I did not want to see the captain. The captain had made it quite clear on our last meeting that he did not much care for my presence aboard his ship anymore. And I doubted he would much care for my presence to be shared with his own.
Especially considering the antics I had pulled that day.
All the same, the captain maintained an air of cool efficiency when Gator half-dragged me into his office next to the medical bay.
“Gator?” he said. “What do you need?”
Gator wasted no time in pleasantries or rambling introductions. He got right to the point.
“The Farseers are transporting tranicium ore,” he said.
My mind swam, unsure how to contextualize this information. On the one hand, I knew the purpose of this material. It was the raw component that was refined into the fuel used to power the drives that propelled ships through space at faster-than-light speeds. A necessary commodity. Though I wondered why we were transporting it on an undefended realspace freighter.
On the other hand, Gator’s reaction, and general attitude about the presence of this ore made me think there was more going on than I initially anticipated. And my own ignorance about the nature of tranicium ore only added to the sense of mystery surrounding our visitors’ cargo.
“I told you not to worry yourself about it,” said Cap. “The Farseers and I worked it all out before our departure. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Gator held himself stoically still, like a statue. Not a gear shifted, nor a lever moved in his mechanical body. Only the blinking lights on his chestpiece made any indication that he was still in there at all.
“I thought it was simply the presence of my own kind disrupting my abilities,” he began, and it was in that tone that I had learned would mean a fairly lengthy dissertation. “That the proximity of multiple viewers of prescient thought would necessitate awkward readjustments in the Dreaming’s presentation. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? It’s not the Farseers, and it’s not the ion storm. It’s this ore. Disrupting my prescience. Blocking the eddies and flows of the Dreaming echoing across space and time. Do you realize how dangerous this is? What could have happened to us if Sys and Mearr hadn’t been so skilled? Or Guhle hadn’t been so sharp to notice the point of necessity and lowered the lead shielding? You have placed us all in significant danger, captain. All without our knowing.”
The captain listened to all of this with a calm impassiveness. Floating in his pod, steepling his tiny fingers, watching Gator as stoically as Gator watched him.
“Are you finished?” he said when Gator had been silent for a full half of a minute.
Gator said, “Yes,” without moving from his statuesque position.
“Good. Now allow my to be blunt, my friend. You are a second-rate Dreamer. You have said so yourself in mock self-deprecation, but it is the truth. It is, however, part of why I value you. You lack the haughtiness of a full Dreamer that would otherwise remove you from the day-to-day workings of a ship like this one. What’s more, your hybridity in your use of the Dreaming and the Waking that allows you to monitor what is happening and what is coming — albeit limited — makes you perfectly suited for the job I’ve hired you for. You have performed it dutifully and skillfully for many years now, and I have never had reason to question your competence.”
I could feel it coming. The other shoe was about to drop. The big “But” that shifted the lecture from encouraging reassurance to devastating deconstruction. And I really didn’t want to be there to hear it, but I couldn’t find a way to extricate myself politely. True, neither Gator nor the captain was paying attention to me right now, but I could just feel that if I were to make one decisive move away from the conversation, that they would both hone in on me and turn their word-weapons on my person.
So I stood. And I listened.
“I fear now that you have felt the need to prove yourself,” said the captain, leaning forward in his pod to peer at Gator with his deep, unfathomable eyes. “Being faced with your own kind day in and day out, you feel yourself faced with your inadequacies, as perceived by the greater bulk of your kind. You feel a need to prove yourself, and each failure — however slight — is only magnified by their judgmental eyes.”
The captain leaned back, and his spidery legs reclined as well, before skittering around to bring the captain beside Gator.
“You’ve made mistakes before,” he said, reaching up with a mechanical appendage in a gesture approximating reassurance. “I need you to look at these the way you looked at those. As learning experiences. As simply facts of your chosen profession. Do you understand?”
Gator didn’t speak, but the stiff aggression had left his figure. Somehow, though I had noticed no movement in his armor, it was unmistakable in his demeanor.
“Good,” said the captain. “Now I will hear no more fuss over this ore business. Understood?”
“Yes, captain,” said Gator, crossing his fist to his chest and bowing slightly.
As Gator turned away, the captain’s gaze fell on me.
“And I will have your assurance of silence as well,” he said. It was not a request.
I nodded emphatically before scurrying off to follow Gator once the captain had made the motion that gave me leave to go.
As I caught up to Gator outside of the captain’s office, he turned suddenly toward me.
“What did you think in there, hatchling?” he said, though his voice seemed distracted. Elsewhere. “What is the captain hiding?”
It was a highly loaded question. I didn’t know what to make of it.
“Um, nothing?” I said, wishing I could be anywhere but here.
“You really think so? You clearly don’t know him as well as I. He knows something about the ore. Something he wants to keep from the crew.”
“It’s probably for our own good,” I said, not believing a word of it.
“Perhaps,” said Gator, and again his voice trailed off as though his mind had travelled somewhere else before he had finished speaking. “But we need to make sure. We have only come halfway on our journey. If that. It would be disastrous for something to happen that we might have prevented with more knowledge.”
“Okay…so what’re we supposed to do?”
Gator was silent for a long moment as we continued walking down the corridors. I was alert for any sign of another crewmate. The last thing I wanted was to run into someone after a confrontation like that.
As we came to a cross-corridor, Gator suddenly turned to me and grasped my forearm with his metal, clawlike hand.
“We need to talk to Guhle.”