The edge, p.11
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       The Edge, p.11

           Leslie Lee
 
hush type of people. They may believe what we don't know can't hurt us."

  "They're idiots then," K'hon sneered.

  "Exactly my point, chum," Dakota confirmed.

  "Chum?" thundered K'hon, getting up.

  Dakota blanched and leaned back.

  "Relax, K'hon," Jerry said, grabbing the big man's arm. "It means friend, pal, buddy."

  "Oh," K'hon said, clapping Dakota on the shoulder with a loud whap. "I thought you were calling me a fish or some damn thing."

  "Quite alright." Dakota rubbed his shoulder, smiling weakly.

  "What's the plan, Boss?" Zin Zin asked, at the same time giving K'hon a withering look.

  He was afraid somebody would ask him that. He hadn't the faintest idea. It wasn't as if he'd had time to plan or anything. Things were happening too fast. He wanted to talk it over with Telli, but that wasn't possible now. He wanted to tell them to forget the whole thing and pretend he'd never said anything. Except he had to know about the Squad Ops Chief. She had depended on him. She deserved having him find out.

  "Uh, okay, we're not looking for any trouble. Yet. And we don't want to, uh, do stuff that's you know, going to tip our hand to somebody. You know, it's like if there is some other kinda crazy crap going on, then they're already giving me the hairy eyeball. Just, uh, you know, keep your eyes and ears open. See if you can pick something up through friends, or you know, people. Nothing to make it look like, you know, you're looking for something."

  He hoped that didn't sound as lame to them as it did to him.

  "Eloquently put," Jerry said, dryly, burying that hope beneath a smile.

  "What about the bugs, Boss?" K'hon asked. "I say rip 'em outta the walls."

  "Uh, a great idea but we need to do it right. You know, so it doesn't look like we know that we, uh, know." Damn, he hated sounding like such a dope.

  "Great. I still think we should put a hammer into them."

  "Think on it." He got up to leave.

  "What are you going to do, Boss?" asked Th'han'dra. She knew what he was going to do, but she wanted to make sure the others knew as well.

  "I'm going to find out whether Telli was murdered."

  "And if she was?"

  "I'm going to fly my pod right down their throats."

  Jerry chuckled.

  "Watch out, folks," said Ranger. "We're about to get one of them Hellborne sayings laid on us."

  The Hellborne chuckled. "It's good to know you aliens are finally getting to appreciate me." His black eyes seemed to twinkle from deep within the crevices of his face. "Revenge is a guest who doesn't know when to leave."

  K'hon scowled. "And that means?"

  "Isn't it obvious?" he said, with exasperation.

  "Doesn't matter," muttered Mak, heading to Squad Ops. "I'm still going to shove my pod down their throats and out their ass."

  K'hon laughed. "Woo hoo."

  "Yeah," Zin Zin agreed enthusiastically. "I'd like to fly my pod right through the middle of the X."

  Repairs to the Squad Ops Briefing Room were almost done. Techs were pulling in a new table and unwrapping chairs. The window looking down on the Big Board was still cracked from the heat. The smell of the new furniture and carpet mixed with a burnt, acrid odor. He recognized the smell as the same from sick bay. He tried to relax. Let what he rehearsed on the way here come out naturally.

  "Hey," Mak said to one of the work detail. "You guys hauled ass on this. Looks good as new."

  "Yah, danks." The guy looked around tiredly. He spoke slowly and tightly, like his big shaggy beard was trying to strangle the words on the way out of his throat. "Dey want dis place lookin' like it did before da accident ASAP. Along wid all da oder ASAP shit we gotta do."

  The other crewmen nodded in agreement as they headed out.

  "Yeah. Say, you didn't find anything did you?"

  "Find anydin'?" He started to collect his tools and put them in a case. Mak noted how the man tossed other stuff around, but not his tools. Those he treated carefully. "Like wha'?"

  "A book. The Squad Ops Chief had borrowed a book from me."

  "Oh, I dought you mean somedin' else. Security'd been pokin' deir noses aroun' earlier. Yah, some oder officer too."

  "Oh yeah? Didn't think anybody but Security would be interested."

  "Yah, dunno wha' his beef was."

  "Somebody wouldn't've given the book to him?"

  "Eh. Who know? Mos' of da junk's been haul to recyclin'. Probably got couple o' days 'fore it gets munched."

  "Maybe I'll ask Security if they came across it."

  "Dose guys? Jeez, it's like stroll in, scan somedin', den go grab a beer."

  "Yeah, you got that right. What about the other guy?"

  He pulled at his beard. "Dunno. Some kinda officer."

  "Squad?"

  "Nah. Soldier."

