Kerr-Lonn-Ny tries to pay attention to their route as Tcho leads them through the corridors, but she is distracted by… well, by everything. The drugs are entirely out of her system, and her morning meditations have been helping her recover from that whole disorienting experience, but still, she is not as focussed as she usually likes to be. That is the beauty of single-athlete track-and-field events: one can focus entirely on one thing and all that matters is that one moment. Even the actions of one’s competitors are irrelevant. All this, with conspirators and plotting and strange technology… this is a wider galaxy than she is used to.
Before long, Tcho has left the section of the ship he is familiar with from his time as a nominal member of the crew. He is looking for a room adjacent to the operations bridge that will let them listen or peer in without being seen. The door that he opens, however, turns out to be a small office space with a few cubicles, and he can hear people talking. Instinctively, Tcho ducks lower so that he will not be seen over the partitions.
“Are you sure this is the right room?” Kerr-Lonn-Ny asks, too loud for Tcho’s liking. He throws out an arm to stop her from entering the office and backs up himself, quickly hitting the switch to close the door before anyone in the room notices. What he overhears before it shuts, though, does not bode well.
“That’s not right. We’re not supposed to come out of hyperspace that early!” one of the crewmembers complains.
His coworker sounds confused. “Yeah, that’s weird. Why is the hyperspace engine supposed to cut out then? No, that can’t be right. Maybe it’s something to do with that Maelstrom business,” she suggests.
“Look, not my department. My job is to make sure we start and stop the jumps on schedule, and that’s what I’m going to do. No one submitted Form 184-C to change the jump plan, so, nope, we’re not doing it. It’s just some glitch. We’ll override it.”
So the Maelstrom side trip was definitely not routed through the proper channels, Tcho concludes. This lends further support to what he has been suspecting, that the correct people are no longer entirely in control of where the ship is headed. JT told him that while it might be beautiful, the Maelstrom is a mass of energy and charged particles that can wreak havoc with communications equipment and sensors if the ship gets too close. It seems to Tcho like that might happen if no one directing the ship has the full picture of what is going on with the hyperdrive.
With the door shut again, Tcho and Kerr-Lonn-Ny remain undetected for the moment. He quickly evaluates their options and concludes that they still need to listen in on what is happening on the operational bridge.
“What’s wrong with that room?” Kerr-Lonn-Ny demands when Tcho backs them away from the closed door.
“It’s occupied, for one,” Tcho tells her. “That’s a problem.”
“What, is it a refresher?”
Tcho tilts his head at her. How naive is she? “Do you remember the part where we are where we’re not supposed to be?” She shrugs like it does not matter, and he attempts to clarify, “If people notice us, fine, I’ll deal with it. But if people don’t notice us, that’s much better.”
“Okay, I guess that makes sense, but, you know, I—”
“There were no Frozians in there, no FX droids,” he tries, and this time, he seems to have hit on something she does clearly understand.
“Okay, okay, that’s good.”
Tcho steps to the middle of the hall and starts scanning the ceiling, softly thinking aloud, “Maybe we can listen in through some of this ductwork.” He moves quietly down the corridor, head craned back to examine the tiling above.
Kerr-Lonn-Ny keeps pace, relieved to hear something that it sounds like she can help with. “Okay, I can do that,” she offers, rolling her shoulders to limber up a bit. “This is just gymnastics.” Tcho locates what he was looking for and gives her a boost up so that she can flip the vent cover down. Then Kerr-Lonn-Ny grabs the edges of the opening and swiftly pulls herself up, easily slipping inside.
From below, she hears Tcho’s hushed voice, “Can you hear anything from where you are now? Or how far does it look like you’ll have to go?”
Kerr-Lonn-Ny looks around. The ducts above the hallway are wide enough to allow fairly easy movement, but narrower ducts head off to the sides towards the rooms. She feels herself beginning to sweat, not from the exertion, but from the close space and the airflow. “Just here in the hallway, all I can hear is you,” she whispers back. “But it splits off to the side here. I’m going to follow that.”
“Is there enough space up there for me, too?”
“Certainly not side by side. Just wait a bit until I’m in the other vent.”
“Sure. We don’t want to overweight the system.”
Kerr-Lonn-Ny wriggles into the narrower offshoot, which requires a snakelike motion rather than crouching. “Okay,” she hisses back.
Tcho jumps up, catches hold, and smoothly pulls himself up in one fluid motion. Then he eases the vent cover back in place and secures it. He turns to see Kerr-Lonn-Ny’s feet disappearing into the smaller side duct. He frowns a little at the size of the opening. He does not like the idea of her heading into danger alone, but this looks too narrow for his shoulders. He makes an attempt, rounding his shoulders in to decrease his profile, but it is no use. Since he cannot be with her himself to model how to move, he gives Kerr-Lonn-Ny a quick primer on weight distribution and what parts of the venting to avoid touching. She cranes her head around to look back over her shoulder at him, eyebrows raised. He thought this was obvious, but he states his purpose more clearly, “If you don’t disrupt the vents, the people below won’t know you’re there.”
“Okay,” she draws the word out. “Was this part of your education on Pantora? Vent shimmying?”
Tcho can feel a blush rising, but fortunately the ducts are dark enough to hide the spread of purple across his cheeks. All he says is, “The Pantoran school system also does not cover vent crawling.”
“Well, you’re just full of surprises.”
“You have to do this part, and you have to do it on your own. Just listen; don’t try anything,” Tcho tells Kerr-Lonn-Ny earnestly. “This isn’t the time to get involved. I can’t back you up from here.”
“Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I’m just not used to all this sneaking around. Normally I’m trying to get a spot on the podium.”
“Well, consider it an obstacle course,” he offers encouragingly.
Kerr-Lonn-Ny shakes her head. “There’s no sneaking on obstacle courses. You’re watched very closely. That would be taking a shortcut, which is cheating.” She turns back in the direction she needs to wriggle and crawls forward to handle this part of the operation by herself. She understands that Tcho was trying to get her to relate what she needs to do to something with which she is more familiar, and it occurs to her that this is sort of like a relay race. Although she primarily competes in independent events, she does sometimes participate in relays, depending on which other athletes her team is fielding. This is my leg; the team is counting on me to do it well.
She can see light trickling up from a grating ahead, but as she slithers closer, the vent creaks under her. She stops, worried that maybe this duct is not strong enough for even just her weight. From her current positions, she strains in vain to hear anything from the room below. She was told not to make noises, not to risk herself, not to interfere, but it is so tempting to keep going. This is important to her; after all, there might be mutineers down there right now. But after a moment’s consideration, she dutifully begins to shimmy backwards. I didn’t hear anything, and it seems no one heard me. I should just pull out now. Tcho seems to know his way around sneaking around, so whatever his next idea is, we can just do that, she tells herself.
While waiting, Tcho studies the entrance to the side duct, wondering if loosening panels would help him fit but concluding that it would only get him started. He hears Kerr-Lonn-Ny sliding back towards him. “It’s not stable enough, and I can’t hear anything,” she tells him. “I didn’t want to press the issue.” Tcho nods. If that is her assessment, then he definitely does not want to add his weight to the system. Looks like it is time to write off this access point. “Yeah, so what do we do now?” she asks. “Is there another way in?”
“I don’t have schematics for this level,” Tcho replies.
“You have schematics for other levels?”
I should’ve seen that one coming. Obscuring his activities is his instinctive response. “There are the maps all the passengers got. I certainly looked those over.”
So did Kerr-Lonn-Ny, in preparation for her corridor runs. “Those are like cartoons!”
“And I spent far more time on the other levels than I did on this one,” he admits. As he considers the current situation, he lets out a sigh, part frustration, part helplessness. “All right, what—”
“We could just go in the door and ask them,” Kerr-Lonn-Ny suggests.
“We don’t know who’s in control down there,” he reminds her. “And what would you tell them?” He wonders what story this guileless woman will produce.
“That there’s a mutinous Frozian threatening the life of the captain!”
“And you just wandered down here to let them know?” he counters. But then he realizes that she does have a point. He is just not used to operating in support of the authorities. “I suppose that would be a way to provoke them if the right people are not in control there…” He scoots backwards through the duct, making space for Kerr-Lonn-Ny.
“You think that maybe they already took over?”
“The way they were talking about the hyperdrive…” Tcho shrugs. “I am not any sort of engineer at all, but they sounded concerned about the settings. That suggests to me that somebody adjusted them who was not supposed to.”
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I’ve got no idea how hyperdrives work,” Kerr-Lonn-Ny flatly admits.
This does not need to be a highly technical discussion. Tcho himself is certainly not prepared for one. “Okay, well, this Maelstrom place, we weren’t supposed to go there. So why are we?”
“The captain thought it was awesome?” Kerr-Lonn-Ny suggests as she rejoins Tcho in the larger ducts above the corridor. “Or mutineers redirecting us there?”
“Yeah, I think the latter is more likely.”
“So how do we determine if someone is still a loyal crew member?” Kerr-Lonn-Ny asks.
Dammit, I wish I still had that crew uniform. Then I could just walk right in and sign up for the mutiny. “Infiltrating them would be a very attractive option, but I don’t know how to swing that right now.” With a quiet, self-deprecating snort, he adds, “After all, that’s how I got on the ship to begin with.”
“You know, now is probably not the right time, but later I’m going to ask you why you’re on this ship.”
“It has something to do with why I needed to explode the other day.”
“Yeah, I thought that was kind of weird…”
“But I appreciate your help with it,” he assures her, “so we’re going to do what we can here.”
“Okay, yeah. I appreciate your help with this, too. The captain’s life could be in danger.”
“If that Maelstrom is as active as JT described it being and the hyperdrive is not working, the lives of everybody on this ship could be in danger.”
“Hyperdrives and maelstroms don’t mix? Sorry, I’ve never been through a maelstrom.”
“JT suggested that whatever that phenomenon is does not play well with ship’s systems. That’s why the ship is supposed to exit its hyperdrive, or hyperspace, or whatever—” Tcho searches around for words, trying to remember what JT told him and fit that in with what he overheard from the crew. He grows flustered. “This isn’t my area,” he apologizes.
Kerr-Lonn-Ny can sympathize. “It’s not your area? I had ten semesters of physical education!” When he asks if that is all she studied, she explains that of course she also took classes in environmental science and literature, among other topics. “Cerean sciences are organized differently,” she insists. “They’re not about the exploitation of natural resources. They’re about the preservation of resources, which is usually harder, but it involves different goals.”
Thinking of what JT told him regarding Naboo, he comments, “Sounds quite enlightened.”
Kerr-Lonn-Ny shrugs off the compliment. “We don’t think of it that way; that’s just the way it is.” Then she gestures at the cramped space around them. “But we also don’t teach about climbing around in ducts and things.”
Tcho frowns. “As I said, not formal education—”
There is the clatter of shoes below, and Tcho clamps his mouth shut, waving a leveled hand rapidly back and forth in front of his throat. Despite her different education, Kerr-Lonn-Ny understands and goes still.