“Vexus’ pull, Aloe – what’d ya’ do this thing?” Lester stated, staring down at the charred remnants of the Caller she had brought in.
She sighed. “I thought these things were meant to withstand intense radiation?”
“They are, but not if ya’ rub ‘em all up in Solaris’ a*s, they don’t – I mean look at this thing,” he replied, poking it at. “Where did ya’ say ya’ found it?”
“It was lying in the Igniter,” she replied, “I think Faa might’ve accidently dropped it in there or something – Not sure really.”
“What was it doing in there?”
“Don’t know, Lest,” she repeated, rolling her eyes.
He scoffed, slipping on an optical lens that covered up one of his eyes and began to disassemble the device. He cursed under his breath attempting to pull the cover off.
Aloe glanced around his room while he tinkered with it.
Lester’s workstation was… much worse than Faa’s. The small room was filled to the brim with an assortment of half-assembled devices. She recognized some of the pieces belonging to control panels – the displays for holograms were known to be faulty and extremely sensitive to heat. Some of the much larger pieces she spotted though she couldn’t really identify – one in particular looked like the very heart of a machine. It had so many wires and parts sticking out in odd directions that it appeared as if a ball covered in glue had been rolled around in a junkyard. It possibly belonged to the drill’s regulator, but she couldn’t be entirely sure.
Lester’s table was no better. Almost every inch was covered with some screw, spring or gadget used to dissect his “specimens” – his word not hers. It was a wonder how Aloe could have ever given any heat to Faa for her workstation – at least she had isolated her messes to one area.
“And yer sure it’s Faa’s?” he asked suddenly after finally propping open the lid.
“Yeah, pretty sure,” she answered.
“Well, I can tell ya’ one thing,” he stated, yanking at the green circuit board inside. He had to resort to a tool appearing like a mini fork to get the job done. “This device does live up to its reputation. There, ya’ see,” he said, delicately exchanging the board over to a pair of tweezers.
It was perfectly intact.
“The shell is what takes the edge of the inside,” he stated.
She returned a nod with raised brows, pretending to care.
“I need to find her – think I can get your help with that?” she asked.
He scoffed. “I’d love to help ya’, but do ya’ see all the vexin’ work I got to deal with?” he answered, gesturing to the parts around the room. “Can ya’ believe the Chief wants half this junk up and runnin’ by next Rev? I’m sorry, Aloe, but I’m all tied up at the moment.”
“It’s fine,” she replied.
He got up quickly and began fishing around the back for something, cursing while he did. Strangely, he still held on to the small circuit in the tweezers carefully holding it up while he searched. Every so often, he would toss something Aloe depicted to being fragile like it was nothing.
“Ya’ can go on witcha business though,” he stated without looking back. “It’s gonna take me a bit to find the vexin’ thing I need, but when I have it ready, I’ll let ya’ know.”
“Sounds good to me,” she replied. “Oh and can you look at mine as well?”
“What? Did ya’ go and fry yers too?” he asked, sarcastically.
“No,” she answered, rolling her eyes, “it won’t receive calls anymore and the Chief’s been giving me lip about it lately.”
“Sure thing – just set it on the desk and I’ll look at it in a jiffy,” he said, tripping over a box. He cursed out loud kicking the thing with all his might.
Aloe chuckled to herself, leaving the room.
Outside, she noticed Lenio approaching from the opposite direction. The corridors appeared so trivial to the man that his shoulders almost brushed against the sides. He could almost dwarf the Chief – almost.
“Aloe?” he said with a head nod.
“Hey Len,” she replied. “Going to see Lest?”
“Yeah,” he answered with a smile. “Wanna see if he can do something about this vexin’ thing,” he joked, gesturing to his cast.
“How is it by the way?”
He shrugged. “It’s better, but Doc said I won’t be able to suit up for a few weeks.”
She nodded, regarding the chrome cast. The metal lacing ran from his shoulder down to his wrist, exposing his hand. It was configured to maintain it at a bent angle to his side.
“I’ll make sure to put you on light duties only,” she stated. “The Igniter’s a mess so maybe you can just clean that for a while or assist Eri with checking the Syn-Cells,” she stated.
“Thanks, Corporal,” he replied.
“By the way, you get a chance to formally document the incident? I don’t want the Chief –”
“Already did – with Dr. Qim,” he interrupted, his smile growing wider. “I made sure to tell her to send it your way when she’s done.”
It was Aloe’s turn to smile. Lenio was always on top of his stuff. She never had to repeat herself with him or even second-guess his work. He was certainly a dedicated hard-worker and he took pride in his job.
“Thanks,” she replied, “well carry-on, then.”
He slid to the side – to the best of his ability – to allow her to pass-by. She halted half-way, looking back. “Hey, you haven’t seen Faa recently, have you?” she called out to him.
He glanced back shaking his head. “Not since the accident,” he said, gesturing to his cast again.
She thought about enlisting his assistance to locate her, but decided against it, continuing in her own direction. Faa’s Caller in the Igniter was questionable. Aloe wasn’t sure how it got there. Did it break loose when she was moving waste into the chamber? How does one not feel something like that if that was the case? It was hard to determine the cause from the device because it was completely burnt.
She made a turn into the next corridor.
There was also RE-00X – what was it and why didn’t Faa say anything about it? It was possible those files…
She noticed Eri while passing the dining lounge. The young man was leaning back in his seat tossing up grapes to catch in his mouth. Eri was a lanky fellow – very scrawny like a wrench with arms – and yet, he was always seen snacking on some treat. Where did it all go? Right now, he had a bowl of grapes next to a small container full of melted chocolate. Apparently, he had been dipping them in there. Disgusting combination, she thought.
“Eri?” she said as he caught another grape in his mouth.
