The scouts came aboard about an hour later, after docking with our portside access hatch. I had gone up to the cockpit to try and get a look at them, and ran straight into an argument between Cap and Em along the way.
“But you can’t let them aboard the ship, Cap. I’ve got the systems calibrated for eleven sentients. It can’t compensate for any more.”
“Vaannah, I cannot discuss this with you at present. I must receive our new visitors. They shan’t be staying long. The systems can withstand their presence for a few short hours.”
Up in the cockpit, I managed to spy a sleek, ovular-shaped vessel out to our port side, though it clearly wasn’t the one coming in to dock with us. Even so, I had to marvel at the difference in aesthetic between these Farseer vessels and everything else I’d seen of them up to this point. Gator’s armor was industrial in design, while T’Vosh and his sentinels wore armor reminiscent of ancient Earther knights.
These Farseers, however, were…sleek. I keep coming back to that word, but it really is the best one. Like polished eggs, floating through space.
I was eager to get a look at these Farseers outside of their vessels, but before I could turn to go, Mearr growled up at me.
“What a bunch of interfering cunts, right?”
Glancing around the bridge, I was surprised to find that even Sys had gone belowdeck, for whatever reason, and it was just me and Mearr up top.
“Come here, hatchling,” he said, waving a hand at the seat beside him.
Guhle’s chair. The Co’s chair.
I hadn’t seen Guhle out among the crew lately, nor had he been called up with Mearr to negotiate the docking procedures.
He really was just the backup pilot, like Em often said.
Though keenly aware of how uncomfortable it would be for me if Guhle walked onto the bridge at that moment, I sat down in the Copilot’s chair, as Mearr had beckoned.
“We didn’t really get to finish our conversation from earlier, did we?”
I blinked, then shook my head.
Mearr took a deep breath, and then nodded. It was almost as if he were trying to hold something in, or was having bad indigestion.
“So,” he said after a pause where I considered standing up and leaving again. He casually motioned out the viewport at the oblong Farseer vessel still patrolling on our port side. “What do you think of them? Huh? Where do they fit into your Bible and its creeds?”
I stared out the viewport long and hard, taking in the near-luminescence of the white patrol ship, noting the grey-and-black dots which betrayed weapons emplacements and boarding tubes.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” I said at last.
“Well,” said Mearr with another steadying breath. “I just got to thinking, while I was sitting here watching the bastards commandeer our ship-”
“They aren’t commandeering it, Mearr,” I said. “They’re just…”
“Just what?” he said, when I failed to finish my sentence.
“They’re making sure we’re okay,” I said, unsure of what it might be that they’re actually doing.
“Uh-huh, sure. You going to let me finish now?”
“Right, so I got to thinking. Your God is supposed to all-seeing, right? And he watches over you and he protects you and all that fine nonsense. Am I right so far?”
“Yes. Yes, you’re right,” I said impatiently. It wasn’t that I was offended, or even that I was frustrated. It was simply that I was impatient with anyone — everyone, really — making such a big fucking deal about my religion.
My mother’s religion, rather.
“Well,” said Mearr, continuing, unaware of my inner dilemma. “What if he’s really just the Farseers?”
“What?” I said, and I finally turned to look at Mearr in my agitation.
“Now, wait, hear me out,” he said, holding up a hand to stem any backlash from me.
There was no need. I was stunned silent already. There was something…different about Mearr. His entire body structure seemed to have changed since the last time I saw him. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but he seemed…smaller than usual. As if his frame had grown less stocky and more…elegant?
Like I said, I couldn’t quite place my finger on it then. But there was definitely something different.
“The Farseers share all those attributes I just described. And they’re startlingly benevolent for an empire of fascist dictators — which, you have to admit, is one honest way to describe your God.”
“Get to the point,” I said, once I had recovered from my shock at Mearr’s appearance.
“My point is, what if they’re your God, and they inspired the things you people wrote in that book of yours. You said yourself there were conspiracies about alien life on the planet long before the visitors showed up. Maybe this is just another one of the Farseers’ schemes. Religious indoctrination. Sounds genius to me.”
“Except for all the ways in which the Farseers are not like the Lord My God, sure. Great theory, Mearr. Can I go now?”
Mearr growled, but it was less…threatening than his growls in the past had been. This one was more like…like a housecat compared to a lion. “What’s the rush?” he said. “Eager to go see your God face-to-face?”
“As if it mattered to you,” I said, standing.
By the time I reached the elevator, I had already managed to forget most of what Mearr had said.
