Malachi stopped short of the door to his father’s tiny office and took a moment to work up the courage to enter.
Act natural. We’ve run short of parts before. The voice in his head reassured him. It’s nothing unusual.
Then, as ready as he could be, he stepped into the room as if it was any other day.
Theo sat behind his desk. It was a simple metal sheet propped up by the landing struts they had removed from the Rhino.
Malachi felt like his father already knew the lie he was about to hear.
I’ve interrupted him. This is a bad time.
The room was dimmer than the last time Malachi had been here. Colder too. His father must have passed on the light panel they had salvaged last week. Most likely his father had added it to the lottery pool rather than keeping it for himself.
Despite his skills and position, Theo considered himself last in the queue for essential items such as lights. Far better, he would explain, that the rest of New Haven is well lit. The light makes people feel safer, and danger more easily hides in the shadows than in the sun.
Theo placed his data pad on his desk and gave his son, as he did everyone he spoke with, his full attention. “What is it, Malachi?”
“I know you’re busy…” Malachi began.
Theo smiled. In here, working alone, he could devote himself to one problem after another until he was satisfied he could resolve each one in turn. Away from his desk he had to juggle a hundred demands at once. Here, without the stress that came from dealing with people, he could almost relax.
“I’m always busy, so now is as good a time as any. What’s the problem, son?” There had to be a problem. Malachi did not interrupt his work without good reason.
Keep it simple.
“I was checking our inventory. I think I found a problem.”
“I thought we weren’t due to audit our inventory for another two weeks.”
“Uh, I wanted to make sure we had enough essentials in stock, you know, because of the work you’ve been doing on the Orion.”
Theo considered his son thoughtfully as he leaned forward over his desk.
He’s not buying it!
“You know,” said Theo, “the last audit was only three weeks ago. Based on that I have everything I need to repair the Orion’s engine core, but with everything else happening around here I didn’t think to check again. I should have. Good thinking. So, what’s the problem?”
We have plenty of gear to fix an engine, even one that badly designed. Why didn’t I think of that?
“I was, uh, checking the lower priority stock. You know how quickly something you don’t think is important can get really important fast.”
“Are we low on something?”
“Well, I can’t find any regulators for the CO2 scrubbers in the stores.”
“We have scrubbers but no regulators? How did that happen?”
Malachi shrugged so he wouldn’t have to lie.
“Scrubbers without regulators are no good,” said Theo. “I know that they’re supposed to be independent systems but it hardly ever happens that one fails without the other.”
Malachi nodded encouragingly. “I don’t think any of our contacts are due to deliver in the next few weeks. So, I was wondering, can we last that long? What if something breaks?”
No way will he buy that question. Of course we can’t go on like this. Scrubbers might be simple tech but without a regulator in place to monitor the CO2 build up we could all suffocate in our sleep.
“Let me check the schedules,” said Theo. He poked the terminal on the side of the desk until it gave him an answer he didn’t like. “You’re right, this is going to be a problem.” He looked up, correctly anticipating the answer to his next question. “I assume you have a solution in mind?”
“I was thinking, as you are busy with Orion, maybe, umm, I could go and get them?”
“You want me to let you take the Rhino and go to Selah alone?”
Malachi nodded, not trusting himself enough to speak without giving himself away.
It’s not going to work. He knows. He won’t let me go. He’ll have another plan, he always does. He—
“What?” he said out loud.
“I said you can go. I won’t need it for the Orion job. We’re working in a pressurised bay and my initial investigation makes me think the problem is internal, anyway. You can be back from Selah in a couple of days.”
Shut up! Idiot! Say Selah. He doesn’t need to know where you are really going!
“Why not Selah?”
“I need to go to Jenova. I already checked prices and reserved the items.”
“You know how I feel about that system, Malachi. I avoid it whenever possible.”
“I know but, but, it saves us a lot of money. And I can get what I need on Mirador.”
Theo leaned back in his chair and considered his son’s proposal. He would rather Malachi travelled to Selah. It would be a longer journey. Thanks to the orbit of the city, at this time of year the Selah beacon was located on the far side of Celato.
He had no reason to doubt Malachi was right about the price of the regulators though, and that was where they could save money. The jump fees would be the same either way. There was no need to squander the fees from the Orion job. And he had to admit that the space lanes around Jenova were better patrolled than any of Selah’s planets.
He knew Malachi was aware of the special risks involved in travelling near Parador but a gentle reminder would still be helpful. “Are you sure you can get what you need on Mirador?”
Malachi nodded again. Any moment now his heart was going to burst through his chest and bounce off the wall above his father’s head.
“I won’t need to land on Parador. The Rhino’s registration might still be on a watch list there. But do you really think it is? We left years ago.”
Theo weighed his options carefully before answering. His son deserved some measure of truth by now. He was a more capable and honest young man than Theo was at the same age. The whole truth could come later.
“Honestly? I don’t know. But we can’t risk having the ship impounded, and more importantly I can’t have you caught up in any of the fallout from my past mistakes.”
Malachi was taken aback by this uncharacteristic admission of a failing. His father worked so hard to avoid mistakes that it was a shock to hear him acknowledging one so large that it had forced them to leave their home. But even this was overshadowed by his father’s look of concern. “Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”
“One more thing. I imagine that your friends would like to accompany you on this trip, especially Ellie. Can I assume you have spoken to them about this already?”
“I mentioned it.”
“I don’t want them to go with you. Tila will get into trouble, and Ellie is too young. She would be safer here. I don’t want to be worrying about them as well as you. Understand?”
Malachi nodded. Was that a yes?
“And be careful. Don’t talk to anyone you don’t need to. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t break any rules.”
I wish he hadn’t said that! Now I’m not only lying to him but I’m also putting myself at risk by going to the one place he wants to protect me from. I don’t think I could feel worse than I do right now. I hope he never finds out about what we are about to do. I’ve got what I wanted, so why do I feel so bad?
But he only said, “Yeah, I understand.”