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Episode 21

A World in Miniature

York changed the subject. “Does the Draco have any provisions for landing parties?” She saw the confusion in Tregaski's eyes and explained herself. “No, I know about the ship's marines and so forth, I'm thinking of unusual planetary surfaces, the type we possibly might encounter in an uninhabited subsector.”

“Oh, sure. We can put a man down on anything but a sun itself,” Tregaski asserted confidently. “Is that part of your research, investigating asteroids or comets or something?”

“My research?”

“Well, you're some sort of scientist, aren't you? The captain said something about you being a researcher from Terra.”

“Of a sort, yes. I'm a specialist. Now, I understand the Draco's primary mission is maintaining the blockade of the cyborg worlds?”

A quick look of caution flashed across Tregaski's face. For the first time, he hesitated before answering. “Did the captain say that?”

“I'm sure you recall where I boarded, Lieutenant. Everyone on Xigaze knows why the base is there.”

“The Navy patrols everywhere, Miss York,” Tregaski replied, a little lamely.

“Never mind that. It's not relevant to my research, I was merely making an observation.” As they walked along the central corridor, she noticed several recessed cabinets marked EMERGENCY MASKS and asked about them. A mask struck her as being insufficient in the event of an atmospheric event.

“They're mainly for entering compartments that have been deoxygenated, which is what happens when there is a flash fire,” Tregaski explained. “And it's not only masks in those compartments. They also hold soft pressure suits with built-in masks for landing on planets with low barometric pressure or insufficient oxygen.”

They soon came to a door marked with a familiar red medical cross. Tregaski slapped the panel and the door opened up to reveal the ship's doctor reclining with his feet up.

Dr. Benbow looked up from his tablet in surprise. “Why, hello, Miss York! I thought for a moment I was actually going to have a patient. You don't have indigestion again, do you, Lieutenant?”

“Not this trip, Doc,” the big man said. “I been laying off the glupas like you said.”

“Good man,” Benbow drawled. He looked at York. “Finally getting around to taking the grand tour?”

“It's like a world in miniature,” answered York. “I'm amazed.”

“Very compact, very efficient.”

“That's the way it has to be,” replied Benbow. “The men all think I'm dedicated to my job since I'm always here, but the truth is I have considerably more space here.”

Tregaski elbowed York, nearly knocking her off balance. “The doc should complain. His cabin is almost as big as the skipper's!”

“Thank God for digital texts,” Benbow smiled and waved his little tablet. He stood up and led them into his surgical and dental room, displaying the equipment with proud relish. “We have everything, or very nearly everything, that a base hospital has, although it is of course on a much smaller scale.” He waved toward a door. “I have a small office there, which doubles as confessional or poker club, as needed.”

“The probe room,” Tregaski explained.

“Probe room?” asked York.

“The doc's a head shrinker too. Start seeing space ghosts and he wires you up, flushes you out.”

“I wouldn't put it quite that way,” Benbow said, looking embarrassed.

Tregaski nodded at York. “Just stay out of there,” he warned her. “If you know what's best for you.”

She didn't bother telling him that she had absolutely no intention of permitting her head to be scanned by anyone, least of all the bright-eyed doctor. If there was one thing no intelligence operative would ever willingly undergo, it was a headscan.

“Miss York appears stable enough to me,” Benbow observed.

“Not too stable.” She grinned at both of them. “If I were, would I be here?”

Benbow stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Yes, well, I suppose that goes for all of us.”

From the little medical ward, Tregaski led York through gleaming washrooms, sleeping quarters and into the crew's mess hall, which served as a recreational lounge when it wasn't being put to its primary use. Unsurprisingly, she attracted a good deal of attention when she walked into the hall; men were quick to sit up straight, brush off their uniform fronts, and run their hands over their uniformly short haircuts.

Tregaski introduced her to all and sundry as “Miss York, a scientist and military researcher.”

York saw the quick question that popped into their eyes. Tregaski noticed it, too, for later he explained, “Everyone is wondering what you're doing here on Draco.”

“That's understandable enough,” she commented. But she wasn't about to say more. Tregaski waited a moment, then shrugged and shook his head. Obviously he knew better than to press her.

She followed him down a ladder and into a small compartment. A crewman rose at their entrance. “This is the air-purification and circulation room,” Tregaski explained. “Jona Norden, our maintenance chief. How's the air today, Jona?”

“Fine, Lieutenant. Pure for the pure of heart.” He laughed, showing even rows of flashing teeth that appeared all the brighter for his narrow, sallow face.

“I should hold my breath,” Tregaski grunted.

“Is this the control center for all the air in the ship?” asked York. She looked Norden up and down, wondering if he might be Dai Zhani. His eyes were dark, but there was no slant to them. He was only a little taller than she was, and his build was slight, but that was common enough among the men who went to space in these compact little worlds.

“It's distributed from here and returns here,” answered Norden. His eyes, curious, searched York's face. “We're continually taking in air and analyzing its content, then purifying and recirculating it. It's a continuous cycle.”

“It's an important job,” York commented. “Not much to breathe outside, I'm told.”

The two men both laughed.

“It's the most important job on the ship,” Norden said. “Saving the captain's.”

“Nah, I'd say the navigator,” Tregaski disagreed. “Don't matter if you can breathe or not if you fly into a star.”

“Do you have much help?” York asked.

“I have a crew of ten,” he answered. “We usually have two men overseeing the system at all times. I'm alone now because Ensign Henchose is patching a minor leak in one of the storage bays.”

They bade him goodbye and continued through the underdeck.

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A Mind Programmed series cover
A World in Miniature episode cover
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A Mind Programmed

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Vox Day
The Greater Terran Ascendancy finds itself facing a historic crisis when the Shiva-class cruiser ATSV Rigel goes missing during a routine patrol through the Kantillon sector. Fortunately, the Ascendancy Intelligence Directorate's top operative, Daniela York, is on the scene.
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