the mind is a miraculous tool for bringing order to chaos and truth out of the darkness; but with this ability comes the risk of seeing real, what isn't making phantoms of shadows and conspiracies of those that mean no harm
For the first time, Lillian had been trusted with a solo mission to repair a damaged gravity plate. She gotten up that morning to check her assignments for the day and there it was:
LILLIAN SHAW - 0800 - REPAIR GRAV PLATE 1352 IN MESS
Her mentor finally trusted her! Today, she was extra careful as she collected her tools from the small chest under the bed in her bunk and fastened them around her jumpsuit. Tanaka-sensei had given her the belts–made with a mix of Velcro and elastic bags–and she loved them. A place for everything and everything in its place.
One last check to make sure she had everything and off she went. Her first solo!
Now she was running back for her room as fast as she could go. How could she have forgotten her magnetic screwdriver? The one thing she’d almost certainly need, capable of loosening or fastening just about every screw or bolt on the ship. She could picture it in her mind’s eye, hanging just under her plasma torch. A hand to her belt confirmed that she’d grabbed the torch, sure enough, but no screwdriver.
At least she’d left as early as she had. And that she’d only made it about halfway to the mess before the flash of intuition that she’d forgotten had grown too strong to ignore. N ow, if she ran both ways, she’d still make it there in time. Not that it was terribly critical that she start exactly on schedule, but she was sure that Tanaka-sensei was watching and would weigh it against her if she was late. Not that he’d say anything. Just look at her with those strange, brilliant blue eyes and shake his head. The barest movement, but that’d be all it took.
When she got back to the mess–with less than a dozen seconds to spare–she scanned the room. There was only a few people there, most would have already eaten and would be on shift now and the night crews hadn’t quite arrived. But one person she did recognize, working on a floor panel across the room. She could tell who it was by his considerable bulk.
The world seemed to blur.
It was Engineer (Cook) Jenkins. She was sure he was working on the floor panel that she’d been assigned. But that didn’t make sense, he was dead. Getting ready to do her job. Suicide by plasma gun. Suicide in a gleaming white room.
She shook her head. Hard.
As quickly as it’d come, the blurring cleared. It was Engineer Jenkins. He was working on her panel.
She stalked across the floor to him, planning on given him a piece of her mind–her first mission! As she stalked up and opened her mouth to begin what surely would have been a wonderful verbal lashing, he looked up at her and a wide grin broke his face.
“Lillian! How are you doing this fine morning?” He saw the look on her face and, if anything, the grin just grew larger.
She abruptly changed tactics and kept her voice as steady as she could. She felt like yelling, but she had the idea that wouldn’t be the best of ideas. Out of the corner of her eyes, she thought she saw a few of the other nearby crew watching. “Just fine. And yourself?”
“Peachy keen.” He seemed to be waiting for something.
She waited as well, but couldn’t for long. “And what are you doing here?”
His grin already looked wide enough to split his heavy face in half, but it grew even larger. “Why, I’m working on the gravity plate here. Seems it’s been on the fritz for a few days. Making everyone in the mess feel heavier.” He laughed, a deep rumbling belly laugh. “Not that I noticed it myself. Not much cause when you’ve already got the weight I do.”
Lillian didn’t laugh along, didn’t say anything until Jenkins subsided. “I thought I was assigned to this panel,” she said calmly. They were definitely being watched now.
“Oh, where you now?”
“Yes sir. I can bring up the work order if you’d like.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I can handle it. I was in the area after all.”
“You don’t want me to have to make that an order, now do you?”
Her angered flared again. This was her job! “With all due respect, /sir/…” The way she said it didn’t imply much respect at all, but by this point she didn’t much care. “… you don’t actually have the authority to give me a direct order without Tanaka-sensei’s backing.” The grin grew again, she felt sure that he face would split in two before long. “And he was the one that gave me the order.”
