“Who else found out about you?” Magdus asked as they exited his apartment and headed out along the antiseptic white corridor. There were a few other locals coming and going, and he greeted each of them with brief nods and casual positioning of his lower hands to indicate that he was headed to a prior engagement, and that refusal to stop and socialise was not intended as a slight. While his adoption of the gestures was ingrained after millennia of use to a point where he didn’t even notice he was doing it, Magdus did notice Stansgaard mimicking the stance and that in turn made him conscious of his own gestures. He couldn’t help but notice, because – like he’d seen when Strangle indicate his Molranity at the dining point – the movements were smooth and casual … and yet clearly practiced rather than automatic. It just added to his agitation.
Also adding to his agitation was the realisation that he was pitching his voice for Stansgaard’s ears only, breathing the interrogation so nobody else in the corridor would hear anything amiss. This wasn’t in itself suspicious behaviour. Standard social norms leaned towards the avoidance of unnecessary noise and this was even more important in a Worldship as crowded as Big Shooey, which was filled to the domes with large and noisy personalities to boot. But in becoming aware of it, Magdus also realised why he was doing it. It was still intended to protect Strangle from detection. And he didn’t have a satisfactory explanation for that, even though he was the only one asking.
“Nobody you know,” Stansgaard said, “and I told you-”
“I want names,” Magdus insisted. “So I can check up on them in person. What did they do when they found out, and what exactly happened to them?”
“I told you, nothing happened to them,” Stansgaard said. “As for who my previous attempted contacts were … look, there are a lot of people on this ship, and even more in the local caravan. Even if you’re only counting Final Primers … but alright, fine. There was 3-A-3 Mahemene and 3-A-3 Mothax, or ‘the Brothers 3-A-3’ as I liked to call them…” he smiled and glanced sidelong at Magdus, but Magdus didn’t give him the satisfaction of playing along. Stansgaard sighed lightly. “The other one wasn’t even on the Shoo, she was back on the Silent Midfrex. Alapitarius Gahobian.”
“Not sure what you mean by attempted contacts,” Magdus said softly. “Or why you’d only be trying to contact Primers anyway.”
“I’m mildly curious as to how you’re going to check up on them without depending on your machine mind,” Stansgaard remarked.
Magdus ignored him. “Or why you’re running out of time,” he went on.
“Aren’t we all?” Stansgaard philosophised.
“You’re not making this easier.”
“And yet you still haven’t sounded the alarm,” Stansgaard smiled easily. “I suspect this is a boring place for you to spend your Final Prime, and this is a welcome adventure. That’s more or less why I contacted Gahobian and the Brothers 3-A-3, by the way. And – just to reiterate – they’re all fine. The Brothers 3-A-3 were a bit more surreptitious about taking a sample from me, and they took it directly to the Big Shooey officers deck. There was a very quiet, very polite investigation of my credentials, in isolation from the machine mind, and when I was confirmed as a Five Species Fleet citizen and operative, the Brothers confessed all and apologised, but told me they no longer wished to associate with me.”
“She contacted both the Silent Midfrex leadership and a group of Blaran associates, in a separate but permitted census capacity,” Stansgaard replied. “The officers gave her the same answer the Big Shooey officers did. The shit-dancers gave her a similar answer, just with less actual information attached. And I believe the Silent Midfrex machine mind was involved with one or the other of those groups, but the information was then compartmentalised and either didn’t synchronise to this ship, or did synchronise and is still hidden behind a datawall somewhere.”
“That doesn’t tell me a damn thing,” Magdus complained.
“I suspect,” Stansgaard said, “that even if you did the same as those others and took what you’ve learned to the officers, you probably wouldn’t be satisfied with their reassurances either. Which is why I think I’ve finally struck gold with you.”
They descended a walkway and boarded a mass-transit shuttle.
“Are we going for’ard?” Magdus asked.
“Because the thing I want to show you is out near the Bosskra hawser dock,” Stansgaard replied.
Magdus glared at him, but this time it was Strangle’s turn not to play along. “The thing you want to show me that explains how you’re a Vahoon and that somehow me buying it even for a second means I’m not an idiot,” he said between clenched teeth.
“Should be good.”
“Trust me, you won’t be disappointed,” Stansgaard said cheerfully. He grinned again. Faded though he was, Magdus couldn’t help but reflect that Stansgaard Strangle must be quite a good-looking fellow in his Primes. Big thoks and all. “I mean, you’re already trusting me, that much is clear … but you’re going to be glad you did.”
Magdus had been around long enough to know, on every level of his being, that this was probably not going to be the case. And yet he continued to sit alongside the grinning abnorm, and continued to not alert the authorities.
They sped smoothly through Big Shooey and into the foredecks, where the great pylons and shielding stacks of the hawsers groaned and rumbled like perpetual distant thunder. No living Molran had heard thunder, of course, aside from a few who had spent time down on Earth and a few others who had made planetfalls during the last legs of the outward journey. But to Magdus, the sound of the hawsers had always made him think wistfully of the long-lost Molran homeworld, when his kind had stood upon the ground and looked up at the sky.
Next to the garden, it was his favourite place.