Time: Shortly after the end of Beside a Black Tarn
The engine was sound. The Copernicus drive, likewise. But, damn it, the whole engine room was kind of a mess after the captain tried to “help.” When Mac had first joined the crew, it had been as if a ten-year-old with a coloring book manual had been tinkering with the ship for the past several years.
Mac shook his head at the overabundance of lubricant on the C-nodes. Maybe that assessment wasn’t fair, though. Captain Shax had a certain native mechanical ability, especially when it came to navigating the workings of small devices. He just didn’t have the training necessary for star-capable ship engines.
As he contorted himself to retrieve a rag from under the housing, something skittered over his hand. He jerked back and slammed his head on a heat vent. “What in fucking gargleblasters?”
Pink flashed through the grey and white of pipes and ducts until a blindingly pink head poked out from under the housing, antennae waving.
“Come out of there, Max. It’s not safe.” Mac groaned is he stood, rubbing his head and hit the comm pad on the wall. “Leo! Come get your little friend. He can’t be in here.”
He got a peep from the comm in response and crouched back down to millipede level. “Come on, Max. You’re gonna get filthy under there and if the vector changes, you might get crushed.”
Maximillian curled around a pipe and refused to come to Mac’s outstretched hand. Frowning, Mac picked up the wrench he’d dropped earlier and tapped it absently against the housing. The little guy was all right there, so long as he didn’t skitter back under. The wrench hit one of the coupling rivets with a metallic ping and a strange echo answered. Mac tried it again, and again the hollow note repeated with more clarity. From under the engine housing.
“Was that you, Max?”
He picked up a second wrench, hit the first note and tapped a nearby pipe for a deeper sound. Both notes were returned to him from the same spot. Max poked his head out, waving his first set of legs, and sang the two notes in reverse order.
Annoyed as he was, Mac still couldn’t help a chuckle. “Liked that, did you?”
Mac tried a few of the other surfaces within reach, anything relatively hollow that didn’t house delicate sensors or gauges, in an attempt to coax Max out of his impromptu cave. The more notes he played, the more millipede segments crept out from under the housing as Max sang the notes back and rearranged them.
Max twitched suddenly and ran to the liquid accelerator pistons of the Copernicus drive. He reared up on his back segments and tapped at the nearest piston tube, singing a single note. Puzzled, Mac gently tapped the tube with his wrench and produced an identical note. Max stroked the tube with several sets of forefeet, then ran to the next tube in line. When Mac tapped this next one, millipede legs waved in agitation and Max repeated the note.
“Huh. You sure, little guy?” Mac grabbed a vibrational meter from his toolbox and set the sensor against the tube in question. The pitch was just a hair off.
The sound of claws scrabbling along the deck plates at a run reached him and Leopold careened around the corner into the engine room. “I am so sorry. Verin yelled at him today. Max hid away then.”
Mac flapped a hand to shush Leopold as he adjusted the tube’s internal width micrometer by micrometer until Max waved his legs and moved to the next tube.
“Give us just a couple minutes, Leo,” Mac said without looking up from his meter. “Max and I are kinda busy right now.”