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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 2: Complications & Card Castles | Chapter 12

Long after the three Pilot-Majors and their somewhat reluctant “civilian melon spotter” have left to perform their survey of the planetoid’s surface, Rudy is still hard at work trying to put Potts’ darter back together. The young pilot himself is once again playing the role of the “Mayview Flight Control” radio operator, and attempting to be helpful in the meantime.

As usual, the majority of Potts’ helpfulness is in the vein of staying out of the way and occasionally fetching tools or holding one of the larger or heavier pieces of his darter’s fallen engines in place so Rudy can reattach it. Potts might be a skilled pilot, and capable of making basic repairs on his own if he needs to, but the specifics of the craft he flies and a majority of the mechanical details of how it functions are beyond his knowledge. Darter pilots, after all, are seldom expected to survive long enough to need to know how to repair their own engines if something goes wrong enough for them not to be able to return to their mother ship and whatever skilled mechanic is responsible for keeping them flying. This fact has never bothered Potts all that much; he’s always too busy with the wonderful business of flying to worry about the dangers of it.

“No.” Rudy rolls his eyes and hands back the tool Potts has just brought him. “That one’s the point-five mil rivet setter—I asked for the point-six.”

“They look exactly the same—”

“—The number’s written on the end of the bloody handle, Sarge.” Rudy taps the tool to point it out. “And they’re packed in the case in sequence, unless you’ve gone and jumbled them up again.”

Potts shakes his head and goes back over to the tool bag to rummage through it again in search of the slim black case holding his best friend’s set of micro-rivet tools. The man’s particular about things, that’s for sure. The handles all look alike, as far as Potts is concerned.

“You know,” Rudy teases with a gruff chuckle, “I should have sent you out on errands with Kiely instead. Wyndi’s better at picking the right tools on the first go.”

“Yes. Well…” Potts returns with what he thinks is the correct rivet setter and passes it to his friend with a smirk. “At least I don’t go stashing your tools under people’s back seats when you hand them back to me.”

“Oh, is that where they’re keeping the stash now?”

“I think so—haven’t bothered trying to clean it out yet. We’re pretty sure that’s where they had your laser saw, at least.”

Rudy laughs, going back to work reattaching one of the smaller outer parts of the darter’s rear engine housing. “I still can’t believe Wyndi’s gotten big enough to carry that bloody thing off.”

I still can’t believe we ended up having to use it.” Potts crosses his arms, chuckling. “Remind me when they get here that I need to ask Celadon if kittens are supposed to be able to predict the future like that?”

“It’s probably just Wyndi. They’ve had to grow an extra sense of how to keep your arse out of the fire to survive, you know. I don’t think that comes standard with Florivans.”

Potts is about to respond with an equal amount of sarcasm, but a sound over his radio headset catches his attention. He holds up a hand and pulls down the microphone bar. “Mayview Control here—Say again, Major?”

Well, we’ve—a bit—new weirdness…” Major Albright begins, her voice heavily overlaid with static.

When Potts finally finishes parsing everything the Major has to relay to him and flips his microphone bar back up, he does so with a sigh and a shake of his head. He turns back to Rudy. “Care to hear the latest little potential snag in our ‘get out of Dodge alive and in one piece’ plan?”

“Why am I not surprised?” Rudy rolls his eyes. “Are we talking ‘bloody inconvenient’ or ‘worst case scenario just dropped by for tea,’ here?”

“What are you considering ‘worst case’?”

“Either the whole bloody Novan armada shows up—” Rudy pauses to seal the last of the rivets in the section he’s been working on. “—Or I have to get back into one of the birds with you fools. Can’t decide which is worse.”

“Ah. Well… not either of those things yet.” Potts leans back against the side of his darter, staring upwards at the closed hangar doors.

“I don’t like the sound of that ‘yet,’ Sarge. What is it, then?”

“Good news—as far as I could understand Major Albright through the static—is that there’s only the one melon down here on the planetoid, and the plan to get rid of it should work.” Potts runs a hand absently through his hair, which does nothing to smooth out the un-combed mess of it. “Bad news… is that Nyx thought they spotted a similar sort of a shine on the innermost moon. So now, since the Majors have enough charge left to do it, they’re going to check there and the other six minor moons to make sure nothing else has been missed.”

Rudy shakes his head. “Of course they are.” He goes over to his tool-bag and starts rummaging through it and switching out which of his tools are slipped into the pockets of his green-trimmed ivory uniform vest.

“It’s just one thing after another, isn’t it?”

“Seems that way…” Rudy pauses, taking on a peculiar expression and looking between his tool bag and the closed hangar doors above them for a few moments.

“What now?” Potts has seen his friend get that look before, and it’s never a good omen.

“Just a notion.” Rudy shakes his head and goes back to digging through his tool bag. “Do me a favor, Sarge? Call back and see if someone can spare a minute to cycle through com frequencies with you while they’re orbiting each of those moons.”

“What? Why?” Potts makes a confused gesture at the headset he’s wearing. “You already tuned all their short-range transmitters with the complex’s flight control channel to clear up our signal before they left.”

“I did. I need to check the frequencies the interference is strongest on again.”

“But why?”

“The gals started getting long-range and relay radio interference about halfway between here and that spot where you and Ioane got ambushed yesterday—lost both once we got close, as far as I remember—and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was when we came near the outermost moon’s orbit.” Rudy goes back over to the darter and climbs up onto the wing, unsealing an access panel on the small craft’s left side beneath the cockpit. “If the melon’s strong enough to do that, we shouldn’t have even the short-range working as well as we do at this distance. Not if it works like any bloody signal-jammer I’ve ever heard of, at least.”

“So… what, then?” Potts looks at his friend with a hesitant curiosity. He’s well aware that Rudy knows his stuff when it comes to coms tech and the like even more than with all the things that go into keeping the darters flying. The man had been one of the people installing that sort of thing on the Fleet’s starships when the two of them met.

“I’d wager we’re looking at a bloody resonance network, is what, and one that’s gone unnoticed for years—and with how many strikers showed up in the area yesterday? It’s got something worth hiding that goes beyond the scouts that Kiely’sbeen collecting.”

“That’s…” Potts’ eyes widen as the implications sink in. “Stars, I hope you’re wrong.”

“So do I, Sarge.” Rudy shakes his head and then looks back down into the open access panel. “Now get back on the line and tell the gals I need one of them to cycle com frequencies with you once they’re orbiting that first moon—and then get up here and help me with this. I’ve got an idea.”

“Right.” Potts flips his microphone bar down. “Mayview Control calling Musketeers…”



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