“Heel Hauken,” Imogen says to the man at the computer with her.
“Von Heel Hauken.”
“Professor, I need you to do what you can on this computer to see if you can bring up anything cloaking related. If the software is here, and you can activate it—”
“A science vessel like this would not have the hardware for that,” he tells her.
Undeterred, Imogen forces her way through the milling prisoners to her room. She pulls out the ghost glove she recovered on Tarsonis and also grabs the power suit reactor Lilly recently salvaged. Back in the central hub, she orders people out of the way so that she can pry open the floorboards to access Saffron’s engines. Leaving smudges of blood behind her, she drops down next to the power core and slips on the glove.
Von Heel Hauken peers down at her. “Ghost cloaking technology, eh? Just a single hand, though? I suppose that might work—for a short amount of time, at least. Might buy us just the time we need, but it will be very difficult to keep it stable. It will probably blow up the glove. And maybe the reactor. And maybe the science vessel.”
“I’ll try the mini-reactor first,” Imogen tells him. She cannot risk knocking Saffron out of the sky. Given the damage the hull has already taken from missiles today, the ship likely would not survive such a fall. “Lilly!” Imogen shouts up. “Check the maps for some secluded place for us to head to if I can get a cloak up. Some place with enough wildlife that you can keep us all alive for a few days.”
Up at the piloting station, Lilly looks over their options. Sally stands with her at the controls. “Thank you,” her old friend tells her. “Not just for saving me but for helping me remember who I was. Ugh, it’s so hard.” She shakes her head, and her voice goes low. “I think the Dominion resocialized me. It sucks.”
“See if you have a tattoo,” Lilly suggests.
Sally slips off through the crowd and returns with a small mirror, probably from the science station. She examines her collar area with it, skin she has not seen the whole time she has been locked up. “Yeah, yeah, that’s what that is,” she murmurs, eyes settling on a mark. She lets out a sigh. “I didn’t want to believe it.”
“Got one!” Lilly shouts back to Imogen. There is a spot with some rolling hills and low trees. It does not look as dry as the terrain around Ten Tines and probably supports some wildlife they could live off of. The readings even show some magnetic wonkiness. Saffron should be harder to detect there.
Despite Von Heel Hauken’s warnings, Imogen is undaunted. The cramped space around her is a mess of cables, with alligator clips connecting the glove to the mini-reactor. Those two cannot work seamlessly together, Imogen already knows, but she hopes with herself as a modulator, she can extend the cloak over the whole ship and hold it long enough for the Dominion to lose track of Saffron. Then they can power down the ship and just lay low, as Jimmy requested. There are enough random bits of technology down here that the passengers will just think this is a mad science experiment. That is the more likely conclusion to draw than that Imogen is an unregistered ghost.
A low hum fills the undership around Imogen and an uncomfortable tingle runs up and down her arm. Realizing just how wrong this could all go, she jabs herself with the last of the painkillers she bought on Umoja. She centers herself and concentrates on the glove, then groans in aggravation when not much happens. Imogen clambers to her feet, sticking her above the tile floor. “There’s not enough power here!” she calls to Lilly.
“Escape pod?” Lilly suggests.
“Oh! No, Old Red!”
Lilly does not object on principle, but she does wonder how they will plug into the vulture bike clamped outside her quarters. They welded closed the former escape pod access there. “How?”
“You’ll have to clamber over the hull.” Imogen flings out a really long set of jumper cables and then drops back down below deck.
“I can do it,” Lilly agrees, snatching up the lead and beginning to wind the excess cable around her torso. “Can you fly?” she asks Sally. If the front hatch is going to be open, someone definitely needs to keep Saffron stable while she is crawling all over the ship.
“I was never as good a pilot as you, but I can hold her steady,” Sally agrees, though it has been a long time since she has flown.
“Everyone hold onto something!” Lilly shouts. She disables the safeties and begins to manually crank open the front hatch. Wind whips around and through the ship. Some prisoners seek shelter in the crew quarters, and others just grab ahold of the closest workstation. The extension cable crosses Lilly’s chest like a bandolier, and she plays it out behind her as she slowly inches her way outside and then around Saffron’s spherical shell. Once at Old Red, she pops his hood and clips the cables onto the engine. Then she hits the ignition and begins her return trip with a broad smile. This is fun!
Inside, Imogen is monitoring the powerflow both with her multimeter and her mind. Suddenly her whole world blacks out. Imogen has a brief moment of panic; she has never successfully cloaked before and had no idea what to expect. But then her sight returns to a fascinating shimmer surrounding her arm. It is almost mesmerizing, and she has to forcibly pry her eyes away from it to focus on spreading the effect outward through the whole ship. Most cloaks hug the surface of whatever they are concealing, but a simple sphere is the best Imogen can do with her unaided mind—she has no moebius reactor or computer to help her. She settles into a steady rhythm: draw power in through the glove, push it out to the cloak.
Soon, in addition to tingling, Imogen feels a lot of heat on her arm. She is definitely exceeding the glove’s design specifications. “I can’t hold this for long,” she calls up to Lilly when her partner’s face appears overhead. “You’ve got to land us.”
Lilly gives Imogen a nod and rejoins Sally at the piloting station, assigning her a few copilot tasks to compensate for the turbulence from the still-open hatch. The sensors are going haywire, not sure what to make of the cloak, but they also report a variety of Dominion ships scrambling in the sky above. Those craft were tracking the science vessel until it disappeared; now they are probably gridding up the area, preparing for an exhaustive search.
Lilly sets Saffron down smoothly in a nice little clearing. There are even some trees and a stream nearby. Imogen remains below deck, holding the cloak up as long as she can to buy Lilly enough time for physical camouflage. The large branches and leaves Lilly uses will provide some cover from eyes in the sky, but they will not fool anyone on the ground. And it would take far too much mud to conceal Saffron completely. Lilly has just finished her screen when the cloak suddenly collapses.
Between the shotgun wounds and the mental effort of holding the cloak, Imogen is taxed beyond her limit. A surge of energy she cannot control rips through the glove. Pain spikes through Imogen’s arm, and she yanks it out of the glove as the thing catches fire. It falls to the floor, disintegrating into a pile of ash. The mini-reactor fares better; it is spent but still sound. They should be able to recharge it under less harrowing conditions, though it probably needs a tune-up. Old Red likely needs a refuel, as well.
Imogen pushes aside cables and crawls out of her nest of sparking technology. She pulls herself back into the central hub and joins Lilly at the sensors where she is monitoring their pursuers. There is one more thing Imogen has to do before she collapses. “Durian was there,” she tells Lilly soberly. “He’ll know we did this. But you can’t call him.”
Lilly turns to Imogen, completely confused by the incongruous statement. “Durian was… where?!”