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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 1: An Unscheduled Landing | Chapter 10

Potts and the other three pilots of the 2nd Darter Squadron are gathered around a small table that’s been set up in the middle of Mayview’s main hangar. For the last fifteen minutes, they’ve been watching Nyx build what would, on first glance, seem to be an abstract sculpture out of an oblong spike-covered yellow fruit and bits of wire. Each of the pilots also has one of the same sort of fruits to snack on as they watch, cut in half to expose the bright green pulp-coated seeds contained within. Potts himself is pleased to enjoy having a snack at all for once without curious little kitten hands getting in his way. He makes a mental note to thank Reba later for taking Wyndi with her when she took Rudy down to her lair.

“Now,” says Nyx, cutting three lengths of plant-support wire from the coil they’d retrieved when they took the pilots to pick the fruits they needed, “This isn’t quite the right relative thickness for the scale, but it should work to show you what I’m talking about.” They take care in straightening out the wire by running it along the edge of the table.

“Considering that the recordings I tried to take were a bust, Nyx,” says Major Ioane, “I’m just glad you can show us what you saw at all.”

I still can’t believe we’re fighting oversized melons now,” Major Toussaint chuckles, gesturing with her spoon.

“Pity we have to destroy the thing, almost.” Major Albright shakes her head. “I’m sure there’s someone up the line who’d be keen to take it apart.”

Nyx pauses from jabbing the wires into the base of the large kiwano melon they’re holding in their lower hand. “From what I saw of it and what the Novans who’ve come here have been like, I… well, I somehow doubt that it was designed to be taken apart safely.”

“They have a point there,” says Major Ioane, reaching down into Nyx’s basket to pass them the three small potatoes they’d stopped to dig out of a hydrogel pot on the way back. “Besides, you said there were strikers left behind in the secondary hangar, didn’t you?”

“Six of them, yes—hold those steady for me, will you, Abigail?” Nyx’s tail waves with a subtle agitation while they secure the other end of each of their melon-supporting wires into one of the potatoes Ioane is holding. “Reba and I haven’t dared try to touch them, aside from sort of… nudging them into the holding bays as carefully as we could so any future visitors wouldn’t notice them.”

“Huh.” Potts looks up from his melon thoughtfully. “I forgot you’d mentioned that.”

“You were a bit distracted at the time, Sarge.” Major Ioane gives him a nudge.

Potts rolls his eyes at her, but doesn’t say anything. He can’t exactly deny it, after all. Between Wyndi’s usual kitten-antics and Reba’s being alive, it’s been something of a distracting afternoon.

“In any case,” Major Ioane continues, “the folks back at I&R will have to make do with the strikers—we can’t exactly contact the Admiral at the moment to ask if she wants to risk leaving the melon intact.”

“True,” says Major Albright. “Or even warn her that there’s Novan activity in this region at all—stars but it seems there’s a lot of that going on around here.”

“Does a bit to resolve that little mystery of how ‘Jane’ made it all the way to Kapteyn b, though.” Major Toussaint shakes her head lightly. “Or rather, why she seems to have been the only one who got through.”

“Can we not bring her up?” Potts sheepishly runs a hand through the back of his hair. “It was embarrassing enough trying to explain that earlier…”

“I’ll be your excuse for avoiding the subject, then,” says Nyx, winking their third eye at him. They carefully set their arrangement of melon and potatoes on the table and adjust the position of the thinner wires they’d already stabbed around the edges of each of the melon’s cone-shaped spikes. “This is the best model I can make you—mind that the spikes aren’t quite arranged like this, but this was the kiwano that came closest…”

“It’s good enough to give us an idea, Nyx,” says Major Ioane, lightly setting a reassuring hand on the Florivan’s shoulder for a moment. “Now, which way is north on this table?”

“Ah, the same way north is in here?” Nyx gestures in the appropriate direction with their tail. “I went ahead and lined it up. The nearest craters go… about here and here.” They pause to lay out some large leaves they’d taken from the grape vines in the corridor in the correct spots.

Potts has to give them credit for creativity. Most folks he’s met would have settled for trying to draw out some sort of rough diagram instead of going to so much trouble to make a model.

“And you said this thing is three times the size of a darter?” asks Major Albright, taking on a particularly serious tone on the edge of her crisp martian accent. She’s officially the lead Musketeer, but she doesn’t tend to use her officer voice like this outside of tight situations and strategy meetings.

“At least.” Nyx nods. “I’ve cut the ‘antennas’ to about the right length proportionally. I didn’t see anything like doors or access panels, unless the shimmer of whatever’s keeping it hidden from your eyes was hiding those too… or we weren’t able to get close enough. The surface just seemed smooth except where the antennas attach to the spikes.”

Major Toussaint gestures at the wires holding the melon up from the potatoes with her spoon. “I’d wager that’s going to be our weak point, then. No clue why they’d need it suspended above the planetoid’s surface, though.”

“Hm.” Major Albright looks over the model again. “And you didn’t find anything else like this on the surface or up in orbit, Abigail?”

“No.” Major Ioane absently drums her fingers on the edge of the table. “I catch your drift, though. It might be worth doing another sweep of the surface once we’re all charged back up to make sure we only have the one melon to worry about.”

“I’m willing to help you however I can,” says Nyx, sighing lightly. “Although forgive me if I’m a bit… hesitant… to do that under fire again.”

“We can’t promise you absolute safety,” Major Toussaint tells them with her most reassuring smile, “but it won’t just be you and Abigail up there next time—Penny and I will be right there at your wings in case anything happens.”

Nyx nods slowly. “I… appreciate that, Major Toussaint.” Their tail continues lightly waving in a somewhat nervous fashion. “When did you want to do this?”

“That’s the spirit!” Major Albright stands and stretches. “Not ’til Rudy’s had a chance to look over Abigail’s bird, at least—since we have him here, we might as well make sure everything’s still in order after that hit you took.”

“That gives us a few hours to wait, then, at least, knowing how he is about flying at all,” Potts comments. He’s flown with the man before—an ordeal for both of them, for sure, and that was only for twenty minutes or so transferring between ships. He’s not surprised at all that Rudy seemed to be staying upright through sheer force of will when Reba led him out. “Do we have the time?”

“We do,” Major Toussaint tells him. “Aegolius won’t be within jumping range for a few days, much less within flight.”

Potts raises an eyebrow. “What’d they expect you to do if you got here and didn’t find us or a place to land? Sit around in your birds in orbit and wait?”

Major Albright laughs. “Something like that! Or, since we had no way of knowing about the signal jammer, we were supposed to call in over the relays so they could sort out a rendezvous point for us within better range. Nothing too extreme, really, considering some of the stunts you’ve pulled.”

Potts, once again, has to settle for rolling his eyes. She has too valid of a point for him to be able to properly argue against the remark.

Nyx looks up at Major Albright with a curious flick of their left ear. “Why do I get the impression that you didn’t tell cousin Elias about that part of your plan?”

“We didn’t,” says Major Toussaint. “There’s some things that aren’t worth worrying people about, you know.”

“He’d never have agreed to come along if you’d told him, I’m sure.” Potts adds, chuckling. He gestures to the melon sculpture on the table. “Glad you brought him, though—if there’s any chance of that thing being packed with some sort of bomb, I’d rather not be grounded when it goes off.”

Major Albright nods. “We’ll have to wait ’til we can get your bird safely up in orbit before we take the melon out. I don’t spare much sentiment for the Novans you say Dr. Kiely has on ice, but I’m not about to gamble on leaving any of usbehind to ride out potential earthquakes.”

“I wonder…” Major Toussaint holds up her hands to make a small window between her fingers and stares thoughtfully at the nearest impaled potato through it. “Remind me what the natural gravity here is outside the outpost, Abigail?”

“Point zero-six, give or take. Why? You have a scheme in mind already?”

“Well…” Major Toussaint grins. “We’re wanting to avoid potentially taking a chunk out of this lovely home ‘planet’ of yours when the melon most likely blows up in our face, right?”

The other Majors share a look, then nod.

“So, we get it up higher off the surface to blow it up—that should help soften things, wouldn’t you say?”

“And how do we do that, Major?” Potts can’t help but admit he’s somewhat lost with where she’s taking this. Major Toussaint is the 2nd Squadron’s best strategist, but she tends to leap ahead of his own reasoning quickly enough to leave him confused.

“We blast the potatoes first—not the supports, mind, the potatoes themselves.”

“You mean the boulders?” Potts asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, Sarge, come on, you’re usually quicker than this.” Major Toussaint smirks at him and retrieves her spoon, gesturing at the base of the nearest potato with the bowl end of it. “Now, if we time it right, even if the melon’s anchor bars actually go further into the ground… we can take out these and let the shock wave from them vaporizing push the melon up higher from the surface—I’ll have to run the numbers on it, but that should get it close to escape velocity. Then, if it doesn’t blow up on its own, we can take it out before it comes back down.”

