Dirck still didn't understand why his father kept dragging him and Jen along. Witnessing his prior confrontation with Troy had revealed a behavior so foreign that the memory alone triggered a cold sweat. Returning was no easier. His gut already felt as if he might explode, spewing blood and internal organs about the room. At least Jen was a healer and would know what to do but it would still be a major embarrassment and probably an NCR.
Whatever plan ‘Merapa had devised he hadn't shared it but as they made the trip once more to Troy's office Dirck seriously doubted compliance would be a driver. More likely he'd provoke the captain into helping but it could just as easily become a death warrant, a possibility accentuated by the armed guard at the door.
Troy was busy with something at his workdeck, deliberately ignoring them when they stepped inside. The guard shifted his weapon, a state-of-the-art lasomag, and watched indifferently. Dirck avoided eye contact by studying patterns in the soft-textured floor.
His father spoke before Troy had a chance, voice calm but edged with challenge. “You asked how I was going to deal with my daughter's accident, Troy” he said. “I have your answer.”
The captain paused then slowly looked up. “Let's hear it, Brightstar.”
His father’s demeanor was entirely different than the suppressed fury Dirck had seen before. Equally cold, yes; controlled, yes; but this time the authority in his voice charged the room.
“It's amazing how a single event can have two entirely different interpretations,” he said. “You've assumed you're operating a military vessel under battle call. You're not. This is a converted passenger conveyance which falls under an entirely different set of regulations.”
Troy matched the energy level of his opponent’s glare. “Oh, really? So what's your point, Brightstar?”
“My point is that your charges are entirely false. According to HIO regulations governing civilian conveyances safety is your responsibility. Pods are supposed to have functional failsafe mechanisms controlled by the bridge which are no less than two fault tolerant, meaning three inhibits would have to fail before the pod could fire. The datalogs show no evidence that my daughter tampered with anything. There's a wealth of it, however, for deficiencies in complying with HIO specifications. And, as you well know, jeopardizing the lives of civilian passengers is a treasonous offense.”
Troy's eyes narrowed. “Are you accusing me of treason, Brightstar?”
Dirck glanced at Jen whose usually solid Miran facade had surrendered to something between fascination and fear. Troy's expression, on the other hand, was somewhere between contempt and murder whereas Dirck’s was between nausea and passing out. His father, however, remained deathly calm.
“That's the law, Troy,” he said. “Your negligence is the problem. Therefore you're responsible for the rescue efforts. And I'm prepared to do whatever's necessary to assure my daughter's safe return.”
Troy's expression froze, harsh but unreadable then shifted subtly as he took a different tact. “You've got a few problems there, Brightstar,” he replied. “The homing beacon won't activate until entry so no one can do a thing until it lands. Next, the evacuation effort will be finished by the time the pod arrives. And finally all ships are forbidden from entering the system.”
“By what authority?” ‘Merapa demanded.
“The Interplanetary Protection Patrol.”
“Why can't the IPP bring her out?”
Troy shrugged indifferently. “They could. If they wanted to. But they won't go near the place. Would you?”
“So they won't do anything.”
“That's the general idea, Brightstar.”
Their tone was almost civil now, somewhat sparring, as Troy answered Dirck’s father’s questions almost as if under obligation to do so. Dirck's chest was still tight but his stomach finally returned to its proper place. He adjusted his posture from caution to attention and closed his mouth when he realized he was gaping like some kind of an idiot.
“Why wasn't there a transponder on board so the pod could be tracked?” ‘Merapa asked.
“There was,” Troy responded. “But we haven't picked it up yet.”
His father took a deep breath and flattened his hands on Troy’s workdeck. Sensing the conversation was reaching a climax Dirck's previous symptoms returned. His fingers flexed nervously by his sides, palms suddenly cold.
“So,” ‘Merapa said, all propriety gone. “Your pod malfunctioned again. What's new, Troy? Does anything on this ship work properly? Is anything up to spec? It's obvious where your conversion funds went, isn't it Troy?” he snarled, waving his arm to indicate their luxurious surroundings.
Once again Dirck marveled at the extravagance of Troy's chambers, this time in a different light. The captain didn't respond.
“You're so deep into failures I'd be surprised if that pod even makes it to Verdaris. I never heard of a zero-fault tolerant failsafe mechanism in my entire life to say nothing of systems accessibility violations.” His father’s eyes narrowed as he leaned farther into Troy's face. “Or was my daughter's accident, perhaps, planned?”
Silence. Troy's expression remained taut. He worked his jaw while his mouth maintained a grim line, eyes as cold as space. He took a breath as if to explode. And didn't. His voice resonated like steel. “That's a serious accusation, Brightstar.” he said.
“That's right,” ‘Merapa stated, equally hard. “So what do you intend to do?”
“I've done it. I notified the IPP.”
Troy gestured invitingly toward his comcon with an exaggerated flourish. His father hesitated, surprised, then stepped behind the workdeck where he read the notice without comment, perusing the console for several moments after it returned to Troy's incoming messages.
“All right,” he said. “That's a start. But not good enough. What interstellar vehicles are onboard?”
Caution sparked the captain's eyes. “Why?”
“The least you owe me is a ship. I'm going to Verdaris.”
“That's ridiculous,” Troy scoffed.
Dirck could tell his father's patience was spent. “All that's ridiculous is the inept way you've handled this mess,” he said. “I’ll tell you one thing, Troy. If my daughter isn't returned safely this entire foul-up will be reported in excruciating detail. Every violation, every failure, every delay. I'm well acquainted with several people with high governmental posts.” He straightened, adding, “If you value your commission, Troy...”
Before he could finish Troy was on his feet, face crimson. “No, you listen, Brightstar!” he exploded. “This is my ship and I give the orders, understand? I don't care who you are or who you know. As long as the Aquarius is in deep space, I'm in command. Not you, not some idiot civilian back on Mira III. You got that?”
‘Merapa’s smile dripped with the frigidity of liquid hydrogen. “Civilian? I think not, Troy. Kranston Starturner is my wife's brother. Admiral Starturner, Troy. One way or another he's going to hear about this. Either he'll hear what a glorious help you've been or what a blundering fool. What'll it be, Troy? It's up to you.”
The glower sizzled between them for what seemed like eons.
“All right, all right,” Troy muttered finally. “I'll see what I can do.”
Had any of them caught the instantaneous glint in Troy's eyes it would have set off an instinctive alarm. Instead, each of them including the guard assumed his sudden cooperation to be the result of the veiled threat and in ‘Merapa’s favor.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish