Note: Given that the novels, anime and manga all use different amounts of the Abh language, different ways of romanizing it, and different translations of some terms, I may be inconsistent in my use. I hope it's still readable.
I also would like to thank Luna, who graciously offered to beta this for me, even if she knew nothing about Crest of the Stars, and was only helping with things like word flow. I'd also like to thank jheen, who I wrote this fic for for Yuletide 2008, and hope she liked reading it as much as I liked writing it.
Lafiel slumped back in her chair, at the end of what had to be the most boring shift of her career to-date. The Basroil was still stationed with the Training Fleet, but the entire group had been called back to get a software upgrade. As a result, instead of the war games they had been doing in preparation for a regular posting, they were stuck in dock while computer technicians had the run of the ship. They couldn't even do much with the computer being tested to make sure every bit of new software worked with the old, including the jury-rigs past crew had installed. Lafiel wondered why they couldn't just wipe the whole damn thing. Better than having the computer shut down in the middle of a battle, she supposed, but still, it was inconvenient.
Most of the crew was trying to enjoy the unexpected leave, even if the refit station was pretty dismal. Even Jinto had run off, though he had told her he was checking their inventory and going to see if he could track down some parts they were missing. He was gone for an unexpectedly long time, though, so Lafiel wondered if he had gotten distracted by something.
She signed off on a memo from the station's head programmer about the final check on environmental systems, frowning. It was Jinto's job as supply officer to be supervising that, though he had complained to her that the techs mostly ignored him and went on with whatever they were doing.
"Captain," Senior Navigator Sobaash stood at the door to the bridge, saluting. "I'm here for my watch."
Lafiel glanced at the time on her display. She hadn't realized she was at the end of the shift. She could find Jinto and tell him to be more careful tomorrow as she headed off to her room on-station -- they couldn't even use their cabins on board, lest life support go off unexpectedly. "Very well. Call me on station if something comes up," she told Sobaash as she vacated her chair and headed towards the hatch in the aft of the bridge.
She checked down in the Basroil's cargo airlock before heading to the personnel lock. There, she spotted Jinto helping a couple of the station's dockworkers haul a pallet of things though the lock and onto a cart that looked like it had existed since the dawn of spaceflight and was mostly welding scars and grey tape. "There you are."
Jinto looked up, nearly dropping what he was carrying. "Lafiel! Sorry I took so long. I was speaking to the clerk on the Kidroil about trading some of our surplus parts. Samson told me we had far too many of this one kind, and not enough of this other."
Lafiel nodded. "Fair enough, but next time, you can send someone else. You're supposed to be helping the techs supervise the life support computer checks."
"Oh, right," Jinto said. "I did check with Jefene, but she said she could manage without me while I went to speak to the station's Supply Officer." He waved off the dockworkers. "I can manage it from here, thanks."
Lafiel looked at the sealed boxes. "Those are engine parts?"
Jinto nodded. "I opened them before I brought them on board. I couldn't tell you exactly what they're used for, but I know what they look like and how to spot flaws."
Lafiel nodded. She had seen Jinto's records, and she was willing to believe him on that point. "Very well. Let's take these to the aft storage bay, then."
Jinto looked at her. "You don't need to help me, Lafiel. I can manage these." He patted the box.
"I need to speak to you anyway," she replied. "We can walk and talk."
Jinto leaned into the cart, getting it moving again, and with a rumble it started down the hall. Lafiel stood back to let him get it through the hatch, and stepped up next to him as they walked down the corridor. It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but there was just enough space for two to walk abreast, even if one did have a cart full of crates.
"So, what's up?" Jinto asked.
"Your console was beeping," Lafiel said. "You forgot to lock it down. I powered it down myself, but it looked like there were some updated manifests you need to look over."
Jinto nodded. "Sorry, I forgot. Thanks for taking care of it. I was restocking our galley supplies as well. I'll have a list of stuff for you to look over tomorrow."
"The station's computer technicians also wanted an authorization to check the Basroil's life support controls. They were quite upset about not being able to find you, and insisted that I sign off so they could start tests immediately."
"Oh. Well, it's not like I had my clyuno turned off. They could have asked me over that and I could have returned."
"They didn't page you?" Lafiel looked at him. "They didn't tell me that piece of information. How stupid of them."
Jinto shrugged. "Well, now you and I know about it, and they have permission. I'm not doing anything sensitive with the life support right now, and I would have told you if I was." He leaned in as they went around the corner with the cart. "And if there was anything in the hardware, Samson or one of his crews would have told one of us." He yanked the cart to a stop, and edged around to get at the touchplate next to the hatch, holding his hand to it. "Here we are."
"So I see." The light came on as the door opened, and Lafiel saw more crates, all needly shelved and labeled. Jinto pulled the cart around to head through the hatch and brought it flush with one of the shelves. With a shove, he slid the crate to join its fellows, then secured the crash netting around it. "You could manipulate the gravity in the room to lift that, you know," Lafiel said.
"I know," Jinto replied. "But if I can move it with a shove, I don't need to."
