Part 1: Attrition

Mareva filed in behind the rest of the crew, eyes firmly fixed on the back of the Prophet Velen as he wielded his large hammer, sending Sin’dorei guards flying, crashing into the walls. As a new mage, her job was basically to shoot anything that moved, until it stopped moving. The best that could be said about that, was that she rarely missed with her lightning bolts, ineffective though they were. They didn’t look anything like the much more powerful fireballs that her fellow mages fired like they were going out of fashion.

“Keep up, Mareva!”

Mareva scowled at her fellow mage. “Going as fast as I can.”

“And put a bit more effort in, will you?”

Mareva set her teeth, and sent another bolt of lightning at one of the Blood-elves barring their way into the Seat of the Naaru. That was where O’ros, Exodar’s Controller, was held by the Sin’dorei. The guard shrugged off her pathetic effort, and the mage next to her finished him with a frost bolt.

“Got you!” He looked aside at Mareva. “When we get this thing space-born, I will recommend a few trainers to you. Stricter ones than the ones you’ve been seeing till now.”

Mareva’s face turned a darker shade of blue. She pressed on, looking again at Velen as he forced his way through the writhing mass of enemies, the Light shining from him, spattered with Sin’dorei blood. She launched another lightning bolt at one of the light-skinned freaks that tried to attack Velen from behind. It distracted the creature long enough for one of Velen’s lieutenants to crush her skull with his mace. Good. Not entirely useless then. They’d given Mareva a one-handed mace, too, but it hung at her belt, unused.

 

The fight continued, with the Draenei slowly making their way to the bottom of the great well, Seat of O’ros. Bodies were thrown off the walkway, sometimes screaming and writhing in mid-air as they plunged into the depths, until finally, the last resistance was crushed, and Prophet Velen faced the Naaru O’ros. With one stroke of his war hammer, he destroyed the cruel device the Sin’dorei had put on O’ros to keep him subdued.

Mareva shook, as she saw the Naaru unfold himself to his full stature. Though the Naaru were creatures of pure Light, and their reproductive processes were beyond the imagination of Draenei, it was customary to refer to a Naaru as “him”. O’ros’ heart, a shining orb of light, rose up, and his external blades lazily revolved round him, almost as though he were taking a deep breath of relief. There was a sound, much like the wind-chimes Mareva remembered from home, and words formed in her mind.

“Thank you, children, for freeing me.”

Velen hefted his hammer on his shoulder. “You’re welcome. Any way we can get this crate space-born?”

“That should be possible, but I need you to do something first. The transdimensional engines are disabled. They must be restored first.”

The Prophet Velen nodded severely. He turned round to his band of fighters, looking for familiar faces. He put his hand to his mouth and shouted.

“Any trans-dimensional engineers here?”

Mareva stepped forward, raising her hand. “I am an engineer. How may I help?”

O’ros turned his attention to Mareva. Quicker than mere words could convey, information streamed from O’ros. Without a single spoken word, Mareva knew what the problem was. To keep O’ros from escaping with Exodar, they had disconnected the conduits that ran from the control points that O’ros used, to the engines. A simple matter of plugging them back in. The trouble was, the cables were heavy and bulky. She’d need some help. She turned round.

“Has anyone here ever worked with power conduits before?”

Three hands were raised. Two rather slender females, one male. Mareva pointed at the male.

“What is your name?”

“Viral. I am an armorsmith, though I have assisted engineers with their power lines before, so I know not to look into them.”

“Perfect,” said Mareva. Big, strong, just enough experience to keep him out of trouble, and not so much that he’d argue with her when she told him to do something. That he was also handsome was an added bonus.

“Follow me,” said Mareva.

Prophet Velen put a hand on her shoulder. “Wait. We haven’t got rid of all the Sin’dorei yet. Take a few men.”

