Walking came to me much easier than I had expected, and gravity seemed to push back the nauseous haze I had almost grown accustomed to. Even with a pull merely a tenth that of homeâ€™s, I felt grounded, felt solid; more confident than I had ever been aboard ship.
Ellin wasted no time in cycling the airlock, and I stepped out into the refurbished hangar. What I had taken for an abandoned piece of equipment jerked suddenly to life and heaved itself at me.
The massive figure, I realised, was one of my suspects and charges: Asteyan, the financier. Far larger than the petite ship crew or my own housing, he was all angles and planes. I craned my head back and found what was probably a face amongst the pistons and bizarre anachronistic lights and panels; mood fields blinked to life around the hulking, retro-tech frame and glowed with welcoming patterns.
â€œArbiter! Itâ€™s wonderful to see that you are in good health. Please let me show you around!â€
Almost doubling over, Asteyan extended two limbs as if to take my hand; meeting the gesture, I found that the hissing pistons and exposed tendon-wires were far more articulate than their size implied, and was pulled along the corridor by a grip gentler than I could have managed with my borrowed hands. Whatever their appearance, there was nothing ancient about their construction.
Asteyan fussed over my recovery but quickly moved on to the matter of the killing. â€œThis has been a deeply distressing episode for everyone involved, of course. Poor Hutton is quite distracted from his work, and I do not think the doctor has come to terms with this awful crime – I hardly believe it myself! You can be assured of our cooperation, I promise!â€
Every few moments brought a new gesture: a shake of the shoulders, a dampening in a mood field, a wringing of hands, punctuated by a lurch whenever Asteyanâ€™s frame ducked down to pass through a doorway or avoid a piece of piping in the ceiling. He was keen to put on a show for me, put the expeditionâ€™s management and disposition in the best light, and his gaze kept returning to my face as he fussed over how he might coax the rest of the ground crew out of their quarters or away from their stations. I decided it was better to keep him off balance.
â€œThank you for your concern, Mr Asteyan, but I think I would like to see the crime scene first. The reports Iâ€™ve read are missing a few details.â€
Anything that had made it off the site would have been subject to his approval, but he didnâ€™t skip a beat at my implicit challenge. â€œOf course, of course! Itâ€™s some distance away, but the transit should give the rest of us ample time for interviews: I promise youâ€™ll find everyone ready to talk by the time you return to Operations.â€
A rail-pod took us out to the chambers where Lyell had died. They had been recompressed, but not heated, so I made sure to seal my suit. Asteyan ushered me through the station and another series of corridors before stopping outside an entrance too small to admit his frame; the door had been ripped from its hinges and lay propped up against the corridor wall.
Even as I braced myself, I still shivered as I looked at the body. Its face was, of course, the same one that Peri had showed me in the mirror. Like me, Lyell had not boarded the ship but had been mapped onto one of its drone bodies; a tiny streak of yellow hair was all that differentiated it from my own.
Enjoyed this part quite a bit! More than previous parts I found this had momentum, I felt tugged along by it. Asteyan’s eager behaviour is infectious & the sense of (literal & figurative) forward motion gave this story what it needed to sink its hooks into me. Aching to learn more now!
Thank you! I think my state of mind while writing it must have rubbed off on it, pacing-wise! We’ll be seeing more of Asteyan in the next bit, but I won’t have it done tonight. Definitely on the weekend, though!