"Just don't strain a muscle," Lafiel added with a frown. Jinto looked at her. "I need you in good shape when we undock. Not on the sick call."
"Oh, right," Jinto said. "Oh, Lafiel?"
"What is it?"
"I got a package from Marca and those guys back from Sufugnof," Jinto said. "I wanted to give you something." He opened his bag and removed a small cubical box. He undid the hinges and handed Lafiel a small, spherical something.
She held it up to the light, trying to figure out what exactly it was. It was a ball, about the size of her fist, on a base so it could be put on a flat surface. The ball was made of some sort of clear material -- from the coolness under her hands, she thought glass rather than plastic. Inside the bubble, like the image of domes on unterraformed planets was a simplistic model of a lander city skyline. A number of tiny people, out of scale with the skyline, wandered around in heavy clothing.
As Lafiel held it up and turned it, flakes of something on the inside drifted back and forth in some kind of liquid. Letters on the base proclaimed 'Luna Big City -- the Heart of Sufugnof'.
Lafiel had no idea what it was for, if anything. If it was some kind of lander art form, she was pretty sure she missed the joke. She looked at Jinto, wondering if she should just ask him what he had just given her.
He must have seen some hint of confusion on her face. "It's a snow globe," he explained. "Some people collect them. Back on Martine, a lot of places would make special ones for different places on planet, or for holidays. I mentioned one to Marca, and she said that Sufugnof had some, and she could ship one to me."
"But what are they for?" she said.
"They're souvenirs, generally," Jinto said. "Especially around the winter holidays, though I guess we were there during the local summer. If you shake it, it looks like it's snowing."
So that's what the flakes were. Lafiel had never seen snow, so for all she knew it was accurate for it to swirl around, rather than falling orderly like the rain did. "I wouldn't think you'd want to remember Sufugnof. You were shot there, and we ended up being launched back into space on a funerary rocket." She wasn't particularly thrilled about the memories of having to dye her hair and sulk about disguised as a lander. Or having to deal with Admiral Spoor's opinion of her disguise when they were picked up afterward.
Still, it had been successful, even in adversity, with limited resources and behind enemy lines, and with Jinto fresh from school without any military background. She had heard that some of the special ops commanders had taken an interest in it -- a positive interest -- and the Intelligence division had been interested to know that Sufugnof's anti-Empire movement were even more opposed to the United Mankind occupation and willing to take up arms against them.
"Well, it wasn't all bad. Any one we can walk away from, huh?" Jinto grinned.
Lafiel nodded. Trust Jinto to think of a flesh wound as a minor injury. "Still, I would like it even less if you were shot again than if you injured yourself moving crates."
Jinto laughed at that. "Same here."
There was the sudden sound of machinery. Lafiel heard something slide into place, and something on the other side of the bulkhead slam into metal, and she felt the currents of the air change. Not a hull breech, probably, unless it was a slow one, but the circulation had definitely changed. "What was that?" Jinto asked. He probably hadn't noticed the air, but the sound was unmistakable.
"I don't know." Lafiel scowled, raising her clyuno to call the bridge. "Sobaash, report. What's going on up there."
"Ah, Captain. It's nothing important. One of the techs is on the line with me, and he says that it looks like they triggered one of the emergency routines we use for simulating a hull breech during training." Sobaash sounded calm, but Lafiel was beginning to suspect that anything short of staring down a battle fleet with just their tiny ship wouldn't crack Sobaash's demeanor.
"Not an actual hull breech, then?" Lafiel asked.
"Not that we read up here, though the computer isn't giving a straight answer. I'm on the radio with the techs now, and they have the station's cameras keeping an eye on the ship anyway, to look for atmosphere venting. Where are you?"
"I was assisting Supply Officer Lynn with the cargo," she replied. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jinto wince. Whatever had gotten into him, she could ask him later. "Both of us are sealed into the aft cargo hold."
"There should be enough emergency air for some hours in here," Jinto said. "All parts of the ship are required to keep a day's worth of oxygen in between the emergency hatches. We might have to break out the masks if we're here for more than a shift or two, but the room should be big enough before then, especially with just the two of us."
"We're not staying here," Lafiel said. "Sobaash, can you unseal the ship from there?"
"No, Captain. I'm calling for any engineers and techs to start on it manually, but the central controls are down up here -- it's all on local backups. I can tell them to focus on getting you and Supply Officer Lynn out, though."
"Do that. That's an order." Lafiel replied.
"Yes, Captain. I don't know how long it will be, though. I'll call back when that information becomes available."
"Very well. Supply Officer Lynn and I will attempt to undo the locks from the inside. Abriel out."
Lafiel looked at Jinto. "You know where the tools are in here?"
"Yep. Let's get them out and try to work on the door."
As near as Jinto could tell, the ship was utterly convinced that the hold was surrounded by vacuum on all sides and any attempts by foolish crew to disable this should be ignored. The door proved to impervious to triggering the manual release. And to anything short of using a blowtorch to melt through the metal, which Lafiel vetoed. The air vents were sealed -- there was still plenty of oxygen and the carbon dioxide indicator was well below lethal on the wall, but it blocked the other way out.
"I don't get why the manual override isn't working," Jinto said. "The computer shouldn't be able to get into that at all."
"Did you pull on it hard enough?" Lafiel asked. She was pacing the cargo hold, and Jinto had to turn his head to follow the path.
"We both pulled on it," Jinto said. "At the same time, even." He slumped down against one of the crates they had opened for tools. "Sobassh said it would be another hour or two before we get out. Why don't you sit down?"
"I'm trying to think if there's another way out."
"Not without a EVA suit. There's a cargo airlock for emergencies and large deliveries."
"Is there one in here?"
Jinto shook his head. "No, those are stored in another hold. There are masks, and our uniforms can provide some protection, but there's nothing for our hands, and walking on the hull with the artificial gravity on is hard going."
"That's dumb," Lafiel said for the fifth time in the last half hour. She slumped down next to him. "Do you know if any of the crawl spaces connect through here?"
"I don't think so," Jinto said.
Lafiel scowled. "How embarrassing, being locked out of my own ship."
"Well, if you had gone off-shift instead of helping me, you would have really been locked out," Jinto said. "At least you are still on-board."
"For all the good it does us." Lafiel said.
"Well, be patient," Jinto said. "At least no one is trying to kill us this time." He took out his computer, the supply manifest still on it. "Do you know how to play Tic-Tac-Toe?"
"No," Lafiel said. She sighed. "But if we really are stuck until the engineers get here, you may teach me."
It took Lafiel all of ten minutes to learn how to play Jinto to a draw at Tic-Tac-Toe. He had to move on to playing Dots and Boxes, which just meant instead of draws he was actively losing. He was quick to decide that one of the biggest tactical mistakes one could make was going up against an Abriel in a game of skill. In that case, the Triple Alliance would be in for a rude surprise once Lafiel rose in the ranks.
Unfortunately, this wasn't keeping Lafiel entertained. "You're not a very good player, are you?" she asked, after he lost yet again.
"I haven't played this in years," Jinto said. "Minchiu is more my game."
"It's a sport on Delktou," he explained. "Before I went to the capital, I was on the regional youth team."
"Interesting. I never figured you for an athlete," Lafiel said.
"Not even when we were being chased down three years ago?"
"No," Lafiel said. "It was foolish of me, in retrospect."
"Well, thanks," Jinto said, not quite sure how to take that. He stifled a yawn. He was supposed to have gone off shift several hours ago, and had been looking forward to a quiet meal and curling up with Diaho and reading until he fell asleep. He noticed Lafiel fight back a yawn in response, and remembered she had been going off-shift as well. "We can probably find something to use as a pillow, if you want to lie down."
"I'm not tired. But if you are, I'll keep an eye on the carbon dioxide levels while you sleep, in case we need to break out the masks."
Jinto nodded. "All right. Wake me in four hours or if someone shows up. I don't want both of us to fall asleep."
He wasn't sure how long he had slept, but he woke up when, with a grinding of machinery, the hatch finally opened, with Line Wing Aviator Samson and a couple of his engineers standing outside. The corridor was dark, lit only by the emergency lighting, and by the handlights of the crew. He saw Lafiel get to her feet, and he did so as well, trying to work the crick in his neck out.
"Has everything been cleared?" she asked the two officers.
"Not yet, Captain," Samson replied. "The station crew want to figure out what caused the accident. And fix the manual override in here. Good thing it broke now, when we can find it and repair it."
"Why wasn't this detected for maintenance?" Lafiel scowled.
"It was scheduled to be looked at next," Samson replied. "It was only replaced during the last refit, so it should still have been good."
"Huh," Lafiel said. "Have your crew and the station crew check any other work that was done then. If one part failed, others could as well. I'm going off duty now." She saluted them, and they saluted back. As she turned and started walking down the corridor, Jinto noticed that in her other hand was clutched the snow globe, and he wondered if anyone else had seen it and wondered.
"Yes, Captain." Samson sighed after Lafiel left. "Figure something would happen to make more work for us. Guess being trapped in a box didn't improve her mood. You'd think you were bad company, Lynn."
Jinto just shrugged. "I don't think she would had been happy if anyone had been with her. No matter who it was."
"Probably," Samson laughed. "Still, you two are friends, right? I mean, she lets you call her by her first name. Have an interesting conversation with our captain while you two were stuck alone in there?"
"Mostly we played games and tried to get out," Jinto replied.
"You sure know how to keep a woman occupied," Samson commented dryly. "Why was she down here with you, anyway?"
"Oh, just helping me with some cargo," Jinto was aware of how lame that sounded. "We got a special package for her, and she offered to help me with the rest of it."
"Huh," Samson didn't say anything more, but Jinto still heard the odd garbled rumor for the rest of his stay on the station.
Months later, when they were floating in the escape pod outside the ruins of the Basroil, there was a lot of time for talking. At one point, Lafiel spoke up, after some silence. "You will have to call Marca again," she said.
"What? Why?" Jinto asked.
"I'm afraid I left the snow globe on my desk. I would like to replace it."
Jinto smiled. "I'll see what I can do."