Sunday, September 7, 2014

07: What Cor Heard

Entry 07: In which we backtrack just a little...

                Cor wasn't exactly in the best of moods that afternoon either.
                "May the Ghost in the Machine scrap that passive aggressive lizard for spare parts!"
                Alright, so 'not the best' was putting it lightly.
                Cor whacked another pipe with his favorite wrench, sending a sharp clang echoing down the deserted hall. "Keepin' me cooped up in this dismal place on an absolutely gorgeous day like t'day." He grumbled as he stalked the hall. "Scales had ta practically toss Felix out and I work just as hard as he does! Where's my fresh air and sunshine huh? I may not be solar powered but I likes a little daylight vacation now and again!"
                The old mechanic kept muttering to himself as he finished up the various systems checks that needed doing. The Helix had touched down ten a.m. local time and by ten o'five not even a skeleton crew remained on board. The few unfortunate souls left behind in the Helix 7's cramped quarters only stayed because they had no other choice; everyone else was gone, enjoying a few free hours out on the town.
                "Lucky sluggers." Cor muttered, static field making the air sizzle in a sphere around him. Usually he was better at keeping it under control, but with no one else around but the machinery he let himself relax a little.
                "Ain't like I'm gonna hurt anyone, right ol' girl?" He tossed out the words to the Helix around him. "Just you and me'n the machines takin' a little break of our own t'day." He slapped her side affectionately. "An' don' we deserve it!"
                It was not a question and the Helix 7 did not answer. Cor didn't seem to mind as he laid a hand flat against the machinery wall that stretched from floor to ceiling next to him and sent his field out to look for any glitches that could only be fixed while they were docked. He hadn't found any yet in the other main systems and truthfully he was beyond pleased. But you wouldn't catch him telling Scales that any time soon after being denied shore leave.
                "An' after he practically handed it to everyone else too." Cor grumbled as he scanned the feedback from his field with idle eyes. "Ah'm tellin' ya girl he's actin' even stranger than usual today. Last time I saw 'im in this state was just after Felix's predecessor fried hisself trying to fix yer solar circuits and left us dead in space with his corpse." Cor shuddered and made a sound in the back of his nose. "Nasty business. Though he was always a bit of an idjit if ya ask me."
                Cor went on muttering to himself as more data downloaded into his field. He wiped the growing sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm as the extra input made his static field heat the air to uncomfortable levels.
                "Whew," Cor mumbled as he fanned at his face with his wrench, "startin' ta overheat myself darlin'. What say you we take a lil' break before I follow Jossin's example and turn mahself into barbeque, yeah?"
                The only answer he got was the sound of the air vents above him kicking on, triggered by the recently-fixed temperature regulators.
                Cor chuckled to himself as he manipulated his static field already circulated through the Helix to turn them up another few notches. "Ya know," he murmured to the ship with a mischievous grin, "yer pretty smart fer just a machine, ol' girl."
                Cor hefted his wrench against his shoulder before sauntering out of the maintenance hallway. He whistled cheerfully to himself, thinking maybe he would sneak in a little side trip in to one of the beach side bars he'd heard such good things about from one of the passengers.
                "We'll just keep this twixt you n'me, ay girl?" He told his empty room as he tossed his wrench onto the bottom bunk and grabbed a handful of change for the barmaid before picking up his favorite cap and settling it on his head. "What Scales don' know won' hurt him after all." He told her with a grin.
                With that simple plan in mind, Cor closed the door to the room he shared with the big Ruvian that loaded and unloaded cargo and made his way to the Helix's only boarding ramp. And although the ship was mostly empty of life, he made sure to take the most roundabout path he could, not wanting to run into Torrik when he was so close to escaping.
                "That'd be just what I need." Cor grumbled to himself as he stepped over a rise in the floor plating. "An afternoon occupied by Scales givin' me his 'duties first' lecture instead of sippin' Steam Engines as the tide comes in."
                He harrumphed through his nose, fed up with Torrik by this point. The Skalorian had been short on patience these last few days and Cor seemed to be catching most of the fallout no matter what he did. He was getting awful close to his last nerve.
                "Maybe it's high time I found somewhere else to make my way." The stocky man thought as he ducked under a low hanging set of pipes. "True, the air in here ain't gone stale yet, but it's only a'matter of time really." He snorted a laugh. "Unless I can get Scales to unclench. Dang but wouldn't that be a sight! Scales with one of them umbrella drinks sittin' surf side."
                Cor chuckled at the mental picture that provided. "Though if anyone needs it, it'd be him..." He thought with a wry smile.
                It fled soon enough as murmured voices reached Cor's ears. He froze, one foot in the air, as he realized that one of the voices was the captain's. And it was coming closer...
                "Oh scrap!" Cor thought. "What's he doin' back here?!"
                He didn't know and it didn't matter. Cor looked around wildly for a place to hide and when he didn't find anything, quickly backtracked down the narrow hall and jumped through the first open door he saw.
                He pressed his back against the wall next to the open door, unable to close it without catching the speakers' attention. Old lessons took hold and he repressed his static field, drawing it in close to his body so that no other Hybridians would detect his presence. Of course, there were  no other Hybridians on the Helix 7, but as the Earthlings liked to say, 'old habits died hard'.
                His heart was thudding loud in his chest, but he could still make out what Torrik was saying as he walked closer with his companion.
                "-now that we're here I expect you to take your cargo and leave immediately." Torrik was saying. He sounded stiff and irritable to Cor's ears (and Cor thought he should know what the captain sounded like when he was irritated) like he had just been made to do something he really didn't want to.
                "Calm yourself Captain," the second voice – a woman's – told Torrik with smooth, unhurried inflection, "I will be out from under your unsoiled feet as soon as business is finished between us."
                Torrik stopped in the hall and, from the sound of scales sliding against metal plating, whirled on his companion. "Our businesss is finished Ms. Kla. I have repaid my debt to Mr. O'Dowell by ferrying you and your infernal merchandise here. There iss nothing left between uss to finissh!"
                Cor felt his eyebrows rise. He hadn't heard Torrik let slip that many 's's since he'd had to deal with that too-big-for-his-britches-pirate that had boarded the Helix some months ago.
                "Hate to think what this O'Dowell character's business is for it to rankle Torrik's scales as it does." Cor thought as Kla chuckled smoothly at the Skalorian's reaction.
