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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 2: Complications & Card Castles | Chapter 15

When Reba finally returns to the hangar, Potts is sitting up on top of the wing of his darter again with his legs dangling over the edge. Below him, Rudy is right in the middle of several neatly arranged concentric circles of parts and pieces on the floor, busily rearranging them. It’s a good perch for staying out of the way—which is, at the moment, his job almost as much as playing radio control for the Musketeers is.

“I thought ye were putting the thing back together?” Reba asks, setting her backpack down on the nearby makeshift table next to Nyx’s model of the Novan jamming station.

“I did.” Rudy doesn’t look up from the small electronic components in his hands. “As much as I could in these conditions, at least—did you find any of the stuff on that list I gave you?”

“We did.” Reba begins unpacking the contents of her bag. “And we brought food—the two of ye are going to take a break for lunch whether ye like it or not.”

Rudy glances up to her with a wry smirk now. “Doctor’s orders, I take it?”

Reba crosses her arms, taking on the same sort of teasing expression. “Do I need to make it an order?”

“Not if you let me finish laying all of this out first.”

“Deal.” Reba turns her doctor tone on Potts now. “Julian? Tell the rest I’ve got food for them too once they land, will ye?”

“Will do, but it’ll be another hour or two before they get back.” Potts pulls down the microphone bar of his headset. “Mayview Control calling Musketeers.”

—here, Sarge—” Major Albright replies.

There’s even more static surrounding her voice now than the last time she called in. He doesn’t like that at all, but it makes sense, considering that she’s somewhere around the edge of the short-range radio’s normal signal range. It takes him three times as long to relay Reba’s message as it had any other so far. When he’s finally done, he becomes aware of the conversation she and Rudy are having below him.

“So all of that mess were part of the engine what fell off?” Reba gestures vaguely at the collection of darter bits on the floor.

“Oh, this? No, I got that reattached while you were out—I’m just waiting for the bits I sent you to find so I can get it working.” Rudy absently waves towards the rear of the craft.

“So what are ye doing in the floor, then?”

This is all components of his communications array.” Rudy pauses to set one of the small components in his hand into the correct spot in his mosaic. “We’ve run into what you might call a bit of a complication.”

Reba raises her eyebrows and looks between Potts up on the darter’s wing and the mechanic sitting in the floor. “Complication as in… with all of that mess? Or something else?”

“This mess is a solution in the making,” says Rudy, standing and dusting his hands off on a rag tucked into his belt. “So we can get out of the trap we’ve stumbled into before it gets sprung.”

Reba sets her hands on her hips. “What in the stars are ye talking about?”

Potts flips the microphone bar back up on his headset now and looks down to his friend with a laugh. “You’ve been hanging out with Celadon too much, Rudy—you’re talking all cryptic again.” He hops down from the darter’s wing as punctuation, careful to walk around the parts on the floor rather than through them. He learned his lesson the last time he accidentally stepped on something fragile by mistake.

“Very funny, Sarge.” Rudy rolls his eyes. “I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.”

“I’d say ye both be cryptic—are ye going to tell me what’s going on or not?”

Wyndi pokes their head up out of Reba’s pocket now and yawns, apparently awakened by the conversation. They brighten when they spot Potts and have soon returned to their usual perch on his shoulder, chattering excitedly in kitten squeaks the whole time.

“Hey, there, Wyndi.” Potts chuckles and gives the kitten’s ears an affectionate ruffle. “Did we wake you?”

Wyndi nuzzles softly against his beard and then waves their tail excitedly before making an acrobatic leap to Rudy’s shoulder, now that he’s come over within leaping distance. Potts can’t help chuckling at that. Wyndi might be his fuzzy little ward and copilot, but it’s no end of amusement to him that one of their favorite people in the galaxy is his squadron’s grouch of a mechanic—and no less because after four years, Rudy’s finally given up on trying to protest about the kitten’s attentions.

Rudy pats Wyndi’s head and then wordlessly passes them back to Potts so he can have his lunch without a curious kitten trying to share it. He looks back to Reba. “To put it simply? The ‘complication’ is that this little jungle of yours is at the center of a technological spiderweb—and we have no idea where the bloody spider is lurking.”

“I understand that just enough to be concerned, mister Rudolph.” Reba shakes her head. “What sort of a spiderweb have ye found, then?”

Rudy gestures lightly with a piece of celery in the direction of the hangar’s doors. “All that interference we’ve run into isn’t just from the melon here. There’s a whole network of the bloody things placed on the moons, too—enough, I’m sure, that if they ever fully activated it, we’d lose relay connection and radio as far in as the next planet… and possibly be cut off from most things outside Kapteyn’s solar system altogether.”

“Ye don’t think it’s activated now?” Reba looks up from all of the gathered electronic parts she’s now unpacking from her backpack.

