Before Harrowven can reply, the alarm changes pitch, and I swear. I've been wasting time, and at this rate I'm gonna get stuck here. The beast starts growling from its place on the floor and I try to placate it. "Me too, mate. It's okay." It doesn't work. I never thought it would.
I've got about five minutes before the tradeship goes into lockdown, I tell Harrowven. After that I'll only get out if I blast my way through the doors. Tell me what to do with the rock.
Get off the ship, he says. Get to my office in the warehouse and I'll contact you there. Take the rock.
I've been trusting Harrowven for years, but I'm feeling less inclined to do so since he left me here for the Owl to find. Still, I can't think of a better plan. I grab the rock and call to the beast; it lumbers to its feet and trots after me. It has a limp. Guess we've got something in common after all.
The doors are already closing when I reach the cargo bay. I half run, half stumble across and emerge into the warehouse with my new pet at my side just before the entire ship shudders into lockdown mode with the hiss of airlocks being sealed. I'm suddenly glad I didn't leave the beast in there: it would have suffocated pretty fast.
The rock is tucked under my arm. It's just large enough to be awkward, but it still seems too small to cause all this fuss. I could take it straight to my captors and get out of here. What do I owe Harrowven, in the end? Sure, he took me in, but only because I'd work for my keep and never ask for a pay rise. By now I've been with him long enough to have worked off any debts I could owe.
But I don't have a family any more, and he's all that's left to care about me. I sigh, and set off in the direction of his office.
When I get there I settle myself in his comfy chair, mainly because he usually doesn't let me do that, and boot the screen into life. Feels funny to sit here like I'm in charge, and with my beast looking up at me, awaiting my orders. Trusting me. That reminds me that Nick and the Owl will be wondering what's happened to me, and if they try and follow me in here they could blow us all up. We should've figured out a way to communicate. This whole plan was so half-baked I'm amazed it hasn't already backfired and killed us.
Harrowven's face fills the screen. Huh. I wasn't expecting a video call. "Jane," he says.
"Harrowven." I hold up the rock. "What's the big deal with this?"
"All I've got is hearsay but it's like enough the same hearsay the Owl's working with." From what I can see of the background, he's not exactly slumming it while I risk my life. Not that I'm petty or anything. "Word is it can make weapons that target certain types of goods. Even different ships. Some kind of magnetism."
"And you believe that?"
"No more than the rest of what I hear on Aldersey. But whoever buys it does, and they're gonna test it. Whether or not the ore is special, a dirty great cannon could put an end to all of us."
"The Owl and Nicolas said they were freelance. Maybe they'd use it against gov agents, not smugglers." But I know I'm clutching at straws. The gov aren't the only people who would happily wipe us out. There are plenty of legit traders who wouldn't stop to help if Trevlia fell into a black hole or something. I grimace. "What should I do?"
"Destroy it?" Harrowven shrugs. "I should never have taken the thing on board. I figured no one else would know about it, but all that happened is you got captured."
"If it's meant to make weapons, destroying it sounds dangerous." The beast growls, startling me. "Hey, beastie, what is it? What have you heard? Or smelled or whatever?" Like I said, I'm not great with animals.
"You've got the beast with you, then," says Harrowven.
"I think it's adopted me. Why was it on board?"
"It's a long story. I'll tell you another time. Get that rock out of here and destroy it. Blow the whole warehouse if you have to, but get rid of it. You understand?"
I hear him, but I'm distracted by the beast, now growling at the door. "Someone's here," I say. "They've got past the sensors somehow. Who else is still on planet?"
"None that I know of. Just you."
Then it isn't one of us. I stand, facing the door. Whoever it is has to contend with... Well, a half-starved beast and a skinny teenager with one leg. Okay, not the most frightening prospect.
"Jane," says Harrowven. "You need to get out of there."
But the beast has taken issue with that door and it's the only way out, suggesting that if I make a run for it, I'll slam straight into the intruder. I place the rock carefully on the desk and prepare to face whoever it is. I've got no weapons. I could hit them with my leg, in a pinch, but then I'd fall over.
I'm contemplating this when the door opens.
Nicolas. Unharmed, suggesting he didn't have to fight his way in here. He hasn't set off any of the traps, either. There's no sign that any part of the depot except the hangar has gone into lockdown.
"Oh, so you are still here," he says, and then sees the screen behind me. "And Harrowven too -- I wasn't anticipating a reunion."
"Nick," says Harrowven flatly. "I'd say I've been expecting you, but the truth is, I was pretty sure you were dead."