He ran up to the control room, and barely started to pull out his noise-making wrench when the pilot yelled, “<Get in here. You’re not a Cerik.>”
James stood in the doorway. “<I am here.>”
“<Get to the engines. Use the shouter and tell me the energy levels.>”
He ran. Back in the caverns of Home, his job fixing Delense machines had put him on the track to work with the most powerful and incomprehensible of technologies. He remembered something Bonnie had said.
“All machines have to have a source of power to run them. Many of the devices we repair have simply run out of the power stored in them. Often we can ‘repair’ something by connecting it to the charger and moving power from one device to another.”
“What happens when we run out of powered devices?”
“I tell Father and he arranges to get something brought in that contains power. And before you ask, yes, there’s a limit to how many devices there are. Father is still working on the puzzle of where the power comes from in the first place. The Cerik say it comes from the stars, but they won’t, or can’t tell him how.”
James had wondered what the pilot meant when he’d said that they were moving to the ‘charging point’, but he’d been too distracted to think much about it then.
A whine was coming from the engine room. The power chart was blinking on the display. Where did all this power come from?
He’d imagined there might be some factory in space that made the power, but he could see nothing nearby. The pusher engines were running hot. One was aimed at the Cerik home-world large moon. Another was aimed out into the stars.
Not a star. Something big and massive out there. Another planet?
He watched the power grow for a few seconds. What happens when the energy storage gets full?
He tapped on the menu system, discovering the shouter. “<The power is coming fast. It will be full in minutes.>” The whining noise had gotten louder.
He remembered disconnecting a power connection the second day he’d been working to repair devices at Home. There had been a flash of light, and there had been black deposits all over the connector. Bonnie had rushed over at the noise and scolded him for severing a connection when power was flowing.
What kind of flash would be created with this much power?
The pilot shouted, “<Is there enough power for a leap?>”
“<Enough for six leaps. There is a whine. I don’t like it.>”
“<Kill the pushers! We can’t over-charge!>”
There were several other words interspersed in the pilots shouts, but James had never heard them before. And he was too busy to worry about them. He shut off the pusher engines, but the whine just increased.
James fumbled through the menu, then gave up and slashed at the light beams as if he were a Cerik. The screen flashed momentarily, and he felt like something snapped inside his head.
The whine faded. James checked the power. “<Power is stable. One leap quantity was consumed.>”
“<U’tanse, you’re the maintenance guild. Check the ship for damage.>”
James sighed. Another task he wasn’t trained for. He reached for the menu pad.
He paused at Rita’s door. The overview of the ship from the menu screens was superficially good, with nothing drastic failing. Maybe the pilot would be content with that, but James wasn’t happy. A number of systems had triggered on their own when the ship’s leap engines threw them across space. He needed to check what he could in person. He’d already had to reset the master lighting controls.
I just hope we went to the right place. The engine screens gave him interior information, but the pilot’s screens were the only ones that showed where they were.
He put his hand on the door, and it opened effortlessly.
That’s not good. He’d pressurized this cell.
The lights came up as he entered, his muscles tensed to be attacked from any angle.
Nothing. And Rita wasn’t there.
She’s out. He had to get her back before she accidentally encountered the pilot. He snatched up her gas mask from the floor and reset the air before he left. She was breathing bad air.
“Rita!” he shouted down the corridor. On impulse, he ran toward the window. The instant he was sure that the star patterns were different, he dropped his ineda.
Rita! If you can hear me, you need to get back into the safe air. Please listen to me.
If the only minds around were the three of them, or the two and a half of them, then a telepathic yell would be better than a shout any day. Only Rita could hear it.
There’s no yelling from the control room, so she’s not there. No telling what the Cerik is up to.
Rita walked up, silently, and startled him.
“Rita! You’re safe.”
Her face was remote. “<U’tanse. The guild tried to kill me. Can’t go there.>” Her mumbling in Cerik was erratic. Was she linked to the pilot again? She stared off past his shoulder.
He turned. The stars?
She pointed. “They’re that way. I can hear them.”
James looked harder. Is one of those...?
She completed his thought. “...the Ferreer planet?”
So, she’s linked to me, but she’s telepathic. She can read the pilot.
“<I’m not going any closer. I’m not going to have my mind eaten. Kill the U’tanse? Can’t make up a story. The guild would read my mind.>”
And then she coughed.
“Rita, we have to get you back into clean air.” He slipped her gas mask over her face. She was passive and unresponsive.
“Come on, walk with me.”
As he turned, she did too. They walked in step.
James wondered at her condition. She wasn’t a mirror of him, but there didn’t seem to be any personality in her. If she could just absorb enough of him to realize that she needed to stay safe in the clean air room, without trying to walk where he walked, then maybe he could complete his tasks.
And what did the pilot intend to do with them?
“<Get them off the ship. Send them away, and the guild will read that I did my job. But how can I jump the ship back without the U’tanse to help. They’re trying to kill me.>”
James felt jealous. Telepathy was so easy with everyone else. He’d spent half his life puzzling over things that were obvious to everyone else.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “No need to gripe at you. You have your own problems.”
He sat her down in the room and wrapped the blanket around her. “Stay here. Be safe. Get some rest. There are still biscuits and water in the sack.”
He had no idea if she had that much free will. But she had wondered off on her own. Maybe there was hope.
He re-pressurized the room and left. I still have to make sure the ship is safe.