by Jay Lake
[Continued from Part 3]
The chase wasn't really intended for crew transit, but it had to be large enough to admit a human being for inspection and repairs, when the automated systems couldn't handle something. It was a shitty, difficult crawl, but Inclined Plane was only about two hundred meters stem to stern anyway. He passed over several intermediate access hatches -- no point in getting out -- then simply climbed down and out in the passageway when he reached the bridge. Taking control of the exterior weapons systems from within the walls of the ship wasn't going to do him any good. The interior systems concentrated on disaster suppression and anti-hijacking, and were not under his control anyway.
No one was visible when Maduabuchi slipped out from the walls. He wished he had a pistol, or even a good, long-handled wrench, but he couldn't take down any of the rest of these Howards even if he tried. He settled for hitting the bridge touchpad and walking in when the hatch irised open.
Patrice sat in the captain's chair. Chillicothe manned the navigation boards. They both glanced up at him, surprised.
"What are you doing here?" Chillicothe demanded.
"Not being locked in the lounge," he answered, acutely conscious of his utter lack of any plan of action. "Where's Captain Smith?"
"In her cabin," said Patrice without looking up. His voice was a growl, coming from a heavyworld body like a sack of bricks. "Where she'll be staying."
"What did I tell you about questions?" Chillicothe asked softly.
Something cold rested against the hollow spot of skin just behind Maduabuchi's right ear. Paimei's voice whispered close. "Should have listened to the woman. Curiosity killed the cat, you know."
They will never expect it, he thought, and threw an elbow back, spinning to land a punch on Paimei. He never made the hit. Instead he found himself on the deck, her boot against the side of his head.
At least the pistol wasn't in his ear any more.
Maduabuchi laughed at that thought. Such a pathetic rationalization. He opened his eyes to see Chillicothe leaning over.
"What do you think is happening here?" she asked.
He had to spit the words out. "You've taken over the sh-ship. L-locked Captain Smith in her cabin. L-locked me up to k-keep me out of the way."
Chillicothe laughed, her voice harsh and bitter. Patrice growled some warning that Maduabuchi couldn't hear, not with Paimei's boot pressing down on his ear.
"She tried to open a comms channel to something very dangerous. She's been relieved of her command. That's not mutiny, that's self-defense."
"And compliance to regulation," said Paimei, shifting her foot a little so Maduabuchi would be sure to hear her.
"Something's inside that star."
Chillicothe's eyes stirred. "You still haven't learned about questions, have you?"
"I w-want to talk to the captain."
She glanced back toward Patrice, now out of Maduabuchi's very limited line of sight. Whatever look was exchanged resulted in Chillicothe shaking her head. "No. That's not wise. You'd have been fine inside the lounge. A day or two, we could have let you out. We're less than eighty hours-subjective from making threadneedle transit back to Saorsen Station, then this won't matter anymore."
He just couldn't keep his mouth shut. "Why won't it matter?"