Going between being scared and being angry and ready to murder the universe made for some very chaotic nightmares and cranky mornings. Aparoe moved out, more to get away from me than because they were done studying Chomper or the bond between us.
Because, whatever other worries I had on my mind, his rapid growth and the changes in him were also creating a great day of anxiety in me. Every few days he seemed to gorge himself and then just… spurt up and out. The house could barely take it. Anything breakable had been broken. Our vids had to be locked in a cupboard when we weren’t using them.
Technology endlessly fascinated Chomper. He fiddled with machines, tearing them apart and then, miraculously, putting them back together. Mostly. There was one replicator incident that led to a really stinky blob of something that jiggled and made a sound when tried to pick up the plate to recycle the matter.
His one word and simple phrases started to get more sophisticated. He followed Captain around, sitting on his hind legs and mimicking him whenever Captain would stop for a few minutes and do some thinking.
And all through this, the link between us never wavered. I could hear the thoughts in Chomper’s mind. He sent me pictures.
The first time he sent a burst of flames, I ran out of the house shouting for him, planning to douse them… only to find him spouting thin rivulets into the air out of his pursed lips and flapping his wings in glee. “Look!” he cried.
“I see.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “What did we say about fire?”
Chomper cut off the flame he’d somehow split into a circle that met in front of his face and dancing eyes. “Fire, hot. Fire, dangerous.”
“Yes. And can start a bigger fire.” I waved a hand around the dry scrub around the house. “Especially out here. Be careful. No fire unless you’re right by the water or an adult is with you. Got it?”
He nodded, and his wings drooped. Seriously, what was that face? Were his eyes glistening?
“Want to show me your tricks?” I was already out there anyway.
He perked up, nodding. “Show, show!” I walked him over to the backyard cistern, ready to peel back the cover and douse whatever needed it if his flames got out of hand.
Yep, I had more than enough to keep me busy, yet I was slowly going insane each day we didn’t hear from Freska, Danie, and Deke. The wait felt like forever was stretching out into eternity.
When the message came, Deke gave the news while Danie sat in blank silence and Freska hovered next to him in the background. She looked nearly as shell-shocked as I felt.
“Yes, Captain. Danie tracked the ship to a planet not far from Central. It’s just enough out of the way to be discreet, but close enough to make use of all the jump points and networks.”
“So that bastard really did have plans within plans within plans,” I whispered.
“What?” Deke asked.
“Nothing.” I shook my head. “Freska, what exactly did you learn?”
“Well, it took some doing to land without being spotted, and then Deke had to hustle me over to the ship in person. He was locked down to remote transfers—someone has been spilling the beans.”
“So whoever was employed by Brox on the ship before wasn’t as stupid as we thought they were.” I ran a hand through my short hair.
“Cells. They operate though cells so different plans can be happening at the same time. That’s why some of this didn’t really make sense,” Freska said. “And why I wasn’t able to get all the information out of the other ship. It didn’t know about it, because the cell wasn’t using any technology on the ship to communicate or plan. They were dormant.”
“Someone helped Lakshou escape,” I said. I shivered, thinking about his ability to influence a person. He’d told me how it worked and what he could do, but was what he told me true? Or did I have to worry about him knowing and being able to do so much more?
“They did. And he definitely wants revenge. I think he thought we’d go to that planet, since it’s one the whole crew loved to stop at. Captain Querry never made a big secret of his plans to retire to a rich planet and live the quiet, natural life.”
“Yeah, that’s why we’re here.” Quiet, yes. Natural? Yes. Rich planet? Um, no. Try middling to poor with people who might reach out a helping hand if you’re truly down but it might just be to rip your hand off so they can get inside your home and rob you blind. Well, if you’re an off-worlder at least. Not sure what we had to do to be considered natives.
Captain’s face was like a carved stone. His back rigid. He stood with his legs apart, his hands locked behind him. “So we know the who. We know the why, or the probable why.” He held up a hand when Aparoe threatened to interrupt. “Or he could know about Sparkles.”
“We know the ship does not have the coordinates there.” Freska picked up Danie’s hand, patting the back. “And Danie plumbed the data the ship shared. They definitely don’t know where you are.”
“Good,” Captain said grimly. “Then they won’t see us coming. This time, Lakshou won’t be getting turned over to the council. This time, I’m going to handle this my way.”
“You mean my way, right?” Deke said, leaning forward with a wicked grin.
Want more flash?