Tic-Toc was nowhere to be found. We all searched for him. Or, rather, as many of us as could be on our feet. Guhle came down from the cockpit when I first hit the emergency alarm, with Cap arriving shortly thereafter. Even the Farseers showed up, albeit only to verify that we weren’t about to crash or anything like that.
Once we were all gathered, Cap began examining Chief’s body and issuing orders to the rest of us to begin looking for Tic-Toc and whoever had done this. I thought it a bit poor of him to recommend that we go out searching for whatever had killed Chief, seeing as we were each far less imposing than him and whatever it was had apparently dealt with Chief easily enough, so how could we stand a chance? But there was no arguing with the captain while he was working, so we dispersed.
I made sure to stick near Guhle. He had always looked out for me before, and knew so much about the rest of the galaxy that surely he had encountered whatever danger we were going to find. It would be safest to stay in his presence.
Unfortunately, Guhle disagreed. I still didn’t know where he and I stood at this point, and maybe neither did he. Or maybe he was still dealing with the guilt of leaving Em behind. I don’t know. Either way, we got through two corridors before he growled at me to stop following him.
“Cover more ground,” he said before turning around and stalking off in the opposite direction.
Fine. If he wanted to go it alone again, that was fine. Nothing I could do about it anyway.
The search for Tic-Toc lasted for two hours before Cap recalled everyone to the galley. It was unnerving, sitting in the booths without the whirring of Tic-Toc or Chief’s busied preparations filling in the background noise. There was just the low roar of the ship’s engines and the awkward silence as we all tried not to look at Chief’s body.
Cap scuttled over beside us. The Farseers were standing near the Galley entrance, perhaps waiting just long enough to hear the autopsy before returning to their guard duty. Guhle and I sat facing each other without looking at one another.
“Chief is dead,” said Cap.
“No, duh,” said Guhle. It was a far more juvenile expression than I had ever heard from him. I wondered briefly if he was alright before remembering that he didn’t much want my help anymore.
“He was stabbed through the abdomen and sliced up the torso. No chance of survival, regardless of when we would have gotten here.”
“Is there any chance of determining the type of weapon used?” said T’Vosh, the lead Farseer.
“He’s got a point,” said Guhle. “Chief always did have some pretty nasty claws. Might’ve been suicide.”
Cap shook his head. “No chance of it being suicide. His talons are clean and the tear in his flesh is smooth. This is some kind of precision blade. Very sharp. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“But then,” said Guhle, standing. “You don’t spend much time around murder victims and bladed weaponry, do you, captain?”
“No…I suppose I don’t,” said Cap after a moment’s hesitation.
“Come on, let’s take another look at it.”
Without waiting for a reply, Guhle strode past Cap and toward Chief’s body.
“But I don’t understand,” I said before Cap had a chance to turn away. “I just saw Chief and Tic-Toc when I picked up the food for Sys and Mearr. I know I wasn’t the speediest delivery boy, but how could someone have crept in her, killed them both, and disappeared without anyone noticing?”
“We are rather short handed right now,” said Cap. “And there’s nothing to suggest that Tic-Toc was destroyed. He is likely still here, just hiding somewhere.”
“Why would he hide, captain?” said Guhle from his position perched beside Chief’s body. “What could frighten a robot?”
“He was fanatically devoted to Chief,” I said. “I don’t care who you are, when your god dies, you snap. Maybe he just ran away.”
“And you’d know all about that, hatchling?”
“Enough,” said Cap. “Tic-Toc is somewhere on this ship, intact, and likely a witness to what happened. We need to find him. We’ll work in rotations, searching the ship for any sign of him. Guhle, you need to be back in the cockpit until Mearr recovers. Keep an eye out though. Something is aboard and it’s a killer.”
“I’ll stay sharp,” said Guhle, rising and turning toward the galley exit. As he reached the doorway, though, he turned. “You’re right about that cut, though, captain. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
Once Guhle was gone, Cap turned to me. “I need you to tend to Chief’s body. Get Gator to help you. The two of you will need to alternate duties in the galley from now on. Without a cook, we’ll all need to take our turn at the stove, but Sys and Mearr are in no shape to do any kind of work yet and they’re going to need a lot of sustenance before they’re on their feet again. Can I count on you?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir. Of course.”
“Good.” Cap rose up from beside Chief’s body and scuttled over to where the Farseers still stood.
What were they waiting for? I wondered.
“I would appreciate it if you would help in this matter,” said Cap. “As you may or may not know, I am severely short handed right now, between deaths and medical emergencies among my crew. Your extra eyes and bodies would help us get this ship back on course, and could potentially ward off further catastrophe.”
