The Edger Extension Agent was determined to get involved; if I understood what I was overhearing, Mike was uncertain about it and local law enforcement wasn't too happy, either. Despite Dave's assurances, Rannie was deeply suspicious of the Edgers. And speaking of unhappy— as soon as the Lt. was sufficiently involved in her call, Handsome Dave had taken the opportunity to retrieve his phone, moved his chair to the edge of the group and had, though some combination of guilt, masochism and/or a strong sense of duty, managed to get through to The Chief; by my watch, it was well after dinner, shiptime. From the steady stream of quiet "Yessir, nosir" Dave's conversation could have been going better. He seemed unusually willing to take it without trying to explain himself; he's diplomatic but not spineless. Suddenly, he said, "No, she's here, Chief," and handed the phone to me. Ow.
There's no point in my attempting to transcribe the conversation. Suffice to say, I did not get through unscorched and at the end of it, there was no doubt where I would be the next day — in class at Irrational Numbers — or that I would be leaving the investigating to the professionals. I never did get a chance to explain my present involvement was entirely Lt. Wu's doing. It probably wouldn't've helped if I had; the Chief had been blindsided by Dave's abrupt disappearance and he was determined to get all the cats herded, no matter what it took. When he wound down and rang off, I handed the phone back to Dave, with a whispered,"Whew!"
Dave looked surprised. "You know why," he not-quite asked.
I didn't and my expression said as much.
"Oh! ...I don't know how to say it. Jonny Zed had a stroke early this morning and we lost at least three crew yesterday. Supposedly the Chief was in sickbay most of last night — I hear he had a close call."
I nodded, not wanting to interrupt..
Dave went on, "There's nothing official, but this happening, right after Captain James...."
All I could come up in reply was, "Oh, geesh." It seemed unlikely but with everything else that had happened, not improbable.
Twenty minutes later, my fellow Lupine crew members and I were on the road. I was failing to appreciate the back seat of a classic Beetle, while all 6' 4" of Handsome Dave was carefully occupying the front passenger seat.
The situation had ended almost cordially between ship, planet and FCS rep, with the local law agreeing to an FCS "liaison" and Sheriff Mike reluctantly going alone. Lt. Wu hadn't liked that much, nor had she liked the Agent Kimball's cheerful claim that she'd barged in only minutes before he'd been about to have Dave contact Lupine. Once we were crammed into the Bug and underway, she started to lecture Dave and he very diplomatically pointed out that A) she was not in his chain of command B) he'd already been in in contact with his boss and C) she was still not in his chain of command. It was not a happy ride.
I let things simmer for a block or more — at least Rannie wasn't fighting the traffic this time — then leaned forward to ask, "What was that in the hall with the guy?"
Rannie shrugged. "What 'that?'"
"The fight. Or whatever."
"That was a cocky Mil/Space idiot getting set down, was what. He is one, you know -- they always have them at the front desk of these offices. 'Space Marine,' hah!"
"No, I mean — USSF ran me through unarmed fighting and zero-g basics, but I was a tech-spec. Was that some kind of special martial art?"
She snorted. "You've seen too many Bruce Lee movies. It was just normal hand-to-hand, a little more than you'd have been taught. Great exercise, you know."
That last with barely a flicker of her eyes in my direction — I do kind of fight my waistline.
"'But' nothing. I'm quick, I work out — and I do have an advantage on young Tech Huckleston: my training followed 12 years of gymnastics. And none of that kung fu movie silliness!"
I noticed Dave giving her a speculative look. Maybe he finds her personality abrasive but it seemed to me he might be willing to overlook it.