My sleep is disturbed by the sounds of another nightmare under way in the luxury cabin. I roll over thinking Tay has her friends with her, she doesn't need me this time. I can't get back to sleep so I drag myself out of the bunk to make a mug of tea.
In the galley I find Mai pouring herself a stiff glass of whiskey. She turns to look at me and I see she's in distress. Her cheeks are flushed and her red eyes still look wet from crying. Her hair is mussed and her whole body looks tense and shaky.
"It was you," I say. "I thought it was Tay having the bad dream."
"It's all of us," she says. "We all suffer from it."
She takes another glass and pours me a shot. As she passes me the drink, I see the scratch marks on her wrist, some red and angry, others older and pale. She sees that I see and quickly folds her arms, tucking the self-inflicted wounds out of sight.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"With you? No, thanks," she says derisively.
This is uncharacteristic of the Mai I've seen so far. I know she can be positive, logical, lateral, so I don't let a few harsh words upset me. I know this will pass and I try to imagine what is happening here.
"It's Eldrin Dood, isn't it?" I stab in the dark. "He did this to you."
The mention of his name has an effect on her. It's probably always been there, I simply haven't noticed it until now. There's a flinch of fear and a flash of anger, all in a few micro-gestures that I'm learning to recognise.
"Okay," I say with an authoritative tone that's the closest I come to leadership, "Crew meeting back here in five minutes; go and get the others."
This is not what I need in the middle of a case.
Mai returns trailing Jaquelyn and Tay behind her. Sleepy, glum, reluctant, they're different from the people they were when they boarded the ship.
"How do you three know each other?"
They exchange glances and Tay answers: "We all work for the Dood Corporation."
Haltingly she continues: "And we met in a therapy group."
I know I should be more sympathetic, but like I said before a commander can't afford to let mental instability fester in deep space.
"We've all been abused…by Eldrin Dood," Jaquelyn says. "He used his powerful position to coerce us into…doing things we didn't want to do."
Mai snatches a breath and is close to crying again.
"So, what's this journey all about?" I ask. "This trip to Colonia; is it part of the therapy? I don't think so. You've been obsessing about Dood and doing everything you can to help me find him. Why? What do you want?"
There's a pause and their faces become more hardened, more determined.
"Closure," Tay says, "We want closure, so we can move on."
"Closure? What does that even mean?"
"We…we don't know yet," Mai says. "It might be the law–banishment to a prison colony would be good; it might be physical pain, it might be worse; we only know that we must confront him."
I turn to Tay.
"And your weapons training, Tay, is that what 'worse' might mean?"
"Could be," she says, unabashed. "I only know he's never going to treat me like that again and he needs to be stopped."
A silence falls. The air clears. They have revealed something; I have learned something, and I'm not sure we've arrived at a good place.
"Andy," Tay says, "we'll help you complete your mission–and make your billion credits if that's what's important to you. But you must leave Eldrin to us. Do we have a deal?"
I want to tell her that I'm not as mercenary as she thinks. I want to tell her I'm more case-oriented and once I get into the intricate details of a case I have a need to see it through. I want to tell her that I value human life and will do everything to stop her from harming Eldrin Dood when the time comes.
All I say is: "Deal."
I have to leave the ship for a while; we all need some space to let things settle. I find a bar-diner and mingle with the clientele. They are all uniformly grubby, only the type of dirt is different: miners taking a break from blasting rocks; engineers relaxing with a drink after a shift; other engineers taking a breakfast before starting theirs. The scene is coloured rust, dust, and grease.
I show people the image of Eldrin Dood.
"Have you seen this man?" I ask.
Some shake their heads, other grunt a 'Nope', and the rest, the majority, ignore me.
I leave and wander through the hangars and the outfitting areas. There are freelance shipwrights who'll put your life at risk with their shoddy workmanship, and there are the franchised, remote engineering reps who will apply an engineer's blueprints for you.
Most people I see are busy, removing and installing equipment, or discussing modifications with pilots.
"Have you seen this man?" I ask a muscular mechanic who puts down the point defence they're carrying while we talk.
She looks at the image.
"Sure, I seen him along here. Didn't serve him, though; that was Wrench, next shipyard along," she says, jerking her head as a signpost.
I thank her and move along to the offices of Isembard Wrench.
Hardpoint and Utility Specialist it says on the door. I enter and see a whiskery, blue-eyed, and surprisingly clean face.
"How can I help you, son?" he says. "Got some A-rated shield boosters just in. Get them heavy-duty engineered and you'll be safe as a cockroach in a nuclear blast shelter."
"Thanks," I say, "I'm not in the market just now. I heard that you did some outfitting for this man a while back."
I show Wrench the picture.
"Oh, yes, that was an interesting job; stretched us plenty."
"What did he ask you to do?"
"As I recall, it was in two parts. First off he had us remove his level 5 efficient 4A beam, and I said, 'You sure? This is one of the best shield melters out there'. And he said, 'You can have it.' And he brought in this huge, stonking, fixed cannon that he'd shipped from t'bubble. Haven't seen the like anywhere; heavy, massive bore, super-strengthened mount–it was awesome."
"So, you fitted that for him? This is a Corvette we're talking about, isn't it?"
"Oh, yeah, there was plenty of juice in the power plant."
"What was the second job?"
"Well, I said, 'What about ammo for this monster?' And he said, 'It's in the material store', and he had us bring out an antimatter containment unit and squeeze it in real close to the cannon. Then it all fell into place; the outlet on the containment unit just slotted straight into the reload mechanism on the cannon."
"You're saying he has some kind of antimatter cannon?"
"Sure thing. No ammo, though, the containment unit was empty. He can't do no harm with it."
"Yet," I say, and start to leave.
"Say, you wouldn't like to buy a level 5 efficient 4A beam?"
"I'm flying an Orca just now."
I tell the others what I've learned.
"Dood has an antimatter weapon but no antimatter," I say.
"There would be no defence against a cannon like that," Jaquelyn says. "No escape pod would survive; it's instadeath by annihilation."
"That's why he's been searching for that antimatter system in Thequa," Mai says. "Andy, bring up that email that was in Vinny's package."
I find it and display it on-screen.
Our hunch is correct and the money spent building the fleet is justified. The rumours I'm picking up suggest that it does exist–an antimatter system right here in our galaxy. Imagine it, a star made of antihydrogen! Exactly what we need!
There are strong indications it's somewhere in the Thequa Sector. People say that if the laws of physics allow it, it will occur somewhere in the universe. We're just the lucky ones to have it so close by.
I'll take the fleet in that direction. Your job will be to find an explorer called Hong Bao; he knows how to get to Bungaree–he was the first explorer to survive in the antimatter system and knows where it is. When you find the co-ordinates, send them to me.
We start to build the picture.
"There's a weapon that needs antimatter and this fleet of Type-9s has gone to Thequa to collect some–is that even possible?"
"It must be," Tay says, "else why go there?"
"So, let's assume the weapon and the ammo are to be brought together. Where might that be?"
We study the galaxy map.
"We need to find the systems between here and Colonia that have bases with outfitting, and maybe a shipyard," Mai suggests. She's recovered her composure and is talking like the Mai who came on board giggling and laughing.
"Is he even going to Colonia?" Jaquelyn wonders. "Maybe this weapon is his sole reason for coming this way."
"He's clearly not talking to Amaryllis," Tay says. "This is a side-venture all of his own."
"We'll assume he's going there for now," I say. "Now, I can see four places on the standard route to Colonia. There's Eagle's Landing, Sacaqawea Space Port, Gagarin Gate, and Polo Harbour. None of them have outfitting."
Pause for thought.
"What about the facilities in Gandharvi?" Tay says. "They're relatively new and a little bit away from the busy route to Colonia."
I search for the system and pull up the data.
"Gandharvi has Caravanserai and Marlin's Reach. We can rule out Marlin; it's an outpost with only a medium pad–no use for a Corvette and a fleet of Type-9s."
"What about Caravanserai?" Mai asks.
"Ah, it's an Ocellus starport–with outfitting, shipyard, and all the fixings."
"How far is it?" Jaquelyn asks. "I'm just wondering if Dood is already there."
"It's a shade over ten kylies," I read from the map.
"Kylie?" Jaquelyn says. "I'm not familiar with all this explorer jargon."
I realise I don't know much about Jaquelyn–what she does or where she fits into the Dood Corporation.
"A kylie is a thousand lightyears," I say. "From the units: Kly."
"Oh I see. Well, every day something new."
I have a plan, which I share.
"We should go Gandharvi," I say. "But we'll call in at the intermediate outposts, to see if there's evidence of Dood passing through."
"More interviewing nightladies, then," Tay says, and I'm relieved she wants to poke fun at me again.
"Why does Michael refer to Dood as 'brother'?" I ask Tay.
"Remember, when his parents were hit by the assassination team, Eldrin lived with the Strang clan until Amaryllis adopted him. Michael Strang and Eldrin must have developed a brotherly bond–and that bond clearly persists."
"What about people in the convoy attacking us? What are they up to, do you think?"
"I can see two possibilities. Either they are the competition, as Amaryllis thinks, and they want to find Eldrin Dood for themselves–and stop us from finding him. Or, they are working with Dood, and he wants to prevent anyone from interfering with his plans. One thing is sure, our cover story is well and truly blown and we're vulnerable in this Orca."
"We're stuck with it, aren't we?" Tay says. "Maybe we should deep-dive below the central plane between stations; keep away from other ships as much as we can."
"Yes, we'll do that anyway, but when we get to Caravanserai I might see about shipping out my own Corvette. On that score, I might go and see a man about a level 5 efficient 4A beam laser."
I buy the laser and put it in storage–no way will it fit in an Orca. When I get back to the ship I catch Jaquelyn on her own.
"What's your story, Jaquelyn? What's your role in Dood?"
She smiles, but with grimness, and flushes slightly. "It's quite embarrassing, really. I'm a psychotherapist. That's where I met Mai and Tay; I led the group sessions that they were in. You know, Eldrin Dood is quite a piece of work, extremely controlling and manipulative. He came to my offices to try to persuade me to report that his victims were delusional–there were disciplinary proceedings under way and possible system authority involvement."
"You refused to do that?"
"Of course. That was when he raped me and threatened to kill me. You see, Andrew, therapists can be traumatised too."