He put Rita against the wall and moved a big storage bin close, so that she couldn’t roll around if there were any shakes as there had been in the little boat. He checked the air again and then went outside.
It’s the forth doorway from the intersection. His memory was excellent, but he worried that somehow he would forget where he’d left her.
Perhaps it would be safest if he just stayed out of sight, but no, then they would come looking for him.
He followed the growls and snarls. James walked slowly, checking other doors. This was a huge craft, compared to the boat. Dozens of people, maybe hundreds, could ride inside.
Right before the intersection, he stopped in his tracks. There was a window to the outside. He hurried up close.
The sight of the red-brown planet below was majestic enough. There was a large continent, with a long island following the coastline. The land moved below.
No, we’re moving, flying at great speed. The daylight faded as they moved into night. He looked for the stars, but the glare from the sun and the still-lit parts of the planet made them hard to see.
Down the corridor he heard, “<Where is that U’tanse cub? If he dies on me, I’ll never hear the end of it.>”
James tore himself away from the window and ran down the corridor.
For all the volume of his snarls, the ship pilot was smaller than the boat pilot who had brought him up here. He was still large enough to tear any U’tanse to pieces.
James took a deep breath and yelled, “<For the Name. The female has been secured in an isolated chamber.>”
The Cerik turned and laughed at each other, probably at his accent. James was just glad they weren’t angry.
The ship pilot pointed to the control panel, “<Builder, fix the air so it doesn’t stink so bad!>”
James moved. The Delense controls were standard, but he had no idea what kind of a stink they were talking about, since the air always stank to a U’tanse.
He had been coached on what it took to keep the Cerik happy and healthy long before this mission came up. It was part of U’tanse standard education. He checked the gasses, but they were in the proper ratios already.
Human fingers, and the Delense fingers before them, could work buttons that Cerik claws couldn’t. He went into the menus.
At first, it seemed that everything was okay. Gas ratios and temperature were set at standard. Then he dug into the current status reports. Like everything Delense, there were graphic charts rather than numbers, but it was designed to be easy to read. The gasses were correct, but there was a tiny fraction, blinking to show it existed, of other things. And it was increasing.
Is something leaking? Did a pipe break?
He needed to identify the problem quickly. If there was a frozen pipe, then it might rupture now that things were warming up.
The Delense menu system was very deep. He started digging.
“<What’s taking so long! It’s getting worse!>”
James pulled up a chart of the ship, and overlaid the trace gasses as a color.
The concentration was strongest in one area. He traced the corridors with his finger. There was where the the boats were docked. There was where they entered. Here is where Rita is. There is...
He yelled at the pilots, “<There are old rotted things in storage. I’ll need to seal them.>”
He raced down the corridor, pausing just an instant to check on Rita. She was still breathing gently.
Starting with the dried vegetation he’d found, he turned off air circulation in that room and sealed its door. He then worked down the corridor. Three others had old vegetation. Two had piles of rotting animals. They weren’t too visibly decayed, probably because they were still frozen, but they would get much worse. For now, he sealed off the rooms.
“<There were rotting animals in the hold. I have sealed them off.>”
The pilots snarled. The boat pilot said, “<They didn’t empty their prey last time. That’s your problem, not mine. I’m going.>”
“<Fine, you’re useless anyhow. Better a U’tanse cub.>”
They roared at each other with some final insults and the boat pilot stalked off. James stepped to the side to be well clear of him as he left.
The ship’s pilot stared at James, swishing his claws through the air. Off in the distance, there was the metallic clang of a massive door shutting. The boat was gone.
“<I’d take your eyes if the Name wouldn’t take mine when I return.>”
James had been taught to keep his eyes down on the deck. If he had claws, he should have been tapping them on the floor. Be submissive.
“<A trip to the Ferreer planet is death. I know why I was chosen. Why were you?>”
James cleared his throat. All the running had already given him a little hoarseness. Yelling only made it worse. “<I am the weakest of the U’tanse.>”
The pilot turned his back. “<Of course you are. Go check the power of the engines, but don’t turn them on.>”
James backed out of the control room.
I wasn’t told I’d have to help with the ship engines! What do I do now?
There was, of course, a Delense map of the ship and a little searching of the menus showed him where the main engine controls were.
Not good. He looked at the chart of the engine power. There was certainly enough to heat the ship and circulate the air, but if he understood the balloons that compared energy supply and engine demand, there wasn’t enough.
He walked back to the main control room, carrying a multi-wrench in his hand. Has the Name sabotaged the mission from the beginning, or is he just ignorant of the ship?
At the entrance, he raised the wrench, and rattled the tool against the wall. Cerik underlings rattled their claws to request entrance. Best if he tried to follow the protocols.
“<You have news?>”
James stepped into view. “<Energy is very low. There is enough to push, but not to leap.>”
“<It is as I expected. Go activate the pushing engines.>”
He backed out.
I can’t run back and forth like this. I don’t have the energy, and I don’t dare exhaust the chemicals in my gas mask. He toyed with the thought of exchanging Rita’s gas mask for his. Maybe later, if I have to. She won’t be roaming the ship.
James was making the trek back to the control room when his right eyelid flickered on its own.
He paused and waited. Was that Mother, signaling him that the pilot was not telepathic, as she promised, or was he just getting tired? After a few seconds, with nothing else happening, he resumed his pace.
I can’t drop my ineda. Not yet. If Mother can reach me from the planet below, the Cerik telepaths can too.
With the pushing engines activated, the pilot snarled at him. “<It will be a day until we reach the charging point. I will be in dan. If you wake me, I will get hungry and there were no other prey loaded for me.>”
The threat was plain enough. The Cerik often fasted in a dan, sleeping, until the next hunt. If no food was provided for the pilot, then the mission had to be completed before hunger made him forget that the U’tanse were poisonous.
James backed out and headed back towards where he’d stashed Rita. He paused at the window.
Things had changed. The planet with its thin brown halo of atmosphere was noticeably smaller. The ship had shifted its angle. There were stars. He watched for several minutes, trying to fit the dots to the map that Father had drawn. There was some overlap, but even with the glare of the planet, there were many more stars in sight that had been on the map.