Wednesday, February 18, 2015

16: All the Wrong Conclusions


Entry 16: Where Tori discovers the truth, or something very like it.


                Tori was still thinking Madison's words over the night before they were supposed to reach their destination. She sat in the cockpit alone, watching the instruments do nothing as the sped through the gaps between stars. Stoic had gone to grab some shut eye while so he wouldn't be completely useless when he returned for the early morning shift in another handful of hours.
                So alone in the dark, Tori sat and tried not to think. It was difficult because she did her best thinking in the dark. Her last four A papers had been written at three in the morning with all the lights off and her bunkmate snoring above her.
                There was no snoring now, just the silence of the machines. And it was driving her crazy.
                With a gusting sigh, Tori rolled to her feet, wrapping the blanket she kept up here around her shoulders. She paced along the seam in the deck plating that sat behind her and Stoic's chairs.
                "There has to be some way I can tell if Madi's right," she thought to herself as she paced. "Maybe I can trick Torrik into confessing something."
                She shook her head, instantly dismissing that idea. "No, Torrik is still clever, even if he does turn out to be a liar. The only one that would even have a chance at that would have been Cor and he's...somewhere else."
                She ran a hand through her bangs and made a frustrated face. Of course the one thing she wanted to do was impossible. The only solid way she could think of to prove Torrik had chased Felix and Cor off was to ask Felix and Cor themselves. But she had no way of contacting them and she didn't know enough about avoiding people to know what Cor might be thinking. As far as she knew, neither of them had friends outside of the Helix and almost no family. Of course Cor had his brother and Felix had a number of aunts and uncles and their offspring back on Earth, but she didn't even know the other Hybridian's name and she knew Felix avoiding contact with his family as much as humanly possible. He would only go there if he absolutely had to. Maybe.
                Which left her with nothing.
                A triple beep came from the controls, signifying the main computer's switch over to a new calendar day. Tori flipped her wrist and shook her watch into sight. The white light of hyperspace coming through the bubble-shaped view port gave her just enough light to make out it was exactly two forty-one a.m. Like every other system on the Helix 7, the main computer was set to Kooru time. Her watch, however, was set to central Earth, where home was.
                Tori sighed, wishing she could just go to bed and sleep, as much to escape her thoughts as to rest.
                She fell back in her chair, making it creak. "Come on think!" she ordered herself. "Who else would know the truth?" She frowned up at the ceiling. "Well whoever was there, obviously. So who else was there? Cor and Felix of course. Torrik, if he really did it, and- And-!"
                Nothing. And then, all of sudden, everything.
                She sat bolt upright in her chair and started typing into the main computer as quickly as she was physically able.
                "Of course! The Helix! Fahr tapes everything in here so he must have recorded what happened. The security feeds might still be in here. Don't be too late..."
                She pulled up the footage from the day of the fire, praying that Torrik was too flustered or ashamed to have remembered to wipe them. Of course she remembered the captain telling the dock's fire marshals that their security had been compromised...
                She spun through the video with the scroll wheel set into the control board. It clicked faintly as she spun it with a finger, eyes glued to the small screen in front of her chair.
                The video was intact up until two in the afternoon and then static. Nothing but static until the following day.
                Tori flung herself back in her chair, rubbing her eyes and feeling worse than before.
                "Of course he wiped the tape. Torrik's not an idiot." She groaned and flipped her crocheted blanket over her head. "Listen to yourself! You're actually starting to believe Madi's crazy conspiracy theory! She was just joking..."
                Tori sat there feeling guilty and miserable as she watched the command board through the holes in the loose weave. Nothing changed and her mind began to wander again.
                "But then..." the part of her that had to know took over again. "Fahr has been totally paranoid since those pirates boarded us. He keeps back-ups of everything. Back-ups that – if he really thought the break in the feed was from the fire and not sabotage – he might not have watched to see if someone had erased them too..."
                Carefully, as if she still wasn't committed, Tori sat up and punched in the keys for the hard drive space that belonged to Fahr. As part of their living arrangement, each member of the crew had a certain amount of disk space for their own personal use. Tori's was filled with video messages that went out to her parents and Earth-bound friends when the Helix hooked up with any kind of viable network, although she had quite a number of essays and research backed up there as well. But Fahr used his as his backup security drive.
                "I shouldn't," Tori thought , fingers hovering over the ancient keyboard. "That's Fahr's private space. That's like...snooping through his room! I can't. I won't."
                But she looked at the wash of static playing on the other screen. Static that could mask a crime...
                She had to know.
                It took her a while to guess his passcode correctly. Fortunately the Helix didn't lock you out after so many tries. Half an hour later, Tori found herself watching the soundless, grayscale video from that awful day in White Sails.

