WHEREIN Our Hero and His Employer Have a Disagreement Over Matters of Procedure
When Grif returned to the Fool’s Errand he found Cyrus and Amys waiting for him in Bay One.
They remained in character until the transport decoupled from the hull and returned to the Centurion. At that point all three let out a long sigh.
Amys grinned at Grif. “They didn’t find a goddamn thing.”
“That’s right!” Cyrus laughed. “They went through Bay Three with a fine-tooth comb and still couldn’t find the door! And you were right about the search party–some of those marines had been through here before. They didn’t recognize the Wardroom, they didn’t recognize our living quarters, and one of them kept asking me for directions the entire time. Nobody could tell it was the Fool’s Errand, Grif. If they couldn’t find anything now, I don’t think they’re ever going to find anything ever.”
“Good,” Grif said.
Amys frowned. “You don’t seem too happy about it. How’d it go with you?”
Grif stared at the seal to the nadir lock and didn’t answer.
Amys’ frown deepened. “Grif? Talk to me.”
Cyrus’ good mood vanished as he looked from Amys to Grif. “Oh, hell,” he said. “Something bad happened.”
“Yeah…” Grif snapped out of it and turned toward them. “Just us on board, right?”
“Right.” Grif headed toward the door. “Meeting in the Wardroom, one hour.”
“What’s wrong?” Amys asked.
“We’re screwed,” Grif said. “So very, very screwed. Round up the others. One hour. I need a drink.”
Grif was barely aware of his surroundings as he made his way to the Wardroom. When he entered the Wardroom, he stood in shock: for a moment he didn’t know where he was. He hadn’t seen it since Cyrus had remodeled it.
The faux wood paneling on the walls had been painted an off-white color. Digital frames displaying random images hung on the walls. The tiles on the floor were gone, replaced with thick, dark-red carpet. The light globes were gone, simple, brighter lights took their place. The tables and chairs had been replaced with strange, minimalist furniture. For a moment, in a fit of panic, Grif couldn’t find the bar–they’d moved it over by the panoramic viewport, and painted it metallic silver.
Grif turned and saw Cyrus shrugging apologetically.
Grif sighed and walked over to the bar. “Well, I did want it unrecognizable. Is any of it salvageable?”
“No.” Cyrus followed him into the room. “We had to work pretty fast. We weren’t being careful.”
“Yeah.” Grif looked behind the bar and took out a bottle of Stellis Blue. “Glass?”
“Sure,” Cyrus said. Grif pulled out two and filled them to the top.
“It’s a good job,” Grif said. “I hate it. But it’s a damn good job.”
He raised his glass. “To the ugliest damn Wardroom I’ve ever seen on a ship,” he said.
Cyrus chuckled and raised his glass in kind.
Within the hour the crew–all save Ktk–had assembled in the Wardroom. With them were Velis, Bennet, and a few other agents. Everyone could tell something was bothering him.
“The dinner,” he said finally, “went rather well.”
Most of his crew relaxed slightly. Amys and Cyrus didn’t, and neither did Velis.
“After dinner,” Grif continued, “I learned that we have a new problem. Actually, it’s an old problem. A problem I’d hoped we’d resolved on Tyrelos station.”
“Grif,” Amys said, “get to the point. What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about that damned Sword,” Grif said, trying to sound cheerful and sounding bitter instead. “He marched right into the dining room, grabbed Mavis by the ear and pulled him out to have a very important talk.”
The tension in the room rose considerably.
Grif smiled bitterly. “He didn’t recognize me. Not yet, anyway. He looked right at me, and just when I was positive he was going to tear my heart out, or melt my brain, or something like that, he apologized for interrupting my dinner and pulled Mavis out of the room. We can thank the new face for that. But… damn it all. We don’t need this.”
“Are you sure it was him?” Velis asked. “I thought Amys killed him.”
“He looks really good for a corpse. But I’m sure. The ‘Viceroy.'”
Velis grew thoughtful. “That is inconvenient,” she admitted. “But it’s not necessarily the end of the world. We all suspected a Sword might get involved eventually.”
