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John and Jagati’s return to the Errant was both less crowded and less eventful than their journey out.
John supposed he should be thankful Tariq was no longer an enemy, but the calculator still weighed heavy on his mind, and he knew they’d not seen the last of Mary and Colin.
And what of their contact?
The mysterious Galileo, who may or may not have ties to Eitan, but who’d definitely been willing to use a child to achieve his ends.
Judging by his actions, the man was both determined and ruthless.
A treacherous combination, as John had long ago discovered.
As the tram came to its rocking halt, he looked up to find they’d reached the airfield. At his side, Jagati rose, slung her rifle, once again safe in its carryall, over one shoulder, and they made their way to the door.
Outside the tram, half a dozen travelers waited to board for the return trip.
Among them stood a pair of aeronauts, both wearing the Tenjin Corp patch on their leather flight jackets, in the midst of a heated discussion.
“I’m tellin’ you, Ken,” one of the two was saying, “all them sensitives are Force users. Just like in the ancient texts.”
“Stories, Johnny,” his companion replied. “Those is all stories. And if I’m in for a full night of you spoutin’ myths, I’ll keep my starbucks and you can whistle down Goodyear Lane for someone to buy you a drink.”
Jagati watched the squabbling pair board the tram and shook her head, recalling the ancient texts in question. “They’re bad enough in reality,” she muttered, catching up with John.
“What?” John looked up, surprised. “Who?”
She jerked her chin at the pair behind them. “Sensitives. Galileo. Barth Vader.”
“Darth,” John corrected absently. “And Galileo’s just one sensitive out of many.” As he spoke, his eyes slid over the airfield, almost deserted by now. “Eitan has never shown himself to be anything but honorable.”
Her shoulders hunched, but she didn’t give in. “Exception that proves the rule.”
His gaze slid sideways. “That’s a remarkably Earthbound point of view.”
“I’m just saying, a bomb is a bomb, whether or not the crystal-det has sparked.”
“Very well.” He turned his attention back to their route. “So for the sake of the argument you clearly wish to have, supposing you’re right and Eitan is an exception. Where does that leave--” he cut himself off, shook his head, and increased his pace.
“What?” she asked, speeding up along with him, giving a small mountain of crates they passed a beady eye.
“You keep saying it’s nothing when—”
“When it’s nothing worth discussing,” he cut in. “Anyway, if it’s all the same, I’d as soon continue to believe the best of humanity—including sensitives.”
With that he turned and continued toward their berth.
Jagati followed, steaming.
She did not, however, deny herself a triumphant moment of smug when, on arriving at the base of the Errant’s gangplank, they found the cargo bay door—the one they’d left secured—wide open.
“So much for the best in humanity,” she said, slapping him on the shoulder before heading up the gangplank and pulling her rifle from its cover.
Even though John expected the Errant to be searched—had, in fact planned for it—the sense of violation cut deep.
Deeper still upon discovering the ‘ship appeared to have been searched by a talon of angry dracos.
He tried to tell himself it could be worse. Thus far, the damage was only cosmetic—shelves torn down, loose parts tossed wantonly to the deck—but the lights and ventilation still worked, and none of the lower deck systems showed any damage.
He tried to tell himself all this, but standing in the middle of his cabin, holding the broken pocket-watch, he didn’t care.
From the muttered curses following in his wake, Jagati wasn’t terribly happy either.
With a last brush of his thumb over the watch’s cover, he set it carefully on the desk and returned to assessing the wreck of his home.
A few minutes later he led the way up the starboard companionway to the third deck, and had just stepped into the corridor when he heard a rustling sound.
Immediately he held up his left hand in a fist so Jagati, directly behind him, would know they had company.
He glanced at her, then gestured towards the Errant’s sickbay, which sat aft of the training room.
She nodded and hefted her rifle like a club and both moved cautiously towards the medbay, from which the sound had emerged.
John paused at the training room’s door to pick up a broken staff, then continued onwards where, from the sound of it, whoever was inside the sickbay was opening and closing the cabinet doors.