***

                "You!"
                Torrik turned around at the unexpected shout. He was in the officers mess despite the early hour, nursing a brandy that was older than a Hybridian granny.
                "Miss Addison," he said in some surprise. "What are you doing here at this hour?" He frowned, information trickling past the alcohol into his brain. "And why have you left your post? If you don't return in short order I will hold you for dereliction of duty."
                That appeared to be the wrong thing to say. The storm clouds condensed on the young woman's face, thundering as angry tears dropped from her eyes. "Duty? You wanna talk to me about duty?!" she practically screamed.
                Torrik stood from his chair and drew himself up to his full height. He dwarfed the human female, but she didn't even flinch. She stalked right up to him and prodded him in the chest with a sharp finger.
                "You sold him out, you cowardly weasel!" she ground out through her teeth. "I've half a mind to change course for the nearest uncivilized place and toss you out from above atmosphere!"
                Torrik leaned away from the fury in her voice. He'd never even heard the young lady utter a swear much less threaten to kill someone. "Miss Addison I don't know what you're so worked up over, but if you just calm down I'm sure we can work this out."
                She wasn't buying it. "I'll calm down when you tell me what you were thinking – throwing yourself in with that nasty woman! I saw the two of you talking in the corridor right before you cornered Felix and Cor in the cargo bay. You were going to sell him out to that-that-” She blinked quickly and even worked up as she was, Torrik could see she was trying hard to think of a word other than the one that had sprung to mind.
                "Harpy?" he supplied.
                Tori took it. "Yes, that painted harpy! She was after Felix, wasn't she? For some project she couldn't finish on her own, could she? And instead of letting Felix chose for himself, you sold his big ol' brain to that awful woman so he bolted, didn't you? Didn't you?"
                She glared up at him, eyes boiling. Inwardly Torrik was surprised at how wrong she was. But given all the accurate conclusions she'd come to as well, he was hardly about to correct her.
                "Miss Addison-" he tried again.
                "Where is he?"
                Torrik jumped at the sheer volume of her voice. Liquid was pooling in her eyes now, but it did nothing to soften her appearance. Instead it made the scene worse.
                "I don't know," he told her. "It's like you said. Felix didn't want to work for Miss Kla, so he took his work, destroyed my room, and left."
                Tori's eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. "Cor started that fire."
                Torrik reminded himself not to nod too quickly. "At Mr. Cauldwell's insistence, I am sure. You know how the old man looked after the boy."
                She still looked like she wanted to strangle him with his own tail. "Miss Addison," he tried again and was relieved when she did not scream in his face again, "it is late. You are obviously distressed. Perhaps we should discuss this tomorrow when heads are clearer?"
                "I quit."
                Torrik went still. For a moment he was sure he'd imagined her words. "What?"
                Tori held her head high, chin jut out defiantly. "I said I quit," she repeated. "I'm getting off at Titania and if you try and stop me I'll tell the police everything."
                Torrik had no desire to try and stop her. Better she was far away with her false assumptions than here causing trouble. He counted his lucky stars that she wasn't contacting the authorities now. Caladry O'Dowell did not react well to those that inspired investigations into his personal business.
                But Torrik did not respond well to threats either.
                "And what is to stop me from ensuring you do not call them permanently?" he hissed. He recognized the threat as foolish as soon as he said it, but he could hardly take it back now.
                He didn't know where she'd pulled the pistol from, but it was in her hand and pointed at his gut before he could stop her.             
                "Because I am not a stupid woman, Captain." There was fire in her damp eyes when she said it and Torrik was suddenly keenly aware that if he pressed her, she would protect herself.
                Torrik went very still. "No," he finally answered, "no you are not."
                He slowly stepped away, not wishing to startle her, but his young co-pilot had stronger nerves than he had previously thought. Her hand wasn't even shaking. He hoped that was because she knew somewhere inside that he had no wish to harm her nor she him.
                He slowly made his way around the small table with measured steps, coming to a stop on the other side to face her. "We reach port in twelve hours. As soon as we land, you are free to leave. No questions asked. Stoic will have your last wages by then. I hope that will end our current confrontation?" He stared her down with black eyes.
                Her breathing was deep and purposeful, as if she had to remind herself to do it. "If I had the slightest proof-"
                "But you don't." Torrik stood firm. "All you have is a backup security tape I was foolish enough to forget about, a businesswoman that you never liked, and a boy and an old man leaving my ship of their own accord. And, of course, you have the power to leave. I suggest you take it."
                The fire burned higher in her eyes. "If I ever see you again-" But she had no end to the threat.
                That did not reassure Torrik any. He had no doubt it was only Tori's own innate goodness that was keeping him from becoming a corpse on the floor. It had been clear to everyone just how much she cared for Mr. Cauldwell. Well, everyone except Mr. Cauldwell himself. Before now Torrik had never thought about what lengths she would go to to ensure the other human's safety.
                "Foolish of me," the captain thought, "even almost-mates will go to extremes to protect the  other." He had never understood why the two humans had never seen that for themselves.
                Torrik looked over at the digital clock counting time on the wall to his right. "You'd best return to the cockpit, Miss Addison. Mr. Freer will be there for his shift soon. He will have questions if you are not there."
                Tori knew he was right, and she wanted nothing more than to leave, but she didn't lower her pistol until she had backed out of the room and the door slid shut before her, cutting her off from Torrik.