                "Don't get your tail in a knot my dear Torrik," she told him in such a honeyed voice that Cor could picture the victorious smile on her lips, "we are almost done with each other. I just need you to do one more thing for me before I leave and you never see me or Mr. O'Dowell again."
                Cor heard Torrik give a faint hiss as if he was still deciding between answering this woman and just tossing her off of his ship.
                But Cor knew Scales would never do that. Not if he felt indebted to this woman's boss.
                "He's a predictable pain in the aft section like that."
                The hissing faded away. "And what is that?" Torrik asked in a subdued, almost beaten, voice.
                Kla's smugness was so obvious that Cor could practically feel it, like heat from his static field. "There is a boy on your ship – human, dark hair, reasonably intelligent-"
                "Felix Cauldwell?" Torrik filled in the blank. He sounded confused. Apparently he hadn't expected Felix to be part of their business. "What about him?"
                There was a pause, as if Kla was measuring out just how much she wanted to tell the captain. "He has something Mr. O'Dowell wants, something very important; an idea."
                Torrik must have looked very confused now. "An idea?" He repeated dubiously. "You want me to give of Felix's ideas?"
                Kla breathed a laugh. "In a matter of speaking, yes." She told him. "He has written it all down of course. I saw it in his workroom."
                "Ah," Torrik mumbled, thinking he understood now, "so you want me to let you into that room of his so you may copy down whatever he has in there?"
                Cor closed his eyes and resisted the urge to sigh, knowing Torrik and this Kla woman would hear him if he did. "For a bright lizard Cap'n you don't catch on quick, do ya?"
                Kla must have been thinking along the same lines because Cor heard her sigh in impatience as she took a measured step forward, her shoes making slight noises on the deck. "No." She said, voice hardening. "It is more complicated than that, Captain Torrik. You see this particular idea the boy has is genius. No," she interrupted herself, "it is beyond mere genius; it is brilliant. So brilliant that no one in the galaxy will even believe it at first. It will be like those primitive races still out there seeing a starship and calling it magic.
                "And more importantly," Kla went on, "it will have the greatest impact the first time it is introduced. Once it has, everyone else who tries their hand at it will be seen as a knockoff, even," and here Cor heard that victorious smile return to her voice, "Mr. Cauldwell."
                Cor's eyes went wide as Torrik sputtered in sudden understanding. "You don't want to copy whatever Felix has in his workroom," he hissed, "you want to steal his work entirely!"
                Cor barely heard the captain's words. "She wants Felix's equation!" His mind raced and his static field contracted sharply as he realized with a pang that the woman was right. "If this O'Dowell gets his hands on Felix's work and takes all the credit in front of the public, they'll all think that he's the genius that made it up! They'll call the kid a liar and say he's just tryin' to scam this aft. Felix will be left with nuthin'..."
                Cor pictured the look on Felix's face if this O'Dowell succeeded. He would be devastated. Twelve years of work for nothing. No relationships, no family left to speak of...he would honestly have nothing.
                "Oh slag no." Cor thought with a scowl. "That kid's worked too hard for too long to have the rug pulled out from under him. I will burn ev'rathin' in that room afore I let them take it."
                A sudden thud like a body hitting a wall came from the hall, knocking Cor out of his thoughts. He had missed whatever Torrik had just said, but he listened intently now.
                "Listen Captain," Kla hissed with such vehemence that Cor thought the thud must have been her pinning Torrik up against the wall, "you said when Mr. O'Dowell saved your ship from impound that you would do anything it took to pay him back. Well this is it. If you want out from under his debt you will take everything from that boy's room and give it to me before you leave this miserably excuse for a planet."
                For the first time since he'd met him, Torrik sounded small to Cor's ears. "But-" he stammered trying to think, "how?"
                Kla did not answer right away. Her voice was even and smooth again when she answered him. "Did you know, Captain, that White Sails has some very unusual inheritance laws? Personally I think it has to do with the fact they were founded by pirates from back in the day, but perhaps I am wrong." She shrugged, Cor was sure of it. "For instance, did you know that when a crew member dies, all of his possessions on board the ship automatically go to the captain, unless previous arrangements have already been made with the master of the ship? It is a very convenient law in our case, isn't it? Because if Mr. Cauldwell were to suddenly perish then all of his things – including everything in that workroom you were so generous to grant him – would suddenly become yours. And if you were to donate it to Mr. O'Dowell – seeing as you don't understand any of it yourself so it is no use to you – well then no one would fault you, now would they?"
                The air out in the hallway suddenly became very still. Hidden in his room, Cor fought against every instinct telling him to run out and snap the woman's neck before she had a chance to carry through with her threat. Somehow he managed to keep himself still.  
                "Are you-” Torrik whispered, voice even drier sounding than usual, "are you going to kill Felix?"
                Kla noticeably did not give him an answer. Instead there was a muffled thump as she let go of the captain's jacket lapel and he fell the inch back to the wall. "If you are so concerned with Mr. Cauldwell's well being, then perhaps you should find another way to get Mr. O'Dowell what he wants."
                That was the end of the conversation. Kla's heels echoed against the deck plating as she walked towards Cor's open door, away from Torrik. Cor didn't dare breathe as she passed, but he did watch. He only saw the back of her head, but it was enough. She had green head spines that clicked lightly as she walked, like hair ornaments ticking lightly against one another, and her sleeveless shirt left her violet shoulders bare. There were few Moralorans out this far from their home world. Cor would recognize her again if he saw her coming.
                The mechanic stayed where he was until he heard Torrik shuffle off in the opposite direction. Once he was sure they were both long gone he dared to glance out into the maintenance hall. It was deserted like he'd expected and he expelled a large breath as he collapsed back against the wall, mind racing.
                "Scrap!" Cor thought along with a handful of other colorful expletives he'd picked up during his life span. "This ain't good! I don't know if she really means to kill the kid, but I don't doubt she would if that's what it took to get those notes!" He huffed a disbelieving laugh. "All this for a couple pounds of paper covered in his chicken scratch!"
                Shunting aside the overload of emotion trying to make his brain stall, Cor set his mind to focus on the task at hand. First things first, he had to get Felix out of the danger zone. Right now the kid was out in the town, but if previous experience was anything to go by that wouldn't last long. And Cor had to get to him before Torrik or that woman did.
                Snapping his static field into place so no one could sneak up on him, Cor took off down the hall back towards his quarters, a determined look on his face. He had to grab a few things first.


