Wednesday, January 14, 2015

14: Ship for Hire (Part II)

Entry 14.5: Where Tori becomes suspicious.

                The ship was buzzing by the time Tori returned a few hours later. She stopped at the base of the boarding ramp, blinking as she tried to absorb the rapid movement as crew members rushed to get the Helix ready for departure.
                "Hey Fahr," Tori managed to snag the Helix's security director by the elbow and nodded at the hubbub, "what's going on?"
                Bornox Fahr paused long enough to take in the movement surrounding their ship. "We got a job." He told her with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "What's it look like?" He adjusted the load in his arms that Tori now realized was someone else's baggage. "You better get up to the cockpit, Tor. Captain's almost to the point of driving this bird himself, and you remember how well that ended last time."
                Tori nodded as Bornox continued up the ramp to stow the baggage in the cargo hold. Captain Torrik might have many skills, but piloting was not one of them. That's what he paid her and Stoic for.
                She ditched her bag in her room and then made her way to the cockpit. Halfway there she found the captain and their new employers talking just outside the hall that led to the guest quarters.
                Tori stopped when she realized she recognized one of them.
                "Madison?" She said as she got closer, not sure if it was really the same woman from the cafe.
                But it was. Madison looked up and smiled when she saw Tori approaching. "Tori! Imagine running into you again. What are you doing here?"
                Tori came to a stop next to Torrik and smiled shyly. "I work here," she told the other human.
                "Miss Addison is our co-pilot, and a very fine one at that." Torrik said, inclining his head to his employee. Tori didn't miss the curious look in his black eyes. "Am I to understand you know our guests, Miss Addison?"
                "Sort of." She gestured at Madison. "We met briefly in a cafe earlier today." She turned to the other woman. "Is your brother here too? Did everything turn out all right?"
                Madison brushed off her concern. "Yeah, he's fine. He's down in the hold making sure everything's packed away nice. Not that I don't trust your men Captain." She held up her hands as if to ward off any forthcoming defense.
                But Torrik just inclined his head to her. He never had been one to argue with customers, Tori knew.
                "Miss Addison," he turned to her, "why don't you show Miss Flynn to our finest guest quarters? And then we'll need you in the cockpit. As soon as the space port mechanics have finished installing the new scrubbers we'll be taking off."
                Tori nodded. "Yes sir," she said, but Torrik had already turned and was making his way back to the entrance ramp to ensure things were running smoothly.
                "Lead the way," Madison insisted, snapping her heels together playfully with a smile on her face.
                "So, ah," Tori was still trying to think past her surprise, "what are you doing on the Helix 7?"
                Madison sighed as they walked down the hall. "That message my brother sent me earlier was about our flight out of here. The captain had some outstanding issues with the space port that'll take days for him to sort out and our uncle needs us in Titania in a week at the outside, so we had to book new passage."
                "Lucky for us," Tori murmured.
                Madison raised an eyebrow at her. "You guys a little short on cash?" she asked.
                Tori shrugged, not wanting to get into Torrik's financials. "Our mechanics left a week or so ago and we've been having some equipment problems ever since. Until Cap'n hires replacements we have to pay extra for the loafers that hang around the docks."
                Madison nodded knowingly. "Pricey," she agreed. "Torrik better find himself a new grease monkey soon."
                They walked in silence for a few yards, Tori leading the way down the hall and counting off doors. She didn't know how much Madison and her brother were paying Torrik for this trip, but she wasn't surprised he'd put them in the best rooms. It wasn't like they had any other high paying passengers he could give it to.
                "So why'd your other guys leave anyway?"
                Tori looked up in surprise. "Huh? Oh, um," she hesitated and fixed her eyes on the far end of the hall, "I don't know. They left real abruptly."
                She felt Madison's eyes on her. "They were friends of yours? The ones that left?"
                Tori stubbornly kept her eyes on the far end of the hall. "Yeah," she finally answered, "yeah, we were pretty close."
                She couldn't see Madison's face, but the thoughtful silence was easy to distinguish. She just about jumped out of her skin when the other woman suddenly swung her arm around her shoulders.
                "Well it takes about five days to get from here to Titania. That's just enough time to have some real fun. And if your boys were dumb enough to leave you behind, we'll just have to have a good time without them."
                For the first time in a week, Tori didn't have to fake a smile, however small it was. "Just us girls," she said with a tiny laugh, "sounds great."