  "Soldier?" Mak was surprised. "What the hell's a Soldier doing up here?"

  "You gots me. Sure as shit didn't belon' up here if you wanna as' me. Had some kinda clearance or some damn ding." He glanced at Mak who was examining the new ceiling panels. He looked up as well. "Don't know how da hell dat damn ding bus'. Tough shit to be righ' here when it happen."

  "Due for maintenance?"

  "Nah, checked out a mond ago. 'Sides, dose conduits, dey rate for a couple o' centuries."

  "Maybe someone was messing around up there and screwed up."

  "Yah, well, see dose panels up dere? Dey're all monitor. No one dick wit' dem for monds." The crewman shook his head. "Real bitch bein' righ' under it. Talkin' about your bad timin'. Musta been quick. Hear she screams 'fore dyin'. Dink dey musta be hearin' da conduit or imaginin' it. She musta gone quick. Real quick. I mean look at dis." He pulled up the carpeting, then a panel. "See dat, da plasma melt all da way drough to da outer bulkheads. Now, dat's hot. I seen it before, man, it be instant dead."

  Silence gripped them, Mak not trusting himself to speak. He could tell the crewmen had repaired the cabling and other conduits hastily. He could clearly see through the tangle the melted metal and duct work.

  "We repair da rest of da shit down dere when we be in dock," he said quietly, returning the panel and replacing the carpet. "Yah, dis shouldn'tna happen, goddammit. We check ever little ding. I just can't?"

  The crewman's voice trailed off. Mak looked away.

  The Factory churned out the supplies for the X. Recycling, a huge warehouse full of junk, was right next to it. Nothing was wasted on the X. Recycling supplied the Factory with some material. It also made sure the garbage and sewage from all over the ship was turned into something "useful". Mak didn't like to think on what that was. Especially while he ate the synthetic food. He made a mental note. This was another good place to have a meeting in private. Between the mind breaking thump from the Factory and the shrill clamor of Recycling, he could hardly think.

  And it was dark. Barely discernible machines punctuated the gloom with random flashes of sparks. Hot. Humid. Invisible machines clanged and hammered in this steam room. Mak sweated buckets. He labored to drag the acidic air in and out of his lungs. And there was junk, piles of junk, junk stacked upon junk, then some more junk all organized in a big random mess. He stumbled along the walkway trying to not touch anything.

  "Oh man," someone bellowed at him. "A real, live pod jockey. Can I believe my damned eyes?"

  The crewman shook his head in mock disbelief. It was true enough. Most of the ship's crew would probably never see a pilot. The crew numbered in the thousands and there were places on the ship where most pilots would never even get close to.

  "I wanted to see where the real work gets done," he yelled back.

  "Hey, man, flattery is going to get you absolutely nothing." He wiped a filthy rag over his sweaty face then stuffed the grimy piece of cloth into a pocket. He looked like he'd been burrowing in greasy mud all day. A robot tagged along behind him. The metal monstrosity must have been at least fifty feet tall. It was a vaguely humanoid piece of machinery. Dents and ragged scratch
es marred its metal surface. Yet, the machine's fluid grace testified to the care bestowed upon it. "But don't let me stop you."

  "Name's Mak." He held out his hand.

  The crewman looked a little surprised but then wiped his hand to make sure it was as dirty as his coveralls and vigorously shook hands. "Abdullah. And this unholy spawn of the devil here is Little Daisy."

  Little Daisy waved a huge claw. It terminated on the end of a tentacle which was one of its arms. Something resembling a head stared down at them. Mak wondered if there was a Big Daisy someplace.

  "I'm looking to see if the stuff from the Squad Ops Briefing Room is here yet. I think I lost something in there."

  Rubbing his cheek, Abdullah snorted and shook his head. Little Daisy shook its head as well and put it's claw against its cheek as if thinking. Was the robot laughing? "Stuff's here alright. Don't know what you can find, Mak. It's a big honkin' mess."

  "Mind if I take a look?"

  "Knock yourself out." Abdullah put his fists on his ample waist. Little Daisy put it's huge claws on its midsection as well. "That other guy poked his damned nose all over it as well."

  "The Soldier?"

  "Yeah, that's him. Can you believe that crap? He acted like he owned the damned place!" He jabbed his finger in the air. Little Daisy jabbed a claw into the air. "If he did, you bet I woulda asked him for a damned raise."

  "Remember his name?"

  "Didn't give it. Didn't ask." He shrugged. Little Daisy shrugged. "The stuff's over there."

  "Appreciate it."

  Little Daisy scratched its butt a second before Abdullah dug into his own.

  "No problemo. Hey!" He suddenly turned on the robot. "What is this, a damned coffee break?" Little Daisy

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