Lilliana opened a line to the helm as she made her way through the shared living and recreational space on the top of the foretower into the mammoth cargo hold that made up the midsection of the ship.
“Fortunately, the array held out until we were nearly there,” Dick told her through the commlink in her dangly earrings. “I had already keyed up the deceleration protocols when the field began to collapse, or we’d all be dead now.”
“Good man,” Lilliana said. “I noticed we’re down to twenty-five percent of light speed?”
“I had a split second to decide whether to leave us coasting along at near-light speed or dump as much of our velocity as I could before the last vestige of power drained away,” Dick said. “I went with the latter, if only so we’d have more time to figure out how we’re going to stop when we get to Rylea.”
“You made the right decision,” Lilliana told him.
“Actually,” said Leo’s voice in her ear, “stopping when we get to Rylea will pretty much take care of itself. What I think we really need to worry about is stopping a little bit before that.”
“Leo, what are you doing up front?” Lilliana asked.
“Napping,” the catman replied.
“Well, get your tail back to the cargo hold,” she said, peering down over the railing at the shipping containers and crates which were stacked four stories high in some places. She couldn’t see a single crewman stirring anywhere in the semi-darkness. “I’m on the main catwalk and the place is a mess. One way or another, we’re making landfall in a few hours, which means the Rylean cargo needs to be ready to be offloaded, and the crew needs to be ready to offload it.”
“Mmm, the way it sounds to me, it’s not as though we’re going to be able to just dump the cargo and take off,” Leo said. “So what’s the rush? Let my guys enjoy some down time. Anyway, as tight as the hold’s packed right now, it’ll be easier to sort out the Rylean stuff from the rest of the junk when we can open the doors and pull stuff aside.”
“That wasn’t a suggestion, Leo, it was an order,” Lilliana said, irritated most of all because he was probably right.
“Aye, aye, boss lady,” Leo said, in a lazy sort of way.
“Shall I alert Rylea Port to our predicament?” Dick asked. “They could have a tow ship out here in seconds.”
“I’ll handle the contact, once we’re in a little bit closer to them,” Lilliana said. “They could be here in seconds, but so could anybody else.”
Once she’d passed through the blast-proofed, pressurized, triple-reinforced doors that were always stuck open at the rear end of the walkway, Lilliana made her way downstairs, past the machine shop and work space that was Regan’s domain, past the alchemist’s quarters—currently vacant and sealed—and into the engine room which occupied the rear half of the lower two levels of the aft tower.
The sight which greeted her was not a happy one.
When fuel bars “cooked”, they overheated and then essentially exploded… spattering molten lead/gold alloy all over the room. This had done superficial damage to the metal bulkheads and melted away portions of the metal grating which served as the floor, and no doubt wasn’t healthy for the pipes and tubes and fiber bundles which were tucked away beneath that grating. None of the room’s computer consoles had taken a direct hit, though some of the beige plastic casing which surrounded the touch screens had suffered damage.
The engine itself, a mad tinker’s nightmare of a furnace, was intact, though shiny rivulets of yellow-gray metal clung to it in places.
All in all, the loss of a few million credits worth of gold seemed to be the worst of it.
Galatea Adams and Regan Bard stood in the middle of the wreckage, bickering and gesticulating wildly at each other. Lilliana cleared her throat, and they both jumped.
“Lilliana,” Galatea said. “Let me begin first by saying…”
“…that it’s not your fault,” Lilliana said. “I got that. Begin instead by telling me what’s not your fault.”
“Yes, well, in order to put into effect your mad scheme, I was forced to disable the safety module,” Galatea said. “You might recall me saying something to the effect that it was in no way designed to be taken offline?”
“I recall something of that nature,” Lilliana said, with a forced patience.
“Quite. So, in order to effectively disable the module, I was forced to likewise disable several key components of the engine’s elaborate failsafe systems,” Galatea said. “Chief among them, the systems responsible for maintaining the engine’s integrity and efficiency at higher speeds.”
“Our engine’s supposed to be able to handle speeds of up to five Kaseys,” Lilliana said. “We were only going three.”
“But at any speed, there are tiny irregularities that need to be corrected, and a delicate balancing act among things like heat and pressure within the engine… the slightly variable rate of drain… the conversion matrix,” Galatea said. “Well, of course, I could explain this better, were I an alchemist… and I would just like to take this opportunity to point out once again how very foolish it is to be traveling aboard an alchemical vessel without a qualified alchemist.”