                Ten minutes later Cor found Felix coming up the boarding ramp, gazing thoughtfully at a small handful of brightly colored flowers wrapped in blue paper. He must have just arrived because he still had white sand all in his clothes and hair.
                Cor cast a surreptitious look around to make sure the purple skinned, would-be murdereress wasn't lurking about.
                Felix finally noticed him. "Oh, hey there," the kid mumbled as his eyes returned to the flowers. He held them up for Cor to see, but he was too busy checking for any signs of suspicious folk lurking about to really notice. "What d'you think? I know the asters are Tori's favorite but what about the daisies? You think she'll like 'em all together or should I just take them out?"
                "Dang I'm gettin' old." Cor thought to himself as he realized he was too out of breath to answer the engineer. "It didn't feel like I ran that far." He grumbled in his head as he tried to signal Felix to shut up and get under cover.
                Felix wouldn't have gotten the message if Cor had painted it in neon letters on the side of the ship. "Yeah, I guess you're right-"
                Cor frowned at him. "We don't got time fer this!”
                "-daisies are boring-hey!”
                Felix shouted as Cor grabbed his wrist and dragged him inside the ship, away from any potential snipers or 'accidents'. He didn't notice that he'd  knocked the flowers from the kid's hands until Felix shouted, "Cor what are you doing?! I gotta give those to Tori!"
                Cor finally found his voice as he stopped at the first intersection and checked both arms of the hall to make sure it was clear. "Ferget the scrappin' flowers Felix!" He hissed at the kid over his shoulder. "We got bigger problems right now! Like what in the stars ya did to that purple gal to make her wanna kill ya!"
                Felix froze, fumbling over his own feet when Cor dragged him down the hall. "S-someone wants to kill me?!" His voice squeaked out of his throat.
                Cor spared a glance at him. Felix's face was pale, his dark hair appearing darker from the contrast. He looked more scared than Cor had ever seen him.
                Cor felt bad as he looked forward again, but there was no help for it. Felix needed to listen to him right now, especially if this Kla woman was even half as serious as Cor thought she was.
                "Yeah," he muttered, "and we gotta get you outta here. Now!"

< Entry 6                                                                                                                                                Entry 8 >

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