“Maybe so,” Grif said, “but I hoped it would be someone other than him. He might actually know what our plans are.”
Bennet and Velis exchanged glances. “How so?” Velis asked.
Grif sighed. He reached for the bottle of Stellis Blue, thought better of it, then pushed it away. “I came up with the idea of using the robots in Ur Ados while he was going through my head. He reacted when I thought it up.”
“How much did he learn?” Bennet asked.
“I don’t know!” Grif rubbed his temples in irritation. “I couldn’t follow what was going on particularly well. I kept fading in and out of consciousness. Then I kicked him, which didn’t work out particularly well for me, and then Amys shot him. A lot.”
“So he doesn’t know the specifics of the plan,” Velis said.
“I don’t know,” Grif repeated. “Maybe not. But he knows that I’m coming here and that I’m going to try and steal it… and he might know more.”
An uneasily silence settled over the room. Grif stared out the panoramic viewport, glaring at the ugly blotched surface of Varkav.
Finally Velis broke the silence. “We need to know what the Viceroy saw. Exactly what he did and didn’t see. Then we’ll know how much danger we’re in.”
“That would be very useful,” Grif agreed. “How the hell do we do that?”
“We have a telepath, too,” Velis pointed out. “Mr. Tosk. We revive him.”
“Ebur?” Grif shook his head. “What can he do? He’s powerful, but I don’t think he’d be able to read the Viceroy’s mind from here. And I’m damn sure he couldn’t do it without the son of a bitch noticing.”
“Not his mind,” Velis said. “Yours.”
Grif stared at Velis in shock.
“The same way the Viceroy did. Mr. Tosk will reconstruct the memory of the Sword going through your mind, and will experience what you experienced. He may be able to determine exactly what the Sword saw.”
“Absolutely not,” Amys growled.
“What she said!” Grif shouted. “Are you crazy?”
Velis didn’t raise her voice. “It’s the only way to know for sure,” she said firmly.
“You don’t get it,” Grif said. “It takes a week for the medicine to wear off. Then it takes a week for the new medicine to kick in. At that point he can’t do anything on his own–you have to give him instructions. Considering how painful it was when someone who knew what they were doing tried to do that to me, I don’t think I’d survive!”
“Then we don’t put him on the new medicine,” Velis said. “We let him do all the work.”
“How is that a better plan?” Cyrus demanded. “Ebur’s a lunatic when he’s not his meds. He’d kill Grif anyway, and probably the rest of us.”
Velis’ voice hardened. “Then we convince him it’s in his best interest to help us.”
“This is idiotic!” Grif shouted. “When Ebur is off his meds, his best interest is whatever it is he happens to be thinking about at the time. He’s not rational when he’s like that. He is i-n-s-a-n-e insane.”
Velis’ voice rose slightly. “Have you ever dealt with a Sword before? Other than your very brief encounter on Tyrelos Station. I’d think that would be enough for you.”
“Look,” Grif began, but Velis cut him off sharply.
“I have.” She looked at him steadily, betraying no anger, no frustration, only a fierce, single-minded intensity. “I have lost many agents due to Swords. I have failed missions due to Swords. They are insane, but they are rarely stupid… and they are very committed to getting the job done. The only way to succeed against that kind of dedication is to match it with your own.”
Grif shook his head. “Not like that.”
“To exceed it.”
“No, Velis, not like that.”
“To want to win more, and to be willing to do what it takes.”
Grif slammed his fist on the table. “There are limits, Velis!”
Velis smiled ever so slightly. “You know me better than that. And before you say anything else, I’d like to remind you how very outnumbered you and your crew are on this ship, Captain.”
Grif tensed. So did his crew. The agents in the room, on the other hand, relaxed. It was the same basic reaction: both sides were awaiting orders.
Grif glanced at Bennet. Bennet stared back, expressionless, as relaxed as the rest of them.
Well, Grif thought, this moment came a bit sooner than I’d expected.
“The Throne has already searched this ship,” Grif warned. “Think you can explain away all the casualties if you take it by force?”
