“Now repeat it back to me, what is your mission?”
“I’m Ashur’s mechanic now,” Kaori said.
Annie tapped her foot, beginning to lose patience.
“No, you are my mechanic.” She took a deep breath. “Now, what is your mission, as my mechanic?”
The scavenger took a while to answer. Annie wasn’t really sure why this was so hard.
“To get Ashur’s spare energy cells for the Nightingale.”
“Good, and how are you going to get them?”
“By being Ashur’s mechanic.”
Annie couldn’t understand how Kaori could be so thick when it came to anything non-mechanical in nature.
“You aren’t going to be Ashur’s engineer. You are my engineer, you’re just going to fix Ashur’s ship.”
“But how do I fix his ship without being his mechanic?”
“It doesn’t matter whose mechanic you are! Fix his ship and he’ll give us the energy cells we need in exchange!”
Kaori looked like she wanted to say something but simply nodded instead. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Annie turned to Nav.
“Are you ready?”
The droid nodded.
He positioned himself into a small droid sized slot in the wall.
“You’ll only be powered down for a few days, Kaori will be finished on the Unfamiliar Guest in three days time. We have about six days worth of energy for the life support with you active, eight with you and the crew powered down.”
“Aye Miss, better to be safe rather than sorry.”
“You’ll be back in no time. Sleep well Mister Navigator.”
The droid’s light began to fade, nearly powering down completely, before flickering to life again.
“I had chef Nav prepare meals for you, they’re all in the cryo-bin.”
Annie nodded her thanks.
“You can cook them all in the micro-zapper, I, I mean, he left a note on each meal with how long to zap it.” Just when it seemed like he was finished, he spoke up again. “And I had him make you cheesecake the way you like it, with the pistachios mixed right in. Make sure you have it after dinner, not before, or you’ll-”
This was growing excessive. She wasn’t alone often, but she was the captain of a starship, and at nine years old, she was practically already an adult.
“I’ll be fine mister Navigator, thank you for your concern.”
He seemed tempted to keep speaking, but to Annie’s relief, he seemed to think better of it.
“Yes, of course. Sorry, Captain. Goodnight Annie.”
“Good night Nav.”
The lime green light in Nav’s visor reluctantly faded away completely.
“You have a pretty good Dad,” Kaori said happily.
Annie wasn’t sure what she meant.
“Probably, but we’ll have to find him first,” Annie said, gesturing for Kaori to follow her.
Annie watched as Kaori finished putting on her pressure suit. She was glad that one of the suits form the old crew seemed to fit the stunted teenager reasonably well.
It was an Armada issue suit, bearing the formal blue and gold colouring of the Nightingale uniform. Technically it was the Armada uniform, but with the Armada not being present, it always seemed pragmatic to simply reuse them.
Though now that Annie knew they were still out there, perhaps it was a good idea to look for a replacement. She decided to put a pin in that for now.
Most of the old pressure suits had been thrown away due to damage or sold off during particularly lean periods. The one Kaori wore, however, had been flawlessly maintained. The name tag was still attached.
Annie knew less about that name than she did about her father’s. She’d find the crown, and then she’d have her answers. She was sure of it.
“But what happens if-” Kaori finished latching the glass helmet onto the suit. Her words were completely silent from within the small air pocket.
Annie poked at a small communicator on her coat.
“You need to push the button on your collar if you want to speak. The left button is to talk on the Nightingale channel, the right broadcasts to everyone in the area.”
Kaori seemed to memorize that information before pushing the left button.
“What happens if we can’t trust Ashur?”
“Mis Amaris, we can’t trust Ashur. As part of the deal, he’ll be transferring half the power cells before you get aboard. It will be enough to get us to Relic, even if he double crosses us.”
Kaori thought about it.
“But not back?”
Annie looked her in the eyes.
“Be alert while you’re there. We need the other half of the cells.”
Kaori was perfectly still as she processed her orders. Eventually, she nodded her affirmation and picked up her toolbox with her only arm.
Annie cocked her head slightly.
“Why haven’t you reattached your other arm?”
“Can’t, it’s too broken.”
Annie wished Kaori had spoken up about it back when they were in the Spires.
“Why didn’t you say anything earlier? We could have bought you a good prosthetic, or order you a vat-grown arm.”
Kaori shook her head stubbornly.
“No, I have to build it.”
She looked like she was having a hard time finding the words she was looking for.
“It wouldn’t be my arm if I didn’t.”
Annie didn’t understand the sentiment, but she could at least respect it. Still, it wasn’t optimal to have a crippled crew member.
“We could have at least got you something temporarily, you’re far less useful like this.”
A wave of anger entered Kaori’s eyes that Annie had never seen before.
“Just as useful like this.”
She knew not to push any farther.
“We should have bought you the parts to start building.”
Kaori’s glare seemed to deepen.
“No more scrap. Am not a junk girl anymore.”