“Of course,” said T’Vosh. “We understand that what impedes your crew also impedes the integrity of our mission. We will gladly offer our assistance to you in resolving this matter.”
I watched the Farseers closely while they spoke with the captain. There was something unsettled about them. Something nagging at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t puzzle it out.
What did I know about Farseers? I suddenly asked myself. Think. Work through it. Remember.
They come in two varieties, Deepsights and Sentinels. Deepsights peer into the Dreaming in order to see what will happen. Sentinels live in the Waking and view what is happening. Together, they work to preserve the security of the Farseer Imperium, making it the safest quadrant in the galaxy. Right?
So what was making me uncomfortable about their presence on this ship?
Safety. Of course. That was it.
“Why aren’t we safe?” I said aloud. It was a quiet question, but it came into the lull of the conversation between Cap and the Farseers, and it pierced through the silence to ring through the space between them.
They all turned.
“What did you say, hatchling?” There was a hardness in Cap’s voice again. He had been softening toward me over the past few hours — or had it been days? — as I helped him with Sys and Mearr. But now I could hear the judgement returning to his attitude, finding me unworthy.
It didn’t matter, though. I knew I was onto something.
“You’re Sentinels, right? You can see everything that’s happening at this moment.”
The two Farseers behind T’Vosh glanced at each other, then at their leader, but T’Vosh kept his vision sensors fixed firmly on me. Clearly, I had struck a nerve.
“At least, that’s what I’ve been told about you,” I said, rising from the floor to stand in their midst. “You live in the Waking. And your leaders, the Deepsights? They sleep in the Dreaming, foretelling all that will happen. Right?”
“You speak basic truths for a complex reality,” said one of the subordinate Farseers — Q’Laren, I think, though I never perfected my ability to tell them apart.
“But still, it’s a part of who you are and you’re alway going on about it. So I figure it must be true.”
“What is your point, hatchling?” said Cap, impatience showing in his voice and expression and crossed arms.
“Why didn’t they see this coming?” I said. “Why are we searching for Tic-Toc at all? They should be able to see where the little bot is. They should’ve been able to see who killed Chief.”
I suddenly rounded on T’Vosh as another realization occurred to me. “And for that matter, you should have received a warning about the dreadnought. About Em. Em never should’ve died!”
One of the Farseers stepped to T’Vosh’s side, perhaps thinking that I was about to lash out at him — for all the good such a gesture would do with all that armor the Farseers wore.
I stepped back though, just in case the Farseers thought i was trying to provoke them. I didn’t want to start a scene, just solve a mystery.
“Why didn’t you see?” I said, emphasizing the question I wanted answered.
“As we said — and as you yourself should know from your navigator — the ion storm blocked our vision. It is likely for its existence that the Deepsights did not see the derelict cruiser’s existence in our path.”
“Fine, fine,” I said. “I get that. But we left the ion storm behind weeks ago. There shouldn’t be anything in the way of your vision now. So tell me…” I crossed the room to stand above Chief’s body again, pointing down accusingly at the remains. “Who killed him?”
Cap seemed to be listening to me now. He even turned expectantly to T’Vosh as I finished.
The Farseers once again looked at each other, and T’Vosh even had the humility to drop his gaze to the floor before replying.
“We do not know,” he said. “There is a shadow across our vision. The Waking is distorted, unclear. I do not know what is wrong.”
“How convenient,” I said. I bit back what I was about to say next, “Maybe it was one of you.” I knew that couldn’t be the case and that it wouldn’t do anyone any good to bring it up.
“Trust me,” said T’Vosh. “It is far more unnerving for us than it is for you. We will continue our investigation as to what is causing this distortion, but in the meantime we will also assist you in your visual investigation of the ship. Will that be all, now, captain?”
“Yes, quite. Thank you.” Cap scuttled away from the Farseers as they turned to depart and moved closer to me.
“Well done,” he said. “though you could have handled it a bit more tactfully.”
“Sorry,” I said. “It was all coming together in my head as I spoke. I didn’t really have time to run it through a filter.”
Cap nodded, though I could tell his attention was drifting from me. He moved over to Chief’s body again, gazing down at it from within his pod for a long moment before turning back around to face me.
“I am returning to the medical bay,” he said. “Be ready for my call, should I need you.”
I nodded as he scuttled past me.
“And don’t forget to inform Gator of everything that’s happening here.” Cap smiled briefly as he finished speaking. “He will no doubt be upset to learn of how much has escaped his notice while he’s been locked away in his room.”