9. Hidden agendas.

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As the IGV Alice Marie blasted her way across the vast interstellar void toward Earth, Carli and Diaz continued to quietly discuss the hatch failure that had so nearly caused a fatal incident on the trip out to NASA 6.

“If that pin had sheared off whilst still in orbit, there’s no telling what kind of damage the ship could have incurred,” said Carli as she sipped a coffee in Diaz’s cabin, “we were lucky you discovered it when you did. If you’re right that it wasn’t an accident, then there’s every chance that whoever tampered with the hatch may have other plans to cripple the ship, or worse.”

Diaz considered this, grateful that her friend hadn’t rejected her suspicions out of hand and yet cautious of how to proceed, knowing that making unfounded accusations about sabotage could alienate her from the crew and very well result in her becoming the focus of suspicion herself.
“There isn’t anything I can put my finger on,” she said, “but I noticed there have been several times when hatch access panels have apparently malfunctioned in the last couple of weeks, mainly down in the cargo hold and vehicle transport bay. I’ve been asked more than once to check out “door open” alarms, only to find the hatches locked and nothing missing.”

“That does seem strange,” agreed Carli, “Toes maybe a bit more laid back than your average starship captain, but he takes safety and security pretty seriously, I doubt he would have skimped on something like hatch maintenance.”

“Do you think we should inform First Officer Lazzaro,” asked Diaz, “see if he thinks it’s worth taking to the captain?”

“Eric? Hmm, I’m sure he’d be interested to hear what we think,” said Carli thoughtfully, “but it might be an idea to do a little more digging first, just to make sure we aren’t mistaken. After all, we don’t want to cause a panic, especially while Captain Toes is trying to make the colony survivors feel comfortable on their trip back to Earth.”

Diaz relaxed a little, glad that she and Carli were in agreement, “Ok then, we’ll see if we can find any more evidence of tampering before we go public,” she raised her coffee cup in mock salute, “here’s hoping I’m just being paranoid.”

Whilst the two friends debated whether or not to confide in the ship’s senior officers, the subjects of their discussion were sitting in Toes’ cabin, enjoying (if you could call it that) a small jolt of one of ZT’s questionable homemade cocktails and having a discussion of their own, albeit a somewhat less serious one.

“So Eric,” said Toes, leaning back in his armchair and puffing Jamaican Gold smoke at the ceiling, “I take it you’re interested in getting to know the enigmatic Ms Carli a little better.” He grinned through the haze and raised a suggestive eyebrow in Eric’s direction.

“What gives you that idea?” asked Lazzaro, grimacing at the burning sensation produced by whatever Toes had made his latest batch of alcoholic drain cleaner from, “I’ve barely mentioned her since we left NASA 6.”

“Ahh, but I bumped into Matt Drake in med bay this morning and he tells me the two of you were thick as thieves when she came round after her spell in the clone tank,” he winked at Eric, “and she’s a good looking gal, I can’t say I blame you.”

Lazzaro winced. Only Toes would still use the term “gal” to refer to someone like Carli, who could probably kick his flabby ass up and down the ship if she wanted to, but he couldn’t deny his friend had a point; she was a difficult girl to get out of your head once she’d got in there.

Making a mental note to have words with Matthias the medical gossip-monger, he said, “She certainly is an interesting woman, I’ll give you that,” he pretended not to see Toes’ salacious smirk at this blatant understatement, “but we have nothing more than a professional relationship, I assure you.”

Captain “ZT” Toes could no longer contain himself and burst out laughing, “Ha! You really can be dumb sometimes, you know that Eric? Even I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”

Lazzaro opened his mouth to speak, then snapped it shut, scowled at Toes’ grinning face through the fog of smoke and stood up, “Anyway, I’ve got stuff I should be doing. It’s been…amusing,” he gave a wry smile, “I’ll catch you at the gripe ‘n’ groan in the morning Zeet, ‘night.”

“Yeah, I best get some shut-eye myself, I’ll see you tomorrow, you go and dream about your “professional relationship”, hahaha.”

Shaking his head and shooting Toes the evil eye, Lazzaro left the cabin and made his way back to his quarters.

Meanwhile, on the remote prison planet where he’d spent the last fifteen miserable, anger-fueled years of his life, Colan Dreeb finished assembling the components of the comm unit that were stashed in various hiding places around his sparsely-furnished cell and searched until he found the frequency he needed.
“This is Dreeb, are you reading me?”

He waited, listening to the faint hiss of background noise, the volume turned way down to avoid detection by the patrolling guards, then he heard a subtle change in the quality of the silence, followed by the familiar voice;

“Everything is going according to plan. The slight problem at NASA 6 has been rectified and I am confident the next phase of the plan will go smoothly. They have no idea what we intend to do, nor do they have any clue to my identity.”

Dreeb allowed himself a small chuckle of satisfaction, “Very good, keep me informed of any further developments. Dreeb out.”

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