Amila hovered her fingertip over the console for a moment and then pushed a rectangular button. There was a shower of sparks over Spratt’s head that forced him to roll out of the access port, cursing.
“I have a theory,” Ed Spratt said, running a hand over the blonde stubble that had begun to sprout on his normally smooth cheeks. “It could be way off, though, for all I know.” The chief technician wasn’t as formal in his mannerisms as most of the other senior staff members, but he was meticulously groomed, and Lamont could see why. A beard looked out of place on his babyface.
“Let’s hear it,” Chief Santana said, crossing one black-stockinged leg over the other as she tapped her fingernails on the partially disassembled console beside her. Ed was lying on his back on the floor, reaching inside an open panel at the base of the console. Lamont was leaning against a computer bank in the control room where he had stopped more-or-less at random to listen in. His arms were tightly folded, his tie hanging loose from an open collar. It had been thirty-eight hours since his last cigarette, and he felt like he was crawling out of his skin. Amila, for her part, looked practically as composed as ever, still in full uniform of the skirted variety, with not a hair out of place. Scrutinizing her closely, Lamont thought that perhaps he could detect an extra layer of makeup.
“I think it might have been a transfer of energy,” Ed explained, selecting two wires to twist together.
“Go on,” Amila encouraged.
“That tower has a lot of power, even though—as far as we can tell—it isn’t actively inhabited. The power’s got to come from somewhere. It’s always facing away from its sun. But the object that passed through and caused all this damage, maybe it’s in orbit around the sun. Or around the planet. Collecting solar energy, kinetic energy, whatever.”
“So you’re suggesting that this object discharges that energy into the tower’s receptors on its way by, then continues on for the next pass.” Santana nodded thoughtfully.
Ed snapped a finger, apparently to indicate that she’d gotten it.
“So we were…” Lamont began.
“Innocent bystanders,” Ed confirmed. “We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If that theory is right. Santana, try closing C-13.”
Amila hovered her fingertip over the console for a moment and then pushed a rectangular button. There was a shower of sparks over Spratt’s head that forced him to roll out of the access port, cursing. Santana quickly disengaged the button. “It must be the transformer assembly,” she suggested.
“Oh, do you think?” Ed growled, sitting up and batting at his singed yellow hair.
“When can we expect that thing to come around for another charge?” Lamont asked, twitching his nose at the smell of ozone in the thin air.
Spratt sighed and rubbed his eyes beneath his thick glasses. “In three days if it’s orbiting the planet. More like a year if it’s orbiting the sun. But then, there could be more than one of them.”
“Whatever the case,” Santana pointed out, “We need to put more distance between us and the tower.”
“Top priority,” Ed agreed. “After all the other top priorities. Obviously, that should be after we transport the nonessentials to the tower, since it’ll at least double the shuttle time.”
“I’m having trouble deciding,” Lamont admitted, “whether to go to the tower or stay here.”
Ed laughed. “You think you have a choice, Townsend? You’re about as essential as an ingrown toenail.”
Next: Exercises in Diplomacy