“I’m willing to take that risk,” Velis said. “Are you?”
Grif considered his options. “No,” he said. “You win. When Ebur comes off his meds we’ll–“
“No need to wait that long,” Velis said briskly. “Lieutenant Jax, please collect Dr. Lyle, and tell him to arrive at Bay Three with one of the psi kits.”
Bennet nodded and headed for the door.
“One of the what?” Grif asked.
“We studied Mr. Tosk’s medicine to try and find a way to speed up the detox and transition process,” Velis said. “We didn’t find a safe alternative, but we came up with something we could use in an emergency. I’m declaring this an emergency.”
“For once we agree,” Grif said. “This is definitely an emergency. But something tells me we don’t agree on what the emergency is.”
Grif saw Amys nod slightly.
“Mr. Tosk will probably survive,” Velis said. “And you will probably survive too. And once we’re finished we’ll know exactly what the Viceroy knows and what he doesn’t. And everything goes back to normal.”
Grif set his jaw.
“Or,” Velis added, “you can decide to do this the hard way. I won’t use force unless I have to… but I want to win, and I won’t let your squeamishness get in the way.”
Grif glared at Velis, feeling nothing but hatred. Velis stared back at Grif apparently feeling nothing at all. He was nothing but a resource to her… an expendable one at that. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
“Grif!” The disapproval in Amys’ voice was plain.
Grif shrugged. “What else can I do, Amys? We have to appreciate the gravity of the situation.”
“Good boy,” Velis said.
Grif ignored her and turned to his crew. “As for the rest of you. Don’t be stupid. What I said to Amys goes double for the rest of you. Things are going to get pretty heavy for a while. Just… go with it.”
The crew said nothing, but Morgan sighed.
“I’m glad we understand each other,” Grif said dryly. “Amys, go up to the bridge and monitor ship systems. I don’t want Ebur flipping out and making the ship doing something that makes the Throne curious. We’re going to have to be light on our feet.”
“Go with her,” Velis ordered one of her men. “Make sure she doesn’t try anything funny.”
“Cutter, go to the Medibay. I don’t care how good a physician Doctor Lyle is, we’ll need you on hand when we wake Ebur up.”
“OK, Skip,” Cutter drawled. As he left, Velis ordered another agent to follow him.
“Now if you will excuse me,” Grif said, “I’ll be in Bay Three.”
Grif stalked out of the Wardroom. Two of Velis’ men followed.
“I know the way,” he growled.
“I’m sure you do,” one said. The other said nothing.
Grif stepped into the lift, his ‘companions’ taking positions on either side.
“An honor guard!” Grif said, forcing himself to sound cheerful. “I’m touched. Really.”
He keyed in the command for the cargo deck, and the lift began to descend.
“Which one are you again?” Grif asked the one to his right, voice casual.
“Carsons,” the man said.
Grif looked at the other expectantly.
“Laris,” the second man said.
Grif nodded. “Well, Carsons, Laris, congratulations. You guys are officially running the show.”
“Just open up that room,” Carsons said, sounding bored. “Everything will turn out just fine.”
The lift opened, and they stepped out into the deck.
“Hold on a moment,” Grif said, and went to an intercom panel set into the wall.
“Quit stalling,” Carsons said, reaching into his jacket.
“Not stalling,” Grif said. “We need to let Ktk know we’re coming.”
Carsons considered it. “All right,” he said. “Make it quick.”
Grif punched the intercom. “This is the Captain,” he said cheerfully. “Ktk, just letting you know that something’s up. How’s Ebur?”
Ktk replied that Ebur was currently locked in a stasis chamber.
“Glad to hear it,” Grif said. “Look… We have a situation, so don’t be surprised when we show up.”
Ktk asked what was going on.
“Oh, about what you’d expect,” Grif said. “Velis wants to make a few modifications to the org chart. We’ll all have to adapt to the new environment. Vindh out.”
All the interior lights in the ship went out. As the auxiliary lights kicked in, gravity reversed itself, and Grif launched himself across the room.