                Tori was surprised at how easy it was to get along with Madison. They had a lot in common, almost coincidentally so. Both worked in male-dominated fields. Both were the only daughter out of several sons. And, thankfully for a somewhat fragile Tori, both were down-to-earth, easy going, and had the same sense of humor. They were friends before Tori laid in the path to the port city of Titania and the young pilot spent most of her time with Madison and her younger brother Aster over the week-long journey.
                It was still hard though. During the rare times Tori found herself alone, her mind always drifted back to Felix's sudden departure. She kept his last note in her pocket and read and re-read the tiny scrap whenever there wasn't anyone around to see her. She just couldn't let it go.
                "He said he would come back," she found herself thinking in the mess around the middle of the week as she waited for her friends. "But why in the universe didn't he say goodbye first? What was so urgent that he couldn't even leave his flowers by my door? It doesn't add up-”
                A hand passing in front of her face snapped her back to the present. Madison was standing next to her with a concerned expression on her tan face. "Hey, you okay there Tor?" You were staring off into space. Is something wrong?"
                Tori looked down at her tray and scrambled to collect herself. "Yeah," she said too quickly as she crammed Felix's note into her pocket and hoped the other woman didn't see. "Yeah I'm- I was just trying to think when I'll have time to sort out my paper. That's all."
                She saw Madison knew there was more to it than schoolwork, but before she could ask Aster came up with a dinner tray in each hand, one for each of them.
                Tori couldn't have been more relieved. "Did you get in touch with your uncle?" she asked the teenager as he and Madison sat on the other side of the table.
                Aster shared very little physical characteristics with his sister. His eyes were blue-gray instead of brown. His hair was short and dark instead of fair. And he was taller than Madison with a lighter build, although both were well muscled and clearly strong.
                But there was an openness  they both shared that made it easy for Tori to see the relationship between them. She saw it easily in the seventeen year old's eyes when he looked up at her.
                "I talked to him just now," Aster said bfore cramming half of his sandwich into his mouth. "Fe sooid-”
                Madison stopped him before he could go on, making a disgusted face as she did. "Don't be gross," she complained and then hooked a finger on the rim of his tray and pulled it out of his reach.
                Aster glared at his sister and tried to pull his meal back, but Madison didn't let it go until he swallowed his food.
                "There," she told him as he swiped his food back, "was that so hard?"
                Aster gave her a light glare. "Yes," he told her. "Just stay away from my food. I'm starving." He gave her one last frown before he grumbled, "Yeesh, you're worse than Mom."
                Madison grinned, not insulted in the least. "I could do worse."
                Tori managed a weak smile at their antics, but inwardly marveled at Madison's patience. Even Tori, who had a good, solid relationship with her mother wasn't so sure she would be happy if one of her brothers had said that to her.
                Aster took another big bite but waited until his mouth was empty before speaking this time. "As I was saying," he slid his sister a look, "Uncle 'Nil just told me he heard from his supplier yesterday. She said she'd already shipped the merch and that it'll probably get there before us."
                "By how long?" Madison asked.
                "A few days or so," Aster told her before attacking his prepackaged dessert before his greens.
                Madison's eyebrows drew together and she hummed low in her throat.
                "But isn't that good?" Tori asked as she pushed food around on her sectioned off tray without eating it. "You won't have to wait around so much now. Trust me, you get enough of that without customs."
                "Yeah," Madison said but did not look convinced. "It's just such a rare find. I don't want to get there and find the gegi have expired." She looked at Aster and even with his mouth covered in cake crumbs he looked worried too.
                Tori whistled, not surprised by their anxiety. "Gegi fruit, huh? Your family must be pretty well off."
                The siblings shared another look and Madison nodded.
                Dinner continued on in its usual way and Tori started to relax some. It looked like her redirect had worked. Madison had forgotten all about the state she'd found her in.
                She didn't learn she was wrong until her break was over.
                "Hey," Madison stopped her at the door before Tori could escape to the safety of her co-pilot's chair. Aster had offered to drop the trays in the 'used' slot so it was just the two of them.
                She saw the concerned look on Madison's face and immediately knew what was coming.
                "You were thinking about that guy again. The one that left without a word."
                Tori looked away, but didn't deny it.
                "Ah Tor," Madison sighed. "You can't keep doing this to yourself. I know you have it bad for this guy, but if he didn't even care enough to tell you he was leaving-”
                "No!" Tori interrupted, unable to listen when the other woman had never even met Felix. "It's not like that."
                Madison put all her weight on one foot and crossed her arms over her chest with a frown. "Well what is it like then?"
