The Rival Bay trundled through space, arcing its way back to Qualvana.
In the rotating cylinder of the Green House Tager sat on a bench. He craned his head upwards to look out the sky pane directly overhead at the distant stars sliding by the massive shield. It was warm in the Green House, and the living plants made the air heavy with their pollen and oxygen. The irrigation pond, with filters and small fish, trickled at his feet. Tager flopped out of his leather coat and dropped it on the bench beside him. Keffler said they shouldn’t leave themselves exposed the ultra-violet radiation of the stars for long, but after four days in a container pod and nearly being sliced open on a grungy operating table covered in mining soot… Tager needed a little UV bath.
He shook his head and dropped forward, elbows over his knees. He squeezed his eyes and let the star sparkles subside in purple points. They’d gotten their credentials back. They caught their mark. They’d rescued the other slaves.
He heard someone coming behind him and opened his eyes, squinting in the light. He cranked his head around to look.
It was Olper. The desert nomad had once again wrapped himself in a turban. His face was revealed and his jewelry glistened in the lights. They didn’t speak for a moment.
Olper began. His Southern Sands accent was heavy. “The Doctor says Jumondo will regain full use of his arm. The tendons and ligaments were intact.”
Tager nodded with relief. “Doc’s good.”
Fish snapped at an imagined fly on the water. There weren’t any. Pollenating was a tricky business in an artificial environment, and Crimson didn’t allow any bugs. It was instinct that told the space fish to snap at things on the surface. They’d probably never even seen a fly.
“We say,” Olper began, unsolicited, “’Don’t carry sand on your shoulders, only in your shoes.’”
Tager snorted, “What does that mean?”
“There is no need for the burden you carry.”
Tager nodded. Then he said, “We were in a bad place. I put all our butts on the line. Jumondo nearly lost an arm. Maybe more. We all nearly died if those gun ports had opened.”
“But we did not.” Olper didn’t tend to use contractions. Something about the simpler honor-code of his tribal heritage: every word was significant; nothing was cheapened. Shaak-Rom was like that too. Not a city brat like Tager. The tribesman continued. “We knew the danger. But we followed your plan.”
Tager nodded again, looking across the pond, terraced gardens, and a line of fruit trees. He inhaled deeply, and slowly released the fragrant air, letting the danger of their mission begin to escape through his exhalation.
He turned to Olper, “You were a Terrerrod, weren’t you? I saw you throw that pole and hit Lomblurrg.” The Terrerrod’s were an independent faction group on Visos. Traditional forcefield poles made up the highest tech they carried in an otherwise austere desert existence, prizing freedom and seclusion. They grew violent before the end. Most were killed.
It was Olper’s turn to gaze across the lush, three-garden/three-sky panes of their rotating space-valley. At last he lifted his chin. He tapped his heavy, ribbed nose ring with an index finger, “How else do you think I got this?”
Tager would have paid a lot of money himself to be on a Thlycan hunting party, let alone to bring one down.
Olper shook his head. “It was not for any tourist.”
Tager tried to envision what the desert nomand’s youth had been like in the wilds of the South Sands. He pointed at his comrade. “You have to teach me how to throw a spear.”
Olper’s white teeth flashed between his blue lips.
“Crims? What’s going on?” Gator crouched outside the Archive behind the Rival’s bridge. The alcove had been his bane when they were outfitting the ship for takeoff. In the end Crimson had installed most of the communication arrays, and Linkburst modules. CPU’s and data storage tanks also had to be shoved further back than he could get, even when he’d been an immature Megladyte. These days, mature and maybe a few kilos heavier than necessary, he didn’t go into the Archive unless he really couldn’t avoid it. And was in no hurry to get out.
Crimson sat at a console deeper in the alcove than usual. Darkness covered her like a poncho, and only the blue light of her display illumined her torso, face, and exposed robotic arm. Gator grimaced and hunkered down, shoving his long head through the entrance, his red Mohawk brushing the doorframe.
“Lomblurrg told me something,” she growled, not looking up from her search.
“You talked to that nut?!?” Gator couldn’t shake his head, and his hands were bracing his weight against his knees.
“He called me a Daughter of the Archive.”
Gator snorted. “Yeah! Well, if he means you occasionally do case-work, then yeah!”
She turned to level her dark eyes against him. “He didn’t mean this Archive.”
Gator took the warning and dropped it. “What do you think it means.”
In response Crimson rotated her display. Gator groaned and dropped to all fours, “…Can’t you…!” He gave up and crawled forward enough to make out some of the headlines, and read one aloud. “’Border Systems Fear Archive Threat.’” He looked at Crimson. “They don’t like librarians?”
She cast him another dark look, which was as close as she usually got to laughing at his jokes. She announced, “There isn’t much. Hearsay. Alien threats to the border systems… Objects spotted in deep space… abductions from settlements and telescope satellites in border systems…” She paused. “The people who made me.”
Gator did his best to recoil in the tight space. “He thinks you’re from the Archive?”
“Heard of it?”
Gator fidgeted, “Yeah, well, I heard of it! Snatches. Rumors and stuff.”
“And you never told me?” She demanded, her voice cold.
“Aww,” Gator blew a farty noise between his teeth, “Com’on, Crims! Nobody knows anything. They say they come and turn everything into robots! They think they might come from the NGC 1300 Galaxy, but nobody knows ‘cuz it’s too far away!”
Crimson’s glare didn’t change. “You never told me.”
Gator hung his head in surrender, “How was I supposed to know they were related to you?” Then he met her eyes. “You don’t even know if they’re related to you! Just because some madman says you are…! Besides, what would you do even if they were? It takes ten years, or something, to reach NGC 1300, and that’s if you Jump from Light Point!”
“I would figure something out!” Crimson snapped. “It’s my life, and my right to know!”
Gator blew a heavy breath. “All right. We’ll have a poke around.”
Crimson was already summoning a breath to argue further, but it caught in her throat. She sputtered. “… All right.”
Gator started crawling backwards. Then he stopped. “But Crims… promise me you won’t jump off the deep end of the space.”
Crimson looked back to her cybernetic hand and rotated the primitive wrist joint. “I guess it depends what we find there.”