“No. Don’t.” Marti interrupted whatever Owen was about to say. “It’s my turn first. Age before beauty.”
I laughed. Discarded a few things I might’ve said. First with what? I love a noir mystery. Age, what’s that when it’s at home? I made do with, “Really?”
The others were frozen in various attitudes of disbelief.
Marti stepped over to me until we were face to face. “Old, I see you deciding.”
I corrected her. “Old is what you wish you could see me deciding. But I’m not that transparent. You think that if you can trick me, the rest will fall over like nine pins?” The rest had to be jolted out of their stupor.
Jack smiled. So did Bene. Which could be nervous tics in both of them. Owen frowned.
“Facial wrinkles and grooves can be due to sun damage and your grey hair colour due to hair dye,” I said.
Marti snapped shut her mouth and made a straight thin line with it.
“I didn’t notice you being particularly old when we were still at Para Seven,” Jack said. He was being polite, a proper Fetcher. “A corporal in the green-clads, I thought. Even the green-clads have an upper age-limit.”
“Yet by the time we lined up to be loaded, I noticed you limping,” Bene said. “When you knew we knew you to be a spy. I’m pretty sure you saw that little exchange between Owen and the kids? I wondered about your Work Association. Why they are allowing people to work while not fit?”
How did Bene get to be an EMBer? Surely not by throwing red herrings around? I wondered if she was a Fetcher in her young life.
“Don’t make me laugh, Bene,” Pallas said. “This woman is not a government green-clad, not a government spy, and not with the crew. What’s left, I hear you say? I’d say she’s pretending to be a volunteer of some kind.”
Oh. That’s how Bene got to be an EMBer. She was a catalyser. Pallas looked like she was the goddess of thunder, which in my humble opinion is quite a good impersonation for a Greek goddess.
Marti watched everyone as closely as I did. “Not pretending,” she said. “I really did volunteer. As soon as I heard another ship was to be sent. I want to be data-waved. You must have heard Joddy’s story?”
“The Joddy who returned with the EMBers from the Second Chance debacle?” Bene said.
“That didn’t happen,” Owen said. “It’s a fine fairy story allowed to spread to take attention from what really happened.”
“Beg to differ,” Marti said. “My father’s father’s best friend …”
Owen rolled his eyes. “What I said. A myth.”
Marti over-rode him. “… was in the shanty-woman’s troupe. When Joddy came back, he grew younger instead of older, is how my grandfather tells it. I want that. What I know about EMBers, they are never gathered-in accidentally. So I tacked myself onto the crowd too...”
“You think we’re stupid?” I just about burst that she negated that we saw her being a green-clad corporal.
She hissed. “Tss.” Then ignored Jack and me. “I want to be data-waved, go to Lotor and come back. Same as Joddy. Grow younger instead of older. I will be expecting EMBers to bring me back the way the EMBers in his time brought Joddy back!”
She didn’t say which EMBers were to bring her back though I could probably count the number of EMBers in space at this moment on three fingers.
Marti smiled tremulously.
What a put-on. She obviously thought our EMBers stupid enough to be taken in by her emotional blackmail? She just tried to sell them a story because that’s all it amounted to? No one could set that up purposely without a lot of help from…?
Bene maybe thought along the same lines. “I wouldn’t mind that,” she said. “Who did you volunteer with?”
“That’d be telling,” Marti said.
“What did you volunteer to do?” Jack said.
Good question. Even Pallas nodded.
Marti giggled, apparently giving up the emotional blackmail thing as a bad idea. Talk about a will o wisp? She said, “The party employing me thinks I’ll do X as per the contract when I’m intending to do X + 1.”
“You’re under contract?” Owen said.
“Of course. But by the time we get back to Earth, there will be nothing PP can do about it and you EMBers will be enriched beyond compare.” Now she smiled roguishly.
“With bargaining chips in the form of knowledge that might lead to promotions and so on? A win-win situation, surely?” Marti said, now including Bene and Pallas in her regard.
What did we know more than a minute ago? She just told us that PP aka Procyon Products has her contract. But not why she thinks the EMBers are here. And they haven’t said yet. Pallas and Owen.