Major Albright grins. “This is why I like you, Anna! Never met a target yet you couldn’t sort out how to turn into a nice friendly cloud of mathematical debris.”

“Agreed,” says Major Ioane. She looks to Nyx. “We can pull it off, but if the melon’s camouflage doesn’t drop when we hit the boulders, we’ll be relying on you to tell me where to direct our fire.”

“I understand.” Nyx’s tail is waving more slowly now.

“Thank you.” Major Ioane lightly sets a hand on their shoulder again. “I know the day’s been a bit overwhelming, but try to leave the worrying to us?”

Nyx looks at her for a long moment, then nods silently.

Having had more than his fill of strategy for the evening, Potts takes the opportunity to stand and stretch. He cracks his knuckles. “Well! Now that the plan’s out of the way, we just have one more problem.”

“What’s that, Sarge?” asks Major Albright.

Potts lets out a bit of a laugh. “It’s getting what… close to midnight by now as far as Surnia’s concerned? And we’ve allhad a long day of it.” He looks to Major Ioane and Nyx. “Some of us longer than others. If we’re going to be here for a few days, we might as well sort out somewhere for everyone to bunk down and get some rest.”

Major Toussaint reaches over to give him a teasing nudge. “And here I’m supposed to be the practical one.”

“I do have my moments, Major,” Potts teases back, returning the nudge.

“We have access to my old quarters, if you want,” says Nyx, absently readjusting the sleeves over the stubs of their right shoulders. “We’ve just been using them for storing some of the gear we brought with us… and I’m sure Reba can get you into one of the guest suites on the upper habitation level if you need more room. We’ve not really had reason to unlock most of the private areas since we’ve been alone here.”

Major Ioane tilts her head to them curiously. “All of Mayview’s old access codes still work, right? Not just the flight clearance ones for the doors up there?” She gestures vaguely towards the hangar’s roof.

“They do, although you shouldn’t need to worry about that. Dr. Monroe used his old codes to put Reba into the system as ‘official outpost assisting physician’ before he died… so Mayview’s systems now recognize her as the chief medical officer.” Nyx’s ears and tail droop for a moment as they say this. “Any place my staff code doesn’t work, she can get in on a medical emergency override.”

Major Ioane nods. “Well, then, I can get us girls into my Dad’s old suite for sure—assuming you don’t have too much of the jungle blocking the way, that is.”

“Where was it?”

“Level three on the East minor dome, number 28.” Major Ioane makes a small gesture in a particular direction, as if that will mean something when the five of them are still standing in the middle of the hangar. Granted, to a Florivan like Nyxwith knowledge of the outpost and their species’ inherent sense of direction, it probably does. “Not that far from the trail that leads down to your lair, if I’m remembering right?”

Nyx closes their eyes for a moment, then smiles at her. “Not far at all. I have some rather tangled runner beans there, but I believe I can lead you through them without having to resort to cutting a path.”

Major Ioane stands and stretches much as Potts had, chipper as ever. “Lead the way, then, Nyx! Come on, girls, there’s room there for the three of us, and I for one could use a chance to freshen up.” She turns to Potts. “We can put you and Rudy in the suite next door, Sarge—from what I remember, that’s a two-bedroom.”

Potts stifles a yawn he’s been holding in for quite some time as they all follow Nyx into the corridor. “If there’s a bunk and a place to properly wash the pond water smell off, I’ll take it.”

“Pond water?” asks Major Albright, laughing. “What in the stars did you fall into this time, Sarge?”

“It wasn’t my idea,” Potts protests. “Wyndi’s the one who fell in—ack, which reminds me, I probably need to give them a bath, too, now that we’re staying here for the night instead of going back to Surnia…” He’s not looking forward to having to wrangle his little copilot tonight, that’s for sure. If there’s one thing he’s learned about Wyndi since he met them, it’s that they seem determined to make bath time a challenge for him.

Nyx looks back over their shoulder. “Would you like me to take care of that for you, Julian?”

“If you’re offering?” Potts’ laugh comes out as half of another unbidden yawn. “I’ll warn you, though, Wyndi can be a bit of a handful…”

“I was a kitten myself, once, you know,” Nyx replies. “I think I can handle them.”

The pilots exchange a look.

“You know,” says Major Toussaint, giggling, “our little mascot has something of a reputation for making folks regretsaying things like that…”



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