Mareva looked up into the frightening face of her Prophet. She shook her head. “If they show up in any numbers at all, even a dozen of your warriors cannot protect us. We cannot all go. Our hope is in speed. And in stealth. We will not fail.”

Velen stood his war hammer on its head, and put both his hands on Mareva’s shoulders. A rare smile was on his lips.

“Let nobody say that Mages have no courage. Favour the road travelled by few.”

“Trust me,” said Mareva. “I will. Viral? Let’s move.”

 

Viral followed Mareva down a corridor, their hooves clunking on the metal floor. Mareva counted doors. O’ros had imprinted in her mind exactly where she needed to go. She stopped in front of a door, and listened carefully. Then, she looked at the number pad next to the door. She tapped in the code O’ros had told her. A small light turned red, and nothing happened. Mareva sneered. The Sin’dorei had changed the code. Never mind. From her belt, she took a small metal object. There was a brief motion like a metallic butterfly’s wings and Mareva was holding a knife. She placed the point at the edge of the panel, and hit the butt end of the knife with her hand. She pried open the panel. From the tangle of wires, she selected two and cut them with her knife. She stripped off the insulation and turned to Viral.

“When the door opens, be ready to deal with anyone inside.”

Viral drew a broad dagger. He nodded at Mareva. Mareva touched the wires together, and with a hiss of compressed air, the door opened. Mareva twisted the wires together to keep the door open and walked in. There was another corridor behind the door, empty, and they walked silently into it. Before long, they came upon the secondary control point. Mareva held her breath. One of the Sin’dorei was working on it. He would look at one of the modules in the rack, press a switch, then make notes in his notebook. Clearly documenting something about the system. Mareva looked round. Viral had also seen him. She pointed, shrugged. What? Viral drew his hand across his throat.

“I will lure him here,” said Mareva. “You grab him.”

Mareva slowly, quietly, walked out into the room. Then, she made a small noise. The Blood-elf looked round, saw her and ran for her. Mareva turned tail and ran, the Blood-elf after her. As she ran into the corridor, Viral was there, waiting. His massive arm shot out, catching the Blood-elf round the throat. He went down as if he’d walked into a brick wall. Viral slammed him down onto the deck, kneeled on him and stabbed him in the chest. The Blood-elf gave a hoarse cry. Viral laid his big hand on his mouth, pulled out his knife and stabbed again. The Blood-elf’s eyes bulged. He made choking noises. Viral stabbed again, and again, until the Elf stopped moving. With a sudden jerk, as if he’d burnt himself, Viral drew away his hand. He took a few shivering breaths, and looked up at Mareva with an unhappy look on his face.

Mareva put her hand on his shoulder.

“You got him. Well done. Let’s do what we came to do.”

Viral got up on his big hooves. “It doesn’t feel like well done,” he said. “May his soul find the Light. He was just doing his job.”

“I know,” said Mareva. “The conduits.”

 

They walked into the room. Mareva’s pale blue shining eyes quickly scanned the racks of equipment, checking readouts. All seemed to be alright, except that a few lights were blinking amber. She walked round to the back of the equipment rack, and immediately spotted the empty socket where O’ros’ commands would be sent to the transdimensional engines. The cable was missing.

“Viral? We need the cable. Can you see it anywhere?”

Viral was already doing his rounds of the command station, opening cupboards.

“We’ll need about ten yards of cable, no?”

“Correct. The three-inch power sockets.”

Viral pointed. “That looks like it could be it.”

A large power cable was coiled up on a spike on one of the walls. Mareva scowled. The ignorant Blood-elf zlotniks obviously had not bothered putting the dust caps on. It looked like their cable, though.

“Could you get it down for me? We need to uncoil it and connect it to O’ros’ terminal over there.” She pointed.

“Not a problem,” said Viral.

“Mind you don’t drop the ends on the floor,” said Mareva. “Any dirt may interfere with operations.”

“I have done this before, you know? You engineers are so fussy about your cables.”

