“Take the search crew. I’ll look around by myself,” Tarrant ordered briskly.
“Sir,” Klegg acknowledged, with a brusqueness that, as usual, bordered on insubordination.
Tarrant frowned as he watched the section leader march his men down the corridor. That man was likely to become a problem in the not too distant future. Still, he had some ideas for dealing with that matter when it arose. He’d made a point of finding out as much as he could about Klegg once he had identified him. He liked to know his enemies. Or his allies.
Which was sort of the point of this solo exploration of the ship. His ship? He was eager to view it as such but something told him that wasn’t the case, just yet. Never one to lack for confidence usually, the doubts about his claim to the vessel irritated him.
Of course he knew some of his concerns to be well founded. If this was indeed the famed Liberator then where were the even more famed crew? He’d seen no signs of life since he boarded, yet the ship had clearly been moving with a purpose, not drifting idly. It was entirely possible that one or more of the rebels were still on board, covertly controlling the ship. And then there were the stories—which he now knew to be based in fact—of a sentient computer overseeing the vessel’s control. The machine had flatly refused to acknowledge them, though whether it was damaged or merely going about tasks of its own had yet to be determined.
Picking a corridor at random he began his exploration. He saw no need to follow a set search pattern, if nothing else, he trusted Klegg to make a through inspection. This was merely to satisfy his own interests. He was in what they had identified as the main living area. Several recreation areas and food halls adjoined to form a central area, from which corridors led off to numerous, small and nearly identical rooms, plainly furnished with essentials of day to day living. After trying several doors at random he finally found a room holding something more than the standard décor. The power to all the locks had been affected by the repairs in progess and the door opened easily at his touch.
His first feeling was one of disappointment. It was not, as he hoped, the quarters of one of the most recent crew. Instead the room was even more impersonal than the empty ones. Several sealed boxes scattered the floor and the cupboards stood open and empty.
Passing curiosity made Tarrant open the closest box and he frowned in puzzlement. Whatever he was expecting it wasn’t a box full of clothes. He plucked at the colourful fabric and pulled out a large red and green shirt with extravagant, carefully worked sleeves. A heavy, ankle-length, sleeveless jacket followed it. Tarrant frowned in bemusement. They’d located a large room full of assorted clothing on one of the lower decks already, but why this particular selection should be packed away so carefully here he didn’t know.
He moved to examine another box, hoping for a further clue as to what they were doing here. He was disappointed again. The next box contained nothing more revealing than a selection of common enough items. A battered timepiece, assorted personal items, combs, razors and the like. A bookreader with a disk still in it, lay atop a few extremely out of date magazines. Tarrant picked it up and thumbed the power key. The display flickered for a moment then brightened into life.
The disk was evidently a customised one and Tarrant read through the messages displayed on the title page.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. – Roj
Happy birthday! Have fun and don’t spend too long reading! – Vila
All the best – Jenna
Have a wonderful day. All my thoughts are with you – Cally
Best wishes – Avon
The title of the book, in bold type, was ‘Don Quixote’
Tarrant smiled, both at the terse tone of the last message—evidently the hearsay about Avon’s attitude has not been exaggerated—and with the satisfaction of identifying the former owner of the room.
An ingrained habit of respect for the dead made him repack the items he had disturbed in their boxes and check the door was closed behind him as he left.
The next room he found with evidence of occupation was a few doors away. A sound made him startle momentarily as he walked in but he quickly identified it as a musicplayer lying on the floor beside the bed, its power supply left switched on, or accidentally triggered when it fell. Looking around he was quickly struck by the contrast with the almost empty room he had just left.
Wall hangings in warm, earthy tones offset the clinical coldness which marked the rest of the ship. Potted plants featured prominently, their foliage still green although they hadn’t fared well during the battle and most were overturned or fallen to the floor.
The room had obviously been well kept and neat, before the turbulence of the battle had thrown it into disarray. Incongruously, sand littered the otherwise clean surface of the tabletop and had spilled to the floor around a broken tray.
Clothes in practical, yet feminine styles still hung in the wardrobes, visible through the jammed and shorted-out doors.
“Cally,” he guessed aloud. Somehow what he’d heard about the pilot, Jenna, the other female on board, didn’t paint her as a pot-plant sort of person.