“Oh hey, Corporal,” he said with a smile, rendering a small salute, “I’m done looking over the Cells. We should be good until resupply.”
“Sounds good,” she replied, not really interested. “Have you seen Faa by chance?”
His smile dropped. “Actually, yeah. A little while ago, I bumped into her when I came up from the Cell room,” he replied, rubbing his neck. “She good?”
Aloe gave him a puzzled look. “Why do you ask?”
He sat up in his seat. “Well, she didn’t seem like her cheerful self,” he answered. “Didn’t even respond back when I greeted her.”
That did seem outside of Faa’s character, but then again she was known to shut down when there was a problem lingering on her mind.
“Just to cheer her up,” Eri went on, “I even promised to listen to another one of her spills on ‘Cosmos Expansion’ at lunch, not that my interests has changed. Didn’t do nothing either.”
That was another red flag. Faa loved talking, especially to Eri. Even if he didn’t really care about the nerdy stuff she brought up, the two actually got along quite well – which she never understood how.
“Didn’t want push her about it though,” he said. “Thought maybe she was a little upset with what happened to Lenio.”
“Maybe,” Aloe agreed, “do you know where she was headed?”
He shrugged. “Last I saw, looked like she was going towards the Cargo Bay. She don’t have access to the Cell room like me, so that’d be my best guess.”
The Cargo Bay? What was she doing down there?
“Thanks, Eri,” she said, leaving.
She made her way down the hall to a set of doors for the second Ascender. The main Ascender was the only one that led to the higher levels while this like the other ran to the ones below. Aloe summoned it, entering upon its arrival. She announced to the system to take her the Cargo Bay to which it complied, descending below.
Cargo Bay level reached, the voice announced upon arrival.
This area was the darkest part of the ship. There were very few Illuminants which weren’t very bright either. Aloe never understood why though given it was easier to get hurt by running into something down here. Its walls were dark and rusty – riddled with streaks from being scrapped against over time. Stacks of metal crates hugged the sides like mini mountains, some as high as the ceiling. Some were stationed towards the center of the floor in attempt to maximize the storage. They made it difficult to see past them to the other end.
“Faa?” Aloe called out. “Faa?!”
She didn’t receive a response.
She stepped out of the Ascender and began navigating through. There was just enough space to create a mini path to move in-between. She winced at the air coated with a musty scent as if the walls had been painted with stale mustard. It wasn’t unbearable, but very distinct. As she continued through, she used the sides of the crates to maintain her balance in hopes of not running into anything. Vexus – the lighting was horrible. Why was Faa even down here?
The lights sometimes hid behind one of the mountains of crates throwing the path ahead of her in darkness. She managed to stumble a few times when this happened, having to slowly walk blind in an attempt to reach the next set.
After guiding herself through, she recognized the outline of the items ahead of her. They didn’t appear like the other crates – these objects were similar to the containers in the S.A.F. As she got closer to them, she noticed the lid removed from several of them.
“What the…” she whispered.
Moving nearer, she felt something crunch under her boots. She examined it and realized it was bits of crumbled ore from the container. It was like someone had opened the cases, and tossed out the ore. As she turned to head in another direction, she nearly bumped into a figure next to her. Her heart practically leapt out her chest, realizing it was Faa. “Vexus!” she cursed, “Don’t sneak up on me like that Faa!”
Faa didn’t react to the sudden outburst simply standing silently. She had short, red hair that fell past her ears. Even in the partial shadows, Aloe could make out her narrow yet round face, which often reminded her of a mouse. It seemed like a fitting description.
“Where have you been?” Aloe asked, regaining her composure. “You had me worried when I found your toasted Caller. What are you doing down here anyway?”
Faa didn’t respond.
She noticed her hands covered in dark smudges of dust from the ore.
“Did you make this mess?” Aloe asked, glancing back over to the opened containers. “What in Solaris’ name –” she began, but immediately held up a hand. “Never mind, I don’t even wanna know. The less I know, the better.”
Faa still didn’t respond and simply cocked her head to the side slightly. Aloe released a deep sigh.
“Look, Ven’s been trying to get a hold of you – I’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” she started. “The reports, Faa. Really? Could you be more careless?”
She continued to stand there like a statue with her head still cocked. The silence was beginning to irritate Aloe.
“Look Faa, I know I’m still relatively new to this position, but you gotta be more discrete,” Aloe continued. “I don’t have a problem with your lil’ projects – I never did, but remember, anything that goes wrong comes back to bite me in the end. I’m the one in the cross-hairs. Ven’s already been on my a*s of late about the others and the last thing I need is another a*s-chewing because of my sister now. So, can you please be more careful in the future, okay?”
Again, Faa said nothing in response.
“Are you even listening to me?” Aloe asked, her impatience rising.
“I’m sorry, Sis,” Faa finally replied, “I would have told you sooner, but I’ve been feeling a little under the weather.”
Aloe winced a bit. The tone of her voice didn’t seem to match her expression – of course it could have just been the shadows playing tricks on her. She sighed again, happy to at least get a response from her.
“Whatever, it’s fine,” Aloe finally answered. “Look, next time tell me when you’re gonna do something like this – that way we both don’t look bad.”
Faa didn’t respond. Aloe shook her head, heading back towards the Ascender.
“Please fix those reports and get ‘em back to Ven, okay?” she said over her shoulder.
“I’ll talk to you later, sis,” Faa said behind her.
Again, why did her words sound so… strange? It wasn’t necessarily what she said, but how she said it. Waiting for the Ascender, she turned back to look. Even though she couldn’t see Faa because of the stack of crates, she could feel eyes gazing back on her. It sent a shiver down her spine.
The Ascender arrived with the doors opening. Aloe entered and they closed behind her.