Malachi’s ship was broken, and he didn’t know why.
He lay on his back, underneath the raised body of the Rhino, making silent threats to a machine that refused to listen.
Holding a hatch open with one hand, Malachi scrabbled with the other until his fingers touched a wire. He tugged it closer until he could reach the infrasound probe attached to the other end. He switched it on and hurried to complete the job before the inaudible tone made him nauseous.
“Is it fixed yet?” asked a familiar voice.
He shut off the tool, grateful for the interruption, and slid himself out to see Tila’s upside-down face studying the diagnostic equipment. She offered her hand.
“It’s not broken, it’s just not working,” he said. He took her hand and pulled himself to his feet. “Where have you been? Ellie’s worried about you.”
“She worries too much. I’m fine.”
“I am now. I know what we need to do.”
Malachi wiped the worst of the dirt from his hands and dragged over two stools so they could sit. “Tell me.”
She took a breath, anticipating his likely reaction. “We need to find the investors in the mission and tell them what we know.”
Malachi blinked. “That’s your plan? Okay! Firstly, ‘we’? Second, what will they do about it? Why should they even believe you? And third, how are you even going to find them?”
“Firstly, yes. Second, we can take the chip you found, that’s our proof. They’ll have to believe that, won’t they?”
Her eyes told him she needed them to believe that.
“Look, I agree that the only explanation for that data is because a ship made the jump back from Baru, but who’s going to listen to us? We’re nobodies. Who are these investors, and how do we get to meet them, anyway?”
“But we’re nobodies who know something. Plus, I’m the daughter of the people who led the mission. That has to count for something, right?”
“How can you make them believe that? You could be anyone claiming a story like that. They won’t have any reason to believe us, uh, you.”
He was right, she realised. Her word alone would not carry any weight. “So, is that it? Are you saying it won’t work?”
“No. I’m… I’m just saying it might be harder than you think. Let’s start at the beginning. Which investors do we talk to?”
“I don’t know. I hoped you might.”
“Me? What do I know about stuff like that? I build and fix things.”
“But you have access to data, don’t you? What happened is public record, so it should be on the networks.”
“Public records in one star system don’t automatically appear in another, and hardly anything useful turns up here,” he mused. “On the other hand, the mission was a long time ago and a big event, so there is probably something we can find on local archives. Even the Juggernaut gets news eventually, right? Let me have a look.”
Malachi turned to one of his computers and began searching for the old records of the colony mission.
Tila, for once, waited patiently.
“Okay, here’s something. A big chunk of the mission was funded by a cabal of investors from the three closest systems; Selah, Kinebar and Jenova. Most of the rest came from Avion, and some of the smaller systems. That makes sense. No one wants to come via our system if they can help it. Baru would have given them an alternate route. It might not make journeys any quicker but it would make them cheaper.”
“Because the traders wouldn’t have to pay for protection against the pirates?”
“Right. Plus, Baru might give them more trading opportunities. There’s nothing in our system except what we are hiding in the Juggernaut, and who want’s that? Anyway, it looks like most of the investment came from corporations based on Parador, in the Jenova system.”
“Jenova? I thought Selah was the richest system.”
“It is, but most of the big corporations started in Jenova and expanded to Selah later. Selah is where they make their money, but Jenova is where the power is.”
“So, where do we go?”
Malachi drummed his fingers on the workbench as he considered the question. “I think we should try Jenova. That’s where the decisions are made.”
“Okay!” Tila hugged him in a moment of rare delight. “So we’re going to Parador! Thank you!”
“Tila, this isn’t going to be easy. These are powerful and important people. You can’t count on just turning up and expect them to listen to you.”
“I can make them listen.”
Malachi shook his head and spun his chair so they were face to face. “No you can’t, Tila. You can’t barge in and expect people to listen. You can’t just act without consequence there. It’s not like the Juggernaut. Here it’s uncivilised and dangerous and you have to be strong to survive, but life planet-side is nothing like this. They have governments and police and bodyguards and security forces and laws. All of the corporations will have their own private security forces too, so if you get angry, or aggressive, they will just throw you out or lock you up.”
“It’s not my first time on a planet, you know. I’m not Ellie.”
“I know that, but you’ve lived here for too long. Don’t forget what it’s like. I’m just saying you can’t act there like you do here. You have to be careful. We need to be more diplomatic.”
“So, you do think it’s hopeless.”
“I didn’t say that, I just don’t think it will be easy. You can’t just fight your way in to get someone’s attention.”
“You mean I need to be more diplomatic, don’t you?”
Tila fell silent for a moment. “That was a very diplomatic way of putting that, by the way. It’s a good thing you’re coming with me.”
“Me? What makes you so sure I’m going?”
“Going where?” asked Ellie as she bounced into the room unannounced.
“Nothing,” said Tila quickly at the same time that Malachi said, “Parador.”
“What? We are? Why? Parador? Wait, what do you mean nothing?” she said to Tila.
Tila threw Malachi a scowl. “He meant me and him,” she said.
“Why can’t I come?” whined Ellie.
“It’s not that we don’t want you to,” said Tila quickly in an attempt to smooth things over. “But we’ll only be gone a few days, and it will be boring. I’m going to try to meet the investors in the colony mission and tell them what we found.”
“Boring? Are you joking? You’re leaving here without me and going to a planet and you think I’m going to find that boring? How could you think that?”
“It will only be for a couple of days-” Tila started to say.
“I don’t care if it’s for a couple of minutes! How could you leave me behind? You know I’ve never been on a planet! It’s because you two talk about the things you remember from growing up on a world and I don’t know what any of them are. That’s it, isn’t it?” she accused.
“No, of course not!” Tila protested. “I-“
Ellie turned on Malachi. “And we were only talking the other day about how much you said I would enjoy flying through clouds instead of space.”
Malachi pointed an accusing finger at Tila. “Hey, I didn’t say you couldn’t come!”
Ellie threw up her hands. “Of course I’m coming! Someone has to look after you two. Malachi will be hopeless, just like he always is when he is not working on some machine, and you, Tila, need someone to keep an eye on you to stop you getting into trouble.”
She put her hands on her hips and stared them down. Malachi and Tila looked at each other. It was not often Tila lost a fight but Malachi had the feeling that this one was over before it began.
“Fine,” said Tila eventually, giving up.
“Great,” said Malachi. “And I’m not hopeless.”
“Perfect,” said Ellie. “When are we leaving?”
“Well, I need to finish getting the ship ready.”
“Your dad’s letting you take his ship?”
Malachi’s expression was all Ellie needed to realise this was not, in fact, the case.
“Oh! He’s not? That will be… interesting when he finds out.”
Malachi looked at Tila. “She’s got a point. It’s not like my dad’s just going to let us take the Rhino.”
“So don’t tell him. He sometimes leaves the system on business, doesn’t he? Does he ever go to Parador?”
Malachi considered this. “Not if he can help it. He avoids the whole system if he can. He might have been to Mirador but I’m sure he hasn’t been to Parador.”
“But you can still get us the ship, right?” Tila pressed.
“Maybe. But what about the port fees when we get there? They won’t be cheap. And the toll for the jump, and fuel costs, and-“
“One problem at a time,” she assured him.
Tila had made her decision. She was going to Parador.