Mareva laughed. “That is because we know what we are doing. Come on. Let me see those impressive muscles in action.”

Viral gave her a grin, and hefted the cable onto his shoulder. Straining under the weight, he carried it to the terminal. Mareva took the end between her hands, inserted it into the terminal and pushed the lever that would force the connections into place. It fit with a smooth click. As Mareva kept the other connector from falling onto the floor, Viral slowly uncoiled the cable, and Mareva could fit it into the socket that connected internally to O’ros’ command point. She had to jiggle the connection a bit, before it would slot into place. She shook her head, pulled it out again. Being careful not to aim the cable directly into her eyes, she checked for any bent connections. With her knife, she carefully bent one of the small tubes straight, and tried again. This time, the connector slid in with that satisfying motion that all engineers throughout the Universe recognise by feel. As soon as she slid the lever home, the entire cable lit up. Red, green, blue, yellow, cyan, purple. Then, colours started alternating faster than the eye could follow, till they blended into a yellowish white. Mareva walked over to the equipment rack, pressed a few switches and observed the readout.

“O’ros is not wasting any time,” said Mareva. “It seems we’re done here. Let’s get back to the Seat.”

Viral nodded. “And quickly. Before they notice what’s going on.”

 

They were spotted by Blood-elves not two hundred yards from the Seat of the Naaru. Angry bolts of fire whizzed past them as they ran. Mareva set her teeth. Damn it. So close! They’d never make it with all these cursed Sin’dorei shooting at them. At the top of the spiralling walkway that led down to O’ros, a silent robed figure stood. He had his hands in his sleeves in front of him, and a hood covered his face. As they approached, he raised his hands and Mareva could feel the flow of magic. And yet, it did not feel like the magic of the Paladins or Mages. As she watched, four differently-coloured cylinders appeared at the wizard’s feet, and immediately, Mareva felt the crackle of magic on her skin. Side by side with Viral, she ran.

And then, her luck ran out. She could feel the heat, and as she unwisely looked over her shoulder, a fireball, monstrously large to her eyes, hit her square in the back. Mareva cried out in fear, but to her surprise, no pain came, and she could keep running. In front of her, she could see that one of the cylinders, air, she knew, though how she knew it, she didn’t know, had disappeared. Before she had time to rejoice, another fireball hit her. This one did hurt, but nowhere near as much as she’d have expected. Fighting to get more air into her lungs, she ran in the direction of the wizard.

“Get you behind me,” said the wizard. Even though his husky voice was not strong, Mareva could hear his words perfectly. She didn’t need telling twice. She turned round, facing their enemies. The wizard didn’t seem worried, even though the mage-fire was now concentrated on him.

“So you want to play with fire, my children? Can I play too?”

His hands shot forward, and from his palms, a bolt of lightning shot forward. It struck the first of the mages, who went down without a sound. But then… Mareva’s eyes opened wide. It continued on to the next. It had clearly lost some of its potency, but the fire-mage clutched his chest, and fell behind, an expression of agony on his face. On went the bolt, finally spending itself right in the face of a third mage, who clasped her hands to her eyes and screamed. The other mages kept running, and spread out in a ten-yard half-circle round the wizard, who seemed to take no notice at all. He suddenly raised both his hands, and the red cylinder at his feet blazed with a fierce light.

The effect was immediate. All the mages burst into flame, screaming, rolling round on the floor, trying to beat out the flames with their bare hands. It was no use. Whenever they’d managed to quell the flames, more sprang up. Within ten seconds, all were down. The wizard turned to Mareva.

“I saw you coming. I thought you might need the assistance. Velen and O’ros are grateful for your efforts.”

“As am I for yours,” said Mareva.

