Guhle and I returned to the lounge, where the rest of the crew still waited in horror and concern. As I entered, they all flinched back in their own way. Cap scuttled to face me. Mearr held our child close. Sys stood up. Gator folded his arms across his chest.
But T’Vosh did not pull away. He stepped toward me, arms held at his side, and glowered – at least, I have to assume he was glowering from within his armor – down at me.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” he said. “One of my Vigilant Sentinels is dead because of you.”
“Back off, Farseer,” said Guhle, placing a hand firmly on T’Vosh’s shoulder and pushing him away. “For all of hatchling’s faults and mistakes over the past few weeks, I think we can all agree that he’s no murderer. Not in this case, anyway.”
I shuffled meekly away from T’Vosh and stood to one side of the room. Away from Tic-Toc and his pile of useless tranisium ore. Away from Mearr, Sys, and our child also.
Away from everyone. The shadow had placed another veil between me and the crew. It seems like every time I tore down one barrier, another slid into place. Would I ever belong anywhere? Would I ever have some place to call home again?
Guhle took center-stage as he gave a report of what was happening outside. He told them everything, the transmission, the Farseer battleship, the mandibled monstrosity tearing a hole in space. Needless to say, everyone had a lot of questions.
“Calm down,” said Guhle. “Calm down, the lot of you. I don’t know a damned thing about this, okay? So you’d might as well save your breath and not ask dumb questions that I don’t know the answers to. If I were an optimistic person-“
“Which you’re not,” said Gator.
Guhle inclined his head to acknowledge the comment as true. Then he continued. “If I were, though, I’d venture a guess that we’re too small to be noticed by this thing and its swarm of invisible minions.”
“But you just said they were shadows that blocked out the light of the stars,” said Sys. “How can they be invisible?”
“I was being wry,” said Guhle.
Cap steepled his fingers and scuttled toward Guhle. “Since you are not, as you have said, an optimistic person, what is your appraisal of the situation?”
Guhle shrugged his shoulders, then sighed and looked up at everyone in turn before speaking. “That shadow thing sent a transmission from this ship. That means it most likely called this creature here. This Dark Among the Stars thing. Means it’s probably heading straight for us.”
Cap sighed. “Naturally. Things go from bad to worse.”
Guhle nodded. “No way we can escape this thing at sublight speeds.”
“I’m guessing we don’t have a spare warp station just gathering dust in one of the storage compartments?” I asked. It was meant to be a joke. It took massive space stations to power and maintain planetary warp stations. No ship had yet been built that could warp independently. Much less a bulk freighter like ours.
The withering glares from my crewmates told me that I wasn’t funny. So I returned to my silence.
Guhle turned back to the captain. “Slightly more optimistic guess, while still being a realist?”
“Go ahead,” said Cap.
“Maybe this thing just wants to go home. Maybe, if we find the shadow and deliver it to its…friends, I guess is what you’d call them. Maybe the rest of them will leave us alone.”
I stared, open-mouthed at the theory. “Are you out of your fucking mind, Guhle? Those things are eating a battlecruiser. Eating it! No way they’re just going to turn around and leave after paying a social call to our resident bogeyman.”
“We don’t know the situation,” said Guhle. He shot a quick glare at me before returning his attention to the captain. “Maybe the battlecruiser provoked them. I’ve often found that those stationed aboard a battlecruiser tend to rely on a single reaction to most situations. So maybe that aggression gave the Dark cause to eat them.”
“We didn’t give that shadow creature cause to kill Chief or Tic-Toc,” I said, stepping forward to close off the third point of the triangle that was forming out of this discussion. “I don’t think there’s any evidence to support this theory.”
“God, you sound like a bunch of scientists,” muttered Mearr from behind me. “Just make a decision already. It’s not like it’ll matter in the end. We’re still sunk and out of a paycheck.”
Guhle, Cap, and I all looked at Mearr. Then we turned to the heap of useless tranisium ore. Then, finally, we looked up at T’Vosh.
“Well, Farseer?” said Cap, threading his fingers together and resting his chin upon them. “She has a point. If we don’t turn a profit, we’re as good as dead anyway. Anything you can offer us as an incentive for at least delivering you safely home?”
T’Vosh looked around the room, from Cap, to Mearr, to Gator, and even up to me. Then he looked down at the pile of tranisium ore, with Tic-Toc’s inactive husk of a body lying atop it.
Finally, I noticed his shoulders slump visibly and a low mumble come out of the vocal synthesizer.
“What was that?” said Cap. “We couldn’t quite hear you.”
“He said, ‘I suppose not,’” offered Gator. “My receptors picked it up.”
“I see,” said Cap. “Very well.” He scuttled about so that he could face all of us – all of his crew – and spoke. “I have a different plan to suggest. And it’s the one we’re going to follow.”
“What would that be, sir?” said Gator warily.
“Since we have little left to lose,” said Cap, and I thought for a moment that his gaze lingered on Mearr and her baby. “We’re going to try something more proactive.”
A hollow shiver started in my gut and soon swept over the rest of my body. There was no way…
“We are going in.”