Maru looked up at me, blinking, as the door opened. It wasn’t that he was especially short. It was just that the door to the ship was a couple feet off the ground.
As he stepped inside, I realized that, if anything, he might be taller than I was. The stealth suit in “silver fake Xiniti mode” gave me an inch or two.
He met my eyes or at least the part of the helmet and mirror shade lenses that covered them. “I’m sorry to interrupt. Jadzen heard that you’d talked to Iolan and then Geman and Dalat and then disappeared into your ship.
“Is anything wrong?”
Jadzen was keeping a closer eye on us than I’d expected, but given what I’d seen of her, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I shook my head. “No. We’re just investigating. Iolan, Geman, and Dalat all gave us some good ideas. We’re checking out the ansible to see if we can find anything there. After that, we’ll follow wherever it leads us.”
Maru nodded as I talked. “I see. I hope you don’t mind that I ask, but I’m sure Jadzen would like to know where you think this investigation is going. What have you learned from the ansible so far?”
I shrugged. “Nothing. Literally nothing at all. We just downloaded piles of information from it, but we haven’t had any chance to look at it yet.”
His lips tightened for a moment. “Surely you must know something. You asked the ansible for information. That means you had a question to ask. Even that might help Jadzen figure it out on her own.”
From behind me, Cassie said, “That would ruin the surprise.”
He blinked, staring at her, and I didn’t blame him. In the half darkness of the cabin, half of her costume reflected the light coming through the cockpit window while the other half was dark, reflecting the darkness in the rest of the ship. On her hip hung an Abominator gun (which he might have recognized) and on her back hung her father’s sword. Even though he probably didn’t know what it could do, its purpose was obvious.
She took a couple steps forward, stopping just behind me and to the right and folding her arms across her chest.
He took a step backward. “Surprise?”
There was no denying it. Even in practically the same costume, she did intimidation much better than I did. I could have blamed it on her weapons, but it probably had more to do with her attitude—or maybe mine.
She smiled at him, her mouth slowly widening. “The surprise. If we figure out that there is a mole and then find out who it is, we want to surprise him, her, it or whatever.”
I nodded at him. “That doesn’t mean we won’t tell Jadzen. I’m sure she’ll be one of the first people to know, but we’re going to be careful about it. ‘Loose lips sink ships,’ right?”
He blinked, not recognizing the World War 2 era slogan. “Ah. Absolutely.”
“It’s an old saying on my world,” I said, smiling in the hope that maybe I’d balance out Cassie. “My grandfather used to say it. It meant that you shouldn’t say too much because you never knew who might be listening.”
Nodding, he said, “That’s educational. We’ve had similar folk sayings that date back to the Abominators, but I think that’s the first I’ve heard that talks about ocean going boats.”
“Huh,” I said.
“There is one other matter that I should bring up and I hope you don’t take it badly.” He looked me up and down, glanced over at Cassie, froze, and then back at me. “Jadzen’s daughter—Kals—was seen talking to you.”
I considered that and reached for the first thought that popped into my head. “Is that against some custom here? It seemed like everyone was talking to everyone. And she wasn’t holding herself back from talking to people…”
He gave a quick laugh. “No. There’s nothing like that. It’s more that she might want to leave and you have a starship. We’re worried that she might ask you to take her with you when you go, or she might persuade you to leave before everything is finished, leaving us unprotected.”
I frowned. “That wouldn’t make a lot of sense. We can only take jumpspace—which means a week either way—by which time this will either be over because the Xiniti arrived or over because the Human Ascendancy found you. Either way, that would be hugely irresponsible on my part, so that’s not happening.”
He met my eyes. “You might not have a choice. Kals may not have told you, but she’s trained as a motivator and trained at one of the better schools the Human Ascendancy has. Now, I’ve seen that you have a motivator-mute, but someday she may find you without it and then reason will not matter. You’ll simply obey.”
As I tried to figure out how I wanted to respond, Cassie jumped in. “Why are you so worried about her? Has she tried something like that before? ”
Maru shook his head. “No. It’s that she doesn’t want to be here and she’s always done what she wants instead of what people tell her to. She’s very much like her mother in that way. Jadzen joined the resistance even though much of the Ascendancy hates it, and where would we be if she hadn’t? Kals wants her old life back and if she makes it off this planet, we may lose everything. Before you say anything, I’m not suggesting she’ll betray us willingly, but there are motivators good enough to get you to tell them anything you know.”