He looked over his shoulder, she nodded, and, on a silent three count, both burst into the medical bay.
“Stand down,” John ordered, brandishing the splintered staff.
“Hands where I can see ‘em!” Jagati added, the butt of her rifle raised and ready to thump the young man who spun towards the door, his dark eyes wide with shock.
“Here are my hands!” he said, immediately holding them out to show a tin of headache powder in one and a cold pack in the other. “But how do I stand and sit down at the same time?”
“How do you—” Jagati began, then looked at John. “Is this guy for real?”
“Quite real,” another voice answered the question, and John, Jagati, and the youth all looked to the bay’s cot, where a much-the-worse-for-wear Eitan was halfway to sitting up, a blade shooting out of his left sleeve and his face drawn with pain.
“Stay down,” the intruder ordered with a hint of exasperation before blinking in disbelief. “Is that a knife?”
“People keep asking me that,” Eitan murmured.
“Are you all right?” John, concerned, made his way across the room, stepping over a collection of first-aid supplies strewn over the deck, including a broken antibact vial, which explained the acrid, tear-inducing odor drifting through the room. “What happened?”
“What did you do to him?” Jagati advanced on the youth.
“What?” The young man’s eyes sparked with anger. “I didn’t do—”
“Leave him alone,” Eitan said, looking to John as if the mere act of speaking hurt. “He is with me.”
“He is?” John asked as he and Jagati looked from Eitan to the intruder.
Dark, shoulder-length hair and deep brown eyes, complexion on the olive side of tan, and a face that would get its fair share of looks.
“Huh,” Jagati said, turning back to Eitan. “Kind of young, isn’t he?”
“He,” the young man said, glaring equally at everyone, “is standing right here.”
The he in question, they soon learned, was Tiago Hama, and he was a medical student at Yousafzai University. “Class of ’50,” he explained as he administered headache powder, a cold pack, and some expertly applied acupressure to the patient.
While Tiago tended Eitan, Jagati continued to clear the Errant. John doubted Mary or her cohorts were still aboard, but best to be certain. Besides, they needed a damage assessment.
He remained with Eitan and Tiago, and listened to Eitan’s report of the confrontation with Galileo.
Tiago, while obviously interested, didn’t press for particulars, making John wonder if doctor/patient privilege included students. Any road, Tiago only asked about details relating to the source of Eitan’s migraine.
“I’ve no doubt it was Galileo who broke into the Errant,” Eitan finished his report, the entirety of which he’d delivered with his eyes closed.
“No doubt,” John agreed. “But to search the entire ship in so short a time, he’d have had help.”
Eitan’s response was a soft sigh, possibly due to the foot massage Tiago was currently administering. “Your friends,” Eitan murmured, confusing John, then opened his eyes and looked at Tiago. “Your friends on the tram—they said something about a meeting? No, an appointment.”
Tiago’s hands continued working at Eitan’s foot. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
“I think it is,” Eitan disagreed. “And my sorrow to inconvenience you.”
“If I didn’t want to be inconvenienced, I should have chosen a different profession,” Tiago replied with a crooked grin, releasing the foot and rising from the cot. “But now you’re in recovery, it is time I got back to the city. I’m on the fourteen o’clock rotation this month.”
“Thank you for your help,” John said as Tiago collected a long coat that had seen better days, and battered book bag from the foot of the cot. He drew the few starbucks he had from his pocket. “I wish we could do more”
The dark brown eyes grew darker. “Doctors don’t heal for profit.”
“Of course,” John said, hiding the insulting cash.
“Perhaps when we’re next in Nike,” Eitan took over smoothly, “after we sort out this—situation—we could offer you dinner?”
“As long as Jagati is nae cooking.”
The three men turned to the door. There stood a damp and wrinkled Rory, eying the wreckage.
“Rory.” John nodded. “This is Dr. Tiago Hama.”
“Not quite doctor yet,” Tiago inserted.
“He came back with Eitan,” John finished the explanation.
“Did he, now?” Rory assessed the dark-haired student, then looked at the man on the cot. “A bit young for you, isn’t he?”