She peered at me. "Physiological psychology? That is possible. The enzymes will be causing changes to the material of your brain as well, perhaps increasing development in..."

"How do you stop it? I can't function if I can't trust myself. My thinking. Or even how I feel about what I'm thinking. I can't stop to second-guess myself all the time. And I have this bloody headache again."

Partridge took me by the arm. "Come to the laboratory, Captain Waters. I can run some more scans and take some more samples. I am afraid at this stage all we can do is research and monitor. I have no idea how to treat something I do not understand."

I followed her. "Why the hell does everybody insist on calling me Captain?" It sounded petulant as soon as I said it, but I was beyond caring. "I don't need it. I don't want it."

"It is not for your sake, Captain. It is for their sake. They need to know that somebody is in charge. Somebody is taking responsibility. To them it is simple. You own the vessel. You direct its course. You are the Captain."

"And you? Why do you insist on it?"

She smiled. "It sounds rather dashing."


The laboratory had even more equipment than her lab on the station. Two mechwelds, chambers and racks and cabinets. I had no idea how she had managed it in so few days. It looked as though everything had been completed.

"Partridge, I thought the lab wasn't quite finished?"

"The equipment is physically installed, Captain Waters. But I need to complete setups, calibrations and diagnostics. I can do it myself but it takes time. I had a small army of technicians assisting me. I spared no expense. You have quite the account waiting for your attention. Lie here, please." She tapped her crystal and an examination table rose from the floor.

The cover retracted to reveal a padded surface. Partridge pushed the table and it floated towards me and stopped. "I had this table installed to assist with our ongoing research into your condition. Much more comfortable than sitting on a stool. Lie down."

I lay on the table and Partridge fussed around me with scanners and other equipment.

"Partridge, you didn't use... er... company resources to get this stuff installed?" I couldn't begin to imagine all of the surveillance and monitoring crap that Smooth-face would have included. And worse.

She frowned and shook her head. "No, Captain Waters. I bought what I could and had it installed by local technicians. I monitored the process very carefully."

"What do you mean you bought what you could?"

"I could not source everything I needed through conventional channels."


She shrugged. "I stole it." 

"You..." I realised I had no idea how to respond to that.

She placed a thin silvery crown around my brow. "I will map brain activity as well. The more information I am able to collect before we reach Elshabe, the more effective I will be on arrival. There." She touched a display on a terminal at her bench. "Just converse normally as we scan."

Converse normally. Normal behaviour was easy until someone asked you to do it. I did have some other questions.

"How did you know I was in trouble with the mercenaries?"

She reached over and tapped my inside left elbow. "The blood-monitoring device I installed. It showed sudden heightened and sustained physical duress."

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