Jack tweaked my sleeve. Glanced toward Owen, telling me to glance likewise.
Owen sent me an electrical current. Well I guess he wished he could’ve. He opened his eyes wide and fierce and zapped me with a stare of one second or less.
Well, pardon me for not attending. “What. Is. Her. Plan? Ask her,” he mouthed.
I almost told him to ask her himself. But then I thought who other than Pallas and the man himself can ask the hard questions? A question coming from a just-a-kid would sound more … innocent? “Have you got a plan?” I said.
Marti turned, hesitating. She looked like she cast about for something to say. Huh. Why would Owen trust her to tell the truth?
She laughed. “I suppose you kids tacked yourself onto the parade because you thought we were going to Moon Base? I bet you thought to catch a free ride up the elevator. And for what? To see what you could see?”
The rest had the presence of mind to look stunned. But I boiled. “You couldn’t be more wrong about us!”
Marti chortled. “You’re nothing but a couple of ordinary stowaways. You’ll see. And see and see. But only by looking out of the dome as we go by.”
Stupidly my attention followed her finger pointing out the blister-ports. Windows shaped like, and no bigger than soup bowls dotted the circumference of the silo just below where it curved into a dome.
“You’ll see the stars forever and ever, all the time different ones. But forever is a long time. Probably you won’t last that long. Should’ve looked before you leapt.” She glanced back.
Her mistake. I saw with her that she was a backward pace from the airlock. She’d glanced back to see her progress. We had all been adjusting our place in the circle in relation to her. She’d been creeping toward an objective that we still didn’t know.
“What are you talking about?” Jack said. “A silo can only be tethered?”
Marti leapt for the left-side airlock keypad and with leaping fingers input a password. She grabbed Bene’s sleeve. “Come with me, dear. Let me give you your heart’s desire.”
“What? No!” Bene struggled. “What would you know?”
Jack was at the opposite side of the door, at the keypad there. Superfluous engineering wins the day.
Marti laughed. “It’s no good, Fetcher. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. I code-pressed the door system.”
I pulled Bene’s other arm to help her free herself. How strong could an old woman be? The airlock door slid open.
“I’ll take you to your lover, of course,” Marti said. “Have you data-waved so you’ll meet on Lotor?”
“Stop that, Kosi,” Bene said. “That is my heart’s desire.”
The cynical expression on Marti’s face told me all I needed to know. I pulled harder. Marti slid a tranquilising gun from her pocket. “Dear dear, I hadn’t bargained on having to trank anyone quite so soon.”
Her talking allowed Jack to pull me away. Had Marti meant that to happen or were we too quick for her?
Marti entered the airlock with Bene following her and the door slid shut.
“You!” Jack said, shaking me. “Why do you always insist taking things to the limit? That stupid old woman could’ve done you real harm!”
“With a trank shot? What is your problem?” I said.
“You’re nearly half the size of an adult,” Jack said. “Ever had an adult-sized dose?”
I blushed from fury. Meaning, I got extremely hot from my chest up. Which has always translated into a blush when I checked a mirror. I didn’t need a mirror now. “Am not! Anyway, you’re not much bigger, Jacqui Fetcher!”
“Quit that bickering,” Pallas said. “You both together elicited the lengths the woman will go to and her weapon of choice. We can probably find something that’ll neutralise it.”
“Why did you?” Owen said. “Take things to the limit?”
“Remember how I grew up in a Tween House? Saw the same five people dawn to dusk every day of my life until I escaped. How come a Fetcher can’t read a face better than I can?” I said at Jack.
I didn’t give him the opportunity to comment. “Marti has no intention of taking Bene anywhere! She’ll do the deed right there and call the data-waver to the airlock?” I made it a question to force them to think of the possibilities.
Still in bickering mode, Jack said, “So we don’t open the airlock?”
Two could play that game. “She code-pressed the doors?” I said.
