Chapter 25

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They say that extreme wealth doesn't bring happiness. I haven't seen any instances of grinding poverty bringing it either. Perhaps there's a happy medium to be reached somewhere between the two. I'm happier to experiment from the wealthy side of the equation.

Over breakfast the next day I discovered that Smooth-face had deposited 250M creds into my not-so-very-secret black account. He must have decided to round up by a mere 10 million. To have such wealth at your casual disposal was incomprehensible to me. But I now had a bank account with a balance that was over six hundred times larger than I had ever had in my life. Even after paying for the frigate, fitout and crew, I would still have more credits than I could spend in a single lifetime. And Smooth-face was going to top it up monthly.

Of course, it came with significant strings attached. As far as Smooth-face was concerned, he now owned me.

As far as I was concerned, Smooth-face could keep thinking that way.

Until I figured out a way to deal with him.

After I had dealt with everything else.

I sipped my coffee and tried not to think about what Hrny's blood was doing to my body. And possibly to my mind. Right now I would space myself before I let them change me into another being. But what would my thinking be like once the process was well underway? Maybe I would reach a stage where I would be sufficiently transformed to seek the change. Embrace it.

The coffee turned to acid in my mouth and I spat it back into the cup. My skin was crawling. I held hands out in front of me, but they seemed steady enough.

I needed to focus, there were things to do.

But I'd take a shower first.

***

My only hope of dealing with whatever was happening to me was Partridge. Which made her the most important person in my life right now. It seemed counter-intuitive to trust someone who was working for the same organisation that had infected me. I had little choice though. And it seemed likely that Hrna was operating to her own, Morna agenda. There was also the fact that Partridge was genuinely fond of me for some reason. It didn't make much sense, but it was to my advantage. I could probably trust her to not report everything back to Smooth-face.

When I entered the lab, she was sitting on a stool, gazing down at the floor. She looked tired. I went over and gave her a hug. It didn't hurt to keep her engaged.

"Mr Waters, I examined the contents of that injector you left with me. It contained medicinal compounds, nothing out of the ordinary. A standard healing concoction, some painkillers and vitamins. No traces of blood or other biological material. I ran the test three times. I'm sorry."

Figured. Smooth-face had been telling the truth when I needed the lie. A sample of whatever Hrna had injected me with would have been too much to ask for.

"Feel like retiring to your cell?" I wondered what any eavesdroppers were thinking of our apparently insatiable hunger for Partridge's cot.

Partridge nodded without smiling.

When the door closed behind us she threw her arms around my neck. "Mr Waters, I spent the entire night researching the Morna. Biology, social customs, religious ceremonies. There is hardly any material available. And nothing about Xenomorphological rites or practice. I am so sorry."

I held her close. "Listen, Partridge, I think I can get us off this station and out to Elshabe. Are you able to leave all this and come with me? Would Smoo- er - your bosses try to stop you from leaving?"

She stepped back and wiped her eyes with a sleeve. "They could try. They would not prevent me."

"I may have... access to a ship. A private vessel. Could you oversee some fitout changes to her for me? A research laboratory for yourself, a shooting range. That sort of thing. Whatever you need to continue your research on my... our little problem."

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