Ernie Aloft, Part Two
Ernie was heading back to work the next day when the klaxons went off again. The catlet flattened himself against the bulkhead as crew ran to stations, then he hurried to Engineering for his orders. The Engineer was shaking his head with disbelief over the demands on his crew, while shouting them into progress. Ernie couldn't follow the rough diagrams flying across the coms, and didn't dare distract the Engineer, so he quietly set to work checking the tool kits and restocking emergency supply caches. The ice machine in the bar needed tending at least once a week. He had plenty to do, and he did it.
He was tracing a wiring problem, hunched in an air duct serving a back passageway on the third deck, starboard side. Just behind a vent, but without his vest, he was invisible in the shadows. They didn't see him. But he heard them. He listened very carefully.
When he was certain they were gone, Ernie ran for the bridge. It was, most definitely, not his territory, but Rennie would know what to do. Rennie would know who to tell.
Rennie wasn't there.
“Ernie,” said a woman with a coffee cup. Ernie slammed his butt on the deck and braced for the Bosun. “Looking for Miss Renegade?” Ernie nodded, crisply. “Try the library, she's still working off her debt.” Ernie nodded again, and then dashed off at the woman's wave.
Rennie was in the library, dutifully watching the Librarian sew a book back together. The threads moved in very interesting ways, but Rennie was most definitely not putting one paw near that book. She sat up when Ernie arrived. The Librarian looked up. “You don't come in here, do you. I'm guessing you need her?” Ernie, politely seated at attention, gave her a nod. “This can't wait?” Ernie shook his head. “Go on, you two. I'll see you tomorrow, young Renegade.” Rennie nodded appreciation and leaped to her brother's side.
Rennie did know whom to tell. She bolted for the officers’ quarters, faced the door, took a deep breath to marshal her resolve, and began scrabbling. Ernie watched her, stunned by shock, then caught on and bent to help. The door came ajar. A very tall man looked down on them. His impossibly handsome face was lined with fatigue. Even his boots looked worn. He peered at them.
Both catlets slammed their butt on the floor and braced. "One assumes there is an explanation for this?" Both nodded. He sighed and gestured them in. Rennie followed his hand and jumped to her accustomed place on his desk. Ernie hesitated, then followed. The Captain sank into his chair.
"So, an emergency." Twin nods. "But not something with engines, or you would have taken it to the Engineer?" Nod. "Something you discovered, and took to Rennie, and she brought you to me." Nods. He swore, the mild tone of a man too tired to be linguistically creative. "Right, let's have it."
Rennie and Ernie looked at each other. Then Rennie jumped to the ground and began to act out two people conversing, while Ernie peered down from hiding. "Ernie overheard something." Nods. "But what? Lord, I wish you cats would learn to communicate."
Rennie rocked back on her tail in astonishment. Ernie almost thought the unthinkable, that a tiny hiss escaped.
"Ah," said the Captain. "Ah. Yes. Well. You understand every word I say, and every crewman, regardless of species, you use our systems, you're passing our exams, and the real problem is that none of us have bothered to learn YOUR language. Point. An excellent point. My apologies." Rennie looked somewhat mollified.
"So, we need to overcome my limitations," He looked at Ernie. "You log repairs, yes?" Nod. "Can you type out what they said?" Ernie nodded, XO opened a screen, and the catlet began to type. "We need bigger keyboards for you," the Captain observed thoughtfully. "I'll get on that."
He read the dialogue. "So, there are at least two aboard the Renegade, and they've diverted us to the wrong location. A trap, of course, but just to nab us, to draw us away from the Bellerophon rescue, or are they working with the locals? Did you recognize them, Ernie?" Ernie shook his head. "See their faces? No? Know their voices? No? Well, at least we know they aren't Engineering personnel. Which leaves only…everyone else on board. And no way to identify them."
Rennie coughed and tapped her nose. Smothered a sigh and tapped her nose again, very slowly and deliberately. "Scent!" The Captain smacked the desk. Ernie jumped three inches in the air, but Rennie was busy steadying the decanter while the Captain gathered the scattered pencils. Ernie tucked his slightly puffed tail around his haunches so it wouldn't show. "You can recognize their scent?" XO clarified. Ernie nodded.
"Right! Rennie, you know most of the crew by sight." Nod. "I want the pair of you to roam the ship, and find those two. Rennie, as soon as you have names, bring them to me. The two of you, stick together and be careful. These people won't hesitate to toss a nosy kitten overboard, and I'm not willing to lose either of you. Got it?" Rennie nodded, but looked a bit tense. Ernie looked worried. "This is dangerous, but there is no one else on the ship who can do this. It's a lot to ask of you. You’ve both, well, all three of you have earned your places here. This isn’t what you signed on for, but it’s what the ship needs from you right now. That’s all I can give you. We need you. Need you to be careful. And Ernie, I'll tell the Engineer I've got a special assignment for you, ok?" Ernie nodded with relief. "Be about it then. CAREFUL."