Viral heard a soft noise at his hooves, coming from one of the mages. He knelt by the body, turned it over. It was the mage who’d got the wizard’s lightning in her face, and she was clearly breathing her last. Her green eyes were singed into a milky white. What was left of her hair was still smouldering, with a horrible smell. Her robes were burnt, showing patches of bare skin, burnt red and blistered. Her chest still rose and fell, quickly, desperately. Little sounds of pain came from her. Moving quick as water, Viral drew his dagger and plunged it up to the hilt into the mage’s chest. The body sagged, finally still. He briefly closed his eyes, then looked up at Mareva.

“This feels more like well done,” he said.

The wizard chuckled, but Mareva was silent. She knelt next to Viral, looked into his eyes.

“Thank you for your help. I could not have completed my task without you.”

“We are not safe here,” said the wizard. “Let’s go down. I promised Velen to keep you from harm. I show you to him, then I am done, yes?”

 

Velen looked over his shoulder, and his eyes fell on Mareva and Viral. He raised his fingers to his forehead.

“Well done, people. O’ros is just about to engage the transdimensional drive. Let’s get off this planet!”

O’ros impinged himself on their presence.

“I am afraid that the Sin’dorei have modified the configuration of my controls. Until I ascertain what modifications they have made, I cannot operate the transdimensional drive with any precision at all.”

“Can you put us somewhere in space?”

The blades of light slowly revolved round O’ros.

“Yes. The transition, however, will not be as precise as usual. Please brace yourselves. Engaging.”

 

Mareva had made many jumps through the Twisting Nether, even on this very vessel. At most, you felt a sudden drop, as of an elevator when it plunges down. A pencil might roll off a table if the distance was particularly large.

This jump was not like those jumps.

Mareva suddenly found her hooves a half-yard above the floor of the Seat of the Naaru, and fell down, as people round her did the same. It was presumably a great honour to have Prophet Velen’s hoof land on your shin, but that didn’t keep it from hurting. Confused Draenei picked themselves up carefully, and struggled to their hooves.

“O’ros,” shouted Velen.

“Yes?”

“Are we still in one piece?”

O’ros considered a moment.

“Exodar is still structurally sound. Some of the emergency doors have not responded to the signals and are still open. No leakage of air into the Twisting Nether. We seem to be travelling at a speed of approximately twenty-three parsecs per second, normal space equivalent. I am searching for a sufficiently empty space to re-materialise. Please wait.”

Mareva shook her head, and found she was lying on something soft, which turned out to be Viral’s stomach. She looked up to him.

“I’m sorry,” said Mareva. “I don’t normally do this on a first date.”

“I’ll bet you say that to all the boys you take through the Twisting Nether,” said Viral, and grinned.

“So far, all of them,” said Mareva.

 

The transition from the Twisting Nether into what O’ros called Normal Space went much more smoothly than the initial jump. O’ros turned on an external monitor, and they could see what the stars looked like outside. Mareva could not recognise any of the constellations. They were far, far away from home. Velen turned to the Naaru.

“O’ros? How much time to get to Azeroth from here? I think we’ll save the transdimensional jumps for later.”

“Travel time through normal space, using mass reaction engines, approximately twenty-seven thousand, nine hundred and forty-five years, seventy-five days, nine hours.”

“Approximately?” Velen gave a short bark of a laugh.

“Yes.”

Mareva heard Viral take a sharp breath, and smiled at him.

“Don’t worry. We will get the TD engines up and running before then.”

Velen coughed. “What about using the TD engines?”

“Inadvisable, without first re-calibrating.”

“Assuming they are calibrated.”

“Given the trans-dimensional engines are correctly calibrated, we can reach Azeroth System in two jumps, reducing the normal-space travel to three-hundred and sixty-five days, ten hours.”

Mareva’s jaw dropped. “Alright. Now you may start worrying. It seems we will be stuck in this crate for a year.”

Velen sneered. “Well, at least now we’re sure that there’s a finite number of enemies on board. Let’s go find them and kill them before they murder us in our beds. Then, we fix the engines. Then, we set sail for Azeroth.”