                Tori pressed her fingertips together nervously. She didn't know how to explain.
                She tried anyway. "It was just- so sudden. I mean, yeah, Felix was forgetful and kind of a flake at times, especially when he got caught up in his work, but this was – I don't know – different somehow."
                Madison narrowed her eyes at her. "Different how?"
                Tori sighed loudly. She felt her eyes threatening to overflow again. "I don't know. Just different! Felix has a certain comfort zone, you know? And he hates leaving it. The fact that he did, without telling anybody or even trying to see if he could save anything from the fire, it-” she hesitated, feeling more than a little paranoid just thinking it.
                Madison raised her eyebrows at her and waited.
                Tori shrugged one shoulder and looked at the deck as she held her arms. "It makes me think he's in some kind of trouble," she said very softly.
                Madison blinked. "What kind of trouble?"
                Tori shook her head. "I don't know," she mumbled. "But it's Felix. He's always getting himself into some mess or another." Even her wry smile felt wrong.
                "I know it sounds crazy-” she tried.
                "No," Madison said, but then reconsidered. "Well, maybe just a little."
                Tori shook her head, wishing her eyes would stop filling up. It made it difficult to see. "I know. I know. But it's just so hard not to worry about him. Especially when everyone else is acting so out of it."
                Madison frowned. "Who's out of it?" She nudged tori with an elbow. "you all seem pretty normal space crawlers to me."
                Tori was too upset to acknowledge the friendly ribbing. No matter how many tears she wiped away more came to take their place.
                She breathed deep to try and regain some control over herself. "I dunno. Big Wri's been kind of quiet, but I guess he gets like that sometimes. And then Captain Torrik lost his hat which is strange. He always wears that hat. It's like a strange point of pride with him- that he always has his hat. For him to lost it seems really-”
                "Weird," Madison finished for her with a thoughtful frown.
                Tori nodded.
                Madison thought about that, eyebrows creasing together and lips pursing slightly as she did, like she'd just tasted something sour.
                "If it was a point of pride, then maybe he lost it on purpose because he's ashamed of himself for something," she finally suggested.
                Tori almost laughed at the idea. "The captain? What could he possibly have to be ashamed of? He's so proper and always insisting on manners, no matter how old-fashioned. That's just how he is."
                Madison looked at her. "Then why isn't he wearing his hat?"
                "I told you. He lost it."
                Madison shrugged like it was no skin off her nose one way or the other, but it was obvious how much she was enjoying the mystery.
                "Probably," she admitted, "but what if he didn't? what if he did something against his code like," she thought fervently. "Oh! Like ripping off his customers or- I don't know- he stole something." She flapped a hand as she started walking down the corridor so Tori wouldn't be late for the next half of her shift.
                Tori fell into step with the other woman but felt very uncomfortable with the turn in their conversation. Not that she'd felt oh so comfortable before.
                The women were silent a minute as they slowly made their way toward the cockpit.
                "Maybe you're not so far off," Madison finally said, "about your friend I mean."
                Tori dried her face as best she could, not wanting Stoic to know she'd been crying. There wasn't anything she could do about the redness though. Thankfully the cockpit was always a little dim. "What do you mean?" she asked with a sniff.
                "Well," Madison mused, "it is a little strange, isn't it? That your friend suddenly left his comfort zone the same day a fire breaks out on the Helix. A fire that only destroys his room. And then suddenly your captain starts acting funny the day after. It's just strange all put together, you know? Very Hitchcock."
                That startled a wet laugh out of her. "I haven't seen any serial killers in the shower or swarms of birds trying to peck out my eyes so I wouldn't call it Hitchcock," she pointed out.
                Madison waved her off. "But you know what I mean. It's all just so..." She tried to think of the word.
                Madison snapped her fingers. "Yeah! That's it. It's like someone out there planned all this. Some kind of shadowy puppet master pulling strings where no one can see."
                She wiggled her fingers like she was making her own marionettes dance. Tori would have laughed if she hadn't been so worried.
                "Well that certainly couldn't be Felix," she told Madison, trying to laugh at the very idea of the absentminded mechanic being an evil mastermind on the side. "He can barely plan his own day much less something that elaborate."
                Madison thought about that. "Well maybe that's why he ran then; to get away from whoever did."
                "Yeah," Tori mumbled, thinking it all over again, "yeah maybe."
                Her tone had Madison looking concerned again. "Hey, don't take my screwball idea too seriously. I was just goofing around. I'm sure your friend's just fine. Maybe going through a small mental breakdown, but that's still a worst case scenario."
                Tori only half heard her. "Yeah," she mumbled, "mental breakdown. Not like he's never done that before."
                Madison laughed, but Tori suddenly had a lot to think about.

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