***

                Tori didn't go anywhere alone until they reached Titania, not willing to take any chances that Torrik would change his mind. And her plasma pistol – a gift from her dad before she'd left Earth for the first time as a pilot – was always close at hand.
                Now they were due to touchdown any minute. Stoic had already given her her last paystub and said his meager goodbyes. The old Ruflor could handle the Helix on his own – Tori had mainly been here to learn from him – so she was taking this time to cram all her things somewhat violently into her duffel bag.
                "You're going to burst the seams if you keep going at it like that."
                Tori turned like a startled rabbit, hand automatically going for the pistol lying openly on her bunk.
                But it was only Madison standing in the doorway.
                Tori blew out a sigh. "I was just getting ready to leave," she said as she went back to stuffing her spare boots into the bottom of the bag. "You?"
                Madison stepped inside looking around at the somewhat ransacked closet and drawers. "Yeah, we're ready to head out too. Figured we'd wait for you though, just in case."
                Tori slowed, heart beating only slightly slower in relief. She had told Madison what she'd learned as soon as Stoic had taken over the controls. Without her, Tori wasn't sure what would have happened to her sanity today.
                "Thanks," she mumbled.
                Madison nodded. "Sorry things didn't work out."
                Tori shook her bag furiously to jostle things down to the bottom. "Not your fault my boss turned out to be a loser," she told her. Her eyes stung and she couldn't tell if she was more furious with Torrik for chasing off her friends or terrified for Felix's sake. Cor could take care of himself, but Felix?
                "I wish I could say he was a grown man and I don't have to worry, but Lord knows that isn't true. He's probably in an alley somewhere trying to show some thugs mathematical proofs."
                Tori shook her head, trying to dislodge the image of Felix getting himself beaten to death. Cor was a capable guy. She'd just have to trust that he'd find a way to keep them both out of trouble.
                She heard Madison sigh behind her and step inside. The other human picked up a stack of clothes from the storage unit and handed them to Tori, who shoved them into the bag like they were wads of cotton.
                "It's still a lousy situation. I mean not many nice people like you have to worry about things like this happening."
                Tori snorted and sat on her bag to squash things down. "Yeah, apparently I'm a great, big sucker," she bit out, swiping a hand across her nose as she held back angry tears with a scowl.
                "Yeah," Madison sighed as she put an understanding hand on Tori's shoulder, "you are."
                Tori knew she didn't mean it and laughed at her friend's ability to keep a straight face. Of course it crumbled as soon as Tori laughed.
                "All right so sucker isn't the right word," Madison told her, "but you are very trusting. That's why people like you."
                "Because it makes me a good target?" Tori slid her a sideways look.
                Madison shook her head. "No, because most of the universe is filled with cynics, including yours truly." She nudged Tori in the side with her elbow. "The rest of us need people like you to remind us that every once in a while we're wrong. It's quite refreshing."
                "Yeah, well," Tori glowered at her boots, "it doesn't feel so good on this side of the fence."
                Madison didn't argue. They sat there in silence a moment, their faces dour. Tori had no idea what Madison was thinking of to make her frown like that, but then she was so caught up in her own misery that she didn't notice much outside her own head.
                Finally Madison pushed herself off the bunk. "Come on," she said as he patted Tori on the back, "I know a good place not too far from here called The Golden Goose. I'll buy you a drink."
                Tori made a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a growl. "Thanks," she grumbled as she rubbed at her forehead, "I think I need one."



< Entry 15                                                                                           Entry 17 >

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