A Battle of Wits and Wills

The final part in a series of short stories that leads up to the complete unveiling of my new project!

Shera Nox didn’t rush into deductions and action. Instead, she took a moment to survey the situation.

Kr’zani stood closest to her, his head bowed in reverence. She watched his posture minutely relax—he was relieved she was there. A little further away, near the fuel pipes, was Adan Stone. Not a hair was out of place on his person, as ever, but she noticed the slightest tremor in his fingers. Anxious—but about his revelation, or her? She met his eyes for a brief moment. Ah. Her.

Finally were the two Muaprans, standing distanced from the situation. Grani wore a wide grin, excited by her presence, while all four of Vargi’s arms were crossed. He looked affronted and she couldn’t quite blame him. They were all invading his workspace, after all.

With Adan by the fuel pipe, she knew the problem lay there. Without saying a word she strode forward, everyone parting to give her access. She could see where the pipe had been repaired only recently.

“When was the leak discovered?”

“Ah…” Vargi scratched his head with one hand, suddenly looking sheepish as Shera glanced at him. “Still not used to the way you measure time…”

“About 30 minutes ago, Mistress,” Kr’zani offered. 

Shera nodded. “Thank you.” She fixed Vargi with a look. “I understand your people don’t measure time in such small increments, but I must ask you to study what we use on the ship for the efficiency of our crew.”

He avoided her gaze but seemed sincere enough as he said, “Yeah. Got it.”

“What do you make of it?” Adan took a step closer. “Kr’zani he said he smelled something. Idvarian plasma.”

Shera knew she didn’t need to pronounce that her ship didn’t run on Idvarian plasma. They all knew that.

“Qokaks. Someone wanted them to chew a hole in our pipe.” Her brain worked quickly, fitting all the pieces together. She spun on her audience. “Vargi, when was this pipe installed?”

“Just a few…um…”

“Days,” Grani offered.

“A few days ago.”

“Mine too,” Adan muttered. “So they were submerged in Idvarian plasma first.”

“Why would someone want to cause a rupture that’s so easy to fix?” Kr’zani asked.

Shera smiled and looked around. Really, had none of them figured this out yet? Not even Adan?

“Because the rupture wasn’t the point, obviously. Our attention was.” 

Adan’s eyes widened. “They wanted us to know that they’re watching. Or…they’re reaching out to us.”


Vargi huffed. “Why not just send us a transmission? Would’ve saved me some trouble.” 

Kr’zani bared his teeth at the Muapran and Shera knew a bark was coming on. “No,” she said quickly to Kr’zani. A soft growl rumbled in his throat but he backed off. “He’s right. There’s something in the message.” 

“Where’s your next case?” Adan asked, realisation dawning in his eyes as he turned to her. 

Shera chuckled and brushed her fingertips across his cheek as she walked by. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” She continued on toward the exit of the engine room. There was a beat before Adan’s footsteps followed her. 

“There’s something about Idvarian plasma in this system, isn’t there? I seem to recall one of the planets…do they manufacture the stuff somewhere around here?” 

The information swirled around in Shera’s head. She knew very well what he was trying so hard to remember from his limited knowledge—Adan spent too much time partying and not enough time studying. 

But she had just isolated herself for days studying Intalla Minor, the location of her next case. There were vast manufacturing plants all over the planet, and that was likely where the pipe had come from. Yet, Idvarian plasma would remain a solid on the planet due to its atmosphere. So either someone had achieved some sort of contained environment to melt the plasma to liquid, or they had gone to an entirely different planet altogether to submerge the pipes. 

Either way, they’d gone through an awful lot of trouble just to get her and Adan’s attention. 

“You know, don’t you?” Adan’s voice was behind her as she took the pilot’s seat in the cockpit. 

“Of course she knows,” Kr’zani said with barely controlled derision. 

Adan chuckled. “I do admire your faith, Kr’zani, but not even Shera knows everything.” 

Shera hummed noncommittally as she ran through the computer databanks to see on which planets in the system Idvarian plasma would become a liquid. “At least I spend my free time learning rather than attending every upscale party in the galaxy.” 

Adan’s shadow fell across her and she was distracted for a moment at his closeness, the hairs on the back of her neck rising. “At least I allow myself to have fun when I’m not working.” He placed a hand on the back of her chair. “Need I remind you how many times I’ve solved a case first because you were too busy with your ‘research?’”

She spun the chair in a full one-eighty, forcing Adan to jump back to narrowly avoid being kicked. “Need I remind you how many times you’ve gotten things wrong because you weren’t familiar with the culture of a planet?” 

Adan smirked. “Well, I suppose we’ll see this time. Someone needs our help, and only one of us can get to them first. I’ll see you once I’ve solved the case.” He leaned down to peck a kiss on her cheek, then winked at her and sauntered toward the airlock. 

Shera shook her head as she watched him go. While the brief kiss sent a buzz through her, she couldn’t fully assess her feelings at the moment; there were more important things at hand. 

Kr’zani finally let out an unrestrained growl as Shera turned back to the computers. “Should I follow him to make sure he returns to his ship, Mistress?” 

“No, Kr’zani. He thinks he has the upper hand, so he’ll be in a hurry.” 

“He glanced at your computer.” 

“Yes.” Shera wiped away the file she’d been looking at and pulled up another. “That was why I intentionally had the wrong planet pulled up.” 

Kr’zani walked over to her and sat on his haunches beside her chair. A smile twitched at his jaw. “Where are we going, then?” 

“Intalla Minor.” She pecked in the coordinates as Kr’zani began checking the ship’s diagnostics and preparing them for flight. Something caught her eye out of the viewport and she watched Adan’s sleek white ship glide toward the planet Aesh. She smiled to herself. “But let’s let Adan think he’s winning first.” 

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