Mareva looked at her hooves.

“Ask for directions, I said, but would he listen? No, it’s trans-dimensional, he said. What can go wrong?”


The fighting lasted for days. The Blood-elves realised they were cut off from their support lines, divided up into small packs, and went to ground. From a myriad of bolt-holes, they launched surprise attacks at the Draenei and disappeared into thin air after their strikes. Draenei Hunter-killer parties roamed all the walkways and corridors of Exodar, looking for trouble. The attacks from the Blood-elves slowly became less and less frequent, until at last days and weeks had gone by without a single sighting of hornless pointy-eared heads.

All of this passed Mareva by. She was busy. As it turned out, of the surviving engineers, she was one of the highest-ranking. This meant that the re-calibration and reconfiguration of the trans-dimensional engines fell largely to her and three of her fellow engineers. It was work that normally, Mareva would not have been expected to do on her own, but neeeds must. She worked till the readouts, lights and cables spun in front of her face, then returned to her small cabin and slept like a log, to wake up and start again. She and her fellow engineers were painfully aware that this increased the possibility of error, so they always, always had someone else check their work for them. Better to start the TD engines a week late, than to start them a week early and end up splattered all over the Twisting Nether.

For their sins, they had been given one of Velen’s lieutenants as their overseer. Lieutenant Giraz was an excellent soldier, strong, courageous, an inspiration to his peers, ready to lay down his life for Velen and his fellow Draenei. Putting him in charge of a bunch of over-worked engineers, the work of whom he hadn’t a hope of ever understanding, was… distinctly sub-optimal. Mareva and her band of brothers ignored his commands as quietly as they could. Sometimes, however…

 

“Engineer Mareva! What do you think you are doing?”

Mareva ignored him. Her long slender finger ran past the numbers on her data pad, comparing them to those on the machine. They had long since stopped wondering what had possessed the Blood-elves to re-set every operational parameter that existed in Exodar’s transdimensional engines. All they cared about was returning them to their original values so O’ros could take this defective elekk-turd of a ship someplace inhabitable.

“Engineer Mareva!”

She blinked, sneered. The ignorant zlotnik had just made her lose her place in the list, and she’d have to start all over again. She looked over her shoulder, an angry scowl on her face.

“What?”

“Engineer Mareva, I asked you a question. What are you doing. I will overlook your insolence for now.”

“I am verifying the work of Engineer Alard, Sir. Or at least I was, until someone disturbed me.”

“Why are you doing that? Surely, you do not doubt Engineer Alard?”

Mareva briefly closed her eyes. How did you explain to someone whose most complex tool was a warhammer, that you couldn’t check your own work, because you naturally assumed that you had done it right?

“Engineer Alard asked me to, Sir. It is imperative that all operational parameters are at the values provided by O’ros. They cannot be off by the merest fraction or there may be a catastrophic failure. All of our component atoms might be mixed up and scattered throughout the Universe. I do not wish my atoms to be mixed with yours.”

“Engineer Mareva, when a soldier is caught asleep on guard, the punishment is a week in the brig, followed by two months heavy duty. Are you trying to catch Engineer Alard?”

Mareva slowly got to her feet, and turned to Giraz. She held up her data pad in front of his face.

“Lieutenant Giraz, these are the correct operational parameters for transdimensional travel on this sub-system. If they are off by even one, the punishment is instant death for everybody on board this ship. Engineer Alard is the best of us, and the only one who knows every system on this crate. So when he tells me to verify his work, I do so, for my own survival. As you can see, there are two thousand numbers in this data set alone. Engineer Alard asked me if every number in the machine is the same as these on my pad. I must concentrate in order to avoid mistakes.”

Mareva took a deep breath, anger flaring on her face.

“May I continue?”

“I will verify this with Engineer Alard, and if I find you have been telling tales, I will personally chuck your scrawny tail in the brig for a fortnight.”