I made my way down the hall, but stopped short when I encountered Cap welcoming the new Fareers onto the ship.
The Farseer scouts were just as sleek in their individual appearance as they were in their vessels. Smooth, multilayered, carapace-like shells formed their armor, with none of the gizmos sticking out like on Gator’s armor or the unnecessary opulence like T’Vosh’s cape.
The supposed epitome of the Imperium. Unfortunately, they hadn’t owned Migo long enough to bring any of those enviable traits to the system before I left.
But to see it displayed here was…well, inspiring, in a way.
Almost made me wish I had a stable home so I could watch these guys transform it into something beautiful.
Or at least useful.
As the Farseer scouts strode onto the ship, Cap scuttled forward and lifted himself up to extend an appendage in greeting.
“Welcome to our freighter,” he said. “I’m Captain Yagaraf.”
“Greetings, Captain,” said the Farseer. “I am the Vigilant Sentinel L’Mor’An’Torrag. Please stand down so that I may speak with my counterpart aboard your ship.”
Cap lowered himself to crab-status again, appendage remaining unshook. He slowly scuttled to the side and motioned T’Vosh forward with a secondary appendage.
“Give us the room, please.”
I glanced around, noticing Cap and Em drifting off toward Cap’s office together. Apparently Em hadn’t given up on voicing her frustrations. I noticed Guhle in the back corner of the room, but he slipped away before I could get his attention, and I didn’t want to chase after him like a lovesick puppy.
As I was about to duck out into a side corridor, I noticed Sys lurking in one of the doorways.
Figuring that I’d rather leave the room with somebody than nobody, I made my way for her position. Naturally, as I reached the door, she was gone — she had a tendency to do that around me. But I quickly caught up to her outside in the starboard access hall.
“What’re you doing, hatchling?”
I stopped as I noticed her crouched over a storage basin, and heard the hiss in her voice.
“What do you mean?” I said. “What’re you doing?”
“Well, then so am I.”
A chittering in the air told me that she was laughing, but it was like crackling leaves instead of cicada wings. She was angry.
“Your job is to stay out of everybody else’s way, hatchling. And, on occasion, to keep us from getting in each others’ way.”
I had never heard that part of my job description, but I didn’t really want to upset Sys any more than I had to, so I let it drop.
Instead, I offered to help.
Sys froze, twisted around to look up at me, and said, “I’ve been working on this ship for the past ten years. I’ll pass my ten-year mark on this voyage, even. I’ve been working with these systems, and others, for the entirety of my natural life, which puts it pretty damn close to your living memory. What makes you think that there’s anything you could possibly do to help me?”
Shrugging, I said, “Not much, honestly. But there’s not much else I can do while we wait for these guys to clear the room. I suppose I could go eat something, or maybe go talk to Mearr some more, but you’re in my way.”
It was a ploy. Talking to Mearr was pretty low on my to-do list — actually, it was off the “to-do” list and moving up higher on the “don’t do” list — but I knew it would get Sys’s attention, and maybe would persuade her that I’m more useful, or at least more secure, in her presence than not.
“Fine. Here, hoist out that crate and get it open while I configure the door’s schematics. Alright?”
I nodded, already moving toward the storage basin as she scurried out of the way. Inside the crate was a set of smaller toolboxes. Within those were precision surveillance tools — similar to the kind my unit used before I got stuck on Migo III.
“What’re you doing?” I asked as Sys began setting various nodes against the bulkhead of the lounge door.
“Preparing to listen in on these Farseer bastards’ conversation. Nothing happens on this ship without me knowing — or at least finding out eventually. And I think you can be sure that they aren’t about to fill us in on their little meeting after the fact.”
“Won’t they know? They’re Sentinels.”
“And what if they do?” said Sys, continuing to affix sensor nodes to the bulkhead. “They don’t seem much to care, or else they’d have already stopped me, don’t you think?”
I didn’t have an answer for that. It made a certain amount of sense, but it still seemed like a risky gambit to me. If the Farseers were lying about their abilities, then we wouldn’t be found out. If they weren’t, and the Sentinels really did know everything that was going on at this moment, then they’d either stop us or let us be.
But what would that mean? If they stopped us, they might punish us or reprimand us or be angry, but it would all be understandable. What did it mean if they knew about our surveillance, but didn’t stop us? Did they want us to listen in? Were they planting misinformation? Did they simply not care?
It was starting to drive me mad when Sys finished setting up the sensors and switched on her headset.
Not wanting to miss out — again, that’s the curious streak in me — I grabbed the spare headset and held it to my ears.