“No. If my guess is right, they’re not done planting melons yet. If they really plan to do what I think they are, they’d need stations on most of the asteroids along Mayview’s orbit too so the whole system would be surrounded…” Rudy takes a bite from his celery as punctuation. “Besides, if it was fully activated, we wouldn’t have short range at all.”

“Ah.” Reba looks between him and Potts again, raising a hesitant eyebrow. “And this ‘spider’ ye mentioned is… What, some Novan battle cruiser lying in wait around here in Mayview’s shadow?”

Potts rubs awkwardly at the back of his head. “There’s a pretty good chance of something like that, yeah. It’d certainly explain why they came after us yesterday… and probably your Novan-cicle collection, too.” He shudders involuntarily at the thought of Reba’s Novan prisoners in their eerie stasis-pod slumber. Somehow, even in induced hibernation and still perfectly disguised as elegantly beautiful humans, the ones she’d shown Potts and the Majors yesterday were even more frightening than the last Novan he’d met—and that one had dropped her disguise altogether and been aiming to devour his brain the last time he saw her.

Reba sighs softly and seems to be quietly considering all of this for a few moments before she speaks again. “I suppose I see what ye mean. So, what do we do now, if we’re going to get in touch with the ship that’s picking us up? Ye don’t exactly go breaking bits of a spiderweb without expecting the spider to make an appearance.”

Potts makes an exaggerated gesture to Rudy with a knowing smirk. “At the moment? We all give thanks that the Majors brought him along, because if there’s anyone who can manipulate a radio system enough to get us through to Aegolius…”

Rudy shrugs. “I’ll try my hand at it, at any rate. The hard part is going to be getting the carrier signal tuned right.” He pointedly inspects the ration bar in his hand. “Last time I pulled a stunt like this, I was burying that with background interference… and I don’t exactly have access to those frequencies at the moment.”

“Do I want to know what happened the last time?” Reba looks between the two of them with the same disapproving glint in her eyes she used to get every time Potts came in from darter pilot training with a new injury for her to treat.

“Long story short?” Potts pauses to give one of his strawberries to the eager little Florivan kitten on his shoulder. “The two of us were stranded in deep space with Aegolius when she got separated from the rest of the Fleet on the way to a battle and had to stay under radio silence… and the only reason the Admiral didn’t throw the book at him for disobeying orders and rigging my darter so my radio could sort of tag in to the nearest ship’s Nav intercoms—and me for flying out to use his rigging to call for help—was that her jumper would have died if we hadn’t.”

Reba’s eyes widen for a moment, and then she shakes her head. “Ye’ll have to tell me the whole of that later.” She goes back to unpacking things from her backpack. “I think Wyndi found everything what were on ye list, Mister Rudolph. If ye need anything else, I may as well take ye back to the storage rooms to look for yeself.”

“Thanks. Considering that I’ll probably have to move my bloody ‘imaginary relay’ system to one of the other daters, I’ll take all the spare parts I can get.”

“Imaginary relay?” Reba asks, making little air quotation gestures and a suitably skeptical expression to go with them.

“The bit of farm-rigging I did last year that Sarge was referring to. It’s going to take another day at least for me to get hisbird safe to fly again, and the only way the system has a chance of working is if we can get it and him far enough out of range of the bloody melons to turn the carrier wave on.” Rudy lets out a bit of a huff.

Potts chuckles and gives Reba a soft conspiratorial nudge. “He’s a bit sore about Admiral Marvin calling it ‘imaginary,’ still, if you can’t tell. The joke is that it doesn’t and probably shouldn’t work… except that for a handful of us, it does.”

Once again, Reba gives him that look she usually reserves for when she knows he’s done something to get both of them into trouble and is just waiting to find out what it was. “I’m not sure I understand, Julian.”

“The folks at Intelligence and Research tried to replicate my rig and results, and even though they finally admitted that the bloody theory is sound—a long shot, granted, but sound—they couldn’t get it to work at all anymore than we could for anyone but this fool, Li, and the Ranger who came to our rescue back then,” Rudy grumbles. He waves his hand in a vaguely dismissive fashion. “A friend of mine back at the shipyards does have some civilian researcher or other who they got it to work for, but that’s beside the point. From what I’m told, she’s even more of an odd duck than Sarge here is.”

Potts chooses not to protest that last remark in consideration of how many times he’s heard it. He amuses himself instead by tossing another small strawberry up in the air for Wyndi to catch and nibble on.

“So why…?”

“To put it in terms you can understand, Kiley—no offense—”

“—None taken.—”

“—The rig pokes a little hole in the veil the same way the Relays or the Nav/Quan intercom channels do, with the aim of finding one of those intercom channels and tapping in like a second jumper’s earpiece would once contact is made.” Rudy grunts with his characteristic annoyance at a thing which has not been cooperative with him. “And because Quantum Space just has to make everything bloody difficult and weird, it’s the jumper hearing and connecting the lines that makes it actually work, when it decides to work.” He looks over to Potts with a pointed sort of a shrug. “So far, as near as any of us can tell, it seems the only human voices that any Florivan can hear over the rig are folks who’ve survived near-deadly miasma exposure.”

