Catching up? Don’t worry! You can read part one here.
Nadeen hoped she was disguising her surprise more than she actually was. What was the Commandant himself doing down here in the engine room? She never got visitors.
He was yelling at her, practically at point blank range. Flecks of spittle threatened to hit her face. She could smell the curious blend of too many days being coated in sweat and the lingering, pungent notes of a fragrance he must have last put on days ago to try and mask it.
She should have been paying attention, he bellowed. They’d been trying to contact her with the communication tube. Why was she sunbathing? Boredom wasn’t an excuse. Dereliction of duty was mentioned.
Then he yelled about how she’d just kicked poor Number Six off the side of the airship. Destruction of navy property. She should be thrown into the brig for such insubordination.
Did she have anything to say for herself?
“Sorry, sir… But why are you down here?”
To Nadeen, it had seemed like an innocent enough question. Unfortunately it seemed as though, when it came to Commandant Rivière, it was like showing a red flag to a bull.
The volume of the yelling increased. Something about being escorted elsewhere to continue negotiations.
Then he stopped.
He gasped and clutched at his chest as he slumped to his knees. His other hand made a vague grabbing motion towards Nadeen.
Instinctively, she took a step back further towards the edge of the platform as she tried to process what was going on.
He fell forwards as she came to her senses and ran to the communication tube. She yelled for help from one of the upper decks. She didn’t wait for an answer.
Even as she approached him again, she could see he wasn’t moving. His eyes were staring at the top curve of the setting sun as the last of it dipped below the trees.
She nudged him a little, not really expecting a response.
She sat next to him for a couple of minutes. She was in a blind panic. Would anyone believe her that he’d just had a heart attack while he was yelling at her?
No, she couldn’t mention he was yelling at her. They’d assume she’d killed him or something. She could hear it now. “Anti-social Nadeen? Yeah, no wonder she killed him. She probably went mad playing with those automatons of hers all on her own. Always knew she was psychotic.”
And neglecting her duties? She hadn’t. She’d only ever followed orders. She’d never questioned any of them. The ship was still in the air, she just thought she had a little gap to take a break for once. That was all.
Then she’d been responsible for killing Number Six.
And now look at her, sat next to the body of her commanding officer.
What was she going to do?
Nobody would believe it upstairs.
They’d never liked her anyway.
She briefly toyed with just rolling him over the side of the platform. But then the crew needed orders. And she couldn’t just say that he’d never turned up.
Number Three came wheeling over and gave Nadeen a silent gesture to suggest he was waiting for new orders.
She glared at him, wondering if the idea that had just popped into her head would work.
Feverishly, she dragged the Commandant’s body inside, sealed up the cargo doors, and headed to her workbench. She grabbed all manner of saws, spanners and parts and dumped them in a pile next to Rivière. Number Three was still eagerly following her around, carrying armfuls of pistons, servos and cogs.
After a few such trips, Nadeen bent down close to Number Three, offered him a short, but sincere, apology, and yanked a vital lubricant pipeline out of the back of his neck. He shut down almost instantly.
With Number Three deactivated, she had all the parts she’d need. She had the tools.
It took her all of about two hours to get the bulk of a skeletal frame worked out. Pistons and wires would simulate the movement of limbs. The mechanical computational device that would control his actions was housed in his chest cavity, near the vapour vents under each arm. Number Three was always one of her most diligent and hard-working automatons, so it didn’t take much to have the various switches and dials configured to give Rivière’s organic brain a boost to help it control its body.
Given the time it had been dead for, it was going to need all the help it could get.
She’d put it off long enough.
This was the part she’d been dreading. There was no turning back after this.
She wasn’t a murderer. She told herself over and over, which just added to her panic.
She removed his outermost clothes and put them on her nearly-complete automaton before moving his body towards one of the engine room’s nearest drainage channels. Nadeen’s fortunes took a refreshing positive turn when she confirmed that the ship next door couldn’t see anything that was going on through the porthole.
Ok, Nadeen. Stop a second. Breathe. Is he really dead?
Do you really have to do this?
What will you tell the people upstairs? And what about the inevitable court martial? The navy’s all you have. This ship and this engine.
It was all an accident.
Who’s going to believe that?
She paced a little, saw in hand. Then it hit her.
She had one job to do. Keep this ship in the air.
Right now, that means preserving the chain of command. Personal gripes about the sailors upstairs be damned.
She started cutting.
This ship would keep flying.
The wiring proved difficult, but once the head and hands were in place, it was as if the Commandant was standing in front of her all over again.
She hooked up the final lubricant pipeline. She could hear the mixture of oil and ether start to pump its was around the system.
She was sick into the drainage channel, the smell of blood adding to her nausea.
She fought hard to catch her breath and calm down. She looked at her newest, most human automaton.
He was still staring straight ahead with dead eyes.
It was the communication tube. She raced over to it, her panicked mind buzzing too much for her to focus on anything to say.
“We’ve found the source of the blockage in the communications tube. You should be hearing us fine now.”
“Good. Have you seen the Commandant?”
Her lips moved slowly, forming silent words.
A surprisingly strong hand snatched the end of the tube away from her. The Commandant blinked slowly, raising it to his mouth.