The next room he decided immediately was that of a pilot.
It reminded him vaguely of his own quarters, in half a dozen different places. Not too personalised, efficient use of space and an artificial tidiness imposed by the constraints of space travel.
This room was the neatest so far. Obviously Jenna, like any pilot aware of the hazards of the profession, had taken the precaution of securing anything that was likely to fall and break during sudden manoeuvres.
Cosmetics and bathing apparel hung in a string bag at the side of the washbasin. A mirror was screwed beside it. Obviously a personal addition, as what Tarrant had seen of the Liberator so far suggested that its original owners had not designed it with gilt-rimmed, floor-length mirrors in mind.
He walked across the room and fished a disk-laden bookreader from the elasticated band securing it to the bedside cabinet. He thumbed the power on and paged down a few screen. After a moment’s reading he nearly let of a yell of excitement. He paged down several pages and grinned even more broadly. The disk was a diary of sorts and apparently charted everything Jenna had discovered or theorised about the ship’s controls.
His ethics about disturbing the property of the dead, did not extend to stealing from the possibly-still-living, so he pocketed the reader and headed into the next room.
The next room was chaos. It had clearly been untidy even before the ship had been tossed around and now any description of the mess would be inadequate. The floor was scarcely visible beneath cast off clothes, games, puzzles, bookdisks, knick-knacks, empty bottles and wrappers from dozens of different types of snack food. Assorted tools and bits of electronic components were scattered amongst the debris. The bed was unmade. Several colourful blankets hung in disarray across it and a fluffy pillow lay on the floor nearby. On the beside cabinet a small table lamp had toppled over and smashed scattering shards of coloured glass around it. Beside it a drink had spilled, leaving a sticky patch in vivid green and effectively gluing several paper printouts to the surface.
With a grimace of distaste Tarrant peeled one of the printouts off and looked at it. Somewhat to his surprise it turned out to be technical schematics for a new magnolock. One he was quite sure was still considered classified by the Federation. Not the bedtime reading he would have expected from someone who would live in such chaos.
Examining the room more closely he noticed a large toolbox standing half open in the corner. A quick glance inside revealed an impressive of array of well-maintained and specialised tools, including several which looked extremely delicate. Though he considered himself reasonably technically competent he had no idea of the function of more than half the equipment there though it was probably a safe guess to assume they were related to their owner’s profession of breaking and entering.
The next room was almost as chaotic, though the mess was obviously caused by the turbulence. Fallen stacks of printouts were spread in great swathes across the floor. Here too toppled cabinets spilled tools and components and Tarrant was struck by this similarity to the room he had just left.
It was the only similarity however. Even knowing the thief, Restal only by his reputation his room had unmistakably reflected his personality. This one, on the other hand, could have been an office on a dozen ships or stations.
In a singular concession to leisure a bookreader with a noveldisk inserted lay on the bed. Tarrant picked it up and glanced at it. He was mildly surprised by the prevalence of the items among the crew. It was hard to reconcile the vid-cast image of them with people sitting down for a quiet read in the evenings.
Tarrant gave another glance round then left quickly. The impersonal nature of the room revealed little of use to him about its owner, who he mentally pencilled in as Kerr Avon.
One more then, and it took him a long time to find it. Eventually he wandered away from the main communal areas, tempted to give up and return to the flight deck to see if any progress had been made with the computer. An open door caught his attention and he decided to have one last try before heading back.
One glance was enough to tell him he’d found the last crewmember’s room.
Here some attempt had been made to restore order to the mess, semi-orderly piles had been made of the tumbled items and toppled furniture had been righted. Yet more bookdisks were piled near a much-used reader. The owner of this room had clearly lingered here, reluctant to leave, even as the ship wallowed in space, critically damaged. From what Tarrant knew of Blake, such stubbornness was in keeping with his character.
The room was oddly bare of personal items, though there were conspicuous gaps among the carefully stacked possessions. Tarrant frowned, suddenly struck by the thought that Blake had lingered here not out of a reluctance to concede defeat, but in the knowledge that he would not be returning.
He dismissed the thought, chiding himself for the indulgence in fancy. The Blake the vid-casts talked so incessantly about would never abandon this prize of the ship.
No more than he himself intended to.
On to Endnotes
Back to Fiction