“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Magdus snapped. “The Vahooni are a Bonshoon myth. They invented them out of whole cloth to explain their sleeper ailments and give themselves some hope that they’ll one day be cured.”
“The Vahooni are a bit more than that,” Stansgaard said. “A lot of Bonshooni believe they’re transcendent end-state Molranoids capable of seeing through the illusion that is this universe – the whole endless, fruitless flight of the Five Species Fleet. The flight that so many of you thought was over, now you’ve reached the edge of space and found your gateway.”
Magdus scoffed. “Gateway.”
Stansgaard spread his hands again. “Not all gates are doorways, my friend. Do you really think all your p’bruz on this derelict are hanging around just to stare at that big slab of manky, monkey-infested rock down there?”
“I’m not your-”
“Do you think that’s why Malakaar and her maniacs on the Garatron Maximum Security are still here?” Stansgaard interrupted. “You think they’re here for the cultural xenopology? They have their relative drive blueprints. They could have headed out years ago. Why haven’t they?”
“I’m not your friend,” Magdus snapped.
“Oh? Then why haven’t you reported me yet?”
Because I’m fairly sure I can take you, Magdus’s hormone-sizzling Primebrain purred. “How did you get into my room?” he repeated instead. “And don’t give me that stonk about being a thief.”
“I think you must have left the door open?” Stansgaard suggested idly.
“Mer,” Magdus growled.
“I’m running a check,” Mer said. “My information systems and local convoy manifests may have been compromised.”
“You don’t say.”
“Stansgaard Strangle is a registered Fleet member,” the machine mind reported. “His anomalous genetic markers were overwritten, his status locked by Fleet Command oversight. His presence here is authorised and his Fleet designation irreproachable. And even in its unlocked state, his cellular signature is Molran. Definitively Molran.”
Magdus pointed at his console. “There,” he said, and glared accusingly at Strangle, “that’s why I didn’t report you. The machine mind thinks you’re legitimate, and the machine mind keeps the air on the inside of this Worldship.”
“Oh,” Stansgaard waved a hand, “that’s not why.”
“It’s among the reasons,” Magdus said. “Am I the first one to scan you?”
“The third,” Stansgaard said. “Well, the fourth, since there were two the second time … but you did it sooner than any of the others, and you broke through the code shell quicker. And you didn’t alert security the moment you did.”
“Did they?” Magdus asked. “Who are you talking about? What happened to them?”
“Nothing, they’re fine,” Stansgaard reassured him. “They notified the authorities, my credentials were established, and they were satisfied with the explanation provided.”
“The explanation that you’re a Vahoon?”
Stansgaard chuckled. “That’s a good one. No, they got the explanation that would satisfy idiots.”
“I’m sorry, Strangle,” Magdus shook his head, “but is the explanation that you’re a Vahoon meant to be the non-idiot answer?”
“It’s the truth,” Stansgaard shrugged his upper shoulders. “The truth isn’t for idiots. They don’t know what to do with it. And you shouldn’t blame the machine mind,” he straightened in the doorway, and half-turned as though to usher Magdus out. “It’s generally neutral, and rarely acts against the interests of organics. It’s just that its big picture can be a little … bigger than you’re used to,” he extended his left hands invitingly towards the little anteroom and the thoroughfare. “Shall we?”
“Shall we what?” Magdus squinted.
“You want me to explain myself,” Stansgaard said. “I’m running out of time. So come with me and let me show you the non-idiot answer.”