“Oh please, Lieutenant, chuck me in the brig. I have had eight hours sleep of the last seventy-two. Fourteen whole days of sleep would be bliss.”

Lieutenant Giraz grunted, turned on his hooves and left the room. Mareva pinched the bridge of her nose, re-set the sequence on the machine and started comparing the numbers. After three lines she found she was on the wrong sheet. She had just approved three lines that were nothing like the ones on her pad. She shook her head. Who of them had had the most sleep? Probably Grofal. He’d earnt it with a heroic stint of forty-eight hours and they had carried him to his bunk. Well, time to wake him up.


Mareva walked in a haze from the Seat to her quarters. Pull open a pack of food, and then six hours of blissful oblivion. She amazed herself, really she did. If anyone had told her a month ago that she would keep going on three or four hours sleep per day, for… how long? Never mind. Hurts to think about.

A hand was on her shoulder. She didn’t even look up.

“If your question starts with ‘how long will’, then you will die.”

“How long will it take you to come to my cabin, take your clothes off and get into my bed?”

A smile slowly appeared on Mareva’s face.

“Viral.” She thought of saying something suitably lewd, but couldn’t think of anything. So she left it at that.

 

Viral put his big arm round her, and gently led her to his cabin. Her shoulders were sagging, her eyes were on the ground in front of her feet. She didn’t speak. Viral looked at her, worried. He hadn’t seen her since they had re-connected O’ros’ power lines, except now and then as she went from one place to another. She’d looked busy then. She looked completely wasted now. He smiled to himself. He could probably give her one of his special shoulder treatments. Clearly, she was in no shape now to respond in the appropriate way, but it never hurts to build up a little credit. He typed in the code on the keypad and the door slid open. Mareva walked in. She frowned.

“There’s no bed,” she said. “False pretenses.”

Viral laughed. He touched a blue rectangle on the wall, and a bed slid out. Mareva smiled.

“Good.”

She dropped her toolbox on the floor, undid the top few buttons on her blouse, then pulled it over her head. Then, she undid her belt and dropped her trousers. Viral breathed in slowly. She really had gorgeous thighs. He quickly looked away before Mareva could catch him staring at her. She didn’t seem to have noticed. She pulled up the covers, and fell down onto the bed. The memory foam moulded itself round her body, and she gave a moan of pure pleasure.

“Oh I want one of these.”

Viral smiled. “Use mine for now.”

He walked into a corner and put the kettle on.

“I’ll make you some tea. I was lucky enough to find some honey. Actual honey, from Terokkar forest. It tastes so much better than sweetener. The bees will only go for the purple flowers.”

The water came to the boil, and Viral poured boiling water onto the instant tea powder. He carefully added a spoonful of his honey. He had a fair number of pots left, but they would have to last him a year. He glanced over his shoulder. This would be worth every drop, though. He stirred the tea with a metallic sound, then turned round to Mareva.

She was lying on her side, one arm over the edge of the bed, fast, fast asleep. Viral took a deep breath. He put down the tea on his small table. Then, he kneeled by Mareva and gently laid her arm back beside her face. He pulled the cover over her. Then, he stood up and picked up the mug. He leaned back against the wall, drinking Mareva’s tea, looking at her. She was really very beautiful. Or was she? He might be looking at her through rose-tinted goggles. The attraction of shared adventure. Running for your life together is known to skew your observations. He tried to observe her face objectively. No. There was no denying it. She really was gorgeous. He shook his head, sat down at his table, pulled out his armoursmith’s tools, and started turning steel wire into rings for chainmail.

 

Mareva opened her eyes, feeling better than she had in a long time. She blinked. Oh damn. How long had she been sleeping? She looked round. This wasn’t her room! What the…

“Good morning,” said Viral. He was sitting in his chair, at his table, his pliers in his hand, a half-finished piece of chainmail on the table.

