Marie reports back to her captain, from the heart of Zuba.
"Well Kingston, I’ve got to tell you," I grinned into my screen on Bee, "you’ve really missed out."
“That so?” His little image asked me, alone in the dark.
“For sure. This place, goodness, we really must get you down to Zuba.”
“What they had you doing there anyways, Chen? Seeing as I can’t seem to find your report.”
“This is my report! Come on, Mina and I have been rushed right off our feet all day long.”
“She was the one doing it.”
“Makes sense.” He smiled. “Your tag says you covered, what, a dozen klicks every which direction.”
“You know how it is. But all worth it, captain. We’ve found the mother lode here in Zuba.”
“Akanai’s been telling me about that.”
“Yeah, he’s fairly talkative without Tani around.”
“Right. About the Azu?”
“Well, really about Megan.”
“Uh, yeah.” He laughed. “I oughta know by now.”
“She’s been with us all day, in fact.”
“What do you make of her?”
“Well, everyone knows who she is. I mean she has the key to the city, it feels like. And she’s damn smart, too. So quick. She’s picking up English already, would you believe.”
“I would. Akanai’s pretty sold on her. Says she taught him everything he knows.”
“Like a mother?”
“She kinda was. He lost his the day he was born.”
“Wow.” I stopped in my tracks at the thought. “Tani never knew hers either.”
“Is Mina there?” His eyes twitched side to side, as if my screen would show him anything in the evening dim.
“Oh no, they’re still together. It’s just you and I.”
“How’s she taking it?”
“Mina’s acting a little funny, I’ve got to say.”
“Is she alright?”
“She is now. Initially, she just seemed quite overwhelmed when we arrived here. But over the hours, she’s really gotten close to Maigan. It’s like the two of them are…”
“Well, I don’t know what. They’re just finishing each others thoughts, almost.”
“Interesting.” Pondered Kingston, as he looked away from his screen. “You think that maybe…”
“Like how you and Tani are pretty tight. Is it like that?”
“Sure, I guess. Yes!”
“She’s met her first Andalan friend, then. Good for her.”
“I’ll say, Kingston. Maigan’s determined to share her knowledge with us. And, well, Mina…”
“Has changed her tune at last? Let me guess.”
“Perhaps. She’s much more comfortable speaking with Maigan than she is anyone else. If anyone can handle it, I suppose it’s her.”
“Which one are you talking about?”
The orange sun still shone, if only just, back up in Ayanakert. Its shadows reached ever longer across the wall behind the captain, one I recognised from the palace. We talked for quite a while about what we had seen. I told him my impressions of the great Azu city of Zuba in the detail he preferred. Lastly, twilight fell on him as well, as both Andala’s capitals joined in night.
"How long should we stay here, Kingston?"
“Till Proteus can spirit us away back home.”
“No! I mean down here with Maigan.”
“Oh, right.” He smiled. “Been a long day all round, Chen.”
“They always are on Andala.”
“Right enough, I could use a break from this place.”
“We could pick you up and bring you down to Zuba.”
“No, Marie, a break. Like, uh, I don’t know. Just thinking.”
Something about the way he said that reminded me of what had been, until only weeks ago, our mission. We came out to the Pleiades to explore. This we were surely doing, but in a very different way. Our training and our equipment was all for barren worlds, far apart, even in as busy a stellar neighbourhood as this. Proteus was to take us to dozens of stars, the seven sisters themselves included, and yet here we were all tangled up in just one Earth-sized moon. All the worse for Kingston, as he didn’t even have our shuttle nearby to leave Ayanakert. The dark little cabin I sat inside was our only vehicle in the world. Bee couldn’t reach lightspeed, but it could take us to the other planets around Andala’s star if we wanted.
"Yeah, I could see doing that." He agreed. "Could really use the space. But you know the problem."
“You wouldn’t need Proteus just for sublight around the system.”
“Maybe not. But think about the comm. Sublight applies there too.”
“You’d be a few lighthours away.”
“Which means real hours. Without a way to respond if and when you need me. No, I’d better stay in touch. Besides, getting Proteus back online is our real priority.”
“I suppose. How’s Robin getting along?”
“Now there’s a question. We’re still limited by secondary radiation aboard Proteus, so we can’t really get to grips with the problem; yet. Let me tell you, I for one will be glad when we can get started. Because, ah, you know how it is.”
“How he is!” I laughed. “What’s he been up to while we’ve been away?”
The captain stared into space, his mouth a little open and sliding to the side. This was not going to be good.
"It’s been a whole I-Year ain’t it?"
“A whole goddamn day! He must have given me the slip when we met up with Akanai this morning.”
“His tag says…” I pulled up a map of his whereabouts, using Mina’s medical credentials. “Well, he didn’t leave town at least.”
“Where’s he been?”
“He wandered a fair bit, but has been in the one place for a good few hours now.”
“Copy me his fix. I got a little something in mind for him.”
“Captain, you’d better hold on. The place he’s in…”
“Is the temple.”
“He’s the first of us to gain entrance. I did ask Tani about it the day we landed, but she couldn’t get permission.”
“What exactly do we know about the joint?”
“Next to nothing. I’ve never been in one anywhere on Andala.”
“Fantastic. And now Robin’s giving his thanks to…” Kingston paused. “What do they call the big man around here?”