As Larry Niven said in “Ringworld,” no one likes to find out they are a breeding experiment. Something which happens below the fold. Getting physically angry with Reina would be pointless; about as productive and throwing your toaster around the kitchen. Trapped on their little ship not quite halfway to Mars this adds even more tension to the mix. From what’s rattling around the back of my head, it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Beginning next Saturday everyone except me and the evil attack cat is on another vacation. I’ll use that quiet at home to push this MS aside and get as many raw chapters of “Foes & Rivals” recorded that I can. The following week will have us, here, coming back from Mars… the ship at least… will anyone be alive? And the week after that should see the end of my second audiobook recording. That will lead to several weeks of editing. *sigh*
He turned back to her at that, with Kira’s image still behind his eyes.
“She looks a lot like you. How much did you modify her?”
“None of your business.”
“If I override my inclinations and obey my mother to marry her and make children, then her genetics are very much my business, Reina.” Hearing the activity overhead, he tried to wrap up. “I expect a report on that for the night watch, please.”
Sliding down properly this time, the princess had lived at court long enough to read the air. She shut her mouth and waited. Laszlo pulled his helmet off the back of his chair and gestured to the sealed hatch just beyond his second in command. Before he could key in the code, it split open, revealing something about the size of a shower stall. He picked up Kira and lowered her before easing in next to her.
“Helmets on. Check air and pressure,” he called.
“Nominal,” Kira replied. The doors slid shut overhead. There was a whine of air then silence.
“How much time on your oh-two?” he asked. When she looked up blankly at him he pointed at where her ears would be the signed three-three. She made an adjustment to her radio…
“Hear me now?” she asked.
“Yes. Apologies that our countries do not use the same common code. I was asking how much air, by time, do you have?”
He watched her eyes look up even more, to the readout on the inside of her visor.
“Twenty-five minutes,” Kira replied.
“Then we’ll be done here in fifteen. That’s plenty for an overview. I’ll open…” he made to press the button for the airlock door but paused when she slipped her arms about him.
“Thank you for taking care of me, Laszlo!” she cooed.
The door slid open and they stepped out onto a catwalk. Under them, machinery stretched away further than their eyes could see.
“Closest are the control mechanism and black boxes; that way, if we need to fix or change them out, they are right here,” he began, moving to a ladder and going down first. He waited for her at the next level. “After that are the controls for the fission reactor, the motor itself, then the reactor core, obviously as far from the crew decks as safety allows.”
“What’s that big thing inside the blue-green metal?” she asked, looking three levels down between her feet.
“The reactionless motor…” Les began, moving to the next ladder down.
“B… but I thought they were sheathed in copper for some reason!” Kira said a trifle too loud into his helmet.
“This is a proprietary alloy, copper-based, which is a huge improvement,” he explained what little he could. “It’s why Lionheart can do what she does
“Proprietary? Won’t the PM – ?” Still too loud.
“I’m sure your godmother is grinding her silicon carbide teeth above us in frustration not knowing what it is, Princess! And you don’t have to yell. I can hear you fine.”
“What? What! This whine is starting to hurt! Is it from the motor?” Yet again.
Laszlo heard nothing unusual. Did she have her radio set to more than one frequency which was pushing noise into her helmet? Not knowing, he put his hand onto her shoulder and pointed back up. Thankfully, she nodded.
When back to just outside the airlock, she tried again, but now back into a normal volume.
“What was that, Les? From the motor?”
“First, check your radio settings, Kira.” When she did and said all was well, he tried again. “In that case, I’m guessing you’ve been modified a little, by Reina. I heard nothing at all and neither has anyone else involved in this ship’s design.”
“What… what do you mean: modified?” Her voice shook in his ears.
Do I or don’t I?
“You think it coincidence you look like her, Princess? Tribe Mendro has changed you.”
Kira’s face through the helmet was a perfect mix of fear and hate.
“Let’s go back up! Now!” she announced, grabbing his arm and stepping into the little airlock. With the air returned, she heaved herself up the ladder and tossed her helmet aside.
“What the hell have you done to me!” she screamed at the motionless android.
“Quite a lot,” Reina turned her chair to face the angry young woman.
“You…! You said you love us: Russians! You want to help us! Is it all a damned lie?” she demanded.
“No. You were a minor so I had your father’s permission.”
Les caught her just as she was falling down.
“Captain Hartmann?” Reina more commanded than asked. “Please go up and get Princess Kira some vodka and return. Be circumspect with her siblings.”
Knowing there was no point to punching the machine’s stoic face, he set the girl into his chair and kissed her hair.
“Be right back. And don’t worry, Kirry: I guess you’re more like me than we thought.” Another kiss and he was up the ladder.
“You arrogant, selfish bitch!” Kira managed.
“Yes. Now: be still and listen…” Reina began.