“What is the time? How long have I been asleep?”

Viral looked at his work, then back at Mareva.

“Eight hours or so. You look like you needed the sleep.”

“Damn.” Mareva jumped up, looking for her clothes. She pulled on her trousers and her shirt, and looked at Viral. “I should have been at work two hours ago. There’s poor bastards out there who need the sleep more than I do.”

Viral poured coffee into a mug and pressed it into Mareva’s hands. Then, he pulled out an Emarree, and pulled the tab. It heated up instantly. Mareva drunk her coffee, making a small frustrated noise as she burnt her tongue. She put the mug down, half empty.

“I have to go.”

Viral grabbed her arm and pushed her into his chair. He put the food in front of her.

“Sit. Eat. Ten more minutes won’t make any difference, and you need it.”

Mareva tried to get up, but she could not argue with three hundred pounds of Draenei male. She sat down, and started spooning hot gunk into her mouth. She raised her eyebrows.

“Hey! Do Emarree come in sweet, too?”

Viral grinned. “Savour the experience. If all you’ve had is the salty, then you have now experienced the whole range that Emarree have to offer.”

Mareva scraped the last of the goo out of the bag.

“We have Emarree. We will not starve.”

She got up, and picked up her toolbox. Then, she turned round to Viral and wrapped her arms round him.

“Thank you for inviting me to your bed. When we finish this job, I will invite you to mine.”

“Can hardly wait,” said Viral.

 

“Where have you been?” Alard scowled at her. “We tried your place, but you weren’t there.”

“Overslept,” said Mareva. “Got abducted by someone who didn’t set an alarm.”

“Hm. Take over from Inuuri. She’s dead on her hooves. Sub-station twenty.”

“Right.” Mareva ran off.

 

She found Inuuri kneeled in front of one of the machines, data pad in her hand, simply staring at it, not moving. Mareva put her hand on her shoulder, and she looked round, startled. She scowled.

“Where have you been, you bitch? Getting some extra sleep?”

Mareva pulled the exhausted woman to her hooves, and laid her hand on her cheek.

“I’m sorry. Go to bed. Shouting at me eats into your time.”

Inuuri blinked, slowly. Seeing the wisdom in this, she nodded.

“Start at twelve. I did up to sixteen, but…”

“Go. I’ll get it.”

Inuuri stared, turned round, left. Mareva picked up the pad, re-set the terminal, and spotted three mistakes almost immediately. Damn. If they were this error prone… Oh well. They’d never know. She set her teeth and continued.

 

They were standing in the Seat of the Naaru, facing O’ros. Inuuri was leaning on Mareva. Lieutenant Giraz stood in front of them, arms crossed. Finally, O’ros spoke.

“Cyclic redundancy checks are complete. No errors found. You have achieved full accuracy.”

O’ros didn’t have a real voice. So it couldn’t sound as if he were smiling. Still, it did.

“Well done.”

Alard raised his massive arm. Mareva slapped his hand. Grofal stood still, chuckling to himself. Inuuri closed her eyes and put her head on Mareva’s shoulder. Lieutenant Giraz gave her one look, and picked her up as though she were a child.

“What’s her cabin number?”

“Two-five-one-three,” said Alard.

Grofal stared at Giraz’ broad back as he lumbered off with their fellow engineer in his arms.

“He’s not a bad guy,” he said. “As long as he keeps his big trap shut.”

Alard laughed. “Now what, O’ros?”

“I have started re-calibrating the trans-dimensional drives. This will take approximately three days, twenty hours. After that, I will need your assistance for a short test jump.”

Alard gave a short nod.

“Wake us up one hour before that.”


Mareva spent the next eight hours asleep in her cabin. Then, she turned over and slept another eight. Finally, she got up, dressed in a robe, walked to one of the communal bath rooms and soaked in warm water for an hour. The fact that she and her fellow Draenei would be drinking this same water later had long since stopped bothering her. It got boiled and distilled before being returned to one of the water tanks. Water hardly remembers what has been dissolved in it. She came out of the bath room feeling much better. A message from Giraz was waiting for her when she got back. Report to the Vault of Lights.

