Drick and Marsh had been in space for fifteen weeks. The journey to the far reaches of the system had taken close to ten weeks, when the course had been finally computed. Once they reached the right position they started a very slow move towards the target to avoid active and passive detection. They also had to wait for a stealth ship arrival.
For most of the acceleration phase of the journey out they had slept in special couches, wearing pressure resistant suits, to help with the constant acceleration forces. The ship was pushing point three of a G with its own thrusters but it had limited fuel. The course calculations had included two slingshot maneuvers that increased the distance they could travel on the available fuel. A slingshot maneuver involved whipping around a planetary sized object, encountering forces of two to three G in the process. These manoeuvres allowed sudden course changes without losing speed and extended the range by using the planet’s gravity to fuel a burst of acceleration.
However these increased acceleration and deceleration forces played havoc with bodily functions. For both slingshots Drick had given Marsh a strong sedative. The suits mitigated some of the stresses they were subjected to, it also helped with the extended time they were staying in low gravity between the bursts of acceleration. Even with suits designed to help them, they had to exercise daily to prevent muscle loss and bone decay.
Marsh and Drick had managed to work out a series of habits so that they were not always in each other’s way. The ship’s crew section was very small for such a long journey. Drick seemed to need a lot of personal space when exercising. Drick’s form of exercise was intense impact training and a high percentage of combat practice. Marsh liked to do cardio and circuit training so didn’t object if Drick joined him. However, there were times when Marsh liked to sit alone on the small bridge and stare at the stars.
Drick had taught Marsh some of the basics of flying the ship. It was both complex, and stunningly simple. It was complex as there were a lot of different items to learn, from the navigation, environmental controls, systems monitoring, sensors, engineering panels and that was before the flight systems themselves. However, it was made incredibly simple as the ship had a number of functioning artificial intellects that controlled most of the ship. It flew itself, and would tell you what it needed you, as a mostly ignorant organic, to do.
Drick had shown Marsh that most planetary vehicles, systems, and technologies worked in broadly the same fashion as this ship. For instance, learning ships sensors would help with just about every other sensor interface. The same with navigation, flight control and all of the systems Marsh could learn. They were transferable skills and would be essential in different planetary environments. Survival in the future was either being fortunate enough to have fully automated systems, a scrabble to live on the dregs that are cast aside, or a set of adaptable skills. Drick was teaching Marsh the latter.
“I have an odd question,” Marsh said. They were eating food, which was a protein bar and a thick vitamin shake that was apparently banana flavour. Whomever had decided that it was banana flavoured had clearly confused the taste of banana with that of seagull vomit.
“Really?” Drick looked up from the screen they were fixing. An electrical short had taken out two display panels a week before in Drick’s personal hard suit. With their limited resources the repairs were slow and arduous. “That is not unusual, for you. What is it?”
“How did you choose my case?” Marsh held up a hand to stop Drick instantly responding. “Everytime someone asks you, you shine them off with a half truth. I have heard you say that it was bad luck. I think I heard someone say that you just found it interesting. You told me once that you had a vested interest in getting more money from insurance companies. I checked with Hooper. You hadn’t done that kind of work for a long time. You also turned down much easier jobs that he offered to keep my case.
I can see how resourceful you are. There would have been countless other ways you could have made more money.” Marsh looked at Drick. “So why my case?”
“I came across it. I have always checked Justice Department feeds and it rose to the top.” said Drick.
“But that means nothing. I have seen those original reports, they said little.” Marsh looked puzzled. “Considering the efforts done to cover the case up, why would it float to the top of any noticeable list?”
“I get a slightly more detailed set of reports. Sometimes more detailed than the justice department.” said Drick and watched Marsh’s response. There was the slight narrowing of the pupils, the tic that he had when something struck a chord. The face often gave subtle insights, they weren’t telling clues, just indicators of a person’s inner narrative. He responded to those words as if he expected them. “What do you think you know, Marsh?”
“I don’t think I know anything. I am just curious about a few things and I think they are connected.” He said calmly.
“You think I had some other reason to choose your case?” Drick looked for his response. He thought something, but it wasn’t clear what.
“No. Not really. Maybe.” he sighed. “Look I am probably spewing this out of my ass. You get more information, but I think you got a lot more, something that made me important to you in some way.”
Marsh smiled. “You’re going to think I am a nut job. I think, no, I feel like it is all connected. Not directly, but as if it needs all the pieces to be in play and this started before me. Well we know it started before me. There was already some turf war between Yee On Kline and the Union. But it is convenient that Rodero, your close contact, had done work for the right people to help us make a near impossible heist. I also think there is something suspicious about how it ties in with the mole in the Justice Department. That had been going on for years. But you pushing back at them in the club, my escape from a high-security lab. All of that helped force them to over respond. Each event feels like it pushes the possibility of the next one happening, but many of them were in play a long time ago. Like a subtle maneuvering of pieces in a game. Rodero would love that.”
Marsh stopped and looked down at the table. “You think I am full of shit, right? These are all interconnected, but they are not direct connections. I just feel it. I thought you might feel it as well.”
“I have.” said Drick calmly.
Marsh looked up into Drick’s eyes. He didn’t know what to expect. A smile, a mocking glance. What he saw was a calm look, and maybe something else. “You have?”
“For some time,” said Drick. “I knew that it wasn’t just a series of coincidences, well I had my suspicions. I just thought I was being nudged to stop, well to stop my slow decline. That’s a story for a different time. Enough to say that I have been a recluse for a few years. I got bored of intellects of all types. But this was pitched at me with enough subtlety to intrigue me. I have been led since then. Gently, more directed from afar. Though they aren’t far, they are everywhere. There is only one group who could do that. My suspicions were confirmed after we spoke to the technician, Toni. There was no way a technician and a computer operative could have busted you out. Not without help. Someone was already in the systems helping them. Just as they helped Rodero. Just as they helped Hooper, just as they have been nudging us.”
“Who?” asked Marsh.
“That’s an old, and very painful story.” said Drick.