He started laughing again. She felt the insane urge to slap him rising and actually started to bring up one hand when she heard a dry clapping behind her. She spun in place. One of the other crew members was standing there, in the gray jumpsuits that some of the crew wore when they weren’t on duty. He was a tall man with dark skin and a short well trimmed beard and shaved head. For some reason, he looked familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Probably she’d just seen him working from time to time, but she couldn’t even place what crew he was on.
“I think I like you kid,” he said with a deep, resonant voice. It was the voice she could listen to for hours without actually hearing a work, as much singing as talking. He turned to look over her shoulder. “And I think you owe me twenty bucks.”
She looked back and forth between the two of them. Jenkins was circling around her now, still grinning like a madman. He reached for his wallet and pulled out his credchip. A few taps and he’d transferred the money to the other man’s. “Done.” He bowed his head briefly. “And you were right. One of these days, I’m going to have to stop betting against you.”
“That’d be the day,” he replied, the smile in his voice. As Jenkins wandered off towards the food line, he turned his focus back to Lillian, “I guess we owe you an apology.”
At some point, her anger had fled entirely, only to be replaced by confusion. “An explanation would be nice.”
He grinned. “I guess you could say we were hazing you.”
“Sure. You’re the youngest we’ve got on the crew, so we have to give you a hard time. It’s practically a rite of passage.”
He laughed out loud at that. “I guess it does. But it’s all in good fun. Jenkins and I saw that you had your first solo today and decided it’d be a good day for it.”
She shook her head. Confusion had gone as well and now, to her surprise, she felt tired. And it was still the early morning. Probably just a symptom of the stress. “If you say so. Would you mind if I get one with it then?”
She’d already half turned towards the panel by the time he responded. “Go for it. And I meant what you said. You’re a good kid.”
But she’d already turned to the floor panel and was working on the screws that Jenkins hadn’t already removed. She felt him watching for a while longer, but when she had the panel off and was checking diagnostic lights on the generator and glanced up, he was gone.
The repairs went flawlessly and she felt a sense of pride at a job well done. When she’d reported back to Tanaka-sensei, he’d nodded and said, “good job.” From him, that was truly high praise. She worked with him the rest of the day on a variety of small tasks, but for the most part he stood back and watched as she did the repairs. It wouldn’t be long now until she was a full engineer–she could feel it.
By lunch, her tired feeling had mostly vanished, although it crept back up after her shift ended and she went off to dinner time. After dinner, she decided to go straight back to her room. Perhaps read for a while before going to bed early.
As she walked through the part of the ship made almost entirely of store rooms, she heard the sounds of two men yelling at each other. She almost made it right past them without stopping–likely it was none of her business–but something made her stop and listen. After a moment, she recognized the voices. It was Jenkins and the bald man with the beard from earlier.
As she listened, Jenkins was the one yelling. “… how can you be so sure?”
“Because we’ve been looking for almost a year now.” The other man’s voice was raised, but now that she was listening, he didn’t sound nearly as out of control or angry as Jenkins did. “And what do we have to show for it?”
“All we need is a little more time. I’m sure it’s here somewhere. It has to be.”
“Why? We haven’t had more than hints since the Incident.”
“But her father…”
“I know, I know. That’s why we’re here in the first place. But I’m telling you, she doesn’t have it.”
“You just like her.”
A pause. “I’ll admit, that’s a part of it. She reminds me of me when I was her age.”
“Just let me have a bit of time with her. I could work it out.”
“No.” There was iron in his voice now. “Absolutely not.” Another pause. “Come on. We’ve been here long enough.” There was the sound of metal scraping across the floor–probably a chair–and then footsteps heading for the door.
Lillian jerked straight and took off down the hall. She had a feeling that whoever the two of them were or whatever they were talking about, she didn’t want them to know she’d overheard.
She made it a good distance when she heard the door opening behind her. On a flash of insight, she slid to a stop and spun on her heel. Now it would look like she was coming towards them, rather than running away.
She had a good view of them as the split at the doorway, Jenkins heading away from her and the other man heading her way. As she passed him, she had a sudden flash. He worked for the security detail on the ship. Something about the ship’s security programming. And she remembered his name…