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Smoke Test: Once In A Blue Moon - Chapter Eight

This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine website in 2003 and was reprinted in the July/August 2020 issue.

Captain Lubbock waited until the First Mate came off his Bridge watch, then the two of them went aft to the Main Engine Room. The First Assistant Engineer had just gone on watch there to monitor the power levels, life support and sundry other instrumentation. Lubbock didn’t pretend to understand it all.

Engineer Sprey was instructing Apprentice Grurrdzarg in the duties of an Engineering watch officer. “Go up to the galley and see if Nguyen needs any help,” the Captain ordered the Vargr.

“Yes, Captain.” She hurried out the door. Sprey swiveled her chair around to face the two men who loomed over her.

“Our apprentice was seen lurking about on Deck Three at the time you say she was with you,” Lubbock said softly.

Sprey started at the grim faces of the Captain and First Mate. “That’s not possible. The only time she was out of my sight was when I was cleaning up. And I know she cleaned up as well—she obviously took a shower and changed clothes. And we passed each other in the cargo bay going back and forth from here to Ship’s Stores.”

“Maybe she showers faster than you,” First Mate Smith suggested.

“No, when I got up to Deck One she was just coming out of her cabin. We ate together and then came back down here.”

“You’re covering for her,” Smith declared. “What did she tell you—that she left something in her quarters? Or left a tool on Deck Three?”

“No, sir!”

“C’mon, Pepper,” Lubbock coaxed. “I know you’re fond of her—we all are. But I must know her exact movements and whereabouts. I’m not looking to punish you for letting her slip away.”

Sprey reached between her legs and gripped the edge of her chair. “Nothing like that happened. Arghaz couldn’t have gone to Deck three without my knowing about it, and I’d tell you if she had.” Sprey glared at her accusers.

This is getting us nowhere. “Your first loyalty is to this ship. Friends come sec—”

“I know where my loyalty lies! The crew of Grendelsbane is like my family. Arghaz isn’t part of that family yet.”

“Isn’t she? I made her your responsibility, and her misdeeds would shame you. That’s it, isn’t it? You know that she went down to Deck Three and you are too ashamed to admit it.”

“No, sir!” Sprey took a deep breath. “Am I being relieved of my duties, Captain?”

She’s calling our bluff. Do I believe her or not? “Is she holding something over you?” Sprey snorted in disgust at this suggestion. Apparently not. So where does that leave me? “Okay, then. I’m sorry for this interrogation, but I have to be positive.”

“I understand, Captain,” Sprey mumbled.

Like hell you do. Your feelings are hurt, and I don’t blame you. I owe you one. And I hope to hell you haven’t lied. “That’s all then. Carry on.”

Lubbock and Smith departed and walked over to the crew lounge outside the Bridge. “Well, Mohammed Ivanovitch, what do you make of that?”

“I think she’s telling truth, Captain.”


Smith frowned. “Ninety percent sure.”

Lubbock nodded. “Let’s get the Vargr down here, then.” He pulled his commo unit from his pocket and closed the connection to the public address system. “Will Apprentice Grurrdzarg please report to the Crew Lounge.” He put he commo unit away and waited.

The Vargr showed up in good order. Lubbock pulled out a chair. “Sit.”

Arghaz wrinkled her brow in surprise but did as he commanded. She rested her arms on the table top.

“Why were you on Deck Three when you claim you were on this deck?”

“I was not.”

“So you say. And Pepper backs you up. But when we questioned her she looked uneasy. Very uneasy.” A lie, that, but perhaps a useful one. “I think she is covering up for you.”

Lubbock half-expected a smooth lie, such as Oh, I broke or misplaced this piece of equipment and Pepper’s afraid we’ll both get in trouble over it. Instead, the Vargr just looked confused. “I do not understand her unease, Captain. I did not go Deck Three.”

“You had no errand down there after you came back from the Seeker ship?”

“No, Captain. And … the technicians do not like me. I would not go Deck Three without good cause.”

Well, that’s the key to it, isn’t it? The Vargr could not go unnoticed down there. Farb for one has a fit every time “that shedding creature” goes anywhere near the probe bay.

Lubbock glanced at Smith who shrugged and said, “Perhaps someone else was there and was mistaken for Arghaz?”

“Who on ship looks like me, First Mate?”

That tears it. We offered an out, and she didn't bite. The culprit has got to be Technician Rayne. “Someone probably caught a glimpse of movement and imagined it was you. Anyway, thanks for your time. You can go about your duties.”

“You are welcomed by me, Captain.” The Vargr leveraged herself to her feet and limped out of the lounge. Once she was gone, Lubbock collapsed into the chair she’d just vacated. “Technician Rayne must have lied.”

Smith settled a hip on the edge of the table. “Or, as you said, Rayne imagined she saw the Vargr. The technicians are very edgy of late.”

“That’s an understatement. But if not the Vargr, then who was it? And why was he or she going to the Jump Room?”

A horrible thought surfaced in the Captain’s mind. He jumped to his feet and ran to the Bridge door. He stuck his head inside. “Hua!” The Second Mate’s head shot around. "Who’s on maintenance duty right now?”

Cheng Hua checked the duty roster. “‘Jenghiz.’ He’s working on the Lower Turret controls.”

“Have him meet me in the Jump Room. And thanks.”

“Aye, sir.”

Lubbock turned started for the hatch and ladder to Deck 3. “You think our saboteur did something to the Jump Drive?” Smith asked him.

“We’ll let Fu Quan decide that.”

There is going to be a reckoning, Vishnu Lubbock promised himself.

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