“On pain of death,” murmured Mareva.

 

Prophet Velen looked at Giraz and the engineers.

“O’ros informs me that you have all performed well. Without your efforts, Exodar would never again have been able to travel through the Twisting Nether. On behalf of all those on board Exodar, I thank you for your efforts. Now keeping in mind our limitations, I would like to reward you. Is there anything we can do for you? I warn you that food is not an option. We have only Emarree.”

Mareva blushed a deep blue. Never before had anyone praised her like this. She got on with her jobs. Checked in. Checked out. Got paid. Nothing was ever said about it, unless she made mistakes. She bit her lip. And what could she want? Now that the ruler of all Exodar asked her her greatest desire, what was it? Suddenly, she smiled. In these last few weeks, there had been one moment of unmitigated bliss. One moment only.

“If I might ask. My cabin is very small. I noticed that in corridor twenty-one, there are cabins with extensible memory-foam beds.”

Velen smiled at her, saying nothing.

“Could I move into one of those?”

Velen laughed. “No gold or jewels, but comfort for weary bones. I commend you on your sense of priority. Of course you can. I will have one assigned to you immediately.”

Inuuri grinned. “So that’s where you were. I hope you enjoyed him.”

Mareva gave Inuuri a look, noting that she was standing rather close to Lieutenant Giraz.

“I fell asleep,” said Mareva. “Ask him.”

 

Humming a little tune, Mareva walked up the corridor, a note in her hand with her new cabin number. All that she possessed, she carried in a backpack on one shoulder. Counting the doors, she didn’t look where she was going, and bumped into…

“Viral? What are you doing here?”

“I live here, remember?” His fist hit the door. “At least, I think I do. The damned door will not open.”

“Are you sure the code is correct?”

“Of course I do. Typed it in hundreds of times. Set it myself.”

Mareva looked at her note, then up at the door. She tapped in four numbers on the pad. It opened. Viral stared at the open door, then back at Mareva.

“How did you do that?”

Mareva showed him the note. “This cabin was assigned to me. I quite liked your bed, last time I was in it. So I thought I’d ask for a similar one.”

The door gave a hiss, and started to close. Mareva stuck out an arm, and it opened again. Viral gaped.

“So… you turfed me out?

Mareva gave him a look, and walked into the cabin, followed by Viral. She dropped her pack onto the floor. She raised an eyebrow at Viral.

“How did you get this cabin?”

“Um,” said Viral.

Mareva smiled sweetly.

“Well, I walked up to it, typed four zeroes, and it opened. So I changed it, and moved in.”

“You didn’t have it registered to you?”

Viral gave Mareva an earnest look.

“Our leaders are very busy people. I do not like to bother them with such trivialities.”

“Well then. This cabin was still listed as ’empty’, so they gave it to me.” Mareva grinned wickedly. “I fully intended to invite you to my bed some time. I did not realise it would be the same bed.”

Viral looked at Mareva. Then, he started to grin, then to laugh.

“Now,” said Mareva, sitting down at the table and pulling out the fold-away terminal. “What you might have done is ask someone who has root access to the main computer, to abuse her privileges and assign you a cabin.”

Viral nodded. “Do you know such a person?”

“No,” said Mareva. “None of my fellow engineers would do such a thing. It is a terrible betrayal of the trust placed in us by Prophet Velen.” She smiled, typed at the terminal. “I might, though. For the appropriate compensation.”

“What? For my own cabin back? Honestly.”

“No. I’m keeping this one. Get out. Yours is across the corridor. Don’t look at me like that. It has its own shower. I will be wanting to use it.”

“Um,” said Viral.

“I will help you carry your things,” said Mareva.


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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