Gator arrived and immediately froze upon seeing me, slouching in a chair with a cup of water balanced in my hands. I didn’t look up at him. I couldn’t. Yet I noticed his every movement out of the corner of my eye.
I hadn’t expected this. The Farseers should have just rapped me on the knuckles and let me go. Right? That’s what authority-figures did when it wasn’t a matter of life, death, or money. But this…this didn’t follow the usual pattern. Maybe Farseers were just different, I thought.
Or maybe I had stumbled on something larger than I had expected.
I turned to look at the violet stones piled in the glass container nearby. Then I looked back up at the Farseers and Gator. As usual, it was impossible to read any of their expressions with the helmets on, but I thought Gator was also staring at the stones. Or, at least, trying very hard to make it look like he wasn’t.
“What is going on, Vigilant Sentinel?” he said, turning pointedly to T’Vosh. A little too pointedly, I thought. As though he wanted them to see that he wasn’t paying attention to the stones.
But Gator was a Farseer like them, wasn’t he? He could just enter the Dreaming and see this room from anywhere, as far as I understood it. So why would he make a point of looking away from it?
“Hey, that’s right,” I blurted.
The three Farseers turned to look at me, a pointed air of polite expectation falling over the room.
“Excuse me?” said T’Vosh. “Would you care explaining?”
I looked down at my cup, feeling the cold metal against my skin as my palms began to sweat. Oops.
“The Vigilant Sentinel is waiting,” said the Farseer in front of me.
“You guys can see everything that’s happening, right? So why did you have to bring Gator down here to confirm what I told you? You already know the truth.”
There was a pause.
“You are correct,” said Gator, surprising everyone. “Under normal circumstances. But the ion storm is disrupting our ability to enter the Dreaming. The images we receive are fragmented, and it serves more as a distraction than a blessing. Is that correct, Vigilant Sentinel?”
T’Vosh nodded slowly, staring at me. “You are perceptive,” he said.
“It’s a frustratingly inconsistent attribute, I’m afraid,” I muttered. “Otherwise, I’d probably get in far less trouble than I do.”
I snuck a glance up at Gator, hoping he’d catch the hint.
“Now, what can I do for you, Vigilant Sentinel?” he said. “Why do you have one of my crew in your private storehouse?”
“We found him here,” said T’Vosh, turning to face Gator with some reluctance.
I appreciated the shift in his attention. It meant I only had one overbearing armored alien to cower in fear before.
“Is that so?” said Gator. “I thought you said this area was secure.”
“That is not your concern,” said T’Vosh. “I want to know the reason for his being here.”
“Did you ask him?”
“He claims you sent him. To investigate maintenance difficulties.”
Gator hesitated on the response, wrenching my insides with the pause. Then he said the most beautiful words I’d heard in months.
“Of course I sent him. He is my crewman, is he not?”
T’Vosh kept his attention fixed on Gator, and for a sickening moment I thought he might not buy it. Then he motioned to the Farseer in front of me, who yanked me to my feet and walked me to Gator.
“In the future, please inform me when you need your crew to inspect our areas of the ship. I am confident that we are equally qualified to any tasks you might have them perform.”
“Of course,” said Gator, reaching up and grabbing ahold of my forearm. He turned and began to lead me out of the chamber. “Thank you for your cooperation, Vigilant Sentinel.”
The door opened and closed and then Gator whirled me around to face him.
“What the hell is going on?” he said. “What were you doing in there?”
I fidgeted under his scrutiny. My mouth opened and closed a few times as I searched for a plausible answer, but Gator shook me and brought any thought I had of lying to him to a halt.
“Do not provide me with a story like the one you delivered our visitors with. It will only lead us in circles. Tell me the truth. Now!”
“I thought I heard Mearr,” I said, after a long, heart-wrenching pause. “And I didn’t want to talk to her.”
Gator released me and I heard a mechanical noise that I had long ago decided to equate to a sigh escape from his suit.
“What is going on between you two?” he said.
I fidgeted for a minute before I caught the actual question in his voice. The honest wondering. It was difficult, naturally, due to his mechanical filters. But once I identified it, the tone was unmistakable.
“You mean, you don’t know?” I said.
“I want to hear your take on it.”
“Oh,” I said. “Um. Well, Mearr and I…I mean, Mearr’s pregnant because of me.”
“Yes. I noticed. A while ago, actually. But I did not think it a big deal.”
“Of course not. Procreation is natural. Then everyone else made it a problem by taking sides, it seems.”
I grimaced. Taking sides? That didn’t sound good. But maybe I was blowing things out of proportion. Right? That was possible. Surely.
“Is there anyone on my side?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“I do not see how you can even have a side,” said Gator. “You have not been seen since Mearr stabbed you in the cockpit. No one knows what you are doing or thinking. All we see is that the ship gets cleaned.”
I stared down at my feet and shifted my weight, uncomfortable no matter how I stood.
“What is going on with you?” said Gator. “You recover slowly. Then you hide away, never seen by anyone in the crew. Again, if it were not for the cleanliness of the ship, I would think you dead. Given up to the silence of space.”
Gator folded his arms across his chest, drawing himself up to his full height, and stared down at me. “How are you holding together?”
Despite it all, I couldn’t help a chuckle escaping my mouth.
“Excuse me?” said Gator.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just…you don’t exactly carry yourself in a very comforting manner. Y’know?”
Gator’s silence seemed to say that he did not, in fact, know.
“Sorry,” I said again, stifling another laugh. I cleared my throat. “I’m fine.”
“I do not believe you,” said Gator, somehow making himself even more imposing than before. “Did you think at all that Mearr might have been coming down here to find you because he is worried?”
My stomach flipped. “He is?” I said, unknowingly using the male pronoun. “Really?”
Gator shrugged. “I do not know. But you must admit that it is a possibility. You did not have to go and get yourself into trouble with our visitors over something as mundanely benign as a visit from coworkers.”
He leaned forward and lifted a finger to point at my forehead. “Do not let the silence contaminate your ability to perceive things clearly. A little noise cannot hurt you. Even if it does carry anger with it.”
I didn’t know what to make of Gator’s pseudo-psychological babble, so I ignored it. Choosing instead to focus on another matter.
“What were those stones they had in that glass chamber?”
Gator stiffened. An impressive feat, considering he always felt a bit mechanical to me anyway, but I clearly noted his apparent discomfort at the question.
“So,” he said slowly. “You noticed them too?”
I nodded. Though I wondered at what he meant about noticing the stones.
“I see,” he said. “I thought for a moment that my eyes were playing a trick on me. That perhaps I was in the Dreaming, even while I was clearly present and awake. I even considered that the ion storm could be corrupting the Dreaming so thoroughly and erratically that it was causing it to project on my waking vision. But it seems that you have cleared that mystery quite thoroughly. That was no deception or illusion. It was real.”
He spoke as if pronouncing some grave truth, like the fatal status of a corpse, or the revelation of some long-running mystery on a serialized drama. It was all very melodramatic, but considering I didn’t know what was going on at the time, I figured I’d let Gator have his fun. An aura of mystique was about all he had going for him amongst the crew. That, and we couldn’t get where we were going without him.
All the same, there were limits on how far along I was willing to be strung.
“What was it, Gator?” I said.
He looked at me, as if surprised to find me standing there. He hesitated, and then wrapped a metal hand, with its pointed fingers, around my forearm.
“Come,” he said. “We must go to the captain immediately.”