Pendulum Ch. 12: Thornhill

The captain’s personal office was directly connected to the bridge. Thornhill opened the door and gestured for Achim to go in. The new-ship-smell still lingered, more so here in this narrow cabin than outside, on the bridge, but it, too, would go in time.
“After you, Mr Schulz.”
Entering the office first didn’t feel right, but he could hardly protest, and there was no time for formalities right now, anyway. The light in the small room went on the moment he sat foot inside. Thornhill’s office had less space than his place in the engine room. Rank seemed to take a backseat to an efficient layout. The captain’s desk, two visitor’s chairs, and a bed. Another smaller table with its bench was still neatly folded into the wall, invisible to anyone unfamiliar with the ship’s finer details. Captain Thornhill walked past him, slumped down in his adaptive seat behind the surprisingly small desk and nodded.
“Mr Schulz, what do you want to talk about with me?”
Achim hesitated. This was their first chat in private on this ship, and the circumstances of this meeting were less than optimal.
“Captain, did you receive my report?”
Thornhill tilted his head and frowned. “What do you mean?”
Schulz cleared his throat. Heat shot into his face. Hopefully, it didn’t make him blush. He felt like an idiot, standing here in front of the captain and opening their meeting with a question that seemed stupid at first glance. Where was his confidence and determination? Shattered with the crash. The deadpan way with which his inner monologue delivered the line almost made him smile, but he could suppress it in time.
“According to the communications log of the Tuatha’s computer, the status report I intended to send never left the queue. I was wondering why the ship departed anyway, even though my message didn’t reach you.”
The captain’s frown deepened, and he stared directly into Achim’s eyes.
“The Tuatha De Danann could have never departed without your clearance. I thought you knew that.”
Of course, he knew. Despite feeling like an idiot for the wrong reasons, he was fairly certain he was none. But he wouldn’t show the captain his anger.
“Captain, may I see the report from the engineering station?”
Thornhill nodded.
“Computer, show us the engineering report.”
He turned his head, and the board system interpreted the intention correctly. What had been a white wall to Achim’s left now changed into a large display. A message appeared, but it was not his. One quick glance had already been enough.
“All systems within normal parameters. Clearance given. Chief Warrant Officer Achim Schulz.”
The message’s timestamp matched that of his failed transfer, down to the second, but this was an obvious fake, at least to him. His report would have looked different; it would have included a proper checklist, for one, even if everything had been in order. But it had not, and it had taken him over ten minutes to write a comprehensive report of the technical status alone, then thirty more about the situation in the Security Office.
“Captain, this is not the report I sent you. Computer, please display the file queued in my comm module.” He called up the saved file, but the content on the wall didn’t change.
“Access denied.”
The two men stared at each other.
“Register this man as Chief Warrant Officer Achim Schulz with administrator access for every system on board.”
“Understood. Registration completed.”
Achim nodded sagely, and Thornhill made a vague gesture for him to continue.
“Display this file,” Achim said again, and now his personal system confirmed external access by the board computer.
The laughably short joke of a message disappeared and made room for a veritable wall of text with lacklustre formatting and no paragraphs, barely readable. Achim grunted—internally. Three thousand two hundred words filled the wall from left to right in one massive block, beginning with the inconsequential technical problem of the sensor phalanx, then leading into a detailed description of Achim’s… adventure at the Tuatha’s Security Office.
Achim finished reading the text he had written himself and turned his head back to the captain, who had bravely fought his way through it at the same time. Their eyes met.
“Something weird is going on here on board this ship, and it’s happening at the worst possible moment. I will look into the issue while you—”
Captain Thornhill’s eyes looked vacant for a moment, and when he returned to reality a few seconds later, his complexion was pale.
“Captain?”
Thornhill straightened his posture and shook his head.
“I just received a report from the engineering station. What’s left of an Aes Sidhe technician was found floating in a damaged section. He got killed while performing checks. The report mentions a shot wound, but we won’t know more until the medics arrive.”
Who was it? He had only gotten to know one person from his small team so far, but…
“A faerie high-energy tech named Eamhair Kermodem. Please return to engineering immediately, while I will sort this out.”
Kermodem. He had seen the name on the list. The tech had never risen above being an entry in the roster. Achim was relieved and felt guilty at the same time, but swallowed the emotions for now. He closed his eyes for a moment, nodded, and gave the captain a salute. There was so much to do, it’d take a while to even just design a plan of action.
“Understood, sir.”
The captain stared past him, and the door opened. Achim took one last glance at the middle-aged man who had gained at least five years in these last few minutes. Thorn was now tenting his fingers and staring at the report again. Achim turned and called up a map with updated damage data. It was worse than it had looked before.

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