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Smoke Test: Once In A Blue Moon - Chapter Nine

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

Second Assistant Engineer Fu Quan set his tools aside and sat back on his heels. He drew a cloth from the back pocket of his coverall and wiped his face.

“How’s it look, ‘Jenghiz’?” Captain Lubbock asked.

“I can’t find anything wrong. Best have Chief Garcia look it over when he wakes up. I can stand his watch for him.” He began fitting the access panel back in place.

“Or I could wait until Garcia’s scheduled maintenance time.”

“Suit yourself.” Engineer Fu pulled a small screwdriver from his breast pocket and tightened the panel in place. “Shouldn’t matter as long as you don’t intend to use the Jump Drive before then.”

“I think we’ll be here a while yet. Thanks for looking over the Drive.”

Fu Quan winked at Lubbock. “’Tis no’ a problem, Cap’n,” he said in a terrible, fake Scottish accent. “We ha’ tae keep tha warp coil stable oor there’ll be trooble on the moors.”

Lubbock snorted a laugh. “Gods, but we have to get your medication adjusted.”

“I asked Isabelle about that but she said, ‘I’m a cook, not—’”

“‘Not a doctor.’ Actually, you need a private detective to find your miss—”

“Missing funny bone.” Fu Quan scratched behind his ear. “Say, we have the makings of a comedy routine here.”

“Delusional as well. Tsk tsk.” Lubbock glanced at the chronometer in his thumbnail. “It’s just about time for me to take the Bridge watch.”

Fu Quan checked his own timepiece. “Chief Garcia is due to relieve Pepper in the Engine Room, too. I have another hour of maintenance work, then I’m off for five unless you have something else for me to do.”

“No. We’re set for now.”

The two men exited the Jump Room: Fu Quan through the overhead hatch to Main Engineering, and Lubbock through the door to the cargo hold. The Captain wanted to swing by the probe bay once more before going on watch. Everything seemed to be running smoothly, though Farb muttered complaints about having fallen a good fifteen hours behind schedule. We may not get our bonus, Lubbock mused. Still and all, they did retrieve the stolen data, and that ought to count for something.

There was little news from Cheng Hua as Lubbock took the watch aside from the logging of some new security measures that Chief Garcia had cooked up and Cheng had approved. The Captain noted that and intended to read the entry, but a terrible thought came to him. He ran database searches for more information on the Seeker-class ships and the capabilities of the equipment they carried. Lubbock then posed a question to Mohammed Smith when the First Mate came on duty. “Say, didn’t you guys find a ‘buggy’ on that Seeker ship?”

“Yeah, we did. The bay door is just to the right of the starboard thruster. Is it important?”

“Could be. It’ll be a week before the Patrol search-and-rescue ship gets here. Plenty of time for Captain Leach and friends to jet over to the probe in their ‘buggy’ and rob it.”

Chief Technician Farb was less than thrilled when Lubbock mentioned this fact. “Captain, we can’t sit around for a week standing guard over the probe. We have to get back with the data.”

“I don’t see where we have much choice, unless you have a better idea.”

“Why don’t we simply arrest the Pygmalion’s people, put a prize crew aboard and take both ships back to Port Whipsnade?”

“Ganesh on a pogo stick! I simply don’t have the personnel for that! I’d have to assign one of my mates and an engineer, plus two or three people just to guard the prisoners. A lot can go wrong in the week it would take us to Jump back to Whipsnade, and the prisoners may try to retake the ship.”

“Don’t you have low berth capsules aboard Grendelsbane?”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t. Had them ripped out. We’d have to give the prisoners cabins aboard my ship and lock them in.”

Farb thought it over. “That’d work.”

“In a pig’s ass. Safer to wait for the authorities.”

“But my schedule—”

“Really doesn’t matter if anyone can come out here and rob the probe. Also, you’re forgetting our saboteur. He or she may be in cahoots with Captain Leach. Whichever ship we lock them up in, there’s bound to be a jailbreak if the saboteur happens to be on the same ship. After all, I’d have to use your people as guards.”

“My people are completely loyal to the company!”

“Maybe. We just don’t know.”

Farb ran a nervous hand through his thinning hair. “A whole week sitting here … Is there really no choice?”

“Not that I can see, but I’ll keep thinking about it.” What I really need to do is come up with a plan to expose the saboteur before something else goes wrong on our little expedition. “I’ll keep you informed.”

Lubbock departed, leaving behind him a very unhappy man. The Captain went up to the galley to grab a meal. Cheng Hua was just sitting down to eat as well. Nguyen was rustling up the food while Arghaz set the table. Lubbock sat down with Cheng and told her of his worries.

“Yeah, it could be Technician Rayne who’s the saboteur,” Cheng agreed. “If she did lie and didn’t just see what she wanted to. As for the Pygmalion’s ‘buggy,’ I suppose we could just confiscate it. Or take it apart.”

“Should have thought of taking their ‘buggy’ when we were already aboard the Seeker. I dread trying to go back there. They may try to shoot it out with a boarding party. Or set a bomb in the vehicle bay.”

“Hmmm. We could just shoot up the vehicle bay and its contents with our lasers. Which reminds me—the lower turret is still out. Chief Garcia is working on it now.”

The news was not a surprise to Lubbock, having taken Fu Quan off the repairs of the turret to check the Jump Drive for sabotage. “Say, wasn’t Garcia supposed to look over the Jump Drive?”

“He did. Said it was fine.”

Nguyen brought them their meal, a tuna casserole “surprise.” The surprise last time was that the dish wasn’t very good. Lubbock and Cheng tentatively tasted the current casserole and were pleasantly surprised at how good it was.

“It’s all in the spices,” Nguyen remarked with a smile, and returned to the galley. She put the Vargr to work washing dishes and pots.

While they ate, the two ship’s officers debated various plans to trip up the saboteur without settling on anything. Finished eating, Cheng went to grab a quick nap before her next duty shift. Lubbock watched her go, but remained where he was, drumming his fingers on the table top.

“Something’s on your mind,” Nguyen said, sitting down at the table.

“Something always is, Isabelle.”

“You have time to get in a good seven hours sleep before your next watch. You need it, Vish.”

He looked at her, surprised. “It shows that much? One of the things on my mind is hiring another mate.”

She looked startled. “Who are you going to replace?”

“Hm? Oh, nobody. But if I had someone to stand my watches, I’d have more time to handle problems and get some sleep.”

“Speaking of which …”

“I hear you.” He pushed his chair back and stood. “I’m off to bed. Don’t call me unless the ship is on fire.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

Cheng, who had the Bridge watch, called him two hours before his shift was due to start. “Something very unusual has happened, Captain.”

Lubbock swung up in bed and levered his legs over the side. He rubbed his face. “Hit me.”

“‘Jenghiz’ has the engine room watch, and he’s reported a fluctuation in the power levels about five minutes ago. The levels are back up, but he says it looks like someone tapped into the reactor to draw power for some piece of equipment. He got Garcia out of bed, and the Chief agrees with him.”

“Could it have been for something in the probe bay?”

“That’s the odd thing, Captain. The only piece of equipment that draws that much power is the maser setup just outside the probe bay. But that’s only used to contact the probe, and since that troublesome child is already aboard—”

“Someone has sent a message somewhere. Who’s on duty in the probe bay?”

“Technician Rayne.”

Hot damn! “Thanks, Hua. I’ll check it out. Have Garcia and Farb meet me on Deck Three.”

“Aye, sir.”

That’s it, Lubbock thought as he threw on his clothes. April Rayne must be our saboteur, and this time we may have caught her in the act!

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