ago. Other than memories, that miniature is all I have left of her.” Rhiner was on the cusp of responding when the woman cleared her throat and changed the subject. “It was sabotage. I checked the console after I woke up. There were two hidden programs running from the capsule, one to maximize ring acceleration, one to maximize the thrusters. It seems that the ring program was meant to deploy first, but due to a prompt error, it ran second.”

“That’s cunning. Use the ring to stop us getting to the thrusters.”

“If the program had operated as intended, it’d be over.”

Rhiner stood up. “This clears a good deal. First, we know we’re dealing with at least two people, one at or near Castramare, and one embedded on the Arkhos.” Rhiner strode toward crew commons, Sidra close behind. “Second, the agent on the Arkhos is proficient with ship computers, but not a specialist. Is callous, hasty and an employee of Kryos Industries.”

“The first two are plain, but how did you get to our bird being an employee?”

“Because our bird, as you so colorfully put it, our kestrel, let’s say, had intimate access to the hangar and detailed knowledge of our ship’s departure. I’ll wager there were few aboard who knew of our mission. Is that not so?”

“Vancing would know who did.”

“Then we’ll ask him. And see if we can put a beak to our bird. So much for points one and two.”

Upon entering crew commons, Rhiner darted to the static console on the central table and spoke with enthusiasm as he typed a missive for Vancing. “Now, onto our third illumination, its probable there’s only one agent of this subversive fraternity aboard the Arkhos, one is all that’s required and greater numbers mean greater chance of discovery. The opposite rings true of Castramare, I suspect our foes there number no less than two. One in the base. One hidden near it, with means of transit to orbit.”

“I think you’ve sketched it right. What puzzles me is how this person could have gotten to the ship, rigged it, and slipped, without being detected.” She sat, brought knees to chest and frowned. “I hope it isn’t anyone I know.”

Rhiner grit his teeth and smote the tabletop prompting Sidra to wince. “Of course. That bastard.”


“Not what. Who. Taureg.”

“That oaf who attacked you in the caravansary?”

“Yes. What a dullard I am. Why didn’t I think of it before? He’s always detested me. Can’t stand I make out better than him without a crew. Saw his chance to get rid of unwated competition, and took it.”

“Does he have the technical knowledge to pull something like this off? This system isn’t anything like those in the scuppers you reclaimers flit about in. No offense.”

“None taken. Its true I don’t have the knowledge to do it. I don’t know if he could. But even if he couldn’t, he has a systems engineer named Fitzroy, who might.” The reclaimer removed a can of the salted caramel coffee and poured it to a cup as he spoke, and returned to composing his missive for Vancing.

“Hold on. You’re not thinking about what I said.” He stopped typing. “When would they have been able to do it? All our ships are in a different hangar than the one we let to the public. You were only allowed in because the boss lent you the Raumhake, anyone unapproved, even reclaimers, trying to get into our private shipyard would be barred. Its constantly occupied and remotely monitored, all cargo is checked, coming and going. There’s no way they could have snuck in. Certainly, they couldn’t have bribed their way through. All Taureg’s men couldn’t muster the price of one module of the Arkhos.”

“Fine points.” He rubbed his face. The exhaustion wrought by the emulation trials and capsule fiasco lay as a leaden cloak about his body. He let fall a supplement cube to his drink and watched it soak in dark liquid, going very still. A surge of intensity overtook his blanched, brooding features. He spoke with considerable emotion. “We have put a wrong foot on the right track.”

She scrunched her face in an attempt to catch his meaning. He plucked the cube from the drink and turned it in his fingers as her eyes drifted to it, then dropped it back into the murky fluid. “We are right that our kestrel was among us. We were wrong in supposing this person got into our ship. For we know-”

“He’s a programmer,” she finished excitedly, her eyes to the coffee soused block, realizing the implications of his demonstration. “So why not reprogram something to effect the changes to our system, something that would be expected on the voyage?”

“Something no one would think to check.”

Slowly, and with some apprehension, the pair turned to the autocus at its duty in the corner.

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