THE KESTREL FLIES
“You’re right. It has been tampered with,” Sidra declared as she unfurled herself from inspection of the autocus. The man-sized machine was low to the ground, with its long dexterious branches bent underneath its soft, pliable bulk, its lobsteresque feelers wriggling to and fro before its masters, awaiting instruction. “Poor fella, will take a while for it to heal,” she cooed, petting the contraption’s head.
She turned to the man, crowned by the decrepit halo of the moon, visible through the wide crew commons window.
“Kryos’ drones aren’t fabricated, they’re grown.”
“Sorry, samurai, that’s confidential.”
He nodded with mild disapointment.
“Anyways, whoever messed with it added a hidden directive. Hence our recent troubles.”
“Can you determine the identity of the saboteur from the inputs?”
“No. But at least now we can have some peace of mind that nothing else will go haywire on us before we reach Castramare.”
Rhiner immediately incorporated the information into his report and sent it to Vancing. They buried themselves in their work but with every hour’s expiration, their anticipation and fatigue grew until they gave in to repose, but so charged were their minds that sleep eluded them.
Rhiner sat the lefthand commons couch near the window and watched remnants of dead stars ornament the ephemeral field of ruin. So much motion, and so little purpose. Kryos’ words echoed from the watery cavern of his memory. He sunk to a black reverie that did not pass beyond his partner’s notice.
“I was just thinking how absurd it is.”
“To sabotage an offworld facility. Nearly all of existence is hostile to our own. An illimitable field of contestation. Yet,” He touched the fading wound at his brow. “Someone always wants your blood.”
She took a seat beside him on the couch, staring inquisitively at his face. “You sound like Kryos.”
“He said something similar when we met.”
She obtained a earnest expression, opened her mouth to reply, but decided against it. Both fell silent and watched the rubble of old satellites and upper-stages tumble beyond the viewport. Sleep overtook them and, shoulder to shoulder, they slumbered.
Rhiner woke to a muted beeping and found Sidra curled against him like a cat. He recoiled in disgust and slipped a pillow between her head and his thigh and shifted away, then bent to his affin module and checked the caller identification. It was Vancing.
“Y’ello?” He answered quietly and hastened to throw in a “Sir.”
“Other than Kaneko, nineteen members of our staff were responsible for the certification of your autocus. I’ve kept this from everyone but Kryos and my investigators. We’re hopeful the culprit will be in our hands soon.”
“That’s good to hear. Have you analyzed the prompts from the repository?”
Vancing’s affable tone assumed a hard edge. “No. They weren’t in the report. That’s mainly why I called. Obviously, we need them for the investigation. Put Kaneko on. I want to speak to her about this.”
Rhiner looked to the woman’s placid, dreaming face and frowned. “Sir, I hope you don’t think its out of line for me to say-”
“That’s two sirs in a row. Are you drunk, Rhiner?”
“No, its just that she’s resting now, and, she’s had an awful shock. I’m not too proud to say I’m a little shaken myself. It must have slipped her mind. It slipped mine to ask. I’ll go over the files and-”
“I understand. But its her duty. See that she compiles them for me.”
The transmission died and Rhiner returned his attention to the sleeping woman.
She was smiling.
“Must be a good dream.”