“That is the third time this week that there have been noisy ducts! Has no one on the maintenance staff done anything about that yet? That’s it! I’m filing a ticket,” complains a voice from below where Kerr-Lonn-Ny and Tcho are crouched in the Dame’s air-handling system. There is a loud bang, and the duct between them rattles as the crewperson jumps up and whacks it from below. “This is ridiculous. I can’t work in these conditions.” The voice fades away, still talking to itself about tickets.
When it is silent below, Tcho hisses, “We can’t stay up here.” He slides forward on his stomach to the grating and silently eases it down, then slips his head and shoulders through to check the hall. When he sees the coast is clear, he grabs the lip and continues his forward motion, rolling easily out of the ducts. Tcho may have come by his physical education less legitimately than Kerr-Lonn-Ny did, but his strength and flexibility are on a par with hers. He drops lightly to the floor and steps back, leaving space for her to follow.
With the grate cover back in place, it is time for a new plan. Tcho leads Kerr-Lonn-Ny down the hall in the opposite direction than the disgruntled crew worker went. “So, we could try the waltz-right-in approach, but how comfortable with that are you?” he asks.
“You make a good point that we’re not supposed to be here, so they’re probably not going to be too keen on that.”
“Hrm… it could get us the information we want, and then we just have to break out of wherever they put us—”
“Oh, that’s definitely doable,” Kerr-Lonn-Ny says confidently, thinking back to the passenger recuperation area. “I don’t think there’s a need to worry about a brig or jail here. They’re really not made to hold someone,” she shares. “I was a little addled, but JT busted out without any problem at all. So it really must not have been too serious. If I hadn’t been drugged, I would’ve dealt with it sooner. But once she was there, and I gained the clarity I needed, I just bent the bars out of the way.”
“—but that’s assuming they’re not murderous as well as mutinous,” Tcho finishes his thought. “If the people who are supposed to be in charge are there, and they put us in the ‘chill out zone’, I trust you’ll be able to deal with it. But if it’s the mutineers, they might do something else with us, try to hush us up or just get rid of us. If you’re willing to take the risk…?”
Kerr-Lonn-Ny stretches her head from side to side and rolls her shoulders. “Well, that’s why I took boxing. I’m not a violent person, but if they’re threatening violence…” She rolls her clawed fingers into fists, and Tcho can hear the knuckles crunching.
With that settled, Tcho checks a hall sign and guides them to the door to the operations bridge, talking through potential cover stories for why they are down there. “I need to come up with a convincing lie. Are we just down here lost? The old, ‘Oh! Am I not supposed to be here?’ ploy?”
“I’m mean, I’m pretty lost here,” Kerr-Lonn-Ny freely admits.
“That’s true.” Tcho nods thoughtfully. “The best lies are always based on a little bit of truth.”
The door is within sight, and her companion keeps hashing out ideas, but Kerr-Lonn-Ny is no longer paying full attention. She is thinking about what her coach says, about picturing yourself achieving victory. Kerr-Lonn-Ny takes such guidance literally. Sometimes she even gets granted visions of things. To Tcho she says, “Let me think about this for a second. That guy came down the hallway from this direction… What’s most likely on the other side of this door?” She feeds the question to Tcho to distract him, and then she tunes him out to focus on the source of her strength and composure: the Force. She knows its message will not be so straightforward as literally showing her what is on the other side of the door, but she hopes to get some hints that can better prepare them.
It is stressful, trying to read the will of the Force with such an immediate audience. During competitions, she is before crowds, but here someone is standing right in front of her. This is a secret she cannot reveal; the Empire does horrible things to those who follow the way of the Force. But the captain’s life is in danger, and that makes the risk worthwhile. The captain…
Tcho tosses out a few ideas in response to Kerr-Lonn-Ny’s question. She makes no comments, but he assumes that is because she is not criminally-minded.
A Frozian—the Frozian—stands in front of an elaborate desk, dark whiskers twitching. The room’s soft lighting is complemented by the blue glow coming through the large curved window beyond the desk. The woman is in her ship’s uniform, and across from her is male human in a more decorated version of the same outfit, though the jacket is open and the tie undone. His coppery-red skin and deep black hair contrast with the crisp whiteness of the outfit. “What are you doing here, Ensign Adalat?” he asks, gesturing expansively with a glass of amber liquid. “You’re on administrative leave. You’re supposed to be in your quarters. If you want to be doing work, you should be going through the records—”
“I’ve been working enough! More than enough! You’re the one who’s not working out, Rowan. I’ve put in as much as and more than these slackers you call officers. And what do I get for it!? Passed over for promotion time after time! Well, you don’t get to boss me around anymore!”
“This sort of insubordination—” The Frozian pulls a blaster, and the captain’s words stutter off into silence. He looks at the weapon, stunned just to see it.
“Now, let me tell you what’s going to happen…”
The vision fades away. The Force sometimes shows things that will be, sometimes things that are or were. Some visions are highly metaphorical, but this one had the sharp detail of reality. That was the captain’s quarters, not some sort of bridge. Kerr-Lonn-Ny tunes back into what her companion is saying about expecting mutineers to be in control beyond the door. But the Force has given her clarity; this operational space no longer matters. “If they’re after the captain,” she argues, “they’d be in the captain’s quarters.” Tcho looks uncertain at this new idea, and Kerr-Lonn-Ny presses her argument. “Look, we don’t know what’s through that door. It might be mutineers, like you said. I’ve got a mean right hook, but if there’s five of them and there’s only two of us…”
Tcho grins. “You know, I told JT, you can’t just waltz up to the captain and tell him things, but maybe we can break into his room and do that anyway.” With Kerr-Lonn-Ny, an eye-witness, involved, they have something more solid than just an invitation to the gala. And the captain’s quarters are easy to find. They are marked on the cartoony floor plans given to all the passengers so that they can view the little museum dedicated to his career. Getting there means traversing public corridors, rather than continuing to sneak around belowdecks. Tcho nods to himself. “Yeah. Yeah, I like that idea better than kicking open a door to a room full of mutineers.”
“Great, so let’s just go back to the turbolift? And you can do,” she waves her hands in front of her at chest-level, “the thing you need to do there.”
“We should be able to just push a button.”
Kerr-Lonn-Ny shrugs again. “I don’t know how these things work.”
They step aboard the nearest lift, and Tcho taps in a level. The doors slide shut, and he turns to see Kerr-Lonn-Ny shaking out her arms as she jogs in place a little. She does a few stretches and lets out a long breath. He imagines the evening’s experience has been quite stressful for her. She is a normal, settled person, and tonight has gone from hot-wiring lifts to squeezing through ducts to considering fights with violent criminals. She should not be having to deal with this. “I’m sorry you’re getting kind of dragged through the underworld here,” he says.
“What? You don’t need to apologize for anything,” she tells him. “You’re helping me.” She tilts her head and considers for a moment. “Unless you’re the one threatening the captain’s life, which I’m pretty sure you’re not.” Her memories of their first meeting are a little hazy, but she recalls him, JT, and Gomarr discussing changing his look. Still, there is no way this Pantoran is really a Frozian in disguise. “You’re a little short for that.”