The crows immediately took flight, headed down the corridors of the Wooden Shoe.The communication panel on the bridge continues to crackle “INTERCEPTORS ARE ON THEIR*** until Jeanette removed her braceleted hand from it, and it devolved into static and died.
It was replaced by clear conversation from the crew members:
“It can’t be an ordinary bomb, since the internal bulkheads are made of hull material, and all internal doors are airlocks.” That was her father.
“There’s also scant possibility that a large device was put aboard. I supervised the lad drydock scan myself. It leaves only one real possible source: the drives.” That was Lord Elphinstone.
“Diotima’s mechanical lynx has come to life and is headed out into the corridors. I can only assume it’s looking.” The Queen.
“Might it be something worse. Iqalummiaq ha an antimatter world jewel, after all,” said O Tse.
“Unlikely. There was a very close audit of his assets,” said Jeanette’s father. “Listen: it’s highly probable that the bomb is something physical: if it were simply software, we could clean the system and restore from the backup we have aboard. But we also have to assume that Mad John will have set it up that if we turn off the drives, it will explode. Likewise, if we launch the jollyboat, it will explode.”
“I also have no doubt,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara, “that Iqalummiaq want us to run around desperately trying to find the bomb before it goes off, prolonging our mental anguish--which means we have some time, though not much.”
Jennifer walked along, not knowing what she was looking for--then it struck her to hold down the jewel on her necklace showing the greatest evil that had occurred in its presence. Once she did so, there was a grown of figures of various species, all wearing suits with a common Light-blue color. This was almost certainly the crew from before the refit. By some standards, what she saw was mild: a brawl or two, a throat being slit, and one an assault that resembled a heavy armored thing gouging the seeds out of a big cantaloupe that was writhing in pain. Although she doubted that she would ever forget the sight, it probably wasn’t connected to the bomb.
“Follow me on this,” said Lieutenant Octavian. “The bomb was almost certainly activated by the AI ghost masquerading as the pilot. Which means the activation had to be electromagnetic in nature.”
“Yes, but I can’t believe he’s so stupid that it could be shut off from the bridge--and we can’t shut it down altogether, or boom!” O Tse said.
Jeanette clambered down a stairway, and ran into the clockwork lynx, now grown as big as a sabretooth tiger. Luminous circuitry traces were expanding from its claws as in clacked along. “Guys,” she said, “You don’t think the bomb controller could be in the lynx, could you?”
“Unlikely,” said Lord Elphinstone. “Diotima Gearhart’s technology is unlike anything the Moon of the Moon--or Storisende--has seen. I’d assume it’s clean.”
“Wait a second,” said the capybara. “If the controller is electromagnetic, then there might be a way to make it reveal itself.”
“And that is?” Said Dr. Ransom impatiently.
“We are still traveling through one of the most powerful and chaotic magnetic storms known outside of the interior of a star,” said Capoeira.
“Bingo! Or rather Eureka!” Said Jeanette’s father. Everybody get to the nearest emergency panels and lie against them as we rehearsed. Immediately!”
Jeanette saw a flat grey-black slab on the wall of the corridor ahead of her, made for it, leaned back and spread her arms wide.
“Who’s closest to the bridge who’s read the manual?” Dr. Ransom said.
“I’m fully checked out on all the emergency procedures,” came the eager voice of the Lieutenant.
“Who’s a good boy then?” Cooed the capybara.
“Shut it. I want everybody in deep-space survival suits and then I want you to shut down the ship’s magnetic shielding.”
“Got it.” A few pants over the communicator, and then, “Ready,” in a more muffled voice.
“On five. One!”
Jeanette felt the slab reach out and surround her, covering her in something soft.
The soft stuff stiffened, and hugged the contours of her body.
Gas hissed, tickling her skin.
Something external grabbed her and held her solid.
The Wooden Shoe creaked and heaved.
Jeanette immediately got a terrible headache, and her jaw hurt. She stepped forward, and it seemed treacherous to move. Everything looked the same, but her vision started to blur and unblur in random areas. But she had figured out that she wasn’t supposed to just stand there. She started to walk back down the corridor.
The intraship communication had gone dead, and turning on the suit radio with her tongue just gave her static, so she just walked carefully, as if she was tramping through a high wind. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she had a couple of ideas.
She came down the stairs at one end of a lower corridor as Lord Elphinstone (or someone of comparable size) came down at the other end. What they saw pushed them both into action. There was a glowing green-outlined figure of a ghost with hands on a part of the wall, but it was being pulled and distorted radically, flapping around in a furious vortex. It was desperately trying either to reach something or not to be parted from something, and didn’t seem to be succeeding.
The suited tiger fell on top of it, but the ghost slipped and slid around the survival suit like a projected green image. He managed to get himself between it and the wall, though, which caused the ghost to flap more wildly. Jeanette knew that Silvertygers longsword or other blades would be impossible to control in this magnetic storm, so she reached back behind the sixth wall for a weapon that might work.
The first gun flew right out of her hand and vanished. The second seemed not to want to come into the magnetic storm. But her hand closed around something relatively light. And it stayed in her hand when she pulled it out. She fired it, and a brilliant needle lanced out. It went through the green, but it was unclear whether it had done anything, so she fired again. After five shots the green outline began to shrivel, and fell to the deck. She kept firing until it was gone..
When the interceptors finally matched velocities with the Wooden Shoe, the commandos in hard-shell combat suits found the crew clustered in a lower corridor of the ship, around a screen as they were tracing, with a great deal of argument, a diagram of the circuitry of a small cylinder. They were happy to turn it over to a small lizard-skinned squad member who was checked out in the technology.
A few hours after that, the travelers were gathered in the bridge, speaking to a figure of Sailor Treelithe. After he expressed relief that they were all safe, his demeanor changed.
“I’m afraid I must take you all into custody.”
“Custody!?” Jeanette cried out.
“You must return to the station with all due speed,”
“But I don’t…” began Dr. Ransom.
“There have been developments. You must consider yourself under arrest.”