Pendulum Ch. 25: Seitheach

The bridge was as busy as it had been when Achim had come to see the captain for the first time. Only now did he notice the disproportionately high percentage of Aes Sidhe; unusual everywhere except aboard the Tuatha. Roughly half of the crew on the bridge were of otherworldly origin, a ratio that wasn’t quite the same through every rank, but more so in some than in others. His engineering team was mostly human. He had never thought about it until Branan raised his eyebrows when they entered the bridge. It made sense, as humans outnumbered Aes Sidhe considerably, at least on Earth, whereas those who made an appearance had skills or qualities needed where one met them, and the exploration mission was a special pet project of the coalition that made up the Space Agency. Having a roughly equal number in high-level positions had probably been more of a political decision, though.
“This way.”
Branan followed him through the throng, narrowly escaping collisions with crew members who paid no attention to the two visitors. This time it was Achim giving the directions to the Captain’s quarters. The man was already inside, awaiting Achim’s attendance. There had been no word about Branan. Bringing him had been his decision, killing two bugs with one patch.
“Scan complete,” said the synthetic voice, and the door opened before them. Achim stepped inside first. Nothing had changed in the small room, but when would Thornhill have time to personalise his office, anyway? Barely two days had passed since their arrival, and the man at the desk looked like a walking dead, pale with shadows under his eyes.
“You’re bringing company?”
“This is Warrant Officer Branan Mccoys. We’re working on tracking down the system anomalies. I thought it saves time if he hears what happened, then I can focus on looking into it instead of relaying your words.”
The captain nodded and gestured at the seats in front of his desk. Branan entered, the door closed behind him, and the two men sat down. The seats adapted to their body shapes, and the captain shut down a display he had been looking at when they stepped inside his room.
“Let’s make this quick. We’re all busy people right now. One of your engineers is dead. His name is Seitheach, a fir bolg tech specialist. Does that name sound familiar?”
Achim shook his head and looked at Branan, who crossed his hands before his chest.
“No time to get acquainted with your team yet, I see. Don’t worry, I won’t hold that against you.”
“I appreciate you telling me this directly, but I’d have thought board security would handle it.”
Thornhill’s gaze rested on him for a moment, and Achim could almost see the neurons firing behind the captain’s forehead.
“There are particularities to this case I want you to look into.”
A wall display flickered into existence, showing the roster. The captain applied search filters with the speed of a man used to the board computer, and the list of personnel shortened, then shortened again.
“These are the names of people for whom there are no log entries in the system.”
At first glance, there was no connection between them. Seitheach’s entry in enlarged font, a scientist, a doctor, four marines. The last name on the list stood out. Deirdre MacBreen was the druid he had spotted during that ceremony on the Ad Astra. The person who had brought them here, across the vast interstellar expanse.
“For one, it makes little sense that there are no records for the landing team. A bug might have caused that, even though that idea wouldn’t sit well with me. But even if we assume that something went wrong, and the system interpreted their mission as leaving the crew, instead of just the vessel, as odd as that sounds, what does the name of the tech mean?”
Indeed, the man had had nothing to do with the expedition down on the planet’s surface. The captain opened the marked entry. An unremarkable fir bolg face appeared, together with the standard data of every personnel file. A soft murmur next to Achim caught his attention. He turned his head.
“That file lists his home town as Bri Leith.”
The captain looked up and raised his eyebrows.
“There is no such town. Bri Leith is the name of a valley in Tech Duinn. Nobody lives there.”
Thornhill stared at the lurikeen, nodded, and scrolled further through the list.
“That school there makes no sense, either. Cruachan is a mountain, not the name of a town. Someone made all this up, and the system accepted the information without objection.”
It had been a good idea to bring Branan, and not only because it saved Achim time. The captain moved on through the file, but the rest of the data didn’t trigger a response from the lurikeen. According to the system, Seitheach had never boarded the Tuatha De Danann, but his absence hadn’t triggered an automatic report, either.
“Nothing here makes sense. If I looked at this, I’d think this is bogus information, some sort of practical joke, maybe.”
“Or the fake records of a stowaway,” Achim said. “But even then, there would be logs. The ship tracks every person’s location on board at all times.”
“Exactly. I want you to look into this, but only if it doesn’t interfere with your work.”
There was no problem with that. His team assembled the auto factories and logistic drones without his direction. He had laid out the exact plans for this in advance, and most procedures were pre-programmed, anyway.
“Can you tell me more about his death?”
There was no reason for this question except to satisfy his personal curiosity.
“He was found asphyxiated in a storage room. One moment…”
The captain switched modules, and a map appeared on the wall display, schematics of the ship, with destroyed sections marked in red.
Thornhill pointed at a red room in an otherwise green area of the outer parts of the ship.
“Asphyxiation, you say? That room there should have air. It’s a storage room in an otherwise unharmed part of the deck. The collision happened on the opposite side.”
What the hell was going on here? A fake personnel file of an engineering team member he hadn’t known about, suffocated in a room that should be just fine. That the log data of the expedition was gone was more of a side note, but worth checking as well. All this looked deliberate, not like the result of bugs in the ship’s software—which would have been bad enough on its own.
“According to security, the outer hull there has damage, too. The room had no atmosphere when they appeared. One of your service robots found him. Didn’t you get a notification?”
Achim shook his head. No notifications. Yet another mystery, and he’d had enough of that already. He was an engineer, not a detective.
“Things get weirder and weirder, the more details come to light. Please get to the bottom of this. By the way, your logs are complete, you were nowhere near that part of the ship when the fir bolg died.”
And thank god for that. Being a suspect in a murder case was the last thing he needed right now.
“I’ll check it, and I’m sure Branan will help me with this. Am I right?”
The lurikeen didn’t look happy, but lifted his palms.
“That would be all for now.” Thornhill rose from his chair and gestured towards the door. “If there is any news, I’d appreciate it if you came directly to me. As it stands, anyone able to access personnel files could be behind this, and that includes board security.”
The two engineers left the captain’s quarters, and this time the bustle on the bridge seemed distant and unimportant.


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