Reba looks to Potts again, crossing her arms and taking on an equally pointed version of her doctor voice. “I don’t believe ye mentioned that yet, Julian?”

Potts gives her his most charmingly sheepish grin in return. “To be fair, Reba, I don’t remember it, and it wasn’t intentional. Celadon thinks it was something to do with how Wyndi’s parent died… regardless of how or when it happened, I have enough of a sense of which side of the veil I’m on that they’re sure it did happen, even though I don’t really show any other typical signs.”

“Ah.” Reba gives him a look which says she will be demanding a more thorough explanation than this later. “I see.” She turns back to the backpack, shaking her head slowly.

Potts resigns himself to the eventual interrogation. He’s known since they were kids that trying to hold information back from Reba is a losing battle—especially if it’s to do with some injury or other that she wasn’t there to witness.

Wyndi takes this opportunity to hop down from their current perch and scamper over to help Reba with the contents of the backpack. When she pulls out a certain small black case and sets it on the crate with the other things, the kitten begins squeaking excitedly.

“Shiny!” They look over to Rudy with an expectant waving of their tail. “See? Shiny!”

“What, Wyndi? You found something for me?” Rudy chuckles and sets the remains of his lunch aside to join Reba and Wyndi at the crate.

“Ah, that thing.” Reba laughs brightly. “I don’t know what use it’d be, since nothing of the sort were on ye list, but Wyndipulled it out of the cabinet at the last minute all the same and insisted we bring it to ye.”

Rudy picks up the case and dusts off the label. His eyes take on a startled wideness as he reads it. “You… didn’t happen to open this up and see if it’s empty or not, did you?”

“No, why?” Reba flashes him a sarcastic roll of her eyes. “And why’d ye think anyone would go and put an empty case back in a cabinet?”

Rudy matches the eye-roll as he slips the latches on the corners of the case up so he can open it. “You’ve met my pilots, Kiely. You tell me.”

Reba looks back to Potts now, then nods sagely. “I see what ye mean.”

“Hey, now! I only did that once,” Potts protests, chuckling. “So, what is it that Wyndi’s all squeaky about, then?”

“Shiny!” Wyndi declares, still waving their tail excitedly and keeping all three eyes on the mechanic’s face and the case in his hands. The way his eyes go wider when he looks at the contents only makes their tail wave more vigorously.

“Oh, it’s bloody shiny, you brilliant little magpie—how in the stars did you know I needed these?” Rudy shakes his head, then closes the case back and sets it gently on the crate. His incredulous smile breaks out into a wide grin. “I believe I owe you a donut when Aegolius gets here for this one, Wyndi! You just saved me days of farm-rigging.” He holds a hand out to the kitten.

Wyndi excitedly scampers up into Rudy’s arms to accept the offered cuddles.

Potts and Reba exchange equally confused looks.

“Okay, if ye won’t ask again, Julian, I will.” Reba looks to Rudy and crosses her arms again. “What’s in the box? Or was ‘intercom spare parts’ something important?”

Rudy pauses in his kitten-praising long enough to laugh and make a vague gesture at the case. “Oh, important doesn’t begin to describe it. Without getting too technical? That’s a fresh set of miniaturized relay crystals and a few other bits and bobs that go into Nav headsets and jumper earpieces.”

“Shiny,” Wyndi adds, with a series of squeaks tacked on for good measure. “Wyndi find!”

“Yes, indeed!” Rudy laughs, turning his attention back to the kitten. He spins around in a circle with them a few times, much to Wyndi’s delight. “You found exactly what I needed so we can rig things up to be able to call your Entile Celadon so they can come get us off this bloody rock. Good job, magpie!”

Potts looks to Reba again, shaking his head. “I am going to take this as a good thing,” he stage-whispers, “but it’s unsettling seeing him this happy about something, isn’t it?”

“Aye,” Reba replies in a similar teasing tone, “but it be a good sort of unsettling. I’m sure he’ll be back to his usual bluster once he starts working on ye darter again.”

Rudy rolls his eyes in mock offense. “I’d have some choice words for both of you, but I promised Dons I wouldn’t use them where Wyndi could hear.”

“I’m sure you would,” Potts replies.

“You are right, though, Sarge…” Rudy chuckles softly, still lightly stroking Wyndi’s head. “We do need to ask Dons if kittens are supposed to be this good at causing helpful coincidences. This is what… the second time today they’ve pulled out the exact thing someone needed?”

“After your laser saw? Yeah.”

“Third,” Reba chimes in, giving Potts’ arm a light nudge. “Ye forgot to count them being the thing ye needed in the first place.”

“Technically, they’re still in trouble for that one…” Potts tries his best to sound firm as he gives his little counterpart a knowing look.

Wyndi, though, is too busy tucking themself into the largest inner pocket of Rudy’s vest for a nap to add any more comment than a self-congratulatory squeak.



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