Nate wished he had died that night. At the very least, he hated the idea of waking up. For an eternity he thought nothing, content in the dreamless night of his mind. He was aware of nothing, which was better than the alternative. Several times he felt the pull of consciousness dragging him back into the world. His blurry eyes saw doctors rushing about, or his friends checking on him. Then the pain would return. Not physical pain, although there was plenty of that, but mental. He would remember sad blue eyes. He would remember a gun. His mind recoiled each time, and he returned to the safety of sleep.
The darkness was nice.
But as his eyes fluttered open again, he couldn’t fight it. He tried, but the horrible grinding noise that filled the room was impossible to shut out.
His chest was tight and his breath shallow, as though someone sat on him, causing a shock of pain to course through his body with each laboured breath. Worse, the bright hospital light blinded him.
None of it hurt worse than the mechanical grinding noise, which seemed to burrow into his skull.
He scanned the room, searching for the source of his torment.
Aqua blue plaster walls, trimmed with a cheap looking pink flower wallpaper hosted his body. A few flowers and cards were beside his bed, signs that at least someone had cared.
Someone had cared, but it was clearly not Kaori who was currently using his hospital bed as a workbench.
She sat on a cheap plastic chair, leaning over the bed, using some form of miserably loud drill-like device to grind a small metal disc into shape.
All around his body were fragments of tech and discarded tools which lay in every direction.
“Ung,” said Nate in annoyance. It wasn’t what he meant to say, but it wasn’t like his real words would have been intelligent anyway.
Kaori glanced slightly his way, but chose to finish her task before acknowledging him.
A few more moments of that horrible drilling sound passed before Kaori at last looked satisfied. She switched off the drill and tossed it haphazardly onto his foot.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi?” he grumbled to himself. “No ‘thank goodness you’re awake,’ no ‘we were so worried!’”
“Hello,” she corrected.
He had to hand it to her, he’d never watched a hospital scene in a movie play out quite like this.
Nate groaned. Speaking was hard with his chest being what it was.
Five drones roared into the room in a panic.
“Thank goodness you’re awake darling, we were so worried about you!” said Milah, already fussing over Nate. Two drones buzzed around and hurriedly removed junk from the bed and shoved the pieces into the pockets of a protesting Kaori.
The remaining drones were pouring cucumber water into a glass, combing his hair, and checking his temperature.
“Such a gruesome state to wake up to, I can’t apologize enough dear!”
“Why is this all here?”
“She was half broken after the explosion,” Kaori said.
“An exaggeration of course. Merely a few loose bolts.”
Nate shook his head, still not sure he could understand.
“So why did you fix her here?”
Kaori tilted her head, as though confused at the question.
“Where else could I have fixed her? She wouldn’t leave your room.”
Nate looked to the drones which had gone still, waiting for judgement.
“How long was I gone?”
“Three very scary days, darling,” said Milah.
Nate nodded. Milah was pushy, but he could always count on her. He was lucky to have her, and he knew it. He and his mother hadn’t left on the best of terms and somehow Milah felt like a good stand in. There was a warmth in him as he thought of how well taken care of he was.
But then a cold memory touched his mind like icy feet on warm skin.
He cleared his throat.
“Did Jenna get away?”
Milah seemed to stiffen at the question, which was an impressive feat considering she was already made of metal.
“We weren’t able to find Ms. Whitley.”
Nate was of two minds about the news. He wanted answers from her, he needed answers from her. She took a part of him with him, and he knew he wouldn’t get it back until he could look into her eyes and ask why.
But a part of him, a shamefully large part, was happy she escaped. Because that meant she was free.
And that meant he might see her again.
“You’re better off, dear,” Said Milah. When Nate said nothing, she continued. “I know these things seem so big when you’re young, but-”
Nate closed his eyes, not ready or willing to hear it.
“I think I just need to rest, if that’s okay.”
Milah’s prime drone stared at him. The lavender lights flickered weakly.
“Fine. I suppose I need to solve our money problems before we leave.” The drones buzzed out of the room.
Nate looked to Kaori who was making no move to leave. Instead, she was fiddling with a wall mounted television. She shoved an old looking slot-drive into the front.
“Kaori, I really should rest.”
“Okay,” said Kaori, while making no move whatsoever to leave.
“That means you should go.”
She seemed confused again.
“You don’t want to watch a movie?”
Nate sat in silent incredulity. Honestly he was just in the mood to sit and feel sorry for himself, but curiosity was getting the better of him.
“It was that one you were talking about. Humphrey Bogart, Ashur helped me buy a copy.”
If it wasn’t for the fact that she thought there was an actual movie called Humphrey Bogart, he would have applauded her listening skills.
“Okay. Sure,” he sighed.
Kaori plopped down beside him in bed and turned on the screen.
She picked one of his worst movies of course; The Oklahoma Kid. It wasn’t a noir either, it was a western, Bogart didn’t even star in it. He did his best to educate her over the movies run time.
He didn’t think about Jenna even once while he scolded the garbage girl about the fine art of cinema.
Annie tapped her fingers on the plump leather sofa she sat on next to Miss Becca. She had waited for far too long for this moment. Her whole life really, searching for a lead. The device sat in the center of the room, already decoded. Mark sat quietly across the room. The device had already been decoded, but they hadn’t yet accessed the files. They would momentarily once everyone was assembled. Becca was the only one talking and was currently officiating a wedding between one of her dolls and Ashur’s little monkey scrap bot. Ashur seemed amused at the whole affair, and was playing along as the monkey’s best man. Annie kept a close eye on him. Becca didn’t realize that he was a python, a weasel that could strike at any time. But Annie knew, and she would protect her friend at all costs. Still, play time was harmless.
Mark on the other hand, had said very little for three days. Losing Jenna must have been hard on him; he had dark circles under his eyes and was far more disheveled than normal. Annie was having a hard time understanding what happened. Jenna was almost like family. The older girl had a passion for charities and humanitarian causes. Shooting a teenage boy was beyond out of character for her. But the crown was in reach, and Annie knew that things would only get worse the closer they got to their prize.
The wooden doorway at the end of the old lounge opened up. Her Navigator pushed Nate on a wheelchair, while Milah followed along.
“But all he does is look serious,” said Kaori, walking beside him.
“How dare you! Humphrey Bogart had unprecedented on screen chemistry with every woman in the business! His co-star could be a literal octopus and it would still be silver-screen magic!”
Annie stood up and saluted.
“Captain Regal. Happy to see you alive.” She was indeed happy at the news, but it was two days ago that they received the news he would live. She was happy then, now she was just impatient.
“Detective!” Shouted Becca. She rushed towards him, doll in hand and practically jumped into his lap. The little monkey bot stood there awkwardly in his tiny tie and coat, disappointed that he had just been left at the altar.
Ashur patted the scrapbot sympathetically.
Nate gave his charming grin to the room.
“No big deal guys, any detective who can’t take a bullet isn’t worth the title.”
Mark’s eyes turned slowly to Nate.
“I warned you to stay away from my daughter, Mister Regal.”
The room was silent. Annie knew Nate would do well to choose his words carefully. Mark was a very powerful man, one who had just lost his daughter.
For his part, Nate had gone still. His expression turned dead in a single moment.
“Mister Whitley, I wish I never met your daughter.” Mark shook his head.
“-I’m not finished. I wish I never met her, but it’s too late for that. I’m going to find her Mister Whitley, I’ll get our answers, and, if I can, I’ll bring her back.”
Mark was still for a long moment, pondering his words.
“I’ll hold you to that, detective. And I hear you’re to thank for rescuing me. I’ll transfer you a five thousand unit reward. And, if you’re serious about finding Jenna, I’ll transfer another ten thousand to you to help you search.
Nate shot Milah a knowing smile before turning back to Mark.
“I will find her. I promise.”
Annie believed it. Nate wasn’t her number one choice of travelling companion, but something about his words told her he would stop at nothing. She decided to help, if she could.
But they had a far bigger item on their agenda.
She cleared her throat.
“Gentlemen, may I return your attention to the device?” Annie’s voice was commanding. Not a request, but an order.
Ashur stood to his feet, keenly interested in what came next. Nav wheeled Nate to a spot by the fire with a good view before taking a seat beside Annie.
Mark fiddled with the device.
“I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-C-E,” he spelled aloud as he tapped at the little keypad. He looked at the screen intently as a small confirmation beep filled the room. “Two files. An audio file and a star chart.”
This was it. After years of looking, years of not knowing if she was chasing a myth.
“The audio log first please,” she said quietly.
Mark nodded and pushed a key.
A clear and golden male voice filled the room.
“My name is Arthur Constantine, former captain of the Nightingale. This is to be my final log. I’ll be erasing all previous entries after recording in case this device falls into the wrong hands.”
Annie felt goosebumps raise up on her flesh. All this time she’d been chasing her father’s memories, but she’d never heard his voice.
“I’m being called away from my expedition by high command. It seems that they have lost faith in my plan. Little Annabelle, I hope this journal reaches you. It breaks my heart to know you’ve been alone all these years, but your mother and I can’t see you yet, not until phase two begins. Until then, I need you to finish what I started.”
Annie hadn’t expected sentiment. She was unmoved.
“There is a rogue planet that we’ve begun to call ‘relic’ that is currently passing Barnard’s Star. It orbits no sun, holds no life. You will find a vault within the planet. Go to it, but be careful. You have no idea what lurks between the stars. The coordinates are held within this device. Good luck daughter, I can’t wait to meet you.”
“A rogue planet. How did he even detect it?” Nav shook his head in disbelief.
“The Elder’s will it.” Ashur grinned.
Somehow, Annie doubted that.