“We wouldn’t have bought junk Miss Amaris. There were plenty of good pieces of machinery on Scrappis.”
She shook her head.
“Good parts. Not good enough to be me.”
Well, look at that. Her mechanic had developed a self-esteem. Despite what Kaori said, she knew that the scavenger would be far less useful in a fight until she had another arm full of gadgets. At least now Annie knew what to do about it. She would be on the lookout for exceptional parts.
Ashur led the scavenger through his ship. He could see her looks of distaste, his ship was filthy with rubbish and technological scrap. From her facial expression, she was deeply uncomfortable to be aboard a piece of scrap-engineering. He suspected it reminded her of the trench. She said little, however, as that just wasn’t her way. That made it hard for him. It was easy to twist a person’s words to your advantage, but much harder when they kept their mouth shut.
“The hair looks good,” Ashur said as they approached the bridge.
Kaori had clearly been zoned out. She shook the daydreams out of her head and looked to him.
“The hair looks good.” Akkadar were colour blind, but she didn’t need to know that. To him, it looked greyish instead of the black it used to be.
“Thanks for helping in the market!”
He winked at her in a way he suspected was a roguish ‘you’re welcome.’ He had seen Nate do it once, and Ashur was keeping a keen eye on the boy’s mannerisms. He’d be a master manipulator if he wasn’t so naive.
The doorway to the bridge clunked open, revealing the blast site. It was currently the cleanest room on the entire ship, if only because most of the clutter had exploded.
The girl stared out at it for a long time. Ashur let the girl think, she would speak when she was ready.
“I need a lot of parts.”
That wouldn’t be a problem.
“I have enough scrap on my ship to build a second one.”
He let the girl wander in, she seemed aimless, but he knew better. She stared calculatingly at various holes and damaged pieces of tech as though she was doing math.
“One more thing before you start.”
She looked to him keenly.
He reached around the corner and pulled out a large dirty burlap tarp. He tossed the oversized rag into the room with her.
“I don’t have a spare bunk. Sleep where you work.” He shut the door with the push of a button.
He wandered off, it was getting late after all, and he like any upstanding Akkadar, it was time for evening prayer.
Kaori had found the little scrap bots to be poor helpers, and it was putting her far behind schedule. Ashur seemed to be wholly uninterested in helping, and she had barely seen him in the two days she had been working. That meant she had spent an unacceptable amount of time rummaging around for parts with no help from Ashur. Eventually, she started recruiting the scrapbots to search for parts, but the critters were simply too stupid to ever bring back what she asked for. She had decided the first night that it would be worth taking a few hours to upgrade a few of them to be adequate helpers. It put her far behind schedule, but things began moving much more smoothly after that. The tiny monkey had grown especially useful, while the Nepth had grown smarter, but also more hostile towards her as it got closer to sentience. She could impart new information and better processing speed, but an attitude adjustment was not in Kaori’s skillset.
The food the robots brought her was horrible of course. The barely edible Akkadar diet was compounded by the fact that Kaori didn’t have the required knowledge to turn the little bots into better chefs. Combined with the fact that she was sleeping on a floor made of crudely welded metal panels, it was a miserable experience. She wasn’t one for anger, but it was slowly building. How could this Merchant-Captain treat a mechanic so badly? She was there for his benefit. She never used to talk to herself, but she found herself grumbling under her breath. She had seen others speak like that, and it was oddly satisfying.
Despite the terrible work conditions, however, she finished the last of the repairs on the fourth day, far behind schedule. Still, it was a job well done, and she was happy to pack up her tools. She sent a little scrap otter to fetch Ashur and let him know she was finished.
He found her a few moments later, grinning at his newly fixed bridge.
“Everything works now?”
“Upgraded a few things. Better controls, guns actually work now.”
“Worth every penny.”
“Can I go now?”
He seemed like he was thinking about that, but he nodded.
“I’ll meet you by the airlock in a few moments.”
Kaori was just happy to get off this junker. She had missed the Nightingale more than she ever imagined.
The door clunked behind him as the girl let herself out.
Everything was going perfectly. He smiled to himself, before starting the space drive and leaving the Nightingale far behind. He decided to call up the Captain to gloat.
“Captainling! Thank you for the engineer, she’s a great gift!”
Annabelle was furious, on the monitor, nearly growling at him with fury.
“You’re not going to get away with this! I’ll see you on Relic you bastard.”
“But how will you get there without fuel cells?”
She was silent.
“Oh, were you planning to use the ones I sent you? Convincing fakes, aren’t they? They sure fooled me when I bought them. It would take a real mechanic to tell the difference, of course, your mechanic was on my ship at the time. Sloppy planning Captainling, I had expected more.”
She put an end to his fun and terminated the call.
No matter, Ashur was in a very good mood now, even as Kaori pounded on the door, begging to be allowed to go home.
Now all he had to do was beat that treacherous robot and her idiot protege to the crown, and he liked his odds.
All told, it was a very good day for Ashur.