Owen fiddled with his fingers by the side of his left eye. Probably adjusting his contact lens input system. Pallas too. They looked at each other with horror before they saw me staring.
Pallas tried to master her face. Owen not. “My apologies, Kosi Lionhair,” he said. “My apologies, Jack Fetcher.”
“The old woman has told you what’s what, has she?” I said. Why didn’t they realise that the old woman had had the upper hand the minute Bene capitulated?
“Threatening us with the data-waver,” Owen said. “Which she has penned up in the airlock, she says.”
“So where is she?” I couldn’t believe that the spy would want to be in the airlock with the data-waver.
“She’s gone to rout out the crew, get them to over-ride the flight sequence,” Pallas said, sounding distant. Like she had one too many shocks.
“A silo has a flight sequence?” Jack said.
“How else would it get to its mooring?” Owen said.
“By tug, I thought?” Jack said.
“Only when they are new and being delivered. Easier to have silos fitted with a basic jet propulsion system. Cheaper than running a tug every single move they make,” Owen said. “Check out the observation blisters.”
Jack and I ran to opposite sides of the dome, to the blister-ports. The little domes of triple-thick plastic glass allowed us to see down along the hull. Peering askance I saw a thruster-hood extrude. “Got one,” I said. “Not that far below the dome.”
“One here about a third of the way below the dome,” Jack said. “How many all told?”
“Six spirals of six on this model,” Marti said.
Had Owen and Pallas really just allowed the old woman waltz in? Lightning-quick, I checked their faces. Guilty as charged. Whose employ were they in?
“We’ll need to run the engines from up here,” Marti said. “The crew were quite obstreperous.”
“Meaning the crew has been data-waved?” I said, continuing in my ignorant-child mode of getting information.
“You’ve got that quite wrong,” she said. “True, the hovering thing is the data-waver. But what it’s doing with those long white wraithy tentacles, is putting people into stasis, and then seeding them with the lavender fungi. Making food for its people. That was its function when it was at home and it doesn’t know any better than to continue with that.”
I asked the next question presenting itself. “Who are its people?”
Marti laughed. “They live at Zoo Hall in Brisbane. You should ask your EMBer friends.”
I suppose she expected me to ask that question next. But our EMBers would keep. “So how does it do the data-waving?”
“Different set of tentacles,” she said.
I remembered my view of the boot from under it. The different-sort-of-tentacles had to be the warty pulsing mass in the boot’s ankle. They suggested something horrible. I shuddered.
“That’s enough chat from the useless luggage,” Marti said. “You and your boyfriend should keep out of my way. It wouldn’t do for me to have to trank you.”
“Why wouldn’t it?” Jack said.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Marti breathed deep and spritzed the hypodermic to show us our fate.
Wasting the contents. The stuff in it was down by two thirds. She’d had to trank a lot of the crew because their only other option was the data-waver? Why did they resist if we were only going to a silo anchorage? “Can you recover from stasis when you’ve been seeded with fungi?” I said. It didn’t seem likely.
Marti came into the middle of the room. To be able to reach any of us with a small leap, I decided. She kept the trank at the ready. “You EMBers had better start working out how to start the engines,” she said. “My contacts at Moon Base will probably help if you ask them nicely. But make sure that that is all you do.”
“Start the engines?” Owen said. “Right.”
But wait, did Marti the spy just co-opt Pallas and Owen into her scheme, whatever it was? I watched the EMBers like a hawk. Surely they knew that they needn’t play along if we all rushed Marti together, something that we could organise with a couple of glances?
Owen face-forwarded with Pallas over the nearest computer input station. With hardly any trial-and-error, he set up for the Moon Base link. Telling me he’d done it all before. That he’d practised for this. That this was part of what the Pallas and Owen team were here for.
I wouldn’t have minded being near Jack for company. I felt like a fisher on a rock, all on my lonesome. Which was one of Hen’s sayings to describe being alone and highly visible to the wrong people?