“Nobody’s forcing you to… you’re welcome to get off at Rylea,” Lilliana said.
“I bet she will at that,” Regan said, snickering. “Can ya think o’ anywhere we’ve stopped since she came onboard where she hasn’t gotten off?”
“The point is that as speed above light speed increases, those tiny stresses multiply and increase exponentially,” Galatea said.
“So… this could have been avoided if we would’ve maintained a lower speed,” Lilliana said.
“Yes,” Galatea said. “I should think fifteen hundred or two thousand times the speed of light would have been sufficient to escape the oncoming predator without overtaxing the array.”
“You might have said something about that before we cooked our fuel bars,” Lilliana said.
“Yes, well, I did try to warn you,” Galatea began, “but as I am largely unaccustomed to speaking with nineteen and a half centimeters of feline phallus dilating my throat…”
“Y’hear that? An’ she calls me a liar, like,” Regan said.
“…I found it rather difficult to communicate my concerns at the time,” Galatea concluded, as if she hadn’t heard the interruption.
“Yeah, well, ya can just be glad it weren’t me ya was blowin’,” Regan said. “I probably would’ve dislocated yer jaw entirely, if I didn’t blow out the back o’ yer skull completely when I came.”
“A feat that would be all the more impressive due to your total lack of a penis,” Galatea said.
“Oi, that’s not what yer ma said last night,” Regan said.
“I would be most surprised if it was,” Galatea said. “My mother is a high-born lady of class. I can’t imagine why she should chance to remark upon the imaginary genitalia of a delusional one-eyed barbarian.”
“Funnily enough, ‘the delusional one-eyed barbarian’ is exactly what I call it,” Regan said.
“Could we please have a little focus here?” Lilliana asked.
“Anyway,” Regan said, “don’t go actin’ all high an’ mighty with me, like. Yer not the only person o’ breedin’ on this boat. I am meself the son o’ a king.”
“Oh, you are not, you horrid little liar,” Galatea said.
“How d’ya know for certain?” Regan countered.
“Dear Lunatic,” Galatea said, speaking in an affected tone of recitation and flourishing her hand in the air before her as if writing. “In response to your latest inquiry, please see our response above, in particular as it regards your penis—comma—the complete and utter lack thereof. In closing, please take a bath, and then die. Yours most sincerely, Galatea Adams, lately of the Galactic Confederated Commonwealth. Postscript: Die, die, die, die, die. Post-Postscript: Die.”
“I’m beginnin’ to think ya don’t like me,” Regan said.
“Oh, now, that’s simply untrue,” Galatea said. “The part about you beginning to think, that is.”
“Children, please!” Lilliana snapped. “Galatea… we were cruising along for hours. I take full responsibility for shutting you up in the first place, but why didn’t you let Dick or somebody else know afterwards?”
“I was… er… occupied… until very shortly before the present crisis,” Galatea said. “I mean, Leo finished and Regan got bored a scant two hours after you ordered them to ravish me, just as it was starting to get good, so I went looking for other…”
“Ugh, Galatea!” Lilliana said, exasperated. “When you signed on, I told you that whatever you wanted to do in your own time was your own business, as long as you took care of your assigned duties first.”
“Well, I am, after all, only a child,” Galatea said. “I can hardly be blamed for losing my head in the heat of the moment!”
“Point o’ order?” Regan interjected. “Did ya actually lose it… or were ya givin’ it away?”
“Galatea… you’re a good eight years older than I am,” Lilliana said.
“Oi! See above, in regard to ‘an’ they call me a liar’,” Regan said. “See, The Slut, I can do that, too.”
“You’re a good five years older than I am,” Lilliana conceded. “Just because the GCC treats its citizens as children long past the point of physical and mental maturity doesn’t mean the rest of the galaxy is going to cut you any slack when you neglect your job to chase after… after…”
She trailed off, seeing a look bubbling up beneath the surface of Galatea’s normally resolutely superior face. It was a look that so out of place on the normally haughty and ostensibly prim woman that at first Lilliana was sure she must be mistaken and Galatea was simply suffering from an odd twitch or maybe an attack of gas.
But, no… in the face of Lilliana’s vocal disapproval, Galatea Adams… a mere child of thirty-two… lately of the Galactic Confederated Commonwealth… broke down and began to cry.« « 5: Wake Up Call